Romance Month Guest Blog: Meljean Brook

Romance Month continues here at Urban Fantasy Land with Meljean Brook!  Leave a comment to win a copy of Wild Thing.  I will pick winners at random from the comments on Monday, February 23.

Welcome Meljean!

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meljeancolorAh, romance. I love it. Even when I’m pounding my head against my keyboard in frustration and wondering how I ever thought that my main characters would get a happily-ever-after together, I still love it. And I’m a firm believer that, in a romance series like mine, every book needs to end with a happily-ever-after. My readers want it, my characters deserve it.

But sometimes the best thing I can do for destined lovers is to rip them apart … and never, ever let them have their happy ending.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, you’ve probably been there — going along in a book, and suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you see it: secondary characters who are just perfect for each other. They strike sparks. They smile at each other just right. And the big words OH MY GOD I WANT THEIR STORY pops into your head. It must be destiny.

Other times, you plan for it to happen. You are a writer, you are a god, and you have decided these two are a match! Ah, the sweet, sweet power, to determine the fates of mortals.

At times, that feeling is right. Other times…not so much. And the best thing you can do is to rip those destined lovers apart.

I had one of those not so much romances brewing when I first began writing DEMON ANGEL. The setup was perfect: Selah, a Guardian, had been chained to the bed of the vampire Colin, and he fed from her for a few days while she pretended to be unconscious. Later, she accidentally teleports him to a hellish realm, and to save his life, has to leave him there alone.

The whole time, I was bouncing up and down in my writer’s chair with glee. With a setup like that, they were obviously meant to be together. And I couldn’t wait to tell their story. It would be so fun! She’s a by-the-book angelic warrior, he’s a vain, irreverent, cursed vampire who deliberately shuns responsibility, and the romance between them was going to be hot, and funny, and … probably really freaking boring, because there was no real obstacle to their happy-ever-after.

So in my sacred golden notebook of Couples-To-Be, I ripped out the page that said “Selah+Colin=4EVA,” and gave them each a different page, instead. Because I loved those two characters, and I still wanted to tell their stories…but they really deserved better than each other. And luckily, I made this decision before the final manuscript had been completed, so that there was no real expectation for my readers that this couple would get together, despite a setup that, in many other books, would have almost guaranteed them starring roles in the sequel.

I’m one of those writers who tries not to be too heavy-handed with the sequel bait, and this is partially the reason. As a reader, I know that certain expectations are set up when romance flourishes between secondary characters, and as a writer, I know that, despite our best intentions, sometimes those romances just don’t work out.

The question becomes — do you forge ahead with two characters who just aren’t clicking anymore, hoping that they strike that spark again (without the taking the drastic measure of giving one of the characters a personality transplant) or do you scrap the whole idea (and maybe spark the ire of your readers, instead?) Which is worse: an unconvincing and flat romance, or trampling your readers’ expectations?

As a writer, my answer is always going to be that a crappy romance is worse, and that forcing out every word to get the two characters together is my idea of Hell.

As a reader, though — and only when I’m reading in the romance genre — I’m like a bitch on fire when a romance I’ve been rooting for is tossed away. If the new romance ends up being great, I can be mollified. But if the new, unexpected romance sucks ass, then I’m pitchforks and screaming and RAWR YOU HAVE FUCKED WITH MY HEART AND YOU WILL DIE!!!

wt250So, tell me if you’ve ever written/read about one of these destined-to-be-ripped-apart lovers. Was it difficult to do? Did it work out? And if you wave a flaming pitchfork over your head, what are the chances that you’ll be bald the next morning?

Comment to win a copy of Wild Thing!

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35 comments on “Romance Month Guest Blog: Meljean Brook

  1. Forging ahead with a crappy romance is going to feel forced and I can definitely detect that as a reader.

    Of course, as a reader, getting to ending and discovering a romantic cliffhanger or that the lovers are torn asunder… grrrrrrr…

  2. Which is worse? as a reader I’ve GOT to choose “an unconvincing and flat romance” for $500, Meljean.

    I don’t think I’ve ever encountered to alternate scenario you mention though. But a flat, boring romance? What du hell do I do with that? Like you say – conflict is a MUST. If they aren’t going to have to go through some kind of hell to be together, it’s just not going to feel like a real true love at the end. Work for it, characters!

    Flaming pitchfork? If my kid’s running around doing one of her look at me routines, I’m probably paying less attention to the flames and steadily losing hair.

    Great post, Meljean! If this qualifies me, I’d love to win your anthology. I neeeeeed it.

