Hi folks! Today I am so pleased to welcome author Christian Baines to Joyfully Jay. Christian is here for Paranormal Week to talk to us more about paranormal romance, and his Arcadia Trust series. He is also participating in our big Paranormal Week giveaway. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
Hi all, and thanks so much to Joyfully Jay for having me on the blog today. My name’s Christian Baines, and for those who don’t know me, I write a Queer paranormal series set in Australia called The Arcadia Trust, which started in 2013 with The Beast Without, continued with The Orchard of Flesh, and will continue, I hope soon, with the third installment, Sins of the Son.
The series is a Paranormal Romance at its core. Kind of. Sort of. Maybe. Until you get to the broader mystery that crosses between worlds, a blood-thirsty book with the apparent power to transport our protagonists through time, and a wide array of supernatural creatures embodied in a large ensemble cast.
Oh, the large ensemble cast! The literary equivalent of juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle through a minefield and taming bears. In any genre, but triply so in paranormal, this is where the author needs to know where each character is and what agenda they’re working, even when they’re not ‘onstage,’ and bring it all together to create a compelling and detailed paranormal world that actually makes sense, and which the reader can follow, even while being misdirected. And there will be misdirection, because… those are usually the stories I prefer, and so they’re what I end up writing.
As a rule, I love big ensemble casts. I learned to write dialogue and balance characters from shows like Star Trek and Buffy where every secondary character had their own story that eventually reached some sort of fruition, even if the end result was sometimes flawed. So, it makes sense that while pretty much all of my stories focus on one or two lead characters, they’re usually backed with a sizeable supporting cast.
This gets tricky when you’re asked to shoehorn the book into the classic romance paradigm of MC1 and MC2. I’m reminded of this every time I pitch a new book, fill out a guide for a cover artist, or sometimes even when I request a review… any time I’m asked to profile MC1 and MC2. When a publisher asks, it’s usually just for marketing purposes. They’ll take what they need to position the book and brief a cover artist, which is fair enough. When others ask though, is there an expectation of romance tropes simply because the characters are gay? I’ve been known to add MC3 on to the list, not just to suggest the book isn’t a genre romance, but also to add the flavour of what makes that book unique, especially in a series like The Arcadia Trust.
This convention highlights a major difference between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. In Paranormal Romance, there should be no question of who the main protagonists are – whether there’s 2 or 3 of them. Your paranormal setting is ultimately there to support, obstruct, complicate, and enrich their relationship and story together. When you find yourself hesitating about just who ‘MC2’ is amid a wide supporting cast, you’re probably dealing with an Urban Fantasy instead.
So where do the Arcadia Trust books and my flaming torches and bears fit into this? To the chagrin of Goodreads bookshelves everywhere, kind of in between.
Though its roots lay in an erotic short story, I never set out to write The Beast Without as a Paranormal Romance. I still remember being taken back years ago when my writing tutor read the synopsis and described it as such, but she was right. Even though the book features a supporting cast of half a dozen wildly different characters, each working their own agenda, Beast is ultimately an enemies-to-lovers narrative, though how much ‘love’ is involved is…debateable. It took me a little while to accept and lean into that, but it ultimately was the right decision for the book.
In The Orchard of Flesh, that relationship continues, but so do all the other relationships in the first book, plus a few new ones. The enemies-to-lovers are now just (albeit tumultuous) lovers and allies against a new, more dangerous evil, and the way they interact with the secondary characters and toher species becomes much more important. In that way, the series jumps from Paranormal Romance firmly into the realm of Urban Fantasy. I’m plotting based on information that hasn’t yet been revealed to readers, whether it’s planned to take place in future stories, or taking place ‘offstage.’ It in some ways follows the same formula as The Beast Without, yet in others, is a completely different style of book, as the broader mystery that carries through the series comes forward. Obviously, the two books can be read in sequence, but Orchard was also written with new readers in mind, who could then go back and read Beast with minimal spoilers beyond the obvious few.
The Arcadia Trust will never become a sprawling, Game of Thrones or Twin Peaks style narrative (as much as I love those examples) that requires a flow chart to keep track of its dozens of characters. Ultimately, this is a story about hitherto non-sexual Blood Shade (vampire) Reylan’s sexual, romantic, and in some ways social awakening. Werewolf Jorgas brings out something carnal and perhaps romantic in him he’d previously thought impossible, and this evolves the character considerably over the course of the books.
It’s difficult to go into the specifics of how any future books in the series will fit into the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance split without spoiling them. But then, it doesn’t really matter to me whether readers see them as UF or PR. Yes, there are genre lines, but if people’s perceptions cross them, I can’t say that matters to me as long as they enjoy the books. Those who are reading for the romance will get that narrative. Those who are in it for the broader mystery and supporting characters should walk away satisfied too.
When I watched a sci-fi or fantasy or paranormal series or movie when I was younger and wished one of the characters was gay, it was so I could imagine I had some place in this story I loved, maybe even the lead. And while I certainly love seeing a queer character find their true love (or loves, or *gasp* just a great casual fling), feeling like I have some place in the universe is more important, and I think that’s why I lean more towards Urban Fantasy than Paranormal Romance. Others may be different, and that’s not a dis on romance at all. Simply a reflection of my own preference for surprises and twists when I read a book. While you can twist the path considerably on the way to a HEA, the destination is still somewhat set, and I like the books I both read and write to have the freedom to… play with that.
Even if that play involves juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle through a minefield and taming bears.
Because really, gay literature in general needs more bears.
Do I look like I’m joking? Where are the bears? I asked for bears. There should be bears.
Reylan is everything a Sydney vampire aspires to be: wealthy, handsome and independent, carefully feeding off companions plucked from the gay bars of Oxford Street.
When one of those companions is killed by Jorgas, a hot-headed young werewolf prowling his streets, Reylan reluctantly puts his cherished lifestyle of blood and boys on hold to help a mysterious alliance of supernatural beings track down the beast. It can’t be that hard… not when Jorgas keeps coming after him.
But there’s more to this werewolf than a body count and a bad attitude. As their relationship grows deeper and more twisted, Reylan tastes Jorgas’ blood, reawakening desires the vampire had thought long dead. And what evolves between them may be far more dangerous than some rival predator in the dark…
We are celebrating Paranormal Week with a huge 100+ prize giveaway (including a copy of The Beast Without)! Be sure to stop by our prize post this week to enter!