Romance crossover novels seem to be popping up all over, and it got me thinking about my own writing process. My novels tend to cross genres, including mainstream, science fiction, fantasy, mystery/suspense, and thriller plots, but they all include romantic subplots. After all, where would the human interest lie without relationship tangles? A lot of those tangles involve romantic attraction and/or consummation. Where I depart from Romance as primary genre is that the love/sex relationship is not my main plot, but rather interwoven into other urgent story issues. It’s another thread of tension to pull readers along: Will the lovers get together despite challenges? Maybe because of my style or themes, I usually avoid a “tied up in a bow” neat ending to the romance – more gray areas and ambiguity about where this relationship might go. Because, well, that’s life!
I’ll illustrate my approach by starting with my early science fiction series from Ace/Berkley (soon to be released in ebook editions by Book View Café). In the first novel Wild Card Run, the main plot concerns a rebellious game-designer from a restrictive home planet who is challenging the control of humanity by the Cybers, an artificial-intelligence network. My heroine Ruth Kurtis is forced to return to her family farm and polyandrous culture (women have multiple husbands), where she has to resist her attraction to her mother’s newest husband, a young man the daughter’s age. This underlying romantic tension helps drive the main plot of her rebellion against the Cybers, and also contributes to one of the themes of the novel, examining the impact of new technologies on human values. And of course, it never hurts to raise issues of social taboos, and the loyalty and betrayal connected with forbidden love – perennials in storytelling.
The next two novels in the series, Win, Lose, Draw and Double Blind, explore ramifications of nontraditional romantic possibilities – sexual love between different humanoid races, and between human and machine – which seems to be a hot topic today, with the recent film “Her.” These elements serve to advance my larger plot speculations about the difficulty of defining humanity and identity, which again are timeless themes keeping writers and readers busy over the past centuries.
My recent novels are more mainstream, but again melding genre elements. Islands, romantic suspense with a psychic tinge, is my closest approach to a romance formula, but again the romantic relationship has a lot of ambiguity and is not central to the mystery/suspense plot. Set in the Caribbean, where I taught scuba years ago, it concerns a young archeologist who arrives on a tropic island to research petroglyphs and solve of the mystery of her brother’s drowning on a sunken treasure ship. The romance angle involves her chief suspect, whom she investigates while being reluctantly drawn to him despite warnings about the danger she’s courting with this volatile war veteran. The sparks fly between them, but the sexual relationship isn’t thrown in just for heat – it functions to provide clues and red herrings, as well as challenging a lot of preconceptions my heroine carries about the nature of truth and right and wrong, contributing to a larger Faustian theme. How far will she push to learn “the truth”? What happens when you get too deep a glimpse into the “dark side”? Can love help redeem you?
My upcoming metaphysical thriller from Book View, The Ariadne Connection, weaves together three perspectives on a near-future crisis concerning a geomagnetic reversal and a New Leprosy plague. My three main characters become entangled in various romantic subplots, from a tension-filled love triangle, to transgendered love, to traditional heterosexual love with reservations and spiritual dimensions. The main thriller plot is the focus of the novel – a young Greek scientist is christened “Saint Ariadne” when she discovers she can heal the New Leprosy by “laying on hands.” Various dangerous factions pursue her for their own agendas, and the three main characters are mostly occupied with evading pursuit while Ariadne learns to control her growing powers, which have the capability to destroy as well as heal. Love and sex under conditions of extreme uncertainty and stress are opportunities to explore dimensions of the characters, particularly Ariadne, who must weigh eternal questions: Does the end justify the means? Should you use people who love you in the service of a higher goal? Is the focus on a mission strengthened or weakened by allowing intimacy with a partner? Do we lose ourselves when we give too much to another person? Does the joy of loving outweigh inevitable pain and loss?
I guess it’s obvious that I’m fascinated by the nuances of human behavior, the way our desires color our notions of “truth” and “good versus evil,” and I love to throw characters into stressful situations that test their mettle. Love is always a big challenge to throw in the path of a character’s goals, as that tug of irrational attraction can really toss in a wild card. Will the relationship strengthen or weaken our characters? What will they learn about themselves that we can share? I hope my stories entertain as well as involve my readers in these enduring explorations.