Love is the motive

I’ve been brainstorming up a new Sonic story. I write about one per year, and it makes my fans so happy.

Anyway, as I was figuring out the character arcs for everybody, it dawned on me that the root motive of every last character is some kind of love. And it’s funny, because it’s has almost no romance.

One character loves his sister with this obsession, because she was in stasis for years and has just recently awakened again. He’s extremely jealous of the other characters for having any contact at all with her.

The other characters are fond of the sister, except for one character, who falls in love with her magic. This is bad for him, because the magic is slowly killing him.

All of them love their home island, which has been stolen from them by the bad guy, and they’re struggling to get it back.

As I was pondering this, I started looking at other books. Who else is motivated by love? Harry Potter? (Love of friends and home.) The Railway Children? (Love of family.) Trumpet of the Swan? (Love of family.)

Apis_mellifera_-_Melilotus_albus_-_Keila

It’s interesting, because I’ve also been plotting out murder mysteries for my dragon cozy series. Murderers are motivated by everything except love: lust, greed, jealousy, pride, anger, and so on. (Is sloth ever a motivation for murder? You’d think a slothful person would be too lazy to kill anyone.)

It’s interesting to see the way things turn out. A bad motive leads to evil actions. A good motive (like love) can lead to good outcomes, except when it doesn’t. (I’m thinking of the necromancer in Malevolent who is obsessed with resurrecting his dead wife.) Or when love of one’s country (patriotism) turns to frenzied conquering of the world.

But when you have selfless, sacrificial love, you get beautiful stories like Linnets and Valerians, which I just finished reading to the kids. Four children get caught up in a series of curses and black magic that surround this little English town. They have to break the curses with the help of friendly animals and good people, who are pitted against the evil animals and people. Their love has to overcome a bitter root of jealousy that has been there for years.

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I think the sacrificial love stories are the ones that stick with us the longest. That’s what makes a story beautiful. The nice thing is, it has nothing to do with romance. Oh, it works in romance, too, but love is so much bigger than that.

Villains can be motivated by love, too. Love of self is the easiest one–“I’m better than everybody else so I deserve better treatment/a better spouse/more money/to rule the world.” But what if a villain is motivated by love for a person? That’s why Mr. Freeze from Batman is one of my favorite villains. Everything he does is to try to save his wife, who is frozen in stasis with incurable cancer. The motivation there is fascinating.

So, next time you write a story, see if your characters are motivated by love in some way. Pay attention to movies and TV shows. Who is motivated by love, even if it’s twisted?

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Watch out, paranormal cozy mysteries: here there be dragons

Last time I talked about five worldbuilding tricks I learned from the show Grimm. I mentioned that the reason we watched the show wasn’t for the monsters or the grisly murders–it was for the cozy character development.

While going through a stressful patch in my life a few years ago, I rediscovered the mystery genre. Particularly the cozy mystery genre. These are the stories where the heroine, usually part of a knitting club or a restaurant or a bookstore, suddenly finds a dead body. This launches her into an amateur investigation, questioning the natives of her quirky hometown, and discovering the murderer before the police do a la Hercule Poirot.

There’s a whole subset of these called paranormal cozies. Here the sleuth will be a witch of some kind, or be able to see ghosts, or be psychic in some way. Often there will be cats that talk and help her solve the mystery. Also, interviewing ghosts of the murdered always has its thrills. There will be magic, usually in small doses. But otherwise it’s the same quirky characters, the same small town, the same heaping doses of good food, books, and humor.

After reading a few piles of these, I went looking for cozies with dragons in them. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought, “if the sleuth could turn into a dragon?” I’ve loved any kind of shapeshifter for years, but the shifter genre is predominantly hardcore porn these days. I’d like something lighter. Like a dragon shifter who solves murder mysteries, interviews quirky residents of her hometown, eats lots of good food, and trades zingers with her friends.

I couldn’t find any. NONE! Oh, I found every kind of witch you can imagine. I found witches + werewolves, even. But no dragons.

So I took the worldbuilding I had learned from Grimm and began building my own world.

