“Lots Of Cursing And Sex”: Authors Laurell K. Hamilton And Sarah J. Maas On Pleasure & Violence In Paranormal Romance

What happens when two paranormal romance authors sit down to chat? The conversation revolves around three themes: sex, fantasy, and hot male characters. Both Laurell K. Hamilton and Sarah J. Maas are no strangers to these topics, and don’t shy away from going into detail.

As their NYCC 2019 panel began, Laurell K. Hamilton, author of the popular Anita Blake series, admitted she wasn’t familiar with Sarah J. Maas before being asked to read the panel, and doesn’t read Young Adult fiction, but read Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series with her husband as a little book club. Hamilton remarked that Maas’ books being shelved in the Young Adult section felt like a mislabelling – perhaps the “not-so-young adult section” would have been better, and that she “had no idea young adult had exploded like that”. Maas agreed, and said that we were now in a “golden age of YA”, thanks to Twilight and The Hunger Games. But that ACOTAR does skew a lot older. She was surprised it was shelved as YA, especially considering there is a “three day sex marathon” in one of the books, A Court of Mist & Fury.

This discussion around Sara J. Maas’ books isn’t new – often the term “new adult” comes up in reference to her work, but Maas mentions that New Adult categorization hadn’t really caught on the way publishers hoped it would. She agreed to publish ACOTAR as YA as long as her editor wouldn’t censor any of the sexual content. Her new series, Crescent City, is being marketed as adult from the get go, as Maas says, “because the word ‘fuck’ appears on almost every single page”. She joked that her editorial process included a lot of removals of f-bombs – “I went a little overboard…I had to tone it down to make the F-bombs really pop”. And Maas has never shied away from adult language – so much so that a reader once gave her a mug with just the word ‘fuck’ on it.

Laurell K Hamilton shared that a reader had once given her a hand-knitted “f-bomb”, and that Anita Blake “cusses like a sailor because I do”. She joked that she “knows a day has gone bad when you’re trying to think of new ways to say fuck”. She commiserated with Sarah because her Antia Blake: Vampire Hunter series is sometimes shelved as young adult, she thinks because of her strong female character, but that the violence content wouldn’t have suited the YA category at the time the books were published, before YA was “wild and free”. Hamilton admits that this has sometimes been an issue with younger readers and their parents, and that she does get asked if her books are appropriate for teenage girls. Her response is that it’s particular to each reader, and if that a 15 year old is mature enough, then the books are appropriate for them.

Maas has had similar experiences, and shared an anecdote of a young fan who wore a shirt that said “it’s all about the wingspan” – with an image of wings and a ruler on the back. Maas laughed that it felt a little inappropriate, but if a reader understands and can handle that content, it works, and that she was reading adult fantasy at that age.

Hamilton was impressed by Maas’ reactions to her fans, because “there was no adult fantasy like that when I was 13 – I wrote it, I cracked that egg open,” but that often the sexual content bothered her as a reader more than the violence, so as a writer, she knows that the sexual content has to be done with just as much care as violence or mystery. Hamtilon admitted that readers and journalists were bothered by her work because it was a female character written from a first-person perspective. Journalists have admitted to her that they wouldn’t be as bothered if a man were writing the same question, which spurs Hamilton on in her writing. She is tired of having to defend women in her books enjoying sex and their sexuality, and that she wishes it was a “non-question”.

Maas agreed, and mentioned that the fantasy books she read with sex as a young woman were her introductions to sex and sexuality, finding heroines that enjoyed having sex and weren’t afraid left a huge mark on her as a woman and as a writer. It is really important for her stories to show that sex is okay, and that female characters enjoy it just as much as male characters do.

Hamilton noted that there’s probably more police work and violent crime in her books than sexual content, but the more it was brought up as a problem, the more she wanted to write sex to balance the scales. Her character Merry Gentry was created for this purpose, and isn’t as bothered by casual sex as Anita Blake is. Hamilton joked that her romantic lead, vampire Jean-Claude, would be upset about this: “I apologize for contributing to the problems of romantic vampires everywhere… I apologize to my imaginary friend (Jean-Claude) for making his dating life hard.”

Both Hamilton and Maas related to talking with their characters as if they were real. Maas admitted to getting emotional and “sobbing so hard tears are drenching [her] keyboard”. Maas was firm that these are real emotions, and that her characters are pieces of her. Hamilton agreed and shared that Jean-Claude was the longest running male relationship in her life – she started writing him before she met her husband.

Hamilton shared that Anita Bake’s character came from wanting to counteract detective fiction where male characters got to cuss and have casual sex, and if they killed someone they defended themselves. Female characters weren’t treated the same way and Hamilton wanted to even the playing field. She wanted to create a female character that could hold her own with the big boys, and feels that she has succeeded on that one. The audience absolutely agreed.

When the conversation came to talking about character traits, Hamilton was impressed by Sarah J Maas’ ability to explain flight in humanoid characters, and the physicality of wings. Maas explained that she thought of wings as an expression of mood, and researched how much core and back strength it would take to lift off. But she admitted that the physics of it are hard to explain, and that “their bones probably need to be hollow – but it’s fantasy so we can pretend it works.” Both authors shared that they had worked with personal trainers to help with research regarding the physicality of fight scenes and sword work.

Both authors announced new projects: Maas’ upcoming new series, Crescent City, is her first adult fantasy book. Set in a modern fantasy world (if you took ACOTAR and jumped ahead 3000 years, added cars and cellphones and guns) where every paranormal creature exists alongside humans. Maas described it as Roman Empire-esque, if it the empire had never collapsed, but run by “crazy magical creatures”. The story follows Bryce (a half-fae half-human), who is a party girl. When her roommate Danica (a shifter) and Danica’s entire Wolfpack are slaughtered, Bryce gets pulled into a murder mystery. The story jumps ahead to two years later when a series of similar murders draws Bryce back in. She is ordered to find the killer, alongside a personal assassin named Hunt. Maas describes the relationships as “enemies to friends to maybe more”.

Hamilton’s new project is an anthology of short stories called Fantastic Hope, which will be out in April 2020. The collection features a new Anita Blake story alongside stories from 16 other authors. Hamilton described the book as “non-dystopian” and filled with hope and positivity. She also announced the new Anita Blake book would be called Sucker Punch and is due in 2020, and she is also working on a brand new series with a male lead character.

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