September 17, 2007 – Issue #278

Several years ago we created a “romance family tree” series of columns to explore the roots of the current genre romance. Not long ago it occurred to me that we ought not leave that tree as is, as new branches have formed/are forming. No…we’re not going to do another chick lit column, but we are going to write

[again] about the world of the ever-expanding world of paranormal, fantasy, and erotic romance. Anne comes at these sub-genres with a perspective that differs from mine; I’ll be writing about urban fantasy and its influence on each of the three “new” branches we’ll be sketching out for you, while Anne will go at it from a different direction. Anne’s roundtable, the first of two columns on paranormal romance, kicks things off. Because of its length, we suggest you read it in two sittings.

–Laurie Likes Books

Several years ago we created a “romance family tree” series of columns to explore the roots of the current genre romance. Not long ago it occurred to me that we ought not leave that tree as is, as new branches have formed/are forming, including those for chick lit. No…we’re not going to do another chick lit column, but we are going to write again about the world of the ever-expanding world of paranormal, fantasy, and erotic romance. Anne comes at these sub-genres with a perspective that differs from mine; I’ll be writing about urban fantasy and its influence on each of the three “new” branches we’ll be sketching out for you, while Anne will go at it from a different direction.

Defining terms if hardest for me where paranormal romances are concerned. Vampires and shapeshifters have been the most prevalent “monsters” in paranormal romance, but in the past couple of years, I’ve really differentiated fantasy creates from paranormal ones, such as gods and goddesses, demons, and the fae. And it becomes impossible to talk about either of these sub-genres without going back to the woman I think really kicked everything into high gear. No, she’s not a romance author. She’s Laurell K. Hamilton, and even if many of us think she jumped the shark on her pivotal Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, its legacy has very deep tentacles in the world of fiction. And not just that series…her Merry Gentry series, while not the same level of phenomenon, did much the same, at least IMHO.

What I attribute to LKH is the creation of the modern urban fantasy novel. According to Wikipedia, the novel had its start in the 1920s, but became its own sub-genre in the 1980s’, later expanded upon by many authors, including LKH. Their full list includes such authors as Mercedes Lackey and Neil Gaiman, who surely needed no help from LKH, but eight of the other authors on the list – many of whom are read by AAR’s readers – are direct descendents of LKH.

 

L.A. Banks

Kenyon

Ward

From the Desk of Anne Marble:

Paranormal Roundtable

Part I | Part II

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Part I

I’ve been following paranormal and SF/fantasy romances before most people knew they existed. Does anyone else remember Janelle Taylor’s SF romance, Moondust and Madness? I bought it the moment I saw it on the shelf. Unfortunately, I never made it past Chapter One because of major scientific errors and plot holes. I should have known better when I read an interview where Taylor said only men wrote SF. Where had she been for the last few decades? Not only that, but the plot was about aliens kidnapping human women as sex slaves. Ick. Not swayed from my quest to find genre-bending books, I bought more, scarfing up the Leisure futuristics, the earliest Silhouette Shadows titles, early futuristics by JAk, and even Phoebe Conn’s futuristic romance. On the fantasy side, there was Rebecca Brandewyne’s fantasy romance, Passion Moon Rising, with a majorly alpha hero and an interesting setting but the trilogy died on the vine. My interests waned as I realized most of the futuristics had little to do with the future. I also read SF and fantasy books that blended romance and SF, such as Anne McCaffrey’s books or some of Lois McMasters Bujold’s books. For years, paranormal romances have been like Dracula in those Hammer films — they die die for a while and then come back, sometimes stronger than ever. Only recently have they truly taken off, and only now have SF and fantasy romances really caught on. Maybe because today’s authors know the difference between galaxies and solar systems.

It’s hard to believe that our roundtable on paranormal romances was published way back in the fall of 2004. Paranormals are still going strong. On the other hand, the market has changed. Back in 2004, who would have imagined that urban fantasy would have become such an influence or one of the most popular paranormal series would be about vampire heroes with names like Rhage and Zsadist? Or that fantasy and SF romances would have come on so strong? At the same time, there are always plenty of fans who are sick of the paranormal and wish it wouldn’t take up so much shelf space because they can’t imagine what’s so attractive about a vampire or a werewolf, just as there are readers who can’t get into fantasy or SF romances because the worlds seem so foreign.

