I was inspired to create the historic opera house in BRIMSTONE SEDUCTION by my love of theater–both the productions that bring story to life and the shadowy backstage world of props, special effects and the often dramatic relationships of artistic people. It seemed the perfect place to indulge in a plot full of passionate secrets and otherworldly influences where shadows whisper and kisses linger long after lovers lips part.
There are many historic theaters in America. Some have fallen to ruin or fire or repurpose, but others continue to provide a place for artists to perform. I’m sure audiences must enjoy the show that much more because the walls echo with performances from decades past…
If you’d like to see some of the theaters that inspired me while I was creating l’Opera Severne, CLICK HERE.
I was also inspired by photos of abandoned theaters and tales of hauntings CLICK HERE
And, of course, Astor Place. Fire & scandal. CLICK HERE
I love dark heroes. I love anti-heroes. To be honest, I love villains…especially if there’s any wiggle room at all to imagine that they can be redeemed.
The more layered and multi-faceted a hero reveals themselves to be, the more I’m hooked as a reader or viewer. I like gray areas. I like ambiguity. It keeps me on the edge of my seat and definitely causes me to swoon when vulnerability and softness is revealed for the people they love.
In NBC’s The Blacklist, Tom Keen is all the delicious shades of gray. He makes me shiver. He makes me cry. He makes me want him to be a better man. Then, suddenly, he’s a larger than life hero who would die for his wife and child. I JUST DON’T KNOW. It’s complicated. But, in the end, my love for him is as simple as can be. The Blacklist owns me with it’s brilliant portrayal of characters who are living…and loving…on the edge.
In my October Harlequin Nocturne, BRIMSTONE SEDUCTION, John Severne lives in the shadows of a historic opera house tormented by the secrets that whisper from its walls. He’s as dark and dangerous as a hero can come…but that isn’t all he is. His soul may belong to the daemon king. His hard body may be honed for battle. But his heart is up for grabs and the soft touch of an empathetic heroine just might overcome the darkness that tries to defeat him.
As a romance author, I love to tap into the exhilaration that comes from discovering the hidden wants and needs of a stoic and hardened hero- or anti-hero- with many layers to explore. I enjoy creating heroines who become empowered and bold enough to unlock his secrets.
I enjoy The Blacklist so much because this is also the place I play. In the shadows. I’m not sure happily ever after is in the cards for Tom Keen, but in my books you can always count on this: no matter how dark the hero he’ll be drawn toward the beckoning light of happily ever after.
My first ever sale to Harlequin was a werewolf romance for their Nocturne Bites line. As I’m gearing up for the release of my first full length Nocturnes, I’m remembering what it meant to me as an author to get my first big break with a story that was near and dear to my heart. Wilderness was later included in a print anthology along with other Nocturne authors I loved. It was so exciting to see my novella alongside theirs!
<<Tess Haverty examined the silver bindings that twined once, twice and again around his bare, muscular torso. Considering her plans, it was lame to mentally go down the list of how well he was bound . . . arms to chest(check) . . . wrist to wrist(check) . . . ankles to floorboard(check). She chalked it up to nerves mixed with a hearty dose of survival instinct. She had known this would be dangerous, but somehow knowing and seeing were two very different things.>>
We’ve all had defining moments in our lives when we had to decide to act or to hide. As the daughter of an alcoholic, I know a little something about fear. For years, I cringed through each day, never knowing if the next moment or the next was going to bring catastrophe in the form of drunken anger or public humiliation. My father quit drinking when I was a teenager.
My cringing didn’t stop.
When you’ve been conditioned to be afraid of each coming moment and what it might bring, it’s hard to break free of that fear.
In Wilderness, Tess Haverty is an uncertain Psychic because she feels as if her powers aren’t reliable. She lost her parents in a car accident she didn’t foresee soon enough to save them. She lost her sister to government authorities who have targeted Psychics and other Supernaturals for research. Tess must face down her fears as she steps forward into a dangerous future no less intimidating because her dreams give her glimpses into it.
Knowing what has to be done and actually doing it are two very different things.
There are probably few people who knew I was afraid as a teen. I was quick to laugh. My smile was the perfect camouflage. A defining moment in my life came when I held my baby son in my arms for the first time and timid was no longer an option. I owed him action. I owed him a fresh new life, free of fear. Sometimes it’s not about knowing what the future will bring, it’s about being not only prepared, but eager to face it, come what may.
