Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Romance On the Run!

By Debby Giusti

How can love bloom when characters are on the run? Most of my Love Inspired Suspense stories take place over a short period of time. The hero and heroine are in danger at the get-go, and the threat escalates as the story progresses. Forcing them to constantly look over their shoulders and dodge the next attack works for the suspense elements in the story but makes falling in love difficult. There’s no time for candlelight dinners or leisurely walks on the beach. So how can they find romance when a ticking time bomb is ready to explode and danger lurks around every corner?

The key is the “first meet.” First impressions are important, especially between a hero and heroine. Staging that initial meeting in the right light, no matter the genre, helps propel the romance forward and hooks the reader so she’ll keep turning the page. 

Let’s look at a few ways to begin a romance—even when the characters are on the run.

Strangers at the Start 

When word count permits, the romance can develop at a leisurely pace over a period of time, even if the characters are trying to elude danger. This setup is often used in straight romance stories where the main focus is on the relationship between the hero and heroine. The first meet may hint at a future attraction, but the sparks don’t fly until later in the story.

My debut novel, Nowhere to Hide, was published in 2007, and at that time, Love Inspired Suspense stories weighed in at 65,000 words, ten thousand more than the current word count allows. Those added pages gave me time to focus initially on the suspense and layer the romance in, bit by bit, as the story progressed.

Let’s see what happens when Matt Lawson, the head of security at a gated, coastal community, responds to an alarm at one of the upscale, oceanfront homes and finds the heroine hiding inside with her small son.

Matt Lawson peered into the darkness, saw movement and aimed his gun. “Hold it right there.” He raised the flashlight in his left hand. The arc of light broke through the darkness. “Sanctuary Security. Step towards me. Hands in the air.” 

No reaction. 

“Now, buddy!” 

A woman moved from the shadows. Slender. Five-foot-six. Shoulder-length blond hair. A child peered around the counter. She shoved him protectively behind her. 

“What’s going on, ma’am?” 

Lightning illuminated the spacious kitchen. Two seconds later, a clap of thunder confirmed a nearby hit. 

Why in the world would a woman and child break into one of the prestigious homes on Sanctuary Island? The woman certainly didn’t look like she belonged in the upscale community. Wrinkled clothes. Hair hanging limp around her oval face. She reminded him of a stray cat, needing to be fed. 

Matt shook his head ever so slightly. The past year working security on the island must have skewed his common sense. He’d seen plenty of female perpetrators on the streets of Miami. 

Didn’t matter how pathetic the woman standing before him looked, he’d still have to take her back to the office, question her and, if need be, call in the mainland sheriff’s office. 

No reason why this scared wisp of a thing couldn’t be up to no good in coastal Georgia. 

Matt questions why the heroine and her son are in the house, but he isn’t drawn to her romantically and instead refers to her as the “pathetic woman standing before him.” Of course, later, the attraction begins to grow.

Instant Connection 

Giving the hero and heroine an instant attraction is a viable way to jumpstart the romance at the first meet.

In my Christmas novella, “Yule Die,” featured in Christmas Peril, my seasoned cop hero, Joe Petrecelli, is concerned about a gang member injured in a recent shootout. Fearing the other members of the gang might try to spring their buddy, the cops secreted the injured gunman out of the large Atlanta trauma center where he was initially treated and into an out-of-the-way long-term care facility. Joe stops by the facility, after his early morning run, to check on the patient.

Medical technologist Callie Evans works at an Atlanta laboratory and is helping out at the nursing home this Christmas Eve morn. She enters the gunman’s room to draw his blood only to realize the wounded criminal—using an alias--is her estranged brother.

What happens when Joe finds her there?

Acknowledging the officer on duty, Joe stepped into the patient’s room and closed the door behind him. Movement caught his eye. He turned. 

A woman stood in the shadows. White lab coat, swarm of black curls, alabaster skin. Troubled blue eyes captured his gaze. 

Joe’s gut tightened and warmth flooded over him. He spied the tourniquet in her clenched fist and tried to override the conflicting signals pinging against his heart. 

Glancing at the patient, he asked, “Is the kid okay?” 

“He…he appears stable.” She stepped into the light. 

Pretty, in a fresh, wholesome way, the woman stared back at him with an intensity that made his world shift. 

Instantly aware of his own less-than-stellar appearance, he glanced down at his sweats, wishing he’d already showered and shaved. 

The “conflicting signals pinging against Joe’s heart,” his shifting world and concern for his appearance hint at the instant attraction Joe feels. Seconds later, three gunmen overpower the guard on duty and force Joe to carry their injured buddy to a waiting van. Joe’s brother, Theo, lives at the care facility so Callie knows about Joe, although they’ve never met. Notice the attraction she feels, even in a life-threatening situation, just minutes after they first meet.

Once again, she glanced over her shoulder at the cop, a man she’d prayed for countless times with Theo. Cancer had wasted the older brother’s body into soft flesh that hung on a bony frame. In contrast, Joe was bulk and brawn and raw emotion that made her heart quicken and her pulse race. Dark eyes matched his hair and the shadow of beard that outlined his angled jaw. 

Theo sought forgiveness and a chance to reconnect with the brother who couldn’t forgive the sins of his past. Something Callie and Joe shared in common. They’d both shut out their siblings and closed the doors to their hearts. Although every time she caught Joe’s gaze, her door creaked open. 

Callie and Joe must work together to stay alive in the hostage situation, but they also must deal with forgiveness issues. The reader anticipates romance and redemption for this unlikely hero and heroine who allow the Christmas message of hope and love to transform their hearts.

In The Officer’s Secret, Maggie Bennett discovers her military sister’s body hanging in the attic of her on-post quarters. Special Agent Nate Patterson is called in to investigate. As he enters the house, he catches a glimpse of Maggie.

Nate glanced into the living room where a woman sat huddled in a high-backed chair. Blue-green eyes looked up with the hollow stare of shock he’d seen too many times at crime scenes. The raw emotion written so clearly on her face brought home the tragic reality of what had happened tonight. 

