September 16, 2021

Learning to Write Romantic Suspense: Guest Post by Author Teresa LaBella

A timely 2,100 mile move from my Iowa hometown to rural Nova Scotia ahead of a pandemic that closed the border opened the next creative chapter in my life as an author.

The genre shift from romance to romantic suspense wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined. Romance springs from a simple formula. Partner meets partner. Difficulties cause conflict that is overcome and conquered by love with the end result of happily-ever-after or at least happy-for-now.

Suspense needs the structure of a plan to keep the story on track. The first draft of The UnMatchables started out as a cozy mystery reminiscent of the 1980s television series “Moonlighting”. The first client and case taken on by newbie private investigators Eddie Emerson and Kelly Gillespie shifted to suspense with the introduction of a character I resurrected from a short story. Cherise Blanchet’s past sexual abuse that led to sexual addiction took the story down the pantser-without-a-plan path. The emerging international thriller with an ever-expanding cast became tangled up in confusing convoluted subplots.

My developmental editor red-ink ripped the manuscript apart. I grumbled, mostly agreed, and put the story back together again. The rewrite was painful but absolutely necessary for a strong plot built around a theme and characters that readers could both love and love to hate. Acknowledging the importance of theme in plot development literally rewrote and transformed the first novel in this series.

The theme of The UnMatchables focuses on the #MeToo social movement against sexual harassment and assault committed by powerful and/or prominent men. Antagonist Alphonse von Rohr leverages his celebrity status as a gifted conductor in international symphony orchestra circles to satisfy his sexual predatory need for power and perversion. PIs Eddie and Kelly uncover the maestro’s buried secrets and the assassin hired to threaten and, when necessary, silence those he’s preyed on. Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Cherise speaks out and steps up as an advocate for all of von Rohr’s victims.

Lessons learned through The UnMatchables rewrite spiked my writer’s learning curve. Descriptions of characters to populate Parliament Hill in the political thriller set in Canada’s capital city appeared on word documents pages. Final edit of one novel and first draft of the next progressed concurrently from May through September. 

The UnMatchables Case #1: Danger Noted published by 4Wurdz Press launched on October 28th. I released Capital Strings into the capable hands of my editor November 3rd. Gun control and the forces that manipulate this emotionally charged topic for political gain define the theme and propel the plot of this next creative chapter in my life.


Teresa LaBella published her first contemporary romance novel Reservations in 2013. Two more novels, a novella and collection of short stories on life and love in rural Iowa followed. The UnMatchables Case #1: Danger Noted, published in 2020, is the first in her series of romantic suspense novels. The author, editor, freelance writer and grants specialist resides in Nova Scotia with her Canadian-by-choice husband, film maker John LaBella, and their husky fur kids Rosie and Ellis. Find Teresa at her website, storyteller30.com, or on Facebook.

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