I’ve been getting a lot of questions via email, MB, FB, blogs so I thought I’d dust off some of my notes and do a long post.
I’ve already shared parts of this in a recent chat and told parts of it at recent events but people have been asking me to put it all in one place. I sometimes forget there’s a world beyond the readers that I feel like I’ve known forever, because we’ve been interacting so much at my MB forums for the past five years. I recently realized that readers who are new to the series don’t know how it came to be, or what I was doing before I wrote it, and with three-quarters of a million posts at the MB, specific information can be hard to find.
Lately, a lot of people have asked me what the hardest thing about writing the Fever series was. Hands down, the most difficult thing was that it didn’t follow any of the rules by which I was used to writing. I had to abandon control issues and take a leap of faith.
The entire series came to me one night in a dream. I said that in a recent interview and the person interviewing me looked at me strangely and said, “Wow! That must have been a really long dream.”
It wasn’t. In the dream I wasn’t actually being told the story, or watching it unfold. I was reading a book, turning the pages faster and faster, being dragged along by the throat. The feeling was both exhilarating and uncomfortable. I was thrilled to be reading it. I didn’t like anything keeping me so compulsively riveted. It’s been a love-hate relationship from the beginning.
When I woke up from the dream, I exclaimed without thinking—or I would have realized I was being handed one of those contracts you have to sign in blood—yes, please, yes. I want to write a story like that!
The floodgate opened. The entire series shunted into my brain like a squirt on a Dan Simmon's fatline. Not piece by piece. Dumped. One minute I didn’t have it, the next I did. Complete with names of installments, characters, plot twists and turns, even how many books it had to be and where each installment had to end.
I resisted it for months. Sometimes I took it out for a test drive in idle moments just to marvel at how wrong it was for me to write. It wasn’t my kind of story at all. It was first person, not third. It had no neatly defined hero or heroine. It ended on cliffhangers, and was spread out over five books. Then there was the troubling fact that it didn’t have a traditional ‘romance’ which was precisely what readers loved about my books. There were only shades of gray, no black and white. Even worse—it made me think. I read to escape.
I'd made a successful career for myself writing stand-alone romances with happy, complete endings. Not only was there no reason for me to change genres suddenly, there was compelling reason for me not to.
Determined that the Fever series would have to find another storyteller, I sat down to write another stand-alone third-person romance novel. Safety net below me, pole in hand, I knew how to walk that wire.
I sat there for three months staring at my computer. And nothing came.
I offered innovative bargains to various deities for a little inspiration (ignoring the massive inspiration that was constipating me). I wrote down all the reason I shouldn’t write the Fever series. I wrote down all the reasons I was not going to make a career change. I staunchly refused to write word 1 of the first book.
[As an aside, what I didn’t know at the time but would soon find out was that I had been bitten by a tick that carried Lyme disease and I was about to embark on a five year journey to hell and back while it invaded my CNS and crippled me. Like Mac, I was happy and carefree. I think the lessons we most need to learn are usually at our fingertips.]
I remember the day I sat down at my desk and stared at the computer screen for the ninety-fifth day in a row of blank pages and, in a trancelike state, picked up a black Sharpie (my husband had to paint over it and has never let me forget it:) and wrote on the wall the titles of the five installments: Darkfever, Bloodfever, Faefever, Dreamfever, Shadowfever.
I sat back and stared at the wall, contemplating how difficult a career change would make my life.
Then I remembered finding Frank Herbert’s Dune when I was a teenager, going through some hard times. I remembered having to face something I was terrified of. I remembered discovering the Bene Gesserit mantra: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
I remembered the many times in my life I’d recalled that mantra, word for word and how much I’d needed it. I wondered where I’d have been if not for it. How I'd have gotten through.
Something shifted in my head and I got up and wrote below the titles: Hope strengthens. Fear kills.
I began writing Darkfever that day.
There were times I hated taking on this series. There were times I relished it. Days I felt cursed by it, other days I felt blessed by it. I haven’t always liked the characters, nor have I agreed with many of the things they’ve done. In the end all I can say is this:
The story came to me. I told it. And I’m glad I did.
Onto the nuts and bolts…
Though the story was complete with names, character, plot, etc., I still had to decide how to write it. Structure, theme, vantage point. These are some of my notes made during and after in no particular order. I think of them as the steel girders for the building.
