What is Paranormal Romance and why should I care?

What is Paranormal Romance and why should I care?  One would think that is a simple enough question, it’s a sub-genre of romance with paranormal elements (like vampires) and it’s incredibly popular with readers.  But…the more I read about the genre and within the genre, the more I realized that a lot of paranormal romance isn’t romance…at least not what we traditionally think of as romance.

In a short 30 minute presentation, I need to cover:

Paranormal Romance (Keep scrolling to get to the presentation)

  • Is it Romance? If it isn’t Romance, then what is it?
  • What do your patrons want when they ask for it?
  • What do we need to know about it to help them?
  • Who do we need to have in the collection?

For readers like me, who came at PR from the Romance genre, we have certain expectations…

According to the end-all, be-all of Romance, the Romance Writers of America say:

  • Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.
    • A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
    • An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.
  • The sub-genre of Paranormal Romance is:
    • Romance novels in which the future, a fantasy world, or paranormal happenings are an integral part of the plot.
  • Just so you understand about Romance readers – In 2010, Romance generated $1.358 billion, estimated to go up to $1.368 in 2011.  Romance Market share compared to other genres – $1.358 billion v. $759 million (Inspirational) v. $682 million (Mystery) v. $559 million (Sci-Fi/Fantasy) v. $455 million classic literary Fiction (Romance Literature Statistics)

Paula Guran’s “What is “Paranormal Romance”?” Intro chapter to the anthology Best New Paranormal Romance helps clarify Paranormal ‘r’omance versus Paranormal ‘R’omance.  She actually helps us understand what it isn’t…

  • “To be paranormal a romance needs to involve the supernatural – magic, the occult, ghosts, shapechangers like werewolves, psychic powers, superhuman abilities, travel through time, fantastic or legendary creatures (vampires, fairies, gods and goddesses, angels, demons, and the like), a fantasy world or alternative-Earth or -reality setting, relationships that continue to exist over eras and eons, etc–or have futuristic or science-fiction element.” (p.7)
  • Guran differentiates between traditional Romance (happily ever after for the hero/heroine) and paranormal ‘romance’ which does not follow the ‘rules’ of the genre.
  • First big hit for Paranormal Romance was probably Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series – won the 1991 RWA Best Romance award for a new “Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal” category.
  • Here is where it gets confusing:
    • Readers, reviewers and booksellers call books by Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Christine Feehan, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Lynsay Sands ‘paranormal romance’ while most of these authors write Fantasy or Mystery.
    • Who writes Romance? Guran says the Nielsen Bookscan identifed these three: Feehan, Sands and Kenyon…That’s it! (p.9)
  • So…”many of the most popular paranormal romance novels are not Romances, yet they are often marketed as “paranormal-romance-the-subgenre-of-Romance.” (p.10)
  • “Further, although some paranormal romance readers prefer Romance, not all of the do.  Some do not read Romance at all.
  • Note to self–be sure to ask if a person wants a Romance or a romantic fantasy story…
  • So, she helps me identify:
    • paranormal but not Romance: Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Underworld series, L.A. Banks’s Vampire Huntress series, MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead books, Laurell K. Hamilton’s series, Kim Harrison’s Hollow series, and Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Series
    • More info about lead characters, courtesy of ottothefangirl:Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series, (only 1-9, mind you), by Laurell K. Hamilton | Rachel Morgan, The Hallows Series, by Kim Harrison | Mercy Thompson Series, by Patricia Briggs | Otherworld Series, by Kelley Armstrong | Sookie Stackhouse, Southern Vampire Series, by Charlaine Harris | Kitty Norville Series, by Carrie Vaughn | Anna Latham, Alpha and Omega Series, by Patricia Briggs | Meredith Gentry Series, by Laurell K. Hamilton (at least the first bunch) | Betsy Taylor, Undead Series, by Mary Janice Davidson
    • Romance authors who write paranormal: Amanda Ashley, Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle, Nora Roberts/J.D Robb, Lynsay Sands, Mary Jo Putney, Christin Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Maggie Shayne.  She calls those last 3 “a rather dark shade of Romance.”
    • Guran has a theory about the popularity of paranormal romance – “Adventure–books like [Laurell K.] Hamilton’s were fantasy adventure stories for women.
      • Anita Blake = Conan the Barbarian (p. 14)

Thankfully, Library Journal helps to clarify – I think a lot of this stuff is “Contemporary Urban Fantasy”

This is what your patrons are looking for when they request “urban fantasy.” Common characteristics include tough female protagonists (often with supernatural powers or superhuman strength), stronger distinctions between good and evil, grittier urban landscapes, first-person narration, and sexual tension, often between the female protagonist and a male character who toes the line between good and evil. A pioneer in this subgenre is Laurell K. Hamilton, whose “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” novels were among the first to play on these themes.
From: Donohue, Nanette Wargo (1 June 2008). “Collection Development “Urban Fantasy”: The City Fantastic”Library Journal.

In the Intro to Fang-tastic Fiction by Patricia O’Brien Mathews, she has some definitions and clarifications of her own:

  • “Where are they shelved?  Whether you search online, at a bookstore, or in a library, you will find no consensus as to where paranormal fiction titles are shelved.”  (Kelly just made her own stickers and created a new section at Tonganoxie.)

  • “According to Tim Holman, head of the science fiction and fantasy publisher Orbin, the rise of urban fantasy has been ‘the biggest category shift within the sci-fi/fantasy market in the last ten years in the U.S.'” – In July 20o9, 28 of the top 50 fantasy best sellers in the US were Urban Fantasy titles.
  • PR are often series – “Read them in series order–not in random order.”
    • When sharing authors/series info with readers, give them the FIRST book in the series.
    • Many of these books will not be comprehensible if read in random order.”  It’s called World Building for a reason…it needs to be built over time.  Much plot and character development is in the early titles, too.
  • Main Characters:  Human,  Walking Dead (zombies and vamps), Weres (shape changers and werewolves), Representatives from Heaven and Hell (Angels, demons, mythic gods/goddesses), and the Fae (fairies, elves, ghosts, ghouls). (p. 6)
  • Plots: corruption, religious fanatics, demonic invasions, mad scientists, government kindnapping, and “an ancient evil is reborn and must be stopped.” (p. 6)
  • Plot Types: Soul-mate romances (deeper), urban fantasy, chick lit (humor), cozy mysteries (PG-rated), historical series.
  • If you have this book to guide you, you can find a read-alike by asking
    • Do you want romance or urban fiction? Vamps or shifters? Is humor important? Sensuality? Violence?”  Then find a series to match.