OWD Note: Eilis's book is out on December 13!! Quick link.
Eilis Flynn and Carol A. Strickland have known each other for over 30 years, starting from their days as Legion of Super-Heroes comic fans. Being females in a mostly male-oriented venue, they both yearned for superheroes and superheroines with real interpersonal relationships ... but they couldn't find any to read about! They kept yearning until they realized that they had to write about them on their own. Jody Wallace of OtherworldDiner asked them to talk about the subject of superheroes and romance, a subject they're all too familiar with. Where to start on such a broad topic? They figured they'd start at the beginning, where it's the most logical place to start...
Eilis: What took superheroes so long to make their way into romance, do you think? Was it the fact that paranormals were persona non grata so long?
Carol: Romance has always had its alpha males. Some of them, with their Olympian physiques and unlimited energy levels, could slip on a mask and cape and make their way in the world as a superhero if they wanted. ("I am Alpha Man! Tan ta-ta rah!") It was only natural that paranormals would up the stakes.
The first super-types I can recall reading in romance fiction were in Julie Kenner's "Aphrodite's Kiss" (2001), where the offspring of the gods had superpowers and a Justice League-type organization. The eye-catching cover showed Our Heroine using her x-ray vision to see underneath Our Hero's pants. Just to find out if he was a boxer or brief man, of course. Uh huh.
Eilis: The chicklit-type thing you mentioned for the Aphrodite's Kiss cover drove me batty, but chicklit was big at the time (superheroes are serious business, after all, and the x-ray vision thing was frivolous!). And the fact that Julie's characters were gods, not superheroes (I was always more of a DC Comics fan, so Marvel's version of the Norse god Thor as a superhero was always an afterthought for me). After those came Kristin Grayson's books, which were closer to the superheroes I was used to. Off-conversation, you mentioned Kristin Grayson's tip of the hat to The Ultimate Superhero, Superman...
Carol: Well, Kenner's half-human, half-god folks had limited powers (unlike their godly parents) and worked on prescribed missions like superheroes do when they're in a union. Now, when you talk about Kristin Grayson's Dexter Grant (from "Simply Irresistible," 2002), you've got a gorgeous guy with a bunch of powers, a la... Well, two Cleveland teens happen to see him in secret action one day in the 1930s and it inspires them for the idea of a comic book character: Superman. I thought that was a neat twist -- and eased back in case a lightning bolt from DC Comics' lawyers should fry the air around the book. But it never came.
Then again, Dexter didn't strike me nearly as sexy as most of the Weather Wardens from Rachel Caine's fabulous series (beginning with "Ill Wind," 2003). We're talking about a "super"-governmental, international organization of people who can control the weather, fire, and/or earth with a decidedly scientific and limited slant. Most of them are concerned with protecting unsuspecting humanity from Nature's fury. Our storm-weaving heroine, Joanne Baldwin, likes her heels high, her cars classic and fast, and her djinn lovers super-hot. (Author Caine likes her endings cliffhanging, which drives me crazy. Write faster, Rachel!)
Eilis: For our blog-readers out there, Carol's reference to the Cleveland teenagers is about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, who were from Cleveland and were that young when they came up with ol' Supes. If I recall, Kristin Grayson also had a little acknowledgment in that book to Julius Schwartz, the longtime editor for Superman comics, who had just passed away at that point. Rachel Caine's work could almost have come from DC Comics of the 1960s, couldn't it? But the comics themselves just didn't have enough romance in 'em.
That's one of the reasons I got interested in writing romance. In college, I'd published some Superman stories with DC Comics, but as much as I loved comics, they were mainly for guys, and romance comics were mostly odd. I wanted something that merged both the high fantasy of the comics and romance.
Eilis to Carol: Is that why you got interested in writing romance?
Carol: I couldn't get my "strong woman" fix from reading comics. Various tries at solid, modern heroines from both major companies at the time, DC Comics and Marvel -- characters like Power Girl, Ms. Marvel, the Cat, Storm -- all broke down somewhere along the way. Through the years my favorite, Wonder Woman, has had her ups but mostly downzzz. If I wanted to read about a super-heroine who interested me, I had to write her myself.
