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Supernatural Boys and the Reason Readers Love Them

VAMPIRE CAT WILL SUCK YOURÂ BLOOD

A week ago I pounded out an article that I was going to offer up as my guest blog post for the Love of Reading Book Fair. It was all about how tension between print reviewers and bloggers is unnecessary because blogging fills the niches that print reviewers don’t have the space or inclination to service.

Yesterday I pulled it up to polish a bit and realized it that it was dullness personified. I figured that if there were new readers from the Book Fair, I didn’t want them to get the idea that romance was full of sex and boring. What kind of representative would I be? I put away the article to bore you with another day because I’m all about treating the regulars right.

To those who might not be familiar with Dear Author, we love romance books. We love the stories that end happily. We love the stories with the pink covers. We love the stories that have, wait for it, sex.

I decided to write about my affection for reading love, sex, vampires and the escapist factor of paranormal/fantasy books that are purportedly dominating the market today. (This seems to be debunked a bit in the recent Business of Consumer Publishing 2006 which suggested that only 9% of the romance books being published are paranormals).

This past weekend, I read two upcoming books: Lara Adrian’s Midnight Awakening (December 2007) and Meljean Brook’s Demon Night (February 2008). Both paranormals. Both feature vampires. Both were compelling emotionally. Both were smoking hot because you can’t separate the blood from the sex. However, to say that these stories are the same would be like saying that cities from Boston to Seattle are the same.

There is one thing that I can point to and one reason (among many) why I think that paranormal and fantasy books are hitting the high notes with readers. The paranormal allows for an amplification of loss and sorrow which makes the emotional conflict more compelling. The best I can do to explain this is provide examples from each book.

Lara Adrian, Midnight Awakening.

Tegan is a centuries old vampire who is engaged in an epic, but heretofore semi secret battle against vampires who have lost control and gone rogue. In order to preserve the safety of the existing vampires, Tegan, and a number of others, work to eradicate these Rogue vampires. The war is not without casualties. Tegan’s mate was stolen from him, raped, drained to the point she became a Minion, or servant, of one of these Rogue vampires. She is returned to Tegan, physically alive but emotionally and mentally gone.

The merciful thing to do is for Tegan to kill her but he cannot kill his beloved. Instead, Tegan attempts to keep her alive by feeding her more and more blood which makes his own demands even greater until his control is eroded. His band of brothers lock him away and the leader puts Tegan’s beloved out of her misery. Tegan realizes that her death was the fault of the Rogues and he re-dedicates his life to the war but cuts himself off emotionally.

As the heroine comments, Tegan’s cavalier treatment of her is not cruel, because cruelty would require him to feel.

“The best place for you is in the Darkhavens, Elise. Out here, like you are, you’re a liability–to yourself especially. I’m not saying it to be cruel.”

“No, of course you aren’t,” she agreed softly. “Because even cruelty would imply some kind of feeling, wouldn’t it?”

The story that unfolds is how Tegan begins to realize that the greatest loss of the past centuries wasn’t his beloved, but cutting himself off from everyone. First desire and uncomfortable lust begins to rise to the surface, desire for blood and sex, and then, finally, love.

Meljean Brooks, Demon Night

Charlie Newcombe was an opera singer whose voice rivaled the angels (real ones who know what angelic voices sound like). Her love for the bottle was greater than her love for music. A car accident that she caused while drunk stole her voice. She picked up the broken pieces and decided to make a new life for herself. She’s in the midst of studying for a degree that will enable her to get a job besides serving up drinks. Just when it seems like Charlie is on the verge of making something good of herself, she becomes a pawn in the fight between vampires, nosferatu, demons and guardians. Long lived beings view humans with some disdain and while demons and Guardians cannot affect a human’s free will, someone like Charlie is easy prey for the vampires and when one human could tip the scales in an overall battle, her value is nothing.

Ethan McCabe sacrificed his life to save his brother’s and lived over a century without knowing that his sacrifice was for nothing. The evil that haunted him years ago took his brother’s life and challenges his position as a Guardian.

But Ethan would be damned if his brother's death meant his sacrifice was nothing, if it meant the demon had won.

Caleb had always claimed there were two things worth living for: good drink, and a pretty woman. Ethan figured he could have one for his brother, and keep on protecting the other.

When Ethan meets Charlie, he thinks he knows who she is and because of his loss, says she cannot rely on him and worse, that he does not want her to rely on him because she is just too danged needy. Ethan’s own view of himself, his weaknesses magnified decade after decade, only served to provide a barrier between the one person that existed who could be his equal.

Of course, the obvious reason that readers love the paranormal/fantasy is that it is about super hot nookie with supernatural boys. However, underneath all the super nookie and super boys is the layering of strong emotional elements.

