Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Books are Out There!

Sigh. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

So, lately I've been seeing a lot of posts and comments and discussions online relating to the idea that ALL urban fantasy has become samey and dull. That it's all circling the were-vamp drain, full of designer labels, with the same worlds and characters and plot devices.

And it puts me in a little bit of an awkward position, in a way. Because I totally, totally, TOTALLY disagree, but saying so makes me feel a little...weird. Like I'm putting readers down--which I never, ever want to do, ever, because readers are awesome--or jumping up and down in front of them screaming, "But, ME!! And ME! Look at ME!!" Which I also do not really want to do.

But, um, look at me. :-)

No, no. I'm going to talk about my books a little bit, yes. But really I want to talk about other writers' books. And I want to talk about how my opinion and image of urban fantasy is exactly the opposite: I believe the genre is about to make a huge, expansive leap, that the days of urban fantasy automatically equalling hot chicks in leather weilding guns and fucking vampires or weres are done with.

And here's where it might sound like I'm scolding or yelling at readers, but that is not the case at ALL. Not one bit, never. But guys...the stuff is out there. The books are OUT THERE. They are. They're coming. They're in stores now. They're in pre-release. They're being signed by agents and they're being bought by editors and they are in the works, and this genre is about to explode and I honestly believe that's the case.

But you have to look for them, and you have to know where to look.

It's not your fault, darling reader. It isn't. You buy books based on a recommendation, or you see a cool-looking cover or read a review or whatever. And that's the way it's supposed to work. You don't have time to play book detective and spend hours running around the internet looking for unfamiliar authors. And nobody expects you to, least of all me.

But here's where I think the problem lies. You, as a reader, know what sorts of things you like, and I think in a way the system itself is geared to make sure you stay in your little reader box, if you know what I mean. Say you buy Caitlin Kittredge's excellent Second Skin, which was just released and you totally should be buying immediately because we all know Caitlin is the awesomest. Anyway, you make this very sensible purchase. Say you make it from Amazon. Now, what does Amazon do? Amazon shows you more books about weres, because Amazon assumes you like books about weres.

This would be the case with any book you buy. But given that, yes, there are a lot of were & vamp books out there, and given that they sell well if they're good (like Caitlin's are) can seem as though that's ALL that's out there. Because it's all you're being shown.

I think the crossover between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is an issue as well. There are people out there who dislike UF because it doesn't have that HEA (Happily Ever After, for the uninitiated) ending which is so necessary to genre romance. And you know, if genre romance is what you're after then I totally understand that. You want a HEA ending. If that's what you want it's what you should get; it's what you as a reader deserve. Why should you have to read something that isn't what you want or are looking for? You shouldn't.

But I can't help thinking...maybe if you tried a non-HEA UF or might find you don't mind the missing HEA so much. You might be happy to wait for it, to get involved in a long and complex emotional relationship (not that genre romances don't have complex emotional relationships, that's not what I'm saying) that spans several books. Why not give it a try? Because if you're looking for paranormal books outside the vamp/were area, UF has them in spades, and you might be surprised by the emotional depth of the stories.

And that goes for the fantasy fans who are unhappy that UF has too much emphasis on romance, that they are somehow a "girl's genre" because the heroines have sex and look for love. Well, you know what? UFs have romance in them because whether you personally feel that way or not, the vast majority of people want romance in their lives. They want to find someone to share their lives with. They want to find love. Hell, they want to get laid. I'm always stunned when I see or hear people comment that they don't like romance in books; to me it's like saying you don't want romance in life either (and by romance I simply mean love and passion, not flowers and soft music, neither of which I particularly like). These are basic human needs, people; why should UF heroines be any different? Most books, in any genre, have some sort of romantic subplot. What's wrong with that?

And, why is it that books written by women are judged by the amount of romance or sex in them, but books by men aren't? Harry Dresden's looking for love; I don't see anyone putting those books down. In fact, it sometimes seems as though UF written by men doesn't even figure into the equation when people talk about samey UFs. The Dresden books are nothing like Mark Henry's fantastic zombies; Mark del Franco's Connor Grey books aren't like Anton Strout's Simon Canderous books; Charles de Lint isn't John Levitt. And none of those books are like my PERSONAL DEMONS, or Jackie Kessler's HELL'S BELLES, or Richelle Mead's SUCCUBUS BLUES. They're just not. At all.

It just frustrates me a little, I admit, to see the genre I love so much reduced to "They're all alike; they're all just rich vampires who own nightclubs and sleep on designer sheets," or whatever. When there are so many stories and world and characters out there, and so many more coming. When I personally feel like we're on the cusp of something so much bigger. In June Caitlin's STREET MAGIC comes out; a fantastic, fantastic urban fantasy about mages and magic and a hidden London, with one of the sexiest UF heroes I've ever read--no, make that THE sexiest. In November (yes, we get to me now) my UNHOLY GHOSTS will be released, and I'm sure you can all recite with me what the book is about: punk rock, greasers, ghosts, black magic, blood rituals, witchcraft, drug dealers, ghettos...and not a were or vamp in either of them. My cast is all-human, baby, with a few ghosts thrown in for spooky good measure. So is Caitlin's. Nicole Peeler has a Selkie book coming out in the next year or so.

