Why I Write Romantic Suspense

It’s a truism that tragedy and emotional turmoil are often found in the background of writers, and I’m no exception to that. Short version: My father was a pilot who died in a plane crash in 1956, when I was just shy of 9, after which my mother more or less retreated from emotional involvement with her four children. She was there, but not, if you know what I mean. Lonely and grieving, I turned to books for company and solace. A few years before she died, my mother acknowledged that I’d basically raised myself, and that I’d done a pretty good job of it.

I’ve learned a lot about life, love, self-respect and emotional healing from my mistakes. The biggest was my marriage at age 20 to a man who alternately worshipped and reviled me. Like inconsistent parenting, inconstant love is almost guaranteed to push a shaky psyche over the edge, and I just barely saved myself. After nine tumultuous years, I left that troubled marriage for my dear, sweet, sensible David, with whom I have joyously shared my life since 1977. We married in Florida on Valentine’s Day, 1996, on a dock on the Indian River.

So, why do I write romantic thrillers? They resonate with what I’ve learned about life and love. My heroines are emotionally damaged young women doing their best to cope with the crap life throws at them. In the course of the story, they meet a good man who knows what it means to lose someone you love, and how difficult it is to overcome childhood trauma and grief. My stories are about the healing power of love—and yes, of course, the healing power of amazing sex with a loving partner.

The thriller aspect comes in because I love fast-paced action, bone-chilling suspense, mysterious threats of danger and impending doom. Mere relationship stories don’t hold my interest. (“Love Story”? Yecch! “Beaches”? Meh.) Believe it or not, my favorite Hollywood movie of all time is “The Terminator.” You might not think of it that way, but “The Terminator” is the ultimate love story. Kyle travels through time to find Sarah, and then he risks his life over and over again to save her, ultimately sacrificing himself for her. Yes, he’s saving humanity as well, but above all, he’s saving the woman he loves.

I also love “The Terminator” because Sarah grows from a scared girl into a strong, powerful woman during the course of the movie. My fictional heroines go through that same dramatic growth during the course of my books. At the beginning of “Shattered Blue,” Shane is still recovering from the trauma of childhood abuse by a stepbrother (no, that didn’t happen to me), still grieving the early death of her father and emotional absence of her mother (sound familiar?). She thinks she’s doing well, but when her stepbrother comes after her again, she needs the growing love of the hero, Matt, to help her find the courage to stand and fight. In their love, and in their lovemaking, she finds the inner strength she didn’t know was there all along.

You’ll discover, if you stick with me (and I hope you will), that all of my romantic thrillers contain that underlying theme of healing through love, although with very different characters, plots and settings. I’m heeding the age-old advice to “write what you know.” I write about the healing power of love because it’s the best and most important thing I’ve learned in more than six decades of living, and I want to share it with my readers.

Happy reading,
Jane Taylor Starwood
Romancing the Thriller!



My Ferocious Pirate Editor

Some really smart writer said it best: Writing is rewriting. The quote is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but a whole lot of writers say the same thing. You need to get the first draft down, and maybe the second and the third, etc., and then the real work begins.

Ah, if only it were that simple. My process is a bit more complicated, because my internal editor is a FEROCIOUS PIRATE! ARRGHHH!

She pulls out her saber and rattles it at me until I go back and fix the “mistakes” piling up behind me. I put “mistakes” in quotes, because until the whole novel is written, I don’t know for sure if they’re actually mistakes. I might change some detail because FEROCIOUS PIRATE EDITOR is yelling and waving her saber around — threatening the furniture, not to mention my poor husband — and then decide in the next draft that the detail I took out was exactly what was needed. (Hence the ARRGHHH!)

I know, I know, why don’t I find a way to silence FEROCIOUS PIRATE EDITOR? It’s not that easy when you’ve been a professional editor and proofreader for many years, as I was before I retired from all that a couple of years ago.

The sad truth is, it’s darn near impossible to shut her up. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’d tie her hands behind her back, but unfortunately we share the same hands, and I can’t type without them. I’d blindfold her so she couldn’t read over my shoulder, but ditto above: Same pair of eyes. Can’t drug her or get her staggering drunk, for the same reason: I need the brain we share to keep track of the complicated plots I concoct.

So, what else can I do but negotiate an uneasy truce? Before the final edit and polish, I try my best to ignore the noisy, saber-wielding pirate standing behind my right shoulder, watching the words appear on the screen. (Yes, even these words. You see what I have to put up with?)

In an effort to make her behave, I whisper sweet, soothing words: I know you’re there, dear heart. I acknowledge you. I salute you. I couldn’t get along without you. Now just hold the noise down a bit until I’m ready for you, okay? You’ll get your chance very soon, I promise.

Temporarily placated, FEROCIOUS PIRATE EDITOR whirls into a gleeful pirate dance and chortles in her rum. It’s messy, but I’ll take it. Anything for a chance to draft my novels in peace.

Happy Reading!