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Angela Knight | Vampires, Werewolves And Fairies, Oh My!

January 4, 2011

Angela KnightMASTER OF SMOKEOne of the challenges of writing paranormal romance is finding a way to build a really different fantasy, yet get the readers to buy into it. After all, everybody’s doing handsome leather-clad vampires and cheeky monster-slaying tough girls. Readers love that kind of thing, but they’ve also seen it before. Repeatedly.

It’s a lot more fun if you can find a way to turn the concept on its head, surprising readers and creating a whole new world for them to play in.

Besides, I’ve got ADD, and I’m easily bored. I love leather clad vampires, but I have no interest in doing the same thing everybody else is doing. That’s no fun at all.

Here’s one of the secrets of writing you don’t hear about: it’s fun. Shocking, I know. Everybody always talks about how much work it is being a writer, and how we get paid peanuts, and how the publishing industry is imploding.

All of that is true, but it’s also true that creating a universe and moving into it for 400 pages is the best fun you can have with your clothes on.

I love coming up with weird ideas and playing with them, like:

What if a werewolf girl rescued a gorgeous Sidhe warrior — who was naked at the time, naturally — only to find out he didn’t remember why he was being hunted or how to control his fabulous powers?

What if they were making love and he turned into a house cat? Ooo! A romance between a cat and a dog!

And they pay me for this stuff, y’all. Is that great, or what?

I also get to talk about stuff that ticks me off. Like the abuse of women by homicidal husbands and boyfriends.

This is a subject I really feel strongly about, because when I was a reporter, I did an interview with a woman whose ex-boyfriend broke in and slit her throat with a box cutter. She had to try to stop the bleeding with her hands until the ambulance arrived. He’d been beating her for years, but in South Carolina, abuse like that is often ignored by the legal system.

Now, I could rant about that stuff all day, but that’s not really a good way to get people to think about problems. It’s a lot more cool if you can dress the problem up in a costume and show why it really is a problem.

For example, maybe my werewolf aristocrats think women are inferior. They beat and abuse their werewolf females and say it’s tradition, and anyway, it doesn’t count because the women heal when they change forms. So there’s never any bruises or broken bones to show to the police.

I can show that this is a terribly destructive cycle, but I can also show my werewolf heroine finding the courage to fight back. And by fighting back, she frees herself from her abuser.

My hope is that women in abusive relationships will read this and start thinking that maybe they can change their lives too. Maybe they can find the courage to get away from their abuser before it’s too late.

Note that there’s nowhere in the story where I say as the writer, “This is wrong.” I just show what it’s like for these women to live in fear and to feel they have nowhere to go, and yet to find the courage to leave anyway.

Meanwhile I’ve got my sexy cat guy romancing my heroine and killing evil werewolves. So I lead my reader on a fun little romp that has some serious things going on in the background.

I love playing with the implications of ideas. Like, my secondary heroine can heal the injuries she suffers at the hands of her abuser, but how does she prove she’s being abused before he kills her? Her ability to heal is a good thing, but it’s also a problem.

That’s one of the tricks of writing superhuman characters. You have to remember to give your Superman his kryptonite.

Think about it. Superman is faster than a speeding bullet, invulnerable, can leap tall yada yada yada.

But you only have tension in a story when your hero is in danger. If he’s invulnerable, he’s never really in danger. That’s why Superman’s villains always have an inexhaustible supply of this supposedly rare meteor. Because otherwise, Superman would put us right to sleep.

So every time I come up with a cool superhuman character, I think about how his abilities could screw up his life. My hero can turn into giant cats, but what happens when he can’t control it? What happens if his heroine turns into her werewolf form, and his cat form doesn’t recognize her and tries to kill her? How can she defend herself without hurting the man she loves?

Did I mention I’m also a little sadistic?

Every good writer has a hidden mean streak, because you’ve got to torment your hero and heroine. Yes, I love my people, but I have to put them through hell.

You only discover how strong you are when things get really, really bad.

Funny thing about that, though. When you see your character struggling through a tough situation and winning out, it makes you feel you can get through the bad stuff that happens in your own life.

The thing about life is that nobody gets out of it alive. Sooner or later, no matter how much money you have or how famous you are, something bad is going to happen to you. That’s when you’ve got to dig down and find your own courage to deal with life.

Heroes provide us with models of grace and strength under pressure. Even if those heroes have fur and fangs and the ability to tear the doors off a Buick, it’s the emotional strength that really counts.

That’s true for everybody, even if you don’t have fur and fangs.

Angela Knight is the New York Times bestselling author of the Mageverse series. The seventh book in the series, MASTER OF SMOKE, will be out Jan. 4. For more information, visit her website.

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