Genre Conventions, I Defy You

One of my current favorite shows on TV is Jane the Virgin, a clever, satirical romance-drama-telenovela hybrid that is one of the smarter shows I’ve seen in the last few years. It breaks down romance and soap opera conventions while still playing within the rules of the category: even as it pokes fun at the rules of the telenovela, it abides by them. The result, while cheesy at first glance, is magnificently self-aware, snarky, and satisfying, because it trusts an audience aware of the conventions it explores.

Without getting spoilery, the first episode of the new season looks at the expectations of the romance reader/viewer, specifically that magic component, the HEA. (That’s Happily Ever After in romance lingo, for those of you who aren’t in the know.) When readers pick up a novel in the romance section of the bookstore, they expect, by and large, a happily ever after, whatever that may look like: a wedding, a baby, a kiss, a couple together forever. When writers break with that convention, it seems to create two primary results: extreme disappointment or flat-out awe at the creator of such a groundbreaking work.

As writers, most of us aren’t lucky enough to land in the second category. It takes a deft hand to write a tragic romance or a sci-fi with magical components, and it takes a truly visionary editor to find a way to sell those genre-bending pieces.

So what makes one of the successful convention-defying pieces work? Often, it’s the tricks that make all great pieces of media stand out, like great characters, compelling conflicts, and gorgeous writing. But I think there’s a secret ingredient that Jane the Virgin has unwittingly revealed: self-awareness.

While Jane the Virgin works within the rules of the telenovela, and would likely alienate its audience if it tried to tell a true tragedy, its self-awareness turns it from a typical soap opera into a deconstruction of a soap opera. By pointing out and exploring the rules of its genre, it tells a deeper story because it looks at why we have certain expectations of genre fiction. The audience becomes a part of the story.

Any time we engage with a work of fiction, we bring to it our own circumstances, our history, and our particular wants and needs. I might pick up a romance novel because I need to see that happily ever after; you might pick up a fantasy novel because you want an escape. If an author denies us the defining characteristic we are expecting from a work we’ve engaged with, they are often denying to meet our needs. But when they find a way to satisfy those needs while still surprising us, that’s when conventions become secondary to story and art is born.

What are your favorite genre-defying stories? How does genre expectation influence your reading of a particular work?

How a book saved my life…

As I’m writing this post, I’m suffering from a huge book hangover. (“Suffering” in the best possible way.) Be warned.

reading gif

This morning I stumbled on a Two Nerdy History Girls blog post about a doll. Not just any doll, though. A Well Loved Georgian Doll and Her Wardrobe, c.1790. The thing about this doll is, not only did she survive intact from 1790, despite being designed and utilized as a child’s plaything, but so did her extensive wardrobe.

Reading the post slammed me right back to the age of ten, when Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess was one of my favorite books. Do you remember that story? Sara Crewe is brought to London by her wealthy father, who leaves her at a boarding school and returns to India. To keep her “company”, he buys her the most extravagant doll, with velvet dresses and lace underthings an even a fur coat – just like the doll in the post!

Back in the day, that book carried me away to Victorian London, to a lost little girl living in a garret, and by the way fueled way too many rescue fantasies.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit that last bit in public.

At any rate, a simple blog post brought back a flood of feelings for a book I haven’t though about in years. Which started me thinking about other books that have stayed with me, or turned up in key moments. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which taught me to love historical fiction. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which showed me the possibilities inherent in one man’s imagination. The Vampire Lestat, which sowed the seeds for ideas I’m still working through.

I’m old enough to have a head full of gray hair, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities for one  book to change the course of my life. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’ve got many, many key memories linked to the books I was reading at the time. My 20s, when I devoured Michener and The Thornbirds, and Dune. My early 30s, when I attempted to raise my brow with literary fiction(ish) books like A.S. Byatt’s Possession. My 40s, when I basically realized I didn’t have to impress anybody, and allowed myself to indulge my love of genre fiction.

(Thank you Janet Evanovich. You rock.)

Beyond the big, broad strokes memories, I have some very specific connections. The sweet, cozy romance I read one harrowing night in an ER while waiting for a kid to be admitted to the hospital. (And I honestly don’t remember the name of the book, but it kept me from losing my mind.) Sitting in front of a huge stone fireplace on the Sunday evening of a Gregorian chant retreat, absolutely devouring Dead Until Dark, the first Sookie Stackhouse mystery. And before you laugh at my choice of reading material for a chant retreat, that was the book that made me say, “I want to DO that.”

