October 20 – 26: “Romance and thrillers – do they mix?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re discussing romance and thrillers. Join ITW Members Bernard Maestas, David M. Salkin, Alex Shaw, L.R. Nicolello, Eric Red, Mauro Azzano, Colin Campbell, Alan L. Moss and K. A. Laity as they discuss their favorite romantic thrillers.


Hard Carbon by David M. SalkinDavid M. Salkin, the Mayor of Freehold Township, NJ and a Master Graduate Gemologist, is also the author of over a dozen thrillers. His latest thriller, HARD CARBON, is his first hard cover, now available at Barnes & Noble and wherever books are sold.  DEEP BLACK SEA was released in July, and THE TEAM will be a three book series due out next summer.


godwin_coverBernard Maestas lives in paradise. A police officer patrolling the mean streets of Hawaii, he has a background in contract security and military and civilian law enforcement. When not saving the world, one speeding ticket at a time, and not distracted by video games or the internet, he is usually hard at work on his next novel. His first novel, SAY THAT TO MY FACE was released in December and its sequel, GODWIN’S LAW is due out November 15th.

Adobe Flats by Colin CampbellEx-policeman. Ex-soldier. International tennis player. And full-time crime novelist. Colin Campbell is a retired police officer in West Yorkshire, having tackled crime in one of the UK’s busiest cities for 30 years. He is the author of UK crime novels, BLUE KNIGHT WHITE CROSS and NORTHERN EX, and US thrillers JAMAICA PLAIN and MONTECITO HEIGHTS featuring rogue Yorkshire cop Jim Grant. He counts Lee Child and Matt Hilton among his fans.


IT WAITS BELOW book coverEric Red is a Los Angeles based motion picture screenwriter, director and author. His films include The Hitcher, Near Dark, Blue Steel, Cohen And Tate, Body Parts, Bad Moon and 100 Fee. His first novel, Don’t Stand So Close, is available from SST Publications. His second and third novels, The Guns Of Santa Sangre and It Waits Below, are available from Samhain Publishing. His fourth novel, White Knuckle, will be published by Samhain in 2015.

Death Works at Night by Mauro AzzanoMauro Azzano was born in Italy, north of Venice. He grew up in Italy, Australia and finally Canada, settling with his family on the west coast outside Vancouver, Canada. He has a broad experience to call on as a writer, having worked as a college instructor, commercial pilot, IT specialist and a number of other unusual occupations. Currently, he is writing the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series and training as a distance runner.


Cold Black ENDEAVOURlowresAlex Shaw spent the second half of the 1990s in Kyiv, Ukraine, teaching and running his own business consultancy before being head-hunted for a division of Siemens. The next few years saw him doing business across the former USSR, the Middle East, and Africa. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers organisation, the Crime Writers Association and the author of the Aidan Snow SAS thrillers. Alex, his wife and their two sons divide their time between homes in Kyiv, Ukraine and Worthing, England.

Dead Don't Lie by L.R. NicolelloL. R. Nicolello has had an obsession with all things suspense since she was old enough to pick out her own books. She decided to combine that passion with her love of action flicks and strong female protagonists in DEAD DON’T LIE, her debut romantic suspense novel. She, her amazing partner in crime and their ninety-pound “dog child” reside in Texas, where she is working on her next project.


Surviving The Endgame by Alan L MossAlan L. Moss is a unique and emerging voice in the thriller genre. His writing draws upon Ph. D. research capabilities and many years in Washington D.C. as a federal Chief Economist, Congressional Fellow in the U.S. Senate, and Adjunct Instructor at the University of Virginia’s Northern Virginia Center. In 2002, he put his government career aside and moved to the Jersey Shore to pursue his writing. His published novels spin sophisticated tales of conspiracy, love, sex, and subterfuge. After years of politics and bureaucracy, Alan has found the freedom of writing fiction an intoxicating and satisfying calling.

white rabbitK. A. Laity is the award-winning author of White Rabbit, A Cut-Throat Business, Lush Situation, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams, À la Mort Subite, The Claddagh Icon, Chastity Flame, Pelzmantel and Other Medieval Tales of Magic and Unikirja, as well as editor of Weird Noir, Noir Carnival and the forthcoming Drag Noir. With cartoonist Elena Steier she created the occult detective comic Jane Quiet. Her bibliography is chock full of short stories, humor pieces, plays and essays, both scholarly and popular. She spent the 2011-2012 academic year in Galway, Ireland where she was a Fulbright Fellow in digital humanities at NUIG. Dr. Laity has written on popular culture and social media for Ms., The Spectator and BitchBuzz, and teaches medieval literature, film, gender studies, New Media and popular culture at the College of Saint Rose. She divides her time between upstate New York and Dundee.