And I know there are more. Tons more that I'm just not thinking of at the moment.

Remember my "Heroes" series? The simple fact is, books about dull people doing nothing out of the ordinary don't sell. They just don't. Do you want to read a book wherein your neighbor sits around watching TV all day? Do you want to read a novel about a complicated tax question? No, probably not.

And I firmly believe there is not another genre out there where the characters are as unique and exciting, the world as intricate, and the stakes as high as urban fantasy. And I firmly believe that in the next year or so we're going to see the fruits of all those books that came before; they way they fired our imaginations and made us think of possibilities. Sure, there will always be a place for vampires and weres, because there are readers to buy them. I love vampires.

But weres and vampires are not the only characters in UF. Not at all. You just have to look for others. Visit the League of Reluctant Adults. Check out the Fangs Fur & Fey community on livejournal. Visit the fantasy section at the bookstore if you usually just buy romances, and vice versa. Branch out. Ask people. Ask booksellers. Tell them what you want, like, for example, that they should order twenty or thirty copies each of STREET MAGIC and UNHOLY GHOSTS for all of their stores, because you're going to get all your friends to rush in and buy them the day they're released.

They *are* out there. You just have to look for them.


Devon Ellington said...

This is a FABULOUS post.

It's hard to find the stuff that's different out there, because of the way it's marketed. One really has to sort through it all. And the marketing is often geared to what the marketers think people want/what's sold before, rather than taking a chance on something new.

Which is frustrating for writers who don't want to be put into genre boxes.

HEX BREAKER was marketed as a romance novel -- which it is not -- simply because the two characters formed a strong relationship in the book, and that relationship continues to grow and strengthen in the series. Several romance reviewers were confused as to why it was sent to them, but, thankfully, reviewed the book on its own merits and not as failing the genre test.

One of the things I show as the series grows is that a continued, passionate relationship between two individuals doesn't have to be boring -- I can't tell you how often I've seen submission guidelines that insist that the protagonists can only appear in a single book because "once they're together, it's boring."

I could go on forever about this, but to circle back to your post, yes, it's out there, but boy, you often have to dig through the marketing mayhem to find it.

kirsten saell said...

I can't tell you how much I hate Amazon's promo emails. I've bought exactly one book from Amazon--your Personal Demons. I loved it. That doesn't mean I'm an UF or paranormal romance aficionado. I'm not, really. I don't watch Hoeroes, never bothered with Buffy (although I did enjoy Angel, because HELLO, David Boreanaz), I'm not interested in vamps or weres or what have you. I'm just not. And although I will read Demon Inside when it comes out, and your Unholy Ghosts, that's more a function of your writing than the genre--I know you won't let me down. But every week, Amazon hurls more UF and paranormal romance books at my inbox wall, hoping something, anything will stick.

I have the same problem with fantasy--finding books that won't let me down. I'm not looking for High or Epic where the world always hangs in the balance. It's really hard to find fantasy/fantasy romance stories where what hangs in the balance is one person's life and happiness (probably why I'm writing them). Or if the world is at stake, it's a showdown between two or more factions who are maybe all equal parts good and evil (Guy Gavriel Kay? George RR Martin?). I don't want the white hats against the black hats. I want to hate for the conflict to end because I'm not sure who I want to win. Or if I want one side to win, it's not just because they're the "good guys". I want that complexity, and it's just so hard to find. I want to like the villain. I want to hate the heroes a little bit.

I'm not picky or anything. Really. Not at all. LOL

Coming at this from a paranormal romance standpoint, I shudder with trepidation every time I consider a book because so often (like fantasy was not that long ago) authors are (or were) riding a wave they don't think will break, and they figure the more paranormal elements they can squish into one book the better. It's not enough to just have Fae, we have to have Fae and witches and vamps and weres and shapeshifters (different from weres, how? I don't know) and the worldbuilding consists of chucking everything into the pot and hoping it tastes more like soup than toxic waste.

The best fantasy worldbuilding is simple. The best paranormal romance worldbuilding is also simple. That doesn't mean it can't be fantastical, just that I don't want to scratch my head and go "huh?" every other page. And shortcuts like fated mates, well, they can make me cringe like a needle full of novacaine in the hands of a sadistic dentist.

Okay. /rant

I'm looking forward to your books because the worldbuilding isn't going to make my brain go all explody. It's the characters who are complex.

Robyn said...

Some might argue that the Black Dagger Brotherhood isn't too far off the Dark-Hunters, but I totally disagree. To me they're very different books.

But those charges come to every sub-genre, don't they? I submit that Carla Kelly and Mary Balogh are completely different than Julia Quinn or Candace Camp, even though they're all regencies.

I think the market just hits a saturation point and what was hot becomes passe. True fans of a sub-genre will always love it, whether it's hot or not. That's why I hold on so tightly to my beloved Highlanders!