  3. If the author can convince me that the new pairing is what was “meant”, then I’m ok with it. (well, I’ll be ok with it after much annoyance and complaining to my friends about how the author has gone completely crazy!) But convince me that this new couple is better and more right then the old one and I’ll eventually jump on board.

  4. It has to make sense…I’m for whatever really works for the characters. Nothing I hate worse than the disconnection you feel when the story doesn’t work…

    Yea – free bokk!!

  5. It’s much better to mess with expectations, I think. Then again, breaking two characters apart and giving them new experiences can always create conflict and spark they didn’t have before.

    And there’s nothing hotter than make-up sex, right?

  6. Well, who would have put Alice and Jake together?!! Only your brain managed that and it was great so I just trust your instincts to get the romance done for the couple that is meant to be together.

  7. If when it’s done I can believe they were meant to be together then it’s great. But if they are boring and don’t fit then would rather they go their separate ways.

  8. Hi Meljean! Love your style. I say if the romance looks like it’s going to suck, why put it in? The reader will enjoy a good break-up, with the characters falling into the arms of others, perhaps others who have been lurking, waiting for their opportunity.

  9. As a reader, the bane of my romance reading are books where the writer brings to the hero/heroine together and all is sunshine and daisies – to the point where the writer then starts pairing other characters up, whether they suited for each other. Frankly it gets so ridiculous that the only reason I finish the book is just because I’d invested so much in it up until that point. Those are the books that get flung across the room in disgust. Yuck!
    I don’t mind a book where the lovers are parted and then have to come together again. That happens in real life: I get that. It is the ones that insult the reader’s intelligence with the parting reasons or even the reasons for bringing them back together.
    And before you ask, Meljean, I have read your writing and I can honestly say that you don’t fall into those categories.

  10. Chris — yes! I know exactly. On one hand, the cliffhangers can be crazily exciting and get me revved up for the next book, as can an unexpected twist … on the other, if it doesn’t work or if the payoff isn’t good enough, all of that angst I (as a reader) experience leaves me feeling both let down and cheated. So it’s a hard decision to make (as a writer) — but worth it if the story comes out right.

  11. Kmont: “If they aren’t going to have to go through some kind of hell to be together, it’s just not going to feel like a real true love at the end.”

    Yes! lol, this is my feeling, too. My motto when writing is: imagine the worst thing that can happen to your characters, then do it to them. If they can get through that and get their happily ever after, they deserve it.

    In Colin/Selah’s case, the worst thing that could happen between them already did (when they teleported to Chaos) and that just wasn’t a conflict that couldn’t be easily resolved as long as neither of the characters weren’t complete and utter jerks and incapable of learning anything. So, definitely, nope. Not going to write that one.

    …I’m not sure that made sense. Whoa, that was a long sentence in there.

  12. Jessica — Writing the romance (or any other part of the book) convincingly is right at the heart of it…and why it is so difficult to “switch,” I guess (for lack of a better word) mid-stream. If the writing has been good enough to convince me once that two people were meant for each other, then it takes a lot more to 1) un-convince me, and 2) re-convince me. It’s not that it can’t be done, it just has to be done really, really well.

  13. Totally random: I got my newest cover, and they are taking the look of the series in a more UF direction to fit the tone of the books better. It’s here, and definitely my favorite one so far. Click to embiggen.

    Yay, nay?

  14. Sticky — Absolutely. I would probably just as let down if I couple that I’d be rooting for had a terrible story. Nothing is worse than a romance that falls flat or (the horror!) is completely boring. I’d rather be angry and disappointed for the first half of the story when I realized it was a different couple than I expected — but hooked despite myself.

  15. KL Grady — you make a good point. Sometimes even if a writer/reader feels the spark has started to die, there CAN be something to revive it. The trick is knowing when it’s going to work, and realizing when it is not so that the romance isn’t forced.

    I think many times it is easier to think of some way to revive that spark, and the rekindled romance can be a great story (I’m actually working on one now). I love reunited lovers … as long as the reason they drifted/stayed apart doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out 😀 The author does have to be careful there; I hate getting to the big reveal, the reason why they’ve been separated … and then finding out it was all a big misunderstanding, for example. Sometimes it does work, I’ll admit. But not always, and then I think: maybe they should have remained apart.

  16. Ruth — lol, thank you! But I have to say, even with romances that I feel work out right, there are points while I’m writing that I ask myself: What in the world was I thinking putting these two together???

    Jake and Alice were definitely a challenge, but fun, and I love how they turned out. Colin and Savi were the same way. I beat my head against the wall again and again, but ultimately, I loved them and were glad I stuck with it.

  17. *was glad

    Sigh.

    Lisa — for me, “boring” is the kiss of death. And boring always means different things for different readers, I know … but if I’m bored writing or reading? Then I know I’ve got a problem. I’d rather be angry with a book than bored.

