Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Please

One of the great things about being an author is getting to write the kinds of stories you loved to read, and wanted to see more of. It’s an opportunity I’ve been taking advantage of recently, as my most recent books have involved themes and story elements I wanted more of, not just as an Intrigue writer, but an Intrigue reader. 
As I mentioned last spring, I love spooky old houses and creepy, atmospheric suspense. As a reader, I could never get enough of those kinds of stories, and there was a time when they'd fallen out of fashion in the line.  I knew I wanted to write one (or more!) of my own, and the lack of them in the early 2000s just fed that desire. The result was my May book, STRANGER IN A SMALL TOWN (still available here on eHarlequin!).
I also love international intrigue, stories that involve global elements and danger on a larger scale.  Outside of Dana Marton's spy thrillers, it's not something that's seen in Intrigue as much as it once was, and certainly not as much as I'd love it to be!  That was once of the inspirations of my November 2009 Intrigue, TRUSTING A STRANGER, and its Russian heroine caught between two governments and targeted by a ruthless international tycoon. 
One thing I’d love to see is more diversity in the line. I like reading about characters of different ethnic backgrounds and from different cultures, and naturally enjoyed Intrigues by authors like Aimee Thurlo, with her Native American characters; Maggie Ferguson, who brought African-American heroes and heroines to the line; and Tracy Montoya with her characters of Latino descent. I always wanted my own books to reflect the diversity of the real world and involve characters from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.  Which brings me to my October release, SILENT NIGHT STAKEOUT.  As you can see from the cover, this is my first (but hopefully not last) book with an African-American hero and heroine. I also have one in the works with a Latino couple, as well as a story with Asian-American characters I'd love to tell.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Intrigue readers will be receptive to them. 
So let me ask all the readers out there...what about you? What types of stories can you not get enough of, or is there anything you'd like to see more of from Intrigue?

Kerry Connor

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Getting the Shivers

This month marks the beginning of a new promotion from Intrigue called "Shivers," featuring spine-tingling romantic suspense reads. I’m really excited that my latest book, STRANGER IN A SMALL TOWN, was chosen to launch this new promotion. Interestingly enough, one of my original goals for this book wasn’t to do something new, but recapture the feeling of some of the great Intrigues I so enjoyed in the past and bring something "old" back to the line.

I’ve long been a fan of creepy, chilling suspense tales, the kind of story where the suspense comes as much, if not more, from the atmosphere and sense of mood as from action and overt violence. I love stories that occur in an eerie setting and have a strong sense of place, from stories in the old Gothic tradition to more contemporary spinetinglers. Give me spooky old buildings, characters venturing down dark passageways and investigating the shadows, and that lurking sense of menace, and I'll eat it right up. I don’t read outright horror--I can’t deal with anything too dark or gruesome or downbeat myself--but I love that extra jolt of tension and suspense that comes from great atmosphere and an unsettling mood.  After all, shouldn't suspense be at least a little scary, for both the characters--and the reader?

When I first started reading Intrigues, there were plenty of these types of stories. They were some of my favorites, and many of them remain keepers for me to this day.  Authors like Anne Stuart, Bethany Campbell, Elaine K. Stirling, Madelyn Sanders and Jenna Ryan brought readers suspenseful stories with that extra creepy edge. Those early Intrigue authors (among others) took me from sinister small towns full of secrets to dark castles, English manor houses with dark histories to haunted vineyards, shadowy Venetian palazzos to isolated lighthouses as their heroes and heroines were confronted with unsettling events that kept them--and me--on edge, wondering what lurked in the darkness, in the fog, in the shadows.... (And of course there was the short-lived, deliciously dark Silhouette Shadows line. Hopefully I'm not the only one around here who was a fan!) I loved all those stories that delivered those great thrills and chills, but with a guaranteed happy ending and the knowledge that they wouldn't get too dark or depressing.

When I started planning my Stranger books in the fall of 2000 (yes, it really was that long ago), the line had mostly moved away from those types of stories, and frankly, I missed them. Naturally, I also had long wanted to try writing a spooky story of my own. So I started thinking...

