Monday, January 14, 2013

Setting the Fevered Stage

Fever mythology in Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series



Fan art from Karen Marie Moning’s Facebook page
When I first read the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, I was absolutely blown away. I jumped on the bandwagon of Wenches who had just discovered the books, squeeing and gushing and generally engaging in that inappropriate fangirling we tend to do around here. As soon as I finished Shadowfever, I immediately reopened Darkfever and started the whole thing again. I then made a semi-respectable effort to read something else, but after a couple of books decided I had to go back to Dublin. So I listened to the audio books while on a vacation, in case that somehow made it seem less obsessive to read the series a third time in two months.

Then I read Moning’s description of how the series came to her. I was amazed that someone could be inspired by a dream to create such a richly complex series. She clarified that she didn’t dream the plot per se; she dreamed she was reading a book series so compelling she could not put it down. When she committed her heart, there and then, to writing a series like that, the entire plot landed in her brain in one fell swoop, pre-organized into five books. (I wrote a little about this in a previous post on author inspirations.)

As the effects of Dublin lingered in my mind, I perused the many author and fan discussions available on the interwebs, looking to prolong my submersion in the world Moning had created. Several of the Wenches had begun reading her Highlander series by then, and their discussions piqued my curiosity.

Collage and research assistance by Wench Olga

When I decided to try the Highlander books, I discovered a delightful surprise! Don’t let anyone tell you this is merely Moning’s “starter” series, the one where she “practiced” until she found her “voice” and thought up her “real” series. Instead, try a different angle. This is what she was writing when she had her dream. This is where she learned to let her imagination loose, to construct the foundation for a vast mythology, one which ultimately insinuated itself into her dreams to help her realize how to fully explore it. This is the series she grew beyond, in which she set the stage for the epic events in Fever’s Dublin. It isn’t Fever, but it definitely scratched my Fever itch and provided a lot of insight into the Fever world.

Click through to find out more about the Highlander series and its part in the story that became the Fever series. If you haven’t read the series yet, don’t worry, I’ll try to stick to generalities and avoid spoilers.




Out of the dreaming...


The seven Highlander novels are what I’d consider fairly traditional HEA romances, where two central characters meet, fall in love, and overcome obstacles to achieve their Happily Ever After. In general, I don’t read HEA romances and had no plans to read these. But when the Wenches reported that some of the characters mentioned in Fever were showing up, and they were smokin’ hot by the way, my craving for more of the Fever world overcame my reluctance to read a traditional HEA. I grabbed my e-reader and dived in.


Not my usual thing, but here goes...
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These books were a huge adjustment for me, and not only the HEA format; I missed the complexity of Fever and the deeper themes, and the tone was completely different. This is probably due in part to the fact that these were the first books Moning published. And although she had already mastered the creation of vividly engaging characters and surprising, compelling story lines, she was merely a good writer and not yet the brilliant writer she would become (and to whom I was accustomed). She had not yet, as she puts it, “found her voice”. But I loved her characters, and her paranormal twists kept me guessing.

As I read the books, I kind of debunked her dream story in my mind and decided it was part of a Public Relations campaign. It was obvious that Moning put lots of “puzzle pieces” in place in the Highlander books that would show up in the Fever books. The story was simply outgrowing the standard HEA romance format. She needed to figure out how to move it forward. She needed a larger stage and a whole lot more characters. It wasn’t clear to me how a dream helped resolve that dilemma. And that’s how I still felt when I wrote my original post on inspiration.

Fast forward a year to the fall of 2012. Many of the Wenches were rereading the Fever books in preparation for Dani’s new book, Iced, and I wanted to join them. It had been a whole year since I last visited Dublin, so I was feeling virtuous and entitled to a reread. ;-) I decided to start with the Highlander series, and follow the creation and evolution of the Fever mythology from its inception without interruption.


During my reread, I discovered that an eighth Highlander book was published in the spring of 2012. It contains a republished novella that had become difficult to find and bonus materials, including a rejected book proposal, an alternate opening to another story, and deleted scenes. In this book, Moning explains a little more about the process that led her to write Fever. She confirmed my hunches, answered my questions, and made me a believer in the dream!

She had felt like the mythology she created in Highlander needed a different framework, but the genre that would provide the framework didn’t exist yet. As the Urban Fantasy genre began to evolve, she recognized that it would enable her to delve more deeply into darker themes, where she was itching to go, but taking on such a radically different approach to storytelling (not to mention deviating from the expectations of her fans and publisher) required courage. The novella was an entertaining experiment in seeking a new direction, but it wasn’t what she was looking for. It proved to her yet again that she wanted to tell a different kind of story. In the meantime, her publisher kept asking for more paranormal romances and she was fresh out of enthusiasm or ideas. And then the dream happened, and opened the floodgates, and years of repressed storylines could no longer be silenced. Her dream made her realize what her subconscious already knew: she had the makings of a masterpiece if she’d take that leap of faith to the new genre, the new first-person point of view, and the grander scale.


