In the first chapter of SAVASANA AT SEA, Sophie’s fiancé Jack, dumps her. He has decided she is a detriment to his career. The parts of her personality that initially attracted him to her are things he’s decided he can’t live with.
Sophie is in her late twenties (Harmonia warns her she’s hitting her Saturn Return — we’ll discuss that in a future post). She’s a healthy, active woman. I wanted her to have a healthy, active love life.
Romantic triangles are often set up in cozy mysteries. Every author handles them differently, but most protagonists in cozies are monogamous. They might break up and then fall for someone else, but they are monogamous.
One of the reasons this series is marked “Not Quite Cozy” is that I wanted to break some of the romance rules that are often associated with the genre. I wanted the books to have romantic elements, while not promising romance. I also didn’t want readers to feel cheated if they expected or demanded romance rather than romantic elements in their mysteries.
I wanted to give Sophie more options than are traditionally available in this formula. Sebastian was always going to be her primary romantic relationship on the ship, since early outlines and development. His character appeared early in the planning, along with his backstory (which also gives him some additional options).
Sophie mentions, in one of her conversations, that she’s always been a serial monogamist. I wanted to give her a chance to go beyond that, should it serve any of the individual plots and her character. Too often, the male characters are allowed to play the field, while the female characters are supposed to wait patiently or get slut-shamed. I wanted it to be different here.
Sex is a major pastime on cruise ships. That is a reality. I’ve read too many stories set on ships where that facet is either ignored or the characters are branded as sluts and then punished for actively pursing sex. Again, this is something I wanted to avoid in this series.
Sophie has come out of a painful breakup. She is a single young woman tossed in with a large group of attractive people (yes, hiring calls on cruise ships are akin to casting calls — looks matter in many of the staff positions). There are going to be attractions and flirtations. Some will just be in fun. Some may lead to something else at a point in the series.
In SAVASANA AT SEA, Sophie is attracted to Sebastian early, while also annoyed by him. She responds to Andrew’s kindness, and there’s attraction between them. She and Duncan Cooke, the NYPD detective, have immediate sparks. She and Dhruv, the head of security, also have an attraction that moves between flirtation, friendship, and attraction. Dhruv entered the mix far later than many of the other characters, so it’s been interesting to develop his relationship to Sophie.
She flirts with Ewan Drummond, but it’s all in fun, at least at this stage of the game. Then, of course, there’s Dean. Dean is one of the entertainers on the ship. Extremely talented. Pansexual. The rest of the staff often joke about how sex with Dean is an initiation into cruise life. Sex is a tool of communication for Dean. He doesn’t use and then drop people. His view is that it’s another way of connection. He’s capable of being a genuine friend. There’s even a point, in SAVASANA, where he saves Sophie’s life.
There’s a part of Sophie that feels left out because she hasn’t had sex with Dean. Yet. Will she in future books? There’s always a possibility. I’ve mapped out a few different scenarios where it would serve her character and plots of future books.
The destruction of her engagement and the loss of her job in New York left her feeling undesirable. I want her to have options. I want her to be able to explore them in a positive way without being punished for so doing.
The tone of the books also calls for a delicate balance within the love scenes (and the sex scenes). I don’t give every detail, and not every detail in every encounter. I hope I strike the right balance between the romance, the desire, the exploration, the acts, and the rest of the tone of the book. Some of it is on the page. Some of it is off the page.
Sophie won’t always make the right choices. Even when she makes the right choice in the moment, relationships don’t always work out. Especially under the tensions of working on a ship: a lot of attractive people in a contained space, a high-stress environment, life-and-death situations, and lots of alcohol. There will be consequences for those choices, but not the oft-depicted punishments because she chose to have a healthy, active sex life. AND a healthy, active love life. She wants them to coincide, but it might not always happen that way.
Her best friends have their own romantic struggles. Roz McIntyre broke the rules and had a relationship with one of the ship’s officers. He left the Charisma to captain a yacht, and their relationship ended. The Diamond line could have chosen to fire them – although it’s more likely Roz would have paid the price and either been moved to another ship in the line or fired outright. Now, she’s got a crush on the ship’s purser. Someone else with whom she shouldn’t get involved. Again, I’ve mapped out several possibilities for Roz’s relationships, and I will choose which works the best in the overall arcs of the book and keeps Roz true to her integrity and character growth.
Harmonia has her share of romantic entanglements. As the ship’s tarot reader, she has more leeway between passengers, staff, and crew than many of the other employees. An ex-boyfriend of hers (from her life on land, pre-Charisma now works in one of the restaurants. She’s also involved with a fellow staff member. Then there’s Xerses, the ship’s illusionist, her friend, and often partner for shipboard events. They have a history together. Harmonia is the most likely to take risks and suffer consequences. Without giving too much away, I can let you know that she takes an enormous risk in the second book, DAVY JONES DHARMA.
As a reader, I enjoy watching relationships, especially romantic ones, grow and change between the characters over the course of a series. It’s more interesting to me if it’s not set in stone in the first book, or if it’s so obvious in the first book but unbelievable/annoying obstacles are thrown into the paths of the star-crossed lovers. People grow and change. So do their relationships.
Of course, they are not the only ones who experience love and romance. Supporting characters and passengers have their own love stories. Or sex stories. Nor are all the relationships heterosexual. The characters will fall in love as they fall in love, as works with their character growth and helps drive the mystery plots. But not everything can fit into every book. And not every relationship will be successful.
I’m enjoying the growth and change of the relationships as I write the books, and I hope you will, too.