Jon Land and Romance With a Bullet

My guest today is USA Today Bestselling Author Jon Land. Jon is the author of nearly 36 books, including the critically acclaimed series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong:  Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, and Strong Rain Falling which won both the 2013 USA Best Book Award and the 2014 International Book Award in the Mystery-Suspense category.  He is a past vice president of the International Thriller Writers and continues to serve that organization as Chair of the Marketing Committee.

Jon’s celebrating his latest Caitlin Strong thriller, Strong Darkness, so we’re chatting about romance, thrillers, and the interaction between the two.

Welcome, Jon!

JonWhy isn’t there more romance in thrillers? Obviously I’m not talking about those titles shelved under the nebulous heading of “romantic suspense.” No. I’m talking about thrillers by the likes of Lee Child, Steve Berry, James Rollins, Brad Thor. Let’s explore.

I believe it starts with the fact that the majority of thrillers unfold over a very short period of time—a couple weeks, ten days maybe, often even less. And that’s not long enough to build anything even remotely resembling Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler of Gone With the Wind fame, leaving us mostly with existing relationships that are used as thinly disguised plot points. A kidnapped wife or lover, an ex-girl friend who turns out to be a femme fatale.

usaCBurn-e1405519531684In the wonderful suburban terror tales by the likes of the great Harlan Coben and equally great Lisa Gardner, the very nature of love, romance and the integrity of the family find themselves in peril, turned on their ear. Even that, though, often takes a backseat to the maneuvers and mechanizations of some creepy villain who’s pulling all the strings.

Beyond that, thrillers are defined by the fact that lots, the whole world or at least country, is often at stake. And, let’s face it, who has time for romance when you’re racing to save millions of people from some despicable villain’s dastardly plot? It’s a matter of priorities and as far as the kind of books the best and biggest thriller writers are known for, romance doesn’t necessarily make the list.

Sure, there are exceptions; Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle, for example. David Morrell’s Double Image or The Shimmer come to mind too. With thrillers pacing is everything and normally that pacing doesn’t allow for the development of a relationship. But just because the vast majority of thrillers lack traditional romance doesn’t at all mean they aren’t romantic.

Huh? What did he say?

Allow me to elaborate. Great thrillers, like all great books in general, are about emotion, about making us feel something. If we don’t have a reason to care, we don’t have a reason, really, to read. And that reason to care doesn’t have to spring from romance per se. Thrillers, you see, owe their structure to the western motif, the lone hero standing against the evil land baron to defend the frontier.

Unknown-2These tales were almost never traditional romances, but they were inherently romantic. And the protagonists of some of our greatest thrillers today define the nature of the romantic hero perfectly. Lee Child’s wondrous Jack Reacher, for example. Reacher never stays in a relationship because he’s always on the move. His romance is with the great expanse that remains America, traveled in his case mostly by buses and hitchhiking. Reacher doesn’t have to be that way, he wants to be that way because it defines his nature as the quintessential loner hero in love with the anachronistic notion of owning no more than what he can carry. The lack of possessions is his greatest possession of all.

Heroes like Reacher exist to defend the innocent and stand up against those who would abuse them. Theirs is a noble quest and that in itself is inherently romantic in the truest sense of the rugged American mythos that birthed the form of the thriller as birthed in the western.

Well, what about relationships, you ask? Good question! And let’s consult no less of an expert than the brilliant literary critic Leslie Fiedler for the answer. Fiedler authored one of the premier works of literary criticism in his brilliant Love and Death in the American Novel which postulated that the greatest relationships in American literature are have normally been between two men. Playing off that western motif again, with a little Huck and Jim tossed in for good measure.

UnknownAnd we can see that same motif on display clearly in modern thrillers as well. James Fennimore Cooper’s Natty Bumpo and Chingotchgook became Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Or Robert Parker’s Hawk and Spencer, Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar and Win, the great James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell.

These relationships span generations, highlighted by the conflicted give and take that somehow strengthens the bond between hero and quasi-sidekick instead of fraying it. Characters just short of life partners who accept each other warts and all while complementing each other’s strengths as well as flaws perfectly. Hmmmmm, sounds like romance, doesn’t it?

Okay, so we’ve got the romantic hero and this whole nature of the bromance. How about one more? Jimmy Cagney once famously said, “Never do a scene with a kid or a dog.” Well, thriller writers are expert at mining both for the kind of emotion normally gleaned from traditional romance. Think about the movie Taken, maybe the simplest story of all time, simple and yet brilliant: a father who’ll do anything to save his daughter.