As it often does with this kind of story, it all began with the house. I thought of an old house, isolated at the end of a street. All of the other houses on the street are nice-looking and well-kept, but not this one. It was likely beautiful once, but now it’s crumbling, falling apart. The lawn is overgrown, many of the windows are covered by boards. Clearly no one lives here or has for some time. Why not? What happened in this house that would prevent anyone from wanting to live there?

In most of these kinds of stories, it seemed to be the heroine whose past was connected to the place, so I knew I wanted to do it a little differently and have it be the hero in my story. So why was the heroine drawn to this house? I imagined a woman traveling alone, with nowhere to be and nowhere to go. She's drifting, lost because of events in her recent past. She finds herself in a small town she’s never been before, somewhere she had no intention of going and doesn’t intend to stay. But she gets lost in the town and finds herself at the end of this street, in front of this crumbling old house. Once there, she can’t look away. Something in her responds to this house. It’s all alone, as she is. Worse for wear, as she is. It seems abandoned, as she has been. She notices an ancient, faded For Sale sign in front of the house. She has experience restoring houses, and in a fit of inspiration--or madness--she decides that she is going to save this house.

In her determination, she doesn’t notice the eagerness of the real estate agent who sells her the house. She doesn’t ask too many questions about why the house is in such bad shape and why it’s been abandoned. The only thing that matters is that she’s going to save this house, when, of course, what she’s really trying to save is herself. But someone doesn’t want her in that house, someone who will do anything to try to drive her from it. All alone in this crumbling house, she soon realizes she has no allies in this town. It's only when another stranger suddenly arrives in town and agrees to work for her when no one else would that she has someone on her side. But naturally, there's more to him than there seems...

It wasn't until last year when I finally got to write this story, and as is usually the case, things changed from the early idea stage. Considering the townspeople’s dislike of the house, it didn’t seem likely anyone would want to talk to two strangers in town about what happened there. The story would work better if one of them had an obvious connection to the town. The nature of the plot meant it couldn’t be the hero, so I changed it so that the heroine had inherited the house. The reason she’s alone was also changed slightly (what I originally intended was a little too close to what I inadvertently used in my previous book, TRUSTING A STRANGER). Otherwise it remains the tale I waited years to tell—the story of a house, a woman and a mystery—and the stranger who comes to be entangled with all three.

While there weren't many spooky stories in the line anymore when I first came up with the idea, times have changed and happily they’ve found a home again in Intrigue over the past decade. Even so, I wasn’t sure if the editors would go for my story. So I was thrilled when they not only liked it, but decided it would be the first in the new "Shivers" promotion, which promises to bring plenty more spine-tingling tales to Intrigue readers in the months ahead.

To celebrate (and because I'm the kind of person who foists books on people that I think they should read 
Laughing), I'm giving away a set of two classic Intrigue chillers that I loved, in as close to "new" condition as I could find. They are:
Hand in Glove by Anne Stuart
Death wore a puppet's mask...
Judith Daniels knew that her friend, Lacey, feared for her life. And when Lacey died suddenly, Judith was convinced that her death had not been an accident. Desperate to learn the truth, she applied for Lacey's job at Ryan Smith's puppet factory.
Her task proved difficult. The voices behind the puppets were cleverly disguised. So were the people involved, for each one--like Judith herself--seemed to have something to hide. Even Ryan Smith, the creative genius of the group, was deliberately evasive.
Then it was Judith's turn to fear for her own life....

Dead Opposites by Bethany Campbell
Eerie sounds...
that went bump in the night were part of Hawthorne Towers's history. When Ginnie Prince heard rumors that the building was haunted, she decided it was time to move. But her decision was made too late. For when she arrived home one evening, she found more than an empty apartment.
Ex-Marine Wayne Priborski was starting his life over, alone, and didn't want to know his neighbors at Hawthorne Towers. However, he had no choice after encountering Ginnie stumbling down the marble staircase of the old Victorian building, unable to stand, fright evident in her eyes as she numbly told him there was a dead body in her bathtub.
I’ll draw one winner from today’s commenters to receive both books. For those who don't win, the books are well-worth hunting down, because they deserve to be read. And of course, if you’d like to try my own take on a spine-tingling romantic mystery, STRANGER IN A SMALL TOWN is available now!
I'll be back on Monday, May 10, 2010 with a new post and to pick the winner.  So how about you? Do you love your romantic suspense with that creepy, chilling edge? Any old favorites of your own you’d like to mention?

