Romance editor Alyssa Morris spoke with author Lisa Gardner about the Family Secrets trilogy, bad boy heroes, and the challenges of writing page-turning romances.
Alyssa Morris: First, could you give us an introduction to the Family Secrets trilogy you wrote as Alicia Scott that has been re-released?
Lisa Gardner: Sure. The Family Secrets trilogy features three half-siblings. Their grandmother brought them together when their father disappeared to give them a sense of family. So they’re trying to be there for each other because it’s the only family they have left. It’s now years later and they all have theories about what happened to their father. But arching through the whole trilogy is the ongoing secret of what did actually happen to their family, their father, Mac. The first book is Maggie’s Man, and it features Maggie Ferringer. She shows up for jury duty at the Multnomah county courthouse and is promptly taken hostage by an escaped murderer. So it’s an on-the-run book. He of course claims he’s innocent, but the real murderer, his homicidal brother, could get them at any time. So they’re fun books, they all feature suspense, and they also all feature a romance as they find love along the way.
AM: So what would you say the difference is between these books in earlier in your career and the books that you write now?
LG: I’ve more gone into straight suspense, where the climax and focus of the novel really is the whodunit. In the Family Secrets trilogy, there’s a lot more emphasis on character and the core of the novel is a relationship. So, for example in Maggie’s Man, you have the suspense element, what did actually happen five years ago—you know the murder of this young woman, all of Cain Cannon’s secrets with his family, what will happen next as they’re being pursued by both the police and his brother, but it’s also the building relationship and trust and love being found by Maggie and Cain, two lost souls coming together.
AM: What would you say is your favorite kind of hero to write?
LG: I like the bad boys. I really do. I like imperfect characters in general. And I like the hero who’s rough on the outside, you know, the diamond in the rough. There’s more to him, but maybe he doesn’t even know yet. Maybe it takes meeting the right person. I think in Maggie’s Man, it’s Maggie’s faith that is just so revolutionary to Cain. And not what he expects, because when he talks to her, she’s been wronged, too. She’s basically been abandoned by her father, her mom’s a total flake, her life is not perfect. But she still chooses to see the perfection in others. And that’s a point of view he never even imagined, being a very cynical, hardened person himself. I love that hero who, maybe has given up a little, but starts to realize there are great things out there, and one of them is falling in love.
AM: Most of your novels, or at least a lot of your novels, take place in a very short period of time. So what are the benefits and challenges of keeping yourself to this tight timeframe?
LG: I’ve always written page-turners. It’s just my own, I guess, internal sense of pacing…you know, what’s going to happen next, what’s going to happen next, and next. So sometimes, yes, at the end I realize oh my gosh this whole book is only 36 hours. And they never slept, they never ate—some of that might strain credibility. I think the biggest challenge is the action often makes sense as being that fast. If you’re on the run from the law, you’re going to keep moving. But if you really want to convince readers that these two people fell in love in 36 hours, it means you really need to make sure within that jam-packed action, there are moments where they really got to know each other and were talking and seeing the truth behind each other. Or readers get to the end, and they’re like, “But they haven’t even had a date yet!”
AM: Do you have any personal favorite romantic suspense books?
LG: Oh my goodness! I have to stop and think… I think one of the best, which people talk about all the time, is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I think the gothics really are the foundation of the romantic suspense we read now. I’m a huge fan of Jayne Anne Krentz, Amanda Quick and Suzanne Brockman.
LG: Wonderful, wonderful novels. I don’t know if I can recall a single title, but they’re all great, you should be reading them.
AM: They’re great.
LG: I’m trying to think. I read actually a lot, and sometimes it’s actually just pulling off whatever I read lately that’s really struck me. I feel like I’m missing something obvious.
AM: I know as romance reader we always like to get recommendations because most of us read so many that just finding enough reading material to keep yourself going is sometimes a challenge.
LG: I have to say when I’m on book tour, I make the audience suggest books for me, because it is. And it’s so much fun when you can find that new author. Oh! I know! Some of the books I really love, and they’re really well done, are the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries by C.S. Harris.
AM: I just downloaded the first book of that series on my Kindle last week. (As a note to readers, since recording this interview, I have finished all 8 books in the series. It’s great; and totally addictive.)
LG: Last summer, that’s what I did with my summer is I read those books. And there’s actually a love triangle in them that is done so beautifully. And each one, having that mystery element. It’s set in 1812, where some of the best theories about crime we know now are false, but of course it’s what they knew at the time. And then I’m a huge fan too of J.R. Ward and the Black Dagger Brotherhood.
LG: It’s a paranormal, but to me, it’s absolutely positively romantic suspense.
AM: And for me, that’s the interesting thing about romance is that even though there are so many defined subgenres, they really cross over a lot with each other.
LG: I think romantic suspense is very broad. An umbrella-term almost, and you can find all sorts of categories beneath that as well now.
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