The Two (Suspenseful) Sides of Cathy Perkins

Today I want to offer a warm welcome to Cathy Perkins, an award-winning author (and Golden Heart Finalist) of compelling-yet-terrifying suspense stories and lighter mysteries with a financial twist. After I read The Professor (which was fan-tabulous and kept me up reading all night!), I knew I wanted Cathy to spend the day with us.
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Cathy: Good morning Sharon! Thanks for letting me hang out with the Romantic Suspense authors at Kiss and Thrill. I released two books this summer which are shelved as romantic suspense, The Professor (Carina Press) and For Love or Money (Entangled Publishing), but (shh, confession!) mine are really mystery/suspense with a romantic element rather than romantic suspense.

Sharon: That’s okay, Cathy. We love all kinds of suspense and mystery stories! When we chatted about this post, you mentioned you write both dark and light stories. Care to explain that comment?

Cathy: Sometimes writing in a different genre (paranormal or YA rather than suspense, for example) will keep ideas fresh for an author. I find writing different kinds of suspense stories stretches me as an author (and hopefully makes me a better one).

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As far as “light” and “dark” suspenses goes, just like romantic suspense has varying degrees of heat between the hero and heroine, mystery/suspense can contain degrees of darkness. All suspense novels have a villain who places the hero/heroine—or the world—in danger and shows the dark underbelly of human nature.

Tapping into the inherent conflict between right and wrong, good and evil, makes for some interesting stories. The best ones are page turners that keep you up past your bedtime. Now not all suspense novels keep you awake, afraid to turn off the lights (although a few of Patricia Cornwell’s had me wondering if that sound was a house noise or an axe-murderer breaking in—I had to back off of those!), but there’s always a sense that Something Really Bad will happen if the heroine doesn’t unravel the mystery, find the killer, defuse the ticking bomb or stop the assassin.

Sharon: I can honestly say The Professor kept me up all night worrying about axe-murderers breaking in!  Where do you think the dividing line between “light” and “dark” stories lies?

Cathy: Maybe it’s the tone of the story that makes people label a story “light” or “dark,” but the protagonist plays a role in the distinction for me. In The Professor, the main character is a state law enforcement agent who matches wits with a serial killer. Mick O’Shaughnessy must stop The Professor before he kills again. Readers tell me the scenes from the Professor’s point of view are deliciously creepy. (We are so not delving into anything that might say about me! No axe-murdering!)

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At the other end of the “darkness” scale, For Love or Money, an amateur sleuth mystery, is told from Holly Price’s perspective. A CPA (Certified Pain in the Ass according to the killer, and maybe according to the detective on the case), Holly relates to elements in the victim’s personal life, giving her a different motivation to ask questions and dig into details that don’t add up (in her opinion). She ultimately solves more than one crime, and makes the villain angry enough to come after her in the process.

Sharon: Oh, so the story is light or dark, depending on the POV character? Or is it the emotional tone of the book?

Cathy:  Hmm… Good question. While I mentioned that the main character drives the investigation and influences the way that investigation is handled, the emotional depth of the characters is a good indicator of the degree of darkness. I find the emotional depth comes from the characters’ inner conflicts, which may include a relationship issue. Maybe that’s why romantic suspense is so successful—integrating the external conflict with the relationship issues, drawing the hero and heroine together to overcome obstacles. But I digress. 🙂

Many mystery/suspense authors completely avoid any relationship in their books.  Jonathan King’s debut, The Blue Edge of Midnight, is a wonderfully atmospheric (very dark) suspense, whose guilt-ridden protagonist is in as much conflict with himself as he is with local law enforcement. At the other end of the spectrum, I think it’s safe to say Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum stories don’t spend much time on introspection. (Although Stephanie does have a relationship issue or two 🙂 )

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A novella linked to The Professor.

