by J.T. Ellison
Sigh. If only we could apply the Pythagorean theorem to words. Just think of it, the ease of plugging A² + B² = C² into your manuscript and watching all the 1s and 0s percolate, get red hot on the screen and suddenly pop up with an answer – Choose Frank, you imbecile!
Love triangles suck.
I became a writer from sheer necessity, as numbers began to look Greek to me around the same time as my advanced algebra teacher caught me kissing a boy in the hall before class, pulled me aside, got in my face and yelled at me. “You’re not in love, you’re in heat,” were his exact words. I was wildly insulted. I found myself neither yowling aloud nor turning in circles with my tail in the air spraying urine on passersby (though I was in my preppy handbook stage, but that hardly qualified.) Turned me right off quadratic equations, and I didn’t find the love again until I met up with Euclid and his lovely triangles in my sophomore year. But by then it was too late. I spent much too much time in geometry extolling the virtues of Cal Ripken’s ice blue eyes with a fellow student and popping out my contact lens so I could sneak into the girls’ bathroom for a smoke. Trigonometry was great, we were allowed to use our circles in class, and I loved the way the word cosine sounded in my mouth, (try it – cosine. Co… sine… sexy, yeah?) but by the time I hit calculus, boys, books, sports and stories were paramount and I could barely give the numbers my attention.
But back to eighth grade. Said kissing, and apparent early onset estrus, was quickly followed by my first love triangle. The other boy, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, was older, darker, taller and richer – by God, he was in high school and drove a Saab. A SAAB, people. In comparison, my current relationship seemed like mere puppy love. I mean really, what girl’s going to pass up an opportunity to be driven home instead of holding sweaty hands in the back of the bus, watching the cowboys do snuff and cough their lungs out, and wondering just what base made you cool and what base made you a slut?
I labored over the decision (not the bases, the boys. The bases were later. Ahem.) The guys were friends. The older boy a sort of mentor to the younger. But he was so damn charming, and invited me to go skiing with him (up to the mountains in his Saab…) Who was I to hinder fate? I went. We skied, we drank cocoa, I felt cool in my new blue moon boots. Eventually, toward the end of the afternoon, on the ski lift for the last run of the day, we kissed. It was magical. Puppy love at its finest. And then I had to come back to earth (literally down the mountain, ah, the imagery slays me even now) and break up with the other boy, explain that somehow, without it being my fault, I fell in love with his friend.
I felt like a total heel. Still do, all these years later. The second relationship worked for a very long time, but eventually it too disintegrated, the vagaries of time, hormones and 3,000 miles of distance proved too much for its fragile beauty to withstand. We’re all Facebook friends now, because really, who doesn’t want to relive their most humiliating moments and painful decisions over and over and over?
My first love triangle proved to be painful for all involved. So when I approach the page with the concept, I am very, very careful. I know what it feels like to be the girl trying to make a choice. It’s not fun. No matter what, someone is going to get hurt.
That makes for a great story, because you’ve got a stellar opportunity to have character development. Pain makes your characters grow. And growing is what we’re all striving for in our fiction and hoping for from our characters, right?
But to have the logic and simplicity of math in the equation… We would know exactly what formula would work when presenting two love interests to a female lead. As it is, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. When I introduced James “Memphis” Highsmythe, Detective Inspector for the Metropolitan Police at New Scotland Yard, Viscount Dulsie, I knew I was about to shake things up a bit. But I had no idea the impact it would have. I’m hardly in Stephanie Plum or Bella territory (though if someone were to establish a Baldwin versus Memphis fan club, who am I to interfere?) but I was shocked at the reactions. My male readers HATED Memphis. Some of the women did too. Though some really liked him; it’s been a completely mixed bad from the feminine side. I attribute this to the eighth grader in all of us who found themselves in exactly the same pickle I did, and the boys were obviously on the receiving end. Makes perfect sense.
As a writer, I adore Memphis. He is my own personal earthquake. He gets to step in, screw things up and make everyone mad, then trot off back to England and mourn his dead wife. No one can stay mad at him for long; though a confirmed rake, he’s got that special something all rakes have, which makes him catnip. Taylor is so far above the fray when it comes to these issues because she is a hero, but the fun of being a writer is watching heroes fall down on their way up Mt Olympus. Her fiancé, John Baldwin, FBI profiler extraordinaire, has always been the one to catch her when she falls. But not this time. When Memphis and Taylor shared a kiss, I mourned for Baldwin. Taylor was now interested in two men. I find myself suddenly backing into a love triangle, though I’d be more inclined to call this a polygon with modified vertices and segments with three non-collinear points and a distinct plane, because the word triangle is just too simplistic to explain the situation.
I’m working on the 7th novel in the series now, and Memphis is back, in a big way. He is a catalyst. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if he were to become… more. The unknown is always fertile ground for playing…
So tell me – love triangles: Love them? Hate them? What are your favorites? Do they have any place in crime fiction?
Wine of the Week: Tenute Rapitalà Nero D’avola – we’re heading into winter, so we need heavy wines that pair well with stews and soups. This one does the trick nicely.