*Spoiler warning for plot and themes of The Un-Life of William Moore and Dancing with an Alien*
When I wrote The Un-Life of William Moore, I wrote it with the intention of it not being just another mortal-and-vampire-falling-in-love story. With the surge of Twilight in 2008, there seemed to come an overwhelming flood of copy-cats looking to join in on the monster romance genre, and it's been here to stay. The tantalizing promise of living forever balancing with the curse of having to live a life in the shadows. What young female protagonist (or avid romance reader) can resist the call of eternity with a supernaturally hot guy?
At the end of the day, however, these stories, while fun and romantic on the surface, are really just stories of emotional abuse and toxic behaviors. Many of these paranormal "romance" novels follow the same beats as Twilight, so for ease of explaining, we'll just keep with the Twilight theme here. Edward is an obsessive stalker, technically a pedophile (he's over 100 years old and dating a teenager, guys), violent, and emotionally manipulative. In being with Edward, Bella chose to abandon her friends and family, turning Edward into her whole world, so that when he abruptly left her in book two, she literally had nothing. By the end of the series, Edward and Bella, like so many other mortal-vampire couples in paranormal romance, ultimately failed to resist the toxic call of spending eternity as literal monsters. It's that tried and true concept of "misery loves company."
I can only think of one paranormal romance story that I have read that didn't fall into this trope. It's called Dancing with an Alien, a story about an alien man who comes from a planet where all of the women mysteriously died. Humans happen to be compatible enough with them to be able to reproduce. I'm sure you can see where this is going if you've read any sort of alien romance story. Alien man abducts himself a hot young earthling woman to have alien hybrid babies with in order to repopulate the planet. Stockholm syndrome, blue and/or green abs, romanced by technology, toxic and addicting love, and maybe even a strange but pleasurable alien p*nis (or two). The abduction/alien babies thing a common trope in alien romance books.
However, Dancing with an Alien doesn't do that, even though the starting premise is the same. Sure, the alien man's mission is to bring home a female to save his species from extinction. And if those stakes weren't high enough, he'll also face ridicule and dishonor if he fails to bring a mate back home with him. However, he didn't expect to actually fall in love, and for the earthling to fall in love with him, too.
In the end, the earthling finds out what he is and what his mission is, and she knowingly consents to leave Earth to be with him, even though it is a one-way trip. But he knows that she would end up being unhappy with her choice, as so many earth women are when they come to his home world, doomed to be tired baby-makers for the rest of their days, far away from everyone they love and care about on earth. The alien man decides that he loves her too much to make her unhappy, so he leaves and goes home without her. He is the only one who failed to bring home a bride. It's a bittersweet end to the story. We, as people, know that it was the right decision to make, but as readers, we so badly wanted it to be a happily ever after. But real life isn't quite as poetic as the romance genre makes it out to be.
I sought to break tropes as well with The Un-Life. Maybe it wouldn't sweep people off their feet like the rest of the paranormal romance genre, but it wouldn't hold back in telling truths that needed to be said: that being a monster isn't glamorous, that feeding off people isn't intimate, that a man and woman in the same place and time don't have to engage in romance, that sometimes life is unfair and bad things happen to good people, and that we always have a choice.
It was hard not to fall into the romance trope, however. I still wanted to have a light will-they-won't-they aspect to Billy and Kaylah's relationship. By the time I finished my first fleshed out draft, there was much more romance than I had intended. It wasn't quite the story I was trying to tell. So, I removed some of the romance, and upped some of the toxicity to compensate for it. I didn't want it to be a surprise when the characters went their separate ways at the end. Billy and Kaylah were different people from different worlds who wanted different things - but that didn't mean their story was meaningless. That didn't make the relationship they had not worth sharing. Maybe they did love each other, in their own way, but not in a way that would have brought them both happiness.
And let's not forget about the love triangle – I didn't even want to make romance enticing in any direction. William had major issues that would have brought Kaylah down, but then there was Adam. Adam suffers from a hero complex, and his actions are also being manipulated by ignorance and fear. He's no less toxic than the monsters he's trying to fight (the irony here is intentional). But rather than to shrug her shoulders and try and pick the less or two evils, Kaylah chooses neither. She chooses her own happiness over a relationship.
I'm sure someone, somewhere, might call her decision selfish, or call her picky, but there's nothing wrong with a woman – or anyone – deciding that their happiness is worth more than making other people happy, especially when it comes to a relationship. Sacrificing your happiness to make others happy, or to sacrifice someone else's happiness to bring yourself happiness – that's the sort of toxic I've been talking about here. The sort of toxic where a 100-year-old stalker turns a teenager into a monster just so he isn't lonely anymore. Where a young girl gives up her life for the promise of something greater than the happiness she already had.
There's plenty to enjoy and love about romance novels, and a lot to learn as well - and that can include learning when not to choose romance.