Desire for Malignancy: An Exclusive Interview with J.R. Ward

J.R. Ward is living the dream. In 11 short years—since the publication of her debut novel in 2002 (a contemporary romance entitled Leaping Hearts under her maiden name, Jessica Bird)—she has published an amazing 25 novels and irrevocably changed the landscape of paranormal romance.

Her fans are some of the most devoted and passionate around. Millions of readers follow her Black Dagger Brotherhood (Dark Lover, Lover Eternal, et. al.) and Fallen Angels (Covet, Crave, et. al.) sagas. This Tuesday (October 1), her readers will be out in force at bookstores all over the country buying Possession, the latest installment in her Fallen Angels saga.

But what is it really like to be J.R. Ward? How demanding is it to write and publish more than two or more novels year after year after year? The Barnes & Noble Blog caught up with Ward just days before the release of Possession and asked her about her iconic sagas as well as her relentless writing schedule…

You’re the author of arguably the most popular—and hottest—paranormal romance saga ever written: the Black Dagger Brotherhood. What was the initial inspiration behind beginning the Fallen Angels series back in 2009 when you were still in the midst of writing about the vampiric brothers?

Thank you! And thanks for having me :) Well, when the BDB was first published, I was putting two of the books out a year—and I was burning through the world too fast. I knew I needed something to break up the schedule—it had to be a series I was wicked into, though. I was noodling when all of a sudden, Tada! Angels!

There are authors like yourself who are simultaneously writing two or more bestselling series (like Laurell K. Hamilton). Have you found this particularly difficult, and if so, have you found methods to make going from one narrative mindset to another easier?

For me, it’s two totally different train tracks—so there’s been no problem. You hop off one and go to the other and then back. But I don’t parallel process—one book from outline through production at a time. I think that helps as well.

The Fallen Angels story arc is just brilliant. The Maker has decided it’s time for the endgame in the war between good versus evil and the fate of seven souls will determine the ultimate destiny of humankind. This determination makes every single novel, every single conflict, monumentally significant. Even at the beginning of the series, the end is looming. Your BDB saga seems pretty open-ended at this point. What are the advantages (or disadvantages) of writing a series that most definitely has an expiration date?

Aw thanks! And as for the plus and minus of things—plot-wise, there’s a built in series arc that culminates in a “big book”—so you know that’s coming and can set the foundation accordingly. It also locks you in, however. As you say, the BDB series is open ended and that’s fun, too—but you need to exercise discipline. The risk you run with no artificial boundaries is that you can get diffused. I worry about that a lot—the world’s big and there are a lot of people in it and I really try not to open the aperture too wide. Sometimes I do better at that than others!

I’ve read my fair share of paranormal fantasy and romance featuring angels and demons and frankly a sizable percentage is predictable, pedestrian fare. It’s the formulaic good versus evil. Everything is painted in black and white. Your Fallen Angels saga is gloriously gray. You’ve turned so many stereotypes on their heads. Angels aren’t necessarily good. Fallen angels aren’t necessarily bad. Humankind’s natural place is somewhere between the extremes. A passage from Covet, the first book in the Fallen Angels saga, is fitting here:

“Souls were the same. They, too, had useless baggage that impeded their proper performance, these annoying, holier-than-thou bits dangling like an appendix waiting for infection. Faith and hope and love… prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude… all this useless clutter just packed too much damn morality into the heart, getting in the way of the soul’s innate desire for malignancy. A demon’s role was to help people see and express their inner truth without their being clouded by all that bullshit, diverting humanity. As long as people stayed true to their core, things were going in the right direction…”

Two questions here: How much fun is it to write about these larger-than-life yet very human fallen angels? And is there an overriding existential or spiritual message to this series?

