Demon Bound Special: Meljean Brook on Influences

With the upcoming release of Demon Bound (our review will be up tomorrow , with a giveaway!) , the latest installment in Meljean Brook’s Guardian series, we invited the author to talk about her influences and sources of inspiration for her novel.

Without further ado, we give the floor to Meljean Brook!

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” — T.S. Eliot

“Mediocre artists borrow; great artists steal.” — Pablo Picasso

“Dorks grab stuff from writers and artists they love and stick it into their romance novels.” — Meljean Brook

I’ve talked before about how I came up with the idea for the Guardian series — and about how I’ve been influenced by Milton and Wilde, Dante and Gaiman (not to mention Batman and Wonder Woman).

By the seventh book in a series, though, I’m guessing that readers are hoping for something a little different. It’s not as if the questions raised within, say, Milton’s essays on free will can ever be fully explored or resolved in a series like mine, but that once those conflicts have been established as the foundation of the series … well, at that point, it’s a lot more fun to talk about the new stuff I’m putting in there, the little details that add flavor to the current book. And, although each of these stories is mine, it doesn’t mean that I don’t owe a huge debt of gratitude to writers and storytellers who came before me (and who do it a lot better than me.)

When I first named areas within Caelum (which I don’t really reference before DEMON BOUND) I decided to go with mythology-based names. From Demon Bound:

“[The Black Widow] has a place?” Becca’s expression was blank. “I thought she just lived in the Archives.”

Jake stared at his cards. Not even a pair. He threw in more chips, anyway. “It’s in Odin’s Courtyard.”

Mackenzie looked up. “Odin’s?”

“There’s a big ash tree, like what Odin hung himself from—to gain wisdom,” Jake said. And it sounded like a hell of a painful way of getting smarter. He preferred the easy method: opening a book or turning on a computer—or fucking up and paying for it. “But it’s marble. Like everything else.”

(Jake doesn’t hang himself in a tree, but he doesn’t get the easy method, unfortunately.)

This is all thanks to Edith Hamilton and her book MYTHOLOGY, which I found in my elementary school library. It’s not the be-all and end-all mythology resource, but it was the first place I learned about Yggdrasil, the great ash tree that serves as the axis of the nine realms in Norse mythology.

I’d known about Loki, Thor, Freya, frost giants, but the short introduction she gave in this book (the focus is on Greek and Roman myths) got me looking for more sources — and so in its way, Hamilton’s book is the reason I wasn’t completely lost while I was reading Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS (although I still had enough to look up there.)

Hamilton wasn’t my only resource for mythology, of course, but it was a fantastic jumping-off point. And since I’ve mentioned AMERICAN GODS, I should also give a nod to Gaiman.

His book wasn’t the first place I encountered the Zorya, but I couldn’t for the life of me recall what their names were (or how to spell them) in order to look them up until I had that “ah-ha!” moment, remembering that he’d included them in his book. Here’s the passage from DEMON BOUND, between Alice and a Guardian introduced in this book, Irena:

“And now you are quiet.” Irena did not look up as she disemboweled the deer. The grisly task was not so different from the one Alice had performed on the demon, only hours before. “You creep up on me like Zorya Polunochnaya, swathed in darkness. You only lack the white hair and hunched back.”

{…} Oh, dear. When had she last read about the Zorya? To the best of her recollection, they were three mythical goddesses watching over a sky hound chained to a constellation, and who would destroy the universe if he broke his bonds.

Alice considered that as Irena rolled the deer’s body onto its back. The heat of its blood and innards had melted the snow to pink slush.

Irena might have been the morning Zorya, Alice decided. The fierce young warrior. Neither of them would be the mother.

And Alice would rather the world not rely on her as their defense against annihilation by a godhound. Demons were quite enough. “If I must be a crone,” she said, “I would prefer to be Baba Yaga.”

Gaiman’s goddesses are each young (and the passages with Zorya Polunachnaya are amazingly beautiful) — but I went with the maiden/mother/crone interpretation of the goddesses. One reason is simply that I like the stages-of-life concept better; the other reason is that it’s just fun to set up Irena as the young maiden and Alice as the crone, even though Irena is actually sixteen centuries older than Alice.

But of course a series like mine is going to reference mythology — so what else is in there?

