You gotta lotta ’splainin’ to do, MJ Williams

ManWAR focuses on romance, but mystery can be romantic—and the lovin’ kind of romance can blend quite nicely with tales of mayhem and murder.

The lovin’ kind of romance in MJ Williams’ novel On the Road to Death’s Door is understated, found mostly in the subtext of the relationship between its retired RVing heroes, longtime married couple Emily and Stan Remington.

I asked MJ—really Peggy Williams, part of the writing team of sisters-in-law Peggy Williams and Mary Joy Johnson—to ’splain some of the complexities of writing about love and death.

There’s not a lot of overt romance in On the Road to Death’s Door, but when Emily and Stan are talking about their plan to travel non-stop, their friend Malcolm says, “Non-stop except for a little diversion at Niagara Falls, perhaps?” That’s kind of romance-y. I mean, Emily and Stan still have a little of the ol’ je nais se quoi going, no?

Emily and Stan definitely have je nais se quoi. But the last several of their working years found them—like many of us—busy and distracted. Their new lifestyle on the road gives them the opportunity to revisit and renew their relationship.

In fact, in Death’s Door, they manage time for a little afternoon delight before chaos ensues. That’s one of the advantages they find traveling in an RV. They also manage a little nuzzling on a romantic, moon-lit sail. Of course, it’s also very romantic that Emily worries about losing Stan when she realizes that he’s been entrapped by the villain.

Is it difficult to work romance into books about solving murders? Do you think you’ll work a little more into the follow-ups?

The role of romance and sex in mysteries is an ongoing discussion topic among mystery writers. But readers want to get to know the characters, and that includes the romantic aspects of their lives. As with any series, we expect the characters to grow and change.

In the beginning of the On the Road… series, since this couple is newly retired, it’s only natural that they grow romantically. But relationships are never smooth, no matter how long a couple has been together. Future books will delve into Emily and Stan’s relationship both with romance and romantic conflict.

Will that mesh with murder and mayhem? Well, the point is that it doesn’t. That’s what makes life and storytelling interesting.

Panties are a big deal here at ManWAR. You do know you mention panties in Death’s Door, right?

Ah, yes. “She used a second towel to tousle her wet hair. After running a comb through the soft curls, she slipped into the bra and panties she’d worn the day before.” Emily might be of a certain age, but she’s still very much a woman, as Stan would be the first to admit.

This is my favorite passage, speaking of Emily:

She swiped at her lips with the back of her hand. The heat was rising inside her. “Two guys from the house where I bought it rolled it up and hauled it up top.” Suddenly she stood up and ripped at her sweatshirt, unzipping it part way but pulling it over her head before she could finish, fighting to keep her blouse from riding up with it. Then she sat back down and calmly folded the sweatshirt, setting it on the bench next to her.

The sheriff stared at her, at a loss for words.

“Hot flash,” Emily said with a smile.

So, yes, Emily is a woman of a certain age, but that brings with it its own kind of sexiness and we have lots of fun with that.

It is true. No matter what certain age we are, we all like to have fun with sexiness.

Mary Joy Johnson is a retired college professor and professional quilter. Peggy Williams is an elementary school teacher and freelance writer. On the Road to Death’s Door is the first in a mystery series featuring Emily and Stan Remington and their RV adventures. Both writers live in Madison, Wisconsin.

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