I once stood at the window of our apartment, watching this guy and girl have a terrible fight in the rain. She was trying to leave, but the car was locked and he wouldn’t give her the keys. He was raging about how she had disrespected him. She refused to admit any wrongdoing, blaming him for his lack of love. To his credit, he never punched her, although she hit him a couple of times. Eventually, he stormed off and she called someone to pick her up.
It was fascinating. If the woman refuses to respect her man, he withholds the love that she craves. The relationship goes into a death spiral.
In our culture, women have been elevated to goddesses. But they are also not held accountable for their lack of respect. Very rarely is that addressed in fiction: women are always princesses and men are always Prince Charming. Except relationships don’t work that way. There has to be respect on both sides.
A while back, I got on a young adult fantasy kick. I read stacks of the things, mostly pulled at random off the library shelves. I’d pick up titles I’d seen on blogs, I’d read them for their pretty covers, I’d read them if they featured any monster but vampires.
I despise vampires. Blame it on some really, really awful fanfiction I read as a teen.
One thing I noticed over and over was that these authors seemed to have no idea what a healthy relationship looks like. The characters have random sex, love triangles, and abuse each other mercilessly. Respect is hard to find. And don’t get me started on the relationships these characters had with their parents.
Paranormal romance always follows the Beauty and the Beast formula. Girl is forced by circumstances into monster’s miserable world. She can free him from his prison, but it’s going to take a lot of effort on both their parts.
Corollary: the girl can join him in his miserable world instead of redeeming him (aka becoming a vampire), but it’s not as satisfying to the reader.
As a culture, we’ve lost the true meaning of love, which is self-sacrifice. Instead, we try to glorify this selfish, grasping, possessive, unhealthy thing and call it love.
This thing that we’ve become
Might look like love to some
All the lies you’ve fed to me
Leave me standing empty
With nothing to say
–The Huntress, The Echoing Green
I mean, nothing’s more romantic than Edward sneaking into Bella’s room at night to watch her sleep, right? Right? Or how about the werewolf growling, “MINE!”
Yeah, right. Girls, this behavior is a warning sign, not something to seek out.
So I decided to try my hand at writing the whole teen paranormal romance thing. I had a few questions in mind that I wanted to explore in a story.
1. Can you love someone if you have no emotions?
2. What does a respectful, self-sacrificing relationship look like?
3. Can love redeem a monster?
The answers I eventually came up with:
1: Yes, because love is an act of will
2. Smoking hot
3. It helps the monster take responsibility for seeking his own redemption. No human being can really save another.
After reading so much fiction where love is basically elaborate lust, I needed to see what true romance looks like. So I cracked open the Song of Solomon.
Hoo boy. Song is HOT. I needed a cold shower after I finished.
What I learned, though, is that real romance happens not only when two people are attracted to each other, but when they highly respect each other. They’re willing to do anything for the other. And the longing. So much longing. In the Song, he leaves flowers on her door, so she runs out into the streets looking for him, and wanders until the city guards send her home. It’s a long time until she finds him. When she does, their joy (and intimate times) are so great that only metaphor can describe it.
As I wrote the Malevolent trilogy, I kept this in mind, ramping up the respect and self-sacrifice in each book. In book 1, we deal with the awkwardness of Mal and Libby meeting and figuring out Mal’s secrets. In book 2, they have an established relationship and their shared secrets are slowly killing them. Monsterhood comes at a high price.
The result is a super-hot romance, heavy on the feels, that has almost no physical contact. I think they kiss once in each book. Even the telepathy stuff is shown to be a bad thing after a while.
I kept coming back to respect. Respect respect respect. This is harder for women than for men. Women naturally give love and affection, while men naturally give respect.
If you can get this right–as well as the occasional failings, when they forget to respect each other and cause trouble instead–you can have a romance that is far more satisfying than just characters jumping into the sack together. I hope Malcontent is a decent picture of what this looks like. You know, if you were telepathically chained to a soulless monster. 😉
Malcontent has officially launched! Now you can continue Mal and Libby’s story, as well as their deeper dive into danger.