Wednesday, November 3, 2010

After the Happily Ever After

A familiar face joins us today as Jessica Andersen celebrates the release of the fifth book in her wonderful, hot Nightkeepers paranormal romance series. For those of you who're new to the Lair, Jessica's debut Harlequin Intrigue was an RT Top Pick. Her Intrigues have made category bestseller lists and have been nominated for the RITA Award. Welcome, Jessica!

Hi Banditas! It’s great to be back—thanks to Nancy for setting this up, and to you for joining me to celebrate the release week of the fifth Nightkeeper novel, BLOOD SPELLS ☺.

First, the blurb:

Mayan lore and modern science warn that 12/21/2012 will bring a global cataclysm, and dark forces stand poised to crush mankind. Our only hope rests with a secret group of modern magic-wielders called Nightkeepers, who gain their full powers by finding and winning their destined mates. But what happens when the mated bond unravels?

Patience and Brandt were both living in the human world when they met, married, and had twin sons … but when the Nightkeepers are recalled to duty, cracks appear in a marriage founded on secrecy and lies. Now, with their sons sent into hiding and the demonic threat kicking into high gear, they’re living separate lives, unable to reconnect … and not sure they want to.

They’re forced to team up once more when an ancient Aztec god-king arises, threatening the very fabric of the earth. But as they race to prevent their powerful enemy from enacting a terrible ritual, the danger turns personal, becoming a deadly test of their powers … and the love they once shared.


Yep, the romance centers on a married couple who have lost the spark in a big way. More, it’s the story of them trying to build a second happily ever after when the first one stops working because of how much they have grown and changed.

For the record, when I first outlined the Nightkeeper novels, I thought Brandt would die rather horribly at the end of the first book, with the guilt split between Patience and the man who would become her hero (and no, I’m not telling who, because the stories sooo didn’t write that way).

But when I wrote scenes in Patience’s and Brandt’s POVs in the first book (NIGHTKEEPERS), both characters really gelled for me … and I realized there was a far more interesting story there to tell, about a marriage that was based on lies, and two people who go from being normal parents to superheroes, and lose track of each other in the process.

I’m not always a fan of revisiting characters who are already paired off, especially if that revisitation (Hm. Spell check tells me that’s not a word … but it really ought to be) involves breaking them up and putting them back together. I think the author needs to be very cautious, or else I’m going to question whether this second HEA is the one that’s going to stick.

Suz Brockmann’s Tom and Kelly are together at the end of their book, but it takes several more books (and a fairly black moment) for them to get married. Similarly, JR Ward put us back in Wrath’s POV to look at how his failing sight tests his and Beth’s bond, but their love triumphs in the end.

For me, these stories worked because I never felt like the hero and heroine stopped loving each other despite their challenges, and the second happy ending for each couple felt like a continuation of their original romance.

In a very few other cases, however, I’ve watched favorite relationships decompress so thoroughly in a later book that it sours the original happy ending and leaves me worried that they’re not going to be okay after “The End.”

Thus, because the entirety of BLOOD SPELLS is technically Patience and Brandt’s ‘after the happily ever after,’ I wanted to make very sure that their conflict didn’t devalue the six years they’ve already been married. Their first happily ever after was perfect for the people they were back then. Now, though, they need to figure out whether their Nightkeepers selves can be together for real, and how to renegotiate some things that they—okay, mostly Brandt—thought were set in stone.

So tell me … do you like revisiting prior h/h couples, not just as a flyby at a garden party (Ooh, look! They’re so perfect together! And what a cute baby!), but as subplots with conflict and a black moment? Can you recommend some stories where this works? Are there situations where you wouldn’t want to see a couple again? Do you like seeing couples who have a history before the story opens, even if it happened off-page? Let’s talk about what happens after the HEA!

54 comments:

Sheree said...

Yes to after the HEA.

Christine Wells said...

Hi Jessica! Welcome to the lair. It's great to have you back with us. Nancy, thanks for hosting Jessica today.

