Guest blogger: Cassandra Dean
A few years ago, I went to an excellent talk by Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the writer and director of The Avengers, and my writing hero. Joss talked about the ‘dark place’, the thing inside you that drives your stories, the themes you return to time and again. He explained his dark place was fear and wanting a brave, strong woman to save him, and this informs his work time and again.
I went away and thought about my own dark place, and I’d thought I’d figured it out. Recently, though, I realised my dark place was something other than what I supposed. Similar to Joss, I wanted to be saved but I don’t want someone to save me—I want to save myself. However, in addition to this, I want a partner to stand beside me, a man who supports me, champions me, and most importantly, knows I can save myself.
One of my favourite tales is the Arthurian legend, The Marriage of Sir Gawain. In order to gain knowledge from a hideous hag, Arthur offers the hand of Sir Gawain in marriage to the hag. Gawain consents to the marriage and on their wedding night, the witch reveals herself to be a beautiful maiden and gives Gawain a choice—she can either be beautiful when they are with other people and ugly when they are alone, or ugly when with other people and beautiful when they are alone. Gawain returns the choice to her, as it is her body and her choice to make. The spell is broken and the witch is forever beautiful.
I love this story because it displays what all women want: the right to choose for themselves, to save themselves. All my stories have variations of this theme. It’s something that constantly informs my writing and really comes to the fore in all the books of my Silk Series but especially in the upcoming story, Silk & Scholar.
The heroine of Silk & Scholar, Etta, is a woman out of her time. She is a bluestocking, an intellectual, progressive woman who wants to study law and force society to accept her ambitions. She fights for her beliefs, battles belittlement and censure, and blazes a trail for others to follow. She is abrasive and bombastic and she will not let anyone, ever, tell her what she can’t do … but she is also extremely lonely. Her best friend, Gwen, has moved far away, and there is no one who accepts her, who will allow her to be Etta. Instead, she is always defensive, always places a shield between her and the rest of the world.
Another concept that informed Etta and Silk & Scholar is encapsulated in a lyric from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Belle sings ‘And for once it might be grand, to have someone understand, I want so much more than they’ve got planned.’ This is Etta in a nutshell. She has huge ambitions and the intelligence to match, but is limited by the era and society. She wants someone to understand her, to support her in her endeavours, to, for once, be able to rest. Enter Christopher, the boy who has always challenged her, now grown to a man who does the same, but also sees her passion and her drive, her vision of the world as it could be, and admires her for it. He’s attracted to who she is, not what he wants her to be. And that, to me, is true romance.
Cassandra Dean is the author of historical romance ranging from sweet to steamy, playing about in the eras, roaming from Ancient Rome to Victorian to the Old West and beyond. Her books take readers on an emotional rollercoaster, from the lowest of lows to the joyous of highs, and of course, her characters fall into the forever kind of love.