Myths, fantasy and dark anti-heroes - Authors A.I.

Alessandra Torre
March 22, 2024

In a recent First Draft Friday, I was joined by bestselling romantasy author Scarlett St. Clair, author of “A Touch of Darkness” and “A Touch of Chaos.” (Romantasy is a portmanteau combining “romance” and “fantasy.”) She talked about writing anti-heroes for romance and her upcoming books.

Scarlett draws inspiration from her love of fantasy (especially “Lord of the Rings”) and her experience as a librarian who reads widely across genres, including romance. Here are the key insights she shared about writing fantasy romance with anti-heroes:

  • Myth retellings: She enjoys reimagining myths for a modern audience, empowering female characters and exploring the complexities of human nature.
  • Creating flawed heroes: Scarlett doesn’t set out to make readers love her anti-heroes. Instead, she explores the causes of their flaws by considering the characters’ backgrounds and motivations.
  • Shades of gray: Her characters are not simply good or bad. They make morally ambiguous choices based on their experiences and situations.
  • Blending myth and modernity: She incorporates elements of myth into contemporary settings, questioning societal norms and exploring how myths could be interpreted in a modern world.
  • World-building: St. Clair builds rich worlds around her characters, incorporating details like societal structures, power dynamics and the influence of the gods.
  • Research: While she has a strong background in mythology, Scarlett conducts further research to delve deeper into specific aspects of her stories, such as historical events or magical systems.
  • Character development: She reveals her characters’ backstories and motivations gradually using a “roadmap” system to track plot points and character development.
  • Distinguishing anti-heroes: She emphasizes the differences between her anti-heroes, like Hades and Adrian, by focusing on their unique motivations, relationships and moral codes.
  • Redeeming qualities: While some characters, like Hades, have a soft spot for their people, St. Clair argues that true anti-heroes like Adrian may not have many redeeming qualities beyond their love interest.

Her upcoming projects include a Grimm’s fairy tale retelling series and the third book in the King of Battle and Blood series.

It was a great discussion, one you won’t want to miss! Click below to watch our 30-minute recording and hear the questions we answered from the live audience. Keep scrolling if you’d prefer to read the transcript.

More info:

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Check out Scarlett St. Clair’s books on BingeBooks.

Enjoy the show? Check out our past First Draft Friday episodes.


Alessandra Torre: Hi everyone, and welcome to First Draft Friday. I’m your host with Authors AI. My name is Alessandra Torre and I am joined today by Scarlet St. Clair. And we’re going to be talking all about writing anti-heroes for romance or for other genres. And Scarlett’s background and her upcoming books. So welcome, Scarlett. It’s so great to have you on First Friday. Do you want to start by just telling the audience a little bit about yourself? 

Scarlett St. Clair: Yeah. Hi. I’m the author of A Touch of Darkness and then A Touch of Chaos, which I pulled out from my stack here. And it comes out May 12th, and this is the final book in my Hades x Persephone series, so I’m really glad to have it done and to have it out in the world. 

Alessandra Torre: It’s so exciting to finish the series. That cover is gorgeous, I love it. 

Scarlett St. Clair: Thank you. Thank you. 

Alessandra Torre: It can be so hard to get a great cover. And now, before writing, you have an interesting background. Can you tell us how you got into writing? What was life like before Scarlett St. Clair? Then versus now. 

Scarlett St. Clair: I started writing when I was 13 and after I read The Lord of the Rings. I had always been a very avid reader, but I was really reading a lot of mysteries, and Lois Duncan was like my favorite author. And then I read Tolkein, and I realized you could create a whole world, like fantasy was an option. And I decided that I want to be a world-famous author. And then every decision I made, like from that point on, was centered around being an author. So like when I went to college, I majored in English writing, and then when I got my master’s, I got it in library science because I was like, it’s books. Library science is so much more than that. But, being a librarian, I think really influenced my career and my track toward becoming a full-time author. And I absolutely loved it. But so everything, every choice I made sort of centered around eventually being able to do this full time. And I’m very lucky that I get to. 

