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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

International Suspense

For those of you who don’t know it, I live in northern South Africa, a couple of hours away from the Zimbabwe boarder. I’ve spent about six years living overseas-- in France, West Africa, and now South Africa. I’ve also been blessed to travel in a couple dozen countries, where I’ve glimpsed into other cultures, their people, languages, and their unique cuisines. I love learning about people, their strengths and weaknesses, what they want out of life, what they dream about, and yes, even what they love to eat for dinner. (There’s nothing like fufu cooked over an open fire with a piquant sauce to wake up your taste buds!)

What does this have to do with writing? For me, everything. While I love what I write, give me an international setting mixed with suspense and a dash of romance, and that is exactly where my heart is when it comes to writing. The hard thing for me has been that in the past, the majority of editors have been very closed to international settings. Granted, you have your stories that emerge triumphantly like the Poisonwood Bible or Alexander Smith McCall’s detective series, but in my experience, editors haven’t been too thrilled to toss a contract my way when I mention the word Africa. They tend to want to run the other way.

But things seem to be changing.

I was blessed to attend this years American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference in Dallas, Texas, and what I found was an entirely different look at international settings from last year. Editors at the panel discussion spoke of the growing interest in suspense, and the word international was finally mentioned in a positive light.

I was ready to jump through the green light and fly.

In talking to one of the editors from a large publishing house, I learned some great things on how to make my international suspense more marketable. First of all, your main characters should be Americans. Face it, the largest market in Christian fiction is the States, so that seems to be a given. Second, find a way to make your story relate to your American readers. I don’t mean at all dropping the foreign flavor, but think about your audience and how they can connect. What would make the story relevant to an American living on the other side of the world? These are all things I plan to use my requested proposal. (Yes, finally requested!!)

There are a number of examples of this genre hitting the bookstore shelves. To name just a couple, DiAnn Mills has an international suspense coming out with Moody next year entitled When the Nile Runs Red. It’s set in Sudan. While not purely suspense, it seems timely to add that Steeple Hill’s new Historical Romance line is interested in exotic settings. They have already done very well on the international scene with authors like Susan May Warren who writes suspense set in Russia.

What about you? Do you like international settings for suspense novels? If so, what do you like to see in them? What draws you to the characters even if there are differences in cultures? I’d love to hear what you think about the genre.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out our contest page. October’s new contest is up a bit late, but nevertheless, there’s a chance to win a FREE copy of The Dandelion Killer and win a free critique. Check it out!



Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Hey Lisa!
Love this post. I lived in Europe for several years so international settings always seem to creep into my story. They characters are always American and "home base" is usually the States, but the intrigue and suspense take them to all different countries. I love that, espicially being able to write about a place I've lived or visited. It gives the story extra flavor, I think.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit that I shy away from international settings at first. But recently I picked up "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," set in--help me out here, Southern Africa somewhere. Anyway, I absolutely loved it. The main character has all the strong qualities we'd expect, but the retention of her cultural nuances made the book that much more interesting. It made me want to go there. So, yes, I can say I like the international flavor, but it will probably always be harder to sell. It always comes back to intriguing characters.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love international settings in novels. It's like taking a trip around the world. I agree with your post, that you need American characters, at least for the protag. What draws me to characters are universal issues and problems in which all of us can relate, or conflicts that threaten my safety/security. I write what I like to call, "romantic intrigue." Most of my novels are set partially in other countries or in America with people of different cultures.

I'm glad that editors and readers are more interested in international intrigue. I think with cable news and the internet, our planet has shrunk, and people are no longer intimidated by trying to understand other cultures.

9:37 AM  

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