As reader, I feel there are two components to a great plot—mystery and romance. And as a writer, I find it darn near impossible not to include both of those elements in my stories. It’s a little like that old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial, I get either mystery mixed up into my romances or romances mixed up into my mysteries.
I blame this on some of my favorite pre-teen series Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and Cherry Ames. There was always thread of romance running through the Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, and Nancy Drew books as those girl sleuths solved the mysteries. Would Trixie and Jim Frayne end up together? How about Nancy and Ned Nickerson? Would Cherry Ames marry Dr. Lex Upham?
On the romantic side, how about Jane Eyre? Would she figure out the mystery of the attic before her romance with Mr. Rochester is forever doomed? And modern romances generally have at least a hint of mystery. Most of the time the mystery revolves around the hero and heroine’s past, but often they have to solve an ongoing mystery before they are free to admit their love. Jill Shalvis’ LuckyHarbor series, Rachel Gibson’s Lovett, Texas series, and Susan Mallery’s Buchanans series are all good examples of how the hero and heroines’ pasts bring an element of mystery to the romances.
Then there’s the whole romantic suspense subgenre. I remember being so excited when I discovered Harlequin Intrigues. Anne Stuart’s Tangled Lies was the first one I bought. The mystery of whether the man Rachel was attracted to was really her brother, and if not why was he pretending to be, was a real page-turner. And the chemistry between the hero and heroine was sizzling hot.
Which is why, in the mid-nineties when I started writing my first mystery in the ScumbleRiver series, I incorporated a heavy dose of romance. Back in those days, the mystery field was dominated by male authors and their books didn’t include anything close to what I felt was a satisfying love story.
There were a few female authors that were sprinkling tidbits of romance in their mysteries—Carolyn Hart, Earlene Fowler,
and of course, Janet Evanovich, which I loved, but the romances were either extremely secondary to the plot or not the heartwarming love stories that I enjoyed.
So when I outlined the first three books of my proposed series, I made the romance a major element and infused as much soul into the relationships as possible. This earned me two hundred and seventy rejection letters for various agents who felt that I was muddying the genre lines. A couple wrote that while romance readers were willing to read mystery, mystery readers were not willing to read about romances. One offered me representation if I would cut out the vast majority of the relationship component in my book.
After careful consideration, I refused. Those parts of the story were my favorite ones to write. About then, I joined Romance Writers of America, and attended my first local chapter meeting where I heard about things like writers conferences where agent and editors took pitches from authors. I signed up for one, and in the meantime started to write a contemporary romance (with a little mystery thrown in because, as I said, I just can’t stop myself).
Before I could finish that book, the conference date rolled around and because of my agent/editor pitch, I ended up signing with an agent who instructed me to put the contemporary romance aside and turned my attention back to the mystery series. Ironically, or maybe not, I was the only mystery writer that my new agent represented. All her other authors were romance writers. And as it turned out, the editor to whom she sold my book, Murder of a Small-Town Honey, had mainly handled the romance genre in her previous job.
Fast-forward several years, cozy mysteries, which are the labels my type of books fall under, have become very popular with lots and lots of authors writing in that subgenre. But cozies are a bit restrictive especially in the romance department, so when I decided to write a second series, the Devereaux’s Dime Store novels, I decided to push the envelope and not stick to the guidelines of a cozy mystery.
Little Shop of Homicide, the first book in the Devereaux’s Dime Store series, contains a much hotter thread of romance than my Scumble River mysteries. Devereaux Sinclair’s relationship with hunky U.S. Marshal Jake Del Vecchio is front and center in this book and in the narrative, Jake has his own point of view. The strong romance element heats up even more in the second book, Nickeled-and-Dimed to Death, and in the third book, Dead Between the Lines, Dev’s relationships with the men in her life really come to a boil.
It’s been tough convincing the publishing side of the business that there’s a readership for more heavily romantic mysteries, but I’ve stuck to my guns, and gotten great reviews for these books—RT Magazine just gave Dead Between the Lines, a rave, so I hope I’m starting to persuade the naysayers. Because to me, there’s not much of a story without a little mystery. And every mystery needs some romance.
Dead Between the Lines debuts on March 4, 2014
Reviews for the two previous Devereaux’s Dime Store Mysteries
“Delightful…Readers will look forward to seeing more of the quick-witted Dev.” —Publishers Weekly
“[A] spunky new heroine with a Missouri stubborn streak.”—Library Journal (Starred Review)
“Swanson puts just the right amount of sexy sizzle in her latest engaging mystery.” –Chicago Tribune
New York Times Bestselling author Denise Swanson writes both the ScumbleRiver and Devereaux’s Dime Store mystery series. Denise was a practicing school psychologist for twenty-two years and grew up in a small town similar to Shadow Bend and ScumbleRiver. She is married to classic music composer David Stybr and lives in Illinois with her cool black cat Boomerang.
Visit Denise at
or follow her on Twitter @DeniseSwansonAu