Imagine the world of Grimm, where instead of wesen all over the place, there are a couple kinds of people who shift into dragons, or a smaller subspecies called drakes. Drakes have ice breath instead of fire. Dragons hate them, so drakes live on reservations for their own protection. Instead of Grimm, we have slayers, who can identify both kinds of shifters. But slayers don’t actually slay dragons anymore–they just see them. Sometimes they become lawyers who sue dragons, because the worst thing you can do to a dragon is to take away their horde, right?

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Male and female drake (Bruce and Tianna) looking up clues on a smartphone.

So into the middle of this interesting world comes Tianna Tokala, shy, introverted drake who takes a job in an ice cream shop in Carefree, Arizona. Her boss, a dominating dragoness, winds up dead after eating ice cream Tianna had just made. Now Tianna is not only a suspect because of her cooking skills, she’s a drake suspected of killing a dragoness, which brings in a whole extra element of intrigue. Tianna and her friends Katie and Bruce must team up to figure out the real killer before more people wind up dead. Or before Tianna winds up behind bars.

The first book, A Dragon by the Tail, will launch in a few weeks. I’ve almost finished writing the second book, and I’m mulling over the third. They’re super fun to write, and these characters and this world are totally adorable. I hope readers love them as much as I do.

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Top mystery/fantasy books of 2016 (and how most of them are series)

It’s January of 2017–time for all the lists! Top ten EVERYTHING! Top fifty! Top 100! Stuff we learned last year! WOOHOO!

So, as I’ve been looking at these lists with the casual interest of a reader, I’ve noticed a few things.

Namely, a bunch of these books are way far into a series. Like, book 3. Book 6. Book 9. Book 12.I’m mostly looking at the Goodreads top 2016 lists, because they’re so beautifully easy to navigate. The Kobo ones are pretty similar.

Let me show you. I’ve taken the liberty of marking each book’s place in a series with a big fat number.

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You can tell which ones are the thrillers. They tend to not be in a series, because most characters in thrillers don’t survive anyway.

Next up: Fantasy!

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Very few stand-alones here. Every book 1 is also the beginning of a series, with the exception of one book, which is a short story anthology (that tiger one).

Next up: Young Adult Fantasy:

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Series are a big deal in this genre. The only book 1s are all series starters from authors who have established themselves with other series/trilogies.

It’s interesting to look at the spread here. If you want to hit a bestseller list, you’ve got to write series. Kevin Hearn’s Iron Druid is up to book 8 now. I spy a book 10 of another series. One of those mystery series is at book 42! These authors have been at this for a LONG time. The young adult authors seem to crank out trilogies, but sometimes they run longer than that. Even Stephen King is up there with a book 3!

As authors, I guess we can expect to plug away at this for book after book–so pick a genre that you like an awful lot. Unless you’re a thriller writer, then you can write boatloads of book 1s.

If you’d like to look at the other Top Goodreads genres, it’s here. And hey, maybe you’ll even find something new to read. 😀

Open letter to my aspie friends

When I was a kid, I went to a big science event for local homeschoolers. We mixed chemicals, opened eggs, and played with liquid nitrogen. It was grand.

During one of the breaks, I wandered out into one of the patios. A group of kids was out there talking. One of them was a boy who carefully enunciated all his words. He was arguing some advanced mathematical concept with the other kids.

I listened for a while, then departed, feeling shy and slightly envious. He was so much smarter than me. I knew that he was different, and I would never be that smart because I wasn’t wired that way.

The term Asperger’s hadn’t yet come into vogue. Without a label, I was free to observe and draw my own conclusions. My conclusion was admiration.

Years went by. As a teen, I sought out creative, intelligent people and surrounded myself with them. Many of them spoke in that clear, enunciated, staccato way. They were always super-smart, taking ideas to a level of genius I’d never conceived. I learned to seek them out when I needed to develop ideas. By comparison, other people seemed like Muggles.

Then the term Aspergers* came along. Suddenly my super-smart friends were apologizing. “I have a sensory-processing disorder,” they would say. “I’m going on medication for it.”

I watched as my once-brilliant friends were dulled to the level of a Muggle by medication. They meekly accepted the ruling of The Establishment that there was something wrong with them.

So this is my open letter to you. This is me shouting NO. Aspergers is not a disability. It is genius. The definition of genius is being able to focus on one thing at a time. You do that with the intensity of a laser, drilling deep into a concept, far deeper than I can, with my scattershot mind. While I can achieve that level of focus, it’s more difficult for me to achieve. And your brain does it effortlessly.

 

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Mana Tide by AquaSixio

 

Our culture has ceased to value genius. It only values stupidity and conformity. Look at our pop culture as the foolish, the disgusting, the mentally ill, are praised and glorified.

Don’t let them tell you that you are broken. Don’t take their drugs that will alter your brain chemistry. If you have health problems, take high-quality supplements (this one is my favorite!) and good probiotics to support your natural health. Eat veggies. Drink water. Exercise. You have a brilliant mind. Care for it. Guard it.

Drugs will take it away. Labels will make you feel bad about yourself. Before geniuses had Aspergers, I recognized them for what they were.

Geniuses.

Please don’t ever change.


 

  • The term Aspergers has been rolled into the broader “autism spectrum”, which encompasses everyone from the slightly shy to the non-vocal. Pretty much everyone I know fits into this definition.
  • Lots of famous people have been on the spectrum. Check out this list. Among them are Albert Einstein, Adam Young of Owl City, Satoshi Tajiri (creator of Pokemon). To say nothing of famous people who probably were spectrum, like Mozart.

Sketches of dinosaurs, dragons, and drakes

In my teens, I took art classes from a terrific teacher named Ron Moore. He taught everything–painting, pastel, wood carving, clay sculpture, you name it, he’d teach it. Anyway, while learning to sculpt animals, we studied anatomy. I learned proportion tricks, what joints did, how shoulders behaved, and on and on. I sculpted animals, cartoon characters, dinosaurs, anything that struck my fancy.

That training still resides in my head. So when a friend suggested that I draw an amargasaurus, this training kicked in.

First off, this is an amargasaurus.

Amargasaurus
Amargasaurus from Wikipedia

Pretty gnarly-looking sauropod.

Mr. Moore always taught me that if I did artwork from another artist’s work, I would copy all their mistakes and make them worse. (Boy, have I seen new artists do that.) So I went hunting for the bones of this sucker.

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Amargasaurus skeleton from Wikipedia

Okay, so, all the spikes are attached to the vertebrae. Notice the way they lay. If he kept his neck straight, they’d more or less lie down. But if he bent his neck, they’d fan out and display whatever skin stretched between them.

amargasaurus-display

Like this.

So now we have this idea of a dinosaur bending his neck around to show off his frill. He’d have to bow his head a lot. Now we get ideas of what a courtship display might look like.

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They might have danced like this. Ever seen an iguana display his dewlap to attract a mate? It’s pretty funny. Or like that red-capped manakin bird.

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It’s really fun to extrapolate from dinosaur bones. It’s not like anybody can go look at one and disprove my idea, right?

Anyway, the same process applies to building dragons. Here’s a reference sheet in progress for a story I’m writing with little drakes and big dragons.

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Drakes and dragons

As you can see, my drakes are very lizard-like (with pterodactyl wings), while the dragons are the traditional European dragons. Lots of comparative anatomy studies while drawing these, trying to make them work. Well, as well as any six-limbed creature would work. There’s a lot of biological hand-waving when it comes to dragons.

While dragons would be majestic predators, drakes would fly on highly-maneuverable albatross wings, able to pull off midair gyrations like those of a flycatcher.

I suppose I ought to put some kind of a tail fin on them, so they can steer. But then, not all pterosaurs had them, either. What do you guys think?

How bits and pieces add up to a story

I think most writers have bits of old stories collecting dust somewhere. We write snippits and scenes, and hide them away in our notebooks and hard drives, stumbling upon them years later with cries of delight.

“What does this mean?” we exclaim. “What was I thinking? What was the rest of this idea?” And if enough time has gone by, we’ve forgotten what it meant. And it’s up for grabs for incorporating into our current work.

The Spacetime series has been under construction for so many years that it has lots of extra plots lying around. One plot that got cut was the story of Echo. She was Carda’s girlfriend who mysteriously died–come to find out that she was this weird timeline copy of a girl named Alatha. Alatha had had some kind of magical accident that split her into echoes, and each echo had developed its own life.

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Old art of Carda, Xironi, and Ben the time elemental lizard thing.

All that was crammed into book one, The Strider of Chronos. If we had left in all the plots, the poor book would have been a thousand pages long. So I set it aside for a different book. Lo and behold, along comes Magic Weaver. It’s finally time to tell Alatha’s story.

Except my husband and I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story in a way that made sense. If a person is split into copies, are the copies alternate realities? Are they good/evil clones? Are they personality aspects?

We tossed around all kinds of ideas. A lot of them were too silly, like, everybody has seen the evil double plot in cartoons.

I decided to try writing Alatha as split into two people, Alatha and Echo. One would be good and one would be evil. Except upon trying to write it, I discovered that good and evil are enmeshed too tightly in the human psyche. The bad one would sometimes do good things and the good would would occasionally do bad things. And what are good and evil in this context, anyway? If the good one knocks out an attacker, was that a bad action?

Also, we wound up having Echo and Esca. This was really confusing and hard to read.

I scrapped that draft and started over. This time, Alatha’s timeline had been cut up. The other bits of her were actually possible futures that had been removed, and were wandering around as ghosts. Finally, I had a plot that worked.

There was another plot that had been cut–Xironi’s robot cat, Esca. Esca was originally supposed to be in the series from the beginning, but I wanted to show where she came from. This meant that Esca had to wait until Xironi got her own book, and they could properly meet.

So Magic Weaver is made up of lots of bits of stories that had to be cut away and saved. If you’ve had stories that you’ve had to set aside, or plots that you couldn’t make work, just put them away for a while. Eventually you’ll find a place for them, if you want to use them badly enough. Sometimes ideas just need a truckload of refining. Alatha/Echo took a lot of brainpower to make work right.

Magic Weaver is available on all retailers here!

How worry steals your magic

It’s July National Novel Writer’s Month! Props to all my frantic writer peeps who are taking time out of vacation to scribble out random stories.

To get into the creation mood, I’ve been listening to all my brain-food music. One of them is Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins. I listened to it over and over as a teen while composing tons of crazy fanfics.

You know how listening to music can make those mental connections, and place you right back into a time and place where you last heard it? It also can have really powerful emotional connections. For me, it was like a snapshot of my mental state as a super-creative teen.

I lived in a world of good and evil, fantastic adventure, and heart-tearing drama. This album was some of the backdrop. I lived in Neverland, where once you’ve been there, you can never grow old. This was my land of pure imagination. I didn’t worry about genre or market. With fanfics, you don’t have to worry about that stuff anyway–it’s all built in. My plots were bonkers, but so fun.

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Floating Island by Bezduch

But things changed.

I’ve spent the last decade learning to be afraid. Learning to worry. Learning all those dark, negative things that help you survive adulthood–but they cut off your shining Neverland. In its place, I built a narrow, dystopian world of darkness and fear.

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Dark fantasy landscape concept by FPesantez

I didn’t realize how far I’ve come until I put on Kenny Loggins and revisited that snapshot of how the inside of my head used to look. I want to go back to being that intense, happy person. I think my kids would like her. So I’ve been trying to be thankful, like Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

In which I turn people into catpeople

To celebrate the upcoming launch of Magic Weaver, I asked for volunteers on Facebook. “Who wants to become a cat person?” I asked.

“Me! Me!” several people shouted.

So, without further ado, here are the victims volunteers with cat ears, and in some cases, tails.

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This is Heidi, and here is her blog
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Juliann Whicker, and this is her blog
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Ryan Perreault, and here is his Facebook
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Bethany Jennings, and here is her blog
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Jennette Mbewe, and here is her blog
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Rachel Meenan, and here is her website
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Gretchen’s daughter, who wanted to be a catgirl!

Ah, Photoshopping is so much fun! Here’s to all my volunteers!

The Legacy of Spacetime (or How We Survived Long-Distance Dating)

Back in my fanfic days (discussed here), I hosted lots of people’s stories on my website. One of them was a guy named Ryan Carroll.

While reading fanfics, I learned to judge people by what they wrote or drew–particularly their self-inserts. If a person’s sert was psycho, or stuck-up, or really nice, so was the writer. Ryan’s sert was always really nice–a fun-loving nerd who found a way to travel to other worlds.

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An old Carda profile pic

We were friends from high school, through college, and on into our 20s. I was friends with lots of people online, but Ryan was the one I had multiple crushes on–and I only knew him as words on a screen.

As we got older, he took his stories and characters and began stripping away the fanfiction aspects, building these characters into their own fantasy world. We had long conversations about Carda, Xironi, Demetrius, and how the angeli differed from real angels. We hammered out how to make an adoptable robot pet from GaiaOnline into a character. (“Let’s name her Esca, after Escaflowne!”)

We started writing story episodes together. I invented Indal, the chronomancer werewolf, because there was a sad lack of werewolves in Ryan’s universe. There also weren’t many male characters–he had loads of girls, though. (And I had loads of guys!)

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Indal working a time-scrying spell while trying not to shift into a werewolf.

We came up with the Strider of Chronos idea while writing these stories. Originally we had Carda finding out about it through a series of secret journals that were hidden across multiple worlds. We had this nasty thing called the Subspace Storm that changed every time we wrote about it. Sometimes it was an actual storm. Sometimes it was a disembodied soul disrupting the space between dimensions. Once it was the perpetually exploding home world of the cat people.

Meanwhile, we slowly went from emails to phone calls. We met in real life, which was awkward, but kind of fun. We kept building the Spacetime world. One particular episode, when the Subspace Storm sank Atlantis, was especially fun to write. I’m still sorry that it didn’t make it into the finished book.

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You can see how bonkers and unfocused the storyworld was.

Time went on. We got engaged long-distance, and aside from a few holidays spent together, we lived in separate states until a week before the wedding. It was awful. I don’t recommend it.

Once married, we took long walks together and continued developing the world. “What about Demetrius?” I asked. “There’s got to be more to him than a mustache-twirling bad guy.”

At the time, the main series villain was Octavian, and Demetrius was this demon-dude that he summoned all the time.

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Fear me and my un-originality!

We combined the two characters, and figured out that Demetrius was in love with the fallen angelus Inferna. They did the whole Adam and Eve thing–she sinned first, and he followed her lead. He may wind up as an antihero in the final book, though. Ryan and I are quite fond of him.

We decided to turn this into a fantasy novel. I took Ryan’s notes and old drafts and began writing it. A couple of drafts in, I found a lovely little critique group called the Sandbox. Everybody there at the time has moved on to being published, or very close to it. We were a hungry bunch, and happily brutal on each other’s work. I learned how much I didn’t know, and began consuming craft books. They introduced me to James Scott Bell, among others. Cue heavenly choir here.

I also tried my hand at Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writer’s Month. This gave rise to the second and third books, both of which took several rewrites to distill the story from the fluff.

There was also a proto book 2, involving blood magic, a dragon, and a really big, angry robot–but it had so many problems that I scrapped it. I reused a few elements for the upcoming fourth Spacetime book. (I couldn’t leave the giant robot idea alone.)

Ryan, meanwhile, has been brainstorming the second Spacetime series (we’re calling it Season Two), which will follow the Spacetime War and a batch of new characters. The old characters will show up, of course.

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An early cover idea for book 1. It’s too dark, but still very epic.

All in all, Spacetime has taught me so much about writing. I’ve done plenty of things wrong, but then, that’s how experiments are. (Apparently the one I got very right was Chronocrime, because one of my friends goes back and reads it every year.)

The fourth book, which I hope to launch in June, is called Magic Weaver, and features the catgirl Xironi, and how she weaves space into portal-tapestries. She befriends Revi, the heroine of Wraithblade, and together they have all sorts of crazy adventures. There are robots. There is a tiny white dragon. There is a person who has had their free will removed by taking all probabilities out of their timeline.

Ryan and I are excited for this book, because it leads straight into book five, the series finale called Inferna’s Fury. Clues as to what will happen are scattered throughout the earlier books.

The first three books are (hooray!) available on all retailers. I’m so excited! It’s been such a long road with this series. Check them out! The Strider of Chronos, Chronocrime, Wraithblade, and the upcoming Magic Weaver.

