My favorite mysteries have always had elements of romance, going all the way back to the first Agatha Christie novels I read as a teenager. Obviously the solving of the puzzle–who committed the murder and why–should always be at the forefront of a good mystery novel, but that said . . . I love romantic subplots!
A BAD DAY’S WORK
HOT, SHOT, AND BOTHERED
There’s nothing more fun than characters falling in love. For the first book in my Lilly Hawkins mystery series, A BAD DAY’S WORK, I put my main character through the grueling experience of being chased by villains, becoming a fugitive from the police, and solving a murder. The story unfolds in twenty-four hours and Lilly’s life is temporarily ruined. On the positive side, Lilly’s very bad day leads to several realizations about her life, the people in it, and the mistakes she’s been making. It also enables her to lower her guard and fall in love.
For the second book in the series, HOT, SHOT, AND BOTHERED, my biggest challenge was making an existing relationship as much fun as characters meeting for the first time. This is no small task. I’m sure any reader of genre fiction can rattle off a long list of series that declined because the core romance fizzled.
To avoid that fate, I needed to create conflict between the lovers. Lilly, a TV news photographer, is covering a deadly wildfire. In the midst of the fire and evacuation, a body is discovered in the local lake. Lilly is increasingly drawn to investigate what she thinks is a murder. Her boyfriend, also a journalist, believes they have a duty to focus on the wildfire, which is both a public safety issue and something that their friends and co-workers are depending on them to do. They clash over which story to cover.
This worked okay in my first draft, but for the second I decided to add more depth to their conflict. Instead of the dead woman being a stranger, I made her someone Lilly used to know during her wild-teenage years. Lilly is reluctant to confide in her boyfriend because she’s not proud of that time in her life. She also feels an obligation to the dead woman, who helped her at a pivotal moment. This one change explained both Lilly’s need to investigate the murder and her reluctance to explain why.
But conflict is just a small part of a good romantic subplot. What I adore as a reader isn’t seeing how characters in love are broken up, but rather how they come back together again. Lilly Hawkins is flawed–she’s prone to cynicism and afraid of getting hurt–but for me this makes the times when she overcomes her flaws all the more meaningful. And what is love, if not the triumph of our better selves over fear and cynicism?
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