Alessandra Torre: When you started writing, you were reading like Lord of the Rings and Fantasy. So can you talk about kind of how your genre progressed in both your reading and your writing, and what made you eventually settle on the subgenre that you write now? 

Scarlett St. Clair: Yeah. So I was very much interested in just high fantasy. And specifically, I did read a lot of adult fantasy, but I wanted to write YA for the longest time. And it was actually being a librarian that sort of changed and shifted my idea of what I was going to, what I was reading and what I wanted to write. I don’t know what spurred me to do this, but my coworker was the teen librarian, but I knew she loved romance, too. So I said, what is a romance book you would recommend to someone who’s never read romance before? And she said The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley. And I read it and I loved it. And I was like, these are things that I just was consuming a ton of romance. And I love Regency and Highlander romance. And I sort of started to feel like I always kind of wanted to write a Hades and Persephone retelling, but I really felt like I could mesh with my two of my favorite things and go for it and write this fantasy novel, fantasy romance novel. And I did. It sounds like an odd progression, but it wasn’t. It fits very nicely into my interests. 

Alessandra Torre: So without spoiling, you know, the series and the story for listeners who aren’t familiar with Hades and Persephone, can you talk about an elevator pitch of their story and then your version of that? 

Scarlett St. Clair: Yeah, the myth is based on the Homeric Hymn. They think it’s Homer who wrote it, but they’re not 100% sure, obviously, but it’s titled Demeter and it’s technically a myth about Demeter and how she lost her daughter. It’s not about Hades and Persephone at all, which I think is very interesting. But essentially what happens is Hades asks for Persephone as a wife, and Zeus gives the okay. And so Hades is able to abduct her and take her to the underworld. And the story’s about Demeter trying to find her daughter and all of these men telling her, you know, it’s fine. She’s with Hades. He’ll make a good husband. And she’s a young girl, right? Yeah, of course. But. And I was like, that’s terrible. So. Yeah. Yeah, it’s wild. Even Helios tells her this as well. Like, you know, you should be fine. Hades will make her a good husband. And I’ve just always been, like, obviously frustrated about that. So I thought, okay, so if I brought this into a more modern setting, what would that look like? And how would these gods evolve if they had come to Earth? What would their role sort of be? And instead of having Persephone abducted, I felt like it would be. She could go into a bargain of some kind, and it wouldn’t be so against her will for, for example. So, yeah, definitely trying to turn the tides and put the power into her hands instead of having it all taken away from her. But yeah, Greek mythology is very much like that. Even the goddesses who are all-powerful are always put into these situations where their power is taken away from them. And, I just think that’s very interesting. And I like to look at how can I modify that? How can I change that myth into something that empowers women instead of taking the power away? 

Alessandra Torre: I love that. And now Adrian is your Hades. Is that right? I mean. 

Scarlett St. Clair: No. Adrian and Isolde. That’s a separate series. King of Metal and Bloods. That’s like high fantasy and Empire of Monsters. Yeah. And Hades is, he’s just Hades in that series very much. There are three. 

Alessandra Torre: You have two series that both have a dark anti-hero. 

Scarlett St. Clair: Yeah, I would say Hades is less so than Adrian. Adrian is like my top. Even I tell people he’s a terrible person. 

Alessandra Torre: Well, let’s talk about that because you’re writing not just anti-heroes but anti-heroes that a reader needs to kind of fall in love with, right? The reader needs to fall in love with and your character needs to fall in love with in a plausible way. So how do you approach how do you do that? 

