COLUMBIA — The first thing Susan Claridge ever wrote was a poem after the death of her grandmother. The process of writing provided a way for her to vent her emotions.
"Since then I've always written, it's been my outlet," Claridge said. "I just never tried to get published or thought of myself as a writer."
Claridge, who graduated from MU in 1992 with a degree in psychology, now writes romance murder-suspense novels under the name S.R. Claridge. She was visiting Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis this week to sign copies of her first novel, "No Easy Way," published by Vanilla Heart Publishing.
Claridge, who sprinkles MU references into her writing, spent some time over the noon hour at Broadway Brewery on Friday. She signed her way through a couple of stacks of books, selling 20 to 25 books. It was more a chance to have lunch with her husband, mother-in-law and friends.
Claridge is a new player in the booming romance genre that has many American readers smitten. The genre made up the largest share of the consumer market and generated $1.36 billion in 2009, according to Romance Writers of America. Claridge said part of the reason behind the romance genre's popularity is because there is a part of everyone that longs for romance.
"I think relationships in general, that's the main focus of everyone's life," Claridge said. "We're all seeking love, romance and attention. Particularly with our target audience, the married women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, a lot of that romance may have fizzled a bit. There's a deeper foundation of love, but that outward display of romance isn't as prevalent."
Claridge said "No Easy Way" started out as a nonfiction book on marriage before she had the idea to make it more interesting by drawing the same themes into a murder mystery.
"What sets it apart from other murder mysteries is it has an underlying message which most mysteries don't," Claridge said. "This is kind of an oddball book that has a message of faith and forgiveness woven through it."
Her mother-in-law, Beth Claridge-Gillespie of Kansas City, read manuscripts along the way, making edits and suggestions. Although Claridge-Gillespie does not consider herself a romance novel fan, she likes her daughter-in-law's first book and said the genre provides a way for people "to be taken away from the humdrum of their lives and to be whisked off into somebody else’s world."
"I think most romance novels have a happy ending," Claridge-Gillespie said. "That's the ultimate: We all want a happy ending in our life."
Two of Claridge's editors are men, which she said gives her a good male perspective. Her husband, Cash Claridge, said despite the romantic theme, men shouldn't be turned off, especially with her second novel, "Tetterbaum's Truth," which centers around the Chicago mafia.
"I've had many guys tell me how good it was," Cash Claridge said. "The mafia always gets guys."
Claridge, who now lives in Colorado, has included MU and Columbia in her two novels. In "No Easy Way," the main characters, Tom and Kate, are both MU graduates and have an encounter at Murray's Restaurant, where Claridge and her husband got engaged. In "Tetterbaum's Truth," out on e-book and set to be released in March, the main character is an MU journalism student and there is a reference to Shakespeare's.
“It's something I have an affinity to and can relate to," Claridge said. "It just gives one more layer of depth to the story for me."