A RED, RED ROSE
Posted by Guest May 23 2012, 11:55 pm
by KJ Howe
Please welcome Susan Coryell to the lair today…she is talking about two of my favorite topics…romance and conflict! Susan, take it away!
A Little Bit of Romance and a Lot of Conflict
As I set out to write my Southern Gothic/cozy mystery A RED, RED ROSE, romance was the last theme on my mind. I had history, mystery and a ghost to deal with. True, the South has its own romantic aura. Ashby Overton, my 20-year-old protagonist, writes in her diary about her upcoming visit to historic Overhome in Southern Virginia: “I admit I am a romantic, fascinated with the South, especially the old South. Mammoth, white-columned houses surrounded by ancient shade trees. Laid-back aristocratic sons and daughters of the Confederacy sipping mint juleps on the veranda.” A wanna-be writer, Ashby hopes to find her muse in Virginia. Romantic, yes. Romance…another story altogether.
I quickly came to my senses. Ashby’s first encounter at Overhome involves Luke Murley, the “stable boy,” a cynical local with a thick drawl and bad hair. Luke appears unimpressed by Ashby’s city chic and Ashby’s only thought is that Luke is certainly nothing like her Jersey boys. It was a situation too good to ignore. Romance was in the air, even with, or perhaps because of that bad start.
Every romance involves conflict. Luke sees Ashby as a rich, spoiled, condescending Northerner out for the adventure. “You know what we say about Yankees here in th’ South?” Luke asks. “We say there’s Yankees an’ then there’s damn Yankees…The damn Yankees are the ones that stay.” Even though Ashby and Luke clash again and again, she realizes early on that there’s room for romance. “Believe it or not, there’s a hottie down in the Boondocks…Luke talks and acts like a redneck but I detect some deep currents beneath that macho surface,” she writes in her diary.
And yet, despite daily horseback riding lessons, Luke remains distant and objective as her teacher, to Ashby’s disappointment. As the ghostly episodes increase in intensity, Ashby need someone to confide in, to help her sort out the real from the imagined, and she longs to make Luke a confidante. It takes a horrifying incident involving a murdered dog to bring them to some understanding of each other, though, once again, Ashby is dismayed to find that Luke most definitely does not believe in ghosts.
With the romance finally in full swing, I faced my own dilemma: How to write their “scene.” It would be in a hayloft, of course. It’s that kind of setting. And it would be rife with conflict. Ashby arrives late for the tryst, with no time to shower or apply makeup, her hair a fright. She’s annoyed with herself; she’d wanted this to be the perfect rendezvous–none of which is important to Luke, of course, who’s focused on his own plans for their meeting. A raging storm and a wild incident with a wasp’s nest add to the denouement.
Though I would never compare myself to Shakespeare, I am comfortable saying that, like the Bard’s, my explicit sex scenes occur largely off-stage. In actuality, I had to go to my writers’ group for help. My story is a romance, I told them. But it’s also a mystery and a ghost tale. I must write subtly but sincerely. HELP!! And help, they did. I’m rather proud of the outcome. I see savvy high school readers enjoying A RED, RED ROSE with no problem. As for the adults, they can always think back to their Shakespeare.
Suffice it to say, I will never write another mystery without a little bit of romance. The title, A RED, RED ROSE, springs from a Robert Burns poem of the same title. “My love is like a red, red rose,” Burns writes. It’s natural and beautiful and if it does not last forever it will, surely, come back somehow from any distance, any time frame. I’m not spoiling the end of my novel when I say that Ashby becomes a “damn Yankee,” indeed. One who stays.
Susan Coryell has long been interested in concerns about culture and society in the South, where hard-felt, long-held feelings battle with modern ideas. The ghosts slipped in, to her surprise.
Susan Coryell is the author of the award-winning young adult novel, Eaglebait. She lives at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.