A pink and white graphic with an illustrated microphone on the left side with a book cover and author photo. It reads In Conversation with Charlene Parris in the top right corner.

Author Charlene Parris on Writing Big-City Romance

Charlene Parris is an author for Harlequin Romantic Suspense (you might remember the story of her first novel was featured in our From Pitch to Purchase series). Her newest book, Defender After Dark, takes place in Toronto, Canada, and we wanted to talk to her about the differences between writing urban settings vs small towns, and how she creates suspenseful situations with a big-city backdrop.

Harlequin: What appeals to you about writing romance stories in an urban setting vs a small town? Does it help to write about places you know instead of having to research something less familiar? Do you feel like your setting has to be completely true to life, or do you like taking liberties and fictionalizing the city?

Charlene Parris: What I like best about urban settings is the diverse culture. Each section of Toronto (or any other big city) has its own little cultural environment. Italian, Greek, Ethopian, Japanese, Ukranian – I could spend a day in Toronto and visit many! And I love adding them to my stories just to give the plot more flavour, so to speak.

I also prefer to write about places I know, but researching a small town setting is in the future cards as well. I research big city items too, just to make sure I get everything right.

As for the type of big city I like to use, the more realistic, the better. I think readers appreciate reading about a city and its background. Who knows, it may even entice them to visit!

H: How much does the setting become a character in your stories, or is it more of a backdrop?

CP: I’ve been using settings as both backdrops and characters. In Defender after Dark, Britt’s bakery is an extension of her personality, from the colours to the pastries, to the seating and books stocked on the bookshelf. Her best friend Joyce, an interior designer, also knows Britt’s preferences, so designing the store was easy. And I guess the police station is an extension of Mark, since he spends a lot of time there. The amusement park is a reflection of their playful nature, especially Britt’s.

H: In your new book, Defender After Dark, we talked a lot about the logistics of characters going from place to place in a big city. How do you think that sense of movement affects a story that has a high level of suspense, like this one?

CP: I admit, I always worried that going from point A to point B several times in a book could detract from the tension I’m trying to keep throughout the story. But I found that, as long as there’s a mystery at the end of each travel point, the suspense holds up. You know that when an officer is going somewhere, he’s going to ask questions, and the answers could either be mundane or surprising (I try to keep the twists flowing throughout the story). I also try to keep the travel as short as possible so as not to lower the suspense part of it. If a travel portion is longer, then what I do is add some internal thoughts from the character in question. I find it helps to read what the character is thinking, than wonder “Are we there yet?” LOL.

H: A lot of times, an urban setting can feel like a way to add “grittiness” or danger to a story. What are some ways to inject that same feeling into a story that takes place in a small town or in a rural location?

CP: Oh, interesting question! In my opinion, a small town is a small city (correct me if I’m wrong!) Small towns have their own brand of secrets, which are better kept under wraps. Everyone knows everyone in a small town, so the desire to keep those secrets are greater. Small towns also have their bad areas—abandoned buildings, maybe a neighborhood that ‘good’ people avoid, or a park where people gather at night to do criminal things. I find it’s not always the setting that’s dangerous or gritty—it’s the people that make it that way.

H: Where are you excited to set stories in the future?

CP: Well, I have a Canadian SWAT team that’s demanding I write it now, but I can’t (I have another book on contract to finish!) This series is going to be set through different provinces with the conclusion possibly in England. I do not think small!

However I do have an idea for a suspense story that I want to set in a small town. The idea is growing on me, so I’ll have to expand it and jot some notes down while it percolates in the back of my mind. I’m not sure if I’ll use a small town in Canada or the US, or if it’ll be a real town or a fictionalized one based on a real small town. I think that will depend on how the plot unfolds. But I love a blank canvas!

Thanks for having me on the blog!

Charlene Parris is a Canadian author who loves writing suspense stories with twists, turns and hot romance. Her characters work hard for that happily-ever-after! When she’s not writing, she’s either working her full-time job in downtown Toronto, reading while enjoying a cup of tea, or walking outside (but she’d rather be writing). You can find her at www.charleneparrisauthor.com

Check out Charlene’s new release, Defender after Dark, available now!

A Nordic beauty…

Cover image for Charlene Parris' Defender After Dark

Might hold the key to his case!

When a ruthless CEO is assaulted at his own construction site late at night, Detective Mark Hawthorne is determined to catch the person responsible. He finds a welcome distraction from the case in captivating bakery owner Britt Gronlund, who rebuffed the CEO’s threat to take over her business. But when the CEO winds up dead, Mark needs to find out who killed him. Can he defend Britt from the accusations that she is behind the murder? And can the two of them find the real killer? 

Looking to learn about Charlene’s debut? Check out the Pitch to Purchase with editor Emma Cole.

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Emma Cole

Emma Cole (she/her) is  Editor for Harlequin Intrigue. Previously, she was a freelance copyeditor for many years. In addition to romance, Emma loves horror, sci-fi, and speculative fiction, and her TBR stack never seems to shrink because she is forever buying more books. When she’s not reading, she’s watching classic films or crafting (or both), and doing a bit of short fiction writing. She is on the lookout for stories from underrepresented voices in the genre and is excited to find new and interesting projects for Intrigue: quirky characters, small towns with big secrets, and stories that make her think, feel, and root for a good ending.