Guardian Series Retrospective #3 — DEMON ANGEL, Part 1

Writing DEMON ANGEL

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 (Part 1), 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 in August.

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 “Demon Angel,” 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.

Demon Angel

DEMON ANGEL’s place in the Guardian series

This was the first novel published in the Guardian series and the first story that I began working on, but it wasn’t the first one published. That was Falling for Anthony (you can see those retrospective posts here). But this was the story that started it all … and it didn’t begin as a Hugh/Lilith romance.

The Fanfic Roots & Transformation

I’ve talked about this before, but it was never during a time in publishing when the words “started as fanfic” were quite so negatively loaded. It used to be a fun little thing to say — The idea for this series started as a Batman/Wonder Woman romance fanfic! — and now I always feel compelled to add, But I didn’t pull-to-publish!

Sigh.

I think it is a fair question to ask How much of that fic is left in the books? The answer? Not much.

DEMON ANGEL originally began as an alternate-universe (AU) Justice League story called “Harbingers.” In the real Justice League universe, Diana (Wonder Woman) was given powers by the Greek goddesses. So I wanted to spin that around a little, so that the primary visible gods weren’t the Greek gods, but more Judeo-Christian (and I was taking a Milton graduate course at school at the time, so no surprise, really. I kind of love Paradise Lost.) So the idea was that ALL of the Justice Leaguer’s powers weren’t from magic rings or being born on Krypton, but gifts from Heaven. So basically, all of the Justice Leaguers were Guardians.

But I was also tired of Wonder Woman always being seen as the goody-goody girl, so I decided that at some point she was stolen away by Satan and raised as his daughter, instead. Batman was originally going to have been a knight (the Dark Knight, right?), but was human again, and a detective in Gotham City — but still fighting demons in a bat-suit — after falling away from the Justice League after losing faith in their mission.

I wrote one scene, posted it to a message board where I was posting my fanfic at the time, then realized that the story was going to be WAY too alternate and the world I was building was WAY too big for the little story I’d wanted to tell. I’d already begun having thoughts of moving away from fanfic to writing my own stuff (writing mostly AU fics for a year had been a big clue), so I took that scene and began working it into a new story.

I called that story TEMPTING HUGH. I’d moved pretty far away from the original fanfic already, but not THAT far. Hugh was still a detective. Lilith was an FBI agent who was investigating nosferatu-related deaths. They didn’t have Gifts yet. There was no Sir Pup. I’d added Colin, because I wanted Lilith to have a buddy.

It was terrible. I would post it, because I’m usually not shy about embarrassing myself, but I’m terrified that someone will read that part and never want to read anything else of mine again. So let me just state that on the first page of the book, Lilith is waiting outside a bedchamber while her mistress is seducing the virtuous Hugh, and her inner thoughts include a bit of yearning for his “delicious cock.”

Enough said.

So this was about the time that I got the e-mail from Cindy Hwang at Berkley, saying that she’d read my fanfic and did I have anything original to send her? So I peed my pants, polished up three chapters of TEMPTING HUGH, and sent it.

She did not buy it. She did, however, offer me a contract for a novella in the same world, and to use it as a chance to really solidify what the world would be and what I wanted to do with the series.

And that’s what I did. I wrote Falling for Anthony and sent the world through a hard and fast Wonder Woman transformation spin — and took almost all of the Wonder Woman out of it.

So, which characters started out as who?

Wonder Woman = Lilith
Batman = Hugh
Superman = Michael
Hawkgirl = Selah
Martian Manhunter = Luther Bradford

And if you’ve read the series and are familiar with the Justice League, you know there’s not that much left. Lilith looks like Wonder Woman does (except she doesn’t have blue eyes, and she’s not Greek but Carthaginian.) I kept the leather bustier as a nod to her roots (and also because it fit with the seductive-demon bit.) Hugh has Batman’s general appearance — so do 98% of romance heroes, though — but is otherwise about as far from Batman as I can get, though the Truth aspect of his Gift is definitely inspired by Wonder Woman’s lasso.

Superman and Hawkgirl underwent both physical and character overhauls, so there’s not much correlation between them at all (aside from the way that people look at Michael as a leader, and one important aspect of his personality — but, SPOILER, so I won’t say what that is, because it surprises Taylor, too.) The reason Luther Bradford is so nondescript (when Lilith first describes him) is also a nod to J’onn J’onnz’s shapeshifting abilities, and how he passes as an average-looking human instead of a Martian. Because of course Bradford is (SPOILER) a Guardian, and his Gift allows him to conceal that. There’s nothing else of J’onn in that character, though (who does have a huge backstory, and I always hoped to write a novella about him, but it never quite fit in. Boo.)

The individual Gifts are basically my version of the individual powers that you find in any superhero team — the X-Men, Justice League, Avengers — because I kind of do still think of the Guardians as superheroes.

Every other character in the series doesn’t have a fanfic version. By the time I get to the second book, DEMON MOON, there’s essentially nothing of the fanfic left (aside from the idea for the alternate world that started the whole thing.)

Why is the Guardian world like it is?

As I mentioned, I was taking a class on Milton, and reading many of his essays regarding free will — so that became a heavy influence when I was creating the Guardian world. I also loved the idea of using familiar myths and folk tales (including vampires) but adding just enough of a twist to make them mine and to pull them all together.

I also wanted the world to have enough layers to tell a big story. Some of those layers obviously weren’t revealed until later in the series, but it was a lot of fun building it all up.

There’s more here in my “Behind the Story” feature that I wrote a long time ago. Basically, it’s all the same stuff as I’ve mentioned here: it was a fanfic, the world was too big, I was inspired by a lot of different things, and why the first part is set in 1217 a.d.

So how did the characters end up being who they are?

They are who they became for the same reason I began writing fanfic — there were stories that I wanted, but that I wasn’t getting from comics and cartoons, so I wrote them myself. But in this case, it was something I wasn’t getting from romance novels: the fun bad girl.

You can probably blame Maggie Shayne, and her Silhouette Shadows book TWILIGHT MEMORIES. In that book, there is an Egyptian princess vampire heroine who was like a honey badger. She just didn’t give a shit. She was amazing and fun and sexy and smart and vain <-- and she knew it. She had flaws all over the place and she was awesome. I loved her. And don't get me wrong. I love good girl heroines, too. But I wanted MORE bad girls and I couldn't find them. Nowadays, there isn't such a dearth of these types of heroines. They aren't super-easy to find, but they aren't impossible to find, either. But at the time, I couldn't find many, and I wanted more. So I wrote my own. I wanted a heroine who was bad and who embraced it. I wanted a heroine who was a survivor. I wanted a heroine whose flaws were also her strengths, who could lie without blinking -- and that in the end, she didn't learn to become good and stop lying and all that usual crap, crying that she was SO BAD AND WOULD EVERYONE FORGIVE HER? ... nope. She was going to win the day by lying her freaking pants off and using all of her evil powers as best as she knew how. And because I really wanted to reject the idea that goodness = innocence and sweetness and blond hair and virginity. With this series, I wanted to firmly say that goodness isn't some inherent virtue that people are born with and that they smell like innocence and have soft skin because they are just so good inside, and that bad heroes can be redeemed by a sweet girl just because he pops her cherry. It's about what people do, not what they are, and what they do is hard work. I wanted to redeem Lilith without making her all sweetness and light and angelic — and she had to do that through her actions.

Hugh … well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of heroine-centric as a writer. I needed Hugh to be the opposite of Lilith. He starts out the book all innocent and light — but even then, determined to do good. The way he goes about it is different than Lilith, obviously. He’s more willing to sacrifice himself, because that, to him, is a pure act of good, and not at all passive but a deliberate action. That’s also the reason I went back to the idea of him being a knight, where he’s not just strongly influenced by religion, but also by tales of knights and chivalry, so that becomes his code.

As for why he eventually became a professor, that was two-fold: he’d been a mentor for many Guardians, so it seemed to fit. And the saddest part (to me) of building his modern character was making him a professor of literature — so that he could always be surrounded by bits and pieces of Lilith after he killed her.

Why the two parts to the story?

Blame Maili. *g* She read the first chapters (which was mostly Hugh & Lilith in the modern world) and said, “I want to know how they got to this point.”

But, really — it’s because the story needed it. Maili pointed it out to me, but I wrote it because she was right: the story would be better with more of their history shown, rather than just told. And I was kind of terrified when I did it. Not only did it require a ton more research, it also meant that I was going to start the story in medieval times. *bites nails*

That was terrifying, too. I was a first-time novelist, and the story I sold to my editor was set entirely in contemporary times. I was sure that I was going to get slapped and lose my contract and have the book sent back to me because I’d changed it SO MUCH.

I think it was important, though, to show the characters as how they started — Lilith, as she’s becoming increasingly bitter and dissatisfied with her role, and Hugh, the idealistic knight — and what they become: Lilith, desperate to be out from under Lucifer’s foot and feeling that she’s going to end up in the frozen field at any moment, and Hugh, losing faith because he simply can’t save her without destroying her.

So that is why there are two parts. The romance and everything that happens between them in Part 2 doesn’t have the same meaning without Part 1. Those vignettes filled in the years between the medieval period and the modern period … and in the version I originally handed in to my editor stopped after the scene where Hugh and Lilith are watching Colin (post “Falling for Anthony”) — and she told me to write more, giving us snapshots for even more years (even though the book was already way over the 100K words it was supposed to be.)

In Conclusion, Part 1

One of the reasons I write is because there are stories that I want told, and either no one else was telling them or not enough people were telling them — so I did it. It was true for fanfic and it’s true for romance (although some things I want are easier to find now.) It was true for DEMON ANGEL. I wanted a certain type of heroine. I wanted a hero who was her opposite and her match, and who could challenge her to be the best damn demon that ever was. I wanted to have a visceral, screaming world to tell it in that was familiar — but just enough my own. I wanted to tell a big story.

It did end up a little bigger than I thought it would be.

Next

Next: Re-reading the story and series trivia. By this weekend at the latest.