Growing up I loved haunting bookstores and picking up new wordy treasures as often as I could. My favorite section was Science Fiction/Fantasy, though I was content almost anywhere in the store. But there was one section I wouldn't be caught dead in, you know, the one abounding with all the pictures of a shirtless Fabio and women with voluminous skirts. Because, EW! Kissy books!! Not my thing.
For some reason, this childhood prejudice lasted quite a bit longer than it should have. In fact, I didn't make the transition to romance novels until my mid-twenties. And it was Urban Fantasy novels--those works of speculative fiction that blend fantasy into modern life--that did it. I have long loved Anne Rice. Then there was Laurell K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison. Patricia Briggs and Tanya Huff. Charlaine Harris and Karen Marie Moning. Funny thing was, despite none of these authors writing romance novels (with the exception of Moning, who writes both urban fantasy and romance) as often as not, my local bookstores shelved them there instead of science fiction and fantasy where the books belong. When I finally ventured into the dreaded kissy-books section to find these beloved urban fantasy novels, I discovered paranormal romance authors like Kresley Cole, J.R. Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon. I quickly found that I loved these every bit as much--especially the kissing parts.
Some may be asking what the difference is between urban fantasy (UF) and paranormal romance (PNR), and the distinction is pretty simple. Like any other romance subgenre, PNR focuses on a romantic plot between two characters, but can (and with PNR often does) have a secondary plot of adventure or intrigue. Take Kresley Cole. Her Immortals After Dark series features a new hero and heroine in each book (a good sign that this is a PNR not UF), and while those characters are usually dashing about the globe on some epic quest, the stories are primarily about them falling in love and reaching a happily ever after by the last page. Urban Fantasy, on the other hand, is a science fiction/fantasy subgenre that focuses on an adventure or intrigue plot, but may have romantic elements and/or sex in it as well. Take Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. The plot of these five books is an American girl (Mac) travels to Ireland to uncover her sister's murderer and finds herself embroiled in an apocalyptic war between humanity and fae. Along the way, she does fall in love with the uber-sexy Jericho Barrons. But no matter how smokin' hot Barrons may be (and man-oh-man is he smoldering), the main story is Mac trying to save humanity from enslavement. This series is an urban fantasy.
Maybe this is a regional thing, but despite the Fever series being sci-fi/fantasy books, every bookstore I went into shelved them in romance. Kim Harrison I find about half the time in romance and half the time in science fiction. Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilon I almost always find in romance. While this mis-shelving has been beneficial for me, as venturing into new bookshelf territory has brought me a wealth of new authors to love, I find the concept confusing. Maybe even disturbing.
I've asked why urban fantasy is regularly shelved in romance. The general consensus seems to be that they're put where (it's perceived) they'll be most likely bought--i.e. not in the right genre, but with the other "female" books. While I would wish other authors the shelf space where their sales will be the highest, I balk at the idea of gender dividing the book store. To confuse things further, I have never seen The Dresden Files--another of my favorite Urban Fantasy series, this one written by a man and featuring a male lead--in the romance section. But it, too, has romance and sex in it as side plots. Apparently when a man writes a book with fantasy and sex it goes in science fiction, but when a women writes the same thing it goes in romance.
Are bookstores suggesting men are such narrow-minded readers that they can't handle reading from a female perspective, and hence we should dump all the lady-books into romance? I hate to think that's the case. Or are bookstores suggesting we females can't find the science fiction section and so they're doing us a favor by bringing Jericho Barrons to us in our native territory of bare chests and flowing tresses? I can assure any bookstore out there that I am perfectly capable of finding the science fiction section. I've been doing it since middle school.
With the recent SFWA blow-up over the treatment of women authors in science fiction, I think it's time we take a look at where books are shelved and what we're saying. I love romance novels--hell, I write them. But urban fantasy is not a type of romance, nor should it be shunted from science fiction because it is written by women with women leads. In this continuing dialog of equity in authorship, I think seemingly small things like this make a big difference.
What do you think? Are you bothered when urban fantasy is shelved in romance? Why or why not?