Caught in a non-romance

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.

12 thoughts on “Caught in a non-romance

  1. If it helps any, the relationship between Tzenni and Latinus isn’t my favourite from the first two books anyway – I loved the friendship between Tzenni and Innes more, and was just as engaged by the relationships between a whole bunch of other characters, be they siblings, sister-wives etc, as I was by the central romance. I think it is your wonderful characterisation and realistic relationships of whatever flavour that are the real charm, and I’m sure Quint and Kallisty don’t need to fall in love romantically for us to fall for them 🙂

    1. Well, that’s reassuring, considering that so far the main romantic arcs seem to be between Kallisty and Kallisty’s Finances, and Quint and The Concept Of It Being Okay To Be Quint. 😉

      1. Quint learning that is it okay to be Quint is a very important thing and in my view, needs to happen before any True Love can occur!

        1. You see, this is why I keep saying ‘It’s not YA!’ to people who mostly reply with ‘What would be wrong with it being YA?’ or ‘Who said it was?’ or ‘I don’t really want to hear about your unpublished book, can we talk about something else now?’ Because one of the leads is technically a teenager (though she turns twenty during the book and she’s been gainfully employed in the theft-with-menaces sector since she was about sixteen and no one in her society thinks she’s not an adult, so, yeah) and the other one has a self-discovery arc.

          But I am not writing these books specifically for people in their teens, or people who are having problems with their self-image. I write them for anyone who wants to read them. And I’m not going to slap a label on these books saying ‘It’s OK to give this to your kid!’ because it would be irresponsible of me, but nor am I going to censor the more disturbing themes that show up just because a kid might be reading.

          Also I write long and I use big words, and I don’t really want to box myself into a genre corner where people expect the opposite. 😉

          1. Bah, strict genre boxes get on my nerves but a self-discovery arc does not YA make. Obviously I don’t know about the tone of Heavy Ice but I would never describe anything featuring a character like Zircon Gray as aimed at young people!
            Having said which, I really don’t get the whole YA thing because I think I’ve only ever read any as a adult.

            1. Yeah, I’m trying to think at what point Zircon would have gone from ‘going straight over my head’ to ‘giving me nightmares’ and then to ‘is something I can cope with in the context of fiction’ and failing to put definite dates on it, and even if I could it would be ridiculous to try to extrapolate from there to some unknown present-day teenager.

              I like Garth Nix’s books, but other than that I really don’t read much in the YA genre. The Smart Bitches had a poll recently about YA and even I was surprised by how hard it skewed towards readers of YA, so clearly we’re a minority.

              1. Yeah, I’m not sure what age I would have got it either. I think Garth Nix and Phillip Pullman are the only YA authors I’ve read aside from Vampire Diaries nonsense and I only read those because my younger sister had one laying around at home and I was ill and bored (I’ll confess I enjoyed the 1st three novels as fluff but the TV series is far superior and much darker!)

                1. I know I have squeed at you about the Vampire Diaries TV series before, but I love it *so much*. I particularly love the plot and the pacing – it seems to be something TV series so often get wrong, either whiplashing the viewer with soapy melodrama or taking months to spin out one overworked plotline, but TVD gets it right almost all the time.

                  Also, I really love that the relationships between the female characters are so real. They’re competitive and make stupid decisions and have good reason not to trust each other sometimes, but also they are supportive and funny and genuinely awesome.

                  I think Damon probably gets away with too much because they’re not going to take away the weekly Ian Somerhalder fix, but… well, I don’t want to lose the weekly Ian Somerhalder fix either, for he is a thing of beauty.

                  1. I join your squee 😉 Even the Ian bit, which is rare for me. And I think Damon is very cleverly written actually, especially when he is on the edge.

    2. Yes, Tzenni and Innes’s friendship was the most important relationship in the first two books for me, too. Latinus annoyed me for most of book 1 by being masterful (I really don’t like masterful men, which is basically why the romance genre leave me cold), although I started to like him better in book 2 when he became a bit more human. I’m still not sure he’s good enough for Tzenni, though, but as long as he makes her happy that’s OK 😉

      And I think everyone needs an Innes of their own.

      1. Hee! Yes, he does start out thinking he has all the answers – I have no idea how Vikenai put up with him, though I suspect the answer was ‘the sex was good and she got her emotional needs met by Hendryz and Rosalind’.

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