After the Fall, my novella in One Week in Hawaii, was born between the pages of a battered notebook and the voice-dictation feature on my iPhone. Almost immediately after we decided on Hawaii as our location (DREAMY!), Joss, my heroine, appeared in my head. I knew who she was, what she wanted, and all the crummy things that brought her to page one. I knew I wanted to give her a dirty-talking, life-of-the-party hero to tempt her to be bad. Realllly bad. So bad you go down in a blaze of glory kind of bad. (Actually, that was the original title.)
I scribbled down a back cover blurb, sent it off to my anthology mates, and at every red light between Starbucks and my house that day, I talked a mile a minute into my phone. And then I promptly forgot about Joss while I worked on another project.
When it came time to draft After the Fall, and I sifted through all of that…stuff? Everything changed. And I mean everything. Except Joss.
A former black sheep, she has rebuilt her life after “The Wedding Mistake.” Joss is successful personally and professionally, but she has the specter of her past hanging over her head—especially when she steps foot onto the resort where her family has vacationed for years. It’s not exactly paradise.
Ah. Ha. That was the light bulb moment for me.
Nerd Alert: the second I typed “paradise” in the first scene of my first draft, I began thinking about Paradise Lost—or remembering it from my time in grad school. I studied and wrote (a lot) about female transgression—like, a whole lot—so PL was a fixture on my orals list.
Fun fact: I somehow made it through AP English classes in high school, an undergrad degree at the University of Michigan, and most of my grad school without having ever formally studied PL in full. Weird, huh? So I kind of had to teach it to myself. Therefore, a billion years ago, I read tons of criticism about the “felix culpa”—the fortunate fall—in Milton’s poem. (The concept is fascinating and I bet I have my old notes somewhere if you’d like reading recommendations, fellow nerdlings.)
In PL—and in the lives Joss and Drew lived before page one of After the Fall—there’s a lot of shame, and judging (my stars, so much Judgy McJudgersons!) and despair, and feelings of hopelessness. And yet, despite all of this, the final lines of Paradise Lost are, to me, completely hopeful. The words have never left me:
Som natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.
That image of the two, at last reconciled to each other, embarking on the biggest adventure of their lives (after a lot of capital-letter BAD THINGS have happened), is something really beautiful to me. In the theology of Romancelandia, it is how every romance novel ends, with the hero and heroine “hand in hand with wandring steps and slow” going at it alone. Together.
After the Fall isn’t a theology lesson any more than Milton’s epic poem is. I wrote a super sexy romance, and you should read it as a super sexy romance. But there is something in there, oh ye members of the Church of Romancelandia, to feast on. To think on. To build dreams on. The idea that no matter the capital-letter BAD THINGS of our past, we all deserve love and acceptance… and someone (if we choose) to walk on with, hand in hand for the next adventure.