Romance Reviews, Memes, and Other Questionable Content
Interview with Lily Mayne
Sometime last year my friend Shaina was all, "You absolutely have to read Soul Eater by Lily Mayne." And I was all, "Of course, I will!" And then I didn't. Because I'm the worst. But then finally I decided that enough was enough and I was actually going to read the books my friends recommended. And so I picked up Soul Eater and...the rest is history. A really depraved, deranged, and sexy history.
Soul Eater is an MM romance that takes place in a dystopian world twenty years after a rift opened between the human world and the monster world. The United States as we know it no longer exists, and instead a battle for survival has begun between humans and the monsters. We have Wyn, monster who is known for slaughtering humans at random and without remorse, and Danny, a human soldier who has no real desire to be a part of tracking down and killing monsters.
It's a story of understanding, of hope, of love, and of companionship between two people who should be enemies, but who cannot resist the pull of one another. It's brilliantly written, balancing serious topics and laugh-out-loud human perfectly, with enough sex to make your head explode (but there's no insta-fucking here, so be patient).
I devoured the entire series (each book follows a different human/monster pairing, yet connects beautifully) in about a week and now my goal is to own the paperbacks. Which, if you know me, is quite serious because I'm not one to own something on my kindle and my shelves. I'm a one or the other kind of gal.
So, of course, I needed to track down Lily and beg her to let me interview her for my Author Spotlight (which is supposed to be updated monthly and suspiciously hasn't been updated in like six months, oops). Please note there are some light spoilers below for various scenes in various books. Nothing that spoils big events or scenes, but just little things here and there.
Romantically Inclined: Your debut release Soul Eater was released in March 2021 and since then you've released 6 other books, as well as a novella. How long was the premise for Soul Eater taking up space in your mind and how long did it take you to write it? It's quite unique (even for the monster romance world). Did you ever hesitate to hit publish or were you ready for the world to read it?
Lily Mayne: I had a couple of scenes for Soul Eater written for a good few years before I decided to focus on writing it fully. The first scene I wrote for it was (potential spoiler ahead) when Wyn asks Danny to take off his headgear and show him his face in the military base.
It began as an idea for a love story with this terrifying, ghoulish creature who is captured by the military and becomes instantly infatuated with one of the soldiers. That expanded into the world being completely changed and overrun by monsters, and humans living in squalor in cramped cities crammed around the edges of a big empty wasteland. I figured you’d get at least a few monsters who would become infamous—like bogeymen. That’s what Wyn is. Like the story of the scary monster coming to get you that you tell your kids to get them to behave. (And he loves it.)
It took a few months to write, then I think a few more months for me to work up the courage to publish it. I didn’t expect anyone to read it. I wanted to publish it as a personal achievement—something I’ve always wanted to achieve, and that I could be proud of myself for doing even if nothing came of it. The response has been beyond anything I ever expected and I am incredibly grateful—and glad people like that dramatic, moody monster man and his sweet human as much as I do!
Romantically Inclined: Did you already have the ideas for the entire series mapped out or do you write each book by the seat of your pants? For instance, when characters are mentioned off-handedly or vaguely in book one, do you know they'd be the main characters in book 3? How do you keep track of your world and the characters?
Lily Mayne: As I wrote Soul Eater, plans for the next several books started forming, which means I can’t resist dropping hints in to all the books! For example, Seraph is mentioned almost right at the beginning of the series. Wyn, Danny, Hunter and Edin come across Gloam briefly in book two. Hunter also sees quite a few things in his book that will be relevant later.
However, I don’t plot out each book thoroughly, so I guess it’s a mix of planning and pantsing. I plan out big, overarching plotlines that span across the whole series, but prefer to see where the characters take me for each individual book.
The Monster Index I created helps me hugely in keeping track of details and characteristics!
Romantically Inclined: What inspired you to start writing monster romance? Do your friends and family in the "real world" know what you write or is it a well-kept secret?
Lily Mayne: I’ve been writing for myself for a very long time and it’s always been a) romance and b) with paranormal/non-human creatures. Vampires, demons, aliens, fae… I feel like with a lot of people who like monsters and monster romance, there’s a moment where you’re suddenly like, ‘Oh, hey. I’ve always been into that.’
I had a giant crush on Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus from the very first time I watched it as a kid, and I think I kind of assumed everyone did, because, like, why wouldn’t you? Same with Abe Sapien. The Predator. Pyramid Head. That Uruk-hai dude from the Fellowship of the Ring.
Then there’s that moment where you realise: Wait, some people DON’T want a Mothperson for a life partner? So not everyone likes monsters, then? (Why not, though? They’re so much more interesting. They have horns. And tails. And other things.)
Romantically Inclined: I've noticed that for an M/M series there appears to be a lack of homophobia in the world you've created. Not that homophobia is a requirement in a book featuring two male romantic leads (for example, in Schitt's Creek) but it's something readers might expect from a post-apocalyptic world in which masculinity and strength are lauded above all. Is this something you intentionally set out to do or something that just happened along the way?
Lily Mayne: A bit of both. Books that address prejudice, homophobia and transphobia, hate crimes and the struggles LGBTQIA+ folks constantly face are obviously extremely valid and needed. But I think there is also space for books with easy acceptance.
You’d like to think that if a monster apocalypse happened, people’s priorities would shift and less energy would be spent on being hateful to others in this regard. However, there are still instances of it—from the military to Danny in Soul Eater, and (spoiler for Moth ahead) Charlie and Moth are more cautious when they are in the cities, because I think there would still be an element of prejudice in that environment, which is more reminiscent of how humans lived before the monsters came.