Wilderness is a story about a woman embracing her power for the first time. It’s also the story about a man who inspires even as he represents the biggest challenge of all! Colin Masterson is powerful, dangerous and wild. He’s been captured and he’s on his way to a government research lab.
<<With a deep breath, she dropped to one knee. This was the do-or-die moment. Tess knew the truck was only about fifteen minutes from its destination. It was time to act. She just wished she didn’t have a sudden twist in her gut that redefined the moment as do and die.>>
Can you imagine the moment? Can you imagine cutting those chains?
Tess has to face her fear of failure. She has to brave the dangers of freeing a werewolf and, not only that, she has to embrace the untamed unknown he represents. This is her call to adventure, the call of the wild, and, for Tess, letting fear control her isn’t an option anymore.
I’d like to think I would be brave enough to cut Colin Masterson’s chains. (Especially because I know what lies ahead for Tess in reward for her bravery!) I know I am much braver than I used to be. My smile is real and those cringing days are behind me. . .for the most part.
Whether we could or couldn’t bring ourselves to free a sexy dangerous werewolf, going along with Tess as she does has truly been one of the wildest rides of my life. I hope you’ll enjoy sharing her adventure as much as I did.
Credit: 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection
A liaison with danger…
Sleeping with the Enemy is an old psychological thriller with certain scenes that have stayed with me since I was a tween. In the movie, Julia Roberts plays an abused wife who lives with a man who requires her to keep everything perfectly in order. She sets up an elaborate ruse to fake her death and escape from him. Once she’s in a home of her own, one of her “celebrations” is to keep things messy.
One of the scariest scenes in the movie is when she notices the hand towels in her bathroom arranged perfectly on the rack the same way her abusive husband used to make her arrange them. Of course, she has doubts. Did she fix them that way because of years of habit and conditioning or has her husband found her and been in her house?Moments of danger can cause characterization to crystallize in a book because it’s in dangerous moments that a person truly reveals who they are.
I write character-driven stories so I love thrillers because of those crystalline moments of revelation.
In Sleeping with the Enemy, Julia Roberts shows incredible ingenuity and strength in dealing with her stalker even as she’s obviously terrified. The moments when she’s in the most danger are the most revelatory about her character.
I find the same thing happens for my characters when I take them to those edges where they have to cling or climb, fall or fly. Even better, as the danger escalates in a story so does the character’s response so that they’re learning and growing. Danger keeps a character from being static. It makes them real. It gives them goals that readers can immediately identify with—to get away, to overcome, to meet the challenge, to triumph….to achieve safety and security. Those are gut-deep human needs and the way the character goes about attaining them reveals their heart. One that seems real not crafted by ink, but blood.
In my gothic Massachusetts town of Scarlet Falls, idyllic beauty barely masks a peculiar aura of unease. From the beginning, when I introduce the town through a brave, but justifiably frightened woman’s eyes, the reader knows that something is wrong. As the wrong is revealed little by little, I hope the reader will enjoy how Trinity Chadwick begins to deal with dangers she thought she could escape…including a man she brought back to life, but who seems to still be haunted by the November chill from the lake he almost drowned in years before.
I loved creating a damaged and dangerous town and the people who will try to bring it—and themselves—back from the brink.
Danger illuminates. It reveals. And it binds. I think the danger of Scarlet Falls brings Trinity and Creed closer together and, hopefully, closer to the reader as well.
I hope it makes them real.
The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web. ~Pablo Picasso
A sculptor, a silversmith, a painter, a ballet dancer, a gardener, a photographer, an author…recently a reader mentioned that she loved my use of artists in the modern gothics I was writing for Harlequin Shivers. While I was seeking to create depth of feeling, I never consciously chose to use artistic characters.
I think it happened because one naturally springs from the other.
Because I’m writing ghost stories, the people in my romances need to be open and connected to the world in a sensitive way that’s a step beyond seeing and hearing. Because my romances are sensual, the characters in them have to be tuned in and receptive to sensation. And this sensuality isn’t just between the hero and the heroine. It’s between them and the environment that surrounds them. Hands in clay, fingers in charcoal and paint, sketching, feeling the music from the ears to the heart and then vibrating outward to muscle and sinew.
