07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Writing the Historical Romance Novel. No - Writing the Suspense Novel. Wait - Writing a Disabled Hero? Throw them all into one!

God bless the era of ebooks.

Just four years ago I pitched my deaf private investigator in 1700s Norway to an editor. She literally turned up her nose and said, “I have no idea how to sell that!” and walked away. One year later I pitched the same book to Gail Delaney, Editor in Chief of Desert Breeze Publishing, and she bugged me until I sent her the manuscript. Five contracts later, my “Discreet Gentleman of Discovery” is winning fans everywhere.

What was the difference? Shelf space. Or rather, virtual vs. actual shelf space.

Historical Romantic Suspense books cross three genres – so where would a bookstore put them? A digital first publisher (ebooks with print-on-demand copies) doesn't have to worry about that, freeing them up to accept cross-genre books with unusual characters or themes. In fact, the latest numbers from Amazon show that small presses sell the majority of ebooks on Amazon, probably because of this very freedom: http://authorearnings.com/july-2014-author-earnings-report/

There were three reasons I decided to write these hybrid stories:

1. I write historical romance. It’s what I love to read, so it’s what I love to write.
2. I write Norwegians. It’s time for sexy heroes who don’twear kilts.

But why a deaf man? And why suspense?

3. I read an article which stated that “women love a man who looks at them like they are the only person in the room.” So I thought, who does that? A deaf man would.

Having that decided, I needed to give him means for supporting himself. What sort of work could a deaf man do in the early 1700s? He can solve crimes. As he says: When people find out I’m deaf, they forget I’m in the room.

Next hurdle: Brander Hansen does not actually speak. He and the childhood cousin brought in to be his “ears” worked out a gesture language together. And of course, he can write what he wants to communicate. This required some creativity on my part, to let the reader know how the dialog was being delivered:

“Was it spoken aloud?”
Was it written down?
Brander set the pencil down: Perhaps I used my hands.

Now came the fun part – deciding what the crimes should be. Murder is as old as humanity. Cain and Abel, anyone? Theft is good. I mean, to write about. Spying, kidnapping, stolen identities, serial killers; almost anything happening today could have happened then.

Of course, there were no fingerprints to go by. And limited medical knowledge. No quick phone calls to be made, and correspondence was only as swift as the next ship’s journey.

So my hero has to be very observant – a skill which is enhanced because he is never distracted by sound. And he has to be very clever to assemble the evidence, and know where to look next. Being a master at disguising his changeable looks comes in handy as well.

His most powerful tool, however, is the assumption that because he cannot hear and chooses not to speak, he is a “dummy.” So he stands off to the side and reads lips. Oh, the things one “hears.”

But Brander’s deafness is only one aspect of his character, and not the plot of any of the books. To write them, I had to figure out all of the same things any crime writer needs to know: who did it, what did they do, and why. And then, how will the evidence be discovered, by whom, and in what order. Of course, any good suspense story has a red herring or two tossed in, so those must be figured out as well.

Added in are the personal stakes involved to Brander and his wife Regin in every crime – what do they stand to lose?

Over the five books, Brander’s character deals with a sudden wife, issues with his estranged father and brothers, teen-aged foster sons, deadly deceptions perpetrated by his wife’s first husband, and international intrigue.

And did I mention, murder?


Sarah Raplee said...

I completely agree with you about the eBook revolution opening up authors' horizons. Readers have had limited choices because of the 'shelf space' problem. Now they have so many exciting new books available that don't follow the old 'rules.'

Great post!

Kris Tualla said...

Thanks so much!

Diana McCollum said...

Your book sounds very intriguing! I don't believe I've ever read a book with a deaf H or H. I agree with you and Sarah, this is an exciting time to be a writer.

Judith Ashley said...

Fascinating to see your thinking process along the way to writing and publishing Brander Hansen's stories. Readers are the beneficiaries of your creativity and perseverance.

Pippa Jay said...

Ebooks have given more niche genres and the books that cross multiple genres the chance to find readers...who are out there but never got the chance to find the books.
I wish I had the smarts to write murder mysteries! :)