Tag Archives: romantic suspense

A Crime Writers Interview: Jenna Harte

Crime Writers Intro image

Welcome to another Crime Writers Interview!

We try to draw out what is unique and special about each author we interview. There are some real gems tucked away in this chat I had with Jenna Harte, especially at the end when I asked what question she wished interviewers would ask her. I just loved her answer!

headshot of Jenna Harte

Please give a warm welcome to Jenna Harte!

Jenna is a total romantic who also loves a good mystery. The first of her Valentine Mysteries, Deadly Valentine, reached the quarter-finals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013. She’s also the author of the Southern Heat contemporary romance series, and is working on a new cozy mystery series involving coupons, fairy tales and airplane repos.

She’s a member of the Virginia Writers Club and Sisters In Crime and works by day as a freelance writer and online entrepreneur. An empty-nester, she lives in central Virginia with her husband and a fat cat.

Kass Lamb (on behalf of misterio press): Let’s start with a “tell us about yourself” question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?

Jenna Harte:  I’m a die-hard romantic who especially enjoys mysteries involving committed couples, such as Nick and Nora Charles, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, etc. I also enjoy a good passionate romance, but it’s difficult to find a mystery series that has the romantic bits, and romantic mysteries rarely involve a series. That’s why I write the Valentine Mysteries and the Delecoeur novellas.

the delecoeur covers

Another tidbit is that I never set out to be a writer, and in fact, if someone told me in high school I’d be a writer, I’d have cried. I fell into writing non-fiction by accident. I became interested in fiction when I discovered fan fiction, and found all these stories around TV/movie couples I enjoyed. I started writing them too, and after one of my stories was stolen—twice—I wondered if maybe I had something. Of course, I had a lot to learn, but an online mystery writing course instructor told me I “had the goods” so I kept at it.

Now I can’t imagine not writing because I have characters prattling on in my brain all the time.

Kass:  What type, i.e. subgenre, of crime fiction do you write? Why does that subgenre appeal to you as a writer and do you also prefer it as a reader?

Jenna:  I write a romantic mystery series that is similar to cozy, except I break the rule about no intimate bits. I also have a three-book contemporary romance series (one of which includes suspense). My most recent work is a traditional cozy mystery series that is currently in the editing process with my publisher.

I tend to write what I’d like to read. I’ve read every JD Robb book (passionate couple solving a crime), and I also enjoy the Stephanie Plum and the O’Hare and Fox books by Janet Evanovich (O’Hare and Fox are co-written with Lee Goldberg). I read romantic suspense as well, such as Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown.

Kass:  JD Robb and Janet Evanovich are at the top of my list too. But tell me, why do you write crime fiction? What is the appeal?

Jenna:  I enjoy other genres such as romance and some science fiction, but the ones I enjoy the most have a mystery involved. It might not always be a crime, but there is a mystery about something. I’ve never thought much about why I like mysteries in books, except that they give a story structure and a satisfying resolution. There is a purpose or a quest that keeps the story moving. The puzzle is fun too.

Kass:  Yes, I agree! So where are you in your writing career? Tell us a little more about your stories.

book covers from Valentines series

The Valentine Mysteries are a series of sexy cozies that blend the love and passion romance readers enjoy with a small town mystery cozy readers like.

Jenna:  I have eight novels and three novellas published. I’m currently revising book six of the Valentine mysteries, and in edits for the first book, Death of a Debtor, in my cozy mystery series. The Valentine novels and Delecoeur novellas are all mysteries solved by a passionate couple.

The closest couple to compare to would be the Harts from the Hart to Hart TV show (1979-1984). They are light mysteries that don’t have graphic violence or bad language, but they do have intimate scenes similar to those found in contemporary romance.

Death of a Debtor is a cozy mystery that involves a smart but unworldly young woman, who loves folklore and fairy tales, and who is forced to return to her rural, mountain Virginia hometown after her father and brother are put in jail for running a Ponzi scheme. Once living in luxury, she is now caring for a cantankerous great-aunt, and learning how to coupon to make ends meet. Things go from bad to worse when she’s accused of being involved in the murder of the man who turned her father into the F.B.I.

Once I finish the sixth Valentine book, I plan to write a novella about them that takes place on the train during their return trip from San Francisco to Virginia (the male lead is afraid to fly). I’m also in the middle of writing the second book of the coupon cozy mystery, Death of a Coupon Queen.

My brain seems to always have stories rattling around. I’m currently plotting a new cozy that will take place in the Outer Banks and involve pirates. I also have a paranormal story that I’ve begun taking notes on.