Scarlett St. Clair: I don’t know, because sometimes I think. Can you love this character? Right. It’s like especially, I would say in King of Babylon Blood, because I don’t necessarily feel like I set out to have people fall in love with Adrian. They do though, and sometimes, like, I think it’s cringe, because he’s a terrible person, right? However, I do feel like what I wanted to bring to the table is someone who lives in an environment that is very dangerous and fitting of this sort of timeline, which I think of is like medieval, sort of like I don’t say that Adrian was based off of Vlad the Third, but I do feel like the trajectory of his life is similar to what Adrian is, and I find that really interesting. Like how, how he’s revered in Romania. But outside of Romania, people have really made him into, like, Vlad the Impaler and all of these stories that formed around him. How did that happen? So I think I just think in terms of that, not necessarily like, oh, you have to fall in love with this character I’ve created. And sometimes I wonder, like, why? Why people have? Because I see something very different. I see these flaws that I built into this person. And I see, like, I tend to side with the women in all of my books and not the men. And what ended up happening in Hades and for Stephanie is like, people were really like, mean to Persephone and like, they weren’t as forgiving to her as they were to Hades, even though they kind of did the same things all the time, like they had the same weaknesses. And I got really frustrated with that. And so I was like, I’m going to write Adrian, who you cannot forgive. And so, that’s kind of how that came about. So I don’t really think in terms of, I’m going to force you. I want you to not force you to fall in love, but I’m going to structure this so you’ll fall in love with this character. I just sort of write these flaws into these characters and see where it goes. 

Alessandra Torre: So are there different types of flaws? Because I can see like there’s someone who’s like a jerk in their everyday interactions with people, versus someone who might be a gentleman who does bad things because of their work situation or their own impossible situations that they’re put in. Are there certain flaws that you think are unforgivable in an anti-hero? Do you choose what their flaws are, or is it all bad? 

Scarlett St. Clair: If we look at Adrian, for example. I think there are a lot of things that he does that are, for me, unforgivable. Except that when you think in terms of the world, I don’t think that the decisions he makes are outside of protecting himself and his empire. So, for example, if he has a group of people who are going to rebel against him and he decides to destroy the entire village that rebelled, even…it’s like to protect, he feels, himself and what he’s built. Right? But that, depending on what side you’re on, that’s not a good thing, right? That’s actually a terrible thing. But if we also take in terms of like when, for example, when Vlad the Third was conquering, you know, and protecting his territory, you know, and how he got his reputation, was that outside of the norm for what was happening in that era? And the answer is no. Right? I’ve always been interested, even from the time I was young, I wrote these stories about what side is right. And it depends on which side you’re on. And is there a middle ground here? And I’m just very interested in that dynamic. I think it kind of goes deeper than someone just being a jerk in their day-to-day life. Hades. You know his flaws definitely come from war. When I was writing his perspective, that was very hard initially, and I was like, I can’t quite grasp who he is as a person. And then I remembered that when he was born, he was immediately consumed by his father. And then when he was rescued, he was an adult and went into a ten-year war. And I thought that would really mess you up. Like that would really make you bitter, and that would really make you feel like, is living worth it? Worth the sacrifice? And everything sort of spun out from there. Every decision he made, all his personality traits. I don’t know that that necessarily makes you a bad person. I think it gives you flaws right there. Definitely, gives you flaws and some communication issues for sure. 

Alessandra Torre: I’m sure there are a lot of communication issues. We have several comments from Facebook and YouTube. Steve says, “unforgivable flaw: being boring.” And it certainly doesn’t sound like any of these characters are boring. 

Alessandra Torre: Someone from Facebook said, “How do you approach the blending of mythical elements with modern settings in your stories?” 

Scarlett St. Clair: Part of it was just looking to see what’s still relevant today, because I feel like a lot of myths are still relevant today. I always give the example of when I was reading about Apollo being this sort of golden god. Like he was beloved. But then his antics were, for example, like chasing nymphs until they… He chased Daphne until she begged to be turned into a tree. And, they have this list of things where the wrongs they’ve committed, especially against women. And I, I thought, this sounds a lot like, you know, what we’re going through with the MeToo movement. Harvey Weinstein was a comparison at the time. And I thought, you know, that’s still relevant today. So I folded that into a touch of ruin as a big theme. So I just feel like obviously myths are created to explain the world around us. That hasn’t changed. Now, we can just reinterpret them to try and kind of understand our world, too. So that’s sort of an example of how I adapt to a more modern setting. 

