I first heard about Meljean Brook from my gurus over at Ramblings on Romance. Based on Katie(babs) recommendation, I picked up Demon Angel and fell completely in love with both the world that Meljean Brook created and with her style of narrative – which I think is beautiful and compelling.
The Book Smugglers: First of all, we would like to congratulate you on the success of your Guardians series – it has gathered quite a huge following, good reviews all around blogland and made a die-hard fangirl out of our very own Ana.
Meljean: Thank you! And the feeling is mutual; I’ve become a huge fan of your reviews and polls. Where else can I go to vote on the best 1980’s fantasy action adventure film, where Labyrinth is pitted against The Goonies? (The answer: my blog, which just goes to show how freaking awesome you two are.)
The Book Smugglers: You started your working career in the world of accounting and banking – when did you decide enough is enough?
Meljean: I’d always been a rabid reader, and wrote on my free time — but I really thought I could keep it as a hobby while actually making money in a ‘real’ job. Ha! How we delude ourselves. When I started Alt+Tabbing away from my work-in-progress to a payroll spreadsheet whenever my boss walked past my desk, I knew it was time for a change. So I decided to go back to school for my English degree, was in the master’s program but still writing on the side (and trying to convince myself that I might actually write literary fiction, even though I was dying to write fantasy-ish romance). Then I forced myself out of that second delusion and decided to write what where my heart really lay — and it wasn’t long after that I was contacted by my editor regarding some fanfiction I’d written. So, luckily, I had something ready to show her (and that became Demon Angel.)
The Book Smugglers: we know that you are a major fan of comic books and that you used to write fan-fiction about the DC universe- was that an important step towards your writing career?
Meljean: Definitely. There’s the obvious reason — my editor contacted me because of the fanfic — but more importantly, fanfic allowed me to improve my writing in a supportive (but critical) community, and build confidence in my writing. I’d never been able to finish a novel-length story before I wrote fanfic, and had gotten to the point where I wasn’t sure I could. Now, having long stories definitely isn’t the problem 🙂
The Book Smugglers: The Guardian series is an all around work of literature that can’t be described simply as romance or paranormal. There is also fantasy, religious themes and a lot of action – how would you describe the books? Do you think they fit in one specific genre?
Meljean: I’ve been asked this a couple of times, but I still don’t know exactly what genre I’d put them in. Whatever their description, it would have “romance” appended to it, because that is always my focus when I begin the story, and — to me — the heart of the story. Urban fantasy romance, perhaps — paranormal romance (although that sounds so generic.) They are on the dark side, but not without humor; they’re hot, but sex isn’t the focus. They touch on topics of morality and belief but (hopefully) aren’t preachy. So I think they would work well for crossover readers from other genres — especially those fantasy/urban fantasy readers who don’t mind the romance and sex.
The Book Smugglers – You mention in your website that you were influenced by Neil Gaiman – which is one of our favorite writers by the way – what other influences where important to your world building?
Meljean: Oh, wow. Milton, obviously — the first books of Paradise Lost were a huge influence, but also his essays. I’ve pulled in items from Greek mythology, The Divine Comedy, Marlowe. I will unabashedly use anything I think would be a good idea that fits the stories and characters. Pride and Prejudice and Oscar Wilde hung over me while I was writing Demon Moon; every action-adventure movie I’ve seen while writing Demon Night. More recently in Demon Bound, it’s been stories like The Yellow Wallpaper, Jane Eyre (and attached literary criticism) and Tim O’Brien’s amazing collection of Vietnam-era stories.
Then there are the books I know influence me but that I can’t point to a specific reference: The Last Unicorn, for its look at heroism — but also for its unique villain who captures the unicorns for the simple reason that they make him happy. There’s the Black Jewels trilogy, which I love not because of Jaenelle — who the book centers around — but the sacrifices and relationships of the men around her. That story culminates — for me at least — not in what she did, but in what Daemon does for her…and if I can ever capture even a little bit of that emotion (including the horror) in those scenes, I’ll die a happy writer.
The Book Smugglers – One of the points in your novels is that Lust is good and the Guardians are allowed to fully appreciate it whereas demons cannot experience pleasure – that is quite twisted: what made you come up with that?
Meljean: Partially it’s that free will is the core of everything the Guardians stand for — and so repressing emotions such as lust just didn’t fit with that. Lust in excess might not be all that great (especially if it eventually damages someone) but to forbid it just wouldn’t fit into who the Guardians are.
And partially, it’s because on a purely personal level, I’m tired of lust being demonized (in romance, in other literature, everywhere). I’m tired of it being “bad” — when, IMO, it’s a completely human response. If my characters get hot for one another, I don’t want guilt or shame attached to it. (They might feel guilt and shame for other reasons, but because lust is “bad”? No way.) So, I took it out of the demons’ makeup. That isn’t to say that they can’t use lust to manipulate humans (or Guardians) — but it’s one thing they can never experience like a human, and is one thing that will always mark them as separate.
