Jeaniene Frost

No Matter What


I just finished Into the Fire by Jeaniene Frost; the continuation of Vlad (aka Dracula) and Leila's (modern, young wife) story. As is always the case when a centuries-old vampire falls hard for a sweet young thing, Leila has some special talents that recommend her to the ancient Impaler, so I guess it all makes sense. Yet I am haunted by the little voice in my head that questions why such an old, hardened creature like Vlad would fall irretrievably head-over-heels for a 25-year-old carnie. I questioned their supposedly unbreakable bond. And whether it could ever be true, and not just a fantasy, that couples can share a mutual mindset that says, "No matter what, we will work it out."  Which leads to questions about my own insecurities and trust issues, but let's not go there – at least just yet – shall we? As I was reading about Leila's unshakable conviction that nothing could threaten the connection to her beloved, I remembered an exchange with a colleague many moons ago. I wasn't even out of my teens when a slightly older office mate at the law firm where I worked started talking about a fight he'd had with his fiancée. It sounded like a doozy, and when I asked him with trepidation whether this conflagration signaled the end of the relationship, as it would have for any of mine at that time, he looked at me with incredulity and no small amount of pity. "We'll work it out," he assured me. 

"How can you be so certain?" I wondered. 

"Because we love each other. No matter what. We will work it out, whatever it is. No matter what," he responded with all the confidence of the Mooch in front of a presidential lectern. 

I was floored. I could not conceive of such faith. I had never experienced it. It awed me. To the point that I have never forgotten the conversation and have always aspired to a similar standard in my own relationships.

I realize that I have some serious abandonment issues.  I think that many of us do. Unlike a majority of urban dwellers, my colleague and his then-fiancée/now wife were of a similar heritage and shared a community, culture and religion. Perhaps that homogeneity contributed to their mutual certainty. Divorce was simply not an option for them.

I love authors like Jeaniene Frost and books like Into the Fire.  They portray immortal relationships between fiery supernatural types as tempestuous and passionate. What they are not is easy. Or tranquil. Or boring. But rock solid nonetheless. Once again, I like my fantasy with a healthy dose of reality. Because in both truth and fantasy relationships work when we work them. When we fight for them. When we refuse to go along to get along and when we don't back down when we have to remind our spouses again and again not to take us or the marriage for granted. When we acknowledge and accept that while we might want to do two separate things, the marriage demands that we do something together instead. When we accommodate our partner instead of doing it our way. When we compromise instead of doubling down on a position of, “My way or the highway.”

Relationships are fucking hard.

Sometimes, being in a marriage and working it out no matter what feels like a particularly convoluted game of Twister. We're sure the torsion in our spines will result in permanent scoliosis. Or the crick in our neck will leave us forever looking up and on a diagonal slant forever. But rarely is the contortion enduring.  Usually our efforts to bow and buckle with our partners result in the strengthening of our relationships and the knowledge that something we worked to achieve has great value. Imagine that:  we value what we work for. Each time we "work it out," we make our bond more precious. 

Which is why working it out, no matter what, becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy of fulfillment and happiness. Working through the tough times and coming out the other end is hard and commensurately rewarding. If it takes Vlad the Impaler to teach us lessons in perseverance and tenacity, then so be it. I'm down with that as I enjoy my lecture with a healthy dose of entertainment. Like Vlad, I will always work it out with my honey. No matter what. 