Actually, I would prefer to see a formerly happy couple have real conflict to resolve rather than seeing them all hearts and flowers and happy with fifteen children underfoot in an epilogue. Often, with those kinds of epilogues, I get a bit bored and forget who they all are, because was it Chekhov who said all happy families are the same? At the very least, the secondary characters should serve a purpose if they're in a scene, even if they have already had their HEA. I do hear that readers love these kinds of reunions, though, so who am I to judge?

But whatever way, I think it's all in the execution and your story sounds very compelling. Looking forward to it!

Cath's Chatter said...

Yes to after the happily ever after.
If you look on facebook for instance, there are plenty of pages and profiles dedicated to continuing the stories of many well known books.....sometimes you just don't want to leave the characters behind :)
(not that those pages in any way compare to the authors original work)

Helen said...

Well done Sheree have fun with him today

It is good to have Jessica back and thanks Nancy I love a HEA obviously why I read romance LOL and yes I would love to revisit a H&H from a past book and not in a small scene although i don't think I have read any before i need to get all of these books Jessica and it is great to have a few to read one after the other.

Congrats on the release

Have Fun
Helen

Kim in Hawaii said...

Yes to life after the elections ... phew, it dragged on in Hawaii because of the six hour time difference.

Aloha, Jessica, let the party begin!

Anna Sugden said...

Hi Jess! *waving* So great to 'see' you and have you back in the Lair! Are you sure you don't need a research trip over to Cambridge?!

I'm so glad Blood Spells is out - I've just been on a Final Prophecies reading binge and am finishing up Demon Keepers just in time to go straight into Patience and Brandt's book! I love how you've built their relationship through the books - it's a master class in emotional foreshadowing.

I love seeing after the HEA and in more than a cocktail party snapshot! I think it's more powerful if, like Christine said, there's a conflict for them to resolve. The few books there have been with characters revisited have been emotionally charged and gripping reads. Lindsay McKenna's series about Morgan Trayhern did this brilliantly. Lisa Gardner's books (especially Gone) are awesome. Thomas Perry did a great job with Runner - where he revisits Jane Whitefield after her HEA. It's not a romance first and foremost but very clever.

I also like revisiting them as part of an ongoing series - like yours - where the characters are an integral part of the other stories and continue beyond their HEA, so you can see they're not cookie-cutter happy, but they're dealing with their issues and conflicts like we all do!

As part of the revisiting thing, I like revisiting villains too *g*. That probably makes me weird, but I think the really evil ones are fascinating. The power they have, even when incarcerated is chilling. Karen Rose does this really well.

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Jessica--

I'm with you--I'm very suspicious of reunion stories because I'm asking that same question. What's so different this time around that I can trust the HEA?

So when there IS a reunion story, I like it to be thorny. I like to see some real growth & some real progress. I'm so looking forward to Patience & Brandt's story! My husband ran off with my Kindle but he's due home tomorrow so I can download it!

Nancy said...

Hi, Sheree--congrats on the bird!

Nancy said...

Hi, Christine--YOu wrote:

Actually, I would prefer to see a formerly happy couple have real conflict to resolve . . .

That's just what happens in this book, which is why I'm so eager to read it. (Picked up my copy last night). The trouble between Patience and Brandt has been building in the prior four books, even though they weren't the lead couple in those books.

I have to confess, I like hearts and flowers epilogues. But I also like to see them wrap up some kind of story question amid the hearts and flowers.

Nancy said...

Cath, after my sister-in-law finished reading one of my historical manuscripts she said, "What else do you have with this couple?" And the answer was "nothing." But I appreciated the complimnet.

Nancy said...

Hi, Helen--One of the things I like about the Nightkeepers is that every couple shows up in every book, though not always with romantic conflict.

Nancy said...

Hi, Kim--Glad it's over for you!

Nancy said...

Anna Sugden wrote: I love how you've built their relationship through the books - it's a master class in emotional foreshadowing.

I couldn't agree more. When the series concludes, I plan to sit down and read all of it from beginning to end, a "binge," as you're having now.

