Spoiler warning: there will be many discussions of plot points and characters below, so if you haven't read these books yet, you may wish to give this section a pass. You have been warned.
Week Five brings us to book number six: ZEN AND THE ART OF VAMPIRES, which features a plus size woman, two hunky vamps, and one of my favorite ghosts ever, Ulfur.
White picket fences can be dangerous to vampires. Sometimes a woman’s gotta choose…
Pia Thomason doesn’t have a typical life, but she wants one. The husband, the kids, the house in the suburbs… With her fortieth birthday looming, she decides to do something drastic, and takes off on a
singles’ tour through romantic Europe.
But the few guys on the trip leave much to be desired—unlike the two men Pia sees in a small Icelandic town. Handsome, mysterious, and very
dangerous… Just the sight of them puts her in a dither. When their paths cross again, Pia knows one thing for certain: Where vampires are
concerned, love isn’t the only thing at stake.
HOW THE BOOK CAME TO BE
I have a distinct memory of sitting out in the sunshine on my back deck (this was several years ago, when we actually *had* a summer in the PNW) telling Editor Laura that I had a great story idea, but that it was really complicated, and would have to be told over two books. I told her I was worried about doing that because vampire readers were used to getting complete stories in their books (as opposed to the dragon books, where a story arc took multiple books to complete), and asked her if I should just scrap the idea and go with something else, or do the story in two books.
She said by all means, take the time to write it the way it should be written, and thus, Zen was born.
The opening scene of Zen is something that had stuck in my mind while musing in the sunshine that summer...a woman sitting in a foreign place, watching two absolutely drop-dead gorgeous men, and knowing to the tips of her toes that she would never, ever get one of them to so much as glance her way.
I think we've all felt that insecurity at some time or other, and it was with that flaw in mind that Pia was formed. There aren't a lot of women who are happy with their body's shape and size, and although some may roll their eyes at how insecure Pia was about her own body shape, it really was an issue for her. Especially when the drop-dead gorgeous man did glance her way, and she knew, she just knew that people were pitying him because he was stuck with her skinny-challenged (to lift a phrase from Corset Diaries) self.
I also wanted to address the issue of a heroine who more or less had a relationship with two men in the course of the book. That was a little trickier to dance around, since I'm very firmly in the monogamous relationship camp, but I felt it was an important point of the story, and glossing over it (or worse, eliminating it) would not allow the story to unfold as it needed to unfold.
BEHIND THE SCENES STUFF: THE CHARACTERS
So let's talk about the triangle of Pia, Kristoff, and Alec.
Kristoff was a pretty straight-forward hero, albeit one with a worry when he realized that Pia would find out sooner or later that he was once a sacristan. He also really thought he was being noble by leaving Pia, so she and Alec could be together, although both Pia and I found that fact annoying. If I'd had my way, at the end of this book, Kristoff would have picked Pia up, slung her over his shoulder in his very best he-man impression, and carried her off while saying, "Tough noogies if you want him, you're mine now."
But of course, he was more considerate than I would have been, and I couldn't change that since my muse would have divorced me and gone to find someone who actually listened to her when she said she had a good tale to tell. Thus, Kristoff was noble and went off to continue trying to save the (vampire) world, and allow Pia to be with the man he thought she loved.
Yeah. I really did want to crack him over the head.
Pia was no less frustrating, because she was being just as noble, but for all the wrong reasons. But that was part of her insecurities, and although I would have liked to shake her and tell her to get over herself already, she had to work through those issues on her own before she could get to the point where she realized what a boob she'd been.
I'm sure there are some of you who are asking yourselves why I would want to write characters who I wanted to shake (or crack over the head)...the answer lies in flaws. I love flaws in people. Flaws make us interesting. Flaws make us unique. And flaws keep us from being perfect. Perfect people, in my opinion, are boring people. I don't like hanging out with "perfect" people (if there is such a thing), and I don't like reading about them. I certainly don't like writing them; thus, Pia and Kristoff had to overcome their own baggage in order to get to their shared happy place.
Alec was intentionally left to be a bit of a mystery. I knew from the time I was sitting on the deck telling Editor Laura about the storyline that he was going to be responsible for a lot of Kristoff's grief, but I also know he had suffered beyond what anyone could conceive, and that motivation would explain so much of what he did.
BEHIND THE SCENES STUFF: ICELAND
OK, some of you are thinking, why Iceland? Why would I set a book that had vampires, guys who couldn't go out in the sun, in a place with a midnight sun? The answer is that my muse is a perverse thing, and once she had the idea of Iceland, she wouldn't shake it.
And besides, it's a cool place (pun not intended). I did some research into the country, and then talked to some folks who had been there and had met the locals, and it quickly became apparent that this was a country of educated, interesting people who thrived in a land that looked like a herd of Vikings could swarm over the hill at any moment. We'll talk more about some specific locations in next week's post, but all my research left me with the desire to visit Iceland some day.