And so a writer was born.

More recently, there was the time I went for a pedicure and decided to play Kindle-kamikaze, where I scrolled through, opened a book at random, and started reading. I picked a book called Scrap Metal by Harper Fox. I still don’t remember when or why I downloaded this book, but at the time I was somewhat startled to realize the POV character was just as male as the man he’d got down on his knees in front of. Scrap Metal was the first m/m romance I ever read, and it opened me up to a whole new world of fiction.

Which brings me to my current sorry state. I am SO hungover, you guys. Was up till all hours, reading one of the best books ever! Just thinking about it gives me little shivers. Also, tbh, I needed the distraction after spending most of the evening dealing with teenager drama. Mom needed a mental health break, and this book was the perfect answer.

The book? A Gentleman’s Position, book 3 in the Society of Gentlemen series by KJ Charles. You could read this one as a stand-alone, but really, one of the great pleasures of the series is how the stories are linked. Events that happen in one book are retold in the next, from different characters’ perspectives and carrying different levels of impact. It’s fascinating and elegantly done and adds so much to the stories overall.

If I had more space between these books and this post, I would have done something on how the trilogy, along with the prequel The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, comprise a masters’ class in plotting. Not only are the stories interwoven, they’re constructed around actual historical events. For me as a reader it felt effortless. None of the seams showed.

As a writer, it blew me away.

I guess a more accurate title for this post would have been How Books Saved My Life, because they have, time and again. I’m going to let the original stand, though, because on any given day, there’s been ONE book that’s made a difference.

What book is that for you?

(And Nan, thanks for the tag.)

 

Genre Crossover

I would like to do an informal poll this week. It’s regarding genre crossing. I’ve come across a few authors who can write both paranormal/urban fantasy and contemporary quite well. But recently, I found an author who can not only write both well, she’s managed to fully develop two series, one a contemporary and one an urban fantasy, in the same world. The characters from both series intermingle, are even related to each other in some cases. This, to me, is quite impressive.

At first I chose not to read the new series, the urban fantasy, because I was so unsure of how it would work. Now, I’m glad I did and can’t wait to read more. It takes talent to be able to meld both fantasy and contemporary into the same world and make it believable for the reader. As an author who loves to write both, I think seeing this in reality is a major win.

So my informal poll…what are your thoughts on crossing genres in the same world? Would you read the books or would you shy away from one or the other?

By the way…if you want to check out the series I’m talking about…the author is Candace Blevins. I will tell you, her contemporary series is very heavy in BDSM and the books are intense. The paranormal series isn’t quite as intense, but still very hot!

Which Box Do You (and Your Book) Fit Into?

book-genreLately I’ve been thinking a lot about the proliferation of genres in the publishing world. When did we get so freaking many and why has it gotten to this level of craziness?

When I was young, there was fiction/literature, mystery, western, romance, sci-fi/fantasy, horror, children’s, teen (which was barely one shelf, not its own section like it is now), and non-fiction (which of course had its subsets by subject).

For the reading public, I doubt those have changed much.

But if you’re in the industry, oh Lord, that is just the beginning. Now we have (in addition to those mentioned above) suspense/thriller, women’s fiction, chick lit, steampunk, literary fiction (I STILL don’t know what that is), historical fiction, urban fantasy, paranormal (sometimes romance, sometimes not), dystopian, cozy mysteries, middle grade, picture books, chapter books, new adult, new fiction (a new one to me as of a few days ago; apparently it covers the 25-30 age range between new adult and adult), and on and on. And for writers, each one of these comes with specific parameters your book has to meet in order to be classified as such.

monk-weirdIt all makes me want to yell: “FFS! (For f***’s sake) STOP!” I realize that publishers have to know how to target their audience and market a book, but this is has gone beyond that to OCD levels even Monk would find weird.

It’s also really hard on writers. Most of us don’t start out saying, “I’m going to write a steampunk space opera with paranormal elements and some romance targeted at the new fiction market.” (And even if we did, we’d have problems because that doesn’t fit into a nice, neat little box. More on that in a minute.) We start out saying, “I have this story in my head and I’m going to put it down on paper so other people can enjoy it.” Period. End of story. We probably know its general genre, but that’s about it. It used to be an agent/publisher’s problem to deal with how it was classified. Now, if we write a book that isn’t easily put into a marketing template, we risk it not selling to a traditional publisher.

Why am I harping on this? Because I have a book that doesn’t fit nicely into any of the traditional descriptions. It is a love story – plain and simple. I call it a romantic comedy because that’s what it would be if it was a movie (and it is pretty darn funny, if I do say so myself). I wrote it for myself and for others like me who are over 30 and have yet to find our happily ever after, not thinking too much about whether it was a romance, women’s fiction or chick lit. Here’s the feedback I’ve gotten from publishing industry professionals on those categories:

  • Romance – It doesn’t follow the usual structure or tropes and is written in first person, so it’s not easy to put in that category.
  • Women’s fiction – It may not have enough “other” subject matter beyond the love story to qualify as women’s fiction.
  • Chick Lit – It’s light and fun, but it’s also smart and deals with issues beyond sex, shopping, etc., (namely education and how we make books and writing relevant for the next generation in a digital world) so it may not fit there.

books in boxesGuys, I’m scared  to death this book won’t ever get published because it doesn’t fit into a nice, neat little box. I know I can always self-publish it, but I’m not ready to consider that yet and I really want to get it out there traditionally.

Then I look at the next contemporary book I want to write and it’s got paranormal elements (but no creatures) and a strong love story, yet deals with issues of mental illness and drug abuse. How am I going to market that?

(Even historical fiction has some of these same questions, but with that genre it depends what time period is currently selling. If you write a book set in an unpopular location or time period, you’re going to have trouble selling it.)

In some ways, this quandary isn’t new. When Diana Gabaldon sold Outlander in 1991 no one knew what to do with it. It started out in present day, but was primarily historical, but also had time travel in it and a romance. The publisher who eventually took a chance on it couldn’t decide where to shelve it. Eventually they stuck it in romance. Now it is acknowledged as blurring genre lines.

I don’t know about the rest of my fellow writers, but I can’t make myself write books that fit into neat categories just so they are easy to market. I guess this is my plea to the industry to please ease up on the specificity of genre restrictions when you’re deciding whether or not you know what to do with a book. As authors, we aim to give you a great story and try to make your marketing life easy, but sometimes the lines aren’t as clear as any of us would like.

I know everything in life is getting specialized from the content we’re served on the Internet to the TV programming we watch, but there is such a thing as going too far. Sometimes, fiction is just fiction and love is just love. Sometimes not everything needs to fit in one box.

Thoughts? Reactions? Comments? Please share!

Coming of Age

a5dd6-mostwonderfulstorybellegifIt’s no secret that I both read and write a lot of young adult literature spanning a variety of sub-genres. There’s no single reason that I favor this genre above others, and sometimes it can be difficult to explain to others why so many of the novels closest to my heart happen to be YA. But if I have to choose the most important reason, it is the element of growth and transformation that is the hallmark of most great YA literature.

The teenage years are a terrifying, turbulent, and often excruciating time. Childhood fades into the past as adulthood looms alarmingly close. Emotions run high, borne on the rushing tide of hormones and naively conceived expectations. First loves and newfound joys are all-consuming; disappointments and heartbreaks are earth-shattering. And amid the elation and tragedy and pride and loneliness, there is transformation. Young adult literature is overwhelmingly about this coming-of-age metamorphosis from childhood to adulthood that every person must survive.

Classically known as a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story follows the development of a young individual as they navigate the unfamiliar world of adulthood. Evolving from folklore tales of the dunce or youngest son venturing from home to seek his fortune, the genre often features an emotional difficulty that triggers the difficult journey towards maturity and understanding necessary for the character’s self-growth.

freaksNot every young adult novel follows this formula precisely, but the basic format of the coming-of-age story is overwhelmingly present in the genre. Think of the last YA novel you read. I can almost guarantee that regardless of whether it featured vampires or werewolves, witches and wizards, or regular old angst-ridden teenagers, it mostly told the story of a young person overcoming difficulties and growing into someone stronger, wiser, and more mature than they were before.