Kass:  I love the premise of Death of a Debtor. Can’t wait to read it. Tell us what was your favorite book/author as a child?

Jenna:  To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a child. As a teen, I read a lot of Stephen King, although I wouldn’t say I’m a horror fan. In fact, my favorite story of his is an obscure one most people have never heard of called Eyes of the Dragon, which is a dark fantasy. I also liked To Kill a Mockingbird, which was the only book I was forced to read in school that I actually enjoyed.

Kass:  What do you find to be the most difficult part of the writing process—first draft, editing, researching?

Jenna:  I’m mostly a pantser, so for me, the most challenging part of the writing process is when I get stuck. In the past, I’d start writing as soon as I had an idea, which means I’ve started mysteries without knowing why or how the victim was killed. More recently, I’ve tried to let stories percolate, taking notes on the ideas that come, and then writing, but I still usually get stuck at some point.

Since I’ll write whatever scenes I happened to have, I usually write out of order. I have many manuscripts with the first three, and the last chapters written.  As difficult as writing is when I’m not sure what I’m doing, I have a goal to write 1000 words every morning, and somehow, I’m usually able to achieve that.

Kass:  What’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?

Jenna:  The most recent thing I’ve researched is I asked my uncle, who is a doctor, how many Lorazepam mixed in a scotch and water would it take to make someone loopy without killing him (the answer was “about 50,” which is more than I have in the story).

I’ve also researched if it was possible to poison someone with mistletoe for a Christmas story, and how to stab someone in the back and have it be serious but not fatal.

For With This Ring, I Thee Kill (Valentine #3), I researched the French Blue Diamond, which had recently been linked to the Hope Diamond. That history was fascinating.

Kass:  What question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they usually don’t?

Jenna:  Is it hard to keep the romance alive in an ongoing romantic mystery series?

Kass:  What a great question. So what is your answer?

Jenna:  So often, TV shows and books titillate readers with “will they, won’t they” chemistry, but put off having the couple make a commitment because they fear the chemistry will disappear. This is a real concern, as we’ve all seen shows or read books where this happens. However, I don’t find it hard to keep the love alive in the Valentine and Delecoeur stories.

There’s an idea that because stories need conflict, that the couple needs to experience trouble in the relationship. And of course, the higher the stakes (the relationship can end), the better. But the conflict doesn’t have to be between the couple in a mystery series. Instead, the couple can be in conflict with someone or something else.

DVD cover ofr Hart to Hart complete series

If you’re a Hart to Hart fan like Jenna (and Kass), you can get the complete series on DVD from Amazon. Dig the 1970’s big hair!!

Take Hart to Hart, a TV show about a happily married couple who solve crimes. What made that show work was that the couple wasn’t just committed, but also, they were passionate towards each other.

Second, in a series, the characters and their relationship need to grow, and often this comes from conflict. That doesn’t mean it has to be the type that can end a relationship though. I view it as growing pains. In the Valentine series, the couple has some bumps (including a break up) early on, but they learn about themselves and each other through these struggles, and because they’re committed to each other, they’re resolved to fix things between them.

I think the question is really about the chemistry…can a love story continue to be sexy and titillating in a series? To that I say, yes. While I do have intimate bits between the Valentines and Delecoeurs, that’s not really what highlights their magic. Instead, it’s how they talk and interact with, and think about each other. Instead of letting them settle into ho-hum domestic life, I continue to show their love, affection, and desire for each other.

Kass:  Wow, I love what you’re saying. I feel the same way about the romantic suspense stories I write. There is some conflict between the couple, because that’s realistic, especially in the early stages of a relationship. But the main story conflict comes from the mystery part.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Jenna. I really enjoyed chatting with you.

And folks, Jenna now has the first three books in the Valentine series out in a boxed set for just $5.99. That’s half the regular price for these books. Check it out!

If you have any questions for Jenna, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

Valentine boxed set coverPassion, Murder, Chocolate and Couture Lingerie

Tess Madison walked away from her two-timing fiancé, a multi-million dollar trust fund and a cushy corporate law job to pursue the single life indulging in chocolate and fancy French underwear. But her newly reordered life comes unraveled when she reluctantly accepts an invitation to a dinner party and stumbles upon the host’s dead body and into the arms of the sexy, blue-green eyed Jack Valentine. As romance grows, so too does Tess and Jack’s propensity to get into trouble.

If you like romance mixed with your mystery, the Valentine Mysteries are for you. In this collection, you’ll get books 1 through 3.