International Thriller Writers Inc represents professional authors from around the world. Learn more about them, their work, and the sources from which they draw their inspiration at the Official ITW Organization Website.

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  1. One reviewer called my novel CHASTITY FLAME “50 Shades of James Bond” and I can’t argue with that. The series began life for a publisher that wanted to get in on the ground floor of the ebook explosion back in 2008. The one genre that was skyrocketing first was erotic romance, so she wanted the books sexy.

    I always loved spy thrillers and Bond despite the often cringeworthy female characters. I just love secret identities and spy gadgets, and hey — Bond was always getting some sexy attention so why not my spy gal (whose name quite transparently mimics Modesty Blaise, another influence)?

    People turn up their noses at romance (the single best selling genre out there) but with series fiction like mysteries and thrillers, the one thing you hear most about is readers wondering how the relationships will go. Romance is disparaged as ‘girly stuff’ but everybody yearns for it — as long as it’s safely camouflaged by guns and crime.

  2. Romantic relationships can provide extremely effective vehicles for thriller novels. I don’t know that I would classify any thrillers that I’ve read as “romantic thrillers.” On the other hand, I have used love and sex as important story lines for my novels. For example, in Island of Betrayal, my first novel, the protagonist’s affair with a beautiful Samoan woman haunts him (and her) throughout the story. She goes on to become a U. S. Congressman’s wife but never is able to put her love for the protagonist behind. The reader is never certain of her real motivations, building suspense to a tragic conclusion.

    In Insidious Deception, my second thriller, the story begins with the protagonist being united with a woman who was an Italian exchange high school student living in his parent’s home. While the two felt a burning attraction for one another, he resists due to her age. Then, years later, they are united in Pescara, Italy and they determine to spend two weeks together to explore their feelings. He smuggles her aboard a luxury yacht for a return trip to Hvar, Croatia. In the middle of the night, explosions sink the vessel and he watches her drown. That shock motivates him to put his medical studies on hold and to infiltrate the conspiracy responsible for her death.

    Surviving The Endgame, my latest offering and a sequel to Insidious Deception, finds the protagonist married to a woman who saved his life in a Paris assassination attempt. With the conspiracy now resurgent with vicious female leadership, the protagonist and his wife, who he learns is pregnant, must escape to parts unknown. Forced to abandon a Piper aircraft over a Canadian woods, the reader prays that the family will survive.

    And so, my own use of romance has, I think, served my novels well. The stark contrast of love and sex confronted by the violence characteristic of most thrillers, keeps the pages turning and reader emotions fully involved.

  3. Hi, again, everybody! Glad to be back, these things are always fun. I’m looking forward to the topic this week because I have an opinion on both sides and I’m really eager to hear what you other authors have to say on it.

    My first book, SAY THAT TO MY FACE, has actually been praised by critics and fans for having “no romance whatsoever.” That was a conscious choice because the story absolutely was not about romance but about the growth and development of the friendship between the two protagonists. That sort of took the place of a romantic arc in the novel.

    In the sequels, the upcoming GODWIN’S LAW (November 15th, by the way) and YOU THINK THIS IS A GAME?, I start to introduce the characters’ emotionally stunted romantic relationships (such as they are). As critical as it was not to have love interests in the first novel, the ones presented in the sequels are just as important for developing and growing the characters over the series. As the series grows longer, there will be more or less of that, depending on the novel itself.

    For another example, in my latest novel (just finished the manuscript today, actually), CONCRETE SMILE, the romantic arcs were absolutely critical to the story. For example, one of the protagonists is both grief-stricken and driven by the death of a lover. Establishing the romance was critical to selling that grief but I’m really proud of the way that it came out.

    Alan, above, makes a great comment that romantic relationships are great vehicles in thrillers (really any genre). K.A.’s comment is also good, there is a certain machismo in the thriller genre, but honestly, I think we’re in a period where that’s changing. Audiences are interested in a wider variety of things and are willing to see things they might not have (romance, in this case) that don’t necessarily need to be masked behind a gunfight.

    So, I say that romance certainly has a place in thrillers, but it’s a case-by-case thing. If I had tried to force love interests into SAY THAT TO MY FACE it would, frankly, have ruined the book. In CONCRETE SMILE, if I tried to eliminate or minimize it, the result would have been the same.

  4. I can’t help but think that love, sex and mystery are three facets of the same emotion.
    When I wrote “The Dead Don’t Dream” I started out with a mystery, and the romance part of the story was supposed to be incidental, simply a vehicle for explaining some of the hero’s history.

    What eventually wrote itself was that the romance in the story, in some passages, overshadowed the mystery; the hero’s love interest became as integral to his success and as important to the plot as the solving of the puzzle.