Granted, the modern coming-of-age story is a lot different than the classic bildungsroman. Tom Jones and Pip Pirrip and Jane Eyre have been replaced by Katniss Everdeen and Harry Potter and Hazel Grace Lancaster, teens whose worlds threaten them with actual physical dangers in addition to the emotional pangs and situational difficulties of growing up. Teens who occupy dystopias and paranormal worlds and modern cities, who face monsters and villains and cancer and sex.

But in the end, are these stories so different from the classic journeys of growth and self-discovery written two hundred years ago? And are we as readers any less fascinated by the complications of young adulthood and the turbulent teenage years? I don’t think so, because really, the coming-of-age story has no expiration date. Aren’t we all coming-of-age in some way or another long after our difficult teen years are long past, seeking positive transformations in our lives, trying to grow and change with each passing year?

Coming-of-age isn’t something a person grows out of, no matter their age. And that’s why I don’t think a person ever grows out of young adult literature, either. Because the difficulties faced by the teens in YA novels are metaphors for our own difficulties as we seek to grow and change well into adulthood.

Do you enjoy the coming-of-age genre? Why do you think YA literature has experienced a boom in recent years? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Magical Realism or Fantasy?

I read a lot. And although these days I often stick to the genre that I myself write in (i.e. YA fantasy) I do try to read widely and deeply in a variety of genres. What this usually means in practice is that in between books I actively seek out, I pick up random books at used bookstores or I take a stab at whatever the husband has just finished reading.

Neil Gaiman's latest novel.
Neil Gaiman’s latest novel.

This month, I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart back to back. While these two books come from very different places topically and thematically, they do share one distinction; they have both been assigned the rather particular designation of magical realism. And as I pondered the metaphysical oceans, metaphorical cats, and mirrored worlds that appear in both of these books under different guises, I couldn’t help but think to myself: What exactly is the difference between magical realism and straight up fantasy?

Many authors and readers don’t see a big difference. Terry Pratchett once quipped that magical realism “is like a polite way of saying you write fantasy.” Gene Wolfe humorously said that “magic realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish” (referring, of course, to seminal works of magical realism by authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Luis Borges). On the other hand, some critics and readers see a massive difference in terms of literary “quality;” magical realist authors like Murakami, Kafka, and García Márquez have been accepted by critics into the pantheon of literary writers, while major fantasy authors like J. K. Rowling and even Neil Gaiman are solidly considered “genre literature.”

Fantasy or magical realism? You be the judge!
Fantasy or magical realism?
You be the judge!

In my mind, I think the difference between the genres comes down to rules. In traditional fantasy, the author presents a whole new universe to the reader, complete with a system of logic, physical laws, and metaphysical laws that must be followed. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind  is a great example of a systematic fantasy; the magic his characters employ is bounded by a comprehensive system of checks and balances that rivals real-world physics in complexity.

In magical realism, however, magical elements blend with reality to create an atmosphere that is at once familiar and nonsensical, in an effort to access a deeper understanding of reality. These magical elements are presented in a straightforward manner with no effort made to explain how they could be occurring in the “real” world. In García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, bizarre things like ghosts, heavenly ascensions, insomnia plagues, telekinesis, prophecies and family members returning from the dead are mentioned without consequence or special significance.

In short, fantasy relies on verisimilitude, or the extent to which a narrative appears likely or plausible. Fantasy presents its readers with a strange world that, by merit of its laws, could be real. Magical realism, on the other hand, challenges our knowledge of what is “real” by introducing unlikely or implausible elements to a seemingly normal universe. The world we thought we knew is gone, replaced by a simulacrum, a fake world that, by virtue of its allegorical existence, leads us closer to truth.

Magical realism is often more surreal than fantasy
Magical realism is often more surreal than fantasy

There is a continuum, of course. Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind falls on one end of the spectrum, a pure systemic fantasy. Nearly every fantastical element–magic, prophecy, myth–is explained and categorized. Something like Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle exists close to the other end of the spectrum. The author makes almost no effort to explain the fantastical elements; empty wells and missing wives and real dreams exist as perfect allegories, existing insofar as the reader deems them meaningful.

And books like Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife? Those books exist somewhere in the middle, treading the uncanny valley between reality and fantasy.

But let’s be honest; whether it’s pure magical realism, pure fantasy, or somewhere in between, I’ll still read it.