 Deadly Valentine
“Written with precision and care, this intriguing romance/murder mystery is a fun read that will keep readers guessing until the very end.” – Publisher’s Weekly 
Old Flames Never Die
Can a new love survive the lure of an old flame and murder?
With This Ring, I Thee Kill
Planning a wedding can be murder.
 ~~~

Boxed Set available on AMAZON now!

(These books are individually available on Nook, Kobo and iBooks, as well as Amazon.)

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Beta Men Make the Best Husbands

by Kassandra Lamb

Hubs and I will be celebrating our 42nd Valentine’s Day this week. I’m not sure he’s even aware of this but Valentine’s Day is a particularly special day for our relationship. You see, I decided I could marry this man on the first Valentine’s Day we celebrated together. (It took him another 2 ½ weeks to catch on and actually propose.)

I’ve been writing some romantic suspense stories lately, and I recently took a little informal survey of my romantic suspense readers. One of the questions I asked was how important was it to them that the hero be an alpha male, and also I asked for their definition of an alpha male.

The split was about 65% yes, it had to be an alpha, and 35% said they didn’t care or preferred a beta male.

Most defined an alpha as strong, confident, and protective, but they didn’t like it if he was too controlling, cocky or arrogant. My favorite comment was this one:

“The hero doesn’t have to be an alpha necessarily, but when his woman is in danger, he needs to step up and do what needs to be done.”

Now, back to my husband and Valentine’s Day. I suspect my husband would be the first to admit that he is not an alpha male. He’s a fairly quiet, go-with-the-flow kind of guy, an excellent complement to my rather intense personality. Indeed, he is probably the only kind of man I could still be married to after 41 years!

I normally have no trouble standing up for myself. But the few times in my life when I couldn’t do that, for one reason or another, he was there. He stepped up. The first time was on that first Valentine’s Day. We’d been dating four months.

He’d made an 8:30 reservation at a relatively swanky restaurant in downtown Baltimore. We arrived on time and were seated in a little waiting area with quite a few other couples. Someone came by periodically and assured us that it would just be another few minutes.

By 10 o’clock we still hadn’t been seated. I was literally weak with hunger. It was a revolving restaurant on the top of a high-rise hotel. By this point, I was feeling quite queasy as the city slowly spun below us.

My then boyfriend went to the maitre d’ and complained for the second or third time. Ten minutes later we were led to our table and he said to the waiter, “Bring us house salads right away.” The waiter dropped a salad in front of me just a few minutes later.

wedge of lettuce

Gee, doesn’t that look yummy! 😛

It was a quarter wedge of iceberg lettuce with some dressing drizzled over it. I looked at it and said, “I don’t think I have the energy to cut that up.”

Hubs aka then-boyfriend exploded. He called over the maitre d’. “You kept us waiting one and half hours after our reservation time, and now this…” He pointed to the green wedge on my plate. “What kind of salad is that?”

In a huffy voice, the man said, “That is the way salad is served in finer restaurants.”

Hubs aka then-boyfriend straightened to his full six-foot, 26-year-old lanky height and said, “Sir, I’ve been in finer restaurants before, and I’ve never seen a salad like that. Bring my girlfriend a real salad NOW!”

That was the I-could-marry-this-man moment. (Note: I’ve since seen that kind of salad a couple of times in other restaurants, but only a couple of times.)

About 30 seconds later, a waiter brought a tossed salad, with bite-sized pieces of lettuce, cherry tomatoes and slivers of carrots. I devoured it in another 30 seconds and felt much better.

Fast forward three and a half years and I have been in labor for 23 hours. Seventeen of them mild labor and six hard labor (by my definition, as in very painful). And something had changed. It was no longer muscle contraction pain. It was a sledge hammer pounding on your foot kind of pain. My gut, at least partly educated by Lamaze classes, said this was not normal.

But the resident doctors kept insisting I was “still in the early stages” and it wasn’t time yet to call my private obstetrician into the hospital. I won’t go into all the gory details of my interchanges with them, but when one of them told me, “Childbirth is supposed to be painful. Lie down, shut up and relax,” I’d had enough. (Yup, that’s what she said and yup, it was a woman—obviously one who had not yet given birth.)

Immediately after the next contraction, I said to my husband, through gritted teeth, “Get our %&*%^$ doctor here! And get back here before the next contraction!” He’d been rubbing my back during them, the only thing that made them bearable.

He raced out of the labor room, tossed his paper gown (he told me this part later) at the woman at the nurses’ station when she yelled, “You can’t go out there; you’re sterile,” and ran to the waiting room where my mother was. He quickly filled her in, asked her to call our doctor, raced back into the maternity ward, donned a fresh gown and was back by my side just as the next contraction started.