There’s a line early in the story (just after the passage with Irena above, actually) where Alice thinks:

She’d been thought insane when she’d made the bargain. How elegant that she would be reduced to insanity by it. “I shall spend eternity creeping around the room.”

If you’re familiar with Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” that line of dialogue foreshadows a chunk of Alice’s backstory. (And as far as I’m concerned, Alice is deliberately referencing the story; Irena doesn’t recognize it, though, because she doesn’t read if she can help it.) And I wasn’t thinking of Gilman’s story when I began writing the book, but once I got into it and realized everything that had happened to Alice, the story popped into my head (or maybe it had been partially driving everything I’d been thinking about Alice in the first place.) I’m not sure, really — at times, writing a character is kind of like the chicken and the egg question. What came first: the direction Alice’s character going to a place that reminds me of a short story that I’ve read, or did I push Alice’s character in that direction because of the short story (along with other things, like Gilbert and Gubar’s “The Madwoman in the Attic” and some kind of accumulation of essays and information about the Victorian era)?

Don’t know, don’t know. There are aspects of Jake’s background, however, that I can point to more easily.

I knew from my first throwaway mention of Jake in WILD THING that he was a soldier who’d died in Vietnam (which probably made it inevitable that he’d end up a hero. My BFF points out that in a lineup, they’d look like the Village People: the knight, the vampire, the cowboy, the soldier…oh, and don’t forget the doctor, lawyer, and FBI Agent. Yeah.)

Outside of some conversations I’ve had with vets in college, in coffee shops — the two texts about Vietnam (including documentaries and fiction) that have stuck with me most vividly are Tim O’Brien’s short story “The Things They Carried” and the movie Apocalypse Now. And although my research had to go wider than those sources, I know that the imagery and stories they told were right there with me when I was asking myself, “What happened to Jake to make him the Guardian he is now?”

There aren’t really any Apocalypse Now nods in the book (the song from the opening of the movie — “The End” by the Doors — was on the soundtrack that I listened to in my car, however; finding a crazy person at the end of a journey was just a happy coincidence) but there is one scene that I call “Jake’s List” that is very, very much a grateful nod to/inspired by the Tim O’Brien story. (*Ana’s note : this scene is one of my favorites in the book –it is all kinds of awesome * )

Which… I suppose for someone who doesn’t get all crazy-excited about this kind of stuff, this is making the book seem all very serious and glum, when Jake and Alice’s story is anything but glum. So let’s do a quick segue into dorkery and geekery itself, as shown in the book:

[Alice] narrowed her eyes at Jake. My, wasn’t he so very comfortable down there, with his music and his computers. Here she sat, prickly and despondent, contemplating the terrible fate that awaited her, and he was…no longer tapping, but using a controller of some kind.

“Are you playing a game?”

“Yep. DemonSlayer. I’m almost—” He made a dismayed grunting noise. “Dead.”

Alice stared at him, and he flashed a grin at her over the top of his computer screen.

“Hey, it’s personal time. It’s either this or porn. And this takes my mind off…other things.”

“I see,” she said. She didn’t, though—and now she was trying to fit this into what she knew of him. “So you are a geek.”

His controller clattered to the table, then disappeared. So did his computers, giving her a clear view of his dumbfounded expression. “A what?”

“A geek. It means—”

“I know what it means. How do you know?”

She lifted her chin. “I’m not completely ignorant of contemporary culture.”

The most convenient locations to charge her computer batteries were human libraries—and even she found herself tempted by magazines and the Internet.

“Just mostly ignorant,” he countered, and she decided it wasn’t worth arguing. She’d lose. And it gave her some pleasure that he was looking disgruntled now. “Anyway, I’m not one. I’m not dedicated enough.”

She hadn’t known there was an element of commitment to it.

I think for many writers — and many readers — there is more than an element of commitment to our varied dorkeries and inspirations; there’s also a huge dose of passion. As I’m writing this, I’m finding it very surreal to list influences because a) by the time they get into the book they’ve been altered and are often no longer text but subtext or allusion or just a fun little Easter Eggs and b) there is no way to show the excitement behind their inclusion. Listed, they feel very academic (which is unfortunately associated with a lack of passion and dryness — but I suppose it’s hard to sound authoritative when you’re squeeing), and can’t convey at all the excitement and inspiration they offer an author … and in turn, breathe into a text.