Their eyes met and held for an instant, causing an unexpected warmth to curl through Nate’s gut. Tugging on a strand of her auburn hair, she dropped her gaze, breaking their momentary connection and leaving Nate with an emptiness he couldn’t explain. Probably the middle of the night phone call and his attempt to respond as quickly as possible that had thrown him slightly out of sync. 

Or maybe it was the woman—a family member, perhaps. 

Putting a human face on the tragedy—a very pretty face—intensified his desire to learn the truth about what had happened tonight. Nate was good at what he did. Tonight he wanted to be even better. The woman deserved as much. So did the victim waiting for him upstairs. 

The mention of a “momentary connection” that causes an “unexpected warmth to curl through Nate’s gut” alerts the reader to the romance that follows.

Only an Acquaintance  

Having a past history, even just knowing who the significant love interest is, helps speed the hero and heroine into a romantic relationship. None of the “Hi, how are you?” introductions are needed, nor other niceties that usually go along with a first meeting. Adding a flawed misperception of the opposing lead character can add to the conflict, at least in the beginning of the story, which was the case in The Captain’s Mission.

A training accident has claimed the life of one of Captain Phil Tibodeaux’s soldiers, and a CID agent has been called in to investigate. Phil hopes Jamison Steel will handle the case, but that would be too easy.

Footsteps sounded to Phil’s left. He turned and spotted Jamison Steele walking purposefully toward him. “You’ve been assigned the case?” 

“Negative.” Jamison looked over his shoulder toward the bleacher area. “Special Agent Kelly McQueen will be handling this one.” 

Phil’s heart thumped against his chest as he followed Jamison’s gaze and recognized the very determined complication walking toward them. More than anything, Phil didn’t want his focus swayed off course by the pretty face that seemed to pop up everywhere he went on post. 

He’d heard some of the single officers grouse about the attractive CID agent. Her good looks weren’t the problem. It was her no nonsense attitude. A number of guys called her the Ice McQueen. And the fact that she’d won the Outstanding Marksmanship Award was off putting to some. 

Easy enough to understand their frustration. Kelly was an anomaly. Beautiful yet aloof, and 100 percent focused on her job. Phil had to admit he admired her for maintaining her distance from many of the men on post whose interests revolved around her pretty face instead of the strength of character she undoubtedly possessed. 

He also understood her desire to keep her personal relationships separate from her military career. He had vowed long ago to never get involved with female personnel. When and if he settled down, it would be with a woman who wanted to be a stay-at-home mom with a houseful of children to love. Somehow that didn’t go hand in hand with a career military gal who needed to be at Uncle Sam’s beck and call. 

Kelly McQueen might be good at what she did, but Phil had to keep his focus on the investigation and not the special agent. He didn’t want sparks of interest to interfere with the work ahead. Instead, he wanted an answer to the question that pinged through his brain. How had one of his men shot and killed another soldier in the unit? 

Biting down on his jaw, he steeled himself to the ironic twist of events. Phil didn’t need the Ice McQueen in his life. No matter how attracted he was to her. 

The external conflict is clearly revealed as well as the romantic complications that will spring from both characters being in the military and seemingly at odds over the investigation.

How does Kelly react to Phil?

Kelly hadn’t expected Captain Thibodeaux’s eyes to be as black as the night that had settled over the range. Nor had she expected the frown that furrowed his brow and tugged at his full lips. The guy had “Keep Out of My Business” written all over him. Even his hands were fisted, as if she were an adversary instead of someone assigned to help him get to the bottom of a very bad situation. 

“Evening, Captain.” She held out her CID identification. “I’m Special Agent Kelly McQueen with the Criminal Investigation Division on post.” 

“Phil Thibodeaux.” He breathed in a lungful of air. “I’m aware of who you are, Agent McQueen.” 

“It’s Kelly, please. We’ll be working together to find out what happened today. I suggest we drop formalities.” 

“Yes, ma’am.” 

“I’d like to talk to the soldiers in your unit and determine if anyone saw anything outside the norm.” 

He raised his brow. “You mean like one of my men being shot?” 

The Cajun may have dropped his accent but not his attitude. “That is why I’m here, Captain.” 

Notice how Kelly and Phil butt heads at the onset. Minutes later, she approaches fellow agent Jamison Steele and reveals, through introspection, how Phil is perceived on post. She also exposes a bit about her troubled youth when she offers this reflection:

Up close and personal, the captain was even better-looking than Kelly had realized. The eyes clinched the deal, along with the dimples that must be killers when he smiled. Not that he was smiling this evening. His rugged face was lined with concern and an underpinning of grief. 

No doubt, he felt for the loss of his soldier’s life, but he also had to know his own career was on the line. If the captain had made a mistake, he’d be disciplined as well as the shooter. Phil had a reputation for being the pretty boy on post with the ladies and the man most likely to be promoted above his peers. Maybe the poster boy of Fort Rickman knew his moment of glory was coming to an end. 

“With some luck, we might have this investigation under wraps within a few days,” Kelly told Jamison. Then she could say goodbye and good riddance to Captain Thibodeaux. Until then, she had to be careful. 

She knew all too well that a handsome face could turn a girl’s heart. Her mother had been a perfect example. At least Kelly had enough sense to stay away from guys who promised everything and gave nothing but heartache in return. 

The memory of her Cajun dad bubbled up like rancid oil. Kelly wouldn’t take pity on anyone, even a handsome captain who, at this particular moment, looked like he needed a friend. 

Hopefully, within a few short paragraphs, the reader knows that, in spite of the obstacles, these two, strong-willed characters deserve a happily ever after.

Army posts are like small towns, and in The General’s Secretary, CID Special Agent Dawson Timmons is well aware of Lillie Beaumont, the Commanding General’s secretary, although the two have never met. When a man is gunned downed on her front porch, Dawson is the CID agent called in to help the local police with their investigation.

Here’s the first time he sees Lillie up close and personal.

Entering the living area, Dawson signaled to the officer in charge, held up his badge and nodded as the local cop continued to question the woman huddled on the couch. 