Kerry Connor

Monday, April 12, 2010

Live the Emotion

Twenty years ago this month, Intrigue released UNDER THE KNIFE by Tess Gerritsen, who of course would go on to become the bestselling author of awesome thrillers.  (Fun fact: the other Intrigue released that month was SWITCHBACK by Catherine Anderson, another future New York Times bestselling author.  Quite an auspicious month!).  I was still relatively new to Intrigue, having only started reading the line a couple months earlier.  UNDER THE KNIFE was the book that not only cemented my love of the line, but made it clear that this was the kind of story I wanted to write.  I didn't just want to write mysteries, as I'd always thought.  I wanted to write THESE.

The book had all the hallmarks I had already come to associate with the line.  Strong characters with a juicy interpersonal conflict.  A great mystery with plenty of suspects.  A well-developed love story.  Numerous twists and turns.  Suspenseful sequences.  But what really stood out about it was how emotional it was.  I found the hero's story incredibly moving, and the ending in particular hit me hard.  The story's emotional impact was what made it something extra-special and a book I knew would really stick with me.  As far as I was concerned, the book contained everything a great read could--and should, and set the bar for what I wanted to try and accomplish in my own stories--that perfect combination of mystery and emotion.  

It seems somehow fitting that my latest book, STRANGER IN A SMALL TOWN, is being released almost exactly twenty years later.  (Okay, it’s technically a May release, but it’s already available on eHarlequin, so close enough. Wink)  It's a book that means a lot to me, partly because I think it really exemplifies the kind of story I've always wanted to write since reading UNDER THE KNIFE, combining a mystery I hope will keep readers guessing with (at least for me) that level of emotion I’ve been aiming for from the beginning.  It’s the story of two people, both running from their pasts in different ways and for different reasons, bound together by the creepy, crumbling house that each has been drawn to.  The house has largely been abandoned since two people were murdered there almost thirty years before, a crime that remains unsolved.  The heroine is determined to restore the house; the hero hires on to help her while keeping his true motives secret.  But no one in the town wants the house restored, least of all the killer.  When the danger surrounding the house escalates, the hero and heroine are driven to try to solve the murders.  Over the course of the story, they work to find the truth, and in the process find the strength to face their respective pasts and move on into the future.

All of my characters mean a great deal to me, but I especially felt for these two people, two lost souls who find a connection when neither expects it.  I just "got" them on a level I hope comes across on the page.  I admit, there were a few points while I was writing it where I felt a lump in my throat.  A tear or two may have even been shed.  I can’t guarantee that anyone else will have the same reaction (though I certainly wish I could!), but I do hope anyone who decides to take a chance on the book will enjoy it and maybe even find themselves as caught up in the emotions of the characters' story as I was.  

In the meantime, what are some of your favorite emotional reads that really got to you and stuck with you?  Do you have any books that really made you cry?

Kerry Connor

Monday, February 22, 2010

In Their Footsteps

Hot Pursuit Stranger Than Fiction Do Unto Others Cloak and Dagger 

I recently realized that this week marks my anniversary with Intrigue—not as a writer, but as a reader. It was twenty years ago this week that I wandered out of the mystery section of the used bookstore I used to frequent in my youth and into the romance section without realizing it. I spotted these books with dramatic-looking white covers, shelved, fittingly enough, on what turned out to be the border between the mystery and romance sections. I didn't know anything about Harlequin, but I read a few of the back covers and these books sounded like something I’d like (i.e. mysteries), so I bought a few. Those first few soon sent me back for more, as well as to the new bookstore to get the current ones, since the used bookstore was several months behind and I couldn't wait that long knowing there were new Intrigues out there! I still remember the first Intrigue I bought new—Caroline Burnes’s original Fear Familiar, which was awesome. It was followed a month later by Tess Gerritsen’s Under the Knife, which knocked my socks off. I’d always wanted to write mysteries, but that was the book that cemented the fact that Intrigue was not just what I wanted to be reading, but what I wanted to write, and for me it remains the perfect example of exactly what an Intrigue should be.