Like many of my favorite mystery/suspense authors, I always include a relationship element in my stories. I say “include” because the relationship (the romance) isn’t the primary focus of my books as it is in a romantic suspense. The emotional conflicts—romantic or other personal ones—flavor and complicate life for the main characters. They sharpen external conflicts when the internal conflicts force the main character to change and grow.

Now that I think about it, maybe the “light” or “dark” aspect is how deeply the story delves into the villain’s mindset, either directly through POV or indirectly through the investigation. Both draw the reader deep into a life or death situation.

Sharon: I think both of your answers are right. The light/dark issue is played out through the villain’s POV as well as the internal conflicts of the hero and/or heroine. But the villain POV scenes are usually what add the extra terror! What prompted you to change from dark suspense to lighter mysteries?

Cathy: I can only write so many dark stories and research really awful things people do to each other before I need to take a break. One of John Douglass’ (top FBI profiler) books gave me nightmares. Clearly, it was time to lighten up!

I also find darker stories like The Professor revolve around the actual investigation and the law enforcement officer, which means understanding how the detectives approach a case. Readers, including some from law enforcement, complemented me for “getting it right.” (I have wonderful resources; thanks y’all!)

The lighter stories allow more latitude. With For Love or Money, Holly can do her thing while JC’s over there doing whatever it is cops do. In her role as friend, confidant, or professionally as an accountant, Holly has access to people and information that would be more difficult for a police officer to obtain. She definitely does things no police officer could get away with.

Sharon: Do you decide ahead of time what type of book you want to write? Or is the type (light or dark) dependent on the characters who show up in your head?

Cathy: I’m drawn to darker stories, wanting to know the “why” behind a villain’s motivation as well as enjoying matching wits between my protagonist and villain as the investigation unfolds. It’s a choice for me to write something light when I need the emotional break.

I recently finished another dark story which my agent has on submission. I’m supposed to be working on Book 2 for Holly and JC (a sequel to For Love or Money that’s under contract) but this really dark story showed up and the characters will not leave me alone. . .

Sharon: I can’t wait to hear more!  And now for one of my favorite part of the interviews–the blurbs. 🙂

FOR LOVE OR MONEY

When Holly Price trips over a friend’s dead body while hiking, her life takes a nosedive into a world of intrigue and danger. The verdict is murder—and Holly is the prime suspect. Of course, the fact that the infinitely sexy—and very pissed off—cop threatening to arrest her is JC Dimitrak, who just happens to be Holly’s jilted ex-fiancé, doesn’t help matters.

To protect her future, her business…and her heart…the intrepid forensic accountant must use all her considerable investigative skills to follow the money through an intricate web of shadow companies, while staying one step ahead of her ex-fiancé. She better solve the case before the real killer decides CPA stands for Certified Pain in the Ass…and the next dead body found beside the river is Holly’s.

THE PROFESSOR

The Professor presses his palm against her flank, feeling the liquid warmth of her blood, hotter than her skin. Hot, like the life force that he has claimed… The power over life and death is the ultimate thrill.

Someone is murdering women on South Carolina’s college campuses: three women, three different schools. The Governor’s order to State Law Enforcement Agent Mick O’Shaughnessy is simple: make it stop. More political maneuvering diverts Mick to nearby Douglass College. There, instead of another dead body, he finds Meg Connelly, grad student and faculty advisor for the latest victim.

Determined to finish her master’s degree, Meg doesn’t need anybody’s help – including her estranged family – to succeed. There’s something irresistible about Mick, but the last time she let someone get close to her, she lost everything except her self-respect.

As the investigation heats up, so does their relationship. But Mick’s interest in Meg doesn’t just endanger her heart–it puts her in the sights of the killer.

Once he gets her alone, he can take all the time he needs…

So, K&T readers, do you prefer light or dark stories? And if you have a preference, we’d love to know what your favorites are!

And for two lucky commenters, Cathy is giving away one copy of The Professor and one copy of For Love or Money.

