On Writing Romantic Suspense

Writing romantic suspense involves the skillful juggling of romantic elements and nail-biting suspense. A daunting task but so rewarding when all the essential ingredients come together in a well-crafted, character-driven novel.

Here are eight tips:

  1. Ask yourself: what is intriguing about the premise? What will attract readers to the book? In Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series, protagonist Kinsey Millhone is a twice-divorced private investigator who is permanently stuck in the 1980s. In the Gilda Greco Mystery Series, the protagonist is a teacher turned lottery winner who moves back to her hometown and then finds herself embroiled in murder investigations.

2. Grab the reader’s attention with a hook. Bestselling author Louise Penny offers the following advice: “If you’re writing your first work of crime fiction, place the body near the beginning of the book–preferably on the first page, perhaps the first sentence. In later books, this won’t be necessary, but agents and editors like it established early, so readers know what they’re getting.” In Book 2, Too Many Women in the Room, I used a three-page prologue to introduce the crime. In Book 3, A Different Kind of Reunion, a reference to the murder is made in the first paragraph.

3. Create believable characters. It is tempting to endow protagonists with beauty, intelligence, and other positive traits and then pit them against unattractive villains. Too many or too few strengths are unrealistic. To avoid contrived tension and conflict, evenly balance the characters and have them show vulnerability. The reader must care about the characters, even the secondary characters. When a character dies, it should matter.

4. Get into the heads of your killers. When you have insight into their motivations and behaviors, even if they are twisted, they will seem more real to readers. You don’t have to be in their POV; you can understand them by their actions and dialogue. If you choose to be in the killer’s POV, be very careful you don’t reveal his/her identity.

5. Escalate the tension. After starting with a bang, build tension, offer a few resting moments, and then throw in complications. Have strategies in place to help with the murky middle, that nebulous place around page 80, where it becomes difficult to continue or sustain the tension. You may have to set the manuscript aside and take a breather, work on a shorter piece, or reread craft books. Return to the manuscript with fresh eyes and a firm resolve to successfully navigate the murky middle.

6. Drop enough clues to keep the reader engaged but be careful not to overwhelm the reader. Used effectively, red herrings will maintain reader interest until the end. Many of the plots in Agatha Christie’s novels contain red herrings. In And Then There Were None, we assume a character who goes missing is the killer. Later, when his body is washed up on shore, we realize that his absence was a red herring that misled the other characters and the readers.

7. Come up with a tantalizing title. If you’re writing a series, consider using the same basic pattern for titles. Janet Evanovich uses numbers: One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly…I have used longer titles–A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room, A Different Kind of Reunion–for the Gilda Greco Mystery Series. Regardless of the method used, one fact is clear: The right title (and cover) will catch the reader’s eye in an overcrowded market.

8. End on the right note. Romance readers expect an HEA (Happily ever after) or HFN (Happily for now) ending. Mystery readers (in particular cozy mystery readers) want to experience closure: the sleuth solves the case, justice is served, and all loose ends are tied. But only for a short time…Another murder to solve is just around the corner.

Any other tips to share?

About the Gilda Greco Mystery Series

A cross between Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, and Cher (Moonstruck), protagonist Gilda Greco brings a unique perspective to the amateur female sleuth.

The teacher-turned-lottery winner returns to her hometown, only to find herself embroiled in a series of murder investigations. Before you start imaging thrillers with high stakes and police chases, pause and take a yoga breath. The three novels in the series—A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room,  A Different Kind of Reunion—are cozy mysteries, written in the Agatha Christie tradition. All the crimes take place “off stage” with very few graphic details provided.

While the pace may be more relaxed than that of thrillers and police procedurals, there are no steaming cups of herbal teas, overstuffed chairs, or purring cats in these contemporary cozies. Prepare yourself for interfering relatives who don’t always respect boundaries, adult mean girls, deserving and undeserving men, multiple suspects, and lots of Italian food.

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio

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To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Whenever I’ve asked a writing instructor or workshop facilitator about prologues, I’ve encountered a variety of negative facial expressions—everything from a wince to a frown to a quick shake of the head. And the following responses:

Agents hate prologues.

Readers will skip to the first chapter.

Prologues = Information Dumps.

One instructor offered a ray of hope: Use only if the prologue adds an interesting and integral layer to the narrative.