Alessandra Torre: But your characters are paranormal in terms of like. This is Hades. 

Scarlett St. Clair: So there are two questions that I sort of put forth when I started writing A Touch of Darkness. And one is, what would the world have looked like if the gods came to earth and made themselves known? So they aren’t these entities that we don’t ever see. They are in our world. They are sort of like royalty, right? They’re kind of like the royal family. The second is I’ve always been interested in what would happen if it wasn’t the Bible that was our main sort of chosen epic poem, but like the Iliad or the Odyssey or whatever, and how that would change society. And those are kind of the concepts I folded in to build the world of New Greece. So all of the gods exist there, the Pantheon exists there, and the world around them is sort of this very cult-like following which, of course, they had cults in ancient Greece. It’s just a different version of that, right? 

Alessandra Torre: That’s perfect. Lacey from YouTube says, “How does it feel to have the ATOD [A Touch of Darkness] story complete? What’s your next project? And so just to touch on that for a minute, the last book in that series comes out March 12th. 

Scarlett St. Clair: Yeah. 

Scarlett St. Clair: I’m so happy to have this done. You have no idea. It was very hard. 

Alessandra Torre: I mean, you’ve probably finished that last book. What, six months? A year ago now? 

Scarlett St. Clair: Four months ago and I would say less than that. Every book that I publish typically is finished four months prior to the publication date, but it took me way longer than I thought to write it, and it wasn’t that I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just emotionally could not do it. It was so hard. So I feel so relieved and excited. And I do think it’s the perfect ending to the series, especially for people who have followed from the beginning and all the hardcore fans, definitely like the perfect ending to the series. My next project, I have a fun Grimm fairy tale retelling series that I do that I just started not too long ago that I really adore. And then, I’ll work on the third book with the King of Battle and Blood series. So that will be Kingdom of Spirit and Shadows is my next big book. 

Alessandra Torre: Magdalene, also from YouTube, said, “When will we get the third book of Adrian? And how many books do you think will be in that series?” 

Scarlett St. Clair: So I’m hoping for early 2025 on Kingdom of Spirit and Shadow, which is the third book in that series. And then I do need to write it to figure out how many more books, but I’m thinking five. That’s my gut instinct on how many books will be in that series. It’s kind of like when I wrote A Touch of Malice. When I started it, I knew I had to finish up the series. And in a fourth book, seventh book, technically, that’s how I feel about it. I’m very much an intuitive writer. I do outline, but I also go with my gut on a lot of things. And so yeah, hopefully, you don’t have to wait too long. 

Alessandra Torre: And Marissa said, “What resonated with you the most while writing this series? What was your favorite moment?” So I’m assuming she’s asking about A Touch of Darkness. 

Scarlett St. Clair: A Touch of Darkness or A Touch of Chaos, do you think? The whole series? Gosh, I don’t know. It feels like such a. Even though I just finished it, it feels like so long ago already. I think when I got to the end, I think I love most about finishing a series or just writing in general, is you can look back and see how far all the characters have come. And in some ways, it was almost like not even being able to recognize these two by the end, because they were so different by this point. And I loved that growth. And there was a point where I had put so much of myself into Persephone. And I knew when we had both grown to a point where we could go our separate ways. And I thought that was a beautiful moment because I was saying goodbye to her, you know? And it was just really nice. It was very full circle for me. 

Alessandra Torre: And Kimberly says, “Oh, I’m so happy this series is going to five books.” 

Scarlett St. Clair: Some people are like, no, five books. 

Alessandra Torre: No, I think, I think, I think readers love long. She also said, “Can you share anything about Apples Dipped in Gold?” 

