For an author, a Publisher’s Weekly starred review is one of the holy grails of reviews. It’s one of those things that, for a writer, is right up there with The Call (“Hi, Mojo. I want to offer you a contract for your book.”). I’ve had pretty close brushes with getting The Call, which (three times, to be precise) ended up to be “I love this book and I want to buy it, but I can’t because of Freak Things 1, 2, and/or 3.” What I have never dared aspire to (especially once I started down the self-pub path) is a review in Publisher’s Weekly at all, much less a starred one. But then Tuesday, this happened:
And you know what? I’m kinda proud because I had some goals with this book and, at least for this reviewer, I hit some of them. Later I received an email from the senior editor of reviews at PW passing along some more remarks the reviewer made, which made me believe that I accomplished almost all of my goals with the book.
But there is one I want to talk about because it’s not one that’s obvious. And it’s not obvious because I set this challenge for my own benefit, not for the reader’s.
In 2008, my editor for Monsters & Mormons, Wm Morris, wrote this piece at A Motley Vision (a Mormon lit blog): Stephenie Meyer’s Mormonism and the “erotics of abstinence.” The erotics of abstinence. Well, that’s an intriguing little idea. He was springboarding from this Time piece: Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?, wherein the author says this:
But it is the rare vampire novel that isn’t about sex on some level, and the Twilight books are no exception. What makes Meyer’s books so distinctive is that they’re about the erotics of abstinence. Their tension comes from prolonged, superhuman acts of self-restraint. There’s a scene midway through Twilight in which, for the first time, Edward leans in close and sniffs the aroma of Bella’s exposed neck. “Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet,” he says. “You have a very floral smell, like lavender … or freesia.” He barely touches her, but there’s more sex in that one paragraph than in all the snogging in Harry Potter.
I, like Wm (and pretty much everybody else who read the book), was intrigued by that idea.
In 2008, Mitch and Cassie were a bare glimmer in my mind. I had mentioned Mitch’s name a couple of times in The Proviso with absolutely no intention of following up on that. Cassie didn’t even exist when I wrote the sketch with a nameless unreliable and unlikeable narrator in the style of “Snuff.” I like to do those sometimes, usually because something catches my attention and I’m restless and haven’t written for a while and though I only have a few words in me, they must come out. That 250-word monologue was in my head when I started thinking about Mitch’s role in Sebastian’s life. The two disparate ideas simply wound in and around each other like different streams of smoke drifting on the same breeze, tickling my mind with vague possibilities.
I was still in the planning stages of Magdalene, trying to figure out if I would or would not have my bishop succumb to temptation. I will tell you: I didn’t want him to, because that wasn’t who he was and besides that, I’d already gone down that road with Giselle. But how was I going to do this? I didn’t think I could write sexual tension, didn’t think I could carry abstinence too far and still make it seem legitimate. (We Mormons have all sorts of ways to justify our celibacy, but nobody outside our culture buys a word of it.)
Then I stumbled upon the “erotics of abstinence.” Stephenie Meyer had to go to paranormal lengths to justify abstinence until marriage. I don’t write paranormal, so I didn’t want to do that. She also had teenagers, which is its own justification. I don’t write teenagers, so that was out of the question.
I wanted to do that. With adults. Who weren’t vegetarian vampires. Plausibly.
I wanted to do it better.
So I did.