Love after Love

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My new ambition is to be a writer who is so successful that my deleted scenes and alternate endings, middles and beginnings can be pulled from the trash and put together into a book that becomes a bestseller.  I want to be Jeaniene Frost. Her Outtakes from the Grave was not only interesting and exciting, but an original and brilliant concept. Here, Ms. Frost provides insights into a writer's mind and process. We see what she left out and why. Fascinating read, and it leads to the topic at hand, which is about second chances for love. In Outtakes from the Grave, the longest and most compelling section was an alternate plot line where the central couple, Cat and Bones (one of the great paranormal couples of all time), are challenged by his complete memory loss of her. Bones doesn't remember who Cat is, or that they are married and wildly in love. The scenes are excruciating to read—can you imagine your significant other forgetting you? Horrifying. And they also raise an interesting question: would we fall in love with the same person twice?  I wondered about this when I read a similar trope in Thea Harrison's novella, Pia Saves the Day, where her mate, Dragos, loses his memory. In both cases, these males fall in love with their mates all over again. I wonder how much truth there is in this particular fantasy.

What do you think?  Does our current partner have the ability to woo us a second time if we lost our memories of them and met them as strangers today?  Keep in mind that in this scenario we're not going back to who we were when we met; the question is whether if we were who we are right now, and we met our mate who they are right now without any historical knowledge of them or us would we fall in love a second time?

At this point in our lives, we are older and hopefully wiser. Would we gravitate toward good looks, knowing as we do now that such metrics are ephemeral?  Would we interrogate our erstwhile partner and determine their level of industry, responsibility and integrity?  Would we find them wanting?

Would we be attracted to the same things in our mate that we were then?  Have we learned that what we thought was there, wasn't? What was important to us at 25 might be quite different at 50. Have we changed sufficiently that we no longer share the same values and worldview?  Does this matter?  Would we take what we've had and determine that moving on with no harm, no foul is the way to go – knowing that the history is not shared?

Another question is whether compatibility is more important than shared interests. Many people commit to each other based on similar resumes.  They work and/or play in the same arenas and conclude that this is enough to build a life. I've never believed that, and my own marriage bears this out; my husband and I share few interests or hobbies (although we both love to travel together, which has created a powerful bond and allowed us to make many beautiful memories together).  What we do have, and what has been a backbone of our longevity, is an uncanny compatibility and the ability to divvy up responsibilities in an equitable and mutually satisfying manner. So, I picked correctly the first time—compatibility over shared interests—and I would do it again.

If we had it to do over again and we were in a position to accept or reject our current partner in an alternate universe where they no longer knew us, would we follow the adage that birds of a feather flock together or that opposites attract? That is a harder question for me. I went with "opposites attract," and while it's been a good move in many ways, it's also been the source of many marital issues. So, having had no experience with a partner whose feathers are like mine, I'm not sure what I would do, but probably stick with the one that brung me. I'm a little afraid that if I had a mate who was much like me, it would quickly go nuclear.

Another question along these lines is whether this reasoning applies to friends as well as lovers/life partners?  If our friends forgot us, would we still want to be friends with them? I've often contemplated that my oldest, closest friends—my sisters by choice not blood—could not be more different from each other and from me. We were thrust together as small children and we grew up together, but beyond many shared formative experiences, we don't have much in common, nor are we particularly compatible. So if one of us lost the memory of the other, it could totally sink the relationship. Which would be utterly devastating. These women are my rocks in the turbulent sea of life. So I will be like Scarlett O'Hara and just not think about that today.

This particular thought experiment had one more related and relevant question: if it is true that we would fall in love with the same person again and even again, is it possible to achieve that without the dramatic loss of memory, or the threat of a total loss through illness, injury, death or betrayal?  In other words, when the thrill is gone and the honeymoon is over, when the hard work of building careers and raising families is done, can two people rekindle the chemistry that brought them together in the first place? Is it possible to fall head over heels in love with our partners long after the bloom is off the rose? I think the answer is yes and that with time, effort and persistent focus, we can all remember that love after love is possible and magical even within a single union.