The Book Smugglers – One of the most appealing traits about your stories is that the bad guys are almost as interesting as the good guys. Take the Demon Sammael who is in love in Jane in Demon Night but without losing his evil edge or the Demon Belial, Lucifer’s enemy number one who dreams of going back to heaven. Even the good guys are not entirely good, there is some darkness in all of them. Can you talk about a bit more about this dichotomy and how it became central to your novels?
Meljean : I just think it makes the characters more interesting — not only because they are more complex, but because the decisions they make aren’t always going to be easy. I like making them struggle physically, intellectually, emotionally; if every decision was easy, they (and I) don’t have to work very hard for their happy ending. So, at the heart, it’s really just about trying to tell the most interesting story I can, and grinding my characters’ hearts into smithereens before putting them back together.
The Book Smugglers – Your action sequences are well thought out and most of them are extremely easy to visualize. Not only that, sequences like Hugh killing Lilith, in Demon Angel are a mixture of poignant and dark which would translate really well into imagery – did you ever consider making the series into Graphic Novels? Would that be something you would think of?
Meljean: Ohhhhhhh, yes. 😀 Dream of more than actually think, because there is so much going on, I’m not sure if it would translate well to that format. But the thought of one of my stories laid out in panels does make me droooooool.
The Book Smugglers – Talking about Lucifer (one of Ana’s favorite characters) – we haven’t seen him since Demon Angel. Are you planning to bring him back?
Meljean: Yes. Not in the next book, but he’s not too far away.
The Book Smugglers – Your novels are much longer than many of the other paranormal romance novels around, do you think that it helps in developing your stories? Was it your decision to make them more than 450 pages long?
Meljean: I tried so hard not to write them that long. In truth, when I turned in my final draft of Demon Angel to my editor, I was terrified — because the word count was half again as long as it was supposed to be. I had nightmares of trying to cut 1/3 of that book out. But when I got my edits, I actually had to add in a few scenes that I’d already cut (trying to get the count down).
Then for Demon Moon, I tried to hit standard length again … and it was even longer. Demon Night, the same thing happened, even though I was sure the plot I’d laid out at the beginning was quite a bit simpler.
So it wasn’t really a choice that they ended up so long — they did despite every effort I made for them not to be. But the complexity of the worldbuilding and plot demanded the length, I think (at least as told in my style of writing and my voice). My editor and I did look for things to cut, but didn’t find anything; and luckily, she was of the opinion that as long as the story worked, and there wasn’t anything superfluous, it was just fine.
That said, Demon Bound is quite a bit shorter. Still longer than the typical novel, but I’ll be surprised if the printed version is more than 400 pages.
The Book Smugglers – The next full length book to be released is Demon Bound and it features a pair of Guardians as the main couple – can you tell us a bit more about the story?
Meljean: I’d love to! It’s about Alice, who was briefly introduced in Demon Night. She’s a Guardian with a Gift for talking with spiders — and she’s been bound by a bargain with a demon for the past century. Jake is a novice Guardian who discovers exactly what she has to deliver to the demon — and has to decide to help her or not.
And I say this about all of my characters, but these two were so much fun. Jake is creeped out by Alice at the beginning (she’s built up quite a reputation among the novices) and Alice is just irritated by him. But they go through quite a bit together, and work it out … but to say any more would be too much of a spoiler. *grin*
The Book Smugglers – You plan to write 8 full length books in this series – will Michael, the first Guardian, ever get one?
Meljean: His will be the last book.
The Book Smugglers – Do you have any plans for when you finish the Guardian series? Would you consider changing genres? Horror for example?
Meljean: I’ve had a steampunk romance spinning it’s gears in my head for a while. I think I’ll be getting that one out. Whatever I do, I’m pretty sure it’ll be heavy on the romance; I think I’m just wired that way.
The Book Smugglers – to wrap it up, a cheeky question. Your books are full of pop culture mentions: from the X-files, Harry Potter to Karate Kid and The Fight Club. We see in your website that you are a major Joss Whedon fan as well. In a scale of 1-10 how much of a dork are you? (note: The Book Smugglers are proud to be a 10!)
Meljean: How much of a dork am I? On a scale of one to ten, I’m a 1013.
Meljean Brook thought herself a superhero growing up — a superhero princess. After her dreams of flying were brought to a crashing halt when she jumped off one too many sofas with a towel tied around her neck, she turned to safer pursuits: reading and writing about superheroes, princesses, and romance.
She read her first romance at the tender age of eight — Carole Mortimer’s Only Lover, Harlequin Presents #502. Thighs surged, hearts flipped, the men were larger than life and the women more beautiful than princesses, and Meljean was hooked. She consumed thousands of romances over the following two decades, first filching them from her grandmother’s library and reading them under her bedcovers, then proudly carrying them with her wherever she went. At the same time, in her notebooks and later her computers, she wrote romances by emulating her favorite authors’ styles — but it wasn’t until she wrote romantic fan fiction about two superheroes that she finally found her own voice.
Meljean writes sensual paranormal romance — she likes it sexy, emotional, and just a little weird. Currently, she is writing a novella in the Guardians series for Berkley Publishing. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their young daughter.