A STROKE OF MIDNIGHT

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Getting to Know Meredith Gentry and Anita Blake
by Laurell K. Hamilton
  

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I was originally asked to do a crossover story between the two main characters of my two series. You know, an Anita Blake meets Meredith Gentry story. I said, sorry, can't do that. I write first person narrative. What am I supposed to do, say I entered the room and sat down, and I was already there, and didn't like me very much? How multi-personality would that sound? Not to mention that Merry and Anita do not live in the same version of the United States of America. They both live a little off-center. Not quite first star and then straight onto morning, but more like you opened the wrong door, or went to bed, and woke up somewhere else. Somewhere that looked like here but wasn't quite.

If I had never written book five of The Anita series, BLOODY BONES, Merry and Anita might have had a chance at living in the same world. Unfortunately, in BLOODY BONES I had the fey as a very major plot point. I'd done some research, and I am part Scotch/Irish from the Ozark hills. I mean I'd been raised being told not that the Boogie Man would get me if I was a bad kid, but that Rawhead and Bloody Bones would get me. Through research I learned that Bloody Bones is a Scottish nursery boggle. My grandmother didn't know that, but her father told her the same dark fairie story, that she told it to me. Somewhere in my family, someone came from the Scottish border country, the origin of this particular very scary tale. Interesting what travels through time and space, when so much is lost, isn't it?

So I thought I knew my Celtic folklore and fairies. I wrote BLOODY BONES, and was happy with it. Then I floated the proposal for the Meredith Gentry series, where the main character was to be a fairie princess, and a private detective, because the princess gig came with a title and not much else. I did more research before writing the first Merry book, KISS OF SHADOWS, and I found out, to my chagrin, that I wanted to change how the fairie folk worked in this country. I wanted to change some of their social and political background. I wanted to change how the United States had dealt with the fey as a people, but a book in Anita’s world was already in print. Too late to change it now. And no, I am not one of those writers that will go back and rewrite an already published book years later because I'm not happy with it.

So what is a writer to do when you're host on your own petard, and in print? I didn't want to cripple Merry's world and her character and her society by hamstringing it with what I'd done in an earlier book with a different character, so I made Merry's world a completely different world. A world where the fey were treated somewhere between America's very own royalty, and how the American Indians had been dealt with. The fey are a country unto themselves as are the Native Americans in many ways, but the fey have more diplomatic clout. I think it has something to do with being magical, and the fear that inspires in the powers that be.

Once their worlds separated I worked at making the plots, and the characters themselves, more separate. I'd written five Anita books in a row, and part of me wondered if I could write anything else. I'd written and published three stand-alone books earlier in my career, but that had been long ago, and far away, or so it seemed.

I thought, what do I want to do with this series that I can't do with the Anita series? That was actually a hard question because I'd made sure that Anita had all my favorite toys. She was as tough, or tougher than the men. She carried a gun. She solved crime. She got to play with all the movie monsters, with a solid basis in folklore and myth. I'd added romance, against my wishes, actually. I planned the Anita books to be a mystery series that just happened to have zombies, vampires, and werewolves in it. I never planned on Jean-Claude becoming a leading man. He was a vampire and I thought what was so sexy about a dead guy? So what did I know? He stuck to his guns, metaphorically speaking, and he become a love interest. I added Richard, our favorite tormented werewolf in book three. So I had my little triangle of love in place. But it would be book six, THE KILLING DANCE, before I would willingly admit that there was a romance happening. I kept trying to get rid of Jean-Claude, marry Richard, and have Anita get back to work solving crime, raising the dead, and executing vampires. But, alas, the romance was here to stay and nothing worked as I'd planned it. As I point out to fans, I'm not dating any of these people, so whom Anita sleeps with is not my choice, it's hers.