My characters need to be immersed in the gothic worlds I create—every cell, every atom—and artists are perfect for this all consuming depth of feeling. Whether it’s the gardener who works from a palate of seeds or a jewelry designer who works with malleable silver strands.
But, oh, how this translates to intimacy—the sculptor’s touch, the dancer’s muscular fluidity, the painter’s observation of a quickened breath and parted lips…
My hope is that readers will experience a sensual immersion along with my artistic characters because Harlequin Shivers are meant to be felt as well as read. I want to make you sigh. I want to make you turn on the light. I want you to shy from shadows… and be drawn to them all the same.
I want to make your pulse race.
Nothing is more exciting to me than when readers let me know that they’ve felt my ghost stories and they’re looking forward to more.
I love to read stories that make my breath catch and my pulse race. I love twists and turns and surprises. Goosebumps? Check Chills? Check Spine tingling? Oh yes please
When I was given the opportunity to write for Harlequin’s new Modern Gothic romance line, Shivers,I read the description and I knew it was the place I wanted to be.
Harlequin Shivers is looking for moody, atmospheric, lush gothic-inspired stories. We are updating the pulp gothic as a rich romance with dark, sexy, mysterious heroes and anti-heroes and sensible heroines beguiled by male magnetism and allure against all better judgment. The focus is on the building sensual tension and the sumptuous and scary surroundings that this chilling type of story elicits in the reader. Shivers are exactly what the reader will feel both from the mystery suspense and the carnal romance.
My first Harlequin Shivers short story was published as a free Online Read in 2013. Today, my first full length Harlequin Shivers novella is released as part of a great Box Set featured three other authors who also love thrilling romance.
Come with us on an atmospheric journey where dark heroes ache and determined heroines brave the unexpected to find happily ever after on the other side.
But be sure to turn on an extra lamp and check all the dark corners in the house before you begin!
In DARKENING AROUND ME, Samantha Knox has so much to prove to herself and to the world following a violent attack that leaves her vulnerable, broken and screaming. She’s come a long way. She’s healthy. She’s strong. And in spite of the faint scars that crisscross her skin just above her heart…she’s beautiful. Reclaiming her life hasn’t been easy so when a reclusive sculptor agrees to allow her to sit for him, she isn’t intimidated by the ghost stories that surround him and his notorious home. Maybe she should be…The Thornleigh Bride isn’t prepared to share the house or the man she’s possessed for years especially with the one woman who might be seasoned enough from surviving hell that she could set him free.
Miles O’Keefe thought the empty mansion his family had avoided for decades would be the perfect place to work. The wild sprawling decadence of the place drew him and then manic inspiration seemed to prove him right. But then his creativity took a dark and obsessive turn. Reclusive, driven and desperately productive, O’Keefe is interrupted by the arrival of a woman who seems undeterred by all that fate throws her way no matter how dark, no matter how dangerous. With Sam, O’Keefe finds respite and the one thing that has breeched his madness in ten years; a kindred spirit whose life has also been tainted by shadows.
How to put the “Modern” in New Gothic Romance…
Since this is the most frequent question I’m asked about writing Modern Gothic Romance for Harlequin eShivers, I thought I would share some thoughts about “New Gothic”.
What I find most appealing about Gothic Romances are the charged, raw, edge-of-your-seat situations that characters–both male and female–face and overcome. It’s what I’ve always found appealing in the classics and in the books with a gothic tone written today. Gothic is the razor’s edge– whether it’s a struggle with a murderous spirit on a crumbling cliff or the struggle whether or not to trust the chemistry you feel with a person who might have deadly secrets.
Gothic Romances often feature women in jeopardy story lines. Many times in Gothic Romances written in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s the woman was in jeopardy because she was a woman. In fact, in many books it seemed as if the heroine was being punished for stepping outside of her traditional gender role by the trouble she found outside of those parameters!
Barbara Michaels, Dorothy Eden and many of those original Gothic Romance authors were working within the confines of the time period in which they were writing. And they were actually giving us some of the strongest heroines conceivable for the time.
Re-reading those books now can give us a glimpse into what a long way women have come and it can also give us a glimpse into how the change began to take shape.