The-Innocent-cover-image-low-res-125x187That’s romantic heroism without being romance, because Liam Neeson’s Brian Mills is fighting for something he loves and nothing more. Steve Berry recently featured Cotton Malone’s sixteen-year-old son in an entry in that terrific series, while in The Innocent David Baldacci turns assassin Will Robie into a runaway teenage girl’s protector. James Rollins and Grant Blackwood recently went that one better in The Kill Switch that features not just bookdom’s greatest modern day canine hero, but also scenes from that dog’s POV. No, it’s not romance but it’s emotive; it makes us feel which is the same thing romance does.

Unknown-1And that’s the point. Great books, thrillers and otherwise, make us feel something so we’ll respond on an emotional level. And emotion is not synonymous with romance. My female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong is never going to get with her lover Cort Wesley Masters on a full-time basis, no weddings or babies in their future, because in order to be together they need to be separate. Theirs is a non-traditional romance based on the limitations they’ve accepted in each other, and the maternal instincts Cort Wesley’s teenage sons bring out in Caitlin is emotional gold in my mind. It defines a relationship at its strongest when those boys, or themselves, are threatened by violence.

Jon LandSo let’s finish with an example of me practicing what I preach, specifically a simple father-son scene from STRONG DARKNESS that takes place in the elevator of a New York City building between Cort Wesley and Dylan.

He snatched the card from his father’s grasp and angled it in front of a lens higher up on the panel Cort Wesley had taken for a security camera. As Dylan held the black access card near it, though, the lens glowed blue and the elevator doors closed. A moment later, the car was in motion, streaking for a floor that shouldn’t have existed with the two of them as the only passengers.

“Those jeans are too tight,” Cort Wesley said suddenly, not exactly sure why.

“That’s the way they’re supposed to fit.”

“Well, son, it looks like you already outgrew them from where I’m standing.” Cort Wesley stole another glance, in spite of Dylan’s caustic stare. “I can almost tell the last number you dialed on that throwaway cell phone we grabbed down the street.”

“Oh, man,” the boy muttered, as the elevator continue to zoom upward, making no other stops.

“I saw your credit card statement. How is it they cost so much when there’s so little to them?”

“They don’t cost that much, dad.”

“That’s because you’re not paying.”

Dylan gave his father a long look, as if sizing him up. “You look naked.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re not carrying a gun.”

Now I’d like to hear what YOU think!   How about coming up with your favorite example of a relationship packed with feeling and emotion, but not necessarily romance? I’ve got a bunch in mind already, so let’s compare notes.

For more information on Jon and his books, visit his website or find him on Facebook or Twitter.

Jon is giving one commenter today a copy of Strong Darkness, so tell us what you think!



  • flchen1 says:

    Wow, Jon, fun post, and great example!! There are definitely many relationships packed with feelings that aren’t romantic. The parent-child one is definitely an example, as you pointed out! Another that can be fraught with emotion is friendship–that can be sweet and deep, but can also have all kinds of potential mines in it…

    • Fedora, those are great examples. Friendship would encompass buddy movies and bromances such as the ones Jon mentioned.

    • Jon Land says:

      Fichen: I love your comment about friendship. Unlike romance, it comes without conditions or expectations. Sometimes you grow away from friends but you don’t grow apart from them as often, too often, proves the case in romance. I think this is what Leslie Fiedler was getting at with his theories about the tradition of American literature that extends even to great novels like Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick. Again, the point comes down to creating emotion in a story and romance is just one of the means to achieve that.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Jon

    Great post and I have to agree with Fedora child parent relationship and true friends and what about co workers some of these can be very intense as they strive to get a business going or build a business up

    Have Fun

    • Helen, I think there’s a reason so many romances feature either coworkers or people who meet in the course of their work. There’s such a range of possibility there!

    • Jon Land says:

      Helen: The parent/child bond is exactly the effect I’m going for with the Cort Wesley/Dylan example provided on the previous page. You are so right. Hey, you can divorce a husband or wife but you can’t divorce a child, right? And in many ways the parent-child relationship is the most lasting of any given the number of adult children who are caring for their parents at later stages in life in a reverse of the original paradigm.

  • Mary Preston says:

    Families in general are packed full of feeling & emotion. I know mine is & there are a lot of us, so that’s a whole LOT of relationship stuff going on.

    • Mary, families can be a real roller coaster, can’t they? Sometimes I think that family tie makes the weird times just that much stranger–like a WHERE is this coming from? feeling

    • Jon Land says:

      Another great point raised here, Mary. Families indeed are great sources for emotion. The trick in books like mine, thrillers specifically, is to give just the right amount of information without bogging the reader down in morass. That said, the thrillers of Lisa Gardner and Harlan Coben, as I alluded to in my post, use the family dynamic as the structural basis for their books and both do it exceedingly well. Many other thriller authors are following that trend to varying degrees of success. I call that “going small” but sometimes reducing the scale of the story can create incredible emotional resonance. The best book I’ve read this year was DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King, his brilliant sequel to THE SHINING which at its heart about a tortured man struggling to help a young girl who may be headed down the same path.

      • Jon, I think the line that determines how much info is too much shifts depending on genre. As a reader, I don’t like getting a lot of info that ultimately doesn’t matter.

        • Jon Land says:

          Indeed, I try to give you what you need to see and know and nothing more. I live by the mantra that all scenes should be viewed through the viewpoint of a character. And not too long ago my editor gave me about the best advice I’ve ever gotten: When setting a scene, always know where the light is coming from. Do that and you’ll only give the reader what the character can actually see, instead of the writer.

  • Quantum says:

    I think that the thriller is a very potent backdrop for romance to develop and many writers are missing an opportunity here.

    Stress can drive a couple closer, initially seeking comfort, and that can rapidly develop into something deeper.

    There are many real life examples of wartime romance that illustrate this. Love at first sight does happen and stress can be an effective catalyst.

    At least that’s my view! LOL

    • Quantum, I also read thrillers, and I agree about missed opportunities there. That’s one thing I so enjoy about the Caitlin Strong books. The romantic relationship doesn’t drive the book because it’s not that genre, but it adds texture and depth.

      I was at a science fiction convention last year and heard a writer say on a panel that a romantic relationship–or any other involving love–raised the stakes in a story, that it gave the reader another reason to root for the heroes.

      • Jon Land says:

        An excellent point, Nancy. But it seems to me that many relationships in popular fiction are there because the author feels they should be as opposed to arising organically out of the material. Here’s a question we can throw into the mix: WHAT IS EVERYONE’S FAVORITE LITERARY ROMANCE OF ALL TIME? I asked the question a different way at the end of my post but I’d love to hear the thoughts of Lair visitors to that one too.

    • Jon Land says:

      Quantum, you raise an excellent point here. You are indeed correct and could be describing the great novels of Judith Guest like ORDINARY PEOPLE or the work of Alice Hoffman. When it comes to thrillers, though, everything is about pace. Romance becomes another plot point, another piece of the structure moving the story forward as opposed to existing for its own sake. Shakespeare was one of the great thriller writers of all time, in my mind, precisely he mastered the ability to work romance organically into the fabric of his stories. And Hemingway, another frustrated thriller writer in my mind, staged great war time romantic sequences (or war’s aftermath) just as you raise in your post. And in general see my comments about Lisa Gardner and Harlan Coben above which echoes what you’re saying.

  • Shannon says:

    I think of the relationship between Locke and Jean in Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards fantasy series. The two start out as fellow criminals who band together for a great heist but don’t really trust the other. By the third volume, it’s obvious that one would die so that the other could live.

    There is a romantic element, Locke has an unrequited love, which means Lynch really, really needs to write a book that wraps up the series with a HEA.

    • Shannon, I’m also reading the Gentleman Bastards, and I really wish Lynch would write faster! The last book was heart-wrenching where that romance was concerned, and I also hope it will somehow, someday, lead to HEA.

    • Jon Land says:

      Shannon: While I’m not familiar with this series in general, you raise an excellent point about series in general and the opportunity to mine a relationship over a long period instead of a simple one-off. Spenser and Susan Silverman comes to mind immediately in the great Robert Parker’s seminal series. And, hey, how about the relationship between Caitlin Strong and Cort Wesley Masters in my series that includes STRONG DARKNESS? That’s a pretty good example too, I guess. Developing a romantic relationship over several books creates an organic flow that more imitates life itself since you’re not trying to do everything in a single book. I probably depend too much on threats and crises the plot drags into the relationship, threatening, straining but ultimately strengthening it. I think what a lot of this morning’s posts so far are getting at is that the handling of romance is genre specific. The one thing all great books have in common is that they make us feel something and traditional romance is only one of the ways to achieve that.

      • Jon, I wouldn’t say you rely too much on threats and danger in Caitlin and Cort Wesley’s relationship. Those are part of the story, and it would seem odd if they didn’t touch the characters personally.