Lillie’s life had been inexplicably intertwined with Dawson’s, although he doubted she was aware her mother’s killer had a son. They’d never been introduced, but Dawson had seen her on post. It was hard not to notice the tall and slender secretary. Usually she was stylishly dressed and perfectly coiffed. Tonight wild, honey-brown tresses fell across the collar of what appeared to be flannel pajamas. Even from where he stood, Dawson noticed the blood spatters on the thick fabric. 

She turned, hearing him behind her. 

He hadn’t expected her eyes to be so green or so lucid. She wore her pain in the knit of her brow, in the downward tug on her full lips, in the tear-streaked eyes whose sadness wrapped around his heart. His breath hitched, and time stood still for one long moment. 

Pritchard asked another question. She turned back to the lead cop, leaving Dawson dangling. He straightened his neck, trying to work his way back to reality. 

Long ago, Dawson had learned to weigh everything, never to take a chance. He put his faith in what he could do and affect and impact, not on emotions that left him hanging in thin air. 

The passage hints at Dawson’s inner struggle, including his lack of relationship with the Lord. It also points to the very real conflict between the hero and heroine. His father had been found guilty of her mother’s murder. Now the dad has been shot dead on the heroine’s front porch. Even with that standing between them, the first time they come face-to-face, Dawson’s controlled world tilts off course.

Past Relationship: Former Love/Lost Love 

Any past relationship between the hero and heroine ups the conflict and the stakes. The reader wants to know what drove them apart and questions whether they’ll find love again.

In The Colonel’s Daughter, we meet Special Agent Jamison Steele. He loved Michele Logan, but she walked out of his life ten months earlier. When she returns home to Fort Rickman and stumbles onto a murder, Jamison is the person she calls for help.

A face flashed through her mind. Without weighing the consequences, she punched speed dial for a number she should have deleted ten months ago. 

He answered on the second ring. “Criminal Investigation Division, Fort Rickman, Georgia. This is Special Agent Jamison Steele.” 

The memory of his warm embrace and tender kisses washed over her. For one sweet, illogical second, she felt safe. 

“Hello?” He waited for a response. 


A sharp intake of air. “Michele?” 

“I need help.” Rubbing her free hand over her forehead, she tried to focus. “I’m at Quarters 122. In the Buckner Housing Area. Contact the military police.” 

“What happened?” 

“One of the wives… Her husband’s in Afghanistan. He’s in my father’s brigade. She was hosting a potluck for the wives. Someone broke in--” 

Jamison issued a series of commands to a person in his office. “I’m on the way, Michele. The military police are being notified. I’ll be there in three minutes. Are you hurt?” 

“I…I’m okay. It’s Yolanda Hughes.” 

Michele swallowed down the lump that filled her throat. “Yolanda’s dead.”

When Jamison arrives onsite, we’re all too aware of his past pain and his longing for the love he lost. 

Heart in his throat, Jamison pulled to the curb and hit the ground running, weapon in one hand, Maglite in the other. 

Stay calm. Ignoring the internal advice, his gut tightened when he stepped into the house and spied Michele on the floor with her arm around her mother. 

For an instant, he was once again the man who loved Michele more than anything. Swallowing hard, Jamison shoved aside any lingering hope for a future together, a future that had died when she walked out of his life. 

While the friction between Jamison and Michele is evident at the onset, the reader is eager to see them overcome the past and move into a future together.

Secret Love/Secret Baby

Secret baby stories could be added to the list of past relationships. The earlier intimacy between the hero and heroine leads to the birth of the child they conceived. Although initially seen as a stumbling block to their renewed love, the secret baby—once revealed--helps to heal their broken relationship and bring the couple together again.

A word of caution: Secret baby stories written from a Christian worldview sometimes pose problems for the author. While heroines in secular stories often hide the child’s identity and the father’s paternity, Christian authors must ensure their heroines are honest with the heroes. No lying allowed about the hero’s relationship to the child. Any attempt to keep news of the baby’s conception and birth from the father must be well motivated. I haven’t written a secret baby story and hope authors who have will comment about the pros and cons of this type of renewed romance. 

In a nutshell, fast-paced stories require fast-paced romance that develops even when the heroes and heroines are on the run. To kick start the attraction, give your characters an instant connection or a past relationship. Any knowledge of the other, be it ever so slight, will propel the romance forward and, hopefully, engage the reader and enhance her interest in the story. 

Share your own experiences—what you like as a reader and what has worked in your own stores—to be entered into a drawing for my March Love Inspired Suspense, The Agent's Secret Past.

Four of my military heroes—Nate Peterson, Phil Thibodeaux, Jamison Steele and Dawson Timmons–are serving breakfast at the buffet bar. Today’s menu includes made-to-order eggs and omelets, hash browns, sausage and ham, biscuits and gravy, assorted pastries, bagels, fresh fruit and grits.

The coffee’s hot! The tea has steeped. Grab a mug and pour a cup of your favorite morning beverage to enjoy while we talk about Romance On the Run!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

By Debby Giusti 

Eight years ago, a drifter destroyed Becca Miller's ties to her Amish community—and murdered her family. Now a special agent with Fort Rickman's criminal investigation department, Becca knows her past has caught up with her and doesn't want to relive it. She's convinced that the killer, who supposedly died years ago, is very much alive and after her. Special agent Colby Voss agrees to help her investigate. Yet the closer they get to the truth, the closer the killer gets to silencing her permanently. 

On sale March 1 or pre-order here


  1. What works for me as a reader? First impressions! Some angst,? Whatever you are doing is great, Debby! I love your novels, and am look in forward to The Agent's Secret Past! Thanks for a great post.

  2. Oh, my. Y-y-your m-military heroes are serving breakfast?

    I'll grab some COLD orange juice to counter this blush and hover in the corner so I can observe and not have to t-t-talk. The commanding presence, military physique, ahem, and for-God-and-country chivalry stuff always gives me butterflies. ;)

    All three couples in my WIP series have previous close relationships, either in courtship or as close family friends. Didn't realize it when I started the plotting, but it's worked out that way. For all three of them, their previous relationship serves as conflict and gives them plenty of grief.

    Does anyone know if publishers prefer variety in this area when the books are a series? Or are three consistent reunion stories okay?

