Thursday, April 16, 2009

Finding the Balance: Love, Sex and Mystery in Romance Novels

I am a romance writer.

I am a mystery writer.

The two sides of me have been battling for years and finally had it out, once and for all, when I was planning Lady Anne series. Which would win? Well, oddly enough, they decided to share a series, and the end result was Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark, Book 1 of the Lady Anne series, now available.

I wondered from the outset whether I was taking a chance. Would romance readers embrace the mystery elements that are a strong thread in the series? Would mystery readers get impatient with the strong romantic undertones? Would paranormal fans be put off by the rationality of my heroine? Would readers of historical romance be offended by the gothic and paranormal touches that enliven the novels?

In other words, was I trying to be too many things to too many people?

I threw caution to the wind because ultimately, I came back to the central core of my beliefs about writing. I’m your average reader, in a lot of ways. As long as I write what I would like to read I ought to be okay, right? I do hope that’s true.

But I set out from the beginning to find the balance, that perfect symmetry that would please me as a reader. At first that was a fairly simple. Book one, Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark, is where Lady Anne Addison and Lord Anthony Darkefell meet, and there is immediate antagonism mingled with a powerful romantic and sensual attraction. Fun, right?

It seems I may have hit the right note, as Marlene at Once Upon a Romance says, "Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark is a gothic, historical, mystery with a lot of romance and wonderful characters. Ms. Simpson pulls off the creepy, spine-tingling thrill of the gothic with great flare and keeps the reader on her toes with a very intriguing mystery." (My bolding!)

In book two, Lady Anne and the Ghost’s Revenge, things are getting a little more intense in the romance department, as they are likely to when a man is serious about a woman and a woman is attracted to a man. Still, no big deal. They are investigating a mystery and spend a lot of time together, so the sexual chemistry works. Mulder and Scully, right? David and Maddie from Moonlighting.

But... I did run into a dilemma. When two people are seriously attracted to each other, sexual intercourse often happens… full on, passionate sexual engagement. Even back in the day men and women did end up in bed together. However… you can’t do that in a mystery novel! But I wasn’t writing a mystery novel; the Lady Anne series is a romance series with mystery plots attached.

Yikes, I thought, what have I gotten myself into? Should Anne and Tony make love in Book Two? Or should they wait until Book Three, Lady Anne and the Gypsy Curse? Or should they make love at all???

I’m not saying they have or they haven’t, but it’s a distinct possibility with two people who can’t seem to stop kissing each other! (Not in public… no PDA’s in Georgian England!)

Ultimately, I have settled my mind to this; as with every other aspect of every novel I have ever written, I will do what comes naturally for the characters and the reading public will decide whether I have successfully found a way to balance the two elements, the romance and the mystery. Have I done it? Have I walked the high wire?

Time – and readers – will tell! Visit me at and let me know!


  1. Sounds great, Donna! Looking forward to it! I think a problem with those stories that get their energy from the sexual tension often falter when the deed is finally done. Remember how Moonlighting fell flat once the itch got scratched? However, that scene will be forever etched in my memory, so there were good things there, too.
    Good luck on finding the right balance!

  2. Interesting challenge, Donna. I write romantic suspense as well as contemporary and I find the RS to be much more difficult and challenging to pull off. But the end result is so very satisfying! As long as you love the finished product, you will have a winner!

  3. The ARCs of Lady Anne and the Ghost's Revenge JUST arrived in our office, Donna--I'm so excited to read what happens next :)

  4. I'm so excited to see what folks think about Lady Anne and the Ghost's Revenge (August)!!

  5. Lady Donna,
    This sounds like a interesting new series.
    I'm looking forward to reading it.

    I'm waiting for Bones and Booth (TV SHOW BONES)to finally find that Bed. Most of the time it's that anticipation that makes you grab that book off the shelf. And than keeps you turning the pages, losing sleep or really looking forward to that next show or that next book.
    I hope you got it right.

  6. Anticipation is always the most fun and sexual tension seems to grow even more.

    You've got a crazy decision to make lady!


  7. I read this early this morning--got interrupted and forgot I never commented.

    I'm halfway through Howl right now and thoroughly enjoying it. Usually, I'm not much of a mystery fan because mostly they are too easy.

    Howl isn't too easy. It's intelligent and enlivened by more than the occasional touch of wit. I don't know who dunnit, yet--although I have my suspicions.

    Lady Ann is a delightful character and the secondaries are all drawn with a discerning eye.

  8. Sounds fun. I love "no PDA’s in Georgian England!"

  9. I am very excited about your book, Donna. I cut my romantic teeth on the Gothic novels of Mary Stewart, Daphne Du Maurier, and Victoria Holt. Love the genre. Your novel adds the spice that those other authors weren't really allowed to write.

    I for one do not think the fun has to end once the lovers 'do the deed.' It isn't all in the sexual tension in my opinion. But whatever you decide for your couple, I am sure it will be great.

  10. I like the buildup with the sexual tension but at some point I want to see them get it on, lol. The tension can still come in other ways after. Definitely looking forward to this series, Donna.

  11. You GO, Donna! I love historical romance, and I love mystery. I've even come up with names for some of these cross genres. Like parastorical romance, or paramystorical, parasustorical. As long as you have the Romance attached to the end it's all good.

    Congratulations on the ARCs.


  12. Renee... love your genre smash-ups! Can I borrow mystorical romance??

    Thank you!

  13. Hey, go for it. I don't mind.


  14. Can't wait to read your books, Donna! I love reading stories that combine love, sex and mystery!!! Well, and uhm, wolves. :) Hehehe...
    But I love reading everything, so can't wait to get yours! :)