If at first you don’t succeed...



Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart
Moning says that when she started writing, publishers flat-out rejected paranormal romance in favor of Regency-style historical romance. Two of her earliest romances were rejected for different reasons. The first, set in the Scottish Highlands during the time of Robert the Bruce, they said featured characters who were “too primitive”, living in a time readers weren’t interested in. A year later, Braveheart (one of my husband’s favorites!) hit the movie screens, followed by Rob Roy (one of my favorites!), piquing the public’s interest in historical Scottish Highland adventure and romance. The second book was the Regency-style romance they claimed to want, but they said hers was too sexy—I wish they had let us be the judge of that! But she forged ahead with something different. When she got a rejection letter for a book deemed “not commercial enough”, she set out to write a more sellable story in her own unique way:
I made sure it had too much sex and primitive Highlanders and time travel and, if that wasn’t enough to abso-frigging-lutely guarantee rejection, I upped the ante and tossed in the Fae.
~Karen Marie Moning, Into the Dreaming

Liam Neeson as Rob Roy
And that story was published as the first Highlander book! She was asked to write the second book as plain historical romance (though she snuck in a tiny bit of fantasy), and to this day it has sold fewer copies than any other. Her publisher rejected her next proposal, based on characters from her first book, but by this time her first book had sold well and even won some awards. Emboldened, she decided to try a stealthier approach. She downplayed the paranormal elements in the next book proposal she submitted to her publisher, and then gave them free rein when she actually wrote the book, just to see where they led her. Along the way her editor changed jobs, and the new one did not make her remove the paranormal pieces of her story. In the meantime, paranormal romance was becoming a popular genre. After her third Highlander book sold briskly and won awards, she felt increasingly free to unfetter her imagination and write what she enjoyed. The mythology for the Fever books began to take shape.

She says she found her voice in book 4 as she introduced the Keltar clan, and that’s exactly how I felt when reading the books.
With my newfound freedom, I decided to continue with the time-travel/Fae combination and develop the mythology further with twin druids whose clan had served the Fae for millennia. It was while writing those novels that my voice became very clear to me, and I began to develop a mythology I found fascinating.
~Karen Marie Moning, Into the Dreaming

Book 4 is where she hooked me. I do enjoy the characters before that, particularly Circenn and Lisa in book 3, but there’s definitely a change in the energy and momentum of the series once the Keltars enter the story. And this beautifully validates her two top rules in the writing world:
1. All the best stories come from the heart.

2. If the writer is having fun, the reader probably will, too.

~Karen Marie Moning, Into the Dreaming

At Last (My Love Has Come Along)!!!


Her hard work resulted in an intriguing set of books that forge unexpected partnerships across vast distances of time and space in an ongoing battle to save the future of Mankind! And find true love! No pressure... An avid fan base soon discovered what Barnes and Noble calls Moning’s “signature blend of sensual fantasy, thrilling adventure, and breathtaking magic”. These books use many of the same elements as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, which some of you might have noticed I’m quite fond of, but the resulting characters, stories, and style could not be more different. Moning has created her own unique vision.

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  1. Beyond the Highland Mist
    Hawk Douglas / Adrienne de Simon
    1513 / 1997
  2. To Tame a Highland Warrior
    Grimm McIllioch / Jillian St. Clair
    1515
  3. The Highlander’s Touch
    Circenn Brodie / Lisa Stone
    800s / 1314 / early 2000s
  4. Kiss of the Highlander
    Drustan MacKeltar / Gwen Cassidy
    1518 / 2001
  5. The Dark Highlander
    Dageus MacKeltar / Chloe Zander
    1521 / 2002
  6. The Immortal Highlander
    Adam Black / Gabrielle OCallaghan
    800s / 1520s / 2002-2007
  7. Spell of the Highlander
    Cian MacKeltar / Jessi St. James
    the last 1133 years
  8. Into the Dreaming
    miscellaneous supporting content