Our doctor arrived about fifteen minutes (and way too many excruciating contractions) later. He started bawling out my husband for “letting your mother-in-law sit out there and worry unnecessarily.” But we quickly filled him in on what the residents had not been reporting to him.

(Note: try not to give birth in a teaching hospital. I’m sure some resident doctors are lovely people, but others think they know more than they do!)

baby and grandmother

My mother and her new grandson

To make a long story short, our son was born at 3:46 a.m., about four hours after my husband’s heroic dash through the maternity ward.

(The next day, my doctor explained that I’d had a “stiff cervix” that wasn’t dilating… not a big deal, it happens sometimes with first births, blah, blah. Yeah, easy for you to say, Doc!)

My husband has performed his own brand of protective intervention on a few other occasions as well, but those are the two that stand out most in my memory.

So I’m sorry, romance readers, but my heroes are the beta males who know how to step up when needed. And in the real world, they make much better Happily-Ever-After husbands than those dark, troubled alpha types.

Happy Valentine's Day

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kass is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Things that Go Bump in the Night in The Carolina Hills

by Kassandra Lamb

Marcia Meara headshot

I am delighted today to introduce you all to a guest blogger, a writer of mysteries and romantic suspense whom I recently stumbled upon.

Please welcome the delightful Marcia Meara…

Appalachian Legends and Myths

Right up front, let me say that I am absolutely besotted with the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Smokies, in particular. Part of the Appalachian chain—the oldest mountains on the planet—they are stunning in their ancient, mystical beauty.

mountains

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

And vast. It’s rather amazing how many, many miles of wilderness they encompass, along with the mountain towns and villages like Asheville, Lake Lure, and Bat Cave.

Highway sign for Bat Cave, NC

(photo by Stratosphere, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons)

(Yes, there is actually a small town named Bat Cave. You can’t make stuff like that up.)

I also love the legends, folk lore, and outright myths that have sprung up over time throughout these hills.

Some tales arrived in the area via settlers from England, Ireland, and Scotland, and have a solid basis in Celtic mythology. Others apparently have been made up out of whole cloth—unless, of course, they aren’t legends at all, but strange truths that our modern minds refuse to accept. (Is that the theme from The Twilight Zone I hear playing in the background?)

Here are some examples of stories passed around in “them thar hills.” Some might make you grin, others might give you a shiver, but all are part of the overall body of strange tales you run across in these mountains.

The Moon-Eyed People
A race of small, bearded men, with pure white skin, who were called moon-eyed because they were unable to see in daylight, the moon-eyed people eventually became totally nocturnal. So the story says.

historical plaque re: moon-eyed people

(photo by TranceMist, CC-BY Generic, Wikimedia Commons)

The Cherokee believed them to be responsible for ancient stone structures that line many mountain ridges from North Carolina down through Georgia and Alabama. The most famous is Fort Mountain in Georgia, which gets its name from an 850 foot long stone wall that varies in height from two to six feet and stretches along the top of the ridge. This wall is thought to have been constructed around 400-500 C.E.

Were the moon-eyed people early European explorers? Legends refer to them as a race of small, pale people, rather than mystical beings unrelated to humans, but so far, no one has come up with any information on who they might have been, or if they were real at all.

Boojum and Annie
The Boojum is reported to have been an 8’ tall creature, not quite a man, and not quite an animal, covered in shaggy fur. (Does the name “Bigfoot” ring a bell?) He is said to have had two very human habits, though. He liked to collect gems, and hoarded them in discarded liquor jugs, which he buried in secret caves. (I do have to wonder how they know this, if the caves are so secret.)

He also was a bit of a Peeping Boojum, as he apparently liked to watch women, particularly when they were bathing in mountain streams. Bad, bad Boojum! But when a young woman named Annie spotted the hairy creature watching her, instead of screaming in fright, she fell in love with his sad eyes, and—wait for it—ran away with her hirsute admirer, presumably to settle down in a cozy little cave somewhere, and raise a whole passel of little Boojums.

There’s more to the tale, but this is a G-rated blog.

The Brown Mountain Lights
The Brown Mountains are home to a genuine and puzzling phenomenon. In the autumn, on crisp and cool nights, ghostly blue orbs are seen floating a few feet above the ground. They have been documented repeatedly by a large number of reputable witnesses. So far, there is no scientific proof as to what the lights are. Swamp gas and other known possibilities have all been ruled out. So when the nights get cool, people (presumably people with too much time on their hands) head to the Brown Mountains to observe and wonder for themselves.

The Phantom Hiker of Grandfather Mountain and the Chimney Rock Apparitions
Both of these are full on ghost stories, one a little shivery, and one just downright bizarre.