        I like the way the relationship is evolving–as you said, growing over time. I get frustrated in series when there’s a romantic interest and the “will they or won’t they?” goes on for books and books and books with no evolution of the characters.

        One thing I think Nora Roberts has done masterfully in her J.D. Robb books is growing Eve Dallas as a person and showing the changing dynamic of Eve’s marriage to Roarke, who also is changing as the series goes on, though not as much as Eve has.

        • Jon Land says:

          Nancy, you make a really excellent point about romantic relationships can be used to further develop the individual characters as well. I see this especially in the great books by James Lee Burke in which his series hero, Dave Robicheaux, is currently married to his third wife. The first was murdered, the second died of an inherited disease and the third remains alive and well. Each challenged and supported him in different ways as he has evolved and grown as a character. But, again to my point, the one constant through all the books is his former police partner, now a private detective, named Clete Purcell. So what Burke is illuminating is that you can do both. In my Caitlin Strong series, we have the romantic relationship between Caitlin and Cort Wesley and the unusual relationship between Caitlin and her deadly protector Guillermo Paz. It’s not romantic at all but in many ways is more unconditional and interesting.

  • In case anyone’s skimming comments and missed it–Jon asked what literary romances are our favorites.

    Caitlin Strong and Cort Wesley Masters certainly rate up there for me, even though they’re in a thriller and not a romance. Others in various genres would be:

    Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (Dorothy L. Sayers)

    Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond and Phillippa

    Rissa Kerguelen and Bran Tregare in the Rissa Kerguelen series (F.M. Busby)

    Frederica Merriville and the Marquis of Alverstoke in Frederica (The Divine Georgette)

    Judith Taverner and Lord Worth in Regency Buck

    Lessa and F’lar in the Pern books
    (Anne McCaffrey)

    Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan
    (Lois McMaster Bujold)

    • Jon Land says:

      And let’s include movie and television romantic relationships as well, expanding our interests across pop culture. How about that? Who wants to go first?

      • Jeanne Adams says:

        In movie and television for sheer convolution that they actually pull off, I’d have to go for Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and Bringing Up Baby.


  • Caren Crane says:

    Jon, I agree that romance in the truest sense encompasses the spectrum of our emotions. I love family sagas for that reason. Parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws. Within a family you find the range of human experience. Love, hate, betrayal, heartbreak, joy, grief, suffering and ecstasy. It’s all there in our convoluted family ties. I love Harlan Coben’s books (both Myron and the standalones) because he always throws in family to complicate the story.

    Of course, when women write rhose sorts of books, they are called “women’s fiction.” Which is accurate, but limiting, audience-wise. Women will read man books, but most men won’t read woman books!

    • Jon Land says:

      I love your comment, Caren, in large part because my Caitlin Strong books are written from a the viewpoint of a woman and they’re certainly not “women’s fiction” either. Also glad to hear you’re a big fan of Harlan Coben, as I am. I believe the thing that separates my Caitlin Strong books from other action-oriented thrillers is exactly the family dynamic you speak of. Similar to what Harlan does, only it’s the same family, or surrogate family, in each book. Just have to be careful not to overuse the notion of putting Cort Wesley’s sons Dylan and Luke for whom Caitlin becomes a surrogate mom in jeopardy. That said, I think it works especially well in STRONG DARKNESS as the catalyst off everything else springs.

    • Caren, your comment reminds me of that old saying about why there used to be so many boy-centered YA books, the one that says girls will read books about boys, but the reverse isn’t true.

      I also like family sagas, and I’m sorry they’ve fallen out of vogue in romance.

  • catslady says:

    I’ve always wondered how some books get categorized. I think most are a mixture of a lot of different genres. Most stories that I read have some elements besides the romance. To me the romance is just an added bonus – the characterization is necessary for me to get into any story but albeit it be mystery, suspense, etc. that is what keeps the plot moving along. The characters are the reason to get attached emotionally whether there is romance or not – if I don’t care about them, then there isn’t any plot line that is going to work for me.

    • Jon Land says:

      Such an excellent point and I think we’ve met here in the Lair before. Categories are a function of the marketplace, of publishers needing a way to categorize a book in order to know how to promote and market it to a target audience. Your analysis referencing characterization is totally spot on. The great John D. McDonald, who wrote the brilliant Travis McGee series once said, “Story is stuff happening to people you care about.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • Catslady, I think the characters are the heart of any story. If I like them, I’ll deal with other story elements I might not like as well, and I’ll pick up the next book. If I feel like the characters are in a rut book after book, I’ll drift away from a series.

