(Note: This was a Q&A that I did in January for the Berkley/Jove Newsletter. I’m posting it now so that it is available through my main site’s Extras page, and because I don’t have a link to the real newsletter. If you got here from the main site … welcome to my blog.)
About three years ago, I sat down to write a romance about superheroes, of all things, when three things happened near-simultaneously: I took a class on Milton and fell absolutely in love with PARADISE LOST; I had a baby; and, I decided that during my maternity leave I would try my hand writing a paranormal romance (which I’d loved reading for years, but hadn’t written). The comic book romance became something much bigger, with a strong demon heroine and an angelic Guardian hero fighting against the forces of Hell and the cursed, blood-drinking nosferatu.
So I hadn’t intended for the story to be so expansive, and, initially, I tried to avoid a lot of backstory. But in the writing of it, I realized that just because several of their meetings happened in the past didnâ€™t mean it was â€œbackstoryâ€ — it was Hughâ€™s and Lilithâ€™s story, integral to the romance, and it demanded that the characters and their relationship be fully explored. The only way to tell their romance correctly was to show all of it — and the history and settings throughout those centuries are important backdrops to their actions and beliefs, and reflect the changes they undergo.
2) Lilith and Hugh are strikingly different yet equally strong–how did you come up with these characters?
Iâ€™ve always been fascinated by comic book characters and superheroes, who are larger-than-life, wield incredible powers — yet their emotional core remains human, and that means including both human strengths and flaws. For Lilith and Hugh, it was a matter of finding the right complement of flaws and strengths; where one was perhaps a little weak, the other made up for it. So as a couple, they are absolutely unstoppable — but apart, they are brought down by their flaws.
I also wanted to explore the notion that any character trait, whether virtue or sin, might be transformed into the opposite when it is taken to its extreme — and to do that, I needed two extreme characters. Though a skilled warrior and knight, Hugh is an absolute innocent. His life is dictated by the chivalric code, and the world that he sees is an incredibly idealistic one. Lilith is the opposite: sheâ€™s cynical, tortured, and hardened by the time Hugh enters her life. On the surface, it seems that two such people could never come together, but that difference is what allows them to strike those initial sparks. And after centuries, when both have worn away at each other down to their core (and rubbed off on each other) they find they aren’t so different after all.
3) Was it difficult building such a complex world and mythology for DEMON ANGEL?
In some ways, it was almost ridiculously easy. I’m a voracious reader, and demons and angels are everywhere in literature — not to mention movies and art — and I found that I would see a concept or image, and find a way to use it within my world. For example, the idea of bargaining and wagering with a demon is a commonplace one; but to make it my own, I had to create unique rules surrounding a bargain: How did it work? Was there any escape from a bargain once it had been made? What were the consequences of failure?
Figuring out how all of it works is downright fun. It can be frustrating when one idea I liked conflicted with another, and I would have to decide to use one and discard one, or change them both. It’s a constantly evolving process, and “building” is exactly the right word for it: taking a basic concept as a foundation (the endless battle between demons and angels, with mankind caught in the middle) and layering another idea on top of it, creating your rooms, and testing the structure to make certain that it’s solid.
The difficult part is sticking to those rules once I’ve set them up. It’s not enough to create the rules for a unique world — as the storyteller, I’ve got to follow through on them; Iâ€™ve made my house, and now I have to live in it. Lilith is bound by a bargain to kill Hugh, and if she fails, she’ll suffer an eternal torment — and the demon with whom she made the bargain won’t release her from it. It’s an impossible situation, but because the world I’ve created is my world, it would be so easy to create a magical solution for her at the last moment, or to pull off a deus ex machina … but that cheats the characters and the reader.
Seeing Lilith work through her dilemma, and the way in which she solves her problem — that is the payoff for the time and effort I spent creating this world. And itâ€™s a fantastic payoff.
4) The chemistry between Lilith and Hugh really sizzles from their first meeting — how difficult was it to balance the personal romantic relationship and conflict with the larger story?
Much of the romantic conflict between them stems from who they are: thereâ€™s no possibility of a match between a demon and Guardian, and their goals are fundamentally different. Finding that balance was difficult — the external forces and plot against them is huge — but fortunately, the larger story echoes that personal conflict: Good versus Evil, Guardian versus demon.
And the differences that kept them apart fade in importance when they recognize the danger in the terrible alliance forming against humans and Guardians, and the consequences of failure. The threat forces Hugh and Lilith to acknowledge feelings they hold for each other, and to act in ways that — though the actions might be emotionally painfully for both of them — is based on the desire to defeat that evil, not for themselves, but to keep each other alive…and their souls intact. So moving from the larger scale to the interactions between Lilith and Hugh was seamless; many of their personal struggles were reflected in their struggles against Lucifer and everything he represents.
5) Whatâ€™s coming up next?
In May, I have a novella in the WILD THING anthology, which also includes stories from the fabulous Maggie Shayne, Marjorie M. Liu, and Alyssa Day. DEMON MOON, the second novel-length story set in the Guardian universe, will be on the shelves in June.