Interesting and Integral…Definitely a challenge and one I decided to tackle in Too Many Women in the Room, Book 2 of the Gilda Greco Mystery Series.

But first, I needed to get more information about the Uses and Misuses of Prologues. Here’s what I discovered:

Use a Prologue to…

• Provide information that is crucial to understanding the rest of the story. In Too Many Women in the Room, I needed to introduce the victim’s voice. Having written the rest of the novel in the first-person POV, I wanted the reader to be privy to the thoughts and feelings of the victim in his final hour.

• Provide clues. Red herrings are an important component of cozy mysteries. In Too Many Women in the Room, the initial crime scene contains vital details that form the basis for these red herrings.

• Hook the reader. If the actual crime doesn’t occur for several chapters, it is a good idea to whet the reader’s appetite with a prologue. But—and a big but—the interim chapters also need hooks to keep the reader engaged.

Don’t Use a Prologue to…

• Introduce a voice or tone that is not as engaging as the rest of the novel.

• Dispose of the entire back story. Much better to incorporate bits and pieces throughout the novel.

• Introduce an overly-dramatic voice and then switch to a much quieter voice.

From Too Many Women in the Room…

He couldn’t believe he was following his wife’s advice. After twelve years of paying lip service to deep yoga breaths, mindfulness, and all the other New Age crap she espoused, he had finally found a use for it. His midnight run usually sorted out all the stress, but tonight was different. He still couldn’t shake the venom that had been directed his way.

To make matters worse, it had come from eight women, eight very different and very annoying women. He had bedded four, but right now he couldn’t imagine having sex with any of them. As for the untouched four, well, only one interested him, and it had nothing to do with her feminine wiles and everything to do with her healthy bank account.

He would have to take something to get through the night, something a lot stronger than his wife’s herbal teas. The remnants of an old Percocet prescription came to mind. Two capsules might do the trick. The thought of a panacea, albeit a chemical one, calmed his racing thoughts.

A good night’s sleep would make a world of difference. And tomorrow, he would sort it out.

The light patter of feet distracted him. Definitely a woman’s gait. Her breath was even, neither shallow nor panting. Younger, maybe in her thirties. His pulse quickened, and a smile spread over his features. A welcome distraction. Just what he needed to erase the built-up stress. To hell with deep breathing, affirmations, and Percocet.

Any other thoughts on prologues?

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

Website | Amazon | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Goodreads | Pinterest

 

How to Clearly See…

In A Different Kind of Reunion, Private Investigator Jim Nelson doesn’t mince words when he learns about the psychic’s involvement in the murder investigation:

“Let’s face some facts here. Most psychics need to make a living. I don’t doubt this lady has some intuitive ability—as many women do—but I don’t think it’s enough to catch a murderer.”

Jim is in good company.

According to a recent survey by YouGov.com, 24% of respondents believe there are actually individuals who possess the ability to see the future. There is a gender split here as well; 28% of women think this power exists, while only 19% of men think the same.

While I’m of two minds here, I do believe it is possible for each of us to have an intuitive awakening. In fact, some of us already possess signs of clairvoyance.

Not sure? Take this quick survey:

  1. Do mental images randomly flash before your eyes?
  2. Can you easily visualize people and places?
  3. Do you frequently have vivid dreams?
  4. Can you quickly complete mazes, puzzles, and other visual-spatial tasks?
  5. Can you see auras (glowing lights) around the people in your life?

Regardless of your score, you can access your inner compass and develop the skill to “clearly see” what is going on in your life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Meditate for a few minutes each day. When you get still and clear your mind, you allow the right (creative) brain to take over and the left (logical) brain to take a back seat.
  • Take note of goose bumps, shivers down your spine, and racing hearts. Your body is letting you know when things are right or off. The key is to trust those feelings and act upon them.
  • Be on the lookout for any God/Goddess nudges that suddenly appear in your life. These could take the form of notices on bulletin boards, titles of books that resonate, or opportunities that present themselves.
  • Release negative feelings. If you are angry or depressed, you cannot make sound decisions.
  • Pay attention to how you feel after talking and meeting with the people in your life. Keep those who empower you and take distance from those who drain you. If you cannot walk away from the latter group, limit your involvement with them.
  • Dream with purpose. Before you fall asleep, focus on any unresolved issues or problems. Imagine possible solutions as you fall asleep. Then, let your brain do the rest. Keep a journal on your nightstand and record those dreams as soon as you awaken.

