Overcoming Genre Stereotypes

Yep, I said genre.

For Christmas/Yule/halfway-through-the-dark-day, my lovely spouse gave me a big stack of paranormal romances—at my request.

I’ve never really read any paranormal romance, you see.

What?! The urban fantasy writer does not know the genre’s illegitimate-half-sister, the paranormal romance?! It’s madness, I know, since the line is so fine it hardly exists. Is Laurell K. Hamilton’s work urban fantasy, or P.R.? Jim Butcher’s Dreden series is firmly (harhar) U.F., but where does Kim Harrison fit? Is Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series a romantic urban fantasy or a thriller urban fantasy?

You get my point.

You may remember that I said I’m currently writing a romance, and if you follow me on Twitter, you may further remember me saying that I’m almost a quarter of the way into the book and there have been about six fighting scenes and zero kissing scenes. Romance continues to elude me.

So now I’m reading paranormal romance, and I’m finding the hair even harder to split. But as I make my way through the twelve-book stack, I’ll be observing here some of the things I learn from each book. I hope, as readers and (some of us) writers, we’ll learn a little bit about genre, writing, and reading as I study each book with a critical eye.

The more, erm, “romantic” books, I may be less critical about because, um, the squelchy bits* only vary so much from book to book. So stay tuned in January and February, and I’ll tell you a little bit about my exploits in the paranormal romance genre.

Coming soon: Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione and Darkfever by Karen Moning. I’ll also be venturing into Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series and crossing from True Blood to The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Are there any other paranormal romances you would recommend? (They may very well already stand in my to-be-read pile, but refer away!)

*Should I drop the act readers? Is this a PG13-blog, or an R-rated blog?

A Little Dash of Romance

My new project is a romance.

Well, not really, because the genre “romance” inspires visions of well-muscled men wearing half-buttoned shirts and tight pants on the florid covers of paperbacks in one corner of the bookstore.

My book is also a small-scale epic fantasy, about two peoples who are at odds because of a single lie in their mutual past.

Yes, I’m writing a star-crossed love affair. But I think both my lovers will come out of it alive.

Anyway, it’s gotten me thinking about love stories and romance, and how those things fit into a fantasy world. This New Yorker blog post called, Is Anna Karenina a Love Story? made me start wondering what love stories in novels tell us about the novel itself. In a fantasy world, does the romance have to crystallize some part of the greater conflict? Or is it just a love story, compelling and satisfying in itself, set in a world of dragons and magic?

I’m choosing option A for my new project, largely because of the nature of my book’s conflict, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the right or the only way to do it. Every fantasy-romance is different, and I have to admit that I’ve not often thought that deeply about the love stories in the fantasy novels I love.

What are some of your favorite fantasy love stories? Why? What do the love stories say about the book as a whole or the world it creates?

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Phèdre and Joscelin in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series. Two lovers who come from completely opposite backgrounds and, through circumstance, find each other as the thing most worth saving in their lives. Joscelin may get the short end of the stick in this one.
  • Vin and Elend in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. Two semi-nerdy super-heroes fall in love and save the world—sort of. I can’t say much more without spoilers!
  • Dante Valetine and Japhrimel in Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series. This is a fairly typical hunter-meets-demon love story (is that a typical thing, now?) that starts out great and is pretty fraught by the end of the series. Lies and concealment inevitably take their toll on the lovers.

Costumed Curses: And the Winner Is…

I know you’ve been waiting. I know you’ve been wondering…

Okay, that’s a lie, because I know MOST of you didn’t even pay much attention to the contest. *aims SQUIRT BOTTLE OF SHAME at readers*

But that’s okay, because I’m delighted to announce that the WINNER came from this very blog. We had ten awesome entries, and it was really difficult to choose the best: some were funny, some were fairy-tale-rific, others gave us a shiver. But in the end, we narrowed it down, and now we’ve got four great offerings, creepy and fanciful, and I know you’ll love them all.

So without further ado, the winners of the Costumed Curses Flash Fiction Contest ARE…

In first place, our HERO: N. E. White, “Blood, Flesh, and Bone”

In second place, WARRIOR: Leslie Fulton, “Murphy’s Law”

In third place, our MINION: Stacy Bennett-Hoyt, “Stuck in the Loop”

And an unplanned HONORABLE MENTION goes to Eleni Sakellis, “The Bridge,” because we just couldn’t resist this story.

So winners, claim your badges and be sure to email me at KRISTINLYNNMCFARLAND AT GMAIL DOT COM (yep, you have to translate into characters, sorry bots), so that I can mail you your goody bag and help arrange for other prizes!

And readers, you can now enjoy our winning story.