I think that when we write reviews of books we really love, we suffer the same problem … how exactly do you convey the awesomeness of a text and the experience of reading it? “I love this book!!” hardly seems adequate sometimes, no matter how many exclamation points you use. And when an author writes a book, she can’t break in and say, “I love these characters/this topic/I had a blast researching this!” The only way it shows is in the writing itself — how much life and excitement can we pour into it without overwhelming characters or the story? — and how much of that will readers share?

Considering that I had a blast researching the spiders…I know not all readers will share all of it. 😀

And this is an awesome time to say: I had a blast writing this book. There is so much that was just pure fun. From researching Egyptian history, dusting off my archaeology texts, deciding which T-shirt Jake was going to wear,

tying in threads from previous books in the series, expanding the origin of the Guardians, creating Alice’s dress…

Yep, just fun.

But it’s also all background. Like I said earlier, it’s flavor. The real story is the relationship, the romance; it’s Jake growing up and Alice fighting for her life. There must be passion and commitment there, too … or all of the research and influences in the world won’t hold the book together.

So, I’m wondering — is there a reference or detail from a book that inspired you to go out and find out more about a topic? Is there a passion of yours that, when you see it referenced in a novel, makes you giddy?

And if you are a writer — or if you were a writer — is there something that you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from including in the text, in however small a way?


  • Jessica
    November 3, 2008 at 4:15 am

    This was a wonderful article to wake up to. Thank you Ana and Meljean!

    Your post helps me to see even more clearly the continuity between the way Alice was perceived (unfairly) in her human life and how she has been perceived (unfairly) in her Guardian life.

    And spiders — what a great choice for their double (positive and negative, death and rebirth, vindictiveness and resourcefulness, etc.) symbolism, mirroring the way Alice is perceived. And for sheer entertainment value, of course.

    I’ve so enjoyed all 4 of the stand alone novels I have read in the Guardians series, and one of the reasons is the way you are able to take so many influences, disparate in time, place, and source, and put them together in way that feels natural. It’s amazing and makes for a great read.

    Looking forward to your review Ana!

  • Katiebabs a.k.a KB
    November 3, 2008 at 5:10 am

    I have always loved Lewis Carol’s Jabberwocky poem that Alice reads in Through the Looking Glass. It doesn’t make any sense but I would love try a story around the poem.
    Instead of feeling sorry for Alice, I felt so angry for her! When she was human, she thought she was doing something special, a major sacrifice on her part for someone who treated her wrongly. I am so glad she found Jake!

  • meljean brook
    November 3, 2008 at 5:13 am

    Good morning, Jessica!

    Thank you, and I’m so glad to hear that it feels natural! One of the difficult things about writing these books is curbing my enthusiasm for some topics, and making certain that everything I do use fits the characters (instead of sounding like me.)

    Hugh and Lilith, for example — they were both huge readers (and old) so it made a lot of sense for them to make references to literature all the time.

    The same is true of Alice. She’d absolutely compare her burden to Sisyphus’s torment. But Jake — although he knows quite a bit about mythology and history — doesn’t process the world through the same lens; with him, it’s often the language of war. With Savi, I used a lot of scientific language, and Charlie had her music and sounds.

    So I think a lot of writing is not only recognizing your own dorkeries … but knowing what your characters’ are, too.

  • meljean brook
    November 3, 2008 at 5:17 am

    Katiebabs — I love the poem, too. I don’t think Jake does, lol.

    And I think it’ll be interesting to see what the response is to Alice’s history — whether it runs more to sympathy or anger on her behalf. Jake, of course, had the anger going. I’ve got both, but also a lot of horror.

    They had a lot of nice dresses, but thank freaking goodness that the Victorian era is over.

  • Katiebabs a.k.a KB
    November 3, 2008 at 5:52 am

    I can see Jake helping Alice let go of those stuffy Victorian fashions 😀
    I could have never survived back then with the corsets and high collars.

  • Kati
    November 3, 2008 at 6:21 am

    *waving* Hi Meljean! Congrats on the new release.

    What a terrific post! I love getting into writer’s heads and hearing how their thought processes go.

    I don’t have anything substantive to add, but just wanted to congratulate you on what I’m sure will be a terrific week for you!

