Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Definition of Paranormal in the Romance Industry.

I started out writing short stories in the SF/F genre (always with a romantic element) and I soon learned that the correct term for the ‘umbrella’ of the genre is ‘speculative fiction’. This encompasses fantasy (sword & sorcery, mythical & magical creatures, alternate worlds); science fiction, which can be ‘hard’ (as in spaceships, futuristic & advance technology), or ‘soft’ (like space opera); a blend of both (as in my upcoming novel BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS), and finally horror, (which can encompass contemporary suspense or all of the above genres). Paranormal itself essentially wasn’t a genre--it just meant ghosts.

I need to add that BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS was my very first manuscript, and was released in hardcover by Thomson-Gale, a small press who sold primarily to libraries. I mention ‘upcoming’ because Sourcebooks is re-releasing it this December in mass market paperback. And because I love, love, love the new cover I’ve included it in my post.

Imagine my confusion when I joined RWA, and learned that the romance industry calls anything within the fantasy genre ‘paranormal’. BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS didn’t have a single ghost in it. A magical world, yes, where people could ingest a root called ‘zabba’ and develop incredible powers (err, there’s the touch of the SF element as well. The world is another planet that humans have colonized, and adapted to fit to the environment). It abounded with fantastical creatures and magical abilities, and yes, a bit of swordplay…but no ghosts.

I don’t know how the term ‘paranormal’ developed in the romance industry, but since it basically means anything beyond what is natural or normal, it does make sense. At the time I published MOONS there wasn’t a plethora of paranormal romance books on the shelves, and I have a suspicion that it was Christine Feehan who introduced this new genre of shapeshifter, vampires, and other fantastical creatures to the romance world (there may be others, feel free to add a mention).

But since I started in the speculative fiction community, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit of a purist. Although my books are often labeled ‘paranormal’, they are fantasies.

A reader once made the cutest comment about one of my books, she said “I’m used to normal paranormal”, and I think by that she meant the books set in the real world with hidden societies of shapeshifters, vampires, etc. (Fortunately, she did enjoy my book, even if though it wasn’t what she was expecting.)

I develop alternate worlds (primarily historical) and imbue them with magic and sword fighting and fantastical creatures based on the world I’ve created. And I do recall that one book in my RELICS OF MERLIN series had ghosts in it. In my new THE ELVEN LORDS series, the fantastical beings are elven lords with magical powers enhanced by seven sacred scepters they stole from Elfhame when they opened the rift between our world and theirs. Any other fantastic creatures are created by the elven lords, or their half-breeds, humans who inherited some of their powers. And in MOONS, there’s a bit of the science fiction element that formed the basis of that world. I would put all of my books under the umbrella of ‘speculative romance fiction’, but gracious, I think that would be even more confusing to romance readers, so ‘fantasy romance’ is what I use in describing my books.

But truly, above and beyond all else, all of my books are primarily romances. And a sensual romance is exactly what I deliver.

I just hope not too many readers are surprised when they read one of my books and find it’s not a ‘normal’ paranormal. And with more books being released similar to mine with fantasy world building, I think ‘fantasy romance’ will become a more common term. And Sourcebooks has done a truly fabulous job in marketing my books for what they truly are.

And there’s that old saying, “A rose by any other name…”

Would you be surprised if you purchased a ‘paranormal romance’ and found it wasn’t similar to books you have read in that genre? Or do you not particularly care about categories, only the story blurb on the back of the book? I’d love to hear your opinion!

My Magical Best,
Kathryne

PS. Be sure to check out my contest to celebrate the upcoming release of BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS, with over $240 in prizes: http://www.kathrynekennedy.com/contest.html

31 comments:

  1. Can't wait to read your books, Kathryne! Well, for me, I'm eclectic, so I read everything! I love different, so that's fine with me.

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  2. Great info, Kathryne. I like paranormal of all types, but ironically, most of what I read isn't paranormal. It gets confusing about what defines paranormal. My stories have normal hero and heroine, other than they're secret warriors with some unique abilities, and the stories are set in the normal world, except there are demons running around, disguised as humans, trying to destroy the world. Well, maybe I see where the paranormal comes in, but honestly, to me it just feels like romantic suspense.

    I do like all different genres, and I wouldn't mind if I purchased a book and it was slightly different that what I expected as long as I liked the book. I'm relying on that myself, because I'm a tad worried that readers will think my series is historical. Once they read the blurb, I think they'll get that it's a time travel, and while one character may be historical, the story is set in the modern world.

    I love the new cover as well. Can't wait to read it.

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  3. Kathryne,

    I'm heartened to see at least one person call the so-called paranormal genre fantasy. To me that's a far more accurate label--not that I think my opinion matters in the great scheme of things.

    And oh, I love that cover! I don't usually pay much attention to them, but I think I'd buy the book on the strength of the cover alone.

