Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kids in Fiction by RITA Nominee Colleen Thompson

While I'm still at Royal Reviews for EMILY BRYAN WEEK (please pop over and leave a comment for a chance to win!), I am thrilled to introduce you to my friend, Colleen Thompson right here. She writes fantastic romantic suspense. Her newest release BENEATH BONE LAKE is on the shelves right now! Today she's sharing her thoughts on under-aged characters in fiction. Here's Colleen!

As a reader and a writer, I’ve found children in books to be a pretty dicey proposition. Nothing nauseates me like an overly-precious or disgustingly-precocious kiddo sapping up the pages. Seriously. And throw in a lisp or baby-talk, and You Have Now Entered the Wall-Banger Zone.

As both a mom and a former teacher, I appreciate children as they really are, complete with the tendency to pinball from annoying (PING!) to adorable (PING-PING) to hysterical (both the HA-HA and the WAHHH kind!) in an instant. As a result, I work hard to depict them that way, as I did with the heroine’s four-year-old daughter, Zoe, in Beneath Bone Lake.

But I write pretty intense romantic suspense, and the premise of this story, which involves a young widow returning from Iraq only to find her family missing, her house in flames, and her life turned upside down by a caller who claims to be a kidnapper, led me into even more dangerous territory: the child in jeopardy story.

Now as a reader who’s also a mom, nothing gets my heart pounding faster than the thought of a child in danger. If there’s even a whiff of such a thing within the opening pages, I’m instantly riveted, as I have been in great child-in-jeopardy stories such as Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean and Linda Howard’s heartrending Cry No More. In both cases, I could barely sleep until I knew if the child would be safe with the viewpoint character.

In other cases, such as John Grisham’s excellent first novel, A Time to Kill, which opens with a graphic depiction of a horrific act of violence against a little girl, I was literally sickened. (It was a real act of faith in the author that I finished that book, the beginning upset me so much. And quite a few readers couldn’t stomach it.) And I’ve certainly avoided other books and movies where violence against a child is both intense and on-screen, shown happening in real time.

For my taste, the most compelling suspense comes in the parent’s imagination, when his/her child is out of sight and reach. The awful period of not knowing raises our anxiety, whether it’s over one’s toddler who’s wandered away in the grocery store or the sixteen year-old new driver who fails to show up at curfew. (As the mother of a teenager, I can think of no sound more harrowing than that of sirens from the road when my kiddo’s out late at night.)

For this reason, I see no reason to ever depict actual violence against a child, not when the fear of it is so much more powerful.

So what about the rest of you? Do you enjoy reading books containing children in some or all cases? What particularly bother you about some books featuring kids? Which authors/novels have done an especially good job? I’ll be drawing for a free autographed copy of my RITA-nominated Triple Exposure from among those commenting on this blog.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Colleen! And dear readers, you need to leave a comment in order to be entered in today's drawing for a copy of TRIPLE EXPOSURE, Colleen's wonderful Texas-set suspense!


EmilyBryan said...

My personal pet peeve is when the kid is the smartest/most mature person in the book and the adults behave like 6 year olds.

Teddyree said...

Hi Colleen, Beneath Bone Lake does sound intense, I love suspense thrillers and romance so it sounds like a good mix.

I do like to read stories where children are the main or a secondary character, wouldn't want to read them every day but when done well I find them enjoyable.

I agree about Jacqueline Mitchard, she instills fear in the reader without resorting to graphic violence. I think Jodi Picoult does a great job too even though many of her stories are heartbreaking.

I don't to read scenes of violence against children. I'm a huge long-term Dean Koontz fan and I was horrified reading The Darkest Evening of the Year. Even though ficticious I found it very distressing to read of a mother's physical and emotional abuse of her Downs Syndrome daughter.

Heidi said...

I enjoy the occasional romantic suspense. Though I suppose it's used more often than I'm aware of, it hadn't occurred to me that simply hinting that a child could be in danger would be enough in a story to tense up the reader. And now that I've been presented with the idea, I think I prefer that to actual harm or danger. So thank you for making me think outside the box today. I'll have to take a look at the story Beneath Bone Lake.

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks for having me here, Emily. I agree with your pet peeve!

Teddyree, I completely agree with your thoughts on DARKEST EVENING - not my favorite Koontz book.

One author who really gets it right is Lisa Scottoline in her new one, LOOK AGAIN. (Although there's this one scene that's pretty tough...)

Thanks for commenting, Heidi. Nice to meet you here.

EmilyBryan said...

A quick question for Colleen: You have quite a balancing act in your books between building a romantic relationship and ratcheting up the suspense. How do you decide when it's time to focus on one or the other? Are you one of those incredibly organized writers with flowcharts and color coding? Can you share a little of your writing process?

Colleen Thompson said...