Three things werewolves can teach us about romance

From the Middle Ages and earlier, wolves were feared as man-eating monsters that killed people and livestock alike. Thus when people wanted a villain for a story, wolves were the first monsters that came to mind (the Big Bad Wolf, for example). A man who could turn into a wolf became a great metaphor for a human giving in to his base nature and feeding upon his own kind.

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Archer vs werewolves by HenriqueErias

Then came modern science, and people who studied these hated creatures. Wolves were on the verge of being wiped out due to ignorance and fear. Intrepid scientists risked everything to go camp out in the wilds and observe wolf packs, gambling that the animals weren’t the monsters they’ve been made out to be.
And hey! It turns out that wolves actually live in family units, care for their young, have elaborate social etiquette, and don’t really like eating humans. Wolves went from being hated and feared to being embraced as a sort of woodland fairy. They’re not nasty–they’re FLUFFY.

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Wolves by PanDaemonEon1

Cue the rise of the werewolf romance. Gone is the debased monster. A person who turns into a wolf is now a loveable, fluffy creature. Oh, sure, they may have some nasty habits, like killing people and eating them raw, but that’s not REALLY what werewolves are about. They’re about tapping into NAY-CHURE, maaaaaaaan.

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Hidden Harvest by Nambroth


If you go to Amazon and type in “werewolf romance”, you’ll find a plethora of romances, ranging from sweet to spicy, of hawt women who swoon for a smoking hot werewolf dude with perfect abs. Twilight brought the werewolf romance genre into the limelight. Writers like Patricia Briggs invented this nutty pack structure where the Alpha exerts a psychic dominance over his pack, and being his mate is basically psychic arranged marriage.

So, what can this crazy genre teach us about romance?

1. The Mask

Most people have layers to their personality. They have their true self (the essence) and the Mask, or Identity–the self that they present to the world. This can be a false confidence, or the face of an attention-seeker, or a delicate needy person who needs to be taken care of. Sometimes this is the opposite of their true self.
With werewolves, this is the human self: the face that blends with the crowd. Nobody knows about the beast inside them. Outwardly they’ve got it together.

I played with this a lot in my first werewolf romance, Turned. A Victorian-ish gentleman and lady marry to combine their fortunes. Outwardly they give a show of happiness, but they don’t like each other, and lead almost entirely separate lives. While lonely, neither of them knows how to penetrate the mask of the other.

2. The essence (or identity)

This is the true self, the actual emotions, insecurities, warts, and all. This is where a person’s wounds are, their secrets, all the nasty things they’d rather not present to the world. This is also what makes a character in a book the most interesting.

The wolf part of a werewolf is a personification of this true self. This is where the monster comes into the open–claws, teeth, fur, stink, everything. People can see what’s been inside them all this time, and it’s torches-and-pitchforks time.

In romance, however, when two people see the essence of the other, and fall in love with that damaged, sinful person–that is real love.

In Turned, the estranged lord and lady are bitten, and fall under the werewolf curse. They’re forced to flee into the wilds, where they face hunger, cold, and other problems presented by the elements. Being stuck in animal form, they each see what the other is truly like. First they begin to sympathize with each other, then begin to love.

The werewolf form becomes a metaphor for mask and essence. Like all good fantasy, it takes a complex topic and gives it a form that we can ponder.

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Moon’s Gift by Goldenwolf

3. Love triangles

This is a necessary part of romance–when two guys are interested in the same girl. Two girls can also be interested in the same guy (although this isn’t as common, for some reason). We’ve all read this in books or seen it on TV: one guy will be perfect for the girl, while the other will be less perfect. This is where shipping wars start (remember Team Edward and Team Jacob?).

Again, it comes down to essence and identity. One guy will see her essence and love her for who she is, while the other will only love her mask. This is like a guy loving the girl even though she’s a werewolf, while the other guy loves her as a human with no idea about her werewolf half.

Vampires can also work this way–or any monster that looks human half the time. This is the lure of paranormal romance, because it takes romance, which is such a sticky, uncomfortable thing, and turns it into tidy black and white.

For more reading, check out Jami Gold’s romance beat sheet, and Michael Hauge’s lectures on mask and essence.