Any other suggestions to share?

 

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

Website | Amazon | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Goodreads | Pinterest

 

On a Greek Culinary Journey

Gilda Greco, protagonist of Too Many Women in the Room, and I have a special fondness for Greek cuisine. We appreciate the simple and elegant flavors of foods and beverages that can be traced back to Ancient Greece.

Here are ten milestones from Greek culinary history:

  1. Feta cheese is said to be about 6,000 years old, making it one of the world’s oldest cheeses.
  1. In Greece, cheesecakes were considered excellent sources of energy and served to athletes during the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C. Greek brides and grooms celebrated their nuptials with cheesecake.
  1. The first “cookbook” was written by Greek poet and gourmand, Archestratos, in 330 B.C. His humorous didactic poem Hedypatheia (Life of Luxury), written in hexameters but known only from quotations, advises the reader where to find the best food in the Mediterranean world.
  1. In the Middle Ages, monastic brothers who prepared food in the Greek Orthodox monasteries, wore tall white hats to distinguish themselves from regular monks, who wore large black hats.
  1. Many ingredients used in modern Greek cooking—bananas, potato, spinach, tomato—were unknown until the discovery of the Americas.
  1. Dishes with names like tzatziki (from the Turkish “cacik”), hummus (from the Arabic word for chickpea) and dolmades (from the Turkish word “dolma”) also found a home in Greek cooking.
  1. The Greek Frappe (similar to an iced coffee) was invented at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair in 1957.
  1. Greece’s climate is ideal for growing olive and lemon trees, producing two important elements of Greek cooking. Spices, garlic, and herbs such as basil, mint, oregano, and thyme are added to create blends of tangy seasonings.
  1. Lamb, which is usually spit-roasted, is the most popular meat served in Greek homes and restaurants. Other meats include chicken, pork, beef, and fish. All of these meats can be used in souvlaki.
  1. Filo dough, ultra-thin, flaky pastry, forms the foundation of many popular Greek recipes, including Spanakopita (spinach pie) and Baklava (sweet pastry with nuts).

Blurb

When Gilda Greco invites her closest friends to a VIP dinner, she plans to share David Korba’s signature dishes and launch their joint venture— Xenia, an innovative Greek restaurant near Sudbury, Ontario. Unknown to Gilda, David has also invited Michael Taylor, a lecherous photographer who has throughout the past three decades managed to annoy all the women in the room. One woman follows Michael to a deserted field for his midnight run and stabs him in the jugular.

Gilda’s life is awash with complications as she wrestles with a certain detective’s commitment issues and growing doubts about her risky investment in Xenia. Frustrated, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers decades-old secrets and resentments that have festered until they explode into untimely death. Can Gilda outwit a killer bent on killing again?

Excerpt

“I’m a nobody here,” David said, glancing down at his plate. “And with my credit rating, none of the banks would endorse a loan. I’m screwed.”

“What if I backed you?” I couldn’t believe I was speaking so casually, all the while my heart beat at an alarming rate.

David rubbed a hand over his chin and flashed a grin at me. “Gilda, darling, you’re sweet to offer, but I don’t think you know what’s involved here.”

Susan nodded in agreement.

Were they playing me, I wondered. Since winning nineteen million dollars in Lotto649, I had encountered many sharks who hoped to prey on my easy-going nature. A quick Google search would have revealed my three-year-old lottery win. Old news, but still there on the second and third pages.

“Would one hundred thousand dollars be enough?” I asked. “In case you don’t know, I won a major lottery several years ago.” Since winning, I had received many proposals from across the province and had backed three local ventures. In each case, I had chosen to remain a silent partner.

David’s right hand trembled as he poured himself another glass of wine. Susan’s mouth dropped open, and she gave a little gasp.

“I take it that’s a yes,” I said.

More mild protests followed, and another bottle of wine disappeared. We were all a bit tipsy when we shook on the agreement. And so Xenia was born.

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All She Wanted by Kathryn Jane (e-copy edition)

The Rebel’s Redemption by Jacquie Biggar (audiobook edition)

Partners: Odyssey of the Phoenix by McKenna Sinclair

A Midnight Clear by Jeannie Hall

Hearts Unloched by Claire Gem

Too Many Women in The Room by Joanne Guidoccio

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Act of Trust by Marsha R. West

 

What About the Men?

