Monday, March 30, 2009

More on UF as a genre

Okay, a couple of quick things first:

First, and most importantly. Last night I noticed Mrs. Giggles--whom you all know I adore--linked to my Jade Goody entry and wrote an excellent and very informative post about Pap smears and the types of cells/cell abnormalities found in them. It's well worth a read; great information there. But more importantly, Mrs. G. makes a point that I neglected to make: whether or not you are sexually active, you should be getting your pap smears annually. I don't care if you're a nun, once you reach a certain age--Mrs. G suggests 18--you need to do them. And she is 100% correct. I'm ashamed that I didn't mention this myself. Please...get the test, whether you're having sex or not. I need you to live so you can buy my books. :-) (No, seriously, buy my books or don't, but get the test. It could be the most important thing you ever do.)

Second, this will be my last bloggy-type blog post for a while. Thursday I'm just going to post some scheduling/update things and possible freak out a bit more. Next Monday the movers are coming; I will probably pop in for a very quick post, as I plan to open the blog to reader recommendations, which I'd like to start doing once every few months. After that we'll be in transit for the next few weeks.

Third, we had a lovely time in London this weekend. Got to meet up with fellow writer, the excellent Kaz from lj, and have a couple of drinks on Friday night, and share some giggles and gossip. Unfortunately, thanks to the vagaries of the transit system on Sundays, I did NOT get to see my friend Yeyo from lj, which I'm very unhappy about; she's been a good friend to me for almost seven years, and I'm heartbroken that I didn't get to say goodbye to her and her wonderful hubby in person. But we did get to the British Museum and the Natural History museum, and to just be in London one more time; I do love London. Sigh.

Okay. Remember my post about UF as a genre, and how it's changing? I had no idea when I wrote it that the post would be such a big deal; it's still getting comments and was actually quoted in an NPR interview with Mario Acevedo, which was pretty exciting.

Anyway. Like I said it's still getting comments, and I want to address a couple of those here in a new post.

First, a very nice lady posted the URL to her UF/paranormal mystery Yahoo group, which I haven't joined yet but fully intend to. At the time she posted they had over 400 members, all avid readers. So groups like that are, IMO, great places to join and be a part of, in addition to reading blogs like Urban Fantasy Land (of course!) and Bitten by Books, or livejournal groups like Urban Fantasy Fans. (And please, if you belong to or know of another fan/reader community, leave it in comments!)

Second, I had quite a few comments about the level of sex in UF, or where the line is between paranormal romance and UF. This is a really interesting question for me, because I know the Demons books come pretty close to straddling that line. In my mind they're UF, because although the Megan/Greyson relationship is a big part of the first book (and figures prominently in future books), ultimately the book is about Megan vs. the Yezer & the Accuser. She has to defeat the Accuser on her own. It's about her and her story and how she changes, and the second is the same.

The Downside books are definitely UF. There is some romance and some sex--I'm going to get to the sex part in a minute--but ultimately Chess solves the mystery and Chess has to fight the bad guys, every time. She may get a little help from her friends, and she may fall in love along the way, and she may deal with a lot of issues related to her sexual or relationship choices, but in the end it's just her doing what she has to do. And the romantic subplot stuff is a much smaller part of the books on the whole (with the possible exception of the third book, which it looks like we now might be calling SPELLBOUND GHOSTS.)

Now, one of the most recent comments the entry got was this:

I hate picking up a UF (and sometimes a SFF novel) and finding a thinly veiled romance. I am simply not into romances as a rule and really don't care to read about someone having teh hawt sexxorz.
While I appreciate that people head in the UF direction precisely because of the copious sex and romance, it is not for me. I have even taken to picking up a book in the store and skimming page by page counting the sex scenes and considering the length of the scene. 0-1 is ideal, up to 3 dependent on the length and detail. Anything above that is an automatic 'no'. I have no problems with relationships, searching, acquiring, troubles and what not. It can provide interest. I like things to be a bit more realistic than the standard romance instant lurv. I just wish books were better labeled. I have picked up novels listed as paranormal romances and found a great story with little to no sex and a more or less realistic approach to relationships. I have also picked up books labeled Scifi, fantasy or fiction with more insta-lurv and sex than a skin-a-max late night movie marathon. Hence the page by page skimming in the store. This is not to say that I haven't purchased books with, in my opinion, too much sex, I have. The story just has to be very good and I can just flip past the areas that to me, aren't important. These are very rare. I do have to laugh at myself though, wanting realistic relationships in novels which have nothing to do with reality.

I was going to reply to this in the comments but it interested me so much I thought it would be a good separate entry in itself.

First, I've gotten a few comments along the lines of "There's too much sex for me." And what troubles me about it--one of the things, anyway--is the way the commenter always seems to feel kind of sheepish about it, or like they expect to be attacked. Guys, there is no reason in the world why anyone, anywhere, should have to apologize for their reading tastes. Never. Ever. (Unless you like reading kiddie porn or something, of course.) But just because you don't want to read erotica? You have every right not to read erotica if you don't want.

