Love and Murder: From Writing Teen Rom-Coms to Writing Historical Mystery
By Lev AC RosenOctober 17, 2022
My mother was the one who showed me that love stories and mysteries are alike.
A lifelong Victorian lit fan, she introduced me to the romances of Austen, the mysteries of Collins, the horror of Dracula. And each of them lead further down their genred paths: Dracula led to the gothic (and me dyeing my hair black, sorry Mom); Austen’s social commentary led to Oscar Wilde’s plays, Golden Age screwballs, and the battle of the sexes comedies of the 60s like Pillow Talk, which eventually inspired my novel Camp. Meanwhile, Collins lead me to Conan Doyle which took me to Chandler, and eventually the Bogart and Bacall movies that proved that every mystery is better if you might fall in love at the end. They remain my go-to examples of how every genre informs and enriches every other. I read everything, and so I write everything, too.
To me, writing is about uncovering something in a character or characters. Reading is about discovery, but writing is, too—you discover things before the reader does, and you then make those discoveries exciting and important. You put characters in situations that make them consider things they hadn’t considered, which pulls back layers on why they are the way they are, either to themselves, the reader, or to other characters. Maybe what we discover is they’re capable of murder. Or maybe they’re capable of love—these are easy conventions, and fit well into genre because of it. What makes genre sing, though, is making sure that what we learn is exciting, and feels fresh, even when we’re familiar with the tropes. In other words, you need to make a character compelling, as you peel back layers, and figure out some truth about them. The murder, the love—those are the results of figuring out character.
Because of that, writing both mystery and romance feel naturally connected. Though I do believe every book writes itself differently, the mentality of the mystery and the mentality of romance are very similar: In a mystery you have someone trying to discover something, to figure out why someone was murdered or something stolen. They have to look for clues, and read people, determine when they’re lying and why, which in turn reveals more about the people and their motives. In romance, it’s similar, but whereas with a mystery we watch a protagonist hunting for clues, in romance, the reader themselves is the one hunting—ah, here’s someone saying something that indicates they have feelings for someone, even if neither of them realize it. Why would this character lie to someone she supposedly cares about? It’s the same mentality, we’re still discovering more about characters, just a different perspective—and, of course, a different end goal; not a whodunnit, but a wholoveswhom.
Look at something like Wilde’s most famous play, the Importance of Being Earnest: There are false identities, mysterious pasts, lies, and life-changing reveals! They’re all played for laughs and love, but these are all conventions of a good mystery, too. And they’re all about who these people are. So moving from a romantic comedy like Camp to writing a historical noir like Lavender House felt natural—I just took the conventions I was used to playing with and made them all a bit more murdery, and remembered to focus on the characters.
Camp really helped me write Lavender House because of that. Sure, there are differences—teen vs. adult, contemporary vs. historical, romance vs. mystery—but the art of uncovering something, of peeling back layers to figure out who these people are, and change them—that’s the same. Camp was an exciting book to write because I knew going in that the love interest would have a backstory he didn’t want to reveal but which would explain so much about him. How did I let clues about the back story trickle out? How did the protagonist, in trying to get to know him better, find them out himself? I used the same techniques when Andy, the detective in Lavender House, is getting to know his suspects—how did their clues trickle out? How does he spot them? Thinking of Lavender House as having that same underlying structure as Camp is what let me weave a mystery over the thing I think is most foundational to both genres—who these characters are, and how we get to know them.
In the end, all good mysteries make you fall in love with the characters (and love itself is a mystery to everyone). The two go hand-in-hand—just focus on the characters, and how they discover themselves.
About The Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen:
Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret―but it’s not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they’ve needed to keep others out. And now they’re worried they’re keeping a murderer in.
Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept―his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.
Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He’s seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn’t extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy―and Irene’s death is only the beginning.
When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.