Somewhere in the spectrum between Romance and full-blown Paranormal Romance of the my-boyfriend-is-allergic-to-garlic-and-sunshine variety is a niche for those who like their protagonists human, but enjoy a few speculative side elements. And authors Emma Jane and Jo Marryat do this very nicely indeed. I’ve invited them to tell us a little about mixing that dash of fantasy in with the love.
Emma Jane is the author of Shuttered (Dreamspinner Press) and co-author of Otherworld (Torquere), along with Liz Powell. No stranger to speculative fiction, Emma also writes YA and adult fantasy under the name E.J. Tett. In Shuttered, photographer Daniel has a unique telepathic bond with his dog, Sasha: they can understand and speak to each other. When he meets and falls for con-man and medium Rowan, Daniel and Sasha get dragged into a hunt for a dead body to save Rowan from the thugs he swindled.
First in a brand-new series, Jo Marryat’s debut novel Indigo Heartfire (Tickety Boo Press) tells the story of widower Robert. Determined to make a fresh start five years after his wife died, Robert is shocked when a ‘guardian angel’ in the guise of a tiny fairy appears, but she’s there to help him, whether he believes in her or not. Jo is the penname of author James Scott-Marryat, who has been working in the speculative market for years, both as a writer and as a freelance editor, tidying up other people’s work for publication.
Juliana: Both Shuttered and Indigo Heartfire are romances with contemporary settings. Did you plan to include the fantasy aspects from the start, or did they just creep in?
Jo: The fantasy aspects were central to the story – the contrast between the magical fantastic and the everyday contemporary striving to achieve a balance where both were acceptable.
Emma: I’m trying to think of something I’ve written that doesn’t have any fantasy aspects. The only one I can think of is a short story called “Mr Stone.” That was published in a print magazine called Oblique Quarterly Magazine back in 2010, but has since been turned into an audio story.
Fantasy elements tend to creep into everything I write. Even the contemporary romance I’m working on at the moment has a tiny, tiny speculative element. You have more freedom when writing fantasy, it’s more of an escape.
Juliana: Do you find it hard to resist the temptation of letting the speculative elements take over the plot? How do you keep the contemporary story on track, without being completely derailed by the fantasy?
Jo: The speculative elements are definitely more fun to write, but I set the book firmly in the real world first, before introducing the fantasy element. Annabelle – “like Tinkerbelle, only better” – doesn’t appear until chapter five, and even then we’re not convinced she does exist for quite some time. So that allowed me to keep the contemporary story on track, and ‘bleed’ the fantasy in slowly.
Emma: With the story I’m working on at the moment, no. The speculative element is so small there’s no chance for it to grow or get out of hand — letting it would ruin the story. With Shuttered, I could’ve gone more fantastical — I could’ve had the main character understand all animals, and I could’ve had my medium seeing and hearing spirits all over the place, so I did have to be careful to keep it as realistic as possible. The story still appeals to non-fantasy readers.
You have to think about what you want from the story. With romances, the relationships are the focus. You have to keep these relationships at the front and let any fantasy elements complement and not over-power.
Juliana: In Shuttered, we have a telepathic dog. In Indigo Heartfire, a grown man finds a tiny fairy godmother. Those are pretty unique story ingredients. I know Emma is a dog owner; was your Beau the key inspiration for Sasha? And Jo, where did the fairy idea come from?
Jo: I was doing a writing course with Raindance a couple of decades ago, and as a writing exercise we were challenged to write a modern fairy tale, so it grew from there.
Emma: There are definitely bits of Beau in Sasha. He’s completely neurotic though! Sasha’s much more sensible.
Juliana: Both of you also dabble in more traditional speculative fiction. What are the specific challenges in writing romance? What drew you into the genre?
Jo: Making it believable, realistic even. Too much ‘hearts/flowers/stars’ and your writing becomes a parody. All the fiction I’ve written have love stories within them, even the darker material I’m currently producing – I like that, no matter what happens to a character, love will always give you hope, give you personal fulfillment, even if it turns out tragically. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, I guess…
Emma: I love how tragic romance is! Emotion is all so heightened and there’s a lot of overwrought drama going on, which I love. Character-based stories are my favourite and there’s nothing more character-based than romance.
I think it was probably the relationship between the characters Ste and Brendan in the UK soap opera Hollyoaks that got me wanting to write gay romance. My Otherworld co-author, Liz, was a big fan of those two too, so that’s what got us started.
The big challenge for me is not letting the characters jump into bed straight away. I failed miserably in both Shuttered and Otherworld! But they don’t get a smooth ride (pardon the pun), you can’t let things be too easy. In romance the big question is usually ‘will they/won’t they?’
Juliana: Could you share some tips for those who want to write romance with speculative elements? Where to start, what pitfalls to avoid…
Jo: When you have an idea, write it down, and then every idea that follows – carry a notepad with you at all times. Not all the ideas will make it into your book, but allow your imagination to run wild at this point – your inner brainstorming, if you like – and all those ideas will stimulate your creative mind as you reflect on them. Most importantly get the romance right. It doesn’t matter if it’s between vampires, fairies, aliens, orcs, humans, whatever, but you have to show the feelings/attraction/desire/love as realistically as possible, even when you’re choosing to have fantasy characters. Don’t cheat the reader by taking short cuts because it’s easier not to show the elements that drew the characters together. Write your first draft and put it all in, then go back and edit, edit, edit.
Emma: Read all sorts! Even non-fiction. I love real-life stories of unexplained incidents; they really get my imagination going.
Where to start? For romance you’d need to read some romance and see how it’s done. Romance readers are very particular in things they like and don’t like! Get involved in a fandom — the “Stendan” one (that’s Ste and Brendan, Hollyoaks) was very vocal in both its support and anger of the some of the couple’s storylines.
Cheating partners never goes down well, avoid that one!
Juliana: What are your main sources of inspiration for new stories?
Jo: Reading, day-dreaming (and I keep a dream journal by the bed for when I wake), and watching people when I’m out shopping.
Emma: Real-life events. TV shows. I think I’m inspired more by what I see than what I read, though I used to take pretty much all my inspiration from Brian Jacques’ Redwall books when I was younger.
Juliana: Could you share some of your favorite authors?
Jo: Patrick Rothfuss, Marian Keyes, James Clavell, Stan Barstow, Jim Butcher, Anthony Ryan, Mark Lawrence. I think that list gets darker the more it progresses…
Emma: Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix and Oscar Wilde for the fantasy side of things. Alexis Hall and Harper Fox for the romances.
Juliana: A big thank you to both Jo and Emma for taking part and sharing some of the writing process with me, proving that writing speculative romance is definitely not for the faint of heart.
You can find out more about Emma’s work on her website (http://ejtett.weebly.com) and blog (http://emmy-j.blogspot.co.uk); look for an upcoming series of video posts on the blog. Recent work includes the romance short stories The Queen’s Guard (published in Torquere Press’s Men in Uniform anthology) and Compulsion (published in Dreamspinner Press’s Hot off the Press anthology), as well as the speculative short story Why I Hate The Seaside (Kraxon Magazine, May 2015).
Emerald Heartfire, the next in Jo’s series featuring Annabelle the fairy, should be out later this year (Tickety Boo Press, publication date pending). Recent work includes the short story Dog Valley, published in the Malevolence, Tales From Beyond the Veil anthology (Tickety Boo Press), writing as Jeff Richards. Jo blogs as James Scott-Marryat at www.jscottmarryat.com and you can find info on editing services at http://www.jsmedit.com.
Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out May’s Spotlight on Short Story Writing with Nathan Hystad. Next up in July: Spotlight on Writing Local Flavor.