Editor’s Note: A. D. Robertson is the pseudonym for a New York Times bestselling and international bestselling author. Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, Robertson was a professor of early modern history at Macalester College, a background which informs her books’ compelling blend of mythology, history, and lore. She grew up in northern Wisconsin and now lives in New York City. Learn more about her newest book, Captive, here.
When I first began to share the news with family, friends, and fans that I’d be writing an erotic fantasy, responses ranged from excitement to curiosity to befuddlement. The last of those reactions focused on how an author could make the leap from writing YA fantasy to novels with NC-17 content, but from my perspective writing romance wasn’t so much a risky leap than a stroll across a natural bridge.
The New York Times Book Review recently posted about their upcoming ‘Sex Issue,’ which includes established authors reminiscing about their first ‘illicit reads.’ What a reader regards as illicit will always be subjective and as such will vary widely from person to person. Moreover, the definition of illicit evolves as a reader matures. Worldliness, sophistication, education, and self-awareness all contribute to an individual’s perception of where the line between benign and titillating should be drawn.
The expansion of my authorial identity to include erotic fantasy both reflects and encompasses that shift in human experience and evolution of desire. For younger audiences, romance focuses on discovery, first experiences, and individuation. Coming-of-age stories, sexual or not, remain appealing to a broad audience – one of the reasons YA has become such a popular genre among adults who are not so young – and it makes perfect sense that readers of diverse ages return to these tales time and time again. In my own experience, half of my readership is adults, not teens.
Knowing that this mature audience existed afforded the opportunity to delve into the darker corners of my creative life and reveal the more complex, and torrid pieces that compose the fantasy world of my Nightshade series. I find world building endlessly fascinating both as a reader and a writer. From the latter point of view, I’ve found the creation of an alternate world to be intricately bound up in my personal history; strangely enough, fantasy becomes dependent on reality when I write.
Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, I was a history professor. My Ph.D. is in Early Modern history and my research specialization focused on the intersections of gender, violence, and religion in the seventeenth-century transatlantic world. The seventeenth century was a time of cultural upheaval. Revolutions transformed kingdoms into nations, science and magic were bedfellows, folk belief and religion both held sway.
All of this history translated into my writing novels about an alternate history of witchcraft and a secret, ongoing war between two factions of witches that began in the Middle Ages. This world began with Nightshade, a story that follows a girl who is also the alpha wolf of her pack of Guardian warriors that fight on one side of the Witches War. Nightshade is a coming-of-age tale about one girl’s battle to understand herself while taking on the corrupt powers that have shaped her world. Her tale is the first of a series that takes readers into the Witches War at present.
But the present, of course, has been hewn from the past, and as a historian I’m deeply invested in origin stories. Captive , an erotic fantasy, delves into the past that shaped the present of the Nightshade world. In building an alternate world, more of the story remains off the page than on. I knew the torrid romance between Tristan and Sarah, Captive’s protagonists, long before I ever thought I’d have the opportunity to publish their story. Had I been approached by my publisher to write their story as a YA novel, I would have declined. Tristan and Sarah’s tale is one of uninvited, dangerous lust, and forbidden romance between adults. The desires of two adult characters will (and should) radically diverge from those of teens. One perspective is not superior to the other; they are simply different because the maturity and experience of the characters in question are so different.
A vividly imagined and fully realized fantasy world should have many facets that can reach broad audiences in a variety of fashions. It should be a place populated by diverse characters all of whom have unique stories. Writing in an alternate historical and magical setting allowed me to explore another realm within my fantasy world, and the journey has only enhanced my own understanding of the stories I’m creating. After all, the nature of fantasy has never been defined by its limits, but rather its endless possibilities.