Wasn't Demonkeeper great?

I think a person could pick up any one of these books and read it without having read the others, but reading them in order adds something to it.

Nancy said...

Hi, Susan--how uncooperative of your dh to run off with your Kindle! I don't have a Kindle, but I know already that my dh will never snag it. He hates technology.

Jessica Andersen said...

@ Sherree- Thanks, and congrats on being poster # 1!!

@ Christine- Hi back, and thanks so much for having me! And, hmmm, that's a good point. I, too, get annoyed when we get a 'former character driveby' that serves only to say 'awww, look how smoochie they are.' I guess maybe what I actually prefer (except in rare cases) is for the returning characters help (or hinder) the h and H as a team. Or something? Notsure. :)

@ Cath- Good point. Fan fic (and other takeoffs, whether from the author or not) are a way to keep getting our fix of characters after the fact.

@ Helen- Hi! (waves) I'm happy to be here, and hope you'll check out some of the books I mentioned. They're good reads (imho and fwiw).

@ Kim- LOLOL! *knuckle tap* to life after the elections!

@ Anna- Hey, girlfriend! Will hit you back on that research trip (grins). Hope you love the new book ... and why am I not surprised that you like revisiting villains????? LOL.

Jessica Andersen said...

@ Susan- Phew- I was starting to think I was weird in the 'not always trusting the story after the story' thing. (And, okay, so it's still entirely possible that I'm weird, but let's run with it- lol.)

LOL on the absconded Kindle. You guys must need a second one then! (snicker). Thanks for looking forward to Patience and Brandt, and I hope you love the story.

@ Nancy- Hey! Thanks so much for having me here today, and for the props on the series. I freaking love these books and the couples in them, and can't wait to get the last few installments on the shelves :)

MsHellion said...

No, I think you're doing something exactly right. Just because you have your HEA doesn't mean there still isn't big conflict to overcome later. We're still the difficult people we've always been. And it's not like we don't love the person we're with--but living with them is a different basket of kittens, you know?

I think most conflict between couples--if resolved right--bonds them stronger and leaves them more hopeful. Like "We've weathered stuff like this before, we'll be fine as long as we stick together" sort of thing.

Nancy said...

MsHellion wrote: Just because you have your HEA doesn't mean there still isn't big conflict to overcome later.

This is one of the things I love about the In Death series. From time to time, Eve and Roarke have major blow-ups, really going at each other, for reasons rooted in their characters, and they seem to come out stronger on the other side. That's been the case, it seems to me, with Patience and Brandt, and I'm eager to see how it works out.

Cybercliper said...

Hi Jessica - I love this series and I also love getting a look at our couples after the HEA. I would even like to see another book dedicated to some of my favorite couples with something that shows where they are currently in their lives, then maybe tests it to the breaking point, then another HEA. The reason I still check out Ward's BDB is for the updates on Beth and Wraith.

Relationships in their first bloom are sometimes pretty fragile especially for our H/h of the paranormal world. Complete trust, secondary baggage, and outside influences seem to always contrive to force some major changes so it would be interesting to see how they hold up after the shiny wears off a little.

Nancy said...

Cybercliper, I also like seeing how couples weather things "after the shiny wears off," as you put it.

Nancy said...

Jessica, it's always a pleasure to have you. People should note you're coming back in the New Year when the Nightkeepers appear in an anthology.

Jessica Andersen said...

@ MsHellion- Agreed ... I think that it's (say it with me, folks) all in the execution. The books that have troubled me are the ones where I either feel as if the characters are repeating their earlier conflict/resolution, or I feel like it's a worse one than their prior issue ... and then the writing doesn't sell me on believing (as you said) that they're coming out of it stronger than they went in.

When executed well, it feels very realistic. When not executed well ... it makes me nervous for characters I have come to care about.

@ Nancy-- For me that's one of the huge strengths of the In Death books, with two outliers (for me).

