It was the summer of 2009. I'd just moved out of Santa Barbara. In two weeks, I was going to move into a place in Ithaca. I didn't know where I was going to spend the next part of my life, but I figured that in a year or so, I'd have the answer to that question. (I was wrong.) I was staying with family while I was waiting for the new place to be available. What I'm sayin' here folks, is that the space was liminal.
The people we were staying with had all four volumes of the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers. Although I was well into adulthood at this point, I still read and enjoyed young adult books from time to time, but I had never read anything that would've qualified as either romance or paranormal, let alone paranormal romance.
I know, I know. You have a hard time believing that there was an adult female running around in 2009 who hadn't ever read a romance novel. What can I say? I was raised by Minnesota Lutherans. They don't go in for such foolishness. Never mind that I loved Jane Austen and only really enjoyed literary fiction with a prominent plot line involving romance. It never occurred to me that I could get the stuff I liked 100 proof or better.
So, Twilight hit me rather hard. The thought I had, over and over, as I read it was, Man, this is some twisted sh*t. What I meant by that, I think was, I can't believe that you can pander so blatantly and forcefully to the female ego and get away with it. My next thought was, Huh, I wonder how much further you could push it. (I often have that very thought, about many things.) I asked myself, if Stephanie Meyers could get away with Twilight, could you get away with something even more extreme?
This was the thought experiment out of which The Book of Beings was born: could you write something that was, in some ways, even more twisted than Twilight, and could you make it work? By which I meant, would readers like it? Would they maybe even love it?
The facet of Twilight that struck me was the ease with which Bella allowed Edward to take over her life, the degree to which she accepted behavior that would, if actual people engaged in it, qualify unquestionably as stalking. I'd seen Julie Grey's piece on this very thing. (I was an enthusiastic Rouge Wave reader there for a while.) And although I disagreed with Grey's implied take on the relationship between fantasy and reality, (a topic I'll tackle elsewhere) I agreed that the way that Bella's life was subsumed by her relationship with Edward was an important, if not the important feature of the plot in generating its appeal.
The question, then, was how to create a story in which the love interest would take over the heroine's existence in an even more extreme way. How, I asked myself, could he take over not just her life, but also her very body? (Vampirism was out. Just not into the blood thing myself, no matter how bloodless you make it.)
Having somewhat recently been pregnant myself, that seemed like the obvious answer. As Manon often muses, pregnancy is nothing if not the invasion of one's body by something at once alien and, at the same time, one hopes, eventually beloved. This was my answer, then: the love interest would make the heroine pregnant, but in a paranormal way. He would do it without sex. (Well, without physical sex.) He would do it without her knowledge, let alone her consent. How's that for extreme?
That is the true story of how I found my way to my premise. It was only later that I went, Wait. Teenage? Pregnant? No Sex? Which is to say, Virgin? Oh, I think I've heard that story before!
That is how I ended up rewriting the story of the Virgin Mary through the lens of the young adult paranormal romance. I mean, when you think about it, the VM story is one of the original paranormal romances. (Well, okay, even if it was borrowed in the first place from other, older traditions.) But I didn't make this actually pretty cool connection until later, really. I'd like to pretend I was that clever and literary and everything, but as I've said before, I'm not that clever. I only ended up with the idea in a round-about, stumbling-bumbling kind of way. Welcome to the creative process.
Of course, once the Virgin Mary coin had dropped, a number of other things fell into place. But more on that elsewhere...