Scarlett St. Clair: Oh, yes. That is my first Grimm fairy tale retelling. I love those. They’re so fun.

Alessandra Torre: I love that title: Apples dipped in gold. 

Scarlett St. Clair: Yeah, it’s the interesting thing about gold apples, right? They’re in all sorts of myths and all sorts of Grimm fairy tales. And they do play heavily into this little novella.  What should I share about it? It’s funny. It’s silly. It follows Lore. You guys met him in Mountains Made of Glass, which is the first retelling. And what I love about him is that he tries to be this strong warrior of all his brothers. But he’s actually just been pining over Samara (the love interest) for seven years. And, they finally meet in this book, and it’s a mess. But the best kind. 

Alessandra Torre: MG says, “How long does it take you, typically, to write a book?” 

Scarlett St. Clair: Now, I can probably write a book in four months, but, when I say ‘write a book’ that’s actually words on a page. I spend a lot of time reading and researching and getting comfortable with the feeling of the world before I even start and that can take a while. I don’t feel comfortable writing until I feel good about all the research that I’ve done. It doesn’t mean I don’t also research as I go, but just to capture the feeling of the world can take me a good three to four months too. So I like to have some run time before I start putting words on the page. 

Alessandra Torre: So let’s talk about that research. So is it research into the past myths that you’re basing these stories on? Or is it research into kind of discovering who your characters are?

Scarlett St. Clair: So for A Touch of Darkness, for example, I didn’t have to do a lot of research on those myths because I knew them from college. I have a degree in English writing. So a lot of what we read were Greek epics, right? Later, though, because all the books incorporate various elements like different myths. It’s not just Hades and Persephone. For example, in A Touch of Chaos, I did read extensively about the Battle of Troy, because I knew I was going to approach the concept of a second Titanomachy. Well, there’s not a lot of information on the first Titanomachy. Very, very limited. Bits and pieces exist, right. So I couldn’t get a full idea of what that actually looked like. So I thought, okay, I can base some of that off of Troy. So I did. I read a lot about Troy, and one of the things I wanted to find more information on was the funeral games because I have funeral games in this book as a play on the funeral games that took place for Patroclus, but it was so surface level. Right? And I wanted more details because I wanted to be able to sort of stack them. So one of the little elements that I thought was interesting is they start with chariot races in the funeral games. Well, I’d had a chariot race in Malice and I was like, I can’t have another chariot race. So I had the gods enter on a chariot as a nod to that piece. So that’s sort of how I adapt it. Sometimes it’s not mythological research. For KBB, for example, it’s a lot of research into different monsters. The lore behind monsters. Like why this thing exists, what’s the fear around the thing that exists? Magic. Lots of research into witchcraft, for example. That book is heavily based on witch hunts. I was very interested, specifically, in the witch hunts that took place in Ireland and how that sort of gave the monarchy power. 

Alessandra Torre: Steve said, so just returning to our topic of creating dark anti-heroes, “is it all about choosing their flaws and building on that?” 

Scarlett St. Clair: I don’t choose flaws. I don’t feel like I actively choose flaws. I feel like I assess what is happening in their world presently. And then I look at how they got there. So I feel like they guide it. They tell me this is why I’m doing this. So it’s a series of questions for me. Like for Adrian, it was like, why are you conquering this world? What did these people do to you? Why are you so angry? And then I just pick that apart until I get to the source of his madness. Because he’s insane. And for Hades again, the concept was I can’t figure out how he became this way. So what would make you make these decisions? What would make you build walls around yourself? What would make you afraid of the world? Because that’s essentially Hades is afraid of the world. And that’s why he is the way he is. And the answer was Titanomachy. Okay, so what happens to people who exist in this very dangerous, very threatening place for so long? And I just ask myself questions until I get to the answer. 