1. I'm blanking on the titles, but in the one where Roarke's manipulative ex-whatever comes in and starts poisoning things ... well, some of his behavior was borderline for me. I've forgiven him and moved on, but I won't reread that one. It makes me uncomfortable. (Which is a credit to the writing, but still...)

2. In contrast, there was a more recent one (last year, maybe?), that had almost no character development/conflict between Eve and Roarke. As an earlier poster noted, (paraphrasing) happy people aren't that interesting. So although the mystery was about on par with the others, the book didn't leave me with my usual 'mmmmm, just got me an Eve and Roarke fix' feeling.

So I guess that (for me) a continuing series needs the right amount of conflict between the protags. Which is like saying a recipe needs a pinch of salt, because my pinch and your pinch might not be even close to the same!

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Hey, Jess! Good to see you here in the lair again.

I do like to see after the HEA, particularly if it has a bit more depth and I feel like it has meaning to the overall story and isn't just tacked on.

Cassondra said...

Hi Jessica,

Welcome back to the lair.

I will say up front that I'm always initially a little wary of books where the hero and heroine are already married and have drifted apart. It's the fear that the romance won't read as powerfully if it's not "new"--but that's incorrect and every time I feel that I have to back up and say, "but you LOVE romances where the couple has a history." And I do. I often find them to be far more powerful--and believable--if there is history between them. I'm only guessing at why the "married already" thing is a little frightening.

I think it's the sense that "they've already had their romance" which is the culprit. But in truth, there is opportunity for something much deeper and more powerful--if the author can convey that. And I think you're right. There is a point where romance--and any possibility of it--is just gone. A lot of couple in the real world stay together and live that way, and somehow I guess that colors my expectations. When the author can pull off a reunion--when the original love was hot and powerful--then the reunion is even more compelling.

I'm excited about this couple you've brought back together. I think each of us has a deep longing for the real love to actually hold together, even across separations and tough times, and it's very satisfying when that happens.

As a side note, it's interesting to me that I'm so invested in whether the romance part of the story will be satisfying. It's a good indication for me, as a writer, of how much readers have to trust the author to give them a satisfying love story.

I can't wait to read this. The idea that they've grown as people and thus grown apart--and must find a way back together--that's a very cool, and very real-feeling, foundation for a love story.

jo robertson said...

Great topic for discussion, Jessica, and welcome back to the Lair!

Nancy, thanks for inviting Jessica back.

Whooot, Sheree, on capturing the rooster.

jo robertson said...

I like the sound of this story, Jessica, mainly because couples DO grow and change during six years of marriage, especially if they were young during their first HEA.

Jessica Andersen said...

@ Cyber-- Oh, I like your point on the fragility of new love, especially in paranormal. I think you're right, because so often there's an element of predestiny. One of the things I really love in the Nightkeeper books is the idea of these relatively normal, modern people having to deal with the idea of the gods picking their mates for them (maybe). So there's definitely the *wham* of them falling in love ... but also the longer term of them needing to figure out how to actually live together without killing each other. Which, imho, is the more pertinent challenge- lol.

@ Trish- Hey lady! (waves) Great to see you, too :)

@ Cassondra- Great post. Your first paragraph largely sums up why this one was really tough for me to write-- I needed to find a way to let their first and second HEAs be equally satisfying.

I had inadvertently built my answer into the series, though: They've never been able to remember the night they hooked up, due to some magical shenanigans, so remembering how they got together is part of their journey in this book. Which was tricky because it made me write two interconnecting romances (in a way), but I also think it makes it feel like the HEA at the end of the book is a continuation of their lives together, and doesn't cheapen what came before.

(I hope.)

@ Jo- Thanks for the welcome! And yes, the growth aspect of things was key. It wasn't really until my second round of revisions that I realized that the story wasn't just about getting them back together, really, it was about the heroine getting in the hero's face and forcing him to really *see* her rather than assuming she was the same person she had been when they met.

The story really makes me think about the inertia factor of a relationship.

Donna MacMeans said...