    The stand-alone book I'm plotting after this series is a strangers-at-the-start story for the heroine, but for the hero, it's an instant connection, one he tries to hide, because he has another secret that's in conflict with his attraction to her, of course. Man, I can't wait to write that one.

  3. Hi Debby,

    I always enjoy reading your books. Why has the word count dropped in LIS? Do you find 55,000 words harder or easier?

    Thanks for sharing these great beginnings. I just submitted to the LIS Killer Voice this week. To get all that info on the first page and make it interesting was a challenge.

    Thanks again for a great post. You all are amazing!

  4. Excellent, Debby! Even though I'm not writing suspense, the short (55-60K) Love Inspired contemporaries are a challenge to make relationships convincing--and conclude with a happily-ever-after-commitment only a few weeks or a month or two after the story opens!

  5. As a reader, suspense was never my very first choice....BUT I LOVE Debby Giusti books!! You have me hooked on your stories (and my daughter too---she even read one of your books on her honeymoon!).

    How nice of your Military heroes to serve us breakfast. Yum--these grits are delicious!

    I'm setting out a peach cobbler for later today--if anyone needs a snack.

    Thank you for sharing this great information with us. As a writer, I've never attempted writing a suspense...but maybe one day.
    Hugs, Patti Jo

  6. Debby,

    You do a great job of creating the attraction that turns to love in your novels.

    I didn't realize that the word count for the LI Suspense changed.
    Do you know what drove that? Was it a hard for you to adjust your word count on your manuscripts?

  7. Hey Debby!

    Great post! I really appreciate that you took apart the different levels of engagement of the h/h. I was told a long time ago, (and the editor for the line has long since departed) that they only wanted stories where the h/h were strangers. I'm so glad that's gone and having attempted to write novella with that situation, I'm convinced that it's very difficult to pull that off in a work of 50k let alone less than that. Thank you for your good advice!

  8. Hi DEBBY, I am always amazed at how you develop that love relationship in such a short time frame and you do it so well. It is so believable. I love your suspense novels. smile

    Thanks for the yummy Southern breakfast. Tell your military heroes they did a great job.

  9. Morning, Marianne!

    Thanks for your kind words about my stories. You're in the drawing for THE AGENT'S SECRET PAST.

    When the book opens, the heroine has been at her new job with the Fort Rickman CID for two weeks. The hero is a special agent as they've met and seen each other at the office when the trouble begins to brew.

    Speaking of brew...I'm grabbing a cup of coffee. Hope to hit the breakfast buffet after I answer a few comments.

  10. Natalie,
    Glad you like military heroes! I do, as well.

    Doubt the editors would have problems with three stories involving former relationships as long as the stories work.

    Love your mention of CONFLICT!!! The "C" word that makes or breaks a story, IMHO. External and internal. Both are so important in hooking the reader.

    Congrats of getting it right, Natalie!

  11. Jackie,

    I'm so, so glad you entered the Killer Voice Contest! Keep us posted on your progress. LI thinks outside the box in ways to find new authors...and they are actively seeking new submissions. As you probably know, LIS is going from 4 books/month to SIX in May. They need to fill their lineup. Let's hope they fill it with your debut and then others to follow!!!

    BTW, my wonderful editor Emily Rodmell will be a guest on Seekerville in May so think of questions you'd like to ask her. Emily is always so willing to offer advice and information about LI Books!

    Not sure why LIS went from 65,000 to 55,000 word count. Probably had something to do with production costs and keeping the selling price down. But that's just a guess on my part. The lower word count does mean fewer secondary characters and secondary plots. It also means having to jump start the romance at the very beginning of the story.

  12. Hi Glynna,

    The romance in the shorter stories need to start with a bang whether LI or LIS. LIH has a bit more room to wiggle at 75,000. Am I right about that, Janet?

    You mentioned the length of time over which your stories usually take place as a few weeks to a month or two. Mine often take place in a week or two. Having that former connection helps ensure the romance CAN develop! LOL!

    When the story time frame is short, I include an epilogue set some months later for the proposal so the characters have time to solidify their relationship.

  13. Hi Patti Jo!

    Maybe I'll skip breakfast and head straight for your peach cobbler! :)

    Your daughter must be as sweet as her mama! Give her a hug for me, and special thanks for your constant encouragement and support. Georgia Girls Rock, right? (Waving to Missy and Piper and Elaine. Who else am I missing?)

  14. Georgia guys rock too! Waving to Walt!

  15. Hi Rose,

    No, it wasn't hard to adjust to the lower word count. I often think of the story in terms of the opening and the climax/closing so fewer words means less middle. Even when I wrote the 20,000 word novella, the opening was just like any other story. I did trim the closing a bit and the action took place over 24 hours. The hero and heroine had a former relationship so the romance started off with a lot of conflict and attraction.

  16. Hi Piper,

    How interesting that the editor wanted Strangers At the Start stories. Perhaps her personal preference. Although even if the hero and heroine have never met, they could have heard about the other person or could have seen him/her from afar. If they haven't met or seen each other but have information that adds to the conflict--especially info that sheds a negative light on the character and, of course, is later proven to be false--the conflict is enhanced at the beginning. As I mentioned earlier, CONFLICT is so important.

  17. Okay, Deb, my fingers are now itching to pull your stories from my bookshelf and reread them!! Which is not good since I still have two Rita books to judge and three endorsements. :|

    Excellent post, my friend, and I never thought about "romance on the run" because I don't write suspense, but it's fun to see that each one of your examples works for any romance.

    LOL ... guess what I realized?? In my O'Connor saga, every single book except the last one is based on a "past relationship" between the hero and heroine, and the final book is based on a past relationship between the hero and the heroine's sister. Talk about being in a rut!! :)

    I'm gonna have to try to branch out here. But in my defense, when you write stories within one family, that's just easy to do, you know? And I broke the mold, thank God, in the Heart of San Fran series where the heroes and heroines do NOT know each other at all in books 1 & 2, but then I revert back to to the "past relationship" format in book 3. Sigh. Thanks for shaking it up for me.


  18. Glad you liked the breakfast and my military hero servers! :)

    Also glad you find the romance believable in my stories. Writing an older character (around thirty--don't laugh.) helps, as well. Often my heroines have given up on romance or have built a huge wall around their hearts! Enter the hero who unexpectedly destroys her defenses. The wall comes tumbling down. Add a past wound that needs to be healed and you've got a heroine ready to fall in love.

  19. Julie, I wouldn't fret over anything in your books. They're all spectacular!

    Past relationships bring so much to the story at the very beginning. No reason to go against what works. And the readers love the anticipation of a healed past and a renewed love!

  20. Debby, I loved this post! The different "meet cutes" and the examples were very helpful! I'm playing with a romance for my next book. I'm thinking through how H and H will meet. I have an idea, but we'll see. :)

    This post was perfect for helping me think through what I'll need. :)

    Thank you!

  21. Very interesting, Debby!
    Guess I am like Patti-Jo...never read much suspense until I fell in love with your books! Love the cover of your newest and am anxious to read it!

    (a GA girl)

  22. Good morning, Debby! Thanks for the wonderful excerpts that show how to jump start the romance in a suspense!

    Actually your tips work for my longer LIH word count of 70-75k. I like to show that attraction--or perhaps the very opposite, repulsion :-)--early on. Attraction is not love--that has to evolve--but attraction or conflict between the hero and heroine makes the opening fun.

    I can't wait to read your Amish story!! Sounds so exciting!


  23. Jeanne, I'm so glad it helped.

    Ages ago I read straight suspense, often without any romance. Then I joined GRW and realized how even romance-lite can enhance a story. When structured right, it also enhances the conflict, which is so important.

    I know you'll nail the love bug for your next story!

  24. Hi Rose,

    After I sold Love Inspired Historical word count shortened too. Not sure why unless shorter books are less expensive to produce.


  25. Waving to Jackie--another Georgia Gal who Rocks!!!

    Have you tried the grits this morning?

    Thanks for your kind words about my stories. Hope you enjoy THE AGENT'S SECRET PAST. I enjoyed writing it, especially the Amish sections, which were a nice change of pace for me.

    Also the hero and heroine are both special agents. That changes the dynamic of the story as well.

  26. Repulsion, as you mentioned Janet, takes the conflict to a whole new level! I'm laughing and wondering how I can add that "R" word to one of my stories.

  27. Debby, enjoyed your post. I agree that even a little romance or the hint of things to come, make a story more interesting and fun to read.

    Lots of good things in life happen on the run, why not romance? :-)

  28. Good morning Debby.

    Do you always have the first meeting from the hero's pov?

    Timely post. I entered the Killer Voice too. I think the only LIS books I've read are yours. No Place to Hide is probably my favorite, but it's a tough decision.
    On Monday I went to the store and bought 5 LIS. I'm spending the next few days reading them as I continue to work on my entry. I've never tried writing suspense before.

  29. Hi Mary,

    On the Run seems like our lives these days, doesn't it, Mary! We're all so busy, busy. Nice to find time to sit back and enjoy a little peace and quiet. That's what prayer provides...a time to be still.

  30. Good morning Debby,
    Thank you for a good post. Beginnings are so important. I did a workshop at my crit/craft group in Feb. and learned more than I taught.
    I like Callie and Joe. I have that book.
    I'm shopping two pieces around right now. In one, the H and H meet again and have an extremely troubled past; in the other, they meet for the first time in a crisis. Both ways work.
    Oh, didn't know about the secret baby restrictions. Ew. EW. EW! My heroine didn't tell her lover because he was on his way out of town and she didn't want to tie him down. She didn't think it would do any good. Ew, ew.
    Can I get away with that?

  31. Excellent examples, Debby! And your books are always done so well!

    It really can be a challenge developing a believable romance in both a shorter word count and a compressed time frame.

    Add in the suspense factor, and there are too many novels where the connection between hero and heroine just doesn't ring true, given the circumstances they're faced with.

    I think as inspirational novelists we face even bigger challenges, because we can't rely solely on physical attraction to set the romance in motion. Our characters need to look deeper and see the values and personality traits that make each other appealing.

  32. Connie, glad you entered Killer Voice! YAY!!!

    Studying the market is so important, especially when you're trying to learn more about the line.

    Did each of my excerpts show the meet in the hero's POV! LOL!

    The first notice can come from hero or heroine!

    Wait, I did have the heroine phone the hero in THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER.

    Usually my special agent heroes enter the story to investigate a situation that involves the heroine. Perhaps that's the reason they are the first to comment about the other love interest.

  33. Hi Debby,

    Waving to you from up north! Still cold but at least it's SUNNY today!

    Love your post and all those great examples! Love military heroes - guys with guns to the rescue!

    I love when the hero and heroine have a past love tangle or even just a conflict from earlier. Makes it that much more interesting!

    Have a wonderful day!


  34. Hi Debby

    Love suspense and intrigue, and you do it so well. It's not my main focus, but I try to include some suspense threads in all my work.

    I used to work for the Air Force. My first job was in the pilot's lounge and all these AF officers had to see me because I kept the schedule--a tough job but someone had to do it. Oddly enough, I wound up marrying a navy man.

    Most of my manuscripts have been about strangers falling in love. But my novella started with them being in love but with a secret past. In my current WIP, they start out in love, but circumstances tear them apart.

    My part of Georgia has had some great weather the last few days.

  35. KB,
    As I mentioned in the post, I've never written a secret baby story. Although I may tackle it in the future.

    All I know is that other writers have mentioned the editors' concerns about keeping the heroine honest in her relationship with the hero. Often the child's paternity must be revealed earlier in a Christian romance than in secular stories.

    Your heroine let the hero leave town without telling him she was pregnant. Can you structure the back story so she couldn't catch him or he left without telling her? Perhaps she tried to track him down but couldn't. Or she contacted him, but he made it perfectly clear they were finished before she had a chance to mention the baby.

    Hoping someone with experience writing Secret Baby stories will comment since my information is secondhand.

  36. Hi Myra,
    The differences between a secular romance and Christian romance would make an interesting blog post. You mentioned how the characters place value on deeper issues in the Christian stories.

    Seems these days that many of the secular romances involve lust instead of love, IMHO.

  37. Waving back to you, Susan, from the sunny south!

    Someone said in passing that we're due for more snow in another week of so. Surely not! LOL!

    You mentioned a past love triangle. Another added conflict but one that some editors find off-putting. Again, just what I've heard in passing.

    I shy away from love triangles. Can someone who writes straight romance comment?

  38. Military guys may wear different uniforms, but they're all heroes! Hugs and thanks to your Navy hubby!

    Adding a thread of suspense can enhance any story, but then, I do love suspense. Love the old Gothics with the woman in jeopardy. Remember REBECCA! The hero was dark and brooding, and I worried about Rebecca's safety. All so, so enticing to this reader.

    Tell us a bit more about your story that takes the in-love couple and splits them apart. How soon did the breakup come in the story, Elaine?

  39. Thanks for these great tips! I had also wondered if it was hard to adjust to Love Inspired's lower word counts, but I can see, as you mentioned in one of your comments, how "less middle" could be a good thing for a writer. :)

    As far as what works for me? I'm not sure if I have a favorite way for heroes and heroines to connect...I like seeing the variety of ways authors choose to do this.

  40. You're right, Jennifer. Variety is the spice of life!

    After reading KB's comment, I'm thinking a secret baby would be a fun challenge for a future story.


  41. Love how you break things down, Debby. It should be so obvious but I still don't get it until you point it out - with EXAMPLES!

    Thank you for another excellent post!

  42. I love these, Debby mostly because I love remembering your books.

    What a great list of 'ways to meet'.

    the term Cute Meet is always so funny as it relates to books like suspense or action type romances. Because there's not much CUTE about meeting over a dead body. And yet we all know it qualifies. :)

  43. KC,
    Loved reading your story yesterday! Unfortunately, I had a bout with a bug that laid me low. I finally got to Seekerville, but it was late in the day.

    I've always enjoyed reading the examples others posted and thought excerpts from my stories might help clarify some of the points I was trying to make about Romance On the Run. Glad it worked. :)


  44. I agree. There's nothing cute about a dead body. :)

    Whenever I get to chapter four in a new story, I always think, "This is when Mary would kill someone!"

    Okay, I'm almost at chapter four in my current WIP. Hmmmm...

  45. Good morning, Debby. I read this post at around 1am when I couldn't sleep. Um, you didn't help the insomnia!

    Great advice as usual though. Thanks so much for all the help.

  46. Ms. Mary Curry...

    You couldn't sleep? I can relate.

    Sorry if I caused you more angst!

    I often resolve all of life's problems in the wee hours. LOL! Maybe that's why I stay awake so long.

    Wish you could nap, but I know your schedule won't permit!

    Hugs and caffeine headed your way.

  47. Actually today a nap is possible. I'm on winter break. Nothing more strenuous to do today than read, write, nap - and um clean out the kitchen cabinets - which I really do want to do.

    Hope you're feeling better today.


  48. But YOU Debby, unlike our dear friends writing sweet LIs, YOU writing suspense...can actually kill someone, which is so handy!!!

  49. PS Love the Amish twist in your next book. I can't wait!

  50. hi Debby
    awesome post. one of your books was my very first Seekerville prize (can't remember which one, at work so i can't look over my Seekers bookshelf *heh*). i love reading suspense, but doubt i'm smart enough to write suspense. the inspired element DEFINITELY enriches the reading experience IMHO. I was reading a secular suspense the other day and, while it was a nice HEA, I found it a tad lacking.

    Your examples are awesome. As for secret baby factor: I've a sketchy MS beginning where the heroine finds out the hero has a child not long after he does (his ex-wife had his child and kept the info from him). Basically both are reeling from this revelation, which creates some of their conflict. That's the only secret baby MS in the works.

    I'm loving reading through the comments today as well and am looking forward to an author who has had success with the secret baby thing. Those stories always grab me because I was kinda sorta a secret baby (no HEA between bio-mom and bio-dad in real life though - that story HEA happened when I found both of them).

  51. And I LOVE having handsome men serving breakfast....

  52. I'm standing in the corner with Natalie watching those guys! Thanks for sharing. It is always good to learn what works for LIS from a veteran author.

    Jackie - good luck with your Killer Voices submission.

  53. p.s.
    I adore men in uniform. Married one myself *heh* Work around a bunch of them as well.*happy sigh* It's amazing what one can learn about how men think when one is embedded in a testosterone rich environment...

  54. The kitchen cabinets can wait, Ms. Curry. Sleep first, clean later!

    Enjoy your nap! :)

  55. Mary Connealy (not to be confused with Mary Curry. If I wrote Mary C, who would know? You girls could write together--the Mary Cs. Just an FYI.)

    So glad we having killing characters in common. I could say killer people, but some might get the wrong idea. :)

  56. DebH, so glad you were able to find and connect with your bio-parents. A long search, I'm sure. Fodder for your writing perhaps?

    Love your spin on a secret baby story, Deb. It so works, IMO, because the secretive mother isn't the heroine. Good luck with that story. It sounds like a nice twist with lots of conflict. Good for you, Deb!

  57. Laughing at Mary and Terri. Natalie too! Although I agree, military guys are fun to watch. They're always so physically fit. Lots of muscles. They can drop and do fifty to 100 push ups without breaking a sweat. Love how they hold doors for ladies and ask to carry anything heavier than a purse. Plus they're protectors, which is important to me. They'll put their own lives in danger to protect the woman they love. Of course, they do that for their country as well. :)

  58. DebH...
    Laughing at your testosterone rich environment. Men are different. No doubt about it!

    Gotta love'm. And we do!!! :)

  59. Hi Debby

    In my they're already in love WIP, the conflict that causes the break up takes place in the first chapter but they don't actually break up until chapter three.

    I'd forgotten, but my Scottish book has a secret baby with a twist since you don't know who the secret baby is until the end. Only CP Piper knows, and she's not talking.

  60. Elaine, you've intrigued me with both stories. Sounds as if you're thinking outside the box. Nice! Editors love new twists in romance.

