What’s trending in romantic suspense fiction?
By Dawn Ius
As early as a few months after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, publishers of romantic suspense fiction saw a shift in the marketplace—submission inboxes became flooded with books featuring heroes of authority. Enforcement officers, military men, and in particular, bodyguards.
Two years later, those tropes—now considered evergreen for the genre—remain strong, but as of late, a new sub-category of hero has begun to emerge: “the exes.”
Ex-military, ex-cop, ex-FBI.
“So still a protector, by nature, but burdened with that extra emotional arc of trying to figure out how to exist in a new reality—without the bandage or the organization or the neat-and-tidy self-identification,” says Kerri Buckley, senior editor, Carina Press. “Plus, you know, navigate the romance.”
And for Carina Press, the romance part is key. In fact, Buckley says she is currently on the lookout for romantic suspense novels where suspense supports the romance, rather than suspense being front and center.
That doesn’t mean authors should ditch the thrill factor—like any sub-category of the thriller genre, that pulse-pounding, page-turning drama is one of the reasons the genre remains an industry staple.
And as Kat Martin, bestselling author of more than 60 novels, 30 of which land in the romantic suspense category, reaffirms, “The story is everything.”
But in these uneasy times, where society continues to shift and evolve, Martin says achieving that goal is no easy task.
“Political correctness is taking a devastating toll on writers of every genre,” she says. “It’s our job to paint pictures—hard to do with the limited word choices we are now facing more and more.”
Certainly that political correctness—or sensitivity awareness—has created some obstacles, but savvy writers such as Martin are meeting, and exceeding, the challenge, while still leaving the door open for a more inclusive and socially aware genre.
“It’s been very encouraging to see more and more romantic pairings outside the hero/heroine binary, and protagonists who aren’t cis het white men and women,” says Buckley.
Author Jody Holford says she’s also noticed a shift in how today’s heroine appears to take a more active role in saving herself, rather than playing the damsel in distress.
“I think it’s an emboldening trend and I hope to show this in my own work,” she says. “That balance for the heroine (and hero) between wanting to ‘prove themselves’ but realizing it’s not weak to have someone else take your back.”
Elizabeth Goddard, author of more than 25 novels, concurs, suggesting that as the genre continues to solidify its place with fans by introducing diverse characters and a variety of fresh tropes, there will be increased emphasis on plots that appeal to readers traditionally outside the genre.
“I think we’ll see more thriller-ish romantic suspense novels—stories with enough action and technology-laden plots, that they’ll appeal to men as much as women,” she says. “On the flip side we’ll see romantic suspense that’s geared toward more emotional readers who want more romance, or at least romance equal to the suspense plot.”
Which is consistent with Buckley’s theories as well.
Holford hopes this will also include the exploration of women doing jobs that don’t fit inside the norm. “More than the Veronica Mars style PI. More like the Lucy Liu-Charlie’s Angel-style bodyguards,” she says. “I love that melding, in male and female characters, of strength and sexiness.”
A mash-up of character traits, perhaps—which is consistent with one of the trends Carina Press foresees over the coming months.
“We are acquiring more genre mash-ups,” says Buckley. “Paranormal romantic suspense that dovetails with mystery, such as Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series.”
But regardless of what changes evolve—both from the publishing industry and society standpoints—there is one aspect of the genre that must remain unchanged in order for it to remain in readers’ hearts: a happily ever after.
“The intensity that exists in romantic suspense makes it unique because some of the typical romance rules are out the window,” Holford says. “Yes, they can fall in love in 48 hours because when you’re running or fighting for your life, emotions run hot and close to the surface. Everything seems more urgent and that really ups the romantic tension right along with the exterior conflict.”
“Safe thrills, if you will,” Buckley adds. “In a political environment that grows increasingly stressful by not consistently offering the same.”