Congrats on the Rooster, Sheree!

Welcome back Jessica. I like revisiting married couples whose HEA in a previous book was really a Happily-For -a-Few - Years. A book that has them rediscover the love and work out the issues is closer to reality IMO.

I agree with Christine - it's all in the execution. But then I know you know how to pull it off in an exciting satisfying fashion.

Nancy said...

Jessica, I remember the manipulative ex book. It was not Roarke's finest moment. I put it down to his being a guy and their general density re: such matters. I'm not pinging on the other one you mentioned, but I think conflict between them is one of the series' strengths, and I'm impressed that Nora manages to do it in ways that don't seem repetitive.

Nancy said...

Cassondra, I also want a romantic arc in my reading matter. I've read books without it (To Kill A Mockingbird, for example) and loved them, but I like what that adds to the characters.

Nancy said...

Hi, Jo--I agree that people grow and change. I think what keeps a marriage together is that they manage to grow and change in compatible ways.

Kate Carlisle said...

Welcome back to the Lair, Jessica! It's always fun to have you here. And thanks to Nancy for making it happen! :-)

I'm kind of a sucker for a reunion with babies and good times and stuff. LOL. But I also enjoy reading about a formerly HEA couple who haven't quite made it to their real HEA. I'm glad y'all brought up the In Death books because they're what I was thinking of as you discussed the topic. I love it when Eve and Roarke have an honest thorny problem and we get to see them go through the ups and downs and worries and work it out. Hmm, I guess I just love "them" in any stage of their relationship. I mean, come on, it's Roarke. :-)

Can't wait to read your new book!!

Nancy said...

Hi, Kate--You wrote: I mean, come on, it's Roarke. :-)

Truer words were never spoken. The man's just a prince, isn't he? He kind of reminds me of Bruce Wayne but more dangerous, actually. And of course, Roarke had to make his own money.

I also have The Lies That Bind here and am so looking forward to reading that! I love books, Brooklyn, and Derek.

Nancy said...

Donna, I think it's in the execution with most things. That's why I can't make fudge--I can't execute the despised soft ball stage.

Someone else could write a story about a widow and a painter and not put nearly the heart into it that you put into Mrs. Brimley, for example.

Karyn Gerrard said...

You book sounds just wonderful, and as for examples I am drawing a blank. You mention JR Ward, I have only just started the Brotherhood series, only 2 books in.
I would say Gena Showalter also does this well. Characters are often referred back to, I like that!

Karyn Gerrard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jo robertson said...

Nancy said, "This is one of the things I love about the In DEATH series."

I agree, Nancy. In fact, sometimes those conflicts are at the core of who Eve and Roarke are in the IN DEATH series, and I think, "Oh, boy, Robb's never going to pull this one off."

She usually does, although sometimes it's a mite of a stretch. I think agreeing to disagree is one of the most important things two alpha people (uh, thinking me and Dr. Big) can do when they marry or live together.

And of course in a romance, the bonding agent is the LOVE!

jo robertson said...

Kate said, " I mean, come on, it's Roarke. :-)"

Hand to God, the man lives and breathes in some corner near Central Park!

Probably the nicest compliment I can give a writer.

Jessica Andersen said...

@ Kate, Nancy and Jo-- Yes, Eve and Roarke are definitely the couple that come to most minds. Another pair I love, and who have Jo's 'agree to disagree' mojo are Elizabeth Peters's Amelia and Emerson.

@ Donna and Karyn--Thanks for the warm welcome, and for checking in! Karyn, sounds like you've got a pretty fun TBR pile going there :)

Nancy said...

Karyn, I like the way the Lords of the Underworld turn up in each other's books.

Nancy said...

Jo, the whole agreeing to disagree thing doesn't come easily sometimes, but I like reading about couples who make it work.

catslady said...

Oh, I only have the first two books so I am really looking forward to catching up. When I know it's a series I enjoy meeting up with the same characters. And I don't always demand the HEA. I like to be kept guessing now and again lol.

Nancy said...