  61. hi Debby
    actually, the search for my birth parents was very short (from Christmas to speaking to my birth mom around Valentine's day). but it took until i was 30 yrs old before legal stuff in Colorado gave me the opportunity to do the search. i think my life has lots of story fodder... if i'm brave enough to use it.

    glad to make you laugh with my comments. it's a good day when you can bring humor to someone else's world.

  62. I cannot wait to read this story.

    I cannot wait to read this story.



  63. I was here earlier but got interrupted....

    Deb, I love the variations you're allowed and encouraged to do now with Love Inspired Suspense. I love that they're doing a great contest for new #KillerVoices and it's a hoot to see the editors competing, but mostly I appreciate how they know a good suspense voice when they "hear" it.

    That's an art in and of itself.

    I'm over the moon for your Military Investigations series. I've got the newest on pre-order, it gets delivered to Mr. Kindle on 3/1... So excited, Deb!

  64. Piper, I'll give you sweet potato pie if you SPILL THE BEANS on Elaine's mystery!!!!!

  65. Loved all the examples on showing romance on the run.

    When I wrote The Missionary & The Mercenary (under the I didn't write it under the bed ... it's now under the bed.

    Oh, forget that part...

    TM&TM is RS set in Colombia, South America, and of course they're on the run like forever. I remember struggling with this very thing...

    They just cannot get away from the bad guys, and I was getting a little desperate. Never mind how they felt about the situation.

    Do not forget to use the WEATHER to slow your characters down. In one scene, my characters make a clean getaway in an old jeep, make it up into the mountains, then the road is completely washed out, so they abandon the jeep, take what they can and continue on. It starts raining and they have to take cover under a tarp for little while. So they're forced into close proximity.

    I also used rain early on in Claiming Mariah even though they're not on the run in CM. The scene just wasn't going as well as I wanted, so being the rainmaker that I am, I added rain. It worked.

    Mary uses bullets. I use rain. lol

  66. Piper, don't succumb to Ruthy's pie! LOL!!!

  67. Thanks for the pre-order, Ruthy!

    I'm excited about the Search for Killer Voices too! Love what LIS is doing to search for talent. Such great opportunities for writers...especially our own Villagers.

    Fingers crossed for Connie and Jackie. Anyone else entering?

    Remember the graphic Tina posted on the WE? "If you're waiting for a sign, this is it."

    (I may have paraphrased a bit, but you get the idea.)

  68. Debby, is this #6 in the MI series?? I am just checking on Amazon to see what I need to go back and read!!!! Thanks!!!

  69. Pam, love your use of weather. Isn't it exciting to play Mother Nature. Especially when we remain warm and dry at our computers while our hero and heroine have to suffer. Although being under that tarp sounds like fun, especially for two people falling in love.

    So, Pam, you really do have a dark side. Bet you even like to kill characters. (See above comment by Mary Connealy and my reply.)


  70. Thanks, Jackie.

    Yes, THE AGENT'S SECRET PAST is the 6th book in the Military Investigations series. But they all stand alone and can be read in any order.

    Plus, I just got a 4-book contract so the editors must be somewhat satisfied with the series! That makes me happy.

    You interest in my stories makes me happy too!


  71. Debby, what great advice! I love the examples you shared as well. Each was really helpful to take apart and look at the method you'd used.

    Nice work! This will really help, even though I don't do suspense. We still have to give a hint of the romance to come while making sure the conflict is there.

  72. My next book (October this year) has h/h who were next door neighbors and always best of friends. So they have a lot of shared history. Plus, she used to have a crush on him. I had to make sure I didn't show her still in love with him in the beginning (worked on that more than once in revisions of proposal and manuscript!).

  73. Ah, the girl next door! Love it, Missy! Can't wait to read the story. You always do such a great job with small town romance. Love how you weave children into the dynamic as well. Any little ones underfoot in this book?

  74. Well, Pammy, weather can be extremely exciting. If you don't believe me, go read about the winter's SNOWFALL and BITTER TEMPS.

    When it's bad, the weather always leads the news. So why not use it for drama?

  75. Amen, Mary! Weather sells airtime. It should sell books as well.

    Remember The Perfect Storm? I couldn't read or watch because I knew the ending and didn't want to feel all that pain!

  76. Rats...the one day I arrive late is the day we had military heroes serving brunch. Argh! I will console myself with remains of peach cobbler.

    Loved reading all these first meets, Debby. I don't think I really appreciated the work that goes into navigating romance and suspense until I started writing it. I'm always gobsmacked at how authors achieve that romantic tension in the midst of bedlam.

    Boo hiss on Love Inspired for shortening their LIS line. They fly by way too fast for this reader...though that might be the authors fault because their books are written so well that they beg to be speed read. :-)

    Oh -- and don't enter me in the draw because I've read The Agent's Secret Past. Another winner, Debby. I loved the Amish angle -- it made Becca such an interesting character.

    And...gulp...I haven't yet, but I'm entering Killer Voice as well. Hard to resist the call. :-)

  77. I've had my fill of DH's sweet potato pie until the fall holidays but I might spill the beans for that homemade pizza Ruthy had the kids make! That looked good....but I still have to keep my CP's secret baby secret!

  78. Big congrats on the 4-book contract, Debby!

  79. I started out as ONLY reading Romantic Suspense with Phyllis Whitney many years ago! I read all her books! I gradually started reading other books and then "stumbled on" LI & LIS and am so glad I did! I've been reading them for years and love it! I have read all your books, Debby and adore them all! The military is an added bonus! You keep the reader guessing! I don't have a favorite type really. I think that's why I keep coming back to romantic suspense - because of all the choices of heroes and stories! They all pull me in! All the LI writers are terrific! So are the LIH writers!

  80. Kav...yay! So glad you're entering The Search!!!

    Pray over your submission before you hit send! God is raising up HIS authors. Would love to see your story in the LIS lineup.

    Have you gone to the editors' team sites on eHarlequin? A good place to ask questions and interact with them. Plus you can pick up tips about what they want and don't want. I checked out Emily Rodmells' Team today and enjoyed reading her comments.