His gaze followed the movement of her fingers as she wiped away the smoky flavor of the whiskey before she could begin to want more. His voice roughened. "I apologize, Charlie. That was awful forward of me.– 

She should have been enraged, or upset, or–"something. But she only said, "I stole a kiss from someone tonight, too.– 

"I doubt he thought it was thievery." He looked at her for a long moment. "And I'm hardpressed to feel true shame for stealing one from you. That was also for my brother–"I'd have died for him to have something so sweet." He glanced over her shoulder. His face hardened, his eyes cooled to emerald again. "I'd have killed to give it to him, too.– 

With the losses amplified, the assauging of loss is all the more meaningful. Without a strong emotional conflict, all the lust in the world for undead hotties would crumble like a vampire in the sun. Emotional conflict is the bailiwick of romances and paranormals/fantasies with the centuries old loss magnify the emotional conflict. It also presents a challenge because without an interweaving of the worldbuilding with the emotional, the paranormal can easily fall flat. One of the more poignant moments in Midnight Awakening is the first blood exchange between Tegan and the heroine, Elise:

“You’re overdressed,” he said, his warm breath tickling the side of her bare neck.

His presence so close to her was almost as startling as his words. Elise turned an anxious glance on him. “You mean for me to disrobe? I don’t see why I sh–”

“You will,” he said, leaving no room for argument. “If I were a cultured Darkhaven male and not the crude warrior that I am, I doubt you’d expect me to receive you fully clothed.”

It was true. Respect for the act of blood-bonding between vampire and Breedmate demanded that both parties come to each other without concealment, coercion, or reservation. Naked in body, commitment, and intent.

It’s a difficult balance but when the two are done well, the impact is outstanding as can be evidenced by the paranormal/fantasy subgenres that are flying off the shelves. This is just my opinion and the comments section is for everyone else’s. Fire away. Tell me I’m wrong, I’m half right, or that you can’t believe I love the books with the pink covers.

The First Sale story will be available at noon today.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

32 Comments

  1. francois
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 07:59:24

    There is more than one type of paranormal – I’m more fond of the comedy and Buffy school. Out and out melodramatic vampire stuff just seems to me another way to play out stereotypes of men as primitive creatures enslaved to various lusts. After a hundred years of debauchery they fall for this one special mortal woman that can rescue them from this curse/loneliness/undeath/black and white vision problem (delete as appropriate). And gosh what a compliment it must be that someone who has been around so long thinks you’re The One. You can rely on the useful plot point that he has to spend time with you initially because he is cursed/it is ordained/fate/uncontrollable blood lust/you are his queen. And isn’t the combination of near uncontrollable animal lusts with old-fashioned gallantry and language lovely? Allows the author to pair a historical sterotype man with a modern day woman, so the reader can have her cake and eat it.

    Of course this only applies to BAD paranormals!

  2. Jayne
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 08:02:44

    Luv the cat.

  3. Gennita Low
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 09:44:39

    The passion! The cats! I’m so stealing that pic.

    I’ve blogged this before: I love hottie supernatural boys because I can have my uber-alpha male do all the totally unacceptable unPC stuff like kidnapping, seduction, and even threats without the PC police coming in and guilting me.
    The vampire boy is often forgiven when all he can think about is blood and lust when he sees his mate. No “WTF, when are they going to talk” screamage. The werewolf boy can even have a pack of females in certain urban fantasies and there wouldn’t be any backlash that he must be with only one.

    Like you said, the emotions/conflicts are overblown and amplified. It’s the kind of stuff that’s missing for me in many contemporary romances today. Actually, I might not enjoy it as much in a contemporary romance because then the reality of political correctness would intrude!

    So give me supernatural boys and bad-ass international spy/assassins in my romance books. They fascinate the reader in me.

  4. sherry thomas
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 09:49:33

    Well put, Jane.

    I also agree with francois that it is easy to go overboard. So the great paranormal writers both have a lot to work with and a lot to watch out for.

  5. Patrice Michelle
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 10:16:59

    It is a delicate balance and when done right can be oh-so-delicious to read and devour! Bring on the supernatural men!!! :)

  6. Madame Butterfly
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 10:34:31

    I totally love the paranormal genre for the whole un-PCness of it. I find it really funny that I accept and even enjoy all kinds of behavior from a paranormal that I would never accept from a contemporary non paranormal romance. For instance the use of condoms. If I read a romance and the couple just meet and hop into bed with out that, I’m totally outraged. However, in a paranormal I’m like yeah, go for it! Over possessive and overbearing Heroes, in the paranormