Eagle Designs
DiAnn Mills

Award-winning author, DiAnn Mills, launched her career in 1998. Currently she has forty plus books in print, selling 1.5 million copies. She combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. Six titles are on the CBA Best Seller List. Three books have won the distinction of Best Historical of the Year by Heartsong Presents. Five books have won placements through American Christian Fiction Writer’s Book of the Year Awards 2003 – 2008, and she is the recipient of the Inspirational Reader’s Choice award for 2005 and 2007. She was a Christy Awards finalist in 2008. DiAnn is a founding board member for ACFW, a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, RWA’s Faith, Hope and Love, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks and teaches writing workshops. DiAnn is also a mentor for Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writer’s Guild. She lives in sunny Houston, Texas with her husband and have four adult sons. Visit her website: www.diannmills.com.

Historical Suspense


Annie Get Your Gun; There’s a Body at the Door

Annie get your gun
There’s a body at the door,
Grab your saddle and your horse
’Cause the reader’s craving more.

Annie get your gun
The killer’s after you,
You need a helping hand
Enter hero, right on cue.

Annie get your gun
Your pistol and the Bible,
Time to end this fear and strife
With justice for your rival.

Okay, I agree my poetic ability needs considerable help, but the above shows the lure of historical suspense. This popular genre combines the past with the seat-of-the-pants conflict and tension that attracts readers emotionally. The characters are exciting, intriguing, and a bit quirky. I’ve attempted to analyze the reasons I think women flock to this type of novel.

As little girls, we were introduced to fairy tales, once-upon-a-time stories about beautiful women adorned in flowing gowns and precious jewels. The heroine always found herself in peril and in need of a handsome prince-type character to save her. They would kiss. He would propose. Thus, they lived happily ever after. Upon hearing those stories, little girls play dress-up, act out fairy tales, and become emotionally involved in every line of the story.

But little girls grow up and mature. They learn a few things along the way:

1. Beauty is most admirable when it comes from the heart.
2. A woman doesn’t need a man to save her when she has the skills to save herself.
3. Romance is delightful, but most couples don’t live happily ever after. They learn problem-solving skills.

However, the love of costume, romance, and suspenseful tension and conflict still prevail in our reading preferences. Lights! Camera! Action! Women readers dive into a historical suspense with the same enthusiasm that little girls wrap their fingers (and hearts) around a fairy tale.

A historical novel is set in days gone by in which the characters react and respond according to the culture and customs of the day. The plot elements coincide with how people dressed, the ways in which they communicated and courted, propriety, and societal demands, and how they prepared and enjoyed food. All of these factors play a vital role in the novel.

Although our characters of the time periods before World War II experience conflict, tension, and seat-of-the-pants action, we often think of the era as laid-back. After all, we have computers, iPods, satellite imagery, HDTV, live news coverage, and a host of other far-reaching communication devices. But I challenge you to think about a cholera epidemic, a train robbery, a desperate riverboat gambler, or a band of irate Indians who don’t appreciate their land being taken away from them. Any suspense there?

These people didn’t have a GPS to help them find a safe place to hide from outlaws. Neither did the outlaws have a compound equipped with state-of-the-art technology to keep the law at

bay. Future technology would use computers to find doctors and hospitals, schools, the local police, drug stores, gas stations, and twenty-four-hour markets.

Still wondering about historical suspense? Add a few years to a war zone where soldiers are trapped and their commanders aren’t aware of their need. Unlikely heroes step up to front lines, leaving the reader breathless and ignoring the world outside of our book. Dissect this country into north, south, east, and west and take a look at history. Then venture into Europe, Africa, and the rest of the world. Add the emotions of the heart and you are knee-deep in circumstances that are definitely exciting and suspenseful.

Research is the key to authenticity, and some historical fiction writers become experts of their time period.

A suspense novel is immediate tension and conflict (usually) mixed with two unlikely people falling in love. In a mystery, the hero finds clues to solve a crime. In a suspense, someone is after the heroine and she must use her wits to solve a crime before she becomes the next victim.

Make sure you wait until the last possible moment to reveal the villain—the unlikely character who has the motivation to endanger the heroine’s life. The villain is intelligent, able to manipulate, and is motivated by what the heroine has or knows. Clear danger must be established from the beginning and carried through to the climax.

With uneasiness, danger, and fear for the protagonists, suspense novels take us out of our comfort zones. Often there is a time factor, a ticking clock to increase tension—Sweet Susie must be untied from the railroad track before the noon train, and it is now 11:58 AM. Ever watch sand trickle through an hourglass? How did it make you feel? Were you anxious? The pacing is fast. “What if” plays a vital role. And don’t be afraid to add a little humor. It helps lift the dark times.

The hero and heroine are thrown together for a common goal, whether they like it or not. Keep the pacing active and use chapter hooks to keep the reader engaged. Your black moment has to be the sum total of all emotions and learned methods to survive. That’s when the resolution steps in, and through the intelligence of your protagonist, justice is established.

Historical suspense, a blending of two genres . . . or is it? You decide.