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