25 May 2011 ~ 3 Comments

Urban fantasy and romance

Stina Leicht, a writing colleague and friend, writes about what she thinks has happened to urban fantasy on its way to being subsumed by paranormal romance.

During my last signing at Barnes and Noble, I spent more than half my time explaining to customers that no, there aren’t any vampires in the book, the main character is male, and the only tattoos present on any character are prison tattoos. As much progress as has been made in SciFi and Fantasy circles* and in American society in general, we’ve still got a long way to go. So, let me get something off my chest here and now. As much as I’m okay with Romance’s interest in all things Fantasy, it can be, let’s just say, extremely frustrating for someone like me.

Because I don’t like Romance as a literary genre, and I never have.

And then from a blogger called Mfred there’s this rebuttal:

Which leads me to the part where I do start to feel a little bit of a gender betrayal— Leicht, wanting to both write a good novel and to be perceived as a good writer, changed her character to male and makes sure to emphasize how it’s not a romance?

Now I don’t know Mfred, but I would probably like talking about books with her. I do think that she took Leicht’s blog post too personally, and knowing Leicht, I bet that if the two of them sat down to talk they’d probably find plenty of common ground. Also, Mfred, if you are reading this, go buy Stina’s book. It’s really good  — you’ll like it. So she pissed you off — all the more reason to buy the book and find out what the hullabaloo is about.

The thing is, I agree with both of them.  I know what Leicht is talking about. I write fantasy, yet my books have romance covers (we’re setting Miss Bennet aside for the moment).  My books are not conventional romances, ie, they do not have happy endings.

As a result, I caused unhappiness in many romance readers, who were led to expect by the covers that my books would have happy and fulfilling romances. (Seriously, there were Team Joe and Team Crae. I should have sold t shirts.) For one reader at least, the fact that at the end of Gordath Wood, no one got the person they wanted ruined the book for her.  It seriously bugged her.

  • So here’s the thing — I have no control over the covers.
  • I thought I was writing fantasy, not romance.
  • My books also confound people because they don’t have very much magic in them.

I love romance — but my ideal romance is the sad romance. You know, a Mal and Inara type romance. I love serious romances, like Adam and Jenny in A Civil Contract (I always want to tell Jenny that she got the better deal, Adam really loves her, etc. I have this terrible need to comfort fictional people.)  I love romances where love isn’t fantastic sex in impossible positions but people who are damaged yet strong, who have demons (metaphorical) but overcome them.

HEA (happy ever after) endings are great too, but I love them the way I love Kitkats and Reeses peanut butter cups — too much of a good thing leads to extra pounds and a queasy feeling.

And that is where Mfred and I part company. The insistence, partly marketing and partly the readership, that Romances should have great sex and an HEA, is what makes the genre so frustrating.

One of the things  that Romance does is pigeonhole women writers. A male reader of mine wondered why Gordath Wood wasn’t considered science fiction, because it was very similar to Eric Flint’s 1632. Seriously — modern people go back in time, etc etc. Flint’s were a group of United Mine Workers from West Virginia — mine were horsewomen from New York.  His had overt alien presence, mine a portal that is an alien presence (although that doesn’t come out til Red Gold Bridge and won’t be fleshed out more til the final book in the series).

My books got pigeonholed, y’all. They got pigeonholed as fantasy because I’m a woman, and the covers further identified them as Romance. And while yes, Romance is an enormous genre, and it is the most lucrative (during the recession, the only books that sold well were Romance novels), the emphasis on certain tropes is actually confining.

It’s a big tent, but it turns out, there’s not a lot of wiggle room there.

Anyway, both blogs are thought-provoking and exciting, and there’s room for discussion and commentary. Go for it — enjoy!

3 Responses to “Urban fantasy and romance”

  1. J. Kathleen Cheney 26 May 2011 at 12:31 pm Permalink

    I SO would have bought a t-shirt! You should have ;o)

  2. Patrice Sarath 26 May 2011 at 2:05 pm Permalink

    Hee! I’ll make one special for you — which team are you?


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