    Glad you liked Becca and the Amish elements in THE AGENT'S SECRET PAST. You're always so generous with your praise, Kav!

    Hugs and love!

  81. Thanks for the congrats, Piper! Ruthy's pizza looked good. FB, right? She was busy with her little ones.

    Glad you're keeping Elaine's secret! LOL!

  82. Valri, you're making all the Seekers happy with your sweet comments about Love Inspired Books. Thank you for being such a huge supporter. It means so much!

    So, Valri, do you like secret baby stories? I'm taking a poll. Let me know. Pretty please.

  83. As a reader I like most. I do struggle with secret baby stories but its more cos I read to many in a short space and wondered if it was the new rage for awhile.
    I also struggled with it as in some cases they characters were christian at the time this happened. I know we are all human and there are many times in real life this happens but it struggled more in books. When they hero and heroine were non christian to start that was different.
    Former friends (like little sister who has a private crush on big brothers friend and he saw as a little sister) are fun.

  84. Jenny, thanks for bringing up the Secret Baby question with Christian characters. I failed to mention that hero and heroine shouldn't be committed Christians when they have the affair. Great point! Thanks for helping me out!!!

    How are you? Still feeling good? Hope so.

  85. Hi Debby,
    Im sore today. One of the wounds near the bra line started weeping a little yesterday. I did see my dr and she said it seems to have stopped but there is a lump there. I am seeing the specialist today. She was going to speak with him to see if I need to see him but the rooms said keep the appointment and go anyway So will know later. She wasn't to concerned as it seems to have stopped weeping.
    Its not as red today but still sore in the area. We are lowering the meds for the headaches to see how it goes. there are times they are not bad at all but there are times they spike which is whats happened today but I think noise has set it off today. Still not unbearable but as I have taken pain killers for the other issue and the headache is there shows its still an issue.
    I can handle 2 out of 10 pain!
    But physically I am so much better, I can walk again and dont tire as much. haven't had a nap all week although I may need one today. I am keeping the weight off and have found I feel the cold more. (Yes the heatwave ended and we went to cold!) Cold for me is under 66ish. but after 100+ its chilly. In jeans again. When I walk its under 50 and my fingers get so cold this wasn't happening last year but then I have lost around 30 pounds since the beginning of last year or 17 since I saw you last year.

  86. Jenny, sorry you're still having health issues. Praying for a complete healing.

    Goodness, Jenny, you're lost so much weight. Take good care of yourself!

    Almost your birthday, right?

  87. Jenny, sorry you're still having health issues. Praying for a complete healing.

    Goodness, Jenny, you're lost so much weight. Take good care of yourself!

    Almost your birthday, right?

  88. Jenny, sorry you're still having health issues. Praying for a complete healing.

    Goodness, Jenny, you've lost so much weight. Take good care of yourself!

    Almost your birthday, right? Hope that brightens your spirits.

  89. Seems blogger wanted to cause problems and triple my comment. LOL!

  90. Seems blogger wanted to cause problems and triple my comment. LOL!

  91. I logged out and then logged back on. Hope blogger will cooperate. Not sure why it wanted multiple posts of the same comment.


  92. Debby, writing suspense is a gift and the good Lord certainly poured gallons of it over you!! I love all your characters and plots.

    As you were describing the situations you developed for the books, I remembered reading the sections and knowing these characters were made for each other, no matter how they managed to get together.

    All of your methods work for me! Please...write...faster : )

  93. YES, YES, YES!!! I do like secret baby stories! Sorry I forgot to put that in my comments, Debby!!! OOPS!!!

  94. Debby, sorry to be so late. I was a the mechanic since 6:30 am this morning and then straight to work.

    Car is fixed!

    This is such a timely post with the Killer Voice Contest.

    Truthfully, I read a lot of suspense. Rom Suspense and straight suspense...and I wish I could execute one myself.

    Terrific post.

    Thank you.

  95. Congrats on the 4 book contract, Debby! More LIS, yayayayay!!!

    I worked in Colorado Springs for a few years as an interior designer for the Air Force Academy and Peterson AFB. I LOVED all the soldiers and they were so polite. Especially the officers. I so wanted to marry a military man, but God had other ideas.

  96. Audra, your "please write faster" comment is too funny! LOL!

    Love you!

  97. Sounds like a long day, Tina! Glad the car is fixed. Glad for the job you love. Glad to have you back home in Seekerville.

  98. Wow, Audra. Who knew? An interior designer at the Air Force Academy! What a fun job for a single gal. :)

    I worked at Fort Knox Hospital and met hubby during that time.

    So where did you and your Mr. Right first meet?

  99. Waving to Valri who likes Secret Babies!


  100. yes one week til the birthday.
    Oh while there are a few issues I am so much better than I was.

  101. Well, it was. I think they shared their first kiss under that tarp. In the rain.

    So sweet.

    Until the bullets started flying again.

  102. Very late to post, Debbie, but wanted to tell you how helpful the examples were ... and wonderful reads. I can see how the pacing as well as the relationship keeps readers turning the pages.

    As a reader, I enjoy when the heroine and hero have known each other in the past, or through someone, and must get past their preconceived ideas. Many times those preconceived ideas are good fodder for humor.

    Thanks for the informative post! I'll be back tomorrow to read comments :-)

    Nancy C

  103. I always enjoy Romantic Suspense. The best of both I always feel.

  104. Sorry, my connection last night didn't allow me to access the comments after about 8:30 PM. Thunder rumbled in the distance, which could have been the problem.

    I'm sure things went south under that tarp, Pam, when the shooting starting! :)

    Jenny, singing Happy Almost Birthday!

    Nancy C, glad the excerpts helped define the points I was trying to make.

    Mary P, my heart is always with romantic suspense.

    Thanks to all who stopped by the blog. Your input makes Seekerville even more fun!

    Hugs and love!

  105. Wonderful post! I appreciate the information and always enjoy reading your books,Debby.

  106. Debby,

    Just got to your post today. You've reminded me that I need to get back to my LIS manuscript. I'd forgotten LIS shrunk in word count. I'm overwriting.