Where do you think the line between fantasy and magical realism is drawn? Do you have any favorite magical realism books or authors? Share your comments below!

Have Your Cake and Read it, too!

Happy Monday, all. I hope this makes you smile.

I was going to write about vampires since it’s close to Halloween, but then my agent RT’d this gem by Nick Harkaway, “Genres and Cake.” Go read it. Go! In case you didn’t listen to me, in the blog post he takes a hypothetical novel plot involving cake and shows how it changes as the genre changes. It’s seriously brilliant.

When I first clicked on the link, I thought he was going to show how different genres are like different types of cake. Since that wasn’t his point, I decided to make it mine. (This is supposed to be both thoughtful and funny, so I hope it ends up that way.) In my mind, if the genres of fiction were cake, they would be:

Mainstream fiction: Regular vanilla or chocolate cake, you know, like American birthday cake. There are a million ways to dress it up or down and customize it to your own tastes, yet you pretty much know what you’re going to get. A solid bet when you’re not in the mood for anything adventurous. Devils-Food-Birthday-Cake
Christian/religious fiction: Angel food cake. It’s a nice play on words, plus it really is cake without the guilt, just as the genre is fiction without the darker parts of other writing. Angel_food_cake_with_strawberries_(4738859336)
Young adult: Ice cream cake. It’s different from its adult counterparts, loved by kids (and their parents) and may even be mistaken as frivolous, but watch out, it’s addicting! Culinique_Ice_Cream_Cake
Romance: Dobos cake. Made in Hungary, this is spongecake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel slices. If that doesn’t make you fall in love, I don’t know what will! 128px-Dobos_cake_(Gerbeaud_Confectionery_Budapest_Hungary)
Erotica: While everyone probably has a different answer for this one, I’m going with the Latin Tres Leches cake. Three types of milk, plus a cake base equals sticky heaven. Make your own inappropriate jokes; I’m keeping mine to myself. 320px-Tres_leches_cake
Thriller: Opera cake. This French gateau, with it’s ganache, sponge cake and espresso syrup has an air of sophisticated mystery that will keep you wired long after you should have taken a break. Tartine_bakery_opera_cake_in_2007
Historical Fiction: Linzer torte. This Austrian pastry may look like a pie, but it’s supposedly the oldest existing cake recipe, dating to 1696. And as someone who grew up on the stuff, I can tell you there’s a yummy reason it has stood the test of time. linzer torte
Literary Fiction: Fruitcake. That’s not meant to be an insult. It’s something that takes a lot of skill and hard work to make palatable. Done well, it is an experience you won’t ever forget. Unfortunately, not everyone has the skill to make it correctly and it’s earned an undeserved bad reputation because of it. Fruechtebrot
Horror: Depression cake. Made without milk, butter, sugar, or eggs, it is my idea of a nightmare. Some people probably would say fruitcake here, too. depression cake
Mystery: Pineapple upside-down cake. Everything about this cake is a mystery. Why pineapples? Why is it upside down? Who thought of this and why? Fruit cake qualifies here as well. Pineapple-upside-down-cake
Fantasy: Black Forrest Cake. With it’s ties to Bavaria, fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm, there really is no other choice among mainstream cakes. But you can always make up your own – that’s what fantasy is for! 128px-Black_Forest_gateau
Science Fiction: Sakotis (Lithuanian). Look at this thing! It is not of this world! 166px-Šakotis_3799
Women’s fiction: Death by Chocolate or any other form of layered chocolately goodness. I know I’m being stereotypical here, but ladies, I think we can agree that most people associate us with chocolate – and for the most part with good reason. Chocolate_cake_-_be_Ehud_Kenan
Alternate History/Speculative Fiction: What if it really isn’t cake at all, but pie, or maybe even a scone?! No_calorie_French_tarts_(8437229351)

Man, now I’m hungry!

(FYI – All photos are from Wikimedia Commons, except for Depression Cake, which comes from Dinner at Christina’s)

So, what type of cake is your book (the one you’re reading or writing)? What did I miss on the cake list? Agree? Disagree? Anything you would add/change? What’s your favorite kind (book or cake)?

Pleasure in Fear: the Horror Genre

It’s Hallowe’en month, otherwise known as October! Hope you enjoy my take on the horror genre.