Sunrise in the autumn over Grandfather Mountain (photo by http://kenthomas.us public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Sunrise in the autumn over Grandfather Mountain (photo by http://kenthomas.us public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

According to the first, there is an old man who has been hiking the trails on Grandfather Mountain for generations, passing by groups of modern day hikers without a word, and disappearing into the distance, never looking back. He’s dressed in clothing not appropriate to today, and appears and disappears before anyone knows he’s coming.

And he never answers when spoken to. Indeed, he never even seems to see other hikers.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock State Park, overlooking Lake Lure (public domain)

Now, the apparitions at Chimney Rock occurred long ago, though it’s said that many people witnessed them for several days, and they were widely publicized in the newspapers of the day. In the first tale, ghostly white figures gathered in the air over the chimney formation itself, circling it for some time, before several larger figures rose above the rest and guided them all straight into the heavens above. A sort of airborne revival meeting, without the sermon in the tent.

And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one of my favorite places to visit, there are still more tales about military men on horseback, who fought an epic battle in the skies over the chimney for several days, before just up and disappearing. This, also, was witnessed by many people over a period of time, and reported on in all the best papers.

old photo of still

Official inspects moonshine (tough job, hunh?)

 

Moonshine — more than just an afternoon refresher.

(Okay, I’m being a bit skeptical here, but can you blame me? Pity there were no cell phones on hand at the time. The cavalry would never get away with a stunt like that today!)

 

Ol’ Shuck
Tall tales for every taste abound in the Appalachians, but of all of them, my personal favorite is the legend of the Black Dog, or Ol’ Shuck, as they call him. This one is based on truly ancient Celtic legends of a huge, hellhound of a dog who is thought to be a harbinger of death, and many variations appear throughout literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loosely based his famous book, Hound of the Baskervilles, on one version.

But beware! When you see Ol’ Shuck, someone you know (maybe you!) is going to die. Obviously, you don’t want to wake up one day, and find him sitting on your doorstep. And you’ll know it’s him if you do. We aren’t talking your everyday black Labrador retriever, here. Oh, no. An impossibly large dog with gleaming red eyes, sent straight from the devil himself to escort you to . . . wherever you’re going next. Be afraid. Be very afraid!

As the theme for my latest book makes clear: You can run, but you can’t hide.

Harbinger book cover

HARBINGER: Wake-Robin Ridge Book 3

“. . . he felt the wet slide of the dog’s burning hot tongue on his face, and the scrape of its razor sharp teeth against the top of his head. A white-hot agony of crushing pain followed, as the jaws began to close.”

The wine-red trillium that carpets the forests of the North Carolina Mountains is considered a welcome harbinger of spring—but not all such omens are happy ones. An Appalachian legend claims the Black Dog, or Ol’ Shuck, as he’s often called, is a harbinger of death. If you see him, you or someone you know is going to die.

But what happens when Ol’ Shuck starts coming for you in your dreams? Nightmares of epic proportions haunt the deacon of the Light of Grace Baptist Church, and bring terror into the lives of everyone around him. Even MacKenzie Cole and his adopted son, Rabbit, find themselves pulled into danger.

When Sheriff Raleigh Wardell asks Mac and Rabbit to help him solve a twenty-year-old cold case, Rabbit’s visions of a little girl lost set them on a path that soon collides with that of a desperate man being slowly driven mad by guilt.

As Rabbit’s gift of the Sight grows ever more powerful, his commitment to those who seek justice grows as well, even when their pleas come from beyond the grave.

Marcia Meara lives in central Florida, just north of Orlando, with her husband of over thirty years, four big cats, and two small dachshunds. When not writing or blogging, she spends her time gardening, and enjoying the surprising amount of wildlife that manages to make a home in her suburban yard. At the age of five, Marcia declared she wanted to be an author, and is ecstatic that at age 69, she finally began pursuing that dream. Three years later, she’s still going strong, and plans to keep on writing until she falls face down on the keyboard, which she figures would be a pretty good way to go!

Marcia has written six books so far: the Riverbend series, the Wake-Robin Ridge series, and a book of poetry. She’s a very social being. You can find her hanging out on Twitter (@marciameara),  FacebookPinterest and at her two blogs, The Write Stuff and Bookin’ It (for book reviews). You can sign up for her newsletter to get news and giveaways at either site, or just give her a shout via email at mmeara@cfl.rr.com.

BLACK-BEANS-&-VENOM w BRAG medallion

NOTE: Vinnie Hansen is participating in Smashwords’ Summer/Winter Sale. Her awesome novel, Black Beans and Venom is 75% off for the entire month of July!!

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )