Guardian Series Retrospective #5 – Paradise

Okay, well! The scheduling of these posts didn’t happen as I intended while I was gone. So I will be posting them manually today and tomorrow, every few hours.

Writing PARADISE

Meljean’s note: This post is part of a series of entries about the Guardians paranormal romance series, including 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. 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?”

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 “Paradise,” the novella from WILD THING, 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.

Wild Thing

PARADISE’s place in the Guardian series

This is the third story in the Guardian series (counting novellas) but I actually wrote it after I finished DEMON MOON. It takes place between DEMON ANGEL and DEMON MOON, and features Selah, a Guardian, and Lucas, a nosferatu-born vampire.

For the overarching series plot, this is the story that shows how Lucifer MIGHT have been able to get around the results of the wager at the end of DEMON ANGEL. All of the Gates to Hell are closed, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t use a new one if it showed up.

Why Selah? And why Lucas?

As I mentioned in the previous retrospective, I’d originally intended to hook Selah up with Colin (from DEMON MOON). That didn’t work out at all, because their story would have had zero conflict. I also mentioned that one of the things that I liked about Selah was that I didn’t really like her in the previous book — she was kind of self-righteous and judgmental and of the “Guardians need to be perfect and absolutely dedicated” mode.

Which is basically why I wanted to write about her: because obviously, she’s not perfect. Not to tear her down (I don’t mind tearing apart a character’s beliefs and assumptions, but not to bring her low or humiliate her). And in this story, the primary internal conflict is definitely hers: that there is more to life than being a Guardian.

So Lucas was created specifically for that reason: to be a match with Selah that would provide enough internal conflict for her (along with a plot for the story), but who was not so bogged down by his own issues that I would need more than a novella to hook them up. So he’s got his own life, his own vampire community to take care of — and even though his and Selah’s goals are the same (to keep everyone safe) his is on a much narrower scale. So in order to be with him, Selah HAS to re-prioritize her life. Which doesn’t mean making being a Guardian any less important, but putting her own needs at the same level.

I usually don’t create characters FOR another character, or specifically for the plot, but sometimes it has to happen — especially when I’m bringing in someone we haven’t seen in the series before. In this case, I knew Selah. So it wasn’t a matter of matching her up with an existing character and making them work it out. Instead, I created a character for her to work it out with, and whom I could also use to explain some of the worldbuilding. So, Selah was a Guardian and we got the explanation of that part of the world from her; Lucas was a vampire and we got to know more about that side of the world from him.

I didn’t want Lucas to be a nosferatu-born vampire (I wanted those to be rare in the Guardian world, and yet Colin and Lucas are both nosferatu-born and their stories come right after each other). A vampire would have been enough. But I ran into the same problem that I often did with vampires in this world: they have to share blood with other vampires, and sharing blood often equals sex. So bringing in an outside love interest is INCREDIBLY problematic: not only are there issues of jealousy and faithfulness to resolve, it means that whoever had been the previous partner has to find someone new, and that’s not always easy (and not always heroic, either. It would really suck if one of my characters just kicked someone to the curb and left her to starve).

And it would have been far too much to fit into a novella (I already crammed as much as I could in there, as it was. Maybe too much.) So my best option was: make Lucas a nosferatu-born vampire, then make sure his partner was out of the picture. Fortunately, that easily fit into the plot — his partner had been killed by a demon a month previous (ha! making my character kick her to the curb would have sucked, so I kill her instead! I know, I know) and he hadn’t yet needed to find a new partner, because as a nosferatu-born vampire, he could last more than a few days on animal blood. Even so, he was at the end of his rope by the time Selah shows up, and hitting the “stupid and impotent” wall of a starving vampire.

That fit nicely into the plot though, too, because it allowed me to immediately show Selah being overbearing and all “I know what’s good for you, and I’m going to force you to do it” and also let me put off the sex for a while, because poor Lucas couldn’t get it up, anyway.

Re-Reading PARADISE

Okay, well — the tl;dr version of what follows is: It’s not my strongest novella, because I tried to cram far too much in, but I still like it.

This isn’t going to be a review with a plot summary or anything. I’m going to assume that everyone has read this, because otherwise a lot of the stuff that I mention won’t make any sense at all. The trivia stuff is below, so if you are reading this as a refresher or to familiarize yourself with some of the story arc before reading Michael’s book, you’ll want to skip to that.

Things I Like About This Story

  •  Selah and Lucas

Ha! I always say this. But I’m always glad that I do. I think Selah is harder to like than Lucas (but then, that was deliberate — if he’d been difficult, too, this would have been much longer than a novella) but there are a lot of things I like about her. I like that she’s four hundred years old, that she already lived a full life and was a grandmother before she died — and, in many ways, she knows exactly who she is: the living embodiment of everything that she imagines an angel should be, physically.

Guardian Angel -- Image from Wikipedia Commons. No artist credit given. Click for source.

Guardian Angel — Image from Wikipedia Commons. No artist credit given. Click for source.

I know it’s problematic that her vision of a perfect woman is blue-eyed and blonde-haired, but I thought it was appropriate for her history. She’s old and her image of angels (and of what Guardians should be) would have been totally idealized. Her general appearance was based on a version of the painting to the left — my grandma had this in her home on a little plaque, with Psalm 23 written on it.

But — as in many other books as well — I find that the way to best deal with problematic aspects is just to address them straight on. So a lot of people compare her to a Barbie, and Selah herself acknowledges that it’s her idealized version, and part of who she is.