In a Modern Gothic Romance featuring a woman in jeopardy story line– or in other sub-genres of romance such as suspense or mystery–the jeopardy needs to come about because of something other than the heroine’s sex. Her vulnerability shouldn’t be because she’s “only a woman”. A good way to check yourself on this as an author is to change her sex in your mind as you’re building her character and creating her conflicts. Would a man also be in trouble if he took her place? Romances are primarily written from a female character’s point of view, but there are plenty of Gothic books to point to to illustrate a “man in jeopardy” plot. Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Women in Black.
Vulnerability and jeopardy are the keys to Gothic…not the sex of the protagonist.
Of course, if you’re writing within a historical setting, your story will be influenced by that setting and the character’s place within it.
But “Because she’s a woman” or “Because he’s a man” are never deep and strong enough to be your only conflict/motivation in story building.
If you’re writing from a heroine’s point of view, give her something bigger, something more tragic to create her vulnerability. And remember in your resolution that she should have a hand in working her way out of trouble. Also remember that a Gothic hero can be vulnerable and tragic too even as he’s dark and dangerous.
In all of the e Shivers I’ve written, the heroine saves the hero in the end as much as the hero saves her…
Try the first Harlequin Shivers, Lost in Me, a Free Online Read at Harlequin.com
If you’re interested in writing modern gothic romance, you can check out these guidelines for Harlequin Shivers. You can follow Harlequin Shivers editor, Denise Zaza on Twitter here. You can also follow Malle Vallik, the Director of Editorial Digital Initiatives here.
Eerie and beautiful…
A child’s ghostly laughter in the middle of the night. An architectural masterpiece from days gone by, abandoned and left to ruin. An old swing outgrown by the living, but one that still sways in the breeze. Dried flowers pressed between the pages of forgotten love letters. A tangle of jewelry in the bottom of a trunk in the attic.
These all might send a shiver down your spine, but they’re also beautiful.
Worn ballet slippers hanging from tattered ribbons. A music box that plays a tinkling, disjointed melody you somehow almost remember. A statue in a garden covered with vines, but so realistic it seems as if it might move if you look away. (or blink if you’re a Whovian;>)
Not just a ghost, but a macabre ghost of a murdered bride dripping the seawater in which she drowned.
Not just a brooch, but an art deco one that holds the treasured picture of a lost daughter an impostor has replaced.
Not just a painting, but a thick, textural obsessive image painted over and over again as a woman seeks to remember the man she loved and lost.
Gothic is creepy, but it’s also lush and gorgeous. Part of the shiver Gothic induces is operatic and wonderful…not simply horrifying.
And because it’s so beautiful the thrill creeps up on the reader until they’re taken by surprise by what their senses knew all along…something dark is going to happen, but they’re going to love it.
I love atmospheric stories. The kind that envelop the reader in another world from the first sentence. In an atmospheric story it isn’t always about the physical descriptions of a time or a place, but rather what those physical descriptions represent and how they make the reader feel. Is the reader consumed from start to finish, and are they consumed deeply from nerve to blood to bone?
Symbolism is an artistic invention that is a method of revealing or suggesting immaterial, ideal, or otherwise intangible truth or states. (paraphrased from Miriam-Webster online)
This is a lofty way of saying that the “things” in the story you create should mean something, represent an idea or a deeper revelation.
I’ve always loved symbolism. I don’t think any other tool allows an artist to banish the real world quite as effectively because you’re engaging your reader all the way to the depths of their subconscious. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I also love novellas. In order to tell a rich tale with less words, it’s important that those words dig deep and perform beyond their surface meaning to the hidden heart beneath.
Symbolism can be as obvious as the comet tattoo the connected characters share in Cloud Atlas or as subtle as the little origami unicorn in Bladerunner. Think of the mockingjay in The Hunger Games, not just the pin, but the birds themselves. They became a symbol of defiance and hope because they were bioengineered birds that completely failed as a device for spying against the districts. Consider that it wasn’t a humming bird knock-knock-knocking on Poe’s door.
Romance lends itself even more readily to symbolism because of its built in need to communicate without words. A man gives his lover a red rose…or in my first Harlequin Shivers, coming in January, an obsessive, possessive man (Not the hero, btw!) gives his lover an entire rose garden that turns into an almost un-navigable jungle of tangled thorns and vines.