Blood, Flesh, and Bone

N. E. White

420 words

Lilia Lluc buried her husband’s fingers, careful to scoop up the blood soaked soil and turn it under along with the severed digits. She wouldn’t want her children investigating the dark stain.

She frowned, thinking she would never be free of her strange children, then immediately chastised herself for such a blasphemous thought.

“What are you doing?”

She glanced up with a start. Her heart felt as if it would leap out of her chest.
A strange man stood above her, his face shadowed by his wide brimmed hat. The sun hung low in the western, clear sky, throwing long pillars of shadow through her almond orchard.

Standing, she swung her bloodied hand behind her back. In her other hand, she held tight to the ceramic succioro.

She gave him an innocent smile. “Hello and welcome. Are you lost?”

The man squinted at the sun. He snorted a laugh then said, “Actually, yes, I think I am. I was just passing by on the road…and, well, here I am. I’m not sure how I got here.”

Lilia kept the smile on her face though she did not feel it. Whether the stranger or she would enjoy the coupling, it mattered not, but she soon learned she might as well be pleasant enough with them. After all, she would be the last thing they ever saw.

Slipping the succioro into the pocket of her apron, she trailed her fingers across the top hem of her shirt, straining the fabric over her bosom.

“Do you want me?” she said.

The man took a step back, hands up in defense, but then he removed his hat, his eyes scanning her body before settling on her breasts.

“Yes,” he said, his voice already husky.

She sighed, the repetitive manner of the ritual boring her. Pointing to a nearby tree, she directed him to lay down and remove his trousers. Lifting her skirt, she straddled him and began a rhythmic rocking, waiting for him to plant his seed.

When she and her husband had failed to conceive within the first two years of their marriage, they had tried everything, until finally they consorted with a witch. Her potion had required her husband’s blood, flesh, and bone, a price that many would have thought too high. But not her husband. He said he was willing to sacrifice a bit of himself for his children.

And it worked. Oh, yes, each time it worked.

But the witch had not said anything about whose seed would take root.

The End

Costumed Curses: The End is Nigh

People, the end of the Costumed Curses flash fiction contest is TOMORROW, October 27, at 23:00 EDT.

So far from this blog, we’ve had one entry. ONE. I am deeply ashamed. You have cast dishonor on my family and on my people. I may never show my face on Twitter again. I shall have to punish myself by writing my own story and posting it here tomorrow.

Plus, if this were a contest between my blog readers and Emmie’s blog readers, Emmie’s readers would be spanking you guys with a rubber spatula. And you probably wouldn’t even notice!

So, COME ON! 500 words! You can do it! Just go to this page and leave your entry in the comments!

Never Love a Supernatural Man

I will never love a supernatural man.

Obviously if my husband said to me one day, “Beloved, I’ve been hiding it from you all this time, but I need you to know… I am a vampire,” I wouldn’t dump him. I mean, I’ve survived for almost eight seasons, so I probably won’t die in the final battle. (Don’t tell that to Anya, though.)

But if for some bizarre reason, I found myself on a desert island populated with vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, and demon hunters, I would flat out refuse to date a super-powered man without taking some steps to protect myself. If the sexiest vampire there said to me, “Hey, baby, you wanna mosey on down to the cave with fresh water to watch the stars come out?” I’d make him sign a pre-dating contract that would go something like this:

1. No matter how many nasty-happies it would give me to bite you, I recognize that you, Kristin, are not dinner.

2. I swear that if we get pelvic, I will not lose my soul and kill your friends.

3. If somehow we fall madly and tragically in love, and then some supernatural antagonist starts pursuing you with all the dedication of a depressed teenage girl deprived of Ben & Jerry’s, I swear that I will, without angst or delay, turn you into a vampire so that you can defend yourself.

If he refused to sign my contract, I’d tell him to go sun himself.

And werewolves? Come on. I love dogs, but I’m not going to date one. Kibble breath first thing in the morning? Ew. Plus, they’re always exploding into wolf-form before they attack things, but they seem to get their asses handed to them most of the time. I don’t need a man with a built-in fur coat, especially when he’s just going around getting beat up by the cooler monsters.

The worst of the lot, though, might be the demon-killers. At least a monster is capable of protecting you with tooth and claw, but those hunter-guys have only guns and knives. Plus, they attract danger. When they’re not seeking out the baddies, the baddies are grinding them to a bloody pulp or dragging them into hell. And the mortality rate for love interests on Supernatural is shockingly high: if I ever meet a sexy guy who says he hunts ghosts and ghoulies, I will run far, far away. After I kick him in the shins to debilitate him so he can’t chase me, that is. (Running away is foreplay, you know.)

No, I’ll take a nice, well-adjusted human, thank you very much. I recommend you do the same.