Word to the wise: don't google "under bed scary."
Word to the wise: don’t google “under bed scary.”

When I was about eight, a babysitter (who had apparently not been briefed on my parents’ ban on all things violent and scary) told me a scary story at bedtime. It was a variation on a classic theme: a young girl is left home alone with no one but her faithful dog. She is woken in the middle of the night by the sound of a leaky tap in the bathroom, but is too frightened to get up and shut it off. She reaches down to her dog, who licks her hand in reassurance. She drifts off to sleep. When her parents arrive home the next day, they find their daughter murdered in her bed, and her faithful dog gutted and dripping in the shower. A cryptic message is scrawled across the wall in blood: Humans can lick too.

With the wisdom granted by adulthood, I can now see that there are some glaring inconsistencies in this story. For instance, why would the murderer slay the girl’s dog and then hide under her bed for an indeterminate amount of time? Was he hoping for the opportunity to lick her hand? Did the message hold some kind of significance for her parents, and if not, why bother writing it? Neither the cleverest nor the most original tale, I’m afraid. But despite all that, I can say with complete honesty that this story terrified me.

Scared. Me. Shitless.

For a good year or two after hearing that story I religiously checked my closet for the bevy of hand-licking psychos I was certain were after me. The thought of what would happen if I ever actually discovered one of these palm-laving crazies never really entered into the equation. Perhaps he would stomp a foot in frustration and slink out into the night to lurk under some other little girl’s bed while I slept soundly, triumphant in the knowledge that he would never lick my hand.

But, I digress. I also proceeded to tell the terrifying story to everyone I knew. On sleepovers and camping trips. At pool parties. On movie nights. Even though hearing the story had scared the pants off me, I wanted everyone else to experience the same rush of fear that I had. Because the fear had been just that: a rush. A mix of adrenaline and terror and something like pleasure. Even though it had scared me, I had enjoyed being scared, and that was the feeling I wanted to share with everyone else.

Babies are born with only two innate fears: the fear of loud noises, and the fear of falling. Every other fear, anxiety, and phobia known to man is learned during the intervening years between infancy and adulthood. Spiders. Monsters. Murderous hand fetishists hiding under your bed.

Make that three fears: falling, loud noises, and The Ring.
Make that three fears: falling, loud noises, and The Ring.

Throughout human history, fear has been valuable. Fear is what has kept our species alive for so long. Fear tells us when our safety is being threatened, when we should be running for our lives or raising weapons to defend ourselves. Fear keeps us hunting for food so that we don’t starve come winter. Fear reminds us to light the campfire so that the darkness (and what lives inside it) stays away. Our learned fears keep us safe and keep us alive.

But most modern humans don’t have many concrete things to fear anymore. We may worry about rogue nuclear powers, or not being able to pay our taxes, or trans fats in junk food, but there isn’t much that we really fear. No sharp-toothed nasties ready to rip our throats out if the bonfire isn’t big enough. No spear-wielding tribesmen come to burn our huts and rape our women. No gut-twisting, heart-pounding, hair-raising terror.

So we search for it in other places. Alfred Hitchcock once said:

“Give them pleasure – the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”

And that is what the horror genre gives us. Pleasure in fear. That’s why Stephen King books fly off the shelves and get turned into movies and remade into newer movies. That’s why there were seven Saw movies, complete with blood and screaming and psychological torture. That’s why Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular and infamous film. That’s why every so often I rewatch The Ring even though I know I’ll have to sleep with the light on afterwards.

Being scared is titillating. Why? Maybe now that we aren’t constantly clawing our way through life, desperately fighting for survival, we crave that adrenaline and that danger. Or maybe it’s practice, so that if you ever do meet a finger-tasting lunatic, you’ll know to run.

Well. Stick your hands in your pockets first, and then run.

Do you enjoy books or movies in the horror genre? Do you enjoy being scared? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Are Romance and Adventure Incompatible?

The short answer: no.

The last few weeks have seen a lot of talk about sexism in the sci-fi/fantasy world—and no, I’m not just talking about sexism in fictional SFF worlds. I’m talking about out-and-out hate against women who write science fiction and fantasy. Published, even best-selling women like Ann Aguirre and Foz Meadows have spoken out about the rampant sexism faced by female authors in SFF publishing.

