In the spring of 2007, in a trendy New York restaurant, my blossoming romance writing career took a sharp turn into the historical fiction genre.
“We want you to write a novel about Tudor Vampires,” announced my wonderful editor as we sat down to lunch.
“Historical fiction, not romance,” clarified my agent. “The novel can be sensual, and you can write anything—action, drama, mystery, tragedy... The strict rules of romance do not apply.”
“Tudor Vampires…” I repeated dazedly. “There is such a thing?”
“Not yet, but there will be. You will create them.”
Interesting, I thought, and added whimsically, “King Henry VIII… a vampire?”
“He did have six wives… maybe he needed to replenish them,” my agent commented wryly and came up with the enticing title ROYAL BLOOD.
All jokes aside, I knew exactly what they were asking for: Blood and Intrigue. Passion and Betrayal. A bloodthirsty predator prowling the Tudor Court, claiming lives, seducing ladies-in-waiting, and instilling raw terror in the faithless hearts of the Howards and the Staffords.
I quickly did the math: Prince Vlad the Impaler, who inspired Bram Stoker’s immortal Count Dracula, lived in 15th century Romania; King Henry VIII was anointed in 1509. The Tudor Vampires concept was an accident in anachronisms waiting to happen. Then again, argued the risk-taker in me, Stoker did not invent the bloodsucking creatures. The vampire legend has been walking the earth for thousands of years. Go back, I thought. Find the source!
So I did. The source – the original reference to vampires firstly recorded in history – turned out to be a welcome shocker. Vampires were conceived long before Prince Vlad III was born in his human form. What’s more, I had access to texts unavailable to many authors.
With great relish, I steeped myself in untapped vampire lore and the fascinating history of Tudor England – and a wickedly inspired idea pinged inside my head. Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought – what a jest! – if my vampire didn’t know he was a vampire!
To make matters more complicated for my clueless vampire, I decided to pair him off with a scheming heroine who was both aware of what he was and was sworn to betray and ultimately destroy him. They will be enemies as well as lovers, I plotted furiously. Deception, desire, danger. One of them will win, the other will lose.
Rule of thumb in writing fiction: Well developed characters should come to life and take over the narration. I could not wait to find out which of my leads would come out on top.
In the following months, I immersed myself in a terrific adventure: whispers of assassination plots, conniving royal mistresses, Vatican politics, hidden hostilities, international conspiracies, criminals and bawdyhouses in the stews of London, greed, ambition, vices, glamorous courtly entertainments, and a delicious pair of lead adversaries. The sky was the limit.
Then it all went to hell.
My bloodthirsty Irish warrior and his devious French princess rebelled. They fell in love.
First, they refused to become casual lovers, deciding instead to suffer in desire. “Fine,” I thought peevishly. “Suffer.” Then, when I finally got them in bed together, they refused to come out. I had been convinced that they could never form a true bond of trust because they were natural enemies, each possessing a secret that if revealed would lead to death and destruction.
They became friends and allies.
It was a catastrophe. The world was crumbling around their ears, the future of mankind tittered on the brink of extinction, the most powerful elements in the story were moving against them… and my two rogue leads were busy losing themselves in each other.
I called up my agent. “I’m in trouble,” I said. “Romance has hijacked my book.”
“That’s great,” he said. “Go with it.”
Still unconvinced, and in my desperation to get the defiant lovers to behave, I started throwing fireballs. I was ruthless. There was no need to resort to the old trick of “the big misunderstanding” or to apply many small misunderstandings to separate these two. I had invested countless hours in meticulous periodical research to make sure that the premise was full of insurmountable obstacles: conflicting allegiances, clashing personalities, polar backgrounds, peril in every corner, not to mention the vast preternatural chasm between them.
In order for one of them to survive, the other one had to die.
“Let’s see you get out of that,” I thought sneakily. That’s the beauty in fiction. Anything is possible. No rules, no restrictions, no guarantees. It all depends on whether the author of the book you are reading believes in happily ever after… or not.
I cannot tell you how the book ends because then I will have to fang you. But as a thank-you to fellow voracious readers everywhere, I am inviting you to read the romantic excerpt posted on my website and enter the contest to win a boxful of pampering goodies.
As for whether ROYAL BLOOD is a romance or something else – that depends... Fiction incorporates all genres. What in your opinion are the rules that classify a book as a pure romance novel? And which rules do you think that if broken could actually make a story more interesting?