• The Fever World is a dark one, pierced infrequently by light, literally and metaphorically. I kept in mind a famous quote by Kahlil Gibran as I was writing: “Your joy can fill you only as deeply as your sorrow has carved you.”
• I wanted to explore two completely different characters: an innocent who’d never known sorrow of any kind and the only rules she lived by came from The Bartender’s Guide for Mixing Perfect Party Drinks, and a borderline sociopath who’d constructed a frame of ethics for himself. I wanted to give them both something life-changing then sit back and watch them change. I wanted to capture the urban fantasy world as the pivotal transformation was initiated—not after the vampires had come out, or once the weres/witches/ zombies had legal rights. I wanted to chronicle the characters that were in the line of fire before the walls crashed, and see how they behaved as their world melted down.
• When every other novel I was picking up in the bookstore announced: Vampire/Werewolf/Demon hero on the cover, and was marketing it on the basis of that paranormal creature’s mythic resonance, I wanted to write a story with a male center-stage character that defied labels, and wouldn’t permit one. I wanted to make the reader choose to take him or leave him without the convenience of a pre-packaged tortured-hero caricature to slap over his outline, and no easy answers about whether he was good or bad. I wanted to write a paranormal creature and never tell the reader what he was, because I believed they would ultimately see him more clearly in his everyday behavior, than through the distorted lens of someone else’s legend.
• Barrons says, “Judge me by my actions” and makes the reader do the same. At the end of the series, I want the reader to answer the question: Who/what is Barrons? the same way Mac does: Who cares? He’s Barrons.
• In the vein of showing, not telling, I want my characters to love each other—but never tell each other that. I will show it in their actions, in the choices they make. Words are easy; lies as simple as parting your lips and breathing.
• Although Mac begins as an innocent, she doesn’t stay that way long. Her sister’s brutal murder takes her to Dublin on a quest for justice and revenge. With Alina dead, her everyday life rapidly transforms from sunshine and carefree dreams to a dark, frightening shadow-realm with monsters in every cobwebbed corner. It rains incessantly where Mac is, inside her head and out. Most of the crucial action takes place at night, in an urban decay setting. I want to achieve this feeling: When the sun manages to penetrate the storm clouds hanging over the Temple Bar District, or one of the dazzling Fae strolls across the page, the leavening effect must be jarring, breathtaking.
• I want the series to function as a Janus head on multiple levels, highlighting contrasts and creating a play of tension between opposites compressed in a volatile reality to illustrate the point that Jean Paul Sartre makes in Being and Nothingness when he explores the concept of anguish at the point of absolute freedom: The only thing that matters are the possibilities, what you choose, what you commit to. All potentials exist in every character, at every moment. It is their actions that define and separate them.
• When we first meet Mac in Darkfever, the only carving she’s ever experienced is cutting up limes to wedge into the neck of a frosty Corona while hanging out on the beach, playing volleyball. I like that about her. She’s going to be easy to break. I wonder how she’ll get back up. Her sister’s gruesome murder is only the beginning of her fall. Barrons, on the other hand, will be a tough one to rattle.
• By the time Mac encounters the Fear Dorcha in Shadowfever, the fifth and final book in the series, she will have been tortured, gang raped, turned Pri-ya, survived attempts on her life from multiple sources, had her parents kidnapped, found they weren’t even her parents anyway, and come to suspect—with good reason—that of all the monsters she’s had to face since her sister’s death, she’s quite possibly the worst. At that moment she must stand her tallest, shoulders back, spine straight, unflinching.
• Jericho Barrons says the only reality you can control is the one you’re willing to face—and who would want to live in a reality that was controlled by someone else? It’s a cage, no matter how gilded. Sartre’s faith of bad faith is the greatest hypocrisy and frank absurdity to him. Every lie a person tell oneself forges another link in the chains that bind. Barrons cares about only this: How much truth can you face? How free do you dare to be? If the choice is yours—and it is—wouldn’t you crave absolute freedom? The more clearly one sees that there’s nothing within, the more power one has to create whatever one wants without. Barrons understands this and because he does, he is truly free. For this same reason, he’s Unseelie king in the making.
