Hey there everyone!!!
If you're anything like me, you have a dark side to yourself that needs to fulfill itself by reading darker novels, even dark romance novels. While I love romance novels to death, I need a well-balanced reading diet to keep things interesting and to keep all parts of my soul happy in terms of reading. As part of this well-balanced reading diet, I pick up Sci-Fi/Fantasy, crime drama/thrillers and more recently, Harlequin's Intrigue line. Part of that line includes Intrigue Eclipse which is their Gothic Romance line. Yes, I like these, but I've soon realized that I have been satisfying my dark side by listening J.D. Robb's In Death series.
Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I discovered that Leslie Parrish is coming out with a dark crime romance series starting with Fade to Black. Without further ado, here's Leslie!!!
The Human Element
Earlier this week, I wrote a guest blog about how I had to decide whether to leave the door flung wide open on the sexy scenes in my upcoming romantic-suspense trilogy. And while I was writing that, I began thinking about the tightrope I walked regarding how much violence to include in the Black CATs books.
When I read horror, I fully expect brutal scenes. Thrillers, probably so. Romantic-suspense, however, even if it’s on the thriller side of suspense, is a little trickier. Some authors do a fabulous job of getting the gory details in there without overwhelming the plot (Karen Rose for instance.) Others keep the suspense high without the gruesome bits (like my good pal Roxanne St. Claire.)
I honestly wasn’t sure which way to take these books. The horror lover in me wanted to let the blood flow. But the very last thing I wanted was for these books to be gratuitous, or for the violence to in any way overshadow the romance or the mystery.
It wasn’t until I started writing, started to feel my way through the first story, that I began to find my own comfort level in terms of violence and darkness in my books. I’d have to admit they’re pretty dark, but (and here’s the important part) they are not gratuitous. There aren’t pages and pages of torture or mutilation, nor long, gruesome scenes of detailed autopsies. In fact, probably the bloodiest scene in any of the three books is the prologue to Fade to Black, which has been on my website for several months. Yes, it’s awful to read about this woman slowly being tortured to death. But (imho) the scene does so much more than show her die. From the moment you’re in this poor, tragic girl’s head, you begin to see her as a person. Not a nameless victim, you empathize with her, not just because she’s a victim at that moment, but because you sense there are tragedies in her background that led her to make the bad decisions that brought her to where she is.
Take this, for instance:
>>“I’m sorry.” Tears oozed oozing from the corners of her eyes to mingle with the blood and dirt on her cheeks. She didn’t know who she was talking to, some God she’d long since stopped believing in? Herself for getting caught in this trap?
Maybe she was trying to say the one thing she’d never said to the one person who truly deserved to hear it. This will break her heart.
The vision of her sad, weary mother, who’d been so loving, yet so impossibly blind, brought her head forward. She again focused on her attacker.
He was no demon. Just a vicious, awful human being. << These kind of moments are spread throughout the prologue and are much more the focus than the knife or the pain. Lisa appears on only a handful of pages in this book, yet her heartbreaking character remains a major presence throughout the rest of it. My point is, the violence was not there to shock the reader, or titillate or get attention. The sadness of Lisa’s life, juxtaposed with the horror of her death, was simply the right way for me to start this book. The reader shouldn’t be quivering with fear when they read about Lisa’s death…they should be tearing up with sorrow for her.
Frankly, while the violence is much more subtle in book 2, Pitch Black, I find the prologue of that book far more horrifying. The villain prides himself on not being a villain at all. He’s simply putting people in positions where they’re almost certainly going to die, then sits back and watches them do it. The opening of this book, where two teenage boys are put out on an icy lake, conscious and aware as the ice breaks beneath them, is probably the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve written. The villain never lays a violent hand on either of them, there are no knives, no gun, no implements of torture. It’s all entirely psychological…and again, meant to instill anguish in the reader, not fear.
The whole scene is, again, on my website, but here’s a snippet of it:
>>>Jason knew what the man was going to do even before he bent into the car and flipped off the lights. The sudden darkness was almost as blinding, the terror infinitely more extreme. Because he didn’t have to see the car being shifted into neutral or hear the emergency brake being released to know exactly what was happening. “God, no, please.”
The vehicle began to roll down the slope, drawing irrevocably closer to the icy pond on which Jason and Ryan were trapped. “Why are you doing this?” he yelled, straining against the tape even as the front tires reached the frozen shoreline.