Interesting question, Emily. For my first few romantic suspense novels, I actually did map out scenes (on sticky notes rather than a flow chart) where I marked suspense with one color and romance with another to make certain I balanced the two. Eight books later, I let each set of characters and story situation guide me. Because Ruby Monroe's child and sister are in terrible danger, BENEATH BONE LAKE's focus (and hers, appropriately) are on saving her family. Her romance with Sam McCoy, the hacker neighbor who becomes a reluctant hero, important as it is, is an unexpected consequence rather than the point.

housemouse88 said...

Hello Colleen,

I personally don't have a preference about children being in books. If there is violence portrayed against a child, I try to take into account what the author is trying to get across to his/her readers. I also keep in mind it is a work of fiction. However, having worked with abused teens some of what you read in fiction can be real life events. All authors are different in their use of children in stories. I find it fascinating to see how the stories will turn out in the end. Have a great day.

Eva S said...

I love romantic suspense, but I'd rather not have children in my books... I remember having very hard to let go after reading Cry No More and decided to try to avoid these heartbreaking stories.

Cheeky Girl said...

I guess I should start by saying I'm not a mom, but I do love kids. That said, I read Grisham's a Time to Kill and it was hard to read, but even more so becuase of the talent he showed in making the words come together to make it so real. Did I enjoy reading those scenes? NO! But, I felt they were needed for the reader to really understand and go on the heartfelt Journey Grisham's story wanted to take you on. Without those scenes, the payoff at the end would not have meant as much.

That book was one of the very first that physically made me react to a story - what a talent that is. I have to say I wish Grisham's later work was as fantastic.

I don't go searching for stories about kids, nor do I shy from them.

mrsshukra said...

I'm a mom but I normally don't feel too comfortable with young kids playing major roles in romance novels but last week I read Elizabeth Hoyt's To Beguile a Beast and enjoyed the integral presence of the female lead character's 2 children in the story. Also just finished Suzanne Enoch's Always a Scoundrel where the kids played minor roles and their parts in the story were cute but not the in your face kind and I enjoyed that as well. Kids in romances is fine sometimes, just no violence towards them... We already watch too many Law & Order SVU, Criminal Minds, etc....I prefer my romance books less
Thanks, Colleen!

EmilyBryan said...

I think the whole "child in jeopardy" premise is a winner everytime it's tried. If the goal of fiction is to go for the gut, it's difficult to pick a theme with more visceral punch. It's hard-wired into us to care for the young. When something happens to make that impossible, we have to know how it all turns out.

And fortunately, in romantic suspense, you are still guaranteed a HEA.

Kytaira said...

I love children in books. I also hate when the children speak/act in a manner that isn't age appropriate. Mainly when they are extremely articulate. I just haven't met as many eloquent 3 yr olds in real life as I've read about. Some of the best portrayals of children have been in series books. Off hand I can't think of a specific title. Maybe Julie Garwood's Ransom. Gillian's interaction with Judith and Ian Maitland's son was really believable.

I prefer the children aren't physically hurt. Kidnapped and crying - OK. Implied danger - OK. Actually beaten, molested, or killed - Don't want it.

Philip O'Mara said...

Looking forward to reading it.

Read a great new romantic comedy, entitled Classes Apart.
This is an adult sporting comedy that follows the fortunes of Paul Marriot, the secretary of the Barnstorm Village Sunday soccer team and coach of a school cricket team in Yorkshire, England. The story describes the remarkable camaraderie between the players and supporters of this little club and their desire to achieve success. The team had previously been known more for its antics off the field, rather than their performances on it.

During his time at the club he meets and becomes involved with Emma Potter, who is the sister of James Potter, a major player for their bitter rivals Moortown Inn. Thus, begins an entangled web of romance and conflict. He also begins working at Derry High School, a school with a poor reputation of academic success, where he becomes coach of the school cricket team. Here he develops an amazing relationship with the children and they embark on an epic journey.

EmilyBryan said...

Careful, Philip. You're dangerously close to blog piracy--using a comment on someone else's blog as a thinly disguised plug for your own book. The topic is Colleen Thompson, romantic suspense and "child in jeopardy" themes.

Please contact me if you'd like to guest here sometime. Then the info about your book would be welcome.

May said...

I have to admit child in danger plot is not my thing but I am so love Cry no more. However, I can only read it once and never make myself reread it again. It is just so heartbreaking. So for me, I tend to avoid

On the other hand, I love Ms. Thompson's books especially The Salt Maiden. I knew when you said you wrote an intense romantic suspense and that is the way I like my suspense.

EmilyBryan said...

Hi May,

I visited your blog and couldn't read a word of it. Am I right in assuming you're May, my RWA roommate from Thailand?

Can't wait to see you!

May said...

Hi Emily,

Yes, I am that May. Can't wait to see you either.

Anonymous said...

I don't seek out books about kids, but I don't avoid them either.

I enjoy a suspense and Beneath Bone Lake sounds like a wonderfully complex read!

Pam S

LuAnn said...

I agree with your first comment, Emily. It annoying when the line between child and adult gets fuddled.