This year I’ve cranked out two long-form Reylo fics, “Love Is Stronger Than Death” and the just-completed “The Lost Princess.” Generally I write short one-shots and while these longer fics aren’t quite novel-length, they are the longest stories I’ve written in over a decade.
I got the title for “Love Is Stronger Than Death” from a song by The The. It popped into my head in the aftermath of TROS, particularly the lines, “Here come the blue skies/Here comes springtime/When the rivers run high & the tears run dry/When everything that dies/Shall rise/LoveLoveLove is stronger than death.” The fic itself was a fix-it for the movie, specifically the way the film handled Ben Solo’s death. Like a lot of Reylos/Ben Solo fans, I felt the error of omitting Ben’s Force ghost opened the possibility of him being in the World Between Worlds. And like a lot of Reylos, I wrote my own spin on how this possibility could reunite Ben with Rey. In my case it was a mystical bond incapable of true separation, the fundamental basis of which was the powerful love between them (as well as the love for/from their unborn baby). It was kind of like an eternal marriage, forever bound and not even death could truly separate them. The trick was writing something metaphysical and high concept in a way readers could follow along.
I had a “road map” for where the story would end, and basic events in between. The rest I winged from chapter to chapter. The challenge was remembering what had happened before, whether I’d left any dangling threads, and bringing characters in and out of the story as necessary. But I figured the secret was to keep the story simple and don’t go off on tangents that drag on for several chapters or to worry about side plots that don’t matter. My only goal was reuniting Rey and Ben, so that’s where I focused. I’d decided to bring in the Guardians of the Whills to give Rey access to knowledge she wouldn’t have learned from the Jedi. Plus I liked the idea of different groups devoted to the Force working together.
One last note…I threw in a few references from Twin Peaks. To me, the World Between Worlds could be a bit like the Black/White Lodge and the room where Rey and Ben meet there was inspired by the Red Room on the show. The golden sphere that shows up was lifted from the eighth episode of “Twin Peaks: The Return” (2017) which features some of the greatest cinema ever. It’s 20 minutes explaining the origins of both the woodsmen and Laura Palmer without a single word of dialogue. Whenever George Lucas talked about pure cinema, this is what he was talking about. David Lynch is a genius.
“The Lost Princess” came about around the same time as “Love” did. One day in January 2020, I thought to myself “I can’t believe they made Rey the Star Wars version of a Romanov impostor.” Then I thought, “Aha!” I wrote out a “road map” and the first four chapters the winter of 2020 but I decided to hold off on posting the story until after “Love.” I did rewrites and additional chapters beginning around June. I was going to start posting “Lost” right after I finished posting “Love,” but lots of people were still reading “Love” so I held off until August. In the meantime I posted a short canonverse one-shot.
Half the fun of writing “Lost” was researching the Romanov family, the Russian community in London, and life in 1921. For example, for the Paris chapters I watched on YouTube a silent travelogue from that era. It gave me ideas for settings, like the colonnade folly where Ben proposes to Rey. Because I am not Orthodox, I had to read up on Russian Orthodox traditions. I even watched on YouTube an entire Russian Orthodox wedding ceremony. I left out the “betrothal” part of the ceremony, where they exchange rings, because I figured it would be more interesting to start the scene during the most unique part, the “crowning.”
I generally do not write alternate universes, even though they are very popular among Reylos. The challenge of writing an AU is keeping the characters true to their canon counterparts, otherwise you could be reading about anybody, not Rey and Ben and company. What was additionally challenging was making Rey an impostor who’s still sympathetic and writing Ben as mostly Ben, not so much as Kylo Ren. I figured Rey had to not know she was an impostor. That’s where Snoke came in. The next challenge was making Rey a victim of Snoke’s manipulations without making her seem weak (I hope I succeeded). Anna Anderson’s story was very helpful. Anderson was the most famous Anastasia impostor and until she was proven not to be a Romanov by DNA testing, there had been for decades a question as to whether she was the real thing. She’d turned up in an insane asylum in Germany in the early 1920s, suffering from amnesia, and claimed she was the princess. Some of Anastasia’s real extended family and associates believed–or wanted to believe–it was her. (This is where “Duchess Holdova” comes into the story.) Some people even coached Anderson on details about the Romanov family. There had been several movies, documentaries, t.v. shows, and even a Broadway show about Anastasia impostors who turned out to be the real thing. Given that all of the Romanovs were accounted for by 2007, I did not want to go that route. My goal was for Rey and Ben to end up together even though she was not Anastasia. So I had to think about how that would be possible.
I made Ben an orphan at the outset, his parents victims of the Russian revolution, because I thought bringing them into this would’ve dragged the down the story. I figured he went through a Kylo phase after the deaths of his parents and Rey gave him a new lease on life. As a side note: I originally thought of this being an “explicit” story but as it went along, the tone was kind of more of a gentle romance so the planned smut got toned down.
When I was writing “Love,” I wondered if I was spent too much time in libraries. In “Lost,” I wondered if I spent too much time talking about newspapers. But a century ago, that was the main way information was dispensed. Even radio was new technology in 1921. I remember they made a big deal out of that newfangled “wireless” on “Downton Abbey.” So there was a lot of talk about newspapers.
In any case, the thing I learned from writing “Lost” is that AUs should be like dreams where you encounter the familiar in different settings. Will there be more AUs in the future We shall see!