It was many years later before I finally broke into the line as a writer, but my journey began with those early days, devouring those books until I’d read every one. I still have very fond memories of those early Intrigues, some of which remain all-time favorites, many of which I can recall the entire plots of all these years later. There were authors who became regulars with the line, some who moved on to big things, and others who only contributed a few titles before seeming to disappear. Wherever their paths led them, they were the authors and theirs were the stories that established my love for the line and showed me how Intrigue was done, for which I will always be grateful.

I figure the best way to pay tribute to those authors is to share their stories with others who may not have read them. So to celebrate my anniversary and those authors’ work, I thought I’d give away some early Intrigues by authors I particularly enjoyed (and whose books I happened to have spare copies of). They’re all used copies, but in good shape for their age (hey, they’re twenty year old books!). The spines are creased, but the books are holding together well with plenty of reading left in them. Most important, they're books that deserve to be read.  They are:

#84 – A Walking Shadow by Regan Forest
Forest wrote more books for Temptation than Intrigue, but her four Intrigues were terrific. This one has a great setting in the historic ghost town of Jerome, Arizona, and two compelling main characters with a cartoonist heroine and a mysterious hero hiding from his past.

#85 – Chain Letter by Elaine K. Stirling
Stirling wrote a number of creepy tales for Intrigue (Foul Play and Sleepwalker are particularly fun). This is a neat one too, as two strangers connected by a chain letter have to figure out why they’ve been targeted and who’s responsible when the others listed in the letter start being murdered one by one.

#89 – Red Dog Run by Jan Michaels
Michaels specialized in couple-on-the-run stories in her four Intrigues. Her first, Pursuit in the Wilderness, was probably my favorite, and one of the very first (and possibly THE first) true couple-on-the-run Intrigues. This is a good one too, with plenty of the rip-roaring action that was her forte.

#98 – Hot Pursuit by Fran Earley
Earley wrote several Intrigues set in Central America, an area not often visited in romantic suspense.  Ransom in Jade took place in Guatamala, while Setup took readers to Costa Rica.  This one is set stateside, but involves plenty of international intrigue as well. 

#102 – For Love or Money by M.J. Rodgers
Rodgers’s first Intrigue featured a strong heroine and a truly clever mystery, two elements that would be the hallmarks of the many excellent books she wrote for the line in the following years.

#110 – Stranger Than Fiction by M.L. Gamble
Gamble often wrote about characters with interesting and unusual careers, like the rock star hero and heroine who ran a celebrity impersonator business in If Looks Could Kill. This one is about the publishing industry (probably no surprise I'd find that interesting!) and the mystery surrounding who really wrote a guaranteed bestseller that's about to be released--and who will kill to keep the secret. 

#113 – Do Unto Others by Patricia Rosemoor
One of the earliest Intrigue authors, Rosemoor is obviously still thrilling Intrigue readers with her books today.  This was one of that first set of Intrigues I bought twenty years ago (not this exact copy), so I have a particular fondness for it. When her sister disappears inside a televangelist's compound, the heroine goes undercover to find out the truth and discover who's a saint and who's really a sinner. 

#118 – Cloak and Dagger by Jenna Ryan
One of Ryan’s was also part of that first set, though I don’t remember if it was this particular one. Either way, it’s a fun one, with a century-old legend that says a serial killer will rise a hundred years after his death, and a present-day murder that seems to indicate the legend is coming true…
Of course, these books and these authors are well worth checking out even if you don't win, and there are many others I could have mentioned as well.  To enter, all you have to do is post a comment.  What are some of your favorite older books, Intrigue or otherwise, that you think not enough people have heard of?  Favorite authors who may not be writing any longer who you wish were or had written more?  Or what books brought you to Intrigue? Or any random comment you'd like to make.  

I'm thinking of choosing eight different winners to spread the wealth, with each winner getting one book, though if not enough people enter or are interested, I may pick just one winner who will receive the entire lot.  We'll see how it goes.  In any case, be sure to comment on eHarlequin before Wednesday morning, which is when the winner(s) will be chosen. 

Happy reading!

Kerry Connor