Defying Destiny

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I’m totally taken with the title of Jeaniene Frost’s new series, Broken Destiny (not to mention being taken with the opening book itself, The Beautiful Ashes). The books are about Ivy and Adrian, the last of their lines descending from David and Judas, respectively.  Spoiler alert: just as Judas betrayed Jesus, Adrian is destined to betray Ivy, who is the key to ensuring the continuation of the human race and preventing the ascendance of Satan.  No biggie. Have I mentioned how much I love these books?  How could I not with such a great premise? But, back to the central concept of the series (well, I‘m making an educated guess about that, of course, as Ms. Frost has only written one book so far—and do consider this a plea for additional offerings, Jeaniene!) which is about resisting the inevitable.  On the other hand, is it inevitable if we resist?  I’m taking another wild stab here and predicting that, over time, Adrian will be able to fight fate and break his destiny and that he and Ivy will have their HEA.  Which is awesome for them.  But what about the rest of us?  Can we, too, defy destiny and change course to achieve more optimistic outcomes?  Can I abandon the alliteration already?  Seems not.

So, is there such a thing as destiny?  Do we know it when we see it?  And if such a thing exists, it is inexorable? Was Calvin correct and everything is already predetermined even as we are conceived?  For me, it can’t be.  I refuse to believe in predestination.  Because the whole argument behind it is a self-licking ice cream cone, in my opinion (with apologies to those who disagree, of course). The idea of an unbreakable destiny negates the concept of free will and that dog just won’t hunt in my world (OK—no more military metaphors—they drive my husband crazy and no one else gets them—I got it!).

I believe we can overcome our upbringings and our DNA, we can break vicious cycles, we can defy expectations and blow them away. We can also be less than and lower the bar for ourselves.  Anything is possible—or at least that’s one of the things I tell myself so that I can get through the day with some semblance of sanity.  Because, hell, we live the greatest country in the world where upward mobility and social and economic progress are integral tenets of the American Dream.  And I still believe, I do. In fact, I am the product of an American Dream that my father realized half a century ago.  He was an impoverished immigrant who came to this country with nothing but the clothes on his back and he parlayed hard work and grit into tremendous success.  Totally inspiring.  He defied his destiny that seemed to dictate that he would live, toil and die in poverty and obscurity to climb to the heights of personal and professional success.  No submission to the inevitable there.  No predestination for my Daddy, no way.  Thankfully for him, and for me and the rest of my family.

And what about all of us whose genetics incline us toward cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders?  Must we plan on inevitable illness and decline because we lost the genetic lottery? I can’t believe that either, because if it’s true, I’d better get going on discharging the rest of my bucket list, because the end is nigh. My family members are genetic disasters in terms of sickness and degeneration—you name it, we have it in my genetic makeup, and it’s a scary thought for sure.  And, as a result of my DNA’s predispositions, I work hard to maintain my health and beat the odds—defy my destiny of ill health and early death through the choices I make every day to take care of myself.

I believe we are co-creators of our destiny. We make choices. And some choices are harder than others. But the right choice has to be harder. Otherwise it isn't a choice.  The issue of choice is complex, and I will write more about it later, so we won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say that defying destiny is not for the faint-hearted.  Just ask Adrian.  He’s working his ass off trying to break his destiny, and entertain us along the way.  And let me say right here and now that he is doing a truly bang-up job of all of it.

Sometimes, on the other hand, instead of defying our destiny, our task is to try to live up to it. In breaking his own destiny, for example, my father created a new destiny for me to uphold and honor with my own life and choices. Do I want to do less than my beloved father?  No way.  I want to make him proud, even if he’s not still with me here in this plane or on this planet anymore, I know he’s out there somewhere, wondering if I will overcome the obstacles in my path to shine as brightly as he did.  Because one can break one’s destiny in a negative way as well, when we do the Limbo dance and see how low we can go, instead of soaring higher and reaching farther.

So, whatever our destinies tell us should be in the cards for us, our lives and our futures, the question is whether we will create our own realities and define our own destinies so that we can either live up to previously-established high standards or blow low expectations out of the water with our stellar performances in life.  Because, as Ms. Frost so ably describes, it’s up to us.  It always was and it always will be. That is the nature of destiny, broken or otherwise.