Guardian Series Retrospective #1 – Falling for Anthony

Writing “Falling for Anthony”

Meljean’s note: This post is part of a series of entries about the Guardians paranormal romance series. As I write the last book in the series, I’m re-reading all of the books and novellas that came before and posting information, reactions, and pieces of trivia for each one. THESE POSTS WILL INCLUDE SOME SPOILERS, though I will try to keep the details of those spoilers to a minimum.

I’ve broken up the post into three sections: the writing section, which discusses why/how I choose settings and characters; the re-read section, where I’ll mention what I still like (and maybe what I would have done differently); and the series trivia section, where I’ll point out the parts that relate to other books, and that can act as a refresher for the series before you read Michael’s book next year.

Please understand that this means you will get a “behind the book” look at the series, which is not always awesome. After all, there is a person behind the books – me – and it’s often true that enjoying fiction is easier the less you know about the person writing it. With that in mind, I will try to keep comments about my intentions to a minimum.

These are not reviews of my books, but I might be critical of some aspects of the writing. It’s been years, after all, and my writing style and approach has evolved. If I say something critical about a part of a book that you loved, please don’t think that I’m bashing your opinion – it’s just that I’m already hyper-critical of my own work, and I can’t help but approach the stories with an eye toward “how would I write this differently now/how would I improve this?”

I also use bad words now and then.

Please feel free to comment below. If an answer to your question will spoil the final book in the series, however, please understand that I won’t answer it.

This post is about “Falling for Anthony,” and I’d like to focus on that story in the comments. If you ask a question about another book (or if your question will be answered in another post) I might just give a brief response and let you know a more complete answer is coming up. Please also feel free to leave your own reactions/responses to the book – and I’m not offended if you didn’t like it.

Falling for Anthony

Falling for Anthony’s place in the Guardian series

This was the first story published in the Guardian series, but not the first story I began writing. That was Demon Angel (and I’ll go into that book’s history more on its post), which is Hugh and Lilith’s romance. I had several chapters written in that novel when I was offered a contract for a novella set in the same world. (I talk more about my first sale story here on this site and here at Dear Author.)

The novella’s primary purpose was to introduce readers to the world. Because it would be published before Demon Angel, I decided to set the story before that novel … and because I’d been having fun with Colin, a vampire friend of Lilith’s, I decided to go back and show how he’d become a vampire.

Why the Regency setting?

I chose the Regency period for a couple of reasons. One, I love historical romance, and I thought it would be fun to set a story in the period. Two, the period simply fit Colin’s personality, because he’s like a Regency romance hero gone wrong, so it would make sense that he became a vampire then. Three, because of Polidori’s The Vampyre.

My worldbuilding references a lot of the literature I was reading at the time (particularly Milton), and as much as I like Dracula, I like the whole Polidori/Byron/Shelley connection more. Plus, Lord Ruthven was really one of the first aristocratic vampires, as opposed to the grungy disgusting vampires of other folklore, so, again: Colin simply fit in that time period. Four, many romance readers are familiar with the tropes and vocabulary of Regency romance. I had to do a lot of worldbuilding, so to throw in a less familiar time period on top of a new mythology seemed like a really, really daunting task.

Why these characters?

The story couldn’t be about Colin. He’s still single in Demon Angel. So it had to be about someone close to him, and a sister – Emily – seemed the obvious choice.

Anthony was not such an obvious choice.

I’d always intended for him to be a healer of some sort – and originally, I thought he would be a Guardian who’d lived during the Roman Empire (and that history would be tied to bits of Demon Angel.) I also intended for him to be a total alpha. (You will see this become a theme in these posts.) You know, the big, sexy, strong dude who sweeps in and makes the heroine’s womb quiver. He’d be all masterful and arrogant, absolutely sure of himself, in full control of his Guardian powers, and so on.

Blah.

The truth was, I couldn’t figure out how to make a convincing love story out of that in the short space of a novella. Because there is a lot of other stuff going on in this story … and if he’s protecting Emily and her brother, then how are they also getting all of these sexy times on AND falling in love? In twenty-five thousand words, really?

So I struggled. And my primary struggle was this: I really thought that I had to make him alpha and masterful and bursting with sexual prowess and confidence. I thought that was what readers expected (it would be what I would expect as a reader), what my editor expected, and I was pretty sure that my career would end up straight in the toilet if I didn’t write a powerful alpha dude.

But that story didn’t effing work – and it didn’t work for several reasons.

For one, it meant that I would be spending a long time – in a novella – just talking about Anthony’s history. Who had he been? What had he done in those two thousand years? How did he die? What were the circumstances of his sacrifice that allowed him to become a Guardian?

That’s a lot of ground to cover, and not a bit of it had a thing to do with the romance and the developing relationship. It would be a huge infodump that allowed me to explain a lot of things, but didn’t move the story forward. So I realized: His history as a Guardian needed to be directly tied to the conflict at the center of the relationship – so at the same time I am explaining how he became a Guardian and what a Guardian is, I’m also moving that relationship forward.

Two, it wouldn’t work because Anthony and Emily didn’t know each other before the story began. Again, there is a lot going on in this novella – so at least one of the characters needed to start the story with an existing emotional investment in the other.

That made the two-thousand-year-old version of Anthony even more problematic, because if he’s watching her from afar and falling in love with her, that makes him a total creeper.

So I was really caught between what I felt I needed to do according to genre conventions and my own expectations for a paranormal romance, and my realization that I couldn’t make the story work like that (to my satisfaction, anyway.)

Luckily, that was about the time I ran across a blog post giving tips about novellas, written by Angela Knight (whose novellas I really love – I remember reading “Roarke’s Prisoner” in a Red Sage Anthology years ago, and thinking: “This is what I want to write and read. This is what I’ve been waiting for all these years.”) In it she stressed a couple of things, but the one that hit me was: start the story with the characters already knowing each other.

(Another thing she stressed was keeping the conflict simple, but lololololol, yeah. I didn’t actually figure out how to do that for several more novellas.)

So, anyway. I already knew that Anthony and Emily needed to know each other, but this gave me the push I needed to get over the whole “Anthony is a full-fledged Guardian warrior” idea. Instead he became Colin’s friend (and a childhood friend of Emily’s.)

Of course that wasn’t enough – I also had to send my career spinning toward destruction by a) making him come from a poor gentry family, instead of an aristocrat, b) making him a virgin, c) making him pretty much the opposite of a pushy alpha.

But there was actually a reason for that. For a while, I still entertained the idea of making him an aristocratic friend of Colin’s, a rake, the arrogant type that we know very well. Except as soon as I accepted that he had to be a friend of Colin’s, it introduced a new problem: He’s not very old. And that means Anthony is the lowest rung on the Guardian totem pole. He’s a newbie, a novice, who is being trained by a guy who looks eighteen years old.

This would put any overbearing alpha in a really awkward position, because the conflict would be: he’s an overbearing masterful dude who suddenly doesn’t know anything. Now, I actually think this could be a really interesting conflict for that sort of character, because it would create a great arc where he’s brought low by his own arrogance, and then has to actually earn his place on the Guardian hierarchy of novices and full-fledged Guardians.

But that wouldn’t serve THIS story, because that conflict wouldn’t really relate to the romance or to Emily in any way. He would also run the risk of being TSTL in the novella if he tried to pretend that he could protect her from demons and nosferatu (because he couldn’t after such a short training time, I don’t care who he is—and if he was, that story would be stupid and a lie.) Or he’d run the risk of being brought completely low when he failed (which would be the only true result of a novice Guardian versus a demon or nosferatu) and in a novella there simply wouldn’t be time to build him up again in a full character arc.

So I needed Anthony to start out low, and simply keep lifting him up. And as soon as I did that, the obvious romantic conflict just popped out: he also has a low status in society compared to Emily. That status is why she doesn’t seriously consider him as a possible romantic match (and also because she has some silly ideas about love.) That status is why he’s a physician and beholden to Emily’s father. That status is why he’s on the battlefield and killed by a nosferatu.

And it also meant that turning him into a Guardian took him out of that social stratosphere for a while, so that he could interact with Emily on a different level. Of course, she’s also in a different place by that time, too.

Emily, oh Emily

I knew Emily was Colin’s twin sister, and that she would be a lot like him in some ways: vain and thoughtless (though not to the same extent). And I knew I had to put Anthony in a really low place at the beginning of the story — and I needed Emily to help do it (but in a way that wouldn’t be unforgivable).

That meant she had to hurt him … and that is always problematic. I don’t mind if heroines or heroes deliberately do hurtful things to each other — but of course, there has to be room for redemption. There’s not really enough room in a novella. So I knew that what she did couldn’t have been really aimed at Anthony; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, when she was working through her own pain. She doesn’t work through her pain in the smartest way, and that doesn’t really bother me, either. I don’t mind when heroines/heroes do stupid things, as long as they smarten up later.

So I gave her Daddy issues.

That doesn’t bother me, but in hindsight, I don’t think I went about it in the right way. (I’ll talk about this more in the re-reading portion of these posts.)

Anyway, she has those issues, and I also gave her a really twisted idea of what love should be — kind of a fairy tale version, where the handsome prince would come and she’d live in bliss forever. That crap is still in her head when she hurts Anthony in the opening scenes of the novella — and the point of that, of course, was that she grew up during the course of the story and came to recognize what real love was with Anthony (and with the lovely twist that he truly is the Rescuing Magical Hero now) … and her acceptance that it would NOT end happily ever after.

In Conclusion

I think some of this was too ambitious for a novella (at least, a novella written by me with the skill level I had at the time.) But in both characters, I can definitely see a theme that I repeat over and over in the other books: the hero who isn’t as alpha as I want him to be, because it doesn’t serve the story and the worldbuilding; and a heroine who is utterly fucked up in some way.

Next

Tomorrow or Wednesday: Re-Reading the story and series trivia.