• V’lane understands this, too, and is another shadow hero, a doer of great good or great evil depending on the standards by which he’s being judged. As the king will say at the end of Shadowfever, in another reality, V’lane would have become the king and Barrons Cruce, or Barrons would have become the king and imprisoned War, perhaps V’lane might have been Barrons…perhaps where Mac is concerned, he is…but this time he doesn’t get the girl. The three of them: Barrons, V’lane and the king are mere choices away from having been the other.
• Mac can’t even spell existential angst but is going to get a crash course in the day-to-day application of it, and along the way become fascinated by the two nearly omnipotent males that are so dangerous and attractive. A woman doesn’t get something like Barrons or V’lane without paying a high price. Mac 1.0 is like a peacock, one of the showy males strutting around showing off her fabulous plumage, trying to get the king of the jungle’s attention, but to survive in Barron’s bed she’ll have to lose her tail feathers and grow claws. Part peacock., part lion, Mac 5.0 won’t know what she is any more and won’t care because she knows this much: she’s unbreakable and she likes it.
• Mac, Barrons and V’lane are complicated, self-aware characters. Each is flawed. There will arguably be no heroes in the series. With a minor twist of the lens, those who are perceived as the villains might be viewed as the heroes, and the heroes might be villains. It all comes down to who’s writing the press releases. I may eventually have to tell it from someone else’s point of view.
• Jericho Z. Barrons: Barrons is hard, cold, brutally efficient killing machine, brilliant, cunning and utterly focused on what he wants at all times. He rarely smiles and if he does, it’s a brief softening, a faint uplifting of the corners of his mouth—never a full smile. Since he met Mac, he has smiled on several occasions. Once, he laughed out loud. JZB is not a man for expressions of happiness. At best he radiates self-satisfied calm, a big cat at rest. Harsh, forbidding, controlled, a man of intense discipline, he emotes anger, mockery, challenge, irony, raw sexuality, animalistic fury, but no tenderness. He’s a hard man. There are no cracks in his walls but the one Mac can slip through—and he hates that but he accepts it because it is the truth and to pretend otherwise would be an exercise in futility. Whether he likes it or not, she gets under his skin and makes his dick harder than any other woman ever has. He wastes no time examining the whys of it or resisting her effect on him. He focuses his energy like a laser, slicing and dicing, rearranging reality to suit what he wants the best way he can get it. Since the moment he met Mac and accepted that he wanted her, he has been ruthlessly altering her, making her ultimately suitable for him. The only question in his mind is: will she survive what he’s doing to her?
• MacKayla Lane: Mac is a woman on the verge of…everything: A complete psychotic episode, a life-changing epiphany, becoming something truly good or truly evil. She often feels bi-polar—because she is. A sweet, southern girl with refined taste and pretty manners, she’s a shining star with a great, sucking black-hole at the center. The evil she’s been hunting so assiduously, the mind-numbing, soul-crushing monster of twisted destructiveness she’s been tracking through the rain-slicked streets of Dublin—is her. Every dark spell, all the dangerous power, the vicious rage and hunger crouches inside her. It never intended to let her find it in the streets until she’d found it in herself.
• V’Lane: V ’lane had a lousy publicist. He’s the center-stage male character I gave a label: Seelie, shining death-by-sex Fae, erotic, brilliant, ballsy and no more sociopathic than Barrons. With V’lane, I can’t help but play the “what if” game: What if the night Mac rushed through the dark zone seeking sanctuary, Mac had found V’lane instead of Barrons Books & Baubles? What if he’d taken her to Faery and told her the truth, the full truth that very night? Would she have been swayed by his desire to save his trapped brothers? How different is he really from Barrons and his eight? V’lane may have rebelled against the Unseelie king’s wishes but he was only trying to set the rest of the Unseelie free. He was beautiful, powerful, he could have left the icy prison and abandoned them, and pursued his own pleasure. But he wanted all the Unseelie to have a chance in the sunshine and beauty of the world. He was a freedom fighter, a renegade, a determined, cunning, patient, valiant crusader. Doesn’t the world need War? Isn’t he the only reason tyrannies topple, empires fall and humans change? War is the catalyst, the means by which wrongs are righted, scales are balanced, and the world transformed. Isn’t V’lane the real hero?
I hope this sheds a little light. Enough to stay to...
Check back for a more general Q & A coming soon…
Sunday, January 30, 2011
I’ve been getting a lot of questions via email, MB, FB, blogs so I thought I’d dust off some of my notes and do a long post.