With Merry, I knew from the beginning that the romance was going to be a major factor. I set it up from book one, so that Merry would have at her beck and call a group of some of the prettiest, most dangerous, most unusual men that I'd ever seen, or dreamt up. I figure that Merry is my last hurrah for the hunk of the month, so to speak. So, since this is the last series where I can allow my libido and my imagination full rein, I thought I might as well go all out. In the third book, SEDUCED BY MOONLIGHT, I don't think anyone would accuse me of being timid on paper. If I had any inhibitions left in sex scenes, they seem to have left. Merry is free to choose and do what she wants, what her body craves. I have no idea why the sexual content of my books bothers people more than the violence. Anita is more violent than Merry, but Merry has more sex. Or did. I'm currently working on book thirteen of Anita, DANSE MACABRE, and I'd actually have to count and compare to see who has more sex in which book—it's a tough call. Though certainly Merry has a larger cast to choose from.

Merry will be Queen if she can get with child before her cousin Cel gets someone pregnant. Since the loser of this contest will probably be killed, it's a race that Merry needs to win. Not only her own survival, but also that of her people rests on this.

Merry's series is more political thriller than straight mystery. I used the French court as some of my model rather than the more typical English. French royal history makes anything any modern star or celeb has ever done look tame to me.

Merry is also older than Anita, and that was done deliberately. Anita is still only twenty-something, and only recently has she begun to let some of that twenty-something angst go. Merry is thirty-three, and being in your third decade is just more relaxing. You know more of who you are, and whom you want to be, and your real chances for being that person. Most of us spend our twenties scrambling for an identity and trying to figure out how we work. So much work, so much frustration. Perhaps because of her naivety, Anita argues with me. She argues with Jean-Claude. She argues with Richard. She argues with everybody, including herself. Given a series of choices, she will almost inevitably choose the hardest one. She's getting a little better at not making her life harder than it has to be, but she's still arguing with me. I've learned to just let her win, because eventually she'll win anyway. It saves time to just get out of the way.

I desperately did not want another character that would butt heads with me to this degree. Merry doesn't argue with me much. I like that. Merry was raised in the faire courts where she had almost no magic, and was a hated half-breed. She's one fourth human, one-fourth brownie, and half Unseelie sidhe. Which most people see as the bad fairies. But the fey are originally nature spirits. Nature is not good or bad. The bear that eats you didn't do it because it was evil, but because it was a bear, and you're easy to catch and kill. The fey are like that, like a storm that squashes you flat, not on purpose, but because you're in its way, and it's a storm, and that's what storms do. I wanted very much to show the fey as closer to their original folklore. If you read accounts of people that actually believed in the fey, there really isn't such a thing as a good fairie. There are ways to avoid them, or placate them, but staying as far away from the doings of the fairfolk is wisest.

Merry has learned to hold her temper, her tongue, and her own council. She doesn't make the quippy remarks that Anita thrives on, because most of those comments would have gotten her killed years ago. Diplomacy is a way of life in any royal court, but especially if you are weak, and others are strong.

Merry's lovers are her royal guard. Princes and knights of fairie, and whomever gets her pregnant gets to be king. A prize worth fighting for, and maybe dying for. Merry has survived several assassination attempts. In SEDUCED BY MOONLIGHT along there are three. You know, corner the bad guy and they fight back. I'm not sure defending your life counts as an assassination attempt.

I honestly don't know who will be king. Anita taught me not to bet on a single outcome. She taught me that just because I like someone doesn't mean my main character will, and just because I don't see someone as romantic material doesn't mean they won't be. I've been surprised so many times in this last book, that I've taken my chips off the table. I am not betting anything on anyone anymore. So I started the Merry series without even trying to guess. I half my favorites, leading contenders, but if Merry surprises me have as much as Anita, then I'll probably be wrong. So I try to stay out of her way, and out of the men's way, and let things happen.

Yes, I do plot, and heavily in some of the later books, because with this many balls in the air, I've got to have some sort of road map. But I'll throw out a plot plan if my characters come to life enough to over throw it. You can always rewrite a plot, but a character that is alive enough to argue with you, to choose things you would not, that's magic, and you don't mess with magic. You accept it as the gift it is, and let it play.

—Laurell

 

 

 

 

 

 

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