    More than once, the storyline wrote itself, and I was literally typing away, as surprised as anyone at what appeared on screen.
    This, to me, is the hallmark of a natural passage in a work, one which conveys a true, unforced emotion.
    Comments from a number of readers indicate that those passages give a depth and dimension to the characters which would not otherwise be there.
    There were also chase and fight scenes, particularly in the sequel, “Death Works at Night”, which flowed equally easily, and for the same reason.

  5. “Hell hath no fury like woman scorned.” That’s all I’m going to say. Well maybe a bit more. Love and hate are often described as two sides of the same coin. By including love and romance in a novel you give powerful motivation for the conflicts that drive it. “Not tonight Josephine.” Wrong thing to say.

  6. As Jane Austen wrote, ‘Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story’ which is why we have sayings like that. Jealously, competitiveness, envy — love can provoke a lot of conflict especially when it’s not returned. Or complications of another nature when it is — I’m thinking of Stoppard’s Hapgood and the complications it delivers by means of the children of love affairs.

    Love tests loyalties, too.

    I think The Spy Who Loved Me easily the most interesting of Fleming’s books. After treating women as if they were a separate species, he tries to embody one and convinces himself they’re the same creature after all.

  7. Beyond just the literary examples of this, think also of real-world examples of how passion and intrigue are comingled.
    From Anthony and Cleopatra to the Profumo Affair to Mata Hari, men’s attraction to women or vice versa has been the source of both literary and real-life fodder.

    Is it any wonder then, that this is such a hot button for writers? Can’t all of us honestly say we have a relationship in our past that we wish had gone differently, romantic or otherwise? Did one or more of those cause us a crisis in conscience, or afford us the opportunity to do the WRONG thing?

    While family squabbles and sibling intrigue may dog us all, it’s the romantic battles that really stick to the wall, and I think that’s why those make it onto the page.

    Incidentally, I joked with my wife that as a break, now that “Death By Deceit” is in the publisher’s hands, I should write a ‘chick-lit’ book just for fun. She thought it would be interesting to see what I came up with.
    So now, twelve thousand words into it, I realize that the same emotional well I drew from when writing about a police officer shot in the steet, is now being used in exactly the same way when writing about two women trying to save a failing hotel.
    We are hard-wired to react emotionally. Is it any wonder we rely on emotion to convey otherwise rational thoughts?

  8. Thrillers keep you turning pages… the suspense, danger, excitement… they propel the action. I think when readers connect with characters, and the readers “care” more for the characters, then they are more invested in “what happens next” to these characters.
    While a full-blown romance that gets too carried away with soap opera drama would slow the action, having characters mean something to each other, makes them human and vulnerable.
    It’s funny that we’re discussing this topic now because I just read a review of DEEP BLACK SEA, my last science-fiction horror thriller. The reviewer complained about the romance part, and skimmed over it because “the book was too long”. This was 2 reviews away from a reviewer that said the book was too short! LOL
    In the end, any romance has to be woven into the storyline, and MEAN something, not just “added at the end.” I think if meaningful characters share some romance, it’s only going to make thee book stronger, as long as it doesn’t get too side-tracked with back story.

  9. Wow! Is this the perfect topic for me! Yes! I have romance in both Gemini and Aries. Though both are psych thrillers, Gemini is more medical and Aries, more police procedural, the romance adds to the dimensionality of the main characters. By romance, I mean hot, graphic, consummate sex. In Gemini, my protagonist is a forensic psychiatrist, who before he met the love interest, now his wife, he was a big time player. After he met her he wanted to give up that lifestyle and have a monagomous relationship. His attitudes in the sex scenes show how he’s grown, his change in his beliefs on what makes him a worthy man.

    In Aries the sex is more gritty, more erotic as my protagonists, a detective and forensic psychiatrist, follow a lead to a murder to a BDSM club in NYC. The detective is a wild child and she likes the scene more than the psychiatrist, but he teaches her a thing or two, in his more gentle approach.

    Sex between consulting adults in a thriller, to me, adds conflict, sizzle, and definitely could take care of any sagging middle. It’s a change from killing off characters when you don’t want to.

  10. Of course romance and thrillers go together. The problem is that often those who pen thrillers are crap writers when it comes to romance. I blame them for either creating cardboard women characters or just not having the gift of writing sexual tension, etc.

      1. I don’t think it makes someone a crap writer because they can’t write romance anymore than it makes some a crap writer who can’t write a decent action scene. Even the best of authors have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. I know I do.

        For me, my weakness is mysteries. I tried, once, and churned out a load of crap that will never see the light of day. That doesn’t make me a crap writer.

        When it comes to romance, maybe I could or maybe I couldn’t be a romance writer if the inspiration struck. (Though I’m sure I could write the porn that passes for romance on some shelves if I had the time to waste — I’d rather stick to writing good books that I love.)

  11. That might be changing, Madeline, as more publishers are working with multi genre projects. So that they’re looking for romance writers who also write thrillers. And visa versa so that both elements are equally as strong. Some thriller writers gloss over the sex, making it behind closed doors. For me, as a writer, I must have both elements, strong. As I delve into deep pov of a character in a thriller, I do the same in the sex scenes.

      1. This is a great point and something I wanted to bring up, but I’ve been in absentia for a few days and missed all the fun.

        Genre bending is practically the name of the game these days. Many authors have had loads of success in the urban fantasy genre by blending mysteries or police procedurals into their novels.

        That said, writing a romance doesn’t make someone a romance writer. Everyone calls Stephen King a horror writer, but did you know that he wrote the bases for “Stand by Me” and “The Shawshank Redemption”? (And yes, I knew that before Family Guy told me.)

  12. Short answer: Yes & No.
    As a reader of thrillers I do not expect to read about romance as in my opinion it is a luxury that the characters really don’t have the time for when they are busy saving the world. When the danger has been averted then perhaps yes. I’m afraid that when I do encounter a romance element in a thriller I tend to speed read or skip over it. It’s the same for sex scenes. In a film perhaps yes these serve a purpose, but not in a book. I understand that there are innumerable type of thrillers in the reading world and that in many romance plays a key element but in those I read, and those I write it does not.
    Please do not feel that I am knocking ‘romance’, this is not the case, it is just that romance in thrillers is neither my cup of tea nor dram of Scotch. I personally find it very hard to write romance, and am glad that others do. Thrillers for me are escapism, and this includes escaping from the everyday world of romance to one of heightened danger and global issues. Romance for me is like rap music, I know it exists, I know it is popular but it’s not something that I partake of. By the way this does not mean that I personally am not romantic. 

    1. “Thrillers for me are escapism, and this includes escaping from the everyday world of romance” — sounds like you have an exciting world of romance! 😉

    2. Romance isn’t your cup of tea and neither is rap music. That’s a personal quirk. (I happen to be a big and fond listener of rap music.) But saying that thriller characters don’t have the luxury of romance doesn’t make any sense to me. It never stopped Bond, for starters.

      I’ve written a lot of things that fall into the “military thriller” categories and it makes a difference when these people have (or don’t have) someone waiting for them to come home. The same is true in real life, as I’ve seen as a policeman. Maybe that’s not what some consider romance, but I would say that’s a big issue right there.

      Then there’s the hero who has to choose between saving the world and saving the girl. If there’s been no build up of any romantic interest there, how is it a hard choice? Where’s the drama and tension in that?

      Now, granted, not every thriller needs a romantic arc, as I said above using my own work as an example. I don’t think either my first or second books are bad for not having or having romantic elements in them makes them bad books.

      1. We all have our own preferences and I write what I like to read, which generally does not include romance. So many thrillers have the obligatory family at home aspect which is not what I am interested in, but that is not to say that others are.

  13. I suppose like anything else it’s a preference of the author whether or not to blend a romance into the thriller. Fleming did it perfectly in “From Russia With Love,” and yet Brad Thor merely tells the readers what a passionate love his protagonist has for his girl in “The Last Patriot.” As Colin pointed out about an unrequited love, I would think at the least an author should use a romance as a motivational tool for the hero (heroine) to do the bizarre and superhuman things they do to best the bad guys and give a satisfying resolution to the reader. Examples of guys doing stuff they shouldn’t because of a pretty girl: “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” I’ve used the incentive for three of my novels. You have to have a reason they do what they do. I’m sure at some time in their miserable lives, serial killers were dissed by some girl at a high school dance or had a girlfriend dump them to create their effective sociopath persona. With that said, I’m all for romance in a thriller or any type of genre, actually, but don’t mess up my action scenes with smooshy kisses and such.

  14. Romantic Thrillers are probably more of a tradition in screenplays and movies than in novels, but there’s no reason that needs to be the case. When you inject a good love story to a thriller, it elevates the genre. You get the thrills, but caring about the love of the protagonists makes the story more involving. Jeopardy to a character that someone is in love with is more tense than personal threat—personally, I’d be much more scared of anything happening to my wife than of something happening to me.

    My list of great romantic thrillers in movies includes NOTORIOUS and VERTIGO, since Alfred Hitchcock made a career of them. The Sam Peckinpah film THE GETAWAY with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw from the novel by Jim Thompson is one of my favorite romantic thrillers because it works on a basic level of a gangster chase film, but has an emotional human level that transcends the genre. A married couple betrays each other and go through hell together to get to the point where they are able forgive one another and trust each other again, their relationship is road tested and stronger after the ordeal. The bullets and car chases had much more impact because of the romantic thriller aspects.

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