A Wicked Welcome to Barbara Wallace

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, in Connecticut where the rain is coming in buckets–or at least it was when this post was written…

Today my guest is my friend, Barbara Wallace. If you read romance, you’ll know her as the author of a whole lot of wonderful books. She’s recently dipped her toe into the cozy mystery pool. Here’s what she has to say:

Genre Jumping Isn’t So Easy

I’d written almost twenty romance novels for Harlequin before I decided to tackle my first cozy mystery. The Suburbs Have Secrets was the book of my heart that I longed to write. I’d been in love with mysteries since I was a little girl and discovered my mom’s Agatha Christie novels.

Making the jump from romance to mystery would be easy, I thought. After all, I had the skills needed to craft a solid novel.

  • The ability to create memorable, well-rounded characters? Check.
  • The knack for crafting snappy dialogue? Check
  • The capacity to weave a complex and intriguing puzzle and resolve it in a satisfying fashion?

Ummm, maybe?

When it comes to short contemporary romance, which is what I write for Harlequin, the story focuses on the romantic conflict between the characters. What’s happening on the page is far less important than the emotional tension between the hero and heroine. Be it running from a potential killer or traipsing through the vineyards of Tuscany, “How will they get together?” is the main question.

Mysteries as you know, are a horse of a different color.  You readers don’t just require a plot. You require puzzles that unfold piece by piece, hint by hint. Cozy mystery writers must manage a cast of distinct characters who spend their time on the page dropping clues and red herrings like bread crumbs, and make sure the information doesn’t flow too fast or too slow.

What’s more, they must know what their characters are doing off the page as well.  If Detective Dan Bartlett is investigating Paul Paretsky’s alibi while my protagonist, Sadie McIntyre, is off breaking into a neighbor’s house, I need to know it even if that information never makes the page.

With romance novels, writers can fly by the seat of their pants. Since the characters drive the story, we can drop our hero and heroine into a situation and see what happens. Try that in a mystery novel and you end up with an unreadable pile of mush. I know. I tried it on my first pass.

Fortunately for me, I had a fantastic editor. With her help, and much work, I turned my pile of mush into something I’m truly proud of.

So what’s the lesson here?  Writing cozy mysteries is hard. Oh, and make sure you have a really good (and patient) editor.

The first book in the new Sadie McIntyre Mystery series, The Suburbs Have Secrets, is a combination of Murder She Wrote and Desperate Housewives. Sadie McIntyre is a New England real estate agent with a secret.  When she gives a drunken Marylou Paretsky a ride home one rainy night, she has no idea it will be the last time anyone sees Marylou alive. The following morning, Marylou is found dead at the bottom of her staircase, the victim of foul play. 

Who killed Marylou? Was it her philandering husband? His lover? Or one of the residents Marylou was blackmailing? In a town where everyone has a secret, the list of suspects is endless.

Can Sadie find Marylou’s killer before her own secret becomes public and shoots her to the top of the suspect list? Or will the killer find her first? 

Available now on Amazon.

Bestselling, award-winning author Barbara Wallace specializes in sassy, smart novels known for their emotional depth. Since her debut in 2009, she’s gone on to publish nearly 20 titles with with Harlequin Romance and Entangled Publishing to world-wide popularity. A life-long Yankee, Barbara lives in New England with her husband, their son, two very spoiled self-centered cats (as if there could be any other kind) and a very catered-to rescue pup.

22 Thoughts

  1. Welcome to the mystery world, Barbara! I will be intrigued to learn, down the road a bit, how your crime fiction sales compare to your romances. Also, did your successes in the romance world help you get a publisher in the mystery world, or did it make it harder? Do you use the same agent for both? Thanks!

    1. Hi Edith! I really appreciate the invite to be here. Interestingly, so far my romance success hasn’t translated into the mystery world. I think that’s because I write for Harlequin and they market it’s brand name not the author. I do use the same agent for both (the great Amanda Leuck at Spencerhill). However, with Sadie, we decided that I should publish independently. The book is a little non-traditional in terms of voice and plot.

      I promise to keep you all posted about the success. Fingers crossed!

  2. Waving at Barbara (we knew each other way back when at the New England RWA chapter). And welcome to the wonderful world of killing people (on paper, of course). I figured out fairly quickly that I don’t have a romance voice, but somehow romance keeps sneaking into my books. I hope your new venture is a great success!

    1. Hi Sheila! I remember hanging with you at the Reno airport! LOL. You are one of my favorite mystery authors so it’s an honor to be guesting with you. Thanks for the well wishes.

  3. Congrats, Barabar! I tried to write a romance once. Except I couldn’t keep from killing someone and making the story about that, so I figured I should stick to mystery. 🙂

  4. Welcome to the Wickeds, Barbara. I agree with Sherry. Your premise sounds fantastic. Best of luck with all your endeavors on the mystery side of the street.

  5. Good Luck with your mystery writing Barbara!
    I like the name Sadie McIntyre for your lead character.

  6. Congrats at successfully crossing genres.

    You are right about the problems of dropping clues and knowing what everyone else is doing. I am in such awe of those who do it so well.

    1. Mark – it’s so hard! In romance you have to make sure there’s conflict on every page. With a mystery, it’s clues. Took me a while to realize a mundane conversation could contain tons of valuable information. The best writers do it so easily. I am in awe too.

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