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Cathy Perkins is a member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. She writes predominantly financial-based mysteries but enjoys exploring the relationship aspect of her characters’ lives. Her suspense writing lurks behind a financial day-job, where she learned firsthand the camouflage, hide in plain sight, skills employed by her villains.

Born and raised in South Carolina, the setting for HONOR CODE (a novella linked to The Professor) and THE PROFESSOR, she lives in Washington, the setting of FOR LOVE OR MONEY, with her husband, children, several dogs, and the resident deer herd.

Cathy can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Entangled Publishing, her website, and Goodreads.

Thank you for spending the day with us, Cathy. We wish you all the success in the world!

About Sharon Wray

Sharon is a librarian who once studied dress design in the couture houses of Paris and now writes novels of adventure, suspense and love for Sourcebooks. She's a wife, mother of twins, caretaker of Donut the One-Eyed Family Dog, and addicted to snapping photos and eating Oreos.

Posted on September 10, 2013, in Author Interview, Sharon Wray and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Welcome to K&T, Cathy! I’m looking forward to our day together!

  2. Great interview Sharon! Nice to meet you Cathy. Welcome to Kiss and Thrill.

  3. Great post. I like that you glide between different sub genres in suspense. Makes for a more interesting reading experience for us readers.

  4. Welcome Cathy! I think I may have met you in ATL this summer, you look awfully familiar. (What year were you a GH finalist?)

    I think the difference between dark and light also has to do with the inner conflict or inner torture the hero is going through while fighting the villain. For ex., (even though she in no way writes romantic suspense) JR Ward writes dark novels and the description for me is based on her protagonist, not the actual demon he happens to be hunting.

  5. CATHY!! NW Pixie Chick sister!!! Welcome to Kiss and Thrill, so great to have you here today!

    To answer today’s question, I’m a big fan of both, but I have to admit I read less on the scary end of the spectrum than I used to. I like suspense where the romance brings out the lighter side and the mystery provides the dark tension.

    You know, Cathy, we ought to collaborate on a scary story about a group of say… 9 romance authors who get together for a writing retreat on a remote peninsula, and the first night they discover a knife hidden in a strange cupboard, and then there is a gas leak…

    • Rachel, since I had children, I feel the same way about the scary stories. They’re sometimes too much to take and then I’m up all night sitting outside their bedroom door listening to them breathe. So sad.
      Please don’t sign me up for that peninsula retreat. Sounds terrifying! 🙂

      • Oh Sharon, when mine were little and my husband traveled internationally for biz, I used to lie awake and figure out ways to get to both of them if someone broke in. The crazy things we do as mothers!

    • LOL! HI Rachel {{waves}}

      I love your stories and how well you integrate the romance into the plot.

      But, nah, no one would EVER believe something like that could happen. Of course there was also that body at the foot of the funky stairwell into the munchkin-sized attic bedroom. We could work with that 🙂

  6. Ooh, wow, these sound great, Cathy! Love the discussion on light versus dark. I think I like mine somewhere in the middle. But I’m with Sharon, don’t make mine too scary. 😉

  7. Well, I’m a dark girl, don’t know how or why I got that way but hey give me a serial killer and I’m happy! Cathy thanks so much for telling us about you stories. They sound wonderful.

  8. I love dark…..my kids worry about me!!

  9. Hi Cathy and Sharon! Cathy, I’m so interested on your take on what makes a book light or dark, no matter the genre. I, too, aparently, have some creepy villians and some dark tone, especially in my first manuscript, The Runaway. Yet, often, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes people call it “gritty” or “dark.” Can’t wait to read yours and see!

    • Hi Jenna
      Putting a finger on that point where things cross from light to dark is even more difficult when you consider it’s subjective. Hope you enjoy the stories!

    • You’re so right, Jenna. That line between light stories and dark/gritty stories is so hard to figure out. It always amazes me when I read reviews of books I’ve read and another person’s take on the tone of the story is so different. I hope you find great success with your manuscripts! 🙂

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