  18. Dot — That is the nice thing when they are still secondary characters … if you do have to have a breakup, you can prepare your readers. Once they hit their own book, though … scary, scary. The choice gets a lot harder.

  19. Chrissy — LOL! I think you are not alone. I haven’t read all of the AB series, but enough spoilers, I guess, to imagine what you mean.

    In general terms, because I can’t be specific about AB, there is that “personality transplant” problem that can happen between books. I just read another blog post about this last week (here) that talks about when a character is shown to be one thing in one book, then seems to have a completely different personality when his own book comes along. I think that happens most often with the really ‘bad’ boy heroes … we get excited for their books, then find out they haven’t been so bad, after all. Or there’s the heroine who won’t have sex with a vampire, but then all of a sudden she’s doing what? 😉

  20. Kat — I’ve read a few books like that, lol. Where, pretty soon, everyone is together and having babies. The problem I usually run into there is that all of the characters end up being cookie-cutter types; you just can’t tell one from the other.

    And I totally, totally agree about dumb reasons for being apart. As I mentioned above, separations don’t bother me; it’s when I’m supposed to believe that two people who were supposedly head-over-heels for each other (or at least super-interested) let themselves be parted for the flimsiest of reasons. Then I begin to question their characters and their strength … and I want heroes and heroines who are strong, dammit.

  21. Definitely bald by morning if I’m waving anything flaming above my head! LOL I’d rather never seen a bad romance on page than to have my hopes dashed at a possible romance. I’m also not a big fan of the heavy-handed sequel setup. If the characters have already had plenty of time on the page in the current book, why do I want a whole separate book? Of course, if only one of the characters has been seen in this book, and I like them (as a secondary character), that’s where the hope springs from.

  22. Meljean–

    Not only that, but the number of men surrounding her starting from the second half of the series and the hypocrisy with which she deals with them… and the way LKH keeps on adding new men to AB’s harem but has them just sitting around like dogs waiting for treats…. It’s a good thing I work in a bookstore and got those books for cheap, honestly.

  23. As a reader, “boring” is a definite end of reading for me. And nothing is more boring that watching characters that are “blah” either in each other or as individuals.

    Having said that, Mel you are NEVER boring. Can’t to see where you take Irena and Alejandro.

  24. This is so interesting: I didn’t know that about Colin and Selah. Wow, if it had been me, I’d probably have forced it, because it’s a beautiful setup.

    I’m so glad it was YOU writing these books instead! Who could rock more than Colin and Savi? So, I didn’t read every single one of these comments, but Butch and V come to mind as the pair that never was (in the black dagger brohood) that totally got up fans’ ire. At least in the tiny corner of the universe I inhabit. And I would’ve liked to see it. If I could turn back the world I’d still make JR Ward do it. But would that sort of thing have flown with the larger public? NL

  25. OMG, I completely agree with Carolyn Jean and the break-up of Butch and V which nearly caused me to walk away from the series. Those two men were made for each other and the sex would’ve been smokin’!

    But Meljean, I’m so glad that Colin and Selah didn’t hook up because ‘Demon Moon’ is still one of my absolute favorite romances . And if I hadn’t come across your series late in the game and also hadn’t previously read everything on your website, I probably would have thought that Colin and Selah should have been together. But alas I already knew it wasn’t meant to be so the scenes with Colin and Selah didn’t strike me as a future romance.

    Please do NOT enter me for the contest. I already have ‘Wild Thing’. Thanks!

    ~VampFanGirl

  26. Meljean—sweet cover art!!—yay urban fantasy!! I’ve read every Anita Blake–includes the comics, her’s is a decidedly different situation, power struggles, vamps, shifters, zombies, voodoo—-you name Anita can find her way into it!!

  27. @ Dot

    I agree the Anita Blake situation might be different from that of other characters in series but, say, look at Richard’s character. The changed LKH brought to him in between two books was so violent, it was hard to believe they were the same ‘person’.

  28. Your new cover rocks, Meljean! On the topic of secondary romances – nothing bugs me more than having the secondary romance overtake the main one. I get that in a series setting up a romance is important BUT balance is everything. I want a tease in the build up.

  29. Meljean, your writing totally rock!!! Your first book about Lilith & Hugh really got to me, I haven’t been quite so moved for a while. The Guardian series is super-solid with strong, distinct characterisation of leads and well-controlled direction. Your series beats some other popular writers pants down eg. Patricia Briggs (which I read but no visceral reaction…I’m just not into werewolves). You are a fantastic writer, I just know that you are headed for the big league!!!!

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