Alessandra Torre: You said with him that it helped to know his story. And what he was born into. But when do you reveal those things, like whatever that pressure cooker is that created this person the way that they are? Like, when do you reveal that to the reader? Do you do it over time and over the course of the book, or do you normally have a chapter that covers that early in?

Scarlett St. Clair: I think it’s sort of a slow reveal over time. Yeah, it’s so interesting. Something I do to keep track of these things, though, is what I learned in college called a roadmap. And it’s a summary of each chapter. And I will highlight like, oh, we talked about this here. And if my color coding system does not, if I don’t have the color like within a certain amount of chapters, I know the reader will forget about the thing, but I planted the seed I planted so I know it has to come up until we’re ready for the reveal. I think it just depends plot wise. Like does it further the plot here to reveal it, or does it further the relationship? When you do romantasy you have dual plots, right? You have a romantic plot; you have the action plot. So which of those plots am I furthering by revealing that information? So I just sort of go based on is this the right time to provide that momentum or revelation? 

Alessandra Torre: Roadmap, like when you finish a chapter, you write the roadmap paragraph for that, or you plot out your whole story to begin with? 

Scarlett St. Clair: No, I don’t plot out my whole story because if I did, I wouldn’t write the book. No, I get to a point where I’m like, okay. I’ve gone as far as I can. I’ve written as much as I can, and then I go and make the roadmap so I can see what I’ve done, and that can actually push me forward into the rest of the book. So those are just tools I’ve learned for myself over time to get out of writer’s block, because I get lost in my words. 

Alessandra Torre: We have a great question from FS and she said, “How do you approach creating depth and complexity in male characters like Hades and Adrian, ensuring they are more than just archetypal figures within their respective story?” 

Scarlett St. Clair: I think it’s very interesting because in our avenue of writing, you can have a tendency to feel like all of your  dark male main characters are the same. And I worried about that with Adrian and Hades. I was like that at the beginning. It almost, but I think it’s because they were annoyingly protective. So, I don’t know, I just hope. But I feel like the choices they make. People often ask me if Hades and Adrian would get along. They would absolutely hate each other. Hades has a moral code that does not really exist with Adrian. His one redeeming quality is that he loves Isolde, and that’s where it ends. Even that I sort of question because I feel like Adrian always lives in the past. I really always have this idea in my head of how different they are and what their motivations are and how they would react to certain situations. And I think in that way you can keep them sort of separate, because to me, they would not make the same decisions. They very much handle their relationships differently. Yeah. I think not not everyone will agree that I do keep them separate enough. I don’t know. But to me, in my head it feels different enough. 

Alessandra Torre: Well, we are down to the final minute. You mentioned redeeming qualities and Adrian’s one redeeming quality which ties in perfectly with this question from Christine on YouTube. “How do you eliminate your anti-heroes redeeming qualities? By using side characters? Or do they even have redeeming qualities?” And if you’re able to answer that in a minute, that would be great. 

Scarlett St. Clair: Let’s hope I can. Yeah, I think you can spotlight something that they do. Hades has a very soft spot for his people. Right? He gives them a life outside of being shades in the underworld. You also see him through the side characters, for sure, especially Hecates and Hermes. But they’re also willing to point out his flaws, and I think that’s a very important dynamic. Adrian, his only redeeming quality is Isolde. That’s it. And he has nothing else. 

Alessandra Torre: I love that. Well, this was fantastic. Thank you so much. And to everyone who’s listening, if you haven’t had a chance to read Scarlett’s books yet, you can start with A Touch of Darkness and then move through to the book she just showed, which is Touch of Chaos, and it’s coming out March 12th. So thank you so much, Scarlett, for joining us today. Thank you to everyone who attended live and your fantastic questions. If you’re watching the replay, it’s great to have you here. And please follow us for more First Draft Fridays. We’ll be back in two weeks with another author and a new topic. So thank you so much, Scarlett. Thank you to our audience and I hope you all have a fantastic weekend. 

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