  • meljean brook
    November 3, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Thank you, kati!

  • Thea
    November 3, 2008 at 8:12 am

    Thanks Meljean for this awesome post 🙂 It’s fascinating, and really cool to see some of these influences, and how they play out in Demon Bound.

    Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried gets me in the heart each time. My favorite story was the Mary Anne Bell one. *shudders* Intense.

  • little alys
    November 3, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Side note: It's so weird seeing my name around and it's not about me. >_<

    Okay, first off, I cannot wait until I get a hold of this book. This book sounds like it's going to be crazy fun. 🙂

    Two, I seriously LOVE all the literary allusions. My friend I just introduced to romance (this book included) just loved it too and we went into a complete literature discussion about the possibilities, which books/papers we were able to reference and how incredibly smart the author must be to be able to flawlessly intergrate ALL these information and still have a kick-ass plot. 😀

    Darn addictive books. ^_^

  • little alys
    November 3, 2008 at 8:31 am

    P.S. Thanks for putting together another great event, Thea and Ana. You two are honestly a great duo team. 🙂

    Meljean – You make dorkiness cool. 🙂

    P.P.S Wonderwoman forever!

  • meljean brook
    November 3, 2008 at 9:05 am

    Thea — I actually didn’t read the entire collection until last year, although I’d known about the short story from the title for much longer.

    The whole collection just blew me away. It’s such powerful writing; it makes me want to be a better writer and to just give up, all at the same time 🙂

    little alys — Thank you! And when you get a chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it!

    And I agree; it is weird whenever I see my (real) name in a book. I don’t think mine is a very “heroine-y” name, though, so I don’t see it often 😀

    I also agree that Thea and Ana have the best events. The Halloween special was fantastic, and Julia Quinn later this week? Awesome.

  • Ana
    November 3, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Goly gee, Miss Meljean and Miss Alys y’all make me blush.

  • JenB
    November 3, 2008 at 9:43 am

    I both love and loathe The Yellow Wallpaper. I love it because it’s a brilliant piece and so thought provoking. I loathe it because it’s heartbreaking and it makes me angry.

    Wow, how cool to read that it influenced your writing!!!

  • Holly
    November 3, 2008 at 11:54 am

    What a great article! I love that you pull your ideas from so many places.

    Also, I love that you use the word “Dorkeries”. heh.

    Ana, I can’t wait to read your review tomorrow.

    *hi Thea!!*

  • Hagelrat
    November 3, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    awesome and of course has got me truly determined to give these books a try.

  • Aymless
    November 3, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Loved the post! Meljean is so way cool *sigh* She even makes spider super cool.

    Jabberwocky! I so love that poem.

    KB: I wouldn’t have survived either! Ick on corsets and bustles.

    Alice Alice Alice… lol I’ve get to read a book where my name is used as the heroine’s.

  • orannia
    November 3, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    I’m speechless. The amount of research that goes into your books….WOW!

    They had a lot of nice dresses, but thank freaking goodness that the Victorian era is over.


    Ahhh, I think it would have taken me WAY too long to get dressed…and as for breathing? Maybe that was optional?

    Meljean, where is the best place to start with your series please? I can start with ‘Falling for Anthony’. Would that be best?

    Thank you and all the best for the release of your new book!

  • meljean brook
    November 3, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    JenB — that’s exactly the way I feel about it. A love/hate relationship. And because it is one of those pieces that make me feel very strongly, I suppose it is no wonder that it makes its way into my work.

    Holly — lol, even the word “dorkeries” is dorky, but I totally am, so it fits 😀

    hagelrat — thank you, and if you do, I hope you enjoy them!

    aymless — hmm, I’m sure there’s got to be one. Oh, oh! I know of a Johanna Lindsey … okay, maybe that’s not so awesome. *grin*

    orannia — Falling for Anthony really is the best place to start, I think. It’s not necessarily my best story *grin* even though I really like it; and it’s also set in Regency times, although the others aren’t. But it introduces quite a few characters, and is referenced later in both Demon Angel and Demon Moon.

    Luckily for me, I really, really enjoy the research. There’s very little that I’ve HAD to look up that I haven’t enjoyed reading about.

  • orannia
    November 4, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Thank you so much Meljean! I’ll start at the beginning 🙂

    Good luck for the release of Demon Bound!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.