Why Paranormal Romance?

Of all the genres out there, paranormal romance is its own little niche. There are people who won’t touch it–I frequently see open calls for stories (no paranormal) or invitations for group events (no paranormals). I get it. It’s different. It’s not for everyone.

So why do I write it, when obviously the big money is on contemporary romance or even romantic suspense? Heck, historical romances are still going strong, centuries after Jane Austen gave us Pride and Prejudice. And I like these genres too–I won’t say I’d never write a contemporary romance because I probably will some day. But the real draw for me right now is paranormals and urban fantasy.

The why is simple: as someone who has felt like an outside most of her life, I’m drawn to characters who, for one reason or another fall outside the norm. Paranormal romances, and in particular shifter stories, allow me to explore what its like to be ‘other’ in a world that demands normality, while at the same time allowing me free reign to play in my imagination. I’m a huge sci-fi and mystery fan–writing paranormal romances lets me draw on that background while giving me the romance I crave.

Urban fantasy delights my imagination because I love the juxtaposition of the every day with the supernatural. J.K. Rowling gave us the magical world hidden from the world of Muggles. Harry Potter receives a letter on his eleventh birthday and discovers that he’s he’s a wizard in the making–and we go on that journey with him, learning about Hogwarts and Quidditch and Voldemort as he does. It’s brilliant storytelling. Harry is both the outsider (raised in ignorance of his heritage) and the hero–displaying abilities far beyond what would be expected of an eleven-year-old boy. Rowling’s universe is captivating, in part because it could exist side-by-side with ours and we’d never know it. And deep inside each of us is a child who wishes we’d received a letter to Hogwarts. In fact, most of us are convinced it went astray somehow. I know mine did.

Another author who uses this outsider-more-powerful-than-expected theme to great advantage is Margarita Gakis. Her Covencraft series has some of the same elements: in Trial By Fire, Jade, a naive heroine (though much older than Harry), develops the ability to spontaneously start fires with her mind. This brings her to the attention of the local coven–and she is given an ultimatum: join or be forcibly stripped of her powers. Jade is not the sort of person you force to do anything–and she’s more powerful than anyone suspects. Some things come very easily to her–dark spells that most people take a lifetime to master. I adore this series. I read Trial By Fire in a single afternoon, unable to put it down. I love that Jade is an outsider in so many ways, even to herself at times as she battles her inner demons and the very real ones living in her closet. I love too that the author explores some dark themes about control and the right to one’s self and abilities.

In fact, that’s one of the things I love most about the genre. Paranormal stories allow such wonderful scope for exploring important, uncomfortable themes on a metaphorical basis. In my upcoming Redclaw Security series, one of the themes I’ll be developing is the fear ‘normals’ have for shifters, and how even though they are more powerful than humans in many ways, this has lead shifters to hide their true natures. A new President wants to institute shifter registration–possibly even internment camps. The possible storylines this could generate are endless. *rubs hands together with evil glee*

And in my sister series, Bishop and Knight, our ‘normals’ are charged with investigating the sudden onslaught of paranormal activity at the end of WW2. The reader will go on the journey with them as they discover the real reason for the creation of shifters in a world changing faster than anyone ever expected.

Writing in this genre lets me poke fun at tropes, take my fancy on soaring flights of imagination, expand upon political and social themes, all while spinning a tale about two people falling in love.

Who wouldn’t want to write that?

Yes, he’s my Hero, but does he have to be an A*hole?

New Cowboy Boots–freeimage.com

I confess, I’ve been a little worried about the hero in my debut novel (release date hopefully sometime in August). See, the thing is: he isn’t a jerk.

Now, put that way, it sounds kind of odd, like that might be a good thing. And normally, I’d agree. But we’re talking romance novels here, and tropes exist for a reason. Readers have come to depend on their tropes. They love them and don’t want a story that disappoints them in any way.

