Several years ago I attended my first Romance Writers of America meeting. The lovely and generous Colleen Thompson introduced herself and asked what I wrote. The question threw me. It should be obvious since I was there that I wrote romance. “But what kind of romance?” she asked. I was baffled. There were different kinds? Yep. Within a few months I determined I wrote contemporary single title, or at least that’s what that first 200,000 word mess was…sort of.
Over the last few years I thought I’d gotten the whole genre thing down. My second manuscript was a romantic suspense, my third and fourth are paranormal romance. Or at least they were until yesterday when I read a Barnes and Noble Review interview Eloisa James did with Lisa Klepas about her new release, RAINSHADOW ROAD. Eloisa is one of the most prominent romance writers in the industry (not to mention a Shakespeare professor!) and Lisa Kleypas is right up there with the best of them. Here’s the paragraph that startled me:
Rainshadow Road is a deeply moving romantic novel, but it's definitely not a "paranormal" romance. Your heroine, Lucy Marinn, has the ability to change glass into living creatures, so the shards of a broken ornament turn to "living sparks," a dancing procession of fireflies, for example. In a paranormal romance, the heroine herself might change shape, though generally into a member of cat family rather than a firefly, but a shape-changer has presumably lived with her feline self for most of her life. Within the context of the world of the romance, her abilities are normal.
Whaaaa? By this definition neither SHADES OF PARIS nor SHADES OF THE DEEP are paranormal! My characters have psychic abilities and their world is strongly influenced by made-up science. Sure, some of the antagonists use Voodoo-like magic, but nobody shape-shifts, drinks blood, or enjoys/endures any version of immortality.
The interview goes on to label RAINSHADOW ROAD magical realism, a new concept to me, but that’s not the point. In the publishing industry we constantly hear agents and editors talk about where to place a book in the marketplace and on the shelves, and now I’m wondering if I even know my own genre. Are my stories contemporary romance with psychic elements? Romantic adventures with psychic characters? I’ve heard Jayne Ann Krentz describe her Arcane Society series as romantic suspense with characters with psychic abilities. No mention of paranormal.
I’m not alone in puzzling over genre. My critique partner and good friend, Sarah Andre, finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart contest in the Romantic Suspense category but has been rethinking whether her story is technically a suspense because the main characters are solving a murder mystery through most of the story and are not in immediate dire peril.
Genre labels wouldn’t be important of they didn’t create agent, editor and reader expectations that impact contracts and sales. How can my agent pitch my work to editors if we don't know what genre it is? As writers we write what we love, but, as professionals who want to make a living writing books, understanding where our stories fit in the marketplace is becoming more and more important as genre lines blur.
What do you write? Has genre expectations impacted how you market your work? If you’re a reader, what do you think of when you hear paranormal romance?