Okay, for real? Devina is the fun thing to write. I frickin’ love that demon (well, love might not be the exact right word lol!) She’s just such a mess of contradictions, and the OCD stuff cracks me up—although it does ground her need to possess souls. The angels themselves are great, too, though. I love Adrian. I miss Eddie—I really hope he comes back soon; I do what my Rice Krispies tell me so we’ll have to see about that one… Jim is the heart of the series, of course. And his relationship with Sissy has really captured my attention. You know, one of the reasons I love my job so much is because whatever I happen to be writing at the moment is my favorite thing!

As for the spiritual or existential issues, I try to stay way away from that. I write entertainment fiction, which is not to say my work is easy or by definition frivolous (although come on, I’m not Hemingway and don’t pretend to be)—it’s more that people read my books for an escape and I want to preserve their right to have a break and not get preached to. I have my own views and I’m sure some things have snuck in here and there, but I really do try to stay out of any kind of debate.

In my job as moderator for BN.com’s Paranormal Fantasy forum, I’ve come across thousands of readers who are lifelong, hardcore fans of the genre. And it seems to me that you have some of the most devoted fans out of the bunch. The word “obsessed” comes to mind (in a good way). I can only imagine what happens at your book signings! What’s the most memorable thing you’ve witnessed that a fan has done to show their love for your novels?

OMG. So this woman shows up IN ACTIVE LABOR. She was in a wheelchair, and had an expression on her face like she was in a lot of pain. She also had a belly which indicated her child was ABOUT TO BE BORN ANY FRICKIN’ MINUTE. Naturally, because I have no filter, I took one look at her and was like, What the f**k are you doing here!!!??? I signed her book (needless to say she was in the front of the line) and then she was rushed out to go to the hospital. Next signing? She comes with her beautiful baby in her arms! It was lovely—and insane. I couldn’t believe she did that, but so happy that everything came out okay—and not, um, at the bookstore.

If you compare the genre fiction of today to genre fiction, say, 20 years ago, it’s radically evolved. The rigid boundaries between categories are all but nonexistent and much of today’s popular reading fare feature storylines that utilizes narrative elements from multiple genres. Your writing, for example, could be classified as romance, fantasy, horror, or apocalyptic fiction… Where do you see genre fiction going in the next 20 years?

It’s interesting that you ask that because I study the market a lot (although only in romance)—it’s like Monday Night Football to me. I watch what is ebbing and what is flowing, what’s working and what isn’t, with a lot of curiosity. I like the fact that we’ve opened up the definition of what romance is and have embraced all kinds of different elements in these books. There used to be so much rigid convention—now I feel like the only thing that is an absolute is the happy ending. How you get there and what happens is up to the author (provided they do it well). And the HEA doesn’t have to be rose colored and relentlessly happy anymore, either—there can be nuances there, too. Where are we in twenty years? No idea. But I think you can’t get the box closed again—we aren’t going to return to the “rules” of what heroines and heroes can and can’t do and that’s a great thing. (With the caveat that the author has to bring it on all levels and make it work.)

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

God willing, right where I am now, spending ten hours at the computer every day with a good dog or two at my feet and a cup of coffee beside me on my desk.

  • loveu4evermichael

    I have always been really into books and reading. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a list of books to read (and I’m 42 years old). That’s a lot of books read over the years! And I have to say that J.R. Ward is by far my favorite author, and the BDB is the best series I have ever read! The Fallen Angel series is amazing as well.
    I know that when the BDB series ends, it will be a very sad day for me. I know that I won’t be alone in feeling that way either. I just want to say thank you to J.R. Ward, for all her hard work in bringing us so many hours of reading pleasure!

  • debblumenstein

    Thank you, Paul, for the great questions. Our WARDen is one terrific writer who has created amazing *worlds* to enjoy with the Black Dagger Brotherhood and the Fallen Angels. In other words, JR Ward ROCKS IT BIG TIME! WOO-HOO! ♥

  • Karen Bauer

    Thank you JR for the BDB and The Fallen Angels and whomever roams the recesses of your mind. May you always find a storyline or series line to write.

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