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  4. That is a sensational cover! Love the colors, the type...everything. And I love genre-bending books of all kinds.

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  5. Great overview, Kathryne! One of the things that I've discovered when talking about my book with people who aren't in the industry is that most of them don't know these terms - and most of them frankly don't care. I'd describe my book as an urban fantasy with and watch their eyes simply glaze over. I'd try again: "It's a paranormal romance, except-" "Oh, vampires? You mean like 'Twilight'?" "Um, no. Well, kinda. But..."

    "What is your book about?" We all know how tough it is to craft a query or pitch which answers this question when it's asked by someone with whom we share a publishing vocabulary. But I'm still looking for a good way to answer this question for the muggles in my life. "A sci-fi romance series" seems to be the best I've come up with so far.

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  6. Love the post Kathryne. I've found that the love story is what intrigues me ... the emotions that can stir my heart to beat a little faster, laughter to bubble up or tears to flow. And that's the same in paranormal, fantasy, suspense, cowboys, hot rock stars or regency. The dialogue changes; the place and time and world changes. But the emotions are consistant and that's what brings our readers back for more!

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  7. Hi Kathryne~

    Love the cover and I can't wait to read it.

    I love to read all genres, and if a book is different in a good way, that's not a problem for me.

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  8. I don't care much about what the industry says. I get tired of those "rules." I do appreciate a well-written back cover so I can decide based on that and maybe reading a few pages or an excerpt online.

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  9. Hi Terry! As long as the author sucks me in and doesn't let go, I'm with you, I'll read any genre!

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  10. I've always heard that sci fi got thrown in with paranormal just to give it a more "romantic" label. However, I don't think "paranormal" sounds particularly romantic, either. "Fantasy" does. In fact, I would take it one step further and say that ALL romances are fantasies! ;-)

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  11. You're right about that Cheryl. :-)

    I remember needing to explain to the SEALs who advised me that most romances, including SEAL-romances, start with a setup that wouldn't happen in a million years!

    A novel set in another galaxy isn't really any more fantastic.

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  12. Hi Anita! Your book sounds like mine, a blending of genres. Can't wait to read it!!

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  13. Oh, Mary Margaret, I just love what SB did with the cover as well!! So glad you agree. :}

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  14. Hi Joanne! Apparently we are kindred spirits. :}

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  15. Hi Tamara! I always refer to my books as historical fantasy romance. If it's a non-industry person, I always use a movie for comparison, it never fails. For The Elven Lords series, I use "A sexy Legolas in Lord of the Rings". For Moons, I say Avatar (and I still think they read my book before they made the movie. lol)

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  16. I don't call them rules, Shana, I call them guidelines. ;}

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  17. In the true sense of the word, I heartily agree, Cheryl.

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  18. LOL, Mary Margart! Again, I agree. We all seem to have like minds about the subject. :}

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  19. My apologies for misspelling your name, I was just typing too fast. That was Mary Margret.

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  20. Great post, Kathryne. I enjoyed Enchanting the Lover.

    I don't like to think of any paranormal as normal. Just that each has their own form of magick.

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  21. I wonder if the day will come when RWA splits out its paranormal category into subgenres for its RITA and Golden Heart awards. The paranormal category as it stands right now has paranormal, UF, Sci-fi, fantasy, etc. all glommed into a single, hyper-competitive category. Who knows what the future will bring?

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  22. Hi Linda! I'm not sure if you mean The Fire Lord's Lover, or Enchanting the Lady, but thank you kindly for the ocmpliment. :}

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  23. Authors like us will bring it, Tamara. :}

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  24. It's always seemed odd to me that romances that I would qualify as fantasies are considered paranormal. I hope someday the RWA acknowledges some of the differences.

    Can't wait to read your books!

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  25. Hi Abigail! I'm sure it will happen someday. :}

    And thanks a million!

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  26. That was fascinating. I had no idea how the term was used in romance, but in a way it's kind of nice to see one term cover more instead of the plethora of different subcategories.

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  27. I love fantasy worlds! Add romance and it's even better. I do think the umbrella of paranormal romance is too broad and readers expect their paranormal to mostly be vampire/shapeshifter type things. I'm not sure if it should be broken up into finer categories, but it would be easier for a reader to find the exact subgenre they are looking for. SF and F are not paranormal in my eyes either. They are SF and F. So in my opinion, SF romance and F romance should get their own catagories. In non-romance, those vampires and werewolves would be classified as horror so I don't think they'll ever call them horror romances. I do understand the need to label them as paranormal in that case.

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  28. Thank you for your comment, Sheila. It's fascinating to hear such different viewpoints!

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  29. Hi Olivia! I think authors are broadening the horizons of romance very day, and it might take a while for the industry to catch up with us. But that's a good thing, yes? :}

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