It is my pleasure to be joining the Escapist Book Tours blog tour for The Delve by Dan Fitzgerald. This book is the first in a new trilogy of standalones, set in the same world as the Maer Cycle (but you do not need to have read them to enjoy this book). You can check out my review for The Delve here as I was lucky enough to read an ARC – and this book was one of my favourite reads for 2022!
Today, I am delighted to welcome Dan to the blog with a fantastic guest post about his journey to writing romance, it’s a fantastic post, very open and personal and for me incredibily relatable; and I want to thank Dan for sharing this post.
The sword wants what it wants.
The Deepfold mine has gone dark on the eve of war. Without its supply of brightstone, the Maer’s technological advantage over the humans will evaporate. A rising knight named Yglind has earned his Forever Blade and been sent on a quest to uncover the cause of the blackout. Joined by his trusted squire Ardo and a prickly mage named Aene, Yglind hopes to cement his legacy and the Maer’s chance at victory in the coming war.
Inside the Deepfold, they are plunged into a world of bloodshed and chaos. Unknown foes have slaughtered many of the miners, and a gruesome dragon stalks the dark tunnels. While taking refuge in the mine’s impregnable keep, Yglind and Ardo seek solace in each other’s arms and the courage to face the cruel forces arrayed against them.
With their civilization hanging in the balance, they strike out against the invaders as their quest hurtles toward its bloody end.
The Delve is a fast-paced spicy romantic fantasy, the first in the Time Before trio of linked standalones, set 2,000 years before the Maer Cycle trilogy and the Weirdwater Confluence duology. The series are independent and can be read in any order.
Author’s note: this book contains explicit, consensual sex scenes, violence, gore, and death, and is not intended for readers under the age of eighteen.
My Journey to Romance
When I started writing the Maer Cycle, I was a fantasy writer. Hollow Road was my attempt to recapture the magic of low-power TTRPG campaigns where what you said and what you thought mattered more than what was on your stat sheets. Where you had to figure shit out, take risks, use your noggin to survive the very real threat of death. Where role playing was the essence of the game and battles were the icing on the cupcake. And I think I succeeded in that.
But something happened in the next book, The Archive. Something shifted inside me, and I suddenly found myself writing a book with multiple love stories and—gasp—open-door sex scenes. They’re nowhere near as spicy as what I’m writing now, but it was incredibly hard for me to put even that level of detail on the page. There was a gay couple, and a mystical surrogacy that involved a threesome, a dominant nonbinary character and their male partner, and another couple who got together along the way. The Archive was a watershed moment in my writing, but I didn’t see it yet. Didn’t realize what it all meant. Had no idea why I was writing this.
I found clues in my reading. I read a fantasy romance, A Song of Pearls and Leaves by Rosalyn Briar, and a contemporary Pagan romance, River Magic by M.E. Philips, and while neither is over-the-top explicit, they showed me the value that scenes of intimacy can bring to a story. Not long after, I read my first M/M romance, The Boss by J Calamy, and boy, howdy, did that open my eyes. The sex scenes were scorching hot, with details that made my cheeks burn, but more than that, the level of emotional intimacy these scenes afforded was captivating.
I was hooked.
Oddly enough, my next two books, The Place Below and The Living Waters, had zero spice—there’s a grand total of one kiss between them—but the super slow-burn romance plotline between two women in The Living Waters felt important to me personally on a deeper level. I still didn’t know why, but I had to explore it. And when Patia, a side character from The Living Waters, became one of the main characters of The Isle of a Thousand Worlds¸ she turned my world upside down.
The moment she set foot on the page, this sixty year old alchemist was lusty and unashamed. I actually had to tone her down quite a bit in editing, though you might not know it from reading the book. When she met Gero, the chemistry between them was immediate, and before I knew what was happening, she was teasing him and fondling him and leading him to the bed to have her way with him. Repeatedly. In considerable detail.
Why was this happening? Why was I writing this?