Shiloh Walker, Linnea Sinclair, Eve Silver, and Meljean Brook join us in this discussion. Like many of today’s paranormal authors, Walker was first e-pubbed, by a publisher of erotic romance. She drove her stake into the paranormal field when it was just heating up, sexually speaking. Her third published romance, an epubbed book, was a paranormal with a ghost. Her fourth or fifth was a vampire book, the first of the Hunters series. At that time, the ebook industry was more open than print to paranormal and futuristic romance stories, although, the author declares, “I don’t follow the trends as much because I write what is in my head and my head doesn’t pay attention to trends very well.” That Hunter book caught the attention of an editor at Berkley, and that’s how she became a print author. While she’s written about vamps, her paranormals have also included everything from a cross between urban fantasy/alternative reality/sci fi to psychics. Because of this, and because her editors and readers understand that she writes in multiple genres, she has never been boxed in. Paranormal/fantasy author Brook may be different because she got published after the trend had already become hot. On the other hand, as a reader, she remembers “those days when it was near impossible to find a paranormal book.”

Silver started out writing historical Gothics, and she’s finishing her fourth one and coming up with ideas for her fifth, so those are still going strong. She also writers dark contemporary paranormals as Eve Silver, and as Eve Kenin, has now published her first speculative action romance for the SHOMI imprint, which earned DIK status at AAR last week. But she doesn’t see this as jumping on a bandwagon – she writes the stories that pop into her head. She didn’t write Driven because of marketing or a bandwagon but because the story spoke to her and demanded to be written, and she finished it before she knew about Dorchester’s new SHOMI imprint. But she’s glad the book found a home there because SHOMI is perfect for that book. “Because, let’s face it, there aren’t too many post-apocalyptic, trans-Siberian trucker romances out there right now.” What about Demon’s Kiss, her first dark paranormal? She wrote it because her agent pointed out that her dark tone might work for a paranormal. She loved paranormals but hadn’t thought of writing one before, but once given the idea, the story and characters sprang to life.

Sinclair first wrote a fantasy novel, Wintertide, back in the early 1980s, before the days of word processing and the Internet. However, at 65,000 words, it was way too short for a novel, and it was rejected. It wasn’t until 1999 that she got back into writing – and submitting. She published Wintertide with LTDBooks, a reputable e-and trade paperback publisher that only recently closed its doors, and stayed with them until Bantam Spectra bought Finders Keepers. By that time, SF romance had become popular again, thanks to authors such as JAK, Susan Grant, Dara Joy, Catherine Asaro. Sinclair thinks the field is still growing and that cross-genre books have made the market even more complex.

Where do all those new readers come from? Walker thinks readers have been influenced by TV shows such as Buffy, Charmed, and Angel. Also, some readers have been lured over to paranormal romance because they were fans of cross-genre authors, such as Laurell K. Hamilton, and they started looking for similar books. As far as deeper reasons, she admits that she’s not the best person to ask because she reads for pure entertainment and doesn’t dwell a lot on why some books appeal to her and others don’t.

Sinclair thinks readers have been influenced by both the media and deeper issues. What did most of us grow up watching? Talking animals such as Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Fairies such as Tinker Bell. Not to mention Mr. Ed, I Dream of Jeannie, Lost in Space, My Favorite Martian, and of course, Star Trek (from the original to Enterprise, with ten movies inbetween) . Younger readers had reruns of those shows plus Dark Shadows, Battlestar Galactica, StarGate, Beauty and the Beast, Firefly and Serenity, and more. Paranormal and SF/F (let’s call them PSF) stories have been with us for a long time, but popular media such as TV means that “instead of twenty villagers sitting around a hearth listening to a bard’s tale of a talking horse, we had Mr. Ed on television being beamed out to hundreds of thousands of viewers.” Sinclair thinks the rise in PSF romance is a result of growing up surrounded by those stories.

But what about those deeper issues? Sinclair believes paranormals stories address “our curiosity about ‘the other’ – the other being anything other than ourselves but more so in paranormal, being something vastly different from ourselves, and yet alike. I know. Confusing. But if you look at ancient fables, the players in these tales were often gods with magical powers, animals with magical powers, inanimate objects with magical powers…gee, do we see a trend? I think as human beings we have an innate curiosity about the ‘fantastical other’ as something against which we compare (or contrast) our mundane lives. It addresses wish fulfillment: something or someone more powerful fixes what’s wrong. It gives us hope. It also gives us something to aspire toward.” Some series, like Star Trek, work because the creators can take a fantastic world and make it mundane by making it relate to our current issues. Others, like Buffy, work because despite the fantastic elements, the setting is familiar.

Brook doesn’t think paranormal romance is hot because of shows like Buffy – instead, she thinks shows like that made paranormals more accessible to a wider audience. Like many romance fans, she’s seen readers say that they don’t “get” paranormals. Many focus on the inhuman characteristics, such as cold skin, blood drinking, or an animal form. “But it isn’t as hard to understand why some readers might find vampires sexy after watching Angel or Spike fall for the Slayer.” That, of course, doesn’t mean readers just want Buffy clones. Instead, Buffy humanized the monsters for a lot of viewers. Viewers who once viewed the vampire as cold and dead now realized that they could be heroes. Because of shows like Buffy, or before that, Dark Shadows and Forever Knight, readers who passed up paranormals in the past might have picked it up and fallen in love with the genre.

Brook also believes that “the popularity of paranormals is an offshoot of – or perhaps a complement to – the rise in popularity of sexually explicit romances. “These trends also reflect society. Behaviors once thought of as deviant or fringe are now becoming accepted. Just as Buffy humanized vampires for many readers, erotic romances humanized certain types of sexual relationships, letting readers become more comfortable about exploring their fantasies. This is about more than just the lure of bondage or threesomes, but the dangerous yet sexy lure of the other. Characters not only explore the other (be it vampires, werewolves, faeries, or even demons), they eventually “embrace it and defeat it (either by mastering and domesticating whatever was deemed dangerous, or showing that it isn’t the Evil it was originally thought to be.)” This is an appealing fantasy, much like the fantasy of taming an alpha hero or becoming the woman who reforms a rake. As powerful as taming an alpha can be, embracing and taming a vampire or a demon is even more powerful. At the same time, while Brook loves hotter romances, she only likes them if the hotter elements fit the story and characters. She doesn’t want to read stories that are just about people boinking. She wants that emotional element there, whether or not they boink.

Walker writes erotic paranormals, and she recognizes that it’s a trend – one she thinks will level off even as more and more readers discover that they like the books after all. Yet not all readers like erotic content, and not all like the same erotic content. For example, the biggest complaint she gets from readers is about threesomes, and most of those stories don’t appear to her, either. “The book that is really going to pull me in is the one that grabbed the author by the throat and demanded she write the story for the story’s sake. not because the author saw the trend was popular and decided to take a stab it.” Like those readers, she prefers an HEA and a hero and a heroine, not a hero and a heroine and a hero. As far as the level of sensuality goes, she’s seen complaints coming from both sides. While readers of her mass market books have been surprised by the heat level in her books, no one has exactly… complained. On the other hand, some readers have complained that some of her books aren’t as hot as expected. But she can’t help that – not everything she writes is going to be blazing hot. She gets bored writing the same type of subgenre. Sure, some of her books will be hotter than others, but she doesn’t write them just to make them hot – she writes them the way the play out in her head. If the story calls for it, she’ll make it hot, but if not, she’s not going to force it. She’d rather be true to her story. Just as not every Walker book is burning hot, not every PSF book is hot. Sinclair’s books aren’t erotic, and so far, no one has complained (she’s even won a RITA). She does include intense sexual tension – just not the graphic element. She even fades to black a lot. On the other hand, she does think the erotic elements of PSF romance have brought some interesting twists into the field.

Just as the lines between erotic romance and romance have blurred, the lines between genres have been blurred. This wasn’t always the case in the past. Booksellers saw the lines as very clearly delineated – books were SF or horror or romance. But now, you can have something like Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s Dream Spy, a vampire romance thriller set in outer space. I haven’t read that one, but I loved Lichtenberg’s earlier Dushau trilogy, which combined SF with an unrequited romance and managed to make a furry blue hero sound sexy. Unlike booksellers, readers don’t mind cross-genre books and can go from genre to genre, so the same reader can enjoy everything from J. D. Robb’s In Death series to the Crimson City series or Susan Grant’s recent series, which combine SF and humor. And let’s not forget Susan Squires, who has written SF romance as well as vampire romances and romantic suspense.

Sinclair believes this blurring of genres might be because on-line bookstores can shelve books under more than one category. Bricks and mortar bookstores, however, still have problems with shelving cross-genre books. “I bounce back and forth (well my books do, not me) between the SF aisles and the romance aisles.” Some stores will shelve the In Death books under romance, while others will put them under mystery or under general fiction. More recently, Lisa Shearin’s Magic Lost, Trouble Found is published as a fantasy, but Sinclair sees it as “fantasy/detective/romance/adventure with a strong snarky, almost chick-lit voice. ” Sinclair’s books range from the space opera romance of Finders Keepers to space opera romance with magic in An Accidental Goddess to her upcoming The Down Home Zombie Blues, which she describes as “Men In Black meets CSI:Miami (science fiction romance police procedural with humor!).” How does she define the subgenres? “As great books to read.” Sure, there are genre definitions, but those distinctions are for writers, editors, agents, booksellers, etc. Not for readers. Sinclair doesn’t think that readers use those distinctions, and doubts that they should. She went into how the publishing industry views futuristic romance, science fiction romance, and romantic science fiction in an interview a year or so ago: She thinks the field is still evolving.

Like Sinclair, I have watched the SF/F field evolve. I remember being so excited when the first SF/F romances came out, and then being so disappointed when most turned out to have science worthy of a 1950s “Bugs from Outer Space” movie. (Note to authors: Please learn the difference between solar systems and galaxies!) Sure, now and then you had something like Sweet Starfire by Jayne Ann Krentz, which felt like real science fiction. But a year later, I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s first SF novel, Shards of Honor, and even Sweet Starfire couldn’t hold a candle to it. Yet while I loved my SF and fantasy, I also got frustrated with the way so many of the writers handled romantic elements. Now, on the other hand, we have new publishers entering the fray, such as Tor Paranormal and Harlequin’s Luna imprint, as well as specialized small presses such as Juno Books. Editors and publishers have realized that readers who read both romance and SF/F are not mythological creatures.

Like me, Walker is an SF fan, so while she’s eager to read more SF/F romances, she’s picky about them. She wants them to be good, and at present, finds too many of them to be a bit too hokey – a problem I had with many of the earlier futuristics. (Did every hero have to be a space pirate? Did every heroine have to be as naive as a Regency miss?) .She thinks SF/F romances will become huge, and then level off until the next big trend takes over. It’s been her experience that readers of paranormals also tend to like SF/F romance, as long as they find the story appealing. Sinclair finds that her readers tend to read lots of different genres – including PSF. Some paranormal fans have admitted that they don’t want to read SF romance because they’re afraid it will be too technical – “(too many spaceships and things that blink and beep).” In those cases, she suggests that they try something that blurs the lines between SF and fantasy, such as Robin D. Owen’s Heart Mate series or her own Accidental Goddess, about a sorceress who ends up stranded on a space station. What she does find is that some types of readers will try any subgenre if the story appeals to them. For example, she picked up a lot of new readers because the hero of Games of Command was a male virgin. “I don’t think it mattered much if the story was werewolf or spaceship at that point (and they picked up Susan Grant’s How To Lose An Extraterrestrial in 10 Days for the same reason, and no, Susan and I did not coordinate creating male virgin heroes. It was just one of those crazy and fun things that happens when you write.)”

Part II

One thing that may have kept some readers away from PSF romance was the worldbuilding. Of course, all writers have to worldbuild in some way. Historical authors have to set their story in the past, whether in drawing rooms or on pirate ships. Romantic suspense writers have to make us believe in cops or SEALs and FBI agents. And many contemporaries highlight fascinating industries, from event planning to jewelry making. But PSF writers have the challenge of taking place in a whole new world, or at least an altered version of our world. That doesn’t mean they should scare you away. The best writers can plunge you right into those worlds without making you question what you’re doing there. These books can be like gateway drugs that lure readers into a genre they thought they wouldn’t like.

How does the writer do this? To Walker, the characters are all important. The writer has to pay as much attention to the characters, their relationships, and their struggles as they do to the worldbuilding. “If you concentrate on painting a mental picture for the readers so that they can see the world, hear the sound of the animals and smell the air, but you don’t focus on the people, you’re missing something important.” That world has to be more than just scenery – it had to be a part of the characters’ lives. At the same time, the world can’t be the entire story.

Sinclair approaches worldbuilding in SF romances the same way she’d approach a contemporary. “If I’m writing a novel set in present day Columbus, Ohio, I’m not going to have my character walk into her kitchen and say, ‘Oh, look! There’s my microwave oven which works by passing nonionizing microwave radiation, usually at a frequency of 2.45 GHz (a wavelength of 12.24 cm), through my food.’ (explanation courtesy of Wikipedia) Actually, prior to googling that just now, I had no idea of the wavelength frequency of a microwave and honestly, I don’t care. I know it pops my popcorn in about three minutes. That’s all I care. And that’s all my character would care about because a microwave oven is something commonplace in her world.” Similarly, in Finders Keepers, her character Chaz Bergren knows how an Imperial X7A hyperspace jump drive works because of her experience as a military space fleet pilot, but she doesn’t know them as an engineer or a drive mechanic would.

In Sinclair’s books, if her character takes something for granted, she doesn’t explain it. She uses the same rule for the political, sociological, religious, and economic structures in her worlds. After all, not every character is politically aware or even interested in politics. As an author. Sinclair keeps a lot of detail on her worlds, but she doesn’t share it with the reader unless it’s necessary because that’s one of the easiest ways to bore the reader. Yes! Exactly! Thank you, Linnea Sinclair! I wish more writers would “get” this! I have books sitting around and getting dusty because the author decided to tell me the history of several planets. Compare that to Sinclair’s Accidental Goddess, which plunges into the action on page one. On the first few pages, we learn the heroine is missing more than 300 years, that she can remove her essence out of her body, that her ship talks to her with a snarky voice inside her head, that she is on a space station, and that the people on this space ship have made her into a goddess. Whoops. Yet she manages to get all of that across without lapsing into the “As you know Bob” lectures so many authors succumb to.

Brook points out that worldbuilding is important in any romance, whether paranormal, historical, or contemporary. In all cases, it has to be an integral part of both the conflict and plot “It can’t just be a background or wallpaper; it has to be a living, breathing part of the book, influencing character, their actions, everything – so that the worldbuilding and history is a part of who they are and a seamless part of the narrative.” She also recognizes that’s the ideal. A book can have too much information, or too little. Writing a series allows the author to add complexity over the course of multiple books. But then the author runs the risk of making a world so complex that it has to be explained to new readers, so then fans risk getting bored when familiar elements are explained to them again. In all cases, however, each book in a series much have a primary plot, its own beginning, middle, and end. There can be dangling threads, but the main plot of that book must have closure. Series are common in SF and fantasy, in part because some stories are larger than a single book. “If romance adopts the complex worldbuilding of those genres, it seems natural that it also adopts some of those multiple-book formats to tell that larger story. The problem with the format and an overreaching story arc is that when a reader comes in late to the series, there will be missing pieces.” The writer has to fill in the backstory, without losing focus on the current book. This is frustrating to many readers, but others love watching the puzzle unfold over time.

Why do paranormal readers love series? Simply, readers want to see more and more of a world and revisit favorite characters. Lynn Viehl’s Darkyn books and J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books are a great example of this because readers get to know the popular characters before they star in their own books, and of course, the In Death books follow Eve and Roarke through their lives. Walker herself has created the popular The Hunters series. She says that series are popular because “When a reader loves a series… they really love a series. They want to immerse themselves in it. If the story can be told in just the pages of one story, they can’t immerse themselves in it as well.” Besides, as she points out, series give the writer more room to explore a complex world. The first book can just scratch the surface, and later books give a better glimpse of the world. I thought one great example of that was the first Sazi book by C. T. Adams and Cathy Clamp. Because the hero is thrust into a world he never knew existed, the reader gets to learn about it as he does. On the other hand, not everyone “does” series, so readers who don’t like series can still find something Sinclair is only now writing her first sequel – Shades of Dark, the follow-up to her RITA Award-winning Gabriel’s Ghost. She does enjoy writing series, but so far, Bantam has bought single titles from her.

Another growing trend is romance hybrids. These include everything from books in Harlequin’s Luna line to erotic paranormals that verge on erotica. Many readers love these genre-bending books, as long as the stories are good. But most do demand one thing – the HEA. Walker must have an HEA, although that HEA can be different from what the readers expect. For example, her summer release, Hunter’s Salvation, ended differently than what some readers expected – and most readers accepted that. On the other hand, she would never kill the hero or heroine at the end. She has killed one or two at the beginning, but that’s OK in PSF romance as long as they live happily ever after.

Brook loves “seeing the new elements brought into romance, and authors taking risks with plot, setting, and characters.” But if it doesn’t have an HEA, or at least a happy for now, ending, she doesn’t want it labeled as a romance. What’s important about the HEA isn’t whether the characters get married or have babies, but rather, she wants to know – and believe – that the love will last after the story closes. “That ‘believing’ part is where I think most readers feel the romance is suffering – and it probably is. With so much complex worldbuilding (and very likely a high-energy, action-packed plot) there isn’t much room left to believably develop a relationship. Paranormal romance might need to take a hint from fantasy: any book that complex could likely benefit from a higher word count.” As far as the HEA, that’s an issue of labeling. If it doesn’t have an HEA, it’s not, in her opinion, a romance, even if it’s strongly romantic. At the same time, if it’s not labeled as a romance, even if it doesn’t have an HEA, she thinks most romance fans will be satisfied if the story is good. As an example, many romance fans loved The Time-Traveler’s Wife, despite the ending. But if it had been labeled a romance, many more fans would have been furious about the endings, even though the story was great.

While her books are about 50% romance and 50% SF, Sinclair still includes the HEA, so romance readers do get their happy ending. At the same time, she has no problem with paranormals that don’t confirm to the traditional HEA – for example, the In Death series, where Eve and Roarke are still defining their relationship. We don’t all defined the HEA in the same way, so while some HEAs involve being married and having lots of kids, another character’s HEA might involve finding the right partner. In Sinclair’s view, paranormals and SF/F romance provide a great venue for exploring a variety of HEA endings. The only negative feedback she gets is from hard-core SF readers who don’t like romance in SF novels. “To them, an author can write about loyalty, patriotism, ambition, fear and greed but not about love. Well, I believe love is as much a part of our lives as ambition, fear and loyalty and the rest. The quest for companionship, platonic and romantic, forms a large part of what motivates us. Removing that aspect from any story seems unnatural to me.”

Phew! That cross-over audience can be a rough crowd. When one of the first paranormal romance anthologies came out, maybe in the early 1990s, an SF magazine reviewed it, and you knew they were reviewing it just to be snarky. After all, when the reviewer spotted the cover, which promised “Romance in other worlds” or something like that, he asked, “Why?” My thought was “Why not?” It was about time, and I thought the reviewer was being arrogant. Still, I knew cross-genre books would have a hard time finding fans on both sides of the genre aisle. Some SF and fantasy readers label all romantic elements, however mild, as “cheesy” or “Harlequin romance stuff” or even “smut.” So how does a writer capture that cross-over market and satisfy all types of readers? According to Walker, the books have to provide something besides the romance. While the relationship still has to be the driving force behind the story, it can’t be the only force. Something else has to be there, whether in the main plot or subplots. “A well written paranormal romance with good world building is going to appeal more than just a romance that happens to have a hero with a pair of fangs and a coffin instead of a bed.”

Sinclair believes that she satisfies readers “By giving them characters they care about, putting those characters through challenges and having those characters earn the successes they achieve.” Stories grab us because we enter their lives just when the “shhhutff hits the fan” –whether it’s emotional stuff or physical stuff or all of the above. Even more importantly, books have to be about characters who are flawed as we relate to those better. Sinclair thinks Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity series is a marvelous example of that. One of her most popular characters is Admiral Branden Kel-Paten of Games of Command, who is perfect in many ways with super human strength and super human intellectual capacity, and yet who still manages to be “an emotional train wreck.” Readers loved the dichotomy and “cared about him because of his very ineptitude.”

Silver says, “At heart, my stories are romances. But whether I’m writing historicals, paranormals or futuristics, I try to build my world in a believable and seamless manner.” For example, in Driven, she researched the science so that SF readers would not be turned off by inaccuracies, but she also balanced the SF elements with the romance. In Demon’s Kiss, she created explanations for the paranormal elements so that readers could suspend disbelief. Was she successful? She hopes so. Ultimately, that’s up to the reader.

So what’s in store for PSF romance? What’s hot, what’s not, and what’s to come? Right now, Walker sees the current trends as kick butt heroines (a trend she hopes is here to stay) and “warrior band of brothers” stories, along the lines of the Black Dagger Brotherhood books. At the same time, industry professionals warn “that there are enough vampires right now, enough shifters. I don’t think that means these are on their way out – just that they are looking for something a little different.” Sinclair says that “demon romances are hot, pardon the pun. The dark angel, the reformed fallen angel and such. Certainly a great character to work with! And fantasy/urban fantasy with snark (or a chick-lit tone) seems to be popular.” However, “the strongest proponent for any book is strong writing and a unique voice. The trendiest plotline will go nowhere if the writing isn’t there.” Brook also spots demons as the hot trend, warning that it’s too early to know whether they’ll have staying power. I’ve heard over and over that vampires are a hard sell and on the way out, but I’ve seen little evidence of that on the shelves. It might be that vampires are not enough to sell – that they have to be placed within a solid fantasy setting that includes other paranormal elements, and that will appeal to the broadest possible readership.” Overall, she believes that PSF are here to stay. She thinks the market will fluctuate so there isn’t such a glut, and that different types of stories will take over from the vampires. The subgenre itself won’t disappear, although some trends might dwindle away, just as Regency trads and Western romances have dwindled.

While paranormals are popular, anyone who follows the message boards knows that there are a lot of readers who are sick of them. Even some paranormal fans are saying “Enough already.” Fans are having a hard time finding books in other subgenres, such as contemporary romance or historicals. But paranormals? They’re everywhere, because that’s what selling (or at least certain types of them are). And some readers are angry when they see paranormals take over the shelf space in stores, or even take away the slots of authors they like. Walker understands why readers are upset. “There are often times when I am not in the mood for paranormal, and lately, I want suspense or contemporary more. The difference isn’t really much of a difference – it’s just that they are on different sides of the fence. They both want more of what they like and for the non-paranormal lover, they’re having a harder time finding it.” Though she’s a fan of paranormals, she wants more variety. She gets bored with too much of the same thing.

So just what are the numbers? Silver walks three worlds because she writes historical Gothics and dark paranormal as Eve Silver and now writes SF romance as Eve Kenin. She checked recent issues of Romantic Times. In the September issue not counting historical fiction and urban fantasy, there were 15 paranormal reviews and 32 historical romance reviews, while the August issue contained 38 historical romance reviews and 17 paranormal reviews. But what does it all come out to? In Silver’s mind, what she wants is a good book, whatever the genre. But she recognizes that other readers have different preferences, and if they think paranormals are driving out the books they like, then they are going to be concerned.

But what about the SF romance side? Those books remain far less prevalent, so Sinclair hears readers begging for more. This all comes down to reader expectations. “Some people want very here-and-now stories because of the way they identify with the characters. Others are comfortable in an ‘other’s’ skin and enjoy exploring ‘otherness.’ And while most of us read to escape, some only want a light escape and others are willing to go the whole nine yards, and more.” Reading a novel is an emotional investment. Readers “become” the characters, and not everyone likes that, especially if that character is a werewolf or a demon. This is reflected in what readers often hate about paranormals – they can’t relate to elements such as the undead or werewolves. They often think the books are out-and-out gross. And no amount of paranormals on the shelf is going to convince these readers that vampires aren’t simply gross. Brook likes paranormal as well as SF/F romance, and from her experience, most paranormal fans don’t mind branching out into urban fantasy, fantasy, and SF romance. The same readers like Christine Feehan, J.R. Ward, Anne Bishop, Kelley Armstrong, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, and Marjorie M. Liu, all of whom range from paranormal to straight fantasy to SF romance. Brook has seen few paranormal readers who avoid SF/R romances, such as readers who only want vampire books or werewolf books.

But what about fans who are sick of paranormals? Brook says that the distinction is clear – some readers like what’s on the shelves, and some don’t. “That’s not to be dismissive, but the reasons are as varied as the readers, and so although it can be boiled down to those two points, the ingredients are not so easy to discern. Some readers have a general dislike of the subgenre, and so the high number of paranormals on the market is going to be a frustration. For some fans, as the Other is normalized and accepted into the mainstream, it loses its edge – and therefore its appeal. Some fans are just burned out, because they’ve been reading too many … which happens, I think, with every subgenre of romance (regency historicals with spies, anyone?).” But the demand is there, and publishers are keeping up with demands (maybe overdoing it), and as a result, other genres are pushed aside. Over time, “as non-paranormal readers stop buying (or publishers see that money is going to be made from readers willing to spend on books in other subgenres) the publishers will begin branching out.

Whether this means less paranormals or simply more books published per year, I don’t know.” Eventually, she thinks the market will move away from paranormals, but she realizes that because publishing is S L O W, readers who want something else will be frustrated.

 

Anne Marble,
with Shiloh Walker, Linnea Sinclair, Eve Silver, and Meljean Brook

 

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