A Scary Proposition: Writing for Harlequin Intrigue
Mysteries and romances have always been my favorite kind of story as they represent a puzzle to solve on two levels: who did it and why, and will they fall in love and can they make it work? The two blended together are the perfect combination of excitement and happily ever after. But more than anything, I love the feeling of being scared. Not heart-stopping scared, but just that slightly creepy feeling that lifts the hair on the back of your neck.
So when fabulous Intrigue editor, Allison Lyons, said they loved my gothic-lite Intrigue proposal for my first book, I was thrilled! All my favorite elements in one story – a reputed haunted mansion, a mystery, a tough, smart heroine, and a strong, sexy hero.
Since the book’s release, a lot of writers have asked me how I “got away” with writing a ghost story for Intrigue, which is a contemporary romance line and not a paranormal line. The answer is that I didn’t “get away” with anything. Despite the gothic sound and haunted mansion, my story is not a true paranormal, which is why it works for the line.
So what’s the difference, you ask?
I see two major differences: First, my characters are all normal people with no special abilities, going about their business in this world at this time. Second, my villain is a very real human being with very real human motivations.
So where does the ghost part come in?
The house is reputed haunted. It’s isolated. It’s old and empty and has a history of tragic death. The heroine and hero see things they can’t explain. Sure, some of it turns out to be the villain, but not everything. The rest is unexplained. Was the white figure they saw out in the storm debris blowing in the inky black night or was it something else? That question remains unanswered.
You don’t have to have a monster in the closet or under the bed to write a spooky story. Have you ever had the overwhelming feeling that someone is watching you but you’re the only one in the room? Have you ever bolted upright out of a dead sleep but have no idea why? Have you ever walked into a building and known that something wasn’t right even though everything appeared normal? Tap into those seemingly illogical fears that creep you out for no apparent reason, and you’ve got a spooky story that readers can relate to.
I believe the most important step to creating the creepy feeling is setting. If you haven’t studied writing setting as a character, do it now. Your setting will go a long way to creating that slight feeling of unease that you give the reader. Be creative and remember that setting includes the local cast of characters, time of day, and weather, as well as buildings and streets. And you don’t have to set your book in a haunted mansion to make it creepy. You only need to create a place where something feels off to your main characters. Something that your reader will clue in on along with the hero and heroine.
If you’re unsure how to create the spooky ambiance with setting, I can’t recommend reading Barbara Michaels enough. Her talent for making me uneasy while I read is unsurpassed by anyone I’ve ever read, and it was my love of her work that prompted me to submit a spooky proposal to Intrigue. The rest, is history.
So if you can’t resist a good puzzle, you want the girl and guy to fall in love, and you enjoy being just a little scared, then break out your keyboard and get to work on a submission for Harlequin Intrigue. Readers love those elements just as much as you do.