And after I laid out that aspect of her character, I totally ran with it. She’s my Barbie, so I dressed her up. In DEMON ANGEL, we only saw her in draping white robes. But in that book, a few of her black/white ideas of how to be a Guardian and to good in the world have already been shaken up, because a former demon saved the world, and a man who turned his back on the Guardians helped her do it. Plus, she utterly failed to save Colin when she wasn’t able to teleport him out of Chaos. So who she is and what she stands for has been rattled, and she’s trying to figure it out again — and by the time this novella starts, she’s already started to loosen up a little and embrace a more modern, secular version of herself — the woman, Selah, rather than just the Guardian. Some of that change is shown in the most obvious way possible: with the clothes she’s wearing.

Stupid trivia: Quite a few of Selah’s outfits are straight out of BCBG Max Azria’s Spring/Summer 2006 advertising campaign.

Lucas didn’t get any cool clothes. I always feel a little bad for making him so slow and stupid at the beginning of the story; that’s probably not the best way to meet the woman you’re going to fall in love with. He’s one of my favorite types of heroes: alpha (in the sense that he’s a leader, not the sense that he’s a pushy asshole) who will do what is necessary to protect the people who depend on him, even when he has his own demons to face (one literal, and the other guilt). I like that even when he’s angry, he’s trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Selah — not just because he’s attracted, but because it will help him get the job done and the demon dead. I love his relationship with his community. It is different from the typical community in the Guardian world, and that’s partially because of the community itself, but partially because of Lucas. He’s a decent guy and I like him for that.

I also like that they are more mature characters. Selah was a grandmother even before she was transformed. Lucas is heading into (for a human) senior-citizenship. They’ve both seen and done a lot, they aren’t squeamish about sex or attraction, and even though Selah has been rattled, they know their place and purpose in the world and are happy with it. Being together doesn’t change who they are, except for making them both even happier.

  • Selah’s dislike of Lilith

This is something that pops up a lot in this series: even if my heroes and heroines get a happily-ever-after, they save the day, etc … my characters don’t all like each other equally, and some don’t like the other characters at all. Sometimes I feel bad about that (poor Lilith doesn’t have many friends) but mostly I just think it’s funny. And realistic. I don’t always like friends of my family or friends, either.

  • The Plot

It is a little clunky — I was still feeling my way through balancing a) worldbuilding b) external plot c) romance and d) novella length. But I’m happy with how it all came together and turned out. I’m happy that Selah and Lucas didn’t declare unending love at the end, but that they both knew they were headed that way and wanted to be together. (Now, of course, they are quite securely together.)

What I Would Do Differently Now

This is the same as the stuff that came in earlier retrospective posts: I just want to clean the story up. I’m actually really happy with the characters, the plot, and so on. But I wish I could just be a little more clear with the worldbuilding and maybe get rid of some of the info that I put in there that probably wasn’t needed, then smooth it all out.

Favorite Scene

I think probably the scene where Selah forced Lucas to feed from her. One, because it was a hammer to the head about her character, and how she’s willing to force him to do what she wants. And I love how pissed he is and how hard he fights — because it also shows not only his character, but how awful it can be to become a vampire, too, and to lose control of so much of his life. It did a lot of things I really wanted that scene to do.

Also, the scene where Selah jumps in front of Lucas and takes two crossbow bolts to her chest and throat, then rips the first one out — before Lucas tells her to let him help with the second. One, because it shows (again) exactly who Selah is. And it shows who he is, too. I like that entire scene when they are in Caelum, but especially that part.

Stuff That Relates To Other Books in the Series

SPOILERS!!!!

Please note: I’m trying not to repeat myself too much. If you are using the trivia to refresh your memory before Michael’s book is released, you’ll probably want to check out the trivia in each post, just because there are so many related points that compiling them would make for a huge, huge list. So I’m trying to focus on the things that are introduced in each book, rather than cross-referencing every single thing between them.

  • Teleporting

Teleporting has a lot of rules attached to it. A teleporter must anchor to someone in order to jump to them — but they can’t anchor to someone whose mental shields are up. When someone has a VERY strong anchor (as Lilith has to Hell, and Colin has to Chaos) sometimes the Guardian’s will and strength isn’t enough to overcome that anchor. So no one — not even Michael — can teleport Lilith anywhere, because they’d end up in Hell and she wouldn’t be able to get out. And even a Guardian as old as Selah can’t teleport Colin out of Chaos.

An anchor can also be blocked with the shielding spell, or through very thick and dense stone.

For Michael’s book: They are teleporting all over the place, and the same rules apply.

  • Bloodlust

Vampires can be overtaken by their bloodlust. After they start drinking, nothing is going to stop them until the hunger is sated — and if the person he is drinking from desire the vampire sexually, then the vampire’s free will is overridden and he will have sex with the person he’s drinking from, whether he wants to or not. (Unless, of course, that person is stronger than the vampire.)

Vampires can’t last for long on animal blood. Nosferatu-born vampires last longer than regular vampires. (Nosferatu don’t NEED to feed at all, they just like to.)

For Michael’s book: This isn’t really an issue that either Taylor or Michael have to face.

  • Creating a Gate

Thanks to a wager, the Gates to Hell have all been closed for five hundred years. This doesn’t mean that new Gates can’t be opened, though — and before he closed the Gates, Lucifer sent demons out to do exactly that. This will also show up in DEMON MARKED.

For Michael’s book: This plays into the story in a BIG way.