Hopefully I have also been able to convey that strength and masculinity are not inherently linked and can exist in ways that fall outside of the heteronormative “ideal”.
Romantically Inclined: How do you come up with the ideas for your monsters? Are they inspired by certain people or creatures? Do you sketch them out before writing so you can keep their descriptions straight?
Lily Mayne: I’m not sure, honestly. I just imagine them. Some are more inspired by creatures than others, but with Wyn, for example, I have no reference pictures or characters who inspired him. I just pictured his goth boy hooded figure and the inhuman face hidden beneath, with his mismatched eyes and ghoulish scarred skin and sharp teeth. Gloam is the most heavily inspired by an existing creature—Pyramid Head from Silent Hill. Looking back, I would say Aury reminds me of Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle—who I adore. (Author Note: I knew exactly who Gloam was based off while reading and I was not upset about it).
I really enjoy creating the monsters (both love interest and other). I am terrible at drawing so I don’t sketch them! The Monster Index helps me keep track of all their little characteristics and features. The first thing I do when finishing a book is update the Monster Index while everything is still fresh in my mind. (It is getting very, very long!)
Romantically Inclined: What are some of the best things your artistic fans have created based on your characters/world?
Lily Mayne: Just all of it! The artwork, the dioramas and models and figurines, the Monstrous-inspired clothing, the candles, keychains, paintings and sketches of the monster world... There have been so many amazing fan creations, and it makes me kind of emotional to see the characters brought to life in so many different styles—to be able to see how others envision them. It’s surreal but so wonderful.
Romantically Inclined: Who is your favorite character you've written? (I'm sorry.)
Lily Mayne: This is an evil question. I think, if I really had to pick just one—which is nearly impossible—it’s going to have to be Wyn. How could it not be? I just love how he has evolved. He started out as this terrifying hooded creature murdering everyone in sight and has, in my mind, ended up as a dramatic, stroppy goth boy who is totally soft for his human but still tries very hard to be scary.
I didn’t want Wyn to think like a human, and he doesn’t, so it was fun imagining his reactions to scenarios and how he would navigate his blossoming romance with Danny. (And now, in his subsequent novella and the shorts on my website, the reality of having a sweet but kind of ditzy, clumsy human as your life partner.)
But if I’m allowed to say who comes second, Moth and Charlie are tied for second place.
Romantically Inclined: And of course, what are some of your favorite books (monstrous or otherwise)?
My all-time top rereads—my comfort books and those I could read endlessly—are: Zercy by Kora Knight; Kick at the Darkness by Keira Andrews; Kidnapped by the Pirate by Keira Andrews; Beyond the Sea by Keira Andrews; Brute by Kim Fielding; and the Dig Two Graves duology by K.A. Merikan. I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones I can remember right now!
I don’t get to read as much as I’d like, but some recent books I have read and loved include Exodus 20:3 by Freydís Moon; Dulce Monstrum by Elle Porter; and the Adventures in Aguillon series by Lisa Henry and Sarah Honey. All are excellent with wonderful representation.
But I am terrible at being able to find new books and authors—I’m a creature of habit and need a push to try something new, so I love when I get recommendations!
Romantically Inclined: Okay, my last question, one of the things I (and the rest of your readers) love most about your human heroes is that they're willing to look past the what others consider to be the terrifying exteriors of their monstrous counterparts (as well as their reputations for being dangerous killers) and open themselves up to the idea of loving someone different than them. In fact, your upcoming book Seraph has what I'd consider (based on fan art) to be perhaps the most terrifying monster I've ever read a romance about. Does it surprise you that your followers are so open to falling in love with any monster you create? Do you think there's a limit to what monster readers are willing to accept or do you think that the monster genre has some of the least judgmental readers around? (Oops, this is way long).
Lily Mayne: Seraph is a precious angel!
I think everyone has different limits with their monsters, all of which are valid. But I would say that I imagine readers of monster romance are probably more willing to try out new tropes or monster types in their books!
Seraph is definitely the most monstrous in appearance so far, and I fully understand if he’s a step too far for some people. He does have a lot of eyes. And teeth. But I hope I’ll be able to convey—which I also hope has come through in the previous books—that ultimately appearance doesn’t matter.
Rig fell in love with Gloam without ever seeing his face. Danny pretty much did the same with Wyn. Hunter was insecure about his facial scar and stump—things Edin didn’t even really notice. We all know what Aury can look like. And Moth has held literally everyone back his entire life because of what he perceived to be physical attributes that people would be disgusted by, whereas his face is so impossibly beautiful that it actually turned people off.
In my opinion, one of the best things about monster romance is being able to witness the “ugly” or “different” characters find love and acceptance, and finally find their person, who thinks they’re beautiful just as they are. Seraph needs love, compassion and acceptance more than anyone. His appearance shouldn’t matter.
I'd like to extend a huge thank you to Lily for saying yes to this chaotic interview. I had so much I wanted to ask, but I had to narrow it down. But she is absolutely amazing at answering any and all questions in her Facebook group Lily's Monster Lovers (not to mention the sheer amount of sexy fan art that's shared there, oh my god) and she has tons of short stories based on her characters on her website. I highly recommend these books if you're a monster lover with an open mind & a love of having your boundaries pushed. She writes incredibly fast, too, so you don't have to worry about waiting too long between books (she's published 6 in the last year!).