I’m writing a great multi-book love story, and it’s not in the romance genre. Writing is an evolution, a gradual reveal of all we will become as authors, and when I first started the Lei Crime Series with Blood Orchids, I knew I wanted to write about a damaged, courageous heroine and her recovery from childhood sexual abuse—and in good part, that recovery has been in the context of a relationship with a man who just won’t give up on her.
I’m writing in the crime/mystery genre, but a love story lies at the heart of this series. By the third book in the series I realized I was writing a long, sprawling love story segmented into individual mysteries. I was writing the kind of books I most like to read: suspenseful, layered, psychological, with a healthy dose of character development and romance at the heart.
My favorite books for recreational reading are Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and JD Robb’s “In Death” series. Without even knowing it at first, I set out to create a couple just as riveting, with a love as textured, dense and inspiring as those I admired. The Lei Crime Series is that, a love story about two heroic people who heal each other from the past and forge something stronger than either alone.
How do you write a great love story across many books, in any genre? Exactly how you do it in just one book—only you extend the drama through the subplot of the relationship across more books.
- Create archetypal main characters. I can’t emphasize this enough. Archetypes take up residence in readers’ imagination, because they ALREADY exist there. My heroine, Lei, is the archetype of the Wounded Warrior, a heroic figure across all cultures who fights for justice in spite of wounds. Michael Stevens, her love interest, is the Wounded Healer, a similar archetype.
- Develop believable, conflicting agendas and extend them over multiple books. In the Lei Crime Series, Lei’s wounds from the past make her afraid to trust herself or others and commit to a relationship. Stevens’s wounds, as an adult child of an alcoholic, have to do with trying to nurture others, and he wants to heal and build a family with a woman unequipped for it. There is dynamic tension in the differing agendas, and yet they are on the same page, fighting bad guys! This romantic tension could work through a story in any genre—so find a big enough, bad enough problem for them to work on through multiple books. In Gabaldon’s series, it was being separated by time travel. That’ll keep things going for a few thousand pages!
- Show progress in the relationship. One of the things that frustrates me as a reader is when the same dilemmas are hashed over and over, as in Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I like a relationship that changes, grows, and tackles new problems and overcomes them, showing an over-arching, multi-book character growth arc. Still, readers enjoy the Evanovich books too—there’s comfort in knowing things never change in the Burg! Whatever the dilemma, it should be full of believable and engaging twists.
- Don’t be afraid to throw a total wrench in the works. When things are getting too comfortable, kill someone. Get someone unexpectedly pregnant, sold into slavery, kidnapped, tortured, sent to the Western Front. Keep readers on their toes with surprises—much as life throws the rest of us the occasional curve ball!
- Describe the most daring, adventurous or inspiring thing you ever did. Well, I have to say that was leaving Kaua`i in 1992, with my husband and our two very young children. We sold all our worldly possessions, packed into our Honda Civic, and left Hawaii by plane, truck and car to drive across the United States to attend college in the Midwest. My husband and I graduated from college together seven years later, and then we returned to Hawaii to the careers we’d trained for. We had a dream, and we did it!
- Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.
- I was one of those writers who always knew but took a long time to actually get my butt in chair and DO IT. I was forty by the time I completed my first novel, Blood Orchids, but I’ve been writing 4-5 novels a year ever since.
- Tell us about A Book That Changed Your Life:
- The book that changed my life (besides the Bible) was Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way. I did that back in the 1990’s and realized that I was believing a lot of negative things about my craft. Doing the exercises in that book put me on the path to “creative recovery” that resulted in my writing career.
- ALSO: To thank everyone for visiting and reading, GIVING AWAY a promotion code for a FREE Audiobook Copy of Somewhere on Maui, my romance novel, or Stolen in Paradise, my spicy-hot mystery, winner's choice. JUST COMMENT ON THIS POST TO BE ENTERED, winners will be emailed 8/14/14!
Recommendations: I love Christine Nolfi’s wonderful, heartfelt romances and Steena Holmes’ books, from her sweet to hot romance to psychologically-layered women’s fiction. Both are top quality writers with ongoing series that just pull you in and won’t let you go.
Toby Neal is the author of bestselling seven-book Lei Crime Series, a contemporary romance Somewhere on Maui, and two standalone romantic suspense novels. She grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii, and after “stretches of exile” to pursue education, the islands have been home for the last sixteen years. Toby is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books. Outside of work and writing, Toby volunteers in a nonprofit for children and enjoys life in Hawaii through beach walking, body boarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking.