I have been dinged on a few reviews (and not a few times by my own daughter in her private critiques) that I “need more romance” or that I “didn’t follow through on some of the romantic sub-plots I set up”. In this installment of Inside David’s Mind, I want to let you know my perspective on romance and how I deal with it, so that hopefully readers with enough patience will be satisfied in the end as the direction I have chosen to take in my writing regarding romantic elements.
The question of the right amount of romance in works of Speculative Fiction is a debate that is likely to never be settled. Much of the early Speculative Fiction was written in the 1940’s-1950’s, and quite a bit was targeted at youth, so the amount of romantic material in many Golden Age Science Fiction stories was sparse. Fantasy tended to be the “dark horse” of early Speculative Fiction, and aside from predominantly Christian authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, much early fantasy pushed the barriers to a greater degree. Of course the non-adolescent-targeted early Sci-Fi also brought up sex in new areas not previously considered, such as Asimov’s obsession with robots created for sexual purposes.
Sadly, as time has progressed, just as in television and cinema, the “line” that should not be crossed continued to be redrawn further and further from any sort of moral center. To be honest, today, I am not sure in the realm of secular Speculative Fiction a line even exists anymore. Sadly I have picked up a few recent Fantasy and Sci-Fi series that seem to be little more than thinly veiled literary smutfests, with the author taking ample opportunities to delve into language and sexual content not in any way germane to the story. This is sad because some of these authors are extremely talented in character development, worldbuilding, and writing. They just have chosen to use those talents to go for the low-hanging-fruit of general appeal via sex and foul language rather than the skill and artistry in storytelling that earmarked so many of the Golden Age masters of the genre.
Now let me state for the record, I am not a prude. I am not one who must lock myself in an ivory tower in order to demonstrate the sincerity of my faith. I have no illusions that sex is a reality in the world, and that more often than not, it is not enjoyed within the bounds of a godly marriage as the Creator of this great gift intended it should be. So while I have determined to keep my writing at least at a PG-13 level (with a possible dalliance in some works into NC-17 perhaps), I also recognize that lost people act like lost people, so novels which depict those not in a right relationship with Christ should be written realistically. The Bible clearly depicts adultery, fornication, murder, incest, rape, swearing, and a host of other sinful behaviors, and not always perpetrated by unbelievers! So I think it is a bit self-righteous and falsely-pious to hold Christian fiction to a higher standard than the Bible itself adheres to.
Jesus commanded us to be “in the world, but not of the world” and he frequently hung out in the homes of sinners, the presence of prostitutes, and ate with the lowest scum of the first century Jewish world: tax collectors! But he chose to walk into the darkness because that was exactly where His light was needed the most. I think Christian writers can follow the example of the Bible and “describe” sinful behavior as occurring without “glorifying” that behavior. It is possible to have sexual scenes in a Christian novel without the writer needing to delve into graphic descriptions bordering on literary pornography. We need to write realistically, and we need to not be afraid to take on those darker elements, but we also need to always set them in contrast with a positive element, and use those situations as opportunities for our Christian-voice characters to speak truth into their lives, not as preachy sermons, but as loving friends that truly care about the welfare of those caught up in self-destructive behavior.
So what does this have to do with the subject of writing romance? I think in our fast-food, get-it-now society, we have lost the aspect of patience. I stand guilty as charged that I set up at least three distinct romantic sub-plots in my Chadash Chronicles series, that by the end of the third book still had not been resolved or even deeply explored to any great degree. This was absolutely not an oversight, neither was it an inability to write romantic material. I can assure my fans that the Goldain/Arreya situation will be explored (though likely not to any reader’s satisfaction with where I take it) in the upcoming Chadash anthology, Shadow and Ice: Tales of Thatcher and Goldain. The Thatcher/Jeslyn/Xiao Hong triangle will get a full-fledged delving into in one of the Wizards War trilogy in the works. Finally, Markus/Mortika will get explored a bit more in another Wizards War book (yes, fans, the bounty hunters will be back), but beyond that I have a spinoff series planned for Markus/Mortika/Baridokos that I can promise will plumb the depths of the Markus/Mortika relationship.
“David,” you might ask, “why take SO LONG to flesh out these romantic storylines?” As I said before, as a culture we have lost patience. Honestly, while sometimes there is truly a “whirlwind romance” situation, it is the storybook ideal, not the norm. I can’t help but roll my eyes when I see in movies or books that two characters, who up to this point have lived strong, independent lives, are falling all over each other within days of their first meeting. Folks, that is neither realistic for mature people nor is it a good formula for a lasting relationship.