I get that. I do. But one of the reasons for the longest time I avoided writing stories featuring women is because I grew up reading stories in which the heroines were defined by the tropes of the time. No sex without marriage and every epilogue had a baby on the way. Or if there was sex, it was only because the heroine was a) forced/seduced against her will by pirates/sheikhs/bosses/rival clan chiefs/marriage of convenience husband or other types of men who had complete domination over her or b) she was a widow. In fact, if a historical romance described the heroine as a widow in the blurb, I knew that as code for ‘there will be sex in this book.”

I didn’t recognize myself in any of these heroines.

Codes and tropes are all very well and good because they help readers identify those stories they want to read. Likewise certain genres have certain kinds of book covers, the better to help the reader spot their particular form of catnip and not waste time wading through tons of material they aren’t interested in reading. That may be even more important today, as readers have so many choices. But those older tropes were largely the ones that made me lose interest in most romances growing up, and it is only recently that I’ve come back to the genre.

I’ve been reading a lot of romances lately, in part because I desperately need that HEA, but also because I want to know what the new tropes are and how to use them. Part of that use means knowing when to turn them on their head or not use them at all. But that’s where the concern for my hero comes in.

Because he’s not a jerk. He’s not an “Alpha” male, which has always been sort of synonymous with ‘asshole’ for me. He’s not a Navy Seal, former Special Ops agent, billionaire playboy, cowboy, or arrogant anybody. Okay, so he’s a panther-shifter (that’s cool, right?) and he’s charged with protecting my heroine against unknown assassins, so he’s not a pushover, but just the same, he’s a pretty nice guy.

And I worry that will doom him with my readers.

I love opposites attract as much as the next person. That’s MY catnip: the witty repartee, the snarky banter. Give me snappy dialog and chemistry between the characters and I’ll forgive you plot holes you could drive a Mac Truck through.

One of the reasons the first couple of seasons of Castle worked so well for me was just that: the snark and banter between the lead characters. And even though practically speaking, opposites attract seldom works out as well in reality as it does in fiction, I love it just the same. I recognize it’s a trope, and it’s one I will read and write anyway.

Still, I worry my hero isn’t heroic enough. That readers will think he’s not not manly enough because he’s not a jerk. He doesn’t berate or belittle her. He is cognizant of her feelings and tries to include her in the decision-making when things get dangerously out of hand. He wants what’s best for the heroine–even if that isn’t what is best for him.

I can almost hear the reviews now:

What a wimp! You call that a hero?

I don’t know what she saw in him.

BOR-ING.

They had absolutely no chemistry together at all.

Because somehow, chemistry means slamming doors and broken whiskey bottles. Apparently it means hiding your attraction to someone by being rude and unpleasant. I recently DNF a romance 4% into the novel because both main characters were so unlikable I had absolutely no desire to see them work their differences out.

But here’s the interesting thing… today I saw someone on Twitter say they were incapable of reading any romances with military heroes at the moment because of the behavior of so many real-life military-types on Twitter. And I noted I couldn’t read billionaire romances because while it’s fun to read Cinderella stories where the billionaire saves the broke heroine from her wretched existence (wouldn’t we all like to be rescued like that?), I can’t help but think about how the billionaire became so rich–and what his politics are like. And I hate to break it to you, but I grew up around a lot of cowboys and wanna-be cowboys, and let me tell you, they are the reason I remained single as long as I did.

Does that mean these tropes are wrong or bad or passe? Not at all. It means that I can’t read certain kinds of stories at the moment. That doesn’t mean you should stop reading them (or writing them for that matter). I love marriages of convenience stories, no matter how unrealistic they are, and coming-home-for-the-holiday stories, and stories where two people who are truly different find common ground. I love Regencies, and space opera, and cozy mysteries where everyone is trapped on an island or at a house party in the snow. Sometimes I want my sex on-page, in-your-face, thrust-up-against-the-wall sex, the kind that makes you fan yourself and press a cold beverage to your forehead. Other times I want my sex implied–a saucy closing of the bedroom door or a gentle fade-to-black. My cup of tea might not be yours. That’s okay because these days, with the advent of self-publishing in particular, there are fewer limitations on storytelling. In part because men in publishing houses aren’t making all the decisions about what women can–and should–read.

If anything, it means there may be room for my kind of hero after all.

 

Leopard silhouette.