Wednesday, December 30, 2015
To shag or not to shag? In a mystery, that is.
LUCY BURDETTE: I love it when a new book in a favorite series is coming soon, and that's the case with my pal Jenn McKinlay's London-based cozy, COPY CAP MURDER, out January 5. I invited Jenn to visit today, telling her that I especially admire the push-pull between her main character and a love interest. It takes a deft touch to do this well, and Jenn has it...
JENN MCKINLAY: An interesting thing happened on my way to writing mysteries. After much ripping out of hair follicles, gnashing of molars, and pacing holes in my living room carpet, my murderous plotlines became romantic comedies but, you know, with dead bodies. Because nothing says “I’m warm for your form” in the beginning of a relationship like finding a person poisoned, stabbed or strangled, am I right?
Seriously, when I set out to write the traditional mystery six years ago, I really did plan to make them straight up mysteries with no hanky-panky or nonsense. Sadly, this was not a great fit for my writer’s voice as I am the sort of person who loves the absurd and the ridiculous and life without shenanigans really seems dreadfully dull. Thankfully, my characters have proven to be a mischievous lot and they frequently do things that surprise me and make me laugh and aggravate me to no end.
Some characters, such as Scarlett Parker in my London Hat Shop mysteries, invite more absurdity than others. Scarlett is twenty-seven and an incorrigible flirt. After a nasty break-up goes viral (she is filmed heaving cake at the boyfriend she thought was single) she flees the States to take up her half of the millinery shop her grandmother Mim bequeathed to her and her cousin Vivian Tremont. Viv is the hat designer while Scarlett is the people person, charming their customers with her genuine care for their happiness and well-being which includes donning the cap of amateur sleuth when murder comes in to play, natch.
When I began writing the hat shop mysteries, I purposefully made Scarlett’s public humiliation as awful as I could so that she would reject any sort of romance during the series. Yeah, by page seven of CLOCHE AND DAGGER, the first book in the series, all of my grand plans and good intentions were a bust as Harrison Wentworth, the girls’ business manager, entered the scene and caused Scarlett to get all a flutter. Honestly, how could she not fall for a guy who calls her “Ginger”? The attraction between Harry and Scarlett was instantaneous and impossible to ignore. Darn it!
I was so irritated. Why did romance keep happening in my mystery series? I debated killing Harry off, but I liked him so that was a no. Then I debated marrying him to another but my heart wasn’t in it. Finally, Scarlett and I negotiated terms and agreed that she needed to declare a vow of celibacy for one year to prove that she could get by without a man as previously in life, she had never gone more than two weeks without a boyfriend. Yay! Problem solved or so I thought.
With the fourth book COPY CAP MURDER coming out on January 5th, we are eight months into Scarlett’s vow and it has not been easy. Harrison, smitten with “Ginger”, has told her he’ll wait for her. Yes, this does make him the perfect man, I know. Except, in this mystery, Harrison’s long time business rival Winthrop Dashavoy is murdered, strangled at a Guy Fawkes bonfire party, and Harrison who just had a fist fight with Win when he got fresh with Scarlett is the prime suspect.
Can Scarlett stick to her vow when Harrison might be arrested and go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? Could you? In the case of Scarlett and Harrison, falling in love raises the stakes of the story’s outcome, as it makes them vulnerable and causes their actions to be more reckless than if they weren’t emotionally invested.
Now that I have resigned myself to my fate of writing mysteries with romantic comedy subplots, I can’t imagine a mystery without a strong romantic subplot giving the reader a glimpse into the character’s inner life, but that’s just me.
What about you? Does it blur the lines of genre fiction too much to have a strong romance blended into the mystery or does it open up the character’s deepest vulnerability making them more accessible? And how much romance is too much? Do we want to go full frontal or do we prefer a kiss at the door? To shag or not to shag? That is the question.
Thanks for inviting me to visit Jungle Red today. It’s always a pleasure.
Bio: Jenn McKinlay is the author of several New York Times bestselling mystery series. She lives in sunny AZ, in a house overrun with kids, pets, and her husband’s guitars.