Friday, February 10, 2012


At my last reading, I was interviewed by Angela Brown, a reporter from Portage Daily Graphic. When Angela asked me "Why suspense?" I was stuck for an answer. What I came up with was vague at best. "I like suspense."

I like desserts too, but I prefer oatmeal raisin cookies over apple pie. That, at least, conjures up an image:

So why do I write suspense? Why am I, a recluse writer from Cluculz Lake, drawn to the darker side of human nature?

They say you write what you like. Five of my top favourite movies (in no particular order) are:

I am David
Enemy at the Gate
Shot Through the Heart

My favourite TV shows:

The Good Wife
Downton Abbey
The Killing
The Closer
The Big Bang Theory (even suspense writers need to laugh)

Last but not least, some of my favourite novels:

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
The Bleeding Heart, by Marilyn French
Heaven's Prisoner, by James Lee Burke
The Traveler, by John Katzenbach

I have many other favourites writers such as Lustbader, Pyeatt, Hoare, V.L. Smith, Engber, Grisham... but I digress. I'm here to understand why I choose suspense over all the other genres. Why indeed. I'm curious if any of these answers resonate with you, if you're a suspense writer?
1. I dislike conflict in my life and writing suspense gives me a chance to work out those demons. (I'll delve more into this at the bottom)
2. I like a quiet routine and feel safer getting my thrills through books, movies, TV.
 3. Reading about how ordinary heroic characters fight the system and even themselves to do the right thing always appeals to me.
4. I enjoy witnessing the triumph of a protagonist risking all to save someone s/he loves.
5. I connect with characters who love deeply but have difficulties expressing it, and therefore often lose out in the end.
I write suspense novels because I'm comfortable doing so. Things can always change, but for now the other genres feel too foreign to me. Writing historical adventures or historical romance, I wouldn't know how to begin. S/F look like more work than I'm capable of. While I can see myself attempting a children's book one day, comedy is a stretch I can't imagine making.

I've written 6 manuscripts; two are published. It wasn't until number four that I realized my books had a reoccurring theme. Each story touches upon the complexities of the parent/child relationship.

My first manuscript (unpublished) Always Father's Child, deals with the relationship of a girl and her father. A coming-of-age story. In the opening scenes, we're at his funeral. The story then travels back in time where the protagonist tries to shake his influence on her life. It's only through his death that she realizes her mistakes.

My second (first published) novel, Dead Witness, available now in Kindle/Kobo, is the story of a woman orphaned at 14, who cannot overcome the loss of her parents. Determined to never abandon her own children, after a horrific encounter, she's ready to give up her life to save them.

Kiss of the Assassin, yet to be published, is the story of a child who witnesses the murder/suicide of her parents, and spends the majority of her adult life striving for the love of her guardian, a man who, throughout her childhood, hints that she'll return to the orphanage if she displeases him. He trains her as an assassin to advance his career. He's motivated by proving to his estranged father that he was a worthy son and should have never been abandoned.   

Broken but not Dead, is the story of professor Brendell Kisepisim Meshango, a Metis woman who was never loved by her mother, but who will die if she must, to save her daughter from a deranged psychopath.

None of these characters mirror my life. I was loved by devoted parents. But having known loss, I suppose my head needs to understand what my heart often can't. Writing suspense enables me to delve into the emotions that might otherwise render me useless. Through my characters, good and bad, I live out my fantasies and win in the end. Because, as we all know, we don't always win in life.

And this is why I love suspense, the uncertainty of it.


  1. I was actually thinking about this very thing today, Joylene, wondering why I write historical fiction, why I write for kids. I started out knowing that I wanted to write for kids but spent the next fifteen years or so writing short stories for adults. Slowly, the protagonists in my story turned into children. That's when I knew I was ready.

    Thank goodness we all choose different genres to write in. How boring books would become.

    Do you ever see yourself stepping outside your preferred genre? Just curious.

  2. Yes, actually I'm working on a children's book in my head. I just need to convince my son to do the illustrations. Then we'll dedicate it to Blake. I think he's interested. Who wouldn't be. A children's book by a grandmother, illustrated by her son, for her grandson. How neat is that.

    I agree, Laura. It would be a boring world if we all wrote the same genre.

  3. Actually, I don't write any genre. I write a story. And it is whatever it turns out to be.

  4. Good question, Joylene. Looking back, I started writing about people who had a goal but had trouble reaching it. Virtually all of my stories contain vignettes I've either been part of or witnessed firsthand. I, too, prefer a calm existence, though it is harder to achieve than I had any idea as a child.
    Suspense gives an added layer of uncertainty to the story, and I like that, too.

  5. It is interesting to see where our writing takes us and why. Good to learn more about you, Joylene. Have a great weekend!

  6. Hi Joylene,
    Highly informative and gives us further insight into why you have a preference for such a genre. In a way, you have lessened the suspense about why you write suspense.
    Hope you are not too uncertain with my comment. Oh, your top photo is perfect and certainly takes the biscuit, or is it, that's the way the cookie crumbles? I'm 'raisin' all sorts of questions...I'm so confused.
    Have a good weekend, eh :)

  7. @Gail, that's interesting. How do you market? Or I suppose you wait until you're finished and market accordingly. Bet it's been a fascinating learning curve.

    @Pat, it's one of the reasons I love suspense. I get to watch my favourite characters overcome so much more than I ever could.

    @Karen, thanks for stopping by. Hope your weekened is great too.

    @Gary, you're such a hoot. You always make my day. I'm speechless though and can't think of anything smart in reply. Sheesh, I should never admit that! I'm confused too! Big wet kisses for Penny the Jack Russell and modest internet star.

  8. Great post. I do wonder, sometimes, why we write what we do.

    After many years as a social worker, delving into the most dysfunctional family issues, it's probably no surprise that I wrote about broken families in my five published books.

    Now I'm working on two similar WIPs that are not so much about parent/child relationships, but about individuals struggling to make sense of their lives after the choices they've made.

    In a couple of my novels, there are suspenseful subplots. I like trying to figure out conflicts, too.

    I don't think I could write a total suspense novel: there are too many CSI and procedural issues that I'm not that knowledgeable about.

  9. Don't know how I market yet, first one not out till April. Fantasy Romance. Because it just was. Second one's a crime thriller (which counts as suspense). Just submitted an urban fantasy. Reworking a dark horror. Got some others to rework that'll probably class as horror suspense or romantic suspense. And a pure country comedy brewing in a corner of my brain. Plus sequels to the fantasy romance and the urban fantasy. What can I say, I'm a multiple personality. Ask anybody who knows me!


  11. @Laurel, your choice of genres make perfect sense. I used to think I only wrote mysteries, but then I realized that was too broad a genre. I couldn't write a CSI either, but I'm proud to say I wrote a war story. I had help from a vet who was in the thick of things.

    @Gail, I think it's marvelous that you are so multitask-ed. I want to venture out and write different genres. In the olden days they used sly against that because the idea was to build followers and the worry was that the mystery readers wouldn't like you writing children's novels, or the Romance readers wouldn't like you switching to suspense. But really, it sounds like fun to me. Certainly would be a challenge.

  12. I don't seem to have a choice about it! (Hush, Ethel, it's my turn to talk!) Those dang multiple personalities, you know! They just go wherever the spirit moves 'em!

  13. Ah, well that explains it. Is that you, Gail...? Gail?

  14. Gail's can't come to the phone right now. This is Ethel. I mean Verna. I mean Charlotte. I mean... Hey Joylene! Yeah, it's Gail! Sometimes I think I really am a multiple personality, but fortunately the essential Gail remains in control through all manifestations! (Mostly.) (Did I make you laugh?)

