By Matt Maxwell
Elizabeth Lowell has quietly been stirring up a revolt in both romance and thrillers since the late 1980s. She was one of the leading innovators in the field of romantic suspense, having mastered relationship-driven romance and suspense novels in her earlier career. With Tell Me No Lies, she combined the two genres, giving readers an unexpected ride that continues to today. Her newest romantic suspense novel is PERFECT TOUCH, which tells a tale of family and betrayal set against a backdrop of the rugged Wyoming landscape. High-stakes art deals, murder, and the unexpected dance of new love all come together, satisfying readers of thrillers and contemporary romance alike.
The Big Thrill sat down with Mrs. Lowell to talk about her writing career and what it’s like to break down genre barriers.
You didn’t start out writing suspense at all. How did you begin your career?
I was reading science fiction at the time; my first novel, Change, was science fiction. It is long out of print, but I’m looking at possibly bringing out a digital edition. I’ve got rights to all my science fiction backlist, thanks to contracts that weren’t able to predict ebooks and the world we live in now.
What were you able to take from that experience that makes your other work unique?
Science fiction is the ultimate “What if?” genre, with no limitations required by reality. Suspense is also a “What if?” genre, but the limitations are very much of this Earth!
What led you to add suspense elements to your romance novels? Did that dovetail with your work on Steal the Sun and the Fiddler novels?
My first romance novels were about 200 pages long. There wasn’t room in them for anything but the development of the romance. When I write 400 page novels, then there is room for both romance and suspense. Working on pure suspense (such as Steal the Sun) and mystery with a continuing relationship (Fiddler) made me want to write novels in which the romance and suspense were equal partners.
Did you find any resistance from editors and readers when you started working more thriller elements into your novels?
In the 1980s, romantic suspense didn’t really exist as a genre, except for pure Gothic novels. Editors believed that romance and suspense of the contemporary variety had no market. Yet that was what I wanted to write. Finally I found an editor who basically said, “If you write it, I’ll publish it.” I wrote Tell Me No Lies, which received a boxed review from Publishers Weekly (the equivalent of today’s starred review). The readers loved the book. In fact, it is still a reader favorite.
Is it fair to consider Tell Me No Lies among the first romantic suspense novels to really cement what the genre was all about?
It certainly was for me.
Were there other authors working those veins alongside you in those early days of the genre?
Jayne Ann Krentz and Sandra Brown are the only two I can think of right now.
Who are you reading in romantic suspense today?
When I’m writing, which is a whole lot of the time, I don’t read romantic suspense. Busman’s holiday and all that. But if my friend Jayne Krentz has a new manuscript, I’ll devour it happily.
Who has taken or is still taking the genre into surprising places for you?
The wonderful thing about the genre today is there are countless places to take it. The only thing that ever surprised me about romantic suspense is when New York said it didn’t sell.
Did you plan to blaze a trail for a new genre or were you interested in doing something that you yourself wanted to read.
I never looked for anything but to write a book I would enjoy reading. Any trails that got blazed were purely incidental.
Are there any influences on your work that you think your readers would find surprising and unexpected?
The whole of my life influences my books. As I have rather wide-ranging tastes—everything from geology to history to metaphysics—I imagine some of my readers would be surprised. Baffled, even.
Setting and place are a major component of your books. To what extent do they shape your work?
Setting is always where I start thinking about a novel. From the settings come characters and actions. So without a setting, I really don’t have anything.
I understand you took a trip out to Wyoming to research PERFECT TOUCH. Which sites impressed you?
The Tetons, of course. The ranches on the back side of the Tetons were unexpected—and so green. The history is everywhere you look. You can almost taste it on the wind.
Do you have a favorite place you haven’t yet worked into a novel?
No…but then, there are places I haven’t been yet.
What actually generates suspense for you? What makes a book work? For instance, I’ve talked about horror before and a lot of what makes horror effective for me is rooted in my connection with the characters. Or is that the mechanism for making any fiction work?
For me, the core of any novel is character. If I don’t relate to the characters in the novel, I don’t care about what happens. I stop reading the book. If that happens twice with an author, I don’t pick up his or her books again.
Following on the idea of character, you’re noted for your handling of both men and women characters. When writing PERFECT TOUCH, did you find it easier to write Jay or Sara?
For me, each character is a separate challenge, no matter what gender. As a woman, I can’t really do justice to a man’s point of view; but I can create a man a woman would enjoy.
Individually and with co-author/husband Evan, Ann Maxwell has written seventy novels and one work of non-fiction. There are 30 million copies of these books in print, as well as reprints in 30 foreign languages. These novels range from science fiction to historical fiction, from romance to mystery to suspense.
In 1982, Ann began publishing romance novels as Elizabeth Lowell. Under that name she has received numerous professional awards in the romance field, including a Lifetime Achievement award from the Romance Writers of America in 1994. She has written both contemporary and historical romances as well as western romance.
Since July of 1992, she has had more than thirty novels on the New York Times bestseller list, as well as other national and international bestseller lists. The series of novels featuring the unforgettable Donovan family—Amber Beach, Jade Island, Pearl Cove and Midnight in Ruby Bayou have won acclaim as some of her best romance novels.
For more information about Elizabeth Lowell and access to her backlist, please visit her website.
Matt Maxwell is the author of a number of non-fiction books on popular culture, two collections of short stories, and a pair of novels. You can see his work at www.highway-62.com.