These books tell the story of both human and Fae characters living in the Scottish Highlands over the last several centuries. The ancient, alien, immortal Tuatha Dé Danaan race, known to humans as the Fae, is introduced in book one. Adam Black, a member of Queen Aoibheal’s Royal Fae Court, unifies the series by appearing (or at least influencing the story) in every book, though that is not apparent right away. Over the course of the series, we learn much about the history of the Fae race, its objects of power, its internal and external conflicts, and its interactions over the eons with Mankind. But the centuries in which the books are set jump around, and the human characters and their stories seem rather haphazard, until the MacKeltar family appears in book 4. After that, the mythology quickly comes together, plots merge, and a cohesive story develops. We learn the origins of The Compact between the Fae and Mankind, how it has been threatened, what is required to maintain it, and the level of dedication required of its human guardians, the MacKeltars. We get to know the fabulously sexy Keltar men and their plucky, 21st-century wives. I had no idea they were all so intriguing and witty from the brief glimpses we saw in the Fever books!! By the end of this series, the curtains are open, the stage sets are queued, the orchestra is tuned, motives are in place, and key players are standing by for the events of the Fever series to unfold.

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Although I enjoyed the stories in each book, it’s the saga that is unfolding on the grander scale—which began centuries before Drustan and Dageus MacKeltar were even a gleam in their mother’s eye and continues into the Fever books and beyond—that most interests me right now. I’d like to examine each of these books more closely to discover exactly when each mythological building block and key character appeared, in hopes of better appreciating how deftly Moning wove them all together into her grand epic.

I’m creating a list of these Fever puzzle pieces to include in a blog post. The list is getting rather lengthy, so I’ll plan to write two posts over the next couple of Mondays. If you are already fans of the Highlander books, I hope you’ll join me for those. Or if you’re interested in understanding more background information for Fever and don’t mind major spoilers, because I know there will be some, I hope you’ll join me too. And if I’ve inspired you to give these books a try before proceeding, I hope you’ll come back and check out my future posts when you’re done.


Are you fans of Moning’s Highlander books? Do you have a favorite? Who’s your favorite character? If you haven’t read these books, are you thinking about giving them a try?


6 comments:

  1. Love the Highlander books, just can't get in the Fever series, I've tried many times....

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    1. That's okay, Shelia, we all have books and series that *everyone* loves and we just...don't. One of the Wenches doesn't like Fever and forced herself to finish. The rest of us don't understand, but we love her, and you!, anyway.

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    2. Hi Sheila. I'm sorry you couldn’t get into Fever, but I’m glad you enjoyed the Highlander books. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to read a happy ending without all those twisty dark secrets that are lurking about in the Fever world! Fever is much darker, and not everyone needs to like darker. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these two completely different series, which is a testament to Moning’s amazing ability to create great characters and stories across multiple genres.

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    3. I picked up Bloodfever in a library without knowing it was a series til I was already hooked. I went back and read Dreamfever and then it was time for Faefever to come out. Waiting for Dreamfever was the longest wait of my life, so I read the whole Highlander Series. I very much enjoyed the Highlander books. I especially like the way she bagan to connect the characters. When they popped up in sunsequent books I felt like they were old friends. The Fever Series is darker and goes away from the romance genre into urban fantasy with a hint of romance. I think that was a good move for her because just like in anything else, we all must grow. As much as I love the Highlanders I think KMM would have felt stagnate if she had continued. Iced moves even further away from her original style of writing, but she still does a good job of storytelling. I went to the launch party for ICED in New Orleans and I will tell you this, she has a real care for the audience her books. I believe she is a genuine person and that is what makes her stories ring true.

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    4. Hi Maria! I heard the NOLA party was wonderful and I wanted so much to be there. I bet you had a fabulous time! I’m hoping very much to attend the next one. I would love to see KMM in person—I've enjoyed the photos posted on Facebook of her interacting with her fans at those parties. You've been a fan of her books for a lot longer than I have. I didn't discover Fever until after Shadowfever was released. So I did not have to endure the long waits between books, but I sure thought about them…and how glad I was the next book was already on my e-reader. Especially between Faefever and Dreamfever and Shadowfever. I think I might have known more about what was going on in Fever if I'd read the Highlander books, and I'm really glad I finally read both series together, in order. I enjoyed the Highlander characters and HEA stories, but coming from Fever I found myself focusing on the familiar elements from that world, getting details or origins for elements I read about in Fever. I felt like I had a "top down" understanding of the Fever world, and I was fascinated to watch her build that world from the bottom up and slowly add the thematic depth. It's hard to remember exactly where she fills in each detail because they blend together so well, though there are a few parts I can't quite sync up. I find KMM's creative process and progress in these books fascinating. I agree completely that she needed to move on to the new genre, as her story was getting darker and deeper. I am a big fan of the darker, deeper stories, so I love the intriguing directions in which she has taken her books!

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  2. Kathi I really loved this post. It is a great scene setter for the Fever series. I've read a couple of the Highlander series ones, but couldn't get into them. I might give it another go at some stage as from what you say Book 4 is where things really take off.

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