  15. The fact you're a little off, Gail is our secret. (crossing nosehairs) Yes, your secret is safe with me.

  16. That's supposed to reassure me, honey? You love I. B. Nosey! And to really appreciate I. B. Nosey, you KNOW we have to be cracked!

  17. What a great post! First of all, I LOVE The Killing. It's so gritty and shows Seattle so realistically. And the whole thing about using your writing to work out your own demons...I so get that. That is exactly why I wrote my book. And you know what? It totally worked. I don't even have those god-awful nightmares any more. Writing is the very best thing that ever happened to me! Suspense and thrillers are my very favorite genres of books.

  18. @Gail, I love Nosey!

    @Nancy, I'm with you!

  19. Way to figure out why you like to write suspense. Next time someone asks, you'll be ready to tell them!

    Thanks for commenting on my blog as well!

  20. Hi Laurel. Sure, next time I'll probably stutter, go blank, turn purple, and then hopefully remember why. LOL.

    Have a great day.

  21. Hi, Joylene. I've nominated you for an award. you can stop by my blog to pick it up.

    Susanne Drazic

  22. I must confess that I write suspense because I role play. I put myself in as the smart, clever protagonist who gets in trouble. I guess by becoming the character I can add spice in my life without getting into trouble in actuality. It certainly makes life more interesting when chasing down bad guys and figuring a way out of a sticky situation. Then I look away from the keyboard and remember I forgot to throw the laundry in the dryer or I didn't get anything out of the freezer for supper. Two lives in one. Enjoyed your post, Joylene and all the comments too!

  23. @Susanne, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love awards. Blogger along with my internet provider have made it difficult to showcase my awards, but I appreciate every single one. Thank you so much.

    @Janet, we're kindred spirits. My husband finally took up cooking because he was tired of being hungry. Not only does he cook breakfast, and has for years, he now cooks dinner 5x a week. Love it!

  24. Good answer! We must write what we like!

  25. Hi Amanda. Yes, now I'm ready for the next time someone asks me. Have a great week.

  26. Hi, Joylene. Interesting post. I've not seen any of your favorite movies or shows, but I've read one of your favorite books. It's always fun to learn what people like to watch and read.

  27. Joylene, I'd totally adore anything you wrote. You really know how to tell a story, girl! I read your five points with glued-to-the-screen interest. I could related to each, especially the one about not wanting conflict. I'll cross the street to avoid it, but conflict's in the story I'm working on. And, like you, I had a wonderful childhood. Anyway, tell your son lots of us want him to get busy 'cause we've friends with grandkids who want to read to them!

    (My hub's break with the Catholic Church began when he was in Vietnam, saw a priest and wanted to make his confession before he went into combat. The priest said he couldn't do it because he didn't have his vestments with him. Duh! Say what? BTW, you're the only one who caught the real essence of the story and I thank you for that.)

  28. Kittie, your husband's story makes me laugh, but not because it's funny. It takes all kinds to make the world go round. I once asked my mother why there were so many dumb people. She said it wasn't about their stupidity as much as it was about our intolerance. It took me another 20 years to figure out what she meant.

    Thank you, Kittie, for your kind words. Really.

  29. Why not suspense? We all have likes and dislikes, things we're drawn to. I'm enjoying your ebook, whenever I have a chance to read now..trying to get my hubs to read it since he's a big suspense freak.

    Aslo, I love big bang theory...Sheldon is hilarious. :)

  30. @Laurel, I make a typo. I thank you for stopping by, and I hope you have a fabulous day.

    @Susanne, most of the movies I mentioned are foreign films. I'm drawn to them because I don't know many of the actors, and therefore don't have to spend time trying to believe they are who they are. Make sense? Foreign films are really outstanding.

    @Laila, hi! I'm so glad you're enjoying DW. I hope you'll let me know what you thought when you're finished. Thank you for your continuing support. Means so much.


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