Some of These Things Belong Together
By Deborah Cooke (also writing as Claire Delacroix)
A paranormal romance, first of all, is the story of the romance between a man and a woman, at least one of whom has mythical or magical powers. It begins as close as possible to their initial meeting and ends soon after they make a commitment to each other. The middle bit of the book involves their solving all of their various conflicts, the external ones that are often the reason they meet, and the internal ones which keep them personally from falling in love and/or making a commitment. This is all the familiar ground of romance – in a way, these are the elements that belong together in a romance novel of any subgenre or setting.
But a paranormal romance has the distinction of a parallel world. The protagonist with “something special” comes from another species or realm than we do. Whether that protagonist is a demon, an angel, a vampire, a werewolf, a were-dragon, or whatever, he or she must be part of a developed universe. And how each specific writer builds that alternate reality not only is what distinguishes the various author series from each other but is shaped by that author’s assumptions.
It’s shaped by the author’s ideas of what belongs together. What’s interesting is how different our assumptions are.
From my own affection for medieval stories (and my conviction that dragons really came into their own in the Middle Ages) comes another suite of details:
• they breathe dragonsmoke as a boundary mark. Dragonsmoke is invisible to humans
• they coexisted openly with us until the Middle Ages, when we nearly hunted them to extinction (we were obsessed with “cures” that included dragon’s blood and dragon’s bone). Now they keep their powers secret from most of us. They are also scattered and fewer in number than was once the case.
• in dragon form, they looked like jeweled sculptures. Each has scales the color of a gemstone and those gemstones are edged in what looks like a precious metal. Ebony and pewter. Lapis lazuli and silver. Garnet and gold.
What else goes with dragons? Because these are romances, I had to think about the women who would partner with these guys.
• popular stories about dragons say that they have an affection for princesses, virgins and damsels in distress. I have to admit that I’ve relied mostly upon damsels in distress for the roles of my heroines – and that many of them have been quite certain they could handle their current situation alone, thank you very much. I like that these heroines aren’t inclined to faint or wait to be rescued.
• in the world of Dragonfire, the meeting of each dragon dude with the woman who can bear his son is marked by a firestorm. Sparks literally fly between them and their lust for each other multiplies until they conceive that son. As you might imagine, this is pretty inconvenient and requires some fast talking on the part of the dragon guy. Slayers can sense the firestorm and are drawn to it, so usually the dragon guy is also defending his destined mate while trying to seduce her.
• each of my dragon shifter heroes has an affinity with two elements. This comes from Chinese dragon lore, in which dragons are masters of individual elements – the water dragon, for example, controls rain and flooding. So, my guys each have an affinity with two elements and their mates have an affinity for the other two. Their union then brings all four elements together, and is greater of the sum of the parts.
• there are a lot of old stories about the significance of a dragon losing a scale. In the world of Dragonfire, a dragon dude loses a scale when he falls in love. It’s a physical manifestation of his emotional vulnerability. Only the mate can heal the hole in his armor, which is an idea I like a lot.
You can see how the world of Dragonfire was shaped by my assumptions about dragons and also my interest in medieval stories.
My other paranormal romance series is the Prometheus Project by Claire Delacroix. (http://www.delacroix.net/angels.html)
This series is set in a dystopian future society, which is post-nuclear but pre-Apocalyptic. I liked the idea of angels and their luminous beauty in contrast to a very gritty urban reality – and I liked the idea that they could literally bring the light into the lives of the humans condemned to live in that society. What were my assumptions about angels?
• Angels are other-worldly. I wanted my angels to have their feet on the ground – that meant they had to be fallen angels. I decided that my angels would be volunteers in the battle to save humanity from ourselves, and that they would sacrifice their wings in order to take flesh. FALLEN begins with Montgomery losing his wings.
• Angels sing. When the angelic host appears, often to collect the volunteer at the end of his mission, their arrival is heralded by singing and brilliant light. This light can blind humans.
• where there are angels, there should be demons. Since my angels are fallen angels, I decided that the demon of choice would be Lucifer, the most powerful of the fallen angels and the one who did not volunteer. Lucifer was cast out of heaven for his pride – in this series, he tempts each angel hero when everything seems to be going completely wrong.
• it is written in the Book of Enoch that angels chose to help men, once men were cast out of the Garden of Eden. Each of the fallen angels listed there taught humans a specific ability – I used this with my angels, like Baruch (in REBEL) sharing his ability to see God’s will in the stars.
Again, these are romances, so we needed a little extra on the question of love:
• it is also written that the fallen angels remained on earth because they were tempted by the daughters of men. I decided that my fallen angel heroes would each be tempted by a specific woman, that they would fall in love and decide to remain among us instead of returning to heaven once their assignment was completed.
• As beings of light or thought, angels would have no sensory experience. In taking flesh, a whole realm of sensory reality is revealed to them, one that they knew about intellectually but hadn’t experienced. This is startling to them – and gives them a character arc that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Perfect beings have nothing to learn. Perfect beings who forget what they know because they are overwhelmed have plenty to learn! I really liked the idea of physical experience being overwhelming to the fallen angels.
We see just how traumatic it is in Montgomery’s loss of his wings at the beginning of FALLEN, but later, he is focused on getting his job done and ignoring the distraction of the sensory world. Lilia ensures that he can’t quite ignore the pleasures of the flesh.
GUARDIAN’s Rafe, in contrast, revels in sensory experience. He is the party animal who can’t get enough – and who pretty much forgets his mission as a result. Delilia’s experience in its complete lack of joy and pleasure is probably the only thing that could really get to him.
REBEL’s Armand is disgusted with humans and our pursuit of pleasure. He can’t wait to get his job done and get back where he belongs – until he meets Theodora, who is just as unhappy with the world but determined to use her abilities to change it. Her conviction also changes Armand.
So, there we have two different paranormal romance series, with two different sets of assumptions shaping the fictional world.
What are your assumptions about dragons? About fallen angels? Share your thoughts and we’ll pick two winners from the comments – one for a copy of the latest Dragonfire novel, DARKFIRE KISS, (http://www.deborahcooke.com/dark.html) and one for a copy of the first book in the Prometheus Project, FALLEN (http://www.delacroix.net/fallen.html).