I had no answers, only questions. Questions that exploded as I started writing The Delve, which is even smuttier than The Isle of a Thousand Worlds. There’s a main M/M couple, Yglind and Ardo, who’ve been together for a while, but their relationship shifts and deepens throughout the book, and they have a number of emotionally intense and physically detailed scenes in the book. There’s a side couple, Laanda and Skiti, who have only one intimate scene, but WOW did they surprise me. So much so that they’re getting their own book, Jagged Shard, which I’m drafting now. And two more scenes between characters it would be spoilery to name. All of them! Very explicit! And emotionally charged!
What the fuck was happening to me? What kind of a writer had I become?
Before I answer, I should mention that during this time, I had shifted my reading habits to almost exclusively romantic fantasy and fantasy romance, with some regular romance mixed in. And I found myself gravitating more and more to queer romance, regardless of the pairing: M/F, M/M, F/F, enby, poly, trans–you name it, I read it. I devoured it. I needed it.
As I was editing The Delve and writing the other two books in the Time Before trio (Wings so Soft and Cloti’s Song, both coming out this year), I realized I hadn’t written a cis hetero male POV character since The Archive (and even there, only one out of 13 total POV characters). Someone kindly suggested in a DM conversation that maybe, just maybe, there was a reason for that.
It took me some time and some further writing to come to grips with what it all meant. By the time I was deep into drafting of Unpainted, a side romance in the Weirdwater universe coming out in June, the male POV character and the female POV character had both shown significant nonbinary traits, and a transfemme side character took over an important role. This story compelled me in a way I had never quite felt before. I identified with ALL of the characters to some extent. Though none of them was me, I saw that the part of the Venn diagram where their commonalities overlapped might just hold a clue to what should have been obvious for some time.
Such a simple answer. Societal standards for how people should be, based on the gender they were assigned at birth, don’t work for everyone. They don’t work for me. I’m as femme as I am masc on the inside, insofar as I’m anything, so the term nonbinary is a perfect fit (with a side of agender). Seems perfectly normal and logical, right? But try saying it out loud. Try explaining it to your spouse, your friends, your family. Oddly enough, it was easier to talk about on social media than in real life. Dip a toe in here, drop an odd tweet there, go into it in detail in the Discord and in the DMs. But honestly, most of the work happened with me hammering away at my laptop.
So back to the question at hand: How did I go from being a ttrpg-inspired fantasy writer to a writer of spicy queer romantic fantasy and fantasy romance?
I discovered myself through the books I read and the ones I wrote.
My journey is far from complete, but I’ve found a safe haven to explore the complexities of the human heart in romantasy. I’ve grown comfortable writing scenes of considerable intimacy, which I know are not everyone’s cup of tea. They show me nuances of relationships and our attitudes toward gender roles in ways no other scenes can. I desperately need these stories, so I’m going all in writing them. I know I’ll lose some readers along the way, but I hope to gain some who need to read this as much as I need to write it.
Thank you for reading this, whether or not you read my books. My DMs are always open if anyone wants to chat.
I am a fantasy and romance author living in Washington, DC with my wife, twin boys, and two cats. When I am not writing, I might be gardening, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music.
I write fantasy in part because the state of the world demands an escape, but also because fantasy provides another lens through which to view what we are living now. Part mirror, part magnifying glass, part prism.
I write romance because we need more love in the world, and sometimes we need to know things will work out in the end. My first published romance will be Wings so Soft, coming in summer 2023.
What you will find in my books: Mystery. Darkness. Wonder. Action. Romance. Otherness examined and deconstructed. Queer and straight characters living and fighting side by side. Imaginary creatures and magic with a realistic touch.
What you won’t find: Extreme violence. Sexual assault. Unquestioned sexism or discrimination. Evil races. Irredeemable villains. Predestined heroes. An ancient darkness that threatens to overspread the land.
Interested? Check out The Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven non-epic fantasy) or The Weirdwater Confluence duology (romantic fantasy with meditation magic).
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