Eilis: That's familiar -- that's exactly how I came to write "Introducing Sonika" too.
Carol: And strong women characters need romance, too! When I finished the first draft (so long ago!) of "Touch of Danger" with such a woman in it, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that I'd written -- OMG! - a romance. Since I wasn't up on the genre I bought stacks and stacks of it to see what I'd gotten myself into, and now I generally race toward the romance section of a bookstore as often as I do the F/SF section.
If a romance novel can add a comic-book kind of fantasy to its storyline, I cheer. That's why I'm looking forward to "Introducing Sonika" so much!
Carol to Eilis: So do you think Sonika is the beginning of a true superhero trend? Do you use the added level of fantasy involved in superheroing to require more of your characters? Does the superhero element raise the stakes within their romance? Or do you write it just because it's so doggoned fun? Bzzap!! (Sorry, that just slipped out.)
Eilis: Ka-Pow to you too! I'd love to believe Sonika's the beginning of a true superhero trend in romance -- not comedic, just straight superheroes, but that's up to the readers, obviously.
When I wrote "Introducing Sonika" back in 2001 (finished it in three and a half months, a record for me), I wanted, as you pointed out about your own writing, strong women, superheroes, and romance, and I wanted it NOW. You know how you're supposed to write what you want to read? That's what I did, just like you, Carol!
In "Sonika," I added the complications of having a secret identity, having to avoid a social life to conceal that secret life, like most superheroes (but not all, of course). And Sonika has an added element of worry -- since she has to reveal her other life early on to the man she's falling for, is he only interested in her because he's really a groupie? Add to that a menace from her past coming to haunt her ...
Carol: Secret identities are classic. I'm already rooting for Sonika's guy to be more than a groupie. Hard-working heroes deserve a happily-ever-after!
Eilis: Geez, I loved writing this book. While every book you write may be the book of your heart, this book reflected a lot of the factors that formed my very personality. It was fun! It was romantic! I even wrote my cat Rover in, because she kept coming into my office and demanding attention as I was writing it. She didn't seem impressed when I told her.
Anyway, "Introducing Sonika" is releasing on Thursday, December 13, from http://www.cerridwenpress.com/. It's the culmination of a long six years to see her story come to light, and I'm hoping to write more stories about her world ("Earth Sonika," so to speak).
Carol: One last thing -- my critique partners drove me crazy telling me to stop writing with so many exclamation points! Since I grew up on comics I'm used to 'em being at the end of every sentence. Or maybe it's just that I get excited when I write superheroes! Did you find yourself exclaiming a lot?!
Eilis: Are you kidding?! I get excited writing about superheroes, too! I'd probably use more exclamation points, but I've been an editor in the financial services industry for decades, so I've had 'em bred out of me for the most part!! Ahem, for the most part.
Eilis Flynn is a longtime comics fan, even marrying one. Her books from Cerridwen Press -- "The Sleeper Awakes," "Festival of Stars," and now, "Introducing Sonika" -- all have an element of the fantastic in them. In "Introducing Sonika," Sonya Penn is a physical therapist working hard to pay off the enormous medical bills that remained after her parents’ deaths. Like so many of her generation, her career has left her no time for romance. But the medical bills she’s working hard to pay off were incurred when her super-hero parents were killed by their arch-nemesis, Gentleman Geoffrey. She finds herself coming back to the family business when she finds out her newest client, John Arlen, the heir to an engineering fortune, was injured by a super-villain -- the son of Geoffrey. In order to keep the brilliant scientist from getting himself killed in his misguided quest for revenge, Sonya travels down two paths she never expected to — she’s becoming the super-heroine she swore she’d never become... and she’s falling in love. Find out more about "Introducing Sonika" as well as her other books at http://www.eilisflynn.com/.
Carol A. Strickland is about to sign with Ellora's Cave for "Touch of Danger," a novel about a not-so-ordinary woman with a paralyzing phobia to touch. She's thrown into the company of a sexy superhero too mighty to handle human flesh without shredding it... until a new weapon strips his powers away for two days. Just two days and then it's back to being untouchable. They both have their (ahem) work cut out for them! You can read more about it at http://www.carolastrickland.com/.