Gothic romance is the most layered genre I’ve ever written. With elements of mystery, sensuality, romance, suspense and horror…when my editor called for “lush” she wasn’t kidding!
More than any other story I’ve tried to create, a gothic romance is intended to consume the reader while the reader consumes it. Symbolism is a vital tool in creating a world and characters that completely leave the mundane behind.
I love to play in the shadows…
Though I’ve written in several genres, there are threads throughout all the books I’ve created that tie them together. I love atmosphere and angst. And larger-than-life characters who are tortured and maybe even scarred by their past experiences. But more than that, I especially love a heroine who somehow saves the day. She may not always carry a sword or wear a uniform, but my heroines are warriors at heart no matter how vulnerable, no matter how tempest tossed.
And this is why I was immediately drawn to the call for modern gothics by the Harlequin Digital First line.
When we think of gothics, our minds conjure the iconic young girl dwarfed by the gloomy manor and intimidated by the mysterious man who may or may not be friend or foe. I read Jane Eyre when I was thirteen and I fell in love with it. I read it at twenty-two and… loved it less. Rochester was kind of pervy, wasn’t he? I read it again in my late thirties and loved it enough to have made it a yearly read. Yes. Rochester is far from perfect, but it makes me crave him even more.
Because the gothic heroine is vulnerable and even intimidated, but, in the end, she’s made of stern stuff. She faces her fears. She solves mysteries. She takes on the most complex and complicated heroes and, often on the very precipice of tragedy and failure, she saves him and herself.
Gothic romances are about the healing power of love and they’re also about characters who find and embrace their strengths when they come up against dire situations. They’re about finding beauty hidden in darkness and doubt. They’re about grabbing happily ever after even when surrounded by danger and haunted shadows. In the most determined heroine and the darkest alpha hero there are hidden places of vulnerability that are drawn to each other. The modern gothic hones in on moments that illuminate those vulnerabilities and, in the end, in spite of the ambiguity of the hero, modern gothic romances become stories that bring hero & heroine together as a team to overcome each story’s black moment.
There are some things to keep in mind when you seek to create a modern gothic romance:
Motivation: Your heroine has to have a very good reason for braving whatever it is she has to face. Think about how angry you get when you’re watching a horror movie and a character goes outside or upstairs or down to the basement. Too Stupid To Live, right? But give her a sibling or beloved pet to save and suddenly we’re torn. She’s not TSTL. She’s a devoted sister. She’s protecting the innocent. Jane Eyre was an orphan with no way of supporting herself. She had to become a governess. Even when she faced danger and the forbidden attraction to her enigmatic employer, she couldn’t easily walk away. Make sure your modern gothic heroine has reasons she can’t simply walk…or run…away.
Chills: Gothic Romance has elements of romance and mystery, but it also has elements of horror and suspense. My imagination takes me old school…Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson. Creepy, but in a gorgeous way, steeped in lush sentiment and a hint of the macabre.
Setting and Atmosphere: These should be given the importance of a character in your story. Your readers should be transported from their safe, mundane apartment to another world. While technically, these are contemporary or historical stories, they should have an element of fantasy and escapism. I’m not saying you can’t create a gothic romance with an apartment building setting. I’m just saying that maybe the apartment building should be a crumbling art deco masterpiece with few inhabits and a shadowy stranger with secrets who lives in the penthouse suite.
And that brings us to the hero…
A gothic hero is my favorite type of romance hero. He is challenge, mystery, danger, threat, allure, intrigue, and a pure sensual torture to the heroine. And that’s just in the first meeting. He will be the most complicated, dynamic and compelling person she’s ever met and whether or not that’s going to damn her or save her should definitely be buzzing in the reader’s mind from page one. An author has to walk a fine line between giving him motivation and keeping his secrets, maintaining his mystery and making it believable that the smart heroine would fall in love with him in the midst of whatever high stakes situation she faces.
I can’t wait to share more about my gothic journey in the coming months! I have four upcoming titles that I’ll announce as soon as I have release dates and cover art to share. There will also be a free online read on eHarlequin.com this fall by yours truly to give readers a chance to try the line.