Romance and Fantasy

Michelle Sagara / West has a post up at Fantasy Book Cafe that you might like, if you’re into fantasy with romance. I know some of you are big Sagara / West fans — I have some of hers on my TBR pile right now, mostly (entirely, I think) because of your recommendations.

Me, I can take or leave romance, in fantasy or elsewhere. But I really do like a romance when it is well done. I expect a central romance in most of Sharon Shinn’s novels, and of course look at The Sharing Knife series. I find that books like that move straight into comfort-read territory, especially if the central problems faced by the protagonists are not toooooo horrible.

Michelle says:

When you are a woman writing in the SFF field, many people—some of them even women—will decide that you are de facto writing romance, or paranormal romance, or books that are whatever patina-of-genre over romance. And, as if they are still in that particular mode of “my interests good, your interests infantile”, they will outright dismiss the work without, you know, actually reading any of it. …

But the truth is, women who are not writing romance or romance-tinged books are caught between rocks and hard places. The people who would probably best enjoy those books are often those who give the books the side-eye. If you’re writing urban fantasy, for instance, like Kat Richardson’s, people assume you are writing books like Ilona Andrews’ (and I love her books – this is not meant to be a slam).

But people who like Ilona Andrews’ work and pick up yours expecting it to be tonally similar…are often not going to like your books. So while the theoretical reading audience is larger, in practice, you’re not actually writing what that audience is looking for.

I think this is essentially true. Mind you, I don’t de facto assume women’s books will include romance as a central, driving feature of the story, because there were a ton of exceptions when I was growing up. But I think that it’s generally assumed that a) UF is a woman’s subgenre, b) because it is basically paranormal romance with a city setting, and c) women write romance. So I think there is a big assumption there (or several big assumptions). More so than for fantasy as a whole.

And this also opens up the discoverability can of worms, too. Cover art serves a signalling function; that’s mostly what it’s for; but right now we don’t really have a way of signalling UF-but-not-really-romance-heavy. Do we? It seems to me we do not.

I never really know how to describe BLACK DOG and the associated work. UF? It’s not urban. Paranormal? It uses some of the romance tropes, but just glancingly. So then what?

Anyway, good, thoughtful post by Sagara / West.

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3 thoughts on “Romance and Fantasy”

  1. Yes, I assume that UF is fantasy. I am very happily surprised to find those cases where it is not. And I can’t stand the whole “Cast In X” series for similar reasons. Sagara-West’s other series are more soap operatic: I have liked the first book or two, but put the series down after that.

    Another issue for urban fantasy: men have even worse luck in the field. So Daniel Abraham had to pick an ambiguous pen name M L N Hanover to write in the field.

  2. Yes, of course — romance!

    I know; that’s one of the Great Assumptions of UF/Paranormal/Romance — it’s assumed that men don’t write it or can’t write it or shouldn’t write it. I’m not in the least surprised that guys often find they have to resort to pen names to write any kind of romance.

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