In March I released my 19th novel – The Castle of Earth and Embers. It’s the first in a new 5-part series following Maeve, an Arizona girl who discovers she’s inherited an honest-to-goodness English castle, complete with turrets and ramparts and four gorgeous male tenants. As this is a paranormal romance, lots of magical shenanigans and a healthy dose of sexy times and metaphysical angst ensue before the whole thing wraps up with a happily-ever-after five books later.
You might think the main emotional story arc of The Castle of Earth and Embers would be some kind of love triangle. Which of the four guys would Maeve end up with? Corbin – the protector wallowing in guilt? Arthur – the warrior tired of fighting? Flynn – the trickster with an artist’s soul – or Rowan – the enigma whose scars run deep? Or what about Blake, the mysterious fifth guy who shows up at the end of the book?
Thanks to a rising sub-niche within romance called “reverse harem” and the hashtag #whychoose, I didn’t have to write a love triangle and force Maeve to choose. There was no need to create a convenient deux-ex-machina (or deux-ex-Maevina, as my editor joked) to conveniently get rid of the other suitors so Maeve only ended up with one.
In my series, Maeve ends up in a happily-ever-after with five guys – her harem. (I’ve written an article on my blog about reverse harem if you want more information.)
How is this possible? How does this not go against everything that romance as a genre is built on – the enduring love of one guy for one girl?
Luckily, romance is a genre that isn’t afraid to move with the times and tackle women’s sexuality in new and challenging ways. Romance writers embrace and challenge stereotypes, they celebrate multicultural and interracial romances, they tackle characters who work at the top of the corporate ladder, are stay-at-home parents, are divorced, are disabled, suffer from mental illness. They embrace LGBT with sub-genres dedicated to gay/lesbian romances. They celebrate female desire and female agency. Why should polyamory not be next on the list?
Polyamory and other non-monogamous relationships between consenting people are becoming more open, more normalised, and more celebrated. That’s awesome. If reverse harem books help women exploring and discovering their own sexuality to see themselves, or experience a common sexual fantasy within the safety of the pages of a book, then I’m proud to be a part of that.
Writing an exciting love story with six separate emotional arcs and at least five happily-ever-afters is quite an undertaking. When I outline a book, I use a very basic, pared-back version of Libble Hawker’s technique (as demonstrated in her book Take Off Your Pants). I started with my concept; American girl discovers she owns British castle. Goes to castle. Discovers at castle that she is actually a witch and she has to fight off the fae alongside her harem of male witches.
Then I thought about Maeve, my FMC. I’ve written a lot of arty characters, so this time I gave her a passion for physics and a desire to become an astronaut. I thought the idea of her empirical, scientific mind grappling with all this magic stuff would be quite fun to explore.
I was right. It is.
Next, I needed a reason for Maeve to inherit this castle and for her to decide to move there. I needed some serious emotional stakes, and I needed her to end up in a state of mind where a polyamorous relationship might occur to her whereas it would never have done so back home in Arizona. Enter a horrific accident that kills off her family and some other circumstances that throw Maeve headlong into her adventure.
Then I needed some guys. I needed five love interests who were each wonderful in their own way and who each carried around their own pain and baggage. I’m really proud of the guys I came up with. I feel like each of them on their own wouldn’t have been right for Maeve, but together, they’re this amazing group that strengthen and heal each other.
As I deepened the male characters emotional arcs, I realised that I didn’t just to tell a heterosexual love story. There should be something going on between some of the guys, as well. M/M relationship show up in some (but not all) reverse harem books and honestly they’re my favourite books in the genre. (F/f is much rarer, because of what the audience is looking for). As well as a fledgling MM relationship, there are the friendships between the guys that get tested and strengthened by the harem.
The whole plot hangs off key emotional moments for each of the characters. Grief, hope, love, secrets, self-discovery, mental illness, guilt, anger, silence, neglect – I’m exploring all of these and how they impact the group dynamic and one-on-one relationships. With so many characters, every scene packs a huge emotional punch.
Then there’s the sex. There’s lots of it – one-on-one, threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes. Big, happy piles of tangled limbs. And all the feelings and confusion and misunderstandings that go along with sex, but amplified five-fold with more partners. I’m lucky in that I know many people in polyamorous relationships, and I can ask questions and learn from their emotional journey to make sure my characters ring true and don’t promote unsafe practices or harmful stereotypes.
I am having SO MUCH FUN. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to go back to plain old monogamous, heterosexual couples after this. Reverse harem has ruined me as a romance writer, and I couldn’t be happier.
For some reverse harem recommendations, check out 10 reverse harem series you should read right now.
Steff Green is a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of twenty dark fantasy (as S C Green) and paranormal romance books (as Steffanie Holmes). Her books feature clever, witty heroines, wild shifters, cunning witches and alpha males who get what they want. In 2017 Steff was the recipient of the Attitude Award for Artistic Achievement, to honour her accomplishments as a person who lives with a disability.
Before becoming a writer, Steffanie worked as an archaeologist and museum curator. She currently lives in a castle outside Auckland with her cantankerous drummer husband, a horde of cantankerous cats, and their medieval sword collection. Follow Steff’s adventures on her blog or instagram.