Three-ring circus. Three cheers for you! Three Musketeers. Three blind mice. Jamais deux sans trois. (Never two without three.) Aller guten Dinge sind drei. (All good things are ____ ((you fill in the blank).)
A triptych is a three-part painting, with the panels hinged together. It is meant to be displayed on an altar. The one depicted in the title image is by the Flemish painter Robert Campin. It dates from the early 15th century.
The topic of this triptych is the Annunciation, the moment when the angel Gabriel informs Mary of her impregnation by God. In the upper left center panel, you can see baby Jesus flying in on a cross and rays of light. Note that the folds in Mary’s gown form a star, which is strategically highlighted.
In the left panel are figured the burgher who commissioned the triptych and his wife. The right panel depicts Joseph making mousetraps to symbolize how Jesus will trap the devil.
All three panels are of interiors – courtyard, sitting room, work shop – and all three have openings onto the exterior. The left and right panels give us intriguing glimpses of the ordinary world going on around an extraordinary event. The main window in the center panel gives us a visual metaphor for heaven. This window itself is a marvel, with its shutters and lattices and stained glass.
The panels communicate. The burgher and his wife are privileged observers of the Annunciation. Although there is no door between Mary’s room and Joseph’s work shop, we can infer that they are living under the same roof. Each panel is dense with symbolism.
I envision my Forest Breeze series – Tied Up (affiliate), Captured (affiliate), and Knocked Out (affiliate)– as a triptych. All three books are set in Vietnam, specifically Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, and the Mekong Delta. Each story is stand-alone, but the characters are interrelated. There is also a place, namely the Forest Breeze Club, connecting them. There is one plot line, as well, although it is probably more accurate to say that there are three plot lines, each one tracing an ever-widening circle around a particular world evil, namely human trafficking.
If an altarpiece is by definition sacred, then my Forest Breeze triptych would be by contrast profane. But I am going to reject the sacred/profane dichotomy.
(Note: See my blog On The Term Bodice Ripper for a brief discussion of the way the literary world is divided into the categories Sacred and Profane.)
Instead, I am going to play with the possibilities Campin’s painting affords me, to squeeze what I can out of comparing my triptych to his.
First, Campin’s painting is about as coy, reverent, and kinky a depiction of sex that I can imagine. Baby Jesus shooting down to the center of the star on Mary’s gown? With voyeurs on their knees watching from the sidelines? And cuckolded Joseph next door, calming making mousetraps?
The panels of my Forest Breeze series are made out of three different romance subgenres: BDSM (Tied Up) (affiliate); motorcycle clubs (Captured) (affiliate); and mixed martial arts (Knocked Out) (affiliate). BDSM, MC, and MMA romances foreground physicality in a way other subgenres do not necessarily.
BDSM, in particular, is all about sex. MC romances include another form of physicality in frequent brawling, while MMA romances are structured around fighting tournaments. So, yes, just like the main event in Campin’s painting is Mary’s impregnation, mine is all about physical contact and ultimately all about sex.
Second, the scene of the town square outside the window in Campin’s right panel invites my interest and rouses my curiosity to imagine what life in that town must have been like 700 years ago. What drew me to the BDSM, MC, and MMA subgenres is that all three involve similarly distant (to my experience) worlds. Each is tantalizing. Each has its own rules, regulations, codes of behavior, and terminology. It has been fascinating to go through the window to explore them.
Third, Campin created three different spaces and put them in conversation, just as did I. I did not create separate series for each world, as most authors usually do for these three subgenres. Instead I put them in conversation. My three stories are linked loosely by characters and strongly by place and plot.
I find Campin’s painting beautiful and compelling. I make no similar claims for my work, but I do thank him for the inspiration.
See also: Scholarly Analyses Romance Blogs
All three books of the Forest Breeze series are currently available for purchase on Amazon Kindle.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen