How it's done (darkly, this time), romantic suspense-style.

All Night Long's Senator Webb (Reviews, Nov. 28) turns out to be a pretty bad guy. Channeling any political demons?

This book was a little unusual for me. I usually steer clear of politics, and I usually "write toward the light," as it were. This book does have a lot of demons in it. It's darker. I don't think I could ever write superdark—it's just not in my voice—but as a writer it's impossible ignore what's around you, and the effects on people. I do think, though, that the basic themes that I work with are still there.

Can you name them off the top of your head?

A strong romantic relationship. Family stuff. An underlying emphasis on the classic heroic virtues, like honor, and courage, determination and love. Those are the things I keep coming back to. And as a sideline, I'll say that that's what I think popular fiction is all about. I think that's why it survives.

Survives? Flourishes!


Romance writers consider themselves the bottom of the heap in popular fiction—but I take the Darwinian view. If it really is that bad, why does it stay in the gene pool? And I think it's because the popular novel is where we encapsulate our core values; it's how we pass them down to the next generation. I think that's why you can't shut it down. That's my theory, anyway.

Core values sounds finite. Are there a finite number of plots to match?

Oh, yes. Ever heard the old saw that there are only five plots in fiction, period? When you start writing, you find out just how true that is. And that's because there are finite numbers of conflicts. Plot depends on conflict: we've either got to get something, we've got to escape from something, we've got to create and protect a family—

Love and sleuthing seem to go pretty well together.

You're picking out two of the most powerful sources of conflict in human nature—the conflict endemic to relationships, and the conflict that comes with danger. If you're a writer of romantic suspense, which is what I consider myself, you need to keep the two in balance. The blood and the gore can get very enticing. Or the relationship can run away with you. The trick is that every action in the romance should ignite something in the suspense, and every shift in the suspense should spark something in the relationship. That's how I do it.