  • Hi Jon!

    Not a big reader of thrillers and suspense – sorry – but there’s a realm of emotions beyond romance. Look at the Horror books (LOL another genre I don’t read), lots of emotion in those books but more of the fear variety.

    I recently read Kristan Higgins “Too Good to be True.” Loved this book. It’s a romance, so it incorporates the winning over of the hero/heroine but it the love of the heroine for her sisters drives the plot forward as well as the love/concern of the parents for the heroine. There’s a mentor’s concern for his protege and a dog’s dislike of the hero’s shoes as well. (No dog POV scenes, though). Great conversation! 🙂

    • Jon Land says:

      Donna: I think your comments on horror ring very true. Horror, as I alluded to before about DOCTOR SLEEP, confront characters with forces utterly beyond their control. And the normal formula finds them on a kind of journey of self-discovery, the success of which will determine their chances of surviving and/or winning. Cast in that light, relationships romantic and otherwise gain further weight because the stakes are so high. Great books in all genres, in my mind, are defined by having emotional stakes every bit the equal of the stakes that define the structure. I don’t think the genre matters so much as the execution in that respect, which I think echoes your point.

    • Donna, you know I don’t read horror either, but I agree with your analysis of it.

      There was a book that made a big splash some years back–mainstream fiction but with heavy fantasy elements–and became all the rage. I never had trouble putting it down and ultimately didn’t finish it, and I finally realized that was because I felt as though I were always a step removed from the characters’ internal lives. The narrative voice was strong and unusual–but it always seemed to be present. In the way, kind of.

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    Hey John!! Welcome back to the Lair! And, Man, you just added to my TBR pile with all those examples. Some I’ve read before and you reminded me of them, which means a trip to the library or for my ereader, and some I don’t know, which is just unacceptable. SNORK!

    The topic is a fascinating one, really. Even Gone With the Wind features a wide range of incredibly complex relationships which aren’t Rhett and Scarlett. Her relationship with with her sisters, and her cousin Melanie as well as her relationship with Ashley WIlkes. Scarlett herself is a study in the human dynamic. Ha!

    As to stories that feature intense emotions that aren’t romance…hmmm…Trish Milburn’s LIving in Color is brilliant. Sabrina and Ruby’s interactions are fraught with emotion.

    Jo Robertson’s Frail Blood, again, brilliant. Which, while a romance, is really a sort of triangle with Malachi and Alma and Emma each a part of the whole picture of roiling emotions and tension.

    SOmeone may have already mentioned it, but Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series has a lot of similarities to the Jack Reacher series in that Harry is a loner. He’s more a loner by necessity than choice, however. (At least so far….)

    Nancy, I could copy your list of more literary romances almost exactly. I’d add Roarke and Eve Dallas to that too, since they’re relationship is alway IN the books, but the books are usually ABOUT a murder.

    Hmmmm will have to think of others….

    • Jon Land says:

      Thanks, Jeanne, and I hope there’s room for STRONG DARKNESS in your TBR pile! What I take from your comment especially is your reference to the loner character a la Dresden and Reacher. That’s also the classic American form dating back to the Western form from James Fennimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans series featuring Natty Bumpo all the way to John Ford’s brilliant film THE SEARCHERS, a film made perfect by its very last shot. That kind of hero gave birth in film to Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood), John McClain (Bruce Willis) and numerous other heroes whose very iconic nature is defined by their isolation, even alienation. This is a holdover from the traditions passed down from Greek mythology which taut us that being a hero comes with a price and part of that price is that traditional heroes often if not normally live out their lives alone. In that respect, they are denied romance and at times even bro-mance. The fun I have writing Caitlin Strong is that I’m not sure if it’s ever been done before with a woman, as opposed to man.

      • Jeanne Adams says:

        I agree, John, and yet, that isolation is the bane of the human existance and the essence of despair. I think that those of us who write romantic suspense work to show that a loner hero is beyond the edge of despair, believing that he/she doesn’t DESERVE connection or love. The romance part of Romantic Suspense shows that everyone deserves love and care and is of value no matter what their past or present ghosts. That loner may be iconic, but he/she isn’t who any of us want to be. You’re right in that it harkens to the Greek tragedies, the lone soldier holding his post to the last hour of the last day. :> I think its long past time to move into the sure knowing that we are all worthy of love, friendship, romance, bro-mance or care. Grins. But that’s just me. Ha!

    • Jeanne, these are great examples. I haven’t thought about GWTW in a long time, but I agree with you about the interconnectedness of the characters. Some would say that’s both the blessing and the bane of rural life in the 19th-century South.

