Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Second Look at Romance

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Happy Saturday, all!  I’m teaching today in Wisconsin, and I wanted to give you something really wonderful to read and discuss. And viola. The fabulous Wendy Tyson provided the perfect thing,

The Mystery of Romance

One day during the early months with my agent, she called me at work out of the blue.  She knew I was working on a new novel and had some suggestions.  “Romance, Wendy,” she said.  “I’m not talking about sex. Ro-mance.  There’s a critical difference. Even in a mystery, readers like a little love with their suspense.”

Clearly she didn’t know me that well yet. “Fran,” I replied. “I’ve been married for almost twenty-five years. I’m not sure I’d know romance if it grabbed me by the ankles and flipped me to the ground.”
She laughed. “Then tell your husband he has some work to do.”

Yeah, about that.  I love my engineer husband—he’s warm, caring, funny, and brilliant—but when I shared my agent’s comments, he gave me the same look he gives me when I suggest we go to the local vegan restaurant for dinner. “Uh-huh,” he said. “I’ll get right on that.”

This was going to go nowhere.

Only my agent’s suggestion stayed with me.  She was right, of course (she typically is).  Though I’d never been a big romance reader, I certainly appreciated a well-written love story woven into a book or movie. Who didn’t root for the budding romance between Harry and Sally?  Who didn’t weep at the end of The Notebook?  Who else gets teary when they hear the song “Book of Love”?

Oh, who was I kidding?

The truth is, I’m a hopeless romantic.  When it comes to matters of the heart, I believe in love at first sight, ‘til death do us part, and kindred spirits.  I want love to triumph. I’m impractical, imprudent, and I wear my sensitive heart right out there on my sleeve.  And so does my engineer husband, so don’t let him fool you. There may not be romance in the bring-me-flowers-and-chocolate sense, but there was something.

But how do you translate something onto the page?

And so I read romance novels, I watched chick flicks, and I even talked to my friends about what they liked about Fifty Shades of Grey.  But everything I wrote seemed to come out forced.  Sex? Sure. The intricacies of a marital partnership?  Absolutely.  
This nebulous thing called romance?  Not quite.

Then a chance encounter changed my perspective.

It was last spring, and I had been invited to the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. My work schedule is always brutal during the first quarter of the fiscal year, and I had to fly from Philadelphia to Chicago and then on to Nashville for the festival.  By the time we touched down in Tennessee, I was exhausted. The coordinators had been kind enough to arrange for a car service to pick me up at the Nashville airport. The driver, a kindly older man, informed me that there was just one other author we needed to find.  He spotted her across the terminal and waved.

Surprised and instantly humbled, I saw that my companion was Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander novels.  Diana was gracious enough to entertain my chatter for much of the drive to Bowling Green, and while she said many things during that hour that seemed incredibly wise to me, one thing became clear:  Diana wrote what she wanted to write. I am paraphrasing—and perhaps even putting my own memory spin on the conversation—but what I heard during that drive from the airport was “make no apologies” and “be true to yourself.”

Now I know, of course, that it’s imperative as an author to write with authenticity, and chasing a market can backfire. But somewhere along the line in my search for romance, I’d lost sight of the simple fact that my experiences mattered—even on the topic of romance. Sure, I’d been married since George courted Martha. Yes, I hadn’t dated in years. But I knew what it meant to cuddle on the couch with my best friend while our children slept upstairs, and I understood the incredible power of hearing his calming voice during a crisis. Together we’d felt the tantalizing butterflies of getting to know someone, and apart we’d experienced the heart wrenching pain of loss.  

Wasn’t romance, in the end, a compilation of these feelings and experiences, a link to the very thing that makes us all human—the need for connection.

It just so happens that I was three-quarters of the way through A Muddied Murder during my chance encounter with Dr. Gabaldon.  Inspired, I went back to my manuscript that night and took a fresh look at it.  I had a main character and a love interest, the Scottish veterinarian, but I’d placed them in the situations I thought others expected—not what I wanted for them.  I started rewriting that evening, drawing on all the small moments that together—over days and weeks and months and years—made a relationship special and strong. The slow building of trust.  The heat of desire. The testing of boundaries.  The shared embarrassments, triumphs and failures.

It was working. A spark was igniting.  I had that little bit of romance

I’ve been pleased to see that readers feel the chemistry between Dr. “Denver” Finnand Megan Sawyer.  I’ve been even more pleased that my passion for these characters translated to the page.  In the end, what I learned is that romance—in a book, at least—is a group affair. There are the characters. And the reader. And the author. 

At home, it’s just my husband and me (and the kids). There are still no flowers, and he only buys me chocolate when he wants some too.  But sometimes he’ll accompany me to the vegan restaurant. Without complaint.

And if that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.

HANK: Diana Gabaldon! Wow. We are HOOKED on Outlander. 

But aw. Really,  so wonderful. right now I am giving a keynote and talking about “how to write a novel.” Ha. I wish you were with me, Wendy.  But meanwhile—we’ve talked about about mystery and romance here from time to time—what’s the MOST romantic movie you’ve ever seen? Or book you’ve ever read?

Mine is..ah.  Lemme think.  The real  Sabrina? Philadelphia Story? Oh! Affair to Remember.  The Island Queen?  Jonathan would say A Farewell to Arms.  How about you, Reds and readers?

(And don't forget: My contest is still open. You could win $100 gift certificate for any bookstore you choose!  Click here: 
(And if you'd also like a signed bookplate--perfect for Mother's Day gifts!--Let me know!)
Wendy Tyson is an author, lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers.  Wendy writes two series, the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the Greenhouse Mystery Series. The first Greenhouse mystery, A Muddied Murder, was released March 29, 2016 to strong reviews.  The first book in the Campbell Series, Killer Image, was named a 2014 best mystery for book clubs by  Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers, and she is a contributing editor for The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins, International Thriller Writers’ online magazines. Wendy and her family live on a micro-farm outside of Philadelphia.


  1. All the hopeless romantics should unite! Thanks for a heartwarming post.
    Most romantic movie? That’s a tough one; there are so many really good ones . . . “It Happened One Night” and “Sleepless in Seattle” come immediately to mind.

    I’m looking forward to reading “A Muddied Murder” . . . .

  2. Hank, thank you for letting me hang out with the Reds for a day! I'm honored to be here. Have a great time teaching--and I wish I were there as well. Sounds like a great class! Romantic you might expect from this post, I'm a sucker for a romantic comedy. Like Joan, my first thought was "Sleepless in Seattle." The husband says "Say Anything."

  3. I've seen a couple of other events at other places, but this was my first time in here. It was amazing! Great venue, it's smaller than those bigger places but it is still a fair sized venue. Food at LA venues was great and I think it's recently renovated - it didn't seem old or anything.