BEHIND THE SCENES STUFF: ILARGI, THE BROTHERHOOD, AND MORE
Sharp-eyed readers noticed that there was an Ilargi mentioned in one of Aisling's books, something I actually knew while writing the book, and wondered how many people would remember it. I explain to readers who ask me about the brief glimpse that the Ilargi in the Aisling book was a prototype of the real thing...which is my way of saying I changed my mind about what role I wanted Ilargi to play, and decided the mention was brief enough to get away with it.
There. I've bared my secrets for you all. I will now gaze nobly into the distance.
The source of Ilargi came from Basque folklore. At some time during one of my forays into research, I saw a mention of Ilargi as being lighters of the path of the dead, and their connection with the moon, and I knew I had to use bits and pieces of that mythology.
Zorya was another serendipitous find during a research session for something entirely different. In Slavic mythology, there are three zoryas: a morning star, evening star, and midnight star. I loved the idea of there being a woman who channeled the power of the moon, and decided that my version of zoryas were going to not only do that, but also guide the dead to their chosen destination. That they would be the mortal enemies of vampires fit so perfectly--vamps are traditionally thought of as creatures of the night, and here was a woman who wielded the power of the moon--I knew it was meant to be.
BEHIND THE SCENES STUFF: THE ORIGINAL SYNOPSIS
The original story idea varied somewhat from the resulting two books, although both were plotted at the same time. Most of the changes were minor things, since the main structure of the storyline was pretty solid in my brain. I don't have the original synopsis that I sent to Laura, but I do have some of my notes that I made while working out the storyline. They are very abrupt and sometimes confusing--they were just meant for me to use, and not intended for viewing by anyone else, but you guys are special--so you have to forgive their sometimes muddled state.
-------------ORIGINAL PLOT NOTES----------------
Pia is a tourist with group of singles, disgusted by the men on the trip. Sitting in an Icelandic square, watching two men walk past, thinks to herself that she would never have that sort of man. Later, on her way to a bookstore, she passes a young, pretty woman (Anniki) who accidentally drops a book. She picks up the book and sets off after the woman, but she disappears into the festival crowd. She notices there is a map of the city tucked away into the book, with her (approximate) location highlighted, but no other identifying marks. She figures since it's a paperback--American--she'll ask the tour leader and hotel person if they know the woman, who must obviously be tourist. She wanders around and discovers a dusty bookshop with some American paperbacks in the window.
She goes in and the bookstore owner insists she take beaded bookmark. She resists, but he slips it into the bag with her purchases. As she leaves she sees the young woman obviously searching for an address, and runs over to give her the paperback that had dropped out of her bag. Woman is oddly grateful. Pia goes on her way, quickly becoming lost in the maze of the old town. On her way back to the hotel, she is kidnapped by mysterious people, who take her to a church, where they declare her the missing zorya. When she protests, they point out she bears the moonstone beacon. She escapes and is pursued, but is rescued by the two men she saw crossing the square.
They tell her she is to be taken before the Moravian Society council for punishment in her part of the deaths of Dark Ones. She objects, telling them she's just a tourist on a tour and doesn't know what the hell is happening. She gets away from the two guys, and while escaping, runs into Anniki. They hide together, and Anniki explains that she is part of a group bent on eliminating evil from the world, about zoryas, how was killed two nights ago, and that she is to take the previous zorya's place.
Pia gratefully gives the woman back the moonstone bookmark, making a joke about how close she came to getting involved with stuff way over her head. The woman agrees, saying she'd better get going since the following day is her wedding day.
Pia returns to her hotel, and fends off advances from fellow tourist, going to her room to collapse after a long, long night. There she discovers Alec, one of the guys from the square. She starts to bolt, but he prevents her, telling her that he believes her. He explains to her that dark ones aren't evil, and that someone has been killing his people, and he thinks it's the reapers. She tells him that's too bad, but she ran into the real aurora, and she now has the moonstone thingie. He says too bad, and that she intrigues him nonetheless. Pia gives in to her hormones.
Pia wakes up in the morning to find Alec gone...and a dead Anniki lying on her bathroom floor, her throat cut, blood everywhere. But she's not quite dead, and just before she dies in Pia's arms, she shoves the moonstone bookmark into her hands, and elicits a deathbed promise that Pia will right the wrongs. Now she's in a foreign country, on her own with what's sure to be a useless passport, and the authorities on her tail.
---------END ORIGINAL PLOT NOTES-----------
From that you can see that most of the elements of the first part of the book are present--Anniki the zorya replacement, Alec and Kristoff, the moonstone bracelet, and some of the original mythology, but there are also bits in there that were moved around--such as her being kidnapped by the Brotherhood--and an obvious lack in the form of the ghosts that Pia meets that first day.
Do I have to say it? Yeah. Christian.
I might have a little crush on him.