Hi, Catslady--The fun thing about being a little behind on a series is that you can then go on a reading binge to catch up. When you're caught up, you read the current book, and then there're NO MORE, alas!

Kate Carlisle said...

Nancy, thanks for the Brooklyn/Derek love!! I admit, I do love them, too. :-)

Jessica, Amelia Peabody and Emerson are favorites of mine, too. That series is brilliant, isn't it?

Nancy, I'm LOL'ing over your fudge metaphor. Too funny!

Nancy said...

Kate wrote: Nancy, I'm LOL'ing over your fudge metaphor. Too funny!

Spoken like a woman fully in control of the fudge process.

I envy you.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Hey Jessica! Welcome back to the Lair!

As for revisiting couples. I like to see them again, but I don't want their HEA in jeopardy, not necessarily "everything's perfect", but definitely pretty good. Just to confirm to me that they've weathered the stormy seas pretty well. Like sitting down with an old friend and catching up.

Nancy said...

Suz, if the HEA of a couple who starred in a prior book were in jeopardy, I would want them moved to the front, starring again very soon.

Jessica Andersen said...

Hi all! Just getting back from a nano write in (thanks to fab para author Toni Andrews for organizing it!), and wanted to catch up!

@ Catslady-- Thanks for having the first two on hand! I hope you love them when they sift their way to the top of the pile :)

@ Kate-- Yep, big Amelia and Emerson fan here. Also, imho the series is an awesome example of writing in first person but letting the reader see stuff the POV character doesn't perceive. We absolutely know when everyone is rolling their eyes at Amelia being stubborn over something, even though in her POV she's utterly convinced that she's right.

@ Nancy- LOLOL on the fudge. Great. Now I'm jonesing for chocolate!

@ Suzanne- I love the 'catching up with an old friend' line. That's a perfect description of some of my favorite 'after the fact' scenes :).

But at the same time, I sometimes get uncomfortable if we jump too far ahead. For example, one of my (very few) keepers is Connie Brockway's "My Dearest Enemy" ... but there's an epilogue that shows the h and H when they're pretty advanced in years, and it's not my favorite part of the book. I kind of like thinking of couples as eternally the same as they were when I 'knew' them.

Thus why I haven't yet braved the new Vorkosigan book...

EilisFlynn said...

I always liked seeing the couple, happy or not, after their own denouement. Part of the plot would be great, but I just get tired of the glimpse of the happy couple with pregnant wife. *Yawn*

Louisa Cornell said...

Wow, Sheree! Have you had the GR before? Be afraid. Be very afraid!

Hello, Jessica! Great to see you back in the Lair!

I love a series where we keep tabs on the various couples. And some conflict for everyone is not a dealbreaker for me so long as we don't end up breaking up a couple just to have something new or different in the book. Couples fight and have conflict over the years, but that underlying love has got to conquer all eventually for me.

Looking forward to reading your latest!

Nancy said...

Jessica, new Vorkosigan book? Oh, criminey, that's out this month, too, isn't it? I love that series!

Nancy said...

Eilis, one of the things I like about the Nightkeepers is that all the couples we've met so far are in every book. It's just a different couple in the forefront.

Nancy said...

Hi, Louisa--"some conflict for everyone," you said. I like it! I think those bumps in the road can add to a story if they're done well, even if the couple hitting the bump isn't the main one.

IF it comes out of character and not, as you say, a transparent plot device.

Jessica Andersen said...

@ Eilis- LOLOL on the *yawn*. I just wrote an Intrigue with a happily pregnant former heroine, but I promise she's integral to the plot :)

@ Louisa- Thanks for the warm welcome, hope you love the book!!!!

@ Nancy (and all)-- Thanks so much for having me, and for hanging out with me today. It's been real, and I'll see you again in February for the release of CRYSTAL SKULL in the ON THE HUNT anthology.

Oh, and if anyone wants to friend me on FB and get a look at my oh-so-Freudian typos, I'm "DocJess".

Catch you later!

Jess