Writing instructors always say “write what you know”. I’ve always taken that to mean “write what you’ve felt or experienced in some way”. For instance, I’ve never been mauled by an animal, but I’ve been pecked by chickens, bitten by dogs, and scratched bloody by an iguana. Extrapolating from that is pretty easy.
But I wanted to go out on a limb and write something completely different from my Spacetime books. I grew up in California’s central valley, and spent many years of my childhood climbing/playing in a treehouse built in an almond tree in our back yard. I watched it bloom in the spring, picked almonds off it in the fall, and watched it sleep in the winter.
Also, one of my earliest memories was of my parents’ beehive. I must have only been two or three, and I got the bright idea to take a stick and see how far I could poke it into the beehive. A bee stung me right between the eyes.
Another memory is of watching my mom and dad harvest the honey. They had a centrifuge that to me looked as big as a garbage can. It filled the middle of our tiny kitchen. My parents were so delighted with the honey and the comb, and we had honeycomb in our freezer for months afterward, that it remains a very positive experience in my memory.
But what to write in a setting like this?
I wanted to write a romance, and I wanted there to be a monster. But I don’t like vampires, and I’ve done werewolves in other places. Also, every other creature has been done–I’m talking elves, fairies, angels, demons, every kind of animal shifter, witches, even Cthulhu has featured in a paranormal romance. I wish I were kidding about that last one.
Diana Wynne Jones says to look at what everyone else is writing, take that idea, rotate it 90 degrees, and write that. So I tried to do that by using a monster that is always bad. Always. I searched Amazon over and over, and in the few instances where this monster did pop up, they’re always pure evil. It was a challenge to take it and develop it into a sympathetic character whom you can root for, and even see working in a romance.
Basically, I wrote that I knew–my childhood environment, my fascination with beekeeping, and an unusual monster who is never portrayed as a hero–and out came Malevolent.
Libby is a high school senior who should be preparing for graduation. Instead, she’s been bedridden for six months with valley fever, stuck on her father’s farm in California’s central valley.
When the beekeepers arrive in February, bringing their bees to pollinate the almond crop, one of them looks like a vampire, acts like a vampire, says his name is Malevolent, and tries to murder Libby’s lousy boyfriend. Yet he offers her honey that dramatically improves her illness, and his bees sing words that she can understand.
Mal took up beekeeping in order to preserve the last remnants of his humanity. What started as a simple trip to California quickly turns into something far more complicated, as he meets a lovely girl who is deathly ill, infected by Mal’s own brother. Feeling guilty and responsible, Mal sets out to heal her with his precious, magic-infused honey, and with each passing day, comes closer to breaking his personal creed:
Befriend Many, Serve Some, Trust Few, Love None.
Once healed, Libby has the strength to break up with her boyfriend–touching off a war between Mal and his brother. This escalates into a realm of awful magic Libby has never dreamed of, where she is both pawn and prize in the battle against a Necromancer. In the end, Libby must face her growing feelings for Mal, and decide whether to destroy him–or rescue him from his soulless existence.
It was fun to “write what I knew”. I got to go back and research my hometown in a new way, as well as how almond orchards work, and the importance of bees to the farmers. What came out was Malevolent, a complete labor of love.