An excerpt, and the challenge of writing credible love

First: wow. What an age we live in, when a man can go into the hospital on Monday morning, have a third of his right lung removed by remotely operated robots, be discharged the very next afternoon, and be walking around like nothing happened a day later. (This would be my husband, who has just been declared cancer-free, huzzah!) I’m still sort of coping with the sudden relative normality of life after a month of constant anxiety… but I’m not complaining.

Second: I have to admit, anxiety has been good for the book. Anxiety and connection, with both of my romantic partners. Mortality has that effect, and ain’t none of us getting any younger or healthier. I will say that it’s a wonderful thing, when you’re writing about romance, to feel like you’ve got a firm grasp of what you’re writing about.

I have at least seven love arcs in my book, running all across the spectrum from friendship to erotic obsession. And I tend to stress over whether the relationships are as realistic as they can be. One thing I’m keen to avoid is “instalove.” When I workshopped the first chapter of this story a few years ago, I asked for help in fixing that with my central couple, and I got some game-changing advice: if you make them already in a relationship, you can track back for the development at a more leisurely pace. Seems like such a simple solution now, to the point where all of my arcs are actually already in play. I have a favorite one, but it took a long time to feel like I got it right.

Nix, the brother of my protagonist Chalcy, is demisexual and (like all my characters in this world) very comfortable with his nature as it reveals itself over time. His relationship with Najet, a musician in the band for which Chalcy was a songwriter and Nix played violin (and also sewed costumes), is the slow-burn romance of the book. But because I have so many characters with SO MUCH GOING ON, there’s a limit on the amount of time I can devote to their story. A challenge, and I may not actually be pulling it off, but this couple is super satisfying to write.

This is just a little excerpt of what happens when they’re reunited after half a year — an epoch when you’re newly in love, and during which time they’ve been exchanging letters while Nix is leading a revolutionary movement a few hundred miles away. You should probably also know that Nix usually suffers from serious haunting by his ancestors, who’ve pinned their family hopes on him now that his even more radical sister is clearly never coming back to tend the family business. Tonight, however, which happens to be the first time he’s experienced physical attraction to Najet, the ‘mothers’ are mysteriously absent. (FYI: this is a matrilineal society.) Oh, and some vocabulary: ‘svai’ means sexual compatibility; ‘yasvai’ is the lack thereof, or asexuality in general. Taravi is one of four official languages in this civilization including sign language; code-switching is a way of life.

Nix must concede, as he’s divesting her of her stage clothes, that The Swell’s new tailor is quite good.

“But not as good as me.”

Jikaro,” Najet pronounces, mock-disapproving. Pride, in Taravi, generally means vanity. But there’s a reverence in the way she undresses him in turn, her fingers lovingly tracing seams that she knows were laid down by his own sewing machine.

The memory returns to her, not half as distant as it feels, of watching him at work, on a set break backstage, quickly mending a skirt she’d torn when the lacy hem was caught under the stand of her bass. Breaking off the thread with his teeth and tossing the garment at her with a blithe, mildly intoxicated Good as new! Even half-drunk, Nix was better at such things than she was dead sober. What a match he would make, she thought, hearing her mother’s voice in her head (because gods knew she was miserable at the family lathe). And what a fool she was for abandoning that thought when she’d realized, standing purposely close in her knickers while he worked, that there wasn’t the faintest glimmer of lust in his eyes when he looked at her. Even when he’d reached out and put his hand on her hip, moving her an inch to the side, his boyish smile apologetic: You’re in my light.

Now, as his eyes caress her in advance of every touch, she feels as if she is his light. Mothers be kind, she prays as they sink into her bed.

Nix, for his part, has decided his ancestors have nothing to do with this seeming miracle. Nothing feels more natural than his instincts at this moment, and he finds himself thinking of something Ferruzadi said to him the night they learned that he could know pleasure without desire… but that he preferred a good massage. Yasvai has its own spectrum, you know? Svai may arise with some requisite condition or conditions – or it may not at all. Either way, it’s beautiful. You are as Karst made you. And Karst, apparently, made him for Najet Turner.

The one thing he wishes, with what’s likely to be his last rational thought as Najet’s soft-downed thighs encircle him, is that he might have had a little warning. The last time he took contraceptive herbs was years ago – and though there are different herbs for women, no honorable Coruscarian male would expect his partner to attend to such things.

“Where are you with the moon?” he asks. “I didn’t prepare for this, but we can be careful.”

Najet’s languid gaze clears with a blink. It holds him with tenderness for a long time before she speaks, cautiously choosing her words.

“Must we? Be careful? I mean… I think I’d be so happy. In that event.”

An unspoken question hangs on her parted lips. And it stuns him, how little he must consider his answer. Such a responsibility, now, would be madness. But all he can feel is longing, and all he can see are the faces of the children who take lessons with him in Sphene – the daughters of his apartment concierge. The shy perfectionist who reminds him of Chalcy. The brash, so-called unteachable one who reminds him of himself.

“If there’s a child,” he tells her, “I’ll come home, Naya. And I’ll stay.”

There is something Najet urgently wants to say to this. But it’s a long time… hours, hours of love and heat… before she does.

To think I didn’t even know they’d end up together at first! I find them very sweet and refreshing to write, compared to my main couple (Chalcy and Mica) who are so intense. Hopefully I manage to make them all believable.

Oh and there’s a third thing! The Chamber Magazine was nice enough to publish a little interview with me, if you’re interested in writerly process type things. (And they’re still accepting submissions!)

Now let’s see, what is the perfect Nix and Najet song… Ah.

Photo via Pixabay https://pixabay.com/users/pasja1000-6355831/

8 thoughts on “An excerpt, and the challenge of writing credible love

    • I know! It’s one of my prize possessions. He was actually so down-to-earth. It happened because he was going to be at a local Con during the time I was recovering from my spinal tap and I asked my friend to get some autographs for me. What he wrote there was so personal (I think his wife had MS?) that I wrote him a letter to thank him, and that’s what he wrote back to me (with another book, of short stories). I regret that I never got the opportunity to talk with him in person; such a genius, yet so down-to-earth.

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  1. I’m so pleased, Sun, about your husband. Miraculous medicine. Imagine if someone could time-travel from the middle ages and see such magic performed in removing bad humours with such precision and such small incision. I love that excerpt from your book. Your experience of creating two characters, and then them surprising you by falling in love, is something that has happened in my novels, too — pantser that I am. I thought your two characters were so sweet and tender, if not taken by surprise themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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