Continuing with my quest to find out more about exciting new genres I spoke to Elizabeth Heiter, romantic suspense writer, to learn more about this style of writing and what draws her readers to it.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing suspense fiction?
Since I was very young, I’ve always loved suspense. As a kid, I plowed through Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mysteries. Younger than I probably should have been watching him, I was intrigued by villains like Darth Vader. What I’ve always appreciated about suspense is the puzzle aspect: as a reader, I enjoyed trying to unravel the mystery before the big reveal. As a writer, I like creating that puzzle, including all of the clues and red herrings. The other part of suspense that appeals to me is that (in many mysteries), at the end of the book, you can get the kind of closure real life often doesn’t offer. The protagonist prevails, the mystery is solved, and the villain pays for his crime. I like the vicarious closure in that.
As a suspense writer, I often identify myself within the psychological suspense sub-genre, because I’m equally drawn to characters. Why do people make the choices they make? What causes two people with the same background to take vastly different paths (e.g., one a serial killer and the other a profiler, as in my debut book). So, for me, character is equally as important as plot.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?
My degree is in English Literature, and I knew since I was a kid that I wanted to be an author, so many of my educational and professional decisions were based on that goal. In high school, I co-wrote my first finished manuscript (a YA action-adventure) with my critique partner. After college, I got involved in writing organizations to keep honing my craft and learning about the industry. And because I knew I wanted to write suspense and realism is important to me, I also began seeking out research opportunities (e.g. visiting places like the FBI Academy at Quantico and the CIA at Langley). Early on, I put together a career plan to help guide me in making decisions. In 2012, I sold my first five books, which were in two genres – both psychological suspense and romantic suspense; that was also the beginning of my journey as a multi-genre author.
Talk me through romantic suspense as a genre and how you would define this style of fiction?
In romantic suspense, the suspense plot and the romance plot (which involves two people overcoming personal and plot conflicts in order to fall in love) are so intertwined it would be difficult to pull them apart. Quite a bit of suspense fiction contains a romance; the difference in romantic suspense is both the amount and the role romance plays in the plot. One of the things I love about romantic suspense is that it really gives me a chance to dig into my characters’ flaws and force them to grow in order to earn their “happily ever after” at the end of the book. For a writer like me, who’s fascinated by why people make the choices they do, romantic suspense really gives me room to delve deep into character.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. As a suspense writer, I definitely get ideas from real incidents. I’ll see something in the news (a headline or some small detail about an action someone took) and I’ll wonder, “what if this happened instead”? Whenever I plot my books, I’m constantly asking myself “what if” and “how can I make this worse”? In my opinion, character and plot are equally important, and I think the strongest books have the “right” combination of character and plot (meaning that the plot is in some way the worst possible thing for this particular character to face). So, if I’m ever having trouble developing a story, I dig into character and motivation. And I never underestimate the power of a little caffeine and chocolate when I’m feeling writer’s block!
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare. I love that so many of his plays contain elements of multiple genres: suspense, romance, drama etc. Back in high school, with the same critique partner I co-wrote my first finished manuscript, I made a complicated project involving a new play containing half a dozen Shakespearean endings. So, I think my dream collaboration would be with Shakespeare! (Although I suspect he might be a bit of a prima donna!)
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Currently, I’m working on a new romantic suspense involving a woman searching for her long-lost sister in the wilds of Alaska. If she has any shot at succeeding, she needs the help of local a local ex-Marine and his Combat Tracker Dog, but that ex-Marine is fighting his own demons in the form of a new disability and PTSD. For years, I’ve wanted to set a book in Alaska, so this book has been a lot of fun to write. It’s called K-9 Defense and it releases in Spring 2019.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
My friend and fellow suspense writer Jennifer Hillier recently released a book called Jar of Hearts that I’ve been waiting for since she first told me what she was working on over a year ago! I’ve got the book sitting on my desk as a reward as soon as I meet my own deadline.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
If readers want to know any more about me or my books, they can visit my website at www.elizabethheiter.com.
Thanks ever so much for taking the time to answer my questions, it has been fascinating hearing more about your work.