Deathly conflict

Songssm Songs of Love and Death is an ominous title, and the cover is a bit grim. A great design, but dark, and some of the stories in the collection live up to the title. Good stories, but definitely singing a darker tune. On the other side are some stories that sing the brighter songs of love and mine is definitely one of them.

The collection is an interesting mix of science fiction, fantasy, romance, and horror written by some of the best, all blended into a rich feast. With so many authors included, the stories are fairly short, which makes it a great dipping-into book. Definitely an excellent Christmas present for the right reader.

How did I come to be included in Songs of Love and Death? Wench Mary Jo is also in the collection and I'll let her tell the story.

Mary Jo:

George R. R. Martin is a major fantasy author, of  course, and Gardner Dozois is probably the best respected short form editor  and anthologist in the field of science fiction and fantasy.  But they  didn't know as much about the romance they wanted to include in this anthology.  So Gardner  asked around and was referred to me since I'd written on both sides of  the romance/fantasy divide.

I suggested several authors who were  well-known for paranormal romance and some of the more romantic urban fantasy,  as well as a couple who were more romance, but did cross over to the dark side  now and then. After Gardner agreed to the  list, I contacted those authors on his behalf.

 Some were too busy,  some squealed and jumped in the air and said, "YESSSSS!"

(That would be me, says Jo! I love opportunities to play on the wild side.)

It's fun to be  a bearer of good tidings. <G> 

Gardner said I'd be welcome to  contribute, too.  I couldn't resist since I love doing fantasy short  stories.  My Guardian trilogy created families with powerful magical  abilities, and since then, I've done several shorter stories in that  world. 

One was "The White Rose of Scotland,"  a WWII novella in CHALICE OF ROSES.  I'd also written a modern Guardian  story about a young doctor in New York City, and he had a brother who was a  police detective.  I'd been itching to write about him.   Hence, "The Demon  Dancer," in SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH in which my detective Dave deals with crimes that require more than  worldly powers, and who loves a woman separated from him by a conflict that  can never be resolved….

Ah yes, conflict.

Aasongs Conflict (which I define as between the hero and heroine) and barriers (the external obstructions to their union) make a romance zing, and the "death" element certainly raises the stakes! In romance novels often the consequence of failure to form a couple is unhappiness or even misery, but rarely death. Or the death of many. In this anthology death is often the looming consequence, and in some stories, death wins.

In my story, The Marrying Maid, if Rob Loxsleigh doesn't find and win his destined bride, he will die, but so too will all his family. Not just his immediate family, but all the descendents of the original Robert Loxsleigh in the middle ages. Now that's a consequence!

So I ask, how do you regard powerful conflicts and barriers in romance, especially those that could lead to death if the protagonists don't triumph and come together in love? Do you perhaps think such drama can overwhelm the love story? Or does it add intensity to it? Any good examples come to mind?

If you're a writer, do you find it difficult to create truly challenging barriers for your protagonists? That's a surprisingly common problem. I think romance writers are just too kind by nature.

Why do we need those barriers anyway?

My opinion is that they prove the love — in the old sense of "prove" which is "test." The reader doesn't have to take on faith that all is well at the end of the book; she's seen the hero and heroine struggle against odds, clash and find compromise, communicate in stressful situations, and work together to overcome whatever's thrown at them.

Do you agree?

Of course the "conflict" in a romance is a complex mix of internal and external. In my story, the external is the faery curse that hangs over the Loxsleighs. Then there's the relationship conflict — Rob must marry Martha Darby, a clergyman's daughter, but she is appalled at the idea of marrying a fashionable, frivolous aristocrat. She's even more appalled to find herself drawn to him.

Here's a little snippet

St James’s Park, London, 1758

   It was as if a new song entered his world, or a new taste, or a new sense — and yet, one instantly recognized.  Rob Loxsleigh turned to look around the park, striving to make the movement casual to his chattering companions, so noisy in their silks and lace, but already fading under the power of his new awareness.
   There.
   He smiled, with delight but with surprise.
   The woman in gray? The one strolling through the park at the side of another woman just as ordinary, wearing a plain gown with little trimming and a flat straw hat?
   She was his destined bride?
   He'd been told he'd know and for years he'd sought the unignorable. Sometimes, with a particularly pretty girl or fascinating woman, he'd tried to believe his desire meant that his quest was over. A kiss had quickly proved him wrong.Greenpark
   Now, however, he knew. She alone seemed real in an unreal world and his body hummed with a symphony of need — not just desire, but a hunger for everything she would bring.
   Now, within weeks of disaster, Titania had sent his marrying maid.

  (The picture is not of St. James's Park, but of nearby Green Park, but I think it gives an idea of the setting. And yes, there really were pelicans in St. James's Park, as referred to in the story.)

Martha is alarmed by the attentions of such a man. She turns her mother away from the pelicans toward  their inn.

(The picture of a pelican in St. James's Park is from this collection at Picasa.

I think it's delightful! And yes, they really were in the park in Georgian times.)

Apelican    "Come, Mother. We must hurry."
   "What? Why?"
   Martha came up with the only possible excuse. "I need to piss."
   "Oh dear, oh dear. Yes, very well." Her mother did walk faster and gradually Martha's panic simmered down. They were safe and she would not come here again.
   "Ladies."
   Martha froze, then would have walked on if her mother hadn't already turned, incapable of being cold or discourteous. Thus she must turn too, already knowing who had spoken. By logic, surely, not by a frisson on the back of her neck and a strange tension deep inside
   He stood mere feet away, his silk suit embroidered with silver thread as well as colors. The lace at throat and wrist would have cost a fortune, and his neck cloth was fixed by a gold pin that sparkled in the sun, as did rings on his fingers and the jeweled hilt of his sword.
    As did his eyes, as green as a summer leaf. His handsome, lean face was painted to give him fashionable pallor and then to restore color with rouge on cheeks and lips.
   He was ridiculous, but Martha was powerfully aware of being dressed in mourning grey with only a silver pin for ornamentation, and of never having let paint touch her face. She should have been disdainful, but instead the peculiar sensation within could almost be awe.
   He was smiling directly at her now and holding out a handkerchief. "I believe this is yours, ma'am?"
   Martha glared at the linen, ferociously irritated that the handkerchief was indeed her own, marked by the embroidered forget-me-nots in one corner. How had it come to fall out of her pocket?

Faerie, of course, so well known for meddling.(There's a longer excerpt here.)

Conflict, barriers, tension…. all good stuff, but a romance is not a mystery. You know the end — Rob and Martha triumph and Faery is defeated. The fun is in the process. True?

What do you think about conflict, love and death? And pelicans?

Jo