OK, so the first two books had a strong romantic thread running through them. Because I love romance novels and I’m not ashamed to admit it, and I wanted to write SF with the same kind of immersive attention to the characters’ feelings for each other – the same clause in the contract between writer and reader that says yes, these people and how they fall in love matter – that you get in romance. And also, because I talk back to romance heroes and heroines all the time, I put Innes in the book saying ‘Go and talk to him, then!’ when there is an explosive misunderstanding in a ballroom and ‘Do we need to have a talk about contraception?’ on the morning after, because that amused me.
But the new book doesn’t have a central romance. What it mostly has in place of that is Kallisty and Quint falling in friendship with each other instead. (No, I can’t rewire the plot to have Quint be straight and have him and Kallisty fall for one another, because my brain doesn’t work that way)
It’s a book about first contact and culture shock and the choices people make when they don’t have enough information, which you’d think would be a perfect surrounding metaphor for a love story, but I don’t have one. I don’t have room on stage for people who are just there as the love interest – I don’t even have love interests queueing up to audition. I have politicians, bandits, fierce descendants of hereditary Imperial servants, exes who show up in flashbacks and agents of the Order of the Neither battering impatiently on the stage door instead.
And I keep feeling vaguely twitchy about that, and then feeling annoyed with myself for feeling twitchy. There are enough books out there with straight male protagonists who don’t find love in the first book they appear in, so why do I feel weird about there being no True Love plotline for my screwed-up gay political heir or my loud-mouthed female bandit? I think with Quint it’s partly that there are so many books out there where the gay characters are only allowed to exist as long as they don’t have sex lives, and with Kallisty it’s mostly that I worry that the readers will think I’m making a value judgment – she’s not good enough to deserve a long-term partner!
And it’s not that at all. I fully expect Kallisty to fall in love, very possibly with several people over the course of her life. I kind of hope Quint will too, if he ever finds anyone simultaneously sorted enough to refuse to put up with his crap and saintly enough to put up with him. But neither of them are at that point in their story.
And also, I think I might be having wobbly moments with this book even if I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, because I’m not writing in a vacuum any more. Even if my sales aren’t going to trouble anyone’s best-seller lists, there are still people out there who I know will read this book, and I don’t want to disappoint them.
Sometimes I think I need an Innes of my own to tell me this stuff, I really do.
Image from Romantic Mathematics, a site Tzenni would love.