04-20-19 – In Praise of a “Bad Pick” by Linda Lovely and Robin Weaver

Friday, June 29, 2018

Suspense to Contemporary

by M. L. Buchman

I'm a romantic suspense writer by trade. I found my first real readership with an even tighter niche of that: military romantic suspense. My Night Stalkers flew and my Delta Force stalked. Even my Firehawks ended up fighting more than just wildfire (as if that wasn't enough to begin with).

But somewhere along the way my wife gave me a calendar of the lighthouses of the Washington State (which I still have).
We set off on a series of dates to visit all twelve. Somewhere along the way we said, "Hey, what a great idea for a book." (If you want to read the first in the 5-book, 3-story series set in and around Seattle, it's available for free at all vendors.)

Sure it was a cool idea (and a fantastic set of dates that we still talk about often). But I want to talk about the challenges of contemporary romance.

Romantic suspense, especially military romantic suspense has it own challenges. The danger, the military, and the relationship all have to feed off each other synergistically. And they have to do that so tightly that to remove any one of the three elements causes the entire story to collapse. It's like a magnificent jigsaw puzzle--something I've loved doing since I was a kid. (My sister and I haven't seen each other in several years. We recently got together to 10 awesome days...and completed 2 major jigsaw puzzles during the visit. What can I say.)

Whereas contemporary romance was once described to me as: a boring story in which nothing happens. I've since amended that to what it should be: a riveting story in which nothing happens.

At first glance, even that seems laughable. But the more I write contemp rom, the more I believe it. For me, contemporary romance is actually the purest sub-genre of all romance. Something happens, but it is only one thing: the romance.

Regency has all the attire and period rules. Military has that overlay. PNR has vampires, shape-shifters, and other curiosities. Romantica has the sex. And so on. Even my traveling B&B Love Abroad series has the travel and adventure as an overlay. Contemporary romance in its purest form has only "the romance."

What does this mean in practical terms? It means that it is all about the character. Seriously, it is all about the character. When the wildfire is burning, the bad guys are shooting, the vampire is exercising their jaw muscles (and perhaps his hands upon her willing breasts)...some depth of character is needed. Contemporary romance, depth of character is all there is.

It's their past, their hopes and fears, their strengths and weaknesses. It isn't how the heroine's hair catches the breeze and the hero's shoulders block out the sun (well, not just about that). It's how they've become who they are and how, together, they can become someone better. Not merely get together, but grow together. It doesn't matter if it's a blind date, work, a connection from the past, a struggle against attraction due to a passionate dislike, or simply liking each other when they meet (the 5 themes I used in the 5 books of the Where Dreams series); it is them and their past and who they can be in the future that matters.

Where do I find that depth? Where do I go looking? Into my own past. For my small-town Oregon Coast series set in Eagle Cove (also first book free), I set the whole series in a seaside town where nothing happens (far less than happens in a busy place like Seattle's Pike Place Market, which is where "Where Dreams" is mostly set).

Partly I did it because of my love of small town Oregon. But I also did it because I wanted to visit more contemporary themes: the high school crush (we all had one of those) ten years on, the bad boy (who always seemed to get the girl I was interested in), the unrecognized passion (because I never found the nerve to speak), and the outsider (the final book Keepsake for Eagle Cove is actually about two outsiders becoming part of the community as they find each other).

Again, completely about the characters.

What I've discovered is, depth of character is the true joy of romance. I've since taken that discovery back into my military romantic suspense, and I'm loving it!

For me, that "most boring" of genres in which "nothing happens" is one I am fast becoming most passionate about.

Booklist has selected his military and firefighter series(es) as 3-time “Top 10 Romance of the Year.” NPR and Barnes & Noble have named other titles “Top 5 Romance of the Year.” In 2016 he was a finalist for RWA's RITA award.

He has flown and jumped out of airplanes, can single-hand a fifty-foot sailboat, and has designed and built two houses. In between writing, he also quilts. M.L. is constantly amazed at what can be done with a degree in geophysics. He also writes: contemporary romance, thrillers, and SF. More info at: www.mlbuchman.com.


Lynn Lovegreen said...

You hit the nail on the head, M. L. The focus on character is what I love about contemporary romance! Will have to go find these books now.... :-)

Sarah Raplee said...

I love how you put things into words that resonate with me, Matt! Great post!

Maggie Lynch said...

You really hit the nail on the head. For me, writing that depth of character is what I most want to do and most want to read--whether it's contemporary romance, romantic suspense, fantasy, SF, or anything else. Though I know plot and action can carry other genres, it doesn't keep me thinking about the book after I finish it if the characters weren't really deep.

Thanks for this insightful post.