Melissa Caruso on Writing Romantic Relationships While on the Asexual Spectrum
Mon, 09/25/2017 - 4:12pm — Emily Walton
If you’re looking for a new fantasy series full of magic, danger and devious empires, then look no further than Melissa Caruso’s new Swords and Fire series! Book one, The Tethered Mage, introduces readers to a whole new world, one where magic is scarce and controlled. Natural magic users are taken as children and forced into the Falcon Army. To escape that fate, Zaira has lived her life on the streets. But her magic is rare and powerful, and could change everything.
Caruso stopped by to tell us about her writing process, especially as a writer on the asexual spectrum.
When I was a teen, before I’d even heard the word “asexual” applied to anything besides the reproduction of single-celled organisms, I already knew one thing: I couldn’t write romance.
I remember getting to a certain point in the fantasy novel I wrote in high school and thinking, “Uh oh, these characters should probably be falling in love. I guess their hands can accidentally touch? And then … I’ll just elide it.” I’d make my characters exchange long gazes, and hope the readers could supply the attraction I didn’t know how to write.
I knew how it was supposed to work. I’d had that drilled into me from childhood by everything from Disney movies to gum commercials. Your eyes meet, and there’s this immediate spark … a spark I’d never felt. Then, bam! Sexual tension — a force to which I was immune. It was such a complete mystery to me that I couldn’t even imagine what it felt like.
I didn’t know why I’d never had a single crush, when all my friends were drowning in them, but I was clearly missing some vital magic everyone else possessed. Without it, trying to write a romantic relationship seemed hopeless. All I could do was stumblingly copy clichés, trying to fake a feeling between my characters that I didn’t know how to describe.
I eventually figured out I was on the asexual spectrum. Being ace didn’t stop me from falling in love and getting married, but I was still sure I could never write a convincing love interest. I gave up, and decided I should just try to write books for kids, since then no one would expect romance to be a part of the story.
But while I was writing a supposedly middle grade book, a strange thing happened. I realized that two of the characters were falling in love. Organically, wonderfully, all on their own, without me trying to push them into it.
Finally, when I wasn’t trying, I’d written characters who had chemistry! I’d stopped trying to create a Love Interest, and had simply written two people who had a compelling relationship. I’d meant for it to be friendship, but they had other ideas, and the story took off from there.
After that, I realized something. All my favorite fictional couples (as an avid fantasy reader) had a lot more going on between them than simple fairy tale attraction. I didn’t need to understand crushes to desperately want to know whether Katniss would kiss Peeta or kill him in THe Hunger Games, or to relish Alexia and Lord Maccon’s feisty relationship in Gail Carriger’s Soulless series, or to root for Agnieszka to get together with the Dragon in Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.
Those characters had more than one kind of tension between them. They wanted things from each other besides — or in addition to — kisses. They had profound, personal and complicated obstacles separating them. Their dynamics and interactions with each other would be compelling even if they never became a couple.
I’d been looking at it all wrong, intimidated into thinking the clichés about physical attraction were the substance rather than the surface. I thought because I hadn’t experienced a stereotypical infatuation, I couldn’t write characters falling in love. But the truth was that I didn’t need to understand those stereotypes better. I needed to push them out of the way, and treat romantic relationships not as a mysterious alchemical formula I had to copy down, but as what they are: character relationships. And those, I understood.
After all, looking around at all the real couples in my own life (not to mention my favorite books and my own experience) made it clear there were a nigh-infinite number of ways to fall in love.
And that was the beauty of it.
Ready to learn more about Caruso’s new book? You can pre-order it from one of these retailers: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Indiebound
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