Strong, independent individuals used to being single and living freely are not just going to drop their entire personality and lifestyle because of a pretty face or handsome body. Strong literary characters are strong because they are survivors, and most of the Chadash characters have come up through some really rough stuff. Many are young and still getting use to kicking around in their own skin. Jumping headfirst into a completely new situation for them is just not realistic. I prefer to model, in my novels, mature, realistic romance. It is romance that is based on friendship and a solid understanding of oneself as an individual before stepping into defining oneself as part of a couple.
Also in realistic fiction, as in real life, people have emotional and situational baggage they are carrying along with them. This can sometimes be a great barrier to letting down one’s guard and letting someone else in. Let me just use a few of the situations from Chadash to exemplify what I am saying here.
Goldain/Arreya: Goldain comes from a very strict family and a people with very stringent cultural rules. If you read Saga of the Everking, you would remember that Zafirr (Arreya’s mother’s race, feline humanoids) are not unknown to the Qarahni (Goldain’s people), but that the Zafirr they know are allied with the enemy White Wyrm Clan who have been at constant odds with Goldain’s Wolf Clan for centuries. While Goldain himself does not hold this prejudice in his heart, and deeply likes Arreya, the cultural baggage he would have to get past for his father to accept such a relationship is a huge obstacle. As I said, we will see this in much deeper detail in one of the anthology stories I have slated for Shadow and Ice. To have them fall quickly or deeply into a romantic involvement up to this point in the story would just not have been realistic.
Thatcher/Jeslyn/Xiao Hong: They are teenagers, and while there was obvious hormonal attraction between Thatcher and Jeslyn in the first two Chadash Chronicles books, she is FOURTEEN in that story. No way, no how was I going to explore that any deeper than teen crush at that point. Xiao Hong is older (19) to Thatcher’s sixteen, and Thatcher does find her attractive, but remember, their first meeting, she duped him and made him look like a fool for letting a prisoner escape. After that, there has been a taunting, toying interaction. At this point Xiao Hong is not serious, finding him “interesting” but not really a great draw. I promise this will all change in Wizards War, set five years after the end of Paryn’s Gold. Jeslyn will then be nineteen in that story, and Thatcher twenty-one. Xiao Hong will be back, and once she sees that someone (Jeslyn) is wanting to play with “her toy”, her casual interest becomes a full-fledged obsession. That novel will have a full love-triangle subplot that should satisfy all those readers waiting for me to develop a romantic storyline.
Finally, Markus/Mortika: Markus is a shechat-erevi, a “corrupted one”. This means no matter where he goes, if people find out what he is, most are going to want him dead. He is a mix of parentage from a God-following Malakim servant race (The V’shami, desert elves) and a God-opposing Ayabim race (Umbra). He is a walking pariah, and any offspring he would have with any race, human, Malakim-serving, or Ayabim-serving, would suffer the same fate. That last thing in the world Markus wants is to inflict this on offspring of his own. He deeply loves Mortika, and it is this very fact that keeps him from drawing too close to her. Even though she herself is a bit of an outcast, being a “spirit-talker” among her people, that is nowhere near the persecution she would fall under marrying a shechat-erevi. She is willing to accept the consequences, but Markus rightly surmises that she doesn’t even fully understand the consequences in order to be able to make that choice, so he feels he must choose wisely for the both of them and keep their relationship as friends. Again, that was the setup in Paryn’s Gold, so I think I can hardly be blamed for not taking this further. This has been their “status quo” for many years, but as I said, in the Wizards War series as well as a spinoff series I have planned for the three bounty hunters, Markus’ resolve will be sorely tested and I promise those who were frustrated waiting for this sub-plot to develop in Paryn’s Gold will get the reward for their patience if they stick around for Wizards War and the bounty hunter trilogy (which right now I am withholding the title of because it is both only a working title and because I don’t want to tip my hand on a few key things before the Wizards War story featuring Markus/Mortika comes out).
So hopefully my readers, now having dug a little deeper Inside David’s Mind, will have their expectations set that they might very well see romantic elements develop in my novels, but the standard will require patience as I seek to paint realistic, lasting underpinnings for most romantic engagements. Some short stories, or some situations, may break this mold from time to time. It doesn’t pay to be too predictable. But fans will generally need to be patient in waiting for the romantic payoffs in my works.
Thanks for joining me in the twisty-turny corridors of my mind. Hopefully Inside David’s Mind will become a semi-regular feature on my blog as it develops, giving readers wanting to know more about the author the opportunity to do so. If you have other ideas for topics for Inside David’s Mind, or for other blog posts you would like to see featured, feel free to comment on the blog here, or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
David G. Johnson