Romantic Suspense: It’s in the Atmosphere
By Colleen Thompson, www.colleen-thompson.com
As both a reader and an author, I love the way that danger heightens and intensifies a budding romance. And I especially enjoy the way the story’s “atmospherics,” the mood set by the setting, can cast a spell over the story and its characters.
One of my greatest joys is researching the settings for my romantic thrillers, from the eerie isolation of the deserts in West Texas (The Salt Maiden, Fatal Error, Triple Exposure) to the iconic prairie grasslands studded with pumpjacks (Head On) to the beautiful Hill Country (The Deadliest Denial) and the hodgepodge urban vibe of Houston (Fade the Heat, Heat Lightning), I’ve specialized in Texas. But I’ve yet to find a place as evocation as the setting for my latest, Beneath Bone Lake (Lovespell Romantic Suspense, June 2009).
Stretched along the East Texas and Louisiana border, there lies a huge lake populated by old cypress trees cobwebbed with thick strands of Spanish moss. Inhabited by the ghostly calls of great birds and huge alligators that lurk just beneath the surface, the lake (Caddo Lake, in real life) is also home to the sun-bleached, standing skeletons of huge trees drowned as the area first flooded. It's an otherworldly place, lonely and primordial, beautiful and sometimes frightening.
It’s also home to Ruby Monroe, a young widow who left to earn money as a civilian contract worker in Iraq in order to secure a stable future for herself and her four-year-old daughter, Zoe. But on the much-anticipated day of Ruby’s return, she finds her family missing, her house in flames, and no one she can turn to... except the drop-dead gorgeous convicted felon she’s been warned never to trust.
As bad as Ruby’s situation is, the unearthly strangeness of the secluded lakeside serves as the lens that brings everything sharply into focus, leaving Ruby with no choice but to lean on Sam, a man with everything to lose if he decides to help her.
To with a free, autographed copy of any of my backlist titles, please leave a note about your favorite book settings (feel free to mention the books and authors that go with them) and don’t forget to leave your e-mail so I can contact you if you’re one of my three winners.
Meanwhile, I leave you with the very briefly prologue of Beneath Bone Lake, to give you a taste of the character-like use of setting within the story. Enjoy!
The boatman’s paddle dug deep beneath the moss-green surface, biting and twisting like a switchblade’s killing thrust. Pulse thrummed and muscles burned as he dragged the canoe forward, threading through a swamp-dank maze of pale trees, the ghost sentries of a forest flooded years before. Above, the skeletal branches reached skyward into silver, their bony fingers veiled in Spanish moss and predawn mist.
A harsh cry heralded a white egret’s low flap over the water, and a higher-pitched, more melodic twitter warned that the sun was close to rising. With a glance down at his watch, he swore, then flipped away the cigarette he’d been smoking. He had to get moving, get the hell out of here, because cold or not, the damned bass fisherman would be out at first light. He couldn’t take the chance that the silent incursion of an electric trolling motor would bring one close enough to notice that he carried no tackle—close enough to hear the splash as his loathsome cargo slipped over the canoe’s side.
Easier said than done, he soon learned. Sweat erupted and his back screamed as he hauled and cursed, dragged and swore. He might have given up then, put ashore somewhere, and abandoned the old boat with its grisly cargo. But he had given his word to do this right, and that alone meant something to him. Separated him from the animals whose instincts ruled them, from those hollow beings who called themselves men and women but were, he knew, nothing more than shadow. Including that shadow to which he’d bound himself for the duration of this contract.
Finally, he thought to make a lever of his paddle. Using a crossbar for a fulcrum, he wedged the blade beneath the plastic-shrouded lower torso, then grunted with effort as he pushed down on the handle. At long last, his burden shifted to fl op heavily, its shoeless feet disappearing among dark-olive wavelets. Where the bound and weighted legs went, the body clumsily followed, the head banging a final, sickening thwoppp against the aluminum hull before it splashed down.
The canoe rocked dangerously, threatening to flip until he shifted from his knees to sit fl at on the boat’s bottom. Wincing as his pants wicked up moisture from an inch or so of cold, mud-and-blood seepage, he peered at the bubbles fizzing to the water’s surface and stared deeper to detect—or imagine he detected—pale fingers fl uttering. A farewell wave that swiftly vanished into the murk beneath Bone Lake.
He heaved a tired sigh, then turned the canoe back toward the spot where he would pierce the hull and send it to the bottom. Amid the nearby lily pads, a pair of eyes sank and a tail flipped—a huge gator’s.
The boatman started at the sight, then offered a wry smile . . . and a little wishful thinking, colored with an accent he turned on and off at will. “Today’s breakfast’s on me, big boy. You be sure’n eat hearty now, you hear?”
Then he gave a tight nod, acknowledging the only kind of partner a man could trust to keep his secrets, the only kind he knew for sure he’d never have to kill.