I'm kind of the opposite, because I won't buy a romance if there's no sex scene and I'll skim in the store for that. :-) If there's no sex it goes back on the shelf. And I don't apologize for that. As readers of The Strumpet Series know, I believe sex scenes are important; I outlined my reasons in this entry specifically. In a nutshell, though, they are that I believe sex scenes--if well-written--show us something about the characters and their relationship that we couldn't see any other way, that they are fulcrums on which entire plotlines and character arcs can shift, and that leaving them out in essence hides things from the reader and leaves them out of important parts of the story.

But let's be honest. Not every sex scene is going to do that. They should, but they don't always. And let's be honest too, some readers just don't find them interesting or appealing. I think that's a shame, because I believe a well-written sex scene is a thing of beauty and adds a lot to a story, but I would never tell anyone they HAVE to read them if they don't like them.

But I do think this points to the other thing which troubles me, and it's one where I think those blogs and groups I linked to above can help. Because UF is a fairly new genre--which is to say, it's been around for a long time but has just gelled into "UF," everyone seems to have a different idea of what exactly it is. There are people who believe UF is exclusively first-person heroines, for example. There are people who believe that if a human is in love with a paranormal creature, it's a paranormal romance no matter how much or how little of the book is devoted to the relationship.

So it's hard to label the books correctly. It's hard to know exactly where to look and what to look for. I've seen a few people who feel PERSONAL DEMONS is a paranormal romance rather than UF.

The thing is, what used to define genre romance was the HEA--the Happily-Ever-After ending. That separated romance from anything else. But now there are books sold as romance that don't have it. There are books sold as UF that do.

And the level of sex isn't really a good indicator of genre either, as the commenter pointed out. PD has one sex scene; DEMON INSIDE has two. UNHOLY GHOSTS and the further Downside books have at least one each; two at the most. Because I do believe they're important; they're part of the story. But PD skirts the line of paranormal romance whereas UG doesn't at all, I don't think.

All of which is a rather long and convoluted way of saying this is a complex issue, and one that will probably get more so as time goes on, which is why groups and blogs and communities are important.

I dislike the mislabeling of books in general. Books should be easy for readers to find; you should get what you want without having to hunt around too terribly much. While I am absolutely an advocate of trying new and different books, it's hard to try new and different books when you don't know where those are either. This is why I want to open the blog to recommendations on Monday and why I want to keep doing so on occasion; it's why I recommend various genre blogs and groups.

But I'm really interested in your thoughts on this. How do you as a reader decide what genre is which? Where do you make the distinction? What do you look for in UF and how is that different from what you look for in para romance, if you read both?

Like I said if you know of a UF group or blog that I don't have, please leave it in comments. I'd like to keep specific titles out of this one, as we'll do that next week and hopefully that thread will keep going while I'm away.

So you tell me. What do you think?


Charles Gramlich said...

I've wondered a time or two where the UF, Paranormal romance line was. I'd probably read some UF but I doubt I'd enjoy the other. This helped clarify some stuff for me.

Hope the move goes well.

kirsten saell said...

For me, it's about what the story is mostly, well, about. If you write a blurb, and it looks like the UG or PD blurb--that is, mostly an action/fantasy plot with maybe a minor mention of romance--then it's Urban Fantasy or Fantasy with romantic elements.

I've been thinking a lot about this kind of stuff, because I've been wondering (I did a thread on it at Divas) about romance and female heroes and whether the two are mutually exclusive. I do feel that my Crossing Swords was a Fantasy Romance--but Lianon, in my mind, is definitely a female hero, rather than a heroine. But you just don't find them so much in romance. So maybe one way to differentiate between romance and UF is to ask "Is the female protagonist a hero, or a heroine?"

Angie said...

First, best of luck with the move. I hope you end up at the other end with all your china intact and all your lampshades present and accounted for. :)

About definitions, a romance is defined by its plot, specifically, two or more people overcoming obstacles to form a stable romantic relationship. There you go, that's it. If there's no stable romantic relationship at the end, then it's not a romance no matter where in the bookstore it's shelved or what's printed on the spine.

An urban fantasy is defined by its setting, specifically, a modern, generally city-type setting with magical elements present and forming an integral part of the plotline.

Since one is defined by its plot and the other by its setting, you can blend the two quite smoothly (although this is more difficult to do in practice) and at that point it's up to the writer or publisher to decide how to aim the marketing. There are books which could legitimately be marketed as either paranormal romance or urban fantasy, and either label would fit as well as the other.

I do tend to agree with Kirsten at the gut level that if the female protag is more wussified (to be more blunt about it) then I'm more likely to think of the book as a paranormal romance than an urban fantasy. That's just my own prejudice, though, and I don't count it as part of my official definitions. [wry smile]


kirsten saell said...