Behind him, he felt movement. Ryan was coming to.
“Goodbye, Jason,” the voice called. “The world will be better off without you. Shame about your friend. You really should have come alone.”
The shadowy figure moved, disappearing into the swirling snow. A moment later, an engine rumbled, then slowly faded away. He barely heard it as the car eased closer, sliding across the snow slicked ice. Adding weight...so much weight.
How deep is the water? How thick could the ice be?
Will we freeze or will we drown?
“Ryan, I’m sorry I got you into this,” he sobbed.
Ryan’s head moved, until his frozen hair touched Jason’s face. “S’okay. Sidekick’s always got the hero’s back.”
“Sorry!” Jason cried, trying not to move yet desperate to break away. But before he could do a thing, even say goodbye to his best friend, another crack came and the ice gave way beneath them. Freezing liquid rushed over his feet and ankles, bringing them back to life to experience the agony. They plunged down until blackness covered their heads and ice seared his lungs. And as the water turned the world above him into an icy grave, Jason could think only of his parents.
God how he wished he’d gone with them to Florida.<<< As you can see, it’s not gruesome, not violent. Terrifying, yes. Heartbreaking, yes. But not gratuitous. Again, what makes it effective is
the depth of emotion in their final moments, not the violent way they died.
The murder that opens the third book, Black at Heart, is incredibly brutal. Bloody, violent, vengeful. But it’s not shown on the page. Originally, I had written the scene from the victim’s pov. What’s done to him is horrible, but, honestly, considering he was a child rapist turning up for what he thought was a child-swap with a little girl, I didn’t mind so much. That scene (as Carrie knows) ended up cut out because my editor predicted (and got me to agree) that no matter what was done to him, inside a pedophile's head was just not a place a romantic-suspense reader truly wanted to be. So all the violence is portrayed by the reactions of the hero as he arrives at the scene the morning after. Through his eyes, we see how ugly it was, but, again, nothing is on the page.
But I don’t think that’s the most effective “deadly” scene in Black at Heart.
>> God forgive me. A little kid. A little boy not much older than Toby. Boyd had taken him. Hurt him. Killed him.
If there was a hell, Will would someday be there with the man he’d helped set free, both of them sitting front row, center.
“That’s right, I’m your Pop-pop,” he said, kissing the tousled blond curls on the top of the baby’s soft head. “And I’ll always be there for ya, kid. I’m gonna watch over you, take care of…”
A loud noise cut off his sentence. Pop! Pop! Something hit him, then something else, bang-bang, two in a row.
The bullets struck hard, pain erupting in his lower back, and in his left shoulder. He stumbled forward from the impact, staggering onto the sidewalk, dropping to his knees. Even as he fell, he was careful to hold the baby up so his tiny frame didn’t smash onto the cement.
The sharp pain from each gunshot rapidly expanded, spreading throughout his body before merging to create one enormous torrent of anguish. He’d never known a person could hurt so much.
“Toby.” The word lingered on his lips. As he started to fall forward, knowing he was going to land on his face, he gently pushed the boy to the side, out of harm’s way.
“Help,” he whispered, not even sure he understood what had happened. “Help.”
Toby began to whimper. Then to cry. But his cries were drowned out by the sound of a car’s engine, revving up and roaring away, the tires spinning and screaming on the blacktop as the vehicle tore up the block.
Will reached for the boy, his own flesh and blood, the kid who was supposed to be his chance to make everything right, to do it all over again. He wanted to touch him, to stroke that hair, brush his fingers against that little cheek and promise it would all be okay.
But his fingers were bloody and his arm was weak and he was dying, and Will could only stare at the child as the world went dark and he headed for his front row, center seat. << A man has been shot down, in cold blood, murdered with his grandson in his arms. But I somehow suspect it’s not the violence of it that grabs you as you read it.
I’m sure you’ve now seen the common thread in all these examples. Yes, I want the reader to find these scenarios horrifying; they are horrifying. Disturbing, violent, ugly…all these things. Yet the real horror comes not from the level of detailed violence but from the connection we feel to the victims. They’re human. And our shared humanity is what makes each of these scenes work on such a deep, intimate level.
I’d really like to know what other readers look for when you open a dark romantic-suspense novel.
Do you just want to be scared?
Or do you, (like me) enjoy a book more when you feel an emotional connection to every character—including the victims?