But let’s stick a pin in the overall topic for now and look at one of its bastard children: the question of romance works with a sci-fi and fantasy setting. Female authors who write strong, female protagonists who have dangerous, intense adventures, coupled with some romance, have been maligned for writing “romance novels with a few new sets and ideas thrown in to keep them interesting” instead of innovative, boundary-pushing works of SFF.

As if innovative, boundary-pushing science fiction or fantasy cannot contain romance. As if true adventure never has a sprinkling of sex (or, heaven forbid, love!) in the mix.

Luckily for those of us who include some romance in our spellbound works—and I know that includes some of my fellow Scribes!—that’s just not true.

I would like to submit for reader consideration five works of high-adventure, innovative, genre-blasting works of SFF that contain elements of romance:

1. Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay: Admittedly, this is one of my all-time favorite works of fantasy, so I’m a little biased, but I will say also that Kay’s work is often considered some of the best fantasy currently being written. One of the plotlines in Tigana features a gut-wrenching “love” story that features a woman who integrated herself into a conqueror’s harem so that she could assassinate him—only to fall in love with him. He loves her, too, and the book explores the moral shadings of a tyrant who has a human side. Love, in this book, is just one way to explore the many facets of the human condition.

2. The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson: When a young, male cousin comes to me asking for fantasy recommendations, I send him straight to Sanderson’s work. These are, to be a weird reverse-sexist, “boy books.” As one of Sanderson’s Writing Excuses co-hosts said of Sanderson’s earliest work, you can hear the dice rolling in the background. Fighting features prominently. And yet, these books explore the relationship between a former thief turned ninja girl called Vin, and a scholarly boy turned ninja turned emperor named Elend. It’s a sweet love story, and it’s wrapped up in a really cool (and kinda violent) magical system that works as a tool in a cataclysmic epic battle. And, oddly enough, my husband found these books via a Romantic Times book review.

3. The Kushiel’s Legacy (Phèdre) Trilogy, by Jacqueline Carey: Although as high-and-mighty of a writer as George R. R. Martin has described these books as “erotic fantasy,” that does not discount the high adventure held between the novels’ sexy covers. God-chosen Phèdre may be a high-priced prostitute, but she’s also a spy, ambassador, and all-around bad-ass who journeys to and from some of the worst places in her world. Threaded through her adventures is her love with formerly-chaste priest Jocelyn, and their story explores how love can change the people who experience it. These books are one part eroticism, one part political thriller, and two parts adventure. If ever there was an innovative fantasy, these books are it.

4. The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan: I’m not a fan of these books, and I actually find their portrayal of women rather sexist. But let’s stick a pin in that, too, and consider the books as most people see them: modern classic fantasy. This is one of the best-loved, longest-running epic fantasy series out there, and it features no fewer than six romantic stories. There’s the Rand-Elayne-Min-Aviendha, erm, quadrangle, the Nynaeve-Lan romance, the Egwene-Gawyn semi-romance, and the Perrin-Faile-Berelain awkwardness. And those are just the love stories I remember. Clearly, for Wheel of Time fans, romance is not an impediment to high fantasy adventure.

5. The Fever Series, by Karen Moning. Here’s where I make a diversion from my list. *grin* These books actually sit on the romance shelf of your neighborhood bookstore. Moning is originally famous for her more typically “romance” Highlander novels, but her Fever series became a runaway hit. They feature a female protagonist who grows from a fluffy, ditzy-blonde Southern belle into a badass warrior and Fae-killer. Yes, there’s sex. Yes, some credit for her transformation goes to her male benefactor/lover. But over the five books of the series, Mac has one of the best character arcs I’ve had the pleasure of reading. These books are violent. They are epic—indeed, the world as we know it ends. They are one of the best contemporary fantasy series I’ve seen lately, but because they sit in the romance section, they will be largely overlooked by fantasy readers.

There you have it: of these five (series of!) books containing complex romance and, yes, sex, three of them were written by men. Now, I’m not much of a sci-fi reader, but I’d bet my first edition, British copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that epic sci-fi contains romance, too. Are women girlifying SFF with romance? Or is romance just another kind of epic adventure?

What say you, readers? What place does romance have in adventure? What other epic, romance-containing works of SFF can you think of?