I do tend to agree with Kirsten at the gut level that if the female protag is more wussified (to be more blunt about it) then I'm more likely to think of the book as a paranormal romance than an urban fantasy.

Actually, I'm more referring to the female protagonist's status within the story, rather than whether she's kick-ass or not. I would say the FP in a chick-lit novel is more a female hero than a heroine, because the book is about her journey--even if she starts out a total mess and a wuss. In romances, the female protag often acts more as supporting cast, or a catalyst to help the hero on his journey, as they simultaneously fall in love. (Laura Kinsale's The Shadow and the Star, or our D's Black Dragon)

So if the FP is what you might call the "hero" of the story, it's probably UF. If she's the catalyst for the hero's journey, romance.

If the hero is male, and the FP is a heroine, it's probably romance. If she's a "love interest", it's more likely to be UF.

This makes me wonder if anytime the woman is the hero, that by default makes it "not a romance".

Can you tell I'm trying to write an article about this crap? I'm completely stymied.

Angie said...

So if the FP is what you might call the "hero" of the story, it's probably UF. If she's the catalyst for the hero's journey, romance.

Humm. Maybe we're just reading different romances, but most of the ones I read have the girl as the actual protagonist, the one who wants something and takes action to overcome obstacles in order to get it. The guy might have his thing going too, but the focus tends to be either on both of them about equally, or on the girl. There are exceptions of course, and some of them are excellent (I love Kinsale, for example, but agree that her guys tend to be the focus of the story) but that's the trend I tend to notice.

Examples: Jo Beverley's My Lady Notorious, where Chastity has a problem she needs to solve (being poor, with an undeservedly bad reputation, and tied to a pair of selfish and brutal brothers) and Cyn is just sort of bumming around looking for something to do and decides to help her out. The "quest" is hers and he's the one who bends his actions to support her in getting what she wants.

Or Laura Kinsale's Midsummer Moon, where Merlin's goal is getting her flying machine finished and working. Ransom is looking for some rumored wonderful invention that'd help the government in the war, but he thinks it's the speaking box, and his fear of heights makes him fight against the whole concept of the flying machine from day one. He's the one who has to change his thinking, Merlin's the one who gets what she wants without having to compromise, while he acts as helper and bodyguard.

I don't actually mind wussified heroines if their personality is used properly. In Laura London's The Windflower, for example, Merry is a total wuss in that if you yell at her she just dissolves. She doesn't seem like at all the sort of character who'd benefit from being kidnapped by pirates. But the writers use that instead of trying to convince the reader that she's this tower of strength, and the book is awesome.

What really annoys me is when the writer is trying to present the female protag as being all strong and kick-ass, but is failing miserably at it. For example, in Linnea Sinclair's Gabriel's Ghost, we're supposed to believe that Chasidah is this strong, kick-butt military type. She starts out on a prison planet and has managed to smuggle a knife in, which is cool. So she's stalking through the darkness with her knife and a plan to escape from the planet, but a sudden noise out of the dark bushes nearby startles her and she immediately drops her knife. [facepalm] Umm, right. I'm sure impressed -- I can see she's ready for a promotion to the special forces any time now. Not. But of course, if the writer hadn't tried to convince me she was all bad and tough, I might've liked her. If she'd been a normal person doing her best under sucky circumstances, then dropping the knife is something a normal person might do when startled. Someone with military training? Not so much.


kirsten saell said...

I'm going to have to give your examples a try, Angie. I'm sort of at an impasse trying to figure out what the differences are between a heroine and a female hero (as pertains to romance). I can feel the difference when I read it, but it's so subtle and hard to put into words.

Part of it, I think, is that the reader only has to relate to the heroine, but she has to fall for the hero. And because most romance readers are straight women, the heroine has to be likeable from the beginning, while the hero can often be a super-hot, darkly brooding jerk-face and still be desirable because of his sex appeal.

Maybe I'm having a hard time explaining this because I'm coming at it from a bisexual POV. Being attracted to both men and women leads to me ending up annoyed a lot of the time, because I would find a super-hot, darkly brooding female rake just as appealing as the quintessential male version. I don't need her to be likeable from the beginning--I want her to not just accomplish stuff and overcome obstacles, but to change and grow and improve as a person (and not just in her discovery that OMG, I like teh hot sexx0ring!!1!).

And sadly, the problem is there in a lot of f/f romance I've read in ebooks--only worse. You end up with a novel that has two heroines instead of heroine you can relate to and a hero you can fall in love with. I just end up not caring, and that's sad because I loves me some hot girl-on-girl action.

kirsten saell said...

Sorry to hijack your comments, D!

December/Stacia said...

Hey, I love it when you guys have discussions in comments, don't apologize!

BernardL said...

I agree with Kirsten. If I'm hooked by the story line, I doubt much of anything will dissuade me from reading the novel.