Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Braving the Fantasy Debates - Not Only Epic, but Romantic

Posted by: Jeffe Kennedy
My world seems full of fantasy discussions and parsings lately. Like Jane Kindred, who posted yesterday, I was also at the RT Convention last week. Unlike her, I feel right at home among the romance authors - much more so than at World Fantasy Con last fall, which I also attended along with Jane.

(Is she stalking me or am I stalking HER? Hmmm...)

A popular tail-sniffing question at all of these conferences is "What do you write?" This is largely in lieu of the real question, which is more along the lines of "Are you a successful writer I should be interested in talking to and should I know who you are?" My answer has always been complicated, but for now I reel off "fantasy, fantasy romance and erotic contemporary romance."

People nod at this, sometimes looking a bit glazed over. It's really not kosher to reply with more than one genre, but sue me - I've always been an eclectic kind of gal and I'm used to getting funny looks.

The thing is, to me, it all feels more or less like the same thing. Or, at least, like a continuum. The erotic contemporary romances of my Facets of Passion series have no magic per se, but I write post-apocalyptic ones (Blood Currency) that feel much the same, only in a more broken world. I'm working on edits for MASTER OF THE OPERA, a modern retelling of Phantom of the Opera, which is contemporary, erotic and also full of magical realism. The Covenant of Thorns books are about a modern woman - a scientist - trapped in Faerie. When I was shopping it (before I knew better), I called it "an urban fantasy that takes place in a non-urban landscape."

You all should have just SEEN the way the agents' eyes would roll back in their heads when I said that. One might have frothed at the mouth a little bit.

Even my own agent, who loves my work and says she wants to make me the Queen of Fantasy Romance (which apparently does not come with a tiara - what a gyp), said of one of my books "it's like epic fantasy and urban fantasy had a lurid affair and this is their baby."

Now I've been assigned yet another genre - my trilogy coming out in 2014, The Twelve Kingdoms, is being called Adult Fantasy by the publisher.

I just roll with it.

Because, really, on a fundamental level, genre is irrelevant to me as a storyteller.Yes, it's meant to convey a promise to readers, but this dividing and sub-dividing is not something that really serves anyone. If we have to spend all this time and effort parsing the difference between fantasy, fantasy romance, epic fantasy and epic fantasy romance, obviously we're not clearly communicating anything at all. When I mentioned I was writing this post, @e_bookpushers, a reviewer for The Bookpushers and fan of all kinds of fantasy, with and without romance, commented "Sometimes I think we subdivide to far and use descriptive terms that turn people off."

This is where we see the eyes glaze over. 

After all, those of us in our 30s and 40s remember an era before the Young Adult (YA) "genre" even existed. I think that's part of what's happening now. So many of us writing variations on the Fantasy theme grew up reading a melange of books - Judy Blume and Judy Garwood. Anne McCaffrey, Ann Tyler and Anne Rice. Orson Scott Card, Jack Chalker, Margaret Atwood and Mary Stewart.

We all started as readers and, as readers, we didn't really care what genre a book fell into, as long as we could find more like it. That's the key - helping our readers, and ourselves, find more of what we love to read.

I suspect that, more and more, that will occur through blogs like this one. And like The Bookpushers. Maybe we've moved past the need to describe books with a one- or two-word label. We can talk more broadly and allow more room for stories that don't quite fit neatly into a product mold.

As Miranda says in The Tempest, arguably a fantasy story, "How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't!"

Brave new world, indeed. 


  1. As I learn and read different genres that I thought I would NEVER read (like fantasy and erotic) I have learned that genre really does not matter to me. It is all about the story. I do prefer to have romance in the stories I read but a good story is a good story regardless. I never thought I would like The Hunger Games trilogy but I couldn't read them fast enough. I guess I have learned to be more open to books regardless of what they are labeled. I tend to get attached to authors, too. For example, I liked Misty Evans' rom suspense books so much I decided to read her fantasy books and loved them. Jeffe, I loved Rogue so much I wanted to read more of your books and you definitely opened my eyes to erotic. So, I guess it shows that if the writing and storytelling are good, I'll try anything (almost).

    1. I think I'm the same way, Amy. There's not much I won't read!

  2. I'm going to be difficult and disagree because I think the fantasy vs fantasy romance is a necessary distinction. My "fantasy only" friends will grill me about the level of romance in the fantasy books I recommend b/c they know I read both traditional fantasy and fantasy romance. I find romance readers in general are more open to genre crossing. I hop around in my reading...fantasy, pnr, historical romance, horror...but not everyone is comfortable doing that. And that's ok too:)

    1. I would say you're actually backing up my point, Eleri. :D The genre distinctions are NOT working to advise these readers - instead they're grilling you. Just like reading up on potential books in blogs does.

    2. I wonder if that might be why fantasy readers are resistant to ebooks where the genre lines blur even more...

    3. That's an interesting point. The traditional fantasy publishers DO tend to deliver a much more "reliable product."

  3. Loved the "urban fantasy and epic fantasy had a baby" remark! I have a hard time thinking in genres myself, kinda write what I, what I read...enjoy reading the debate on it all though!


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