Saturday, December 1, 2007

Colleen Thompson--Advice from a Rising Rom. Sus. Star

I had the great pleasure to pick up Colleen Thompson's new Romantic Suspense, The Salt Maiden a few days ago. I asked her to be my guest this week, and I was able to ask her about the Romantic Suspense market, agents, and writing in general.

J: Do you have an agent? Why or why not?

Colleen Thompson: I've always worked with an agent and feel it's well worth paying the commission to have someone to run interference. This helps me keep my relationship with my editor about the book and allow the agent to deal with any potentially-contentious matters.

J: Can you talk a little about your road to publication?

Colleen Thompson: I wrote on the side for years while teaching. Only after I decided to give writing a real priority in my life and make an effort to education myself about publishing did I make progress. Both multi-genre and romance writers' groups (RWA) taught me what I needed to know and allowed me the opportunity to gain an agent's attention through entering contests. For me, this opened doors.

J: What challenges did you face once you got there?

Colleen Thompson: I first published in historical romance (under the pseudonym Gwyneth Atlee), but I found history-rich, American-set books were losing favor. In addition, I went lost several editors (three!) in rapid succession. I knew I needed to try something else at a different publishing house to break out of the tough place where I was stuck. As I result, I started over, writing romantic suspense, which I adore, under my real name. I've never been happier.

J: You write terrific romantic suspense. Tell us about the general tone of your books and what you find appealing to write about.

Colleen Thompson: Thanks so much, Jennifer. I love writing about "real people" facing the toughest crises of their lives, characters whose happiness - and very survival - hinges upon learning to accept love and embrace their own potential. My books aren't about superheroes, but flawed individuals doing their best. I enjoy developing their family lives (pets included) and exploring the Texas locales that make them who they are.

J: Can you give any “insight” into the rom. sus. market—what readers seem to like/dislike, or if you think reader tastes area all over the map (and why you think so).

Colleen Thompson: There's a great deal of variety within the subgenre, with readers gravitating toward writers that best share their own tastes. My books are a little more family-oriented and tend to feature regular people pushed to heroic acts by desperate circumstances. I think readers are responding because they're looking for a break from all the independently wealthy, super-secret agent, kick-ass experts and want to go along for the ride with people who are a little more identifiable, a little more like themselves.

J: Anything else you want to add to benefit aspiring authors?

Colleen Thompson: When you're looking to break into a market, ask yourself what's the "something different" you intend to bring to the genre. How will your take be unique and lead readers to seek out more of your books? Though you can't completely ignore market trends, emulating others will only take you so far. You have to figure out your vision and then create a consistently improving, identifiable experience for your readers with every book you add to your body of work.

J: Thanks for taking time to answer my questions. I had planned to save Salt Maiden for an upcoming plane trip, then made the mistake of peeking at the first chapter. I had to rip the book from my hands! It looks like a terrific read, and I'm looking forward to it.

More on Colleen's books can be found at:

Also, she keeps an ongoing blog with with author Joni Rodgers with tips and news about writing and the publishing industry at


Diana Groe said...

Thanks for interviewing Colleen. I too am an admirer of her work. Since Romantic Suspense requires an author to have a viable mystery or thriller components, did you find it difficult to blend these elements with romance? Were there any books on the craft that helped you?

Looking forward to reading The Salt Maiden as soon as I finish the manuscript that's due Jan 1st!

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks for the kind words, Diana, and for your enthusiasm re. The Salt Maiden. :)

I've never read any helpful books about balancing the romance and mystery/suspense in a manuscript. However, I've read a ton of RS and straight suspense and mystery books for pleasure. In the best of RS - books by authors such as Linda Howard, Sharon Sala, and Nora Roberts - the two "halves" were integrated so smoothly, you couldn't imagine one without the other. But I read a surprising number of books that left me unsatisfied, usually with the progression of the romance and the emotional "wholeness" of the characters. (A lot of male-written straight suspense seems flat to me in that regard, although some writers, like Harlan Coben, get it just right.) So when I started writing, I mapped out all the major scenes and color coded which were romance, which suspense, or (ideally) which scenes moved the plot forward in both areas. And then I tried to write the romantic suspense novel I longed to read, adding in stuff often missing from RS, like family elements, pets, and touches of humor.

It's easy to focus so much on the mystery that you give the characters' emotional arc short shrift, but I think that by consciously striving toward that balance, you can manage. I don't color code any longer, but I do consciously examine my synopses for both aspects.

Hope that helps!

India Carolina said...

Thanks Colleen and Jennifer! I'll check out THE SALT MAIDEN right away. I have a plane ride coming up this weekend. Let's see if I can wait until I board!

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks, Carolina. Hope you'll enjoy the book!

DianaGroe said...

Thanks for the insight into your writing process, Colleen. Color coded synopsis, huh? Your organization both impresses and intimidates the heck out of me. Looking forward to THE SALT MAIDEN!