The Hot Zone

Written by Radina Gigova in the August 2010 Issue

Romance novel – the phrase instantly conjures images of Fabio’s long golden locks blowing in the breeze as he romps on a sandy beach with a salacious woman. But fantasy cover art is not all these novels have to offer. The pages within ooze fresh and optimistic narration while mixing contemporary dialogue with vivid historical settings and wild mystery.

Debra Cowan, a local Harlequin-published author has enjoyed reading and writing romantic fiction for many years. Her readers enjoy her passion for each steamy scene, as well her attention to detail for each story line.
Born in Idabel and currently living in Edmond with her husband, Cowan made up creative stories as a child. She graduated from Oklahoma Christian University with a B.A. in English and was planning to work as a school teacher, but after Cowan wrote her first novel, she decided to dedicate herself to writing full time.

“One thing I like about romance is that you can read anything you want, anything from things hundreds of years ago, to things that happened today,” Cowan said.

Romance is the main focus in her stories, but the plot is also mixed with challenges for the characters - tense situations and unexpected turns. “Usually the people are brought together by some suspense element or they have to work together to solve some kind of a mystery,” Cowan said.

Her first series of books, called “The Hot Zone,” was set in the 1900s. The six-book series was about detectives who were investigating a number of suspicious arsons. The town where the action took place was called Presley and it was actually a reflection of Edmond – the streets, the landscape, and even some of the people.

The inspiration for the books came from a magazine article about an old female fire squad in Washington State. When Cowan started her research, she found interesting details about Edmond arson cases by speaking with retired Edmond fire chiefs.

“I kept coming across all these different cases and different ways arson was started,” Cowan said. In one of the books, a female investigator was sent to look into a murder that was covered up by fire. She had to work on the case with another detective and the two of them fell in love.

Cowan has often used Edmond and northwest Oklahoma City as a setting for her novels. She has mentioned places like the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, as well as specific street names so that readers can have a more vivid idea of where the action takes place.

The characters of Cowan’s books have strong personalities and values. Most of them are skilled specialists who pursue a good purpose but face numerous challenges before their happy ending.

“I kind of think they are more ordinary people, in extraordinary circumstances,” she said. “When we are confronted with challenges, a lot of times we do things that we never thought we could.”

When Cowan creates a character, she often finds inspiration through something she read in the paper or heard people buzzing about as she listens around town. In other cases, the fictional character is inspired by a real person that she has met or knows quite well.

Cowan admits she has used most of her family members as characters. “I’ve used my sisters’ names, all my cousins, aunts and uncles.” Cowan said she even used her old boss in her novels. She was joking with him that if he gives her a hard time, he’ll end up dead on the pages of her book. “I killed him in like three different books,” she said with a grin.

The romantic genre has a considerable place in the publishing world with estimated $1.36 billion in sales for 2009. Cowan says her audience is really anybody 18 and older. “I get e-mails from 20-year-olds, from 85-year-olds, men and women,” she said.

Her message to all of them is that good always prevails. “If you work hard and if you have a good partner in life, then you can get through anything, and come out stronger.”

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