One of the reasons I love romance novels is because they recycle familiar tropes to create new stories. Like writing sonnets, the constraints of the form call for great creativity in order to produce something original. One of the reason I’m such a fan of category romances (particularly Harlequin Presents) is because anyone familiar with the sub-genre can rattle off a list of common elements, and yet every book is unique.
So when I set out to write The Zombie She Carried, I was looking forward to picking some of my favourite ingredients ( and a couple of least-favourite) and trying to put my own spin on them.
1. Pregnancy. This one is obvious, given the title. But my heroine is already pregnant when the hero meets her, and as her doctor he’s responsible for her well-being…and for seeing her zombie baby safely to term.
I had a world of fun trying to work out the implications of an unplanned zombie pregnancy: what happened to the zombie-babydaddy? What risks does the baby pose for his mother? What sort of food cravings go along with zombie-baby pregnancy? WAY too much fun, seriously.
2. Slut-Shaming. Okay, this is one of my very least favourite things in romance novels: heroes who berate or reject heroines based on an accusation that she’s had an affair, or because she wasn’t a virgin when they got married, or a whole host of variations on the theme of “it’s not okay for her to have sex with anyone else, ever, even in the past.”
Not ALL categories do this, of course, and I like to think it’s becoming less of a Thing over time. But it does happen, and not even the grovelling at the end makes me okay with it, because the grovelling only happens once the hero finds out he was wrong about the heroine: she’s been innocent all along! But…does that mean it’s okay for someone to emotionally abuse the person they’re in love with in other circumstances? If she really WASN’T a virgin, or someone else DID have sex with her when she was passed out/after the hero left her, he still has no business being a jackass about it. So I tried to subvert that: my hero briefly misjudges the heroine, but then comes to his senses and admits that her past is her own damned business.
3. Dark, brooding, faintly sinister hero. I didn’t quite go full-blown old school hero, in part because I included some scenes from Victor’s POV (and he’s really a decent guy). But he’s a rich Russian doctor; his parents died under macabre circumstances, and his elder brother is a zombie hunter; and best of all is his specialty: Lamiatrics, the treatment of “devouring monsters,” in this case the hungry undead.
4. Sequel-ready siblings. This one’s a bit misleading, because actually the next stories in the sequence don’t focus on Victor’s brothers. But eventually I’ll get back to them, because I love them. In addition to Vlad, the zombie hunter I mentioned above, there’s Mikhail (also a medical researcher, and a womanizer) and Igor (youngest brother, lab assistant, and cured former zombie).