Saturday, September 27, 2014
Some like it hot! Deborah Coonts talks about mixing sex and murder
HALLIE EPHRON: Today our special guest is Deborah Coonts, a very funny writer who goes where I, for one, don't dare. She mixes romance and mystery. SEX and mystery. Oh yeah, and humor. And, as she says, tongue firmly planted in cheek: "After fifteen years learning the craft of writing, I am now officially, an overnight success."
Book 5 in her Lucky series of funny, heart-felt mysteries, LUCKY CATCH, came out in August. (The series first, WANNA GET LUCKY? was a NY Times Notable Crime Novel for 2010 and a RITA finalist.)
And yes, she has definite opinions about sex and mystery. I'll let her tell you. In my opinion, she makes some seriously good writing sense...
DEBORAH COONTS: Sex and murder. Ugly little bedfellows.
They do sort of go hand-in-hand, though, don’t they? Especially when you’re talking about a motive for murder. Heck, I’ve been spending time in Texas where the trial of a woman who ran her husband down, then backed up and did it again… and again…and again… made titillating headlines for weeks.
Love and hate, such a fine line.
But what about love and sex, not as a motive for murder but as part of the story?
I’ve found folks have pretty strong opinions about that. Some think that love and sex just sully a great mystery, diluting it. Others, such as myself, think a story is a slice of life, tugging at common human threads to pull us in. And what’s life without love? And where there is love, there is sex. But what is the right balance of between the sheets time and between the ears time?
Now, I’m here to give you a definitive answer. Wait for it...
It depends. I know, sort of a cop out, but it’s really true. The story dictates the balance.
Technically my stories are romantic mysteries. I know that’s not a “real” genre, but to readers it is. And this means that, while the mystery is the main plot thread, the romance better be pretty darn important. And my setting, Las Vegas, also plays a part in reader’s expectations.
If Vegas is about anything it’s about sex. Gratuitous sex.
But, in a story, nothing can be gratuitous—every scene, every word, every…. dalliance, must serve the story. It must either advance the plot or develop character.
In the first book, WANNA GET LUCKY, the romance was integral in showing my protagonist’s growing ability to learn to trust, to open her heart. Having been raised in a whorehouse, her mother the madam, her father unknown, trust was a big issue for her.
The key here was to advance the romance without taking from the mystery. I remember reading a romantic suspense story a while back and, while being chased by the bad guys, the police and just about everyone else, the hero and heroine pause to have a romantic interlude. I read that section twice, then I stopped reading. Yep, I was done. Fatal storytelling flaw. I don’t know about you, but if the entire Universe is armed and after my blood, I’m really not thinking about sex, nor would I be in the mood if propositioned. And I wouldn’t care if it Tom Selleck, Colin Firth, or Robert Downey, Jr. was doing the asking. But, hey, that just might be one of my weird little peccadillos.
And this is a really good point. In mysteries, the mystery has to be front and center. The romance must add, supplement, complicate, but it should never overshadow.
The story dictates the balance.
And I’ve discovered that even in writing a series, the balance is fluid. Each story is different, so the amount and importance of relationship stuff is different. In the third book, SO DAMN LUCKY, there was a sex scene that was integral to my protagonist’s story line, but not to the murder. That scene went toward the end of the book. The danger is over, so the sex was a release, not only for the characters but the story as well. And it was hot. I could do that at that point in the story. Just thinking about that scene now still leaves me blushing. And I cringe to think my son read that one. Of course, he’s grown and married, so sex isn’t a huge surprise. But still….
And in the latest book, LUCKY CATCH, the sex takes a back seat (not literally—but, now that I think about it, that’s an interesting idea) as Lucky is caught in an awkward position: having to clear her current lover’s name and enlisting her former lover’s help. Love—here I used it as a complicating factor. Can Lucky really trust the man she loves, even when the evidence against him starts piling up?
So, as one would suspect, when talking about love and sex and a good balance, nothing is straightforward.
So what’s your take? Do you like some spice in your mysteries or do you like them hard-boiled?
HALLIE: I so admire it, enjoy reading it, so cannot write it. Every time I try to write about sex I end up writing about... oysters. Or brie cheese. Or ripe peaches.
What about the rest of you? Hard-boiled or over easy... or maybe a little of both, please? Today Deborah is giving away an eBook to a lucky commenter.