Deanna Raybourn’s newest novel, The Dark Enquiry is the 5th installment in the adventures of Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane and is on the shelves of your local bookstore now! Today, Deanna is here to talk to us writing romance in both the historical and mystery genres.
Pros/Cons of Writing a Romance in a Mystery/Historical Setting
I am the poster-child for cross-genre writing. My books have been shelved in romance, historical fiction, mystery, general fiction, and even YA! To me, the novels are essentially mysteries at the core, structured as who-dunits or how-dunits, with the trappings of romance and history to add color and drama. The pros are, of course, legion. A historical setting offers tremendous scope for a novelist. Even a familiar city, like London, becomes exotic when viewed through the telescope of time. Readers love to escape from their everyday lives and nothing takes them out of the ordinary faster than the rustle of taffeta and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves. Whether it’s the smoky coal fogs of Victorian Edinburgh or the sweet salty air wafting through a Roman emperor’s summer palace, a different atmosphere acts as a tonic to a reader, lifting them out of the mundane and into a fresh perspective. For the writer who loves research, delving into the minutiae of day-to-day life can be exhilarating, driving the book forward with tremendous enthusiasm. And since no fiction is as strange as fact, history provides endless opportunities for the sublime, the macabre, the sacred, and the profane.
The cons are much more modest than the pros. In writing a romance coupled with a mystery, a writer has to achieve a delicate balancing act between conjuring a romance and solving a puzzle. Neither one can be permitted to dominate entirely, and it takes a deft touch to prevent the romance from making the mystery too whimsical or the mystery from making the romance too serious. This is where a historical setting actually helps the process. Heavier emotions like grief and rage are somewhat easier for a reader to bear when they are at a remove because they are afflicting characters who lived centuries ago. Death and loss seem slightly less poignant when they are not happening to people just like us, living lives just like ours. But if the balancing act is achieved, readers are satisfied on two different levels. In a mystery, the payoff comes when justice has been served, in whatever form that takes, in a romance, it’s the knowledge that someone is living happily ever after. To combine both of those into a single story means that the reader is almost cast back to childhood, when the fairy tale was always resolved with a successful quest and a happy ending. The villain always got his due; the princess always got her prince. And a satisfying resolution for the characters means a reader who will come back time and again.