      • Jeanne Adams says:

        And I’d agree, for the most part. It’s also just “family” – especially large, extended families! Hahah! And when you add in a strong-willed character like Scarlett, a woman ahead of her time, then you’ve got ructions! (as my grannies would say) I’m not a fan of Scarlett, any more than I’m a fan of the end of Casablanca, but she is a real, 3 dimensional character

  • pearl says:

    Your novels, recent and earlier have been captivating, enthralling and allow me to escape to another place, era and realm. I enjoy the inter-relationships and the meaningful characters whose lives are fascinating and triumph through all.

    • Jon Land says:

      You made my day, Pearl! That means so much to me! The problem with being a writer is that even in our social media age I don’t have the kind of interaction with my readers that tells me if I’m succeeding at what I set out to do. Sure, critical response and sales are the ultimate arbiters I guess. But I cling to the fact that what really matters is comments like yours. I don’t know if anything makes me feel better than what you say here. It’s the ultimate affirmation and gratification for which I’m very grateful!

    • Pearl, I’ve read some of Jon’s other series, and I agree with you. The webs of relationships give the characters a stake more often than is possible win books whose characters are strangers to each other.

  • Anna Sugden says:

    Just popping in quickly from the deadline cave to say welcome back, Jon – always a pleasure – and to tell you how much I’ve been enjoying your Caitlin Strong series! Your latest will be an ‘I’ve finished my book’ treat!

    • Jon Land says:

      Just looked you up on Amazon, Anna, and it’s wonderful to have a fellow author jumping in. Given that romance is one of your specialties, not to put you on the stop, but how about treating us to three top rules you live by when crafting a relationship between your leads. (And I’m betting we’ve touched on them in some way here already, so don’t peek!!!) And only if you have time.

    • Anna, thanks for popping out of the cave! I can’t wait for the next NJ Ice Cats book. Good luck with the deadline.

  • Cassondra says:

    Hi John and welcome back to the lair.

    Always enjoy your visits. I think no matter the genre, the relationships are much of why we read, and the better job the author does at building those, the more we’ll like the book. Even in romance, the relationships between characters who are NOT the love interests in the book are what often make it a deep, complex story as opposed to something less engaging.
    I think of Susan Elizabeth Phillips as kind of the pinnacle of this. I’ve heard her called a modern Shakespeare with regard to her complex characters and I can’t disagree with that. I used Ain’t She Sweet as one example of romance in a class I taught one time, and the young writer who spoke up first when I asked about general impressions said, “Even the DOG has a character arc in this book.” It’s true. The dog does arc.
    The relationship between the hero and heroine is complex and fraught with conflict and complication, but the book is, honestly, as much about Sugar Beth coming to terms with the other relationships in her life as it is about getting past the obstacles between her and Collin. Everybody in the book has some kind of relationship with everybody else, the relationships are old and never simplistic, and Phillips weaves them like a lovely, intricate tapestry. It makes the work powerful.
    Nancy, thanks for bringing Jon back to visit with us!

    • Cassondra, I knew you liked Ain’t She Sweet, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard you explain why is so much detail. It has been years since I read that, and I don’t remember much about it. But I agree that one of SEP’s talents is making the secondary characters interesting, too.

    • Jon Land says:

      That’s such a great point, Cassandra, and to a great extent you’re describing relationships that still have room to grow, that haven’t burned themselves out. The challenge in incorporating romance into a thriller, especially a series like mine featuring Caitlin Strong, is finding ways for the relationship to remain fresh and vital, to the reader as well as the characters, instead of growing stale. To that point, the argument could be made that the relationships Caitlin has formed both Dylan, Cort Wesley’s oldest son, and especially her deadly protector Guillermo Paz, are more interesting and enriching than even her relationship with Cort Wesley.

      • Jon, Paz is an interesting character. He also has a growth arc in the series, as does his relationship with Caitlin. I love the way she interacts with Dylan and Luke.

  • Elaina says:

    What a thought provoking post which interests me greatly. Reading has brought me into many worlds which are unique and expressive. Many emotions which I have experienced within reality are cousins who are more than friends and even more than siblings.

    • Jon Land says:

      Very interesting, Elaina and something I’d never considered before. Excellent point you raise and I’m trying to think of an example from literature. Can’t grab one off hand but seem to remember a famous one or two that dealt with forbidden love–not what you’re getting at, I know. But the whole notion of cousins is very thought provoking on its own.

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      Elaina, its so funny, isn’t it, who becomes our closest confidants? I had a cousin I barely “knew” when we were younger, but we’ve become fast friends as we’ve grown up. Then there are the things you just never knew about your family members that suddenly come to light and you’re like…”Wha..????” But my DH and his cousins are as close as brothers, so…yeah.

    • Elaina, isn’t it funny how books can create bonds? Sometimes people seem closer to cousins their age than to siblings. It sounds as though you have wonderful relationships.

  • Jon Land says:

    For all those visiting with me today in the Lair, I’ve got to run out for a while, but keep the comments coming and I’ll respond to any and all later. Check back this evening and we can pick things up again. And you can always reach me at from anyplace anytime.

  • Jon, welcome back to the lair. Nancy, thanks for inviting back such an interesting guest.

    First, congratulations on the release of Strong Darkness. Loved the excerpt. And what an interesting, thoughtful post. I think you’re so right about the bromance often being at the heart of a book. It happens with stories about women’s friendships too, I often find.

    Hmm, so many examples to mention. What about Frodo and Sam from Lord of the Rings? That’s such an example of loyalty and sacrifice and love.

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      Ohhh, that’s one of my FAVORITES, Anna! Sam and Frodo in the book are even more in one another’s pocketses than in the movie, but they make it more blatently stated in teh movies. :> And would you call it a Fem-Mance? THe Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for example, is considered chick-lit, so is that the opposite of a bro-mance? Grins.

    • Thanks, Anna. I love your example of Frodo and Sam. Geek that I am, I should’ve thought of it! They have an interesting dynamic, a friendship created by a man of an era when men were more open about their emotions with their friends. We seem to be cycling back toward that, now, and I think it gives the stories more depth.

    • Cassondra Murray says:

      Anna, that’s a brilliant example. I’ve seen jokes made of it because it’s so at the forefront of that film series.

    • Jon Land says:

      Hey, Jean, I’ve stepped back into the Lair after a few hours away to your great comment. The thing I take from it is the very nature and structure of the quest story that’s so important to the development of all novels, not just thrillers. And such a quest changes the very nature of how characters perceive themselves and others, forcing to reach beyond their own limitations to achieve greatness. And the reward for that greatness, the payoff for them often anyway is happiness in the form of the kind of relationship they’ve formed along the way. Spot on, Jean! Kudos!

  • Hey Jon, welcome to the Lair.

    As a romantic suspense author in the truest fashion, I’m a little hung up on the word nebulous. 🙂 In my mind the suspense leads to the increased tension that leads to the romance, which in turn raises the stakes for the hero and heroine. And both of them work together to survive the situation, bringing them closer together romantically. That’s my definition.

    I also have to agree with Quantum on the point that many authors are missing out on the potential for the romance in their books

    Take Ludlum’s Bourne series. The original books, not the movies, have our hero and heroine meeting, fighting to survive and making a life on their own…and they had to do it through 3 books. The heroine made this hero, who was trained to be a killing machine, reconnect with his humanity and gave him even greater reason to fight the good fight. Ludlum has done that in a number of his books.

    Then there’s the spin-off movie The Bourne Legacy, which I loved. Again, the hero found his humanity and fell in love with the heroine, who is equally in need of the humanity and love.

    I adore Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone, but was ready to strangle Steve, Cotton and Casiopia at the end of the last book. Just sayin.

    While I agree that pacing doesn’t always lend itself to romance, especially sex, it can be laced in with a delicate hand and when the perfect spot for it appears, the romantic elements often gives the reader a bit of a breather from all the action, adventure, things blowing up, people being shot at, one bad thing after another.

    • Suz, I agree on the role of the romance in the story, and I think it also raises the stakes. I read the first Bourne book but not the sequels. After reading this, I need to go check them out.

    • Jon Land says:

      The thing I love about your comment, Suzanne, is how you raise the point that character and relationship development must occur in the context of the story and action, not in spite of it. They are not mutually exclusive. That’s exactly the point I’m striving to make in all the Caitlin Strong books in which Caitlin and Cort Wesley are never closer than when their lives are in danger and they must resort to violence in order to save themselves and others. They will do whatever it takes to survive and slay the dragon. And in doing so they feel more alive and vital than ever–true to their natures, in other words. These are characters who understand who they are, even as they are forever reaching for more only to find, perhaps, it was there all the time.

  • anne says:

    The trials and tribulations which are prevalent in your novels have been enlightening and unforgettable. Your Strong novels and the novels based in Israel show me how individuals with strength deal with adversity and how this strengthens their future.

    • Anne, Jon has a knack for pairing off unlikely couples, doesn’t he? And he always makes it work.

    • Jon Land says:

      Wow, Anne, that’s as great a compliment as I’ve ever received. I’m so humbled by your praise that I have nothing to add, other than to say how great it feels when a reader grasps exactly the effect that I’m going for. That’s especially important when writing a series that depends on giving the reader enough to want them to come back for more.

  • ellie says:

    When an author is creative, talented and able to write so that the reader is transported within the pages of the book, that is what I need and want. You do that each time. The characters, the setting, and the dilemmas they face are realistic and never forgotten.

  • bn100 says:

    family and friend relationships

  • Becke says:

    The best example I can think of is Lethal Weapon-Danny Glover and Mel Gibson.

    McMurtry-Lonesome Dove but not Lorena or Clara. Augustus and McCall. To me, this entire book is a romance with the old west.

    Tess Gerritson’s thrillers with Rizzoli and Isles. However, she does pair Rizzoli with an FBI hero.

    • Becke, you’re my best source on westerns. I’ve never read Lonesome Dove, but what you said seems to fit what I’ve heard about it. Rizzoli and Isles are a great example. I’ve seen the TV show but not read the books.

      • Jon Land says:

        Like your mention of Rizzoli and Isles, Nancy, but I like their treatment more in Tess’s books than in the television adaptation. Hope I get to face that my problem someday soon myself!

    • Jon Land says:

      I love the allusion to Lonesome Dove, Becke, because both characters were originally Texas Rangers themselves, so LONESOME DOVE is pulling on a lot of the same traditions that the Caitlin Strong series does. Indeed, what your point so well illuminates is that all the Caitlin Strong books are essentially modern day westerns from a structural standpoint. I grew up loving the western form. Shows like Have Gun, Will Travel, Rawhide, Wagon Train (always loved Ward Bond), Wanted Dead or Alive, Bat Masterson–even Bonanza! Caitlin is a throwback to all of those, a modern day gunfighter who just happens to be a woman.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful piece, Jon and welcome! I admire thriller writers for the spare way in which they convey worlds of story. Lisa Gardner is one of the greatest genre writers around because she’s so brilliant at taking you deep into the minds and emotions of dark and twisted people. I think paedophiles are among the most destructive forces on the planet. I loathe them, and yet Gardner made me feel a twinge of compassion for the paedophile she portrayed in (I think it was) THE NEIGHBOR. I didn’t think I could ever feel that. I probably won’t ever feel that again, and yet in that book, I did. That’s masterly writing.

    • Jon Land says:

      Christina, I simply couldn’t agree you with more about Lisa Gardner. Her books are gut-wrenching, nerve-racking exercises in nail-biting suspense. And she manages that without the level of gunfights and high level of stakes my books are so dependent on. She is a true master and you have hopped on a brilliant point about making an apparently irredeemable character sympathetic. It so well illuminates the shades of gray that dominate the tone and vision of my Caitlin Strong vision, making the point that noble ends can be achieved sometimes by ignoble means. Everything is relative and what Lisa does so well, and I aspire to do as well, is confront her characters and her readers with moral dilemmas for which there is no real entirely right answer.

    • Christina and Jon, Lisa Gardner is one of those writers I keep meaning to read but haven’t yet. I agree that making a reader sympathize who wouldn’t ordinarily requires a lot of skill.

      I also agree that the shades of gray in Caitlin’s world help keep the books interesting.

  • Jon Land says:

    I’m going to stay on for a while, at least another hour or so. So if you’re still with us, keep the comments coming if you’ve got one! What a wonderful group and what a great opportunity to exchange thoughts with such an intelligent group of readers and fans.

  • Mozette says:

    I’ve just finished writing a trilogy about a man who’s figuring out his life. In book 2, he’s found out he’s got a wife… during the second and third books, they get to know each other again as they work together in a covert spy place called The Company (it was going to be called something else, but this seemed to just fit!). But the end of the book, they not only respected each other, but loved each other too.

    And yet, they could still work together as a pair.

  • Amy Conley says:

    The first book which comes to mind are Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Amelia series. In the first several books Lady Amelia has been widowed, happily widowed even, so the last thing she wants is to be in a relationship. She enjoys the freedom of being a widow and doing what she wants, when she wants. Later in the series she does becomde involved with her sidekick, but she lets him kkniw at the beginning there shall be no romantic feeling from her, she one need his help while trying to solve the mystery of her husband’s death.