It’s the last week of the blog tour for Too Many Women in the Room. You can enter the giveaway for a $10 Amazon gift card here.

Since the book’s release, I have received many comments about the temperamental female characters that populate the novel.

Potential readers have also asked…

What about the men?

Three male characters play significant roles : Chief Detective Carlo Fantin, Chef David Korba, and Photographer Michael Taylor.

As Gilda’s love interest, Carlo Fantin appears throughout the Gilda Greco Mystery Series. A handsome widower with two children and five grandchildren, Carlo didn’t expect to fall in love again. All that changed when he headed up the murder investigation in A Season for Killing Blondes.  He and Gilda immediately connected, but ever conscious of his role, Carlo made it clear that nothing could happen until the investigation was over. At the start of Too Many Women in the Room, Gilda expresses concerns about the three-month break Carlo has instigated. But that doesn’t last too long…

 

David Korba could cook, and he could charm. One meal—that’s all it took to win Gilda Greco’s approval and a six-figure investment in Xenia, an innovative Greek restaurant near Sudbury, Ontario.  But there’s  much more to the charismatic chef who hails from Greece via the Danforth in Toronto.  Impressed and charmed by his looks and culinary skills, Gilda didn’t ask too many questions and later wondered why she kept her investment a secret from everyone in her circle.

 

A minor character in A Season for Killing Blondes, Michael Taylor managed to annoy almost every woman—with the exception of his wife—that he encountered. In Too Many Women in the Roman, he infuriated eight  women at a VIP dinner, he should never have attended. Often compared to Nick Nolte in his younger days, Michael’s fading looks and acerbic personality no longer endeared him to  women in his circle and beyond.  Unfortunately, he suffered the consequences of his inappropriate comments and lecherous behavior.

 

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The Right Opening

Have you ever experienced the tyranny of the blank page?

If you’re nodding in agreement, you are in good company. In fact, I believe every writer—from beginner to published—has experienced those feelings of doubt and apprehension, especially at the start of a new manuscript. That’s when gremlin thoughts are most powerful.

In this post, I will offer several suggestions on how to squash those gremlins and start writing the first page of your next manuscript.

First, I will dispel  three popular rules:

rule #1–Start with a bang

Some writers believe the first page needs drama: a passionate argument between two people or a man running out of a burning house. One problem: the reader is not yet invested in the characters. The two people arguing could be murderers, and the man running out of the burning house could be a burglar. The reader needs to know more about the characters and their motivations before the drama occurs.

rule #2Start at the beginning

You can use a prologue to cut forward to later events or recall much earlier events. A three- to five-page prologue that introduces the crime or dead body can whet the reader’s appetite for more details. This works well with mysteries and thrillers.

rule #3Never start with dialogue

Used effectively, dialogue can establish the writer’s or protagonist’s voice. This will quickly draw the reader  into the writer’s world

So, what should the “right opening” accomplish?

Very simply, the first sentence needs to draw the reader’s attention to the next sentence and the rest of the first paragraph. And so on. That first sentence does not have to be loud or flashy…only intriguing.

five “Intriguing” examples:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984 by George Orwell.

“They shoot the white girl first.” Paradise by Toni Morrison

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.” Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If you’re struggling with “intriguing,” start with a simple sentence, and use the rest of the paragraph to follow up with details.

five examples of the “Simple” Approach:

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

“It was love at first sight.” Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

“Nothing happens the way you plan it.” The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

“When he was nearly thirteen my  brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Hard-to-read and grammatically incorrect sentences can turn off readers, agents, and publishers.  But sometimes they work!  (English majors and editors–start cringing!)

Two examples of  the “Breaking the Rules and Getting Away with It” approach:

“You better not never tell nobody but God.” The Color Purple by Alice Walker

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

More tips…

  • Think of opening lines and paragraphs as introductions to new people. You probably wouldn’t be interested in getting to know a person who immediately launches into a monologue about her divorce, her latest car accident, or upcoming surgery. Instead, you want to learn just enough about the person so that you can have a pleasant conversation.
  • Gently lead the reader into the rest of the paragraph and the next page. The reader doesn’t have to fall in love with that first sentence, but she needs to be curious enough to keep reading.
  • Leave the reader with unanswered questions. She should be asking the question “Why” as she reads that first chapter. Why did those characters fall in love? Why did that murder happen?
  • Introduce character goals and motivations early. This creates a sense of direction that guides the reader through the novel.
  • Reread your favorite novels and critically analyze the opening sentences and paragraphs. Ask yourself what intrigued you as a reader and then apply the same approach to your own writing.
  • Keep in mind that the first chapter of a novel is the most heavily revised section of the book. You don’t have to get it right the first time.

Here’s the first page from my new release…

He couldn’t believe he was following his wife’s advice. After twelve years of paying lip service to deep yoga breaths, mindfulness, and all the other New Age crap she espoused, he had finally found a use for it. His midnight run usually sorted out all the stress, but tonight was different. He still couldn’t shake the venom that had been directed his way.

To make matters worse, it had come from eight women, eight very different and very annoying women. He had bedded four, but right now he couldn’t imagine having sex with any of them. As for the untouched four, well, only one interested him, and it had nothing to do with her feminine wiles and everything to do with her healthy bank account.

He would have to take something to get through the night, something a lot stronger than his wife’s herbal teas. The remnants of an old Percocet prescription came to mind. Two capsules might do the trick. The thought of a panacea, albeit a chemical one, calmed his racing thoughts. A good night’s sleep would make a world of difference. And tomorrow, he would sort it out.

The light patter of feet distracted him. Definitely a woman’s gait. Her breath was even, neither shallow nor panting. Younger, maybe in her thirties. His pulse quickened, and a smile spread over his features. A welcome distraction. Just what he needed to erase the built-up stress. To hell with deep breathing, affirmations, and Percocet.

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Dealing with Dialogue Tags

Glancing back at some of my earlier work, I cringe at my use of “said bookisms” such as roared, admonished, exclaimed, queried, and hissed. I was trying to avoid overusing the word “said” and searched for suitable alternatives. I realize now that substituting those words made it sound like I enjoyed using my thesaurus. Instead, I was annoying the reader and drawing attention away from the dialogue.

From different workshop facilitators, I’ve learned that I don’t have to interpret the dialogue, or worse, tell the reader how the words are said. If the dialogue is strong enough, “he said” and “she said” will do. Like other parts of speech—the, is, and, but—that are used several times on each page, “said” is invisible and allows the reader to concentrate on the action and dialogue.

To add variety, I insert action tags and internal dialogue within blocks of dialogue.

Here’s an example from my upcoming novel, Too Many Women in the Room:

Carlo’s hand caressed my thigh. More sex. The man could be insatiable. And it had been almost two weeks since our last romp. We started to kiss and then his cell phone vibrated.

Carlo groaned as he leaned over and picked up the phone. He sat up, his back to me. “What’s happened?” he barked. Carlo’s shoulders tensed. A long sigh and then his terse words. “Clear the perimeter, stat.”

Clear the perimeter. My heart beat faster as I recalled the last time I had heard those dreaded words. It could mean only one thing. Another murder. Two murders in less than twenty-hours. What were the chances of that happening in Sudbury? At the Christmas party, the police chief had bragged about one of the lowest murder rates in Canada during the past twelve months.

I swallowed hard. “What’s wrong?”

Carlo turned and gave me a long glance. “Andrew Frattini was found dead in the alleyway behind the ReCareering office.”

The nightmare couldn’t be starting again. This time with different players but still with the same intent. To pin the murder on me. But that strategy wouldn’t work. I had an iron-clad alibi no one could refute.

Carlo dressed quickly. He picked up his phone and then turned toward me. “Stay clear of this, Gilda.”

“How can I ignore it?” I said as I felt myself tearing up. “Someone’s trying to frame me again.”

He leaned over and kissed me. “Well, they didn’t succeed, did they?”

Blurb

When Gilda Greco invites her closest friends to a VIP dinner, she plans to share David Korba’s signature dishes and launch their joint venture— Xenia, an innovative Greek restaurant near Sudbury, Ontario.

Unknown to Gilda, David has also invited Michael Taylor, a lecherous photographer who has throughout the past three decades managed to annoy all the women in the room. One woman follows Michael to a deserted field for his midnight run and stabs him in the jugular.

Gilda’s life is awash with complications as she wrestles with a certain detective’s commitment issues and growing doubts about her risky investment in Xenia. Frustrated, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers decades-old secrets and resentments that have festered until they explode into untimely death. Can Gilda outwit a killer bent on killing again?

Buy Links

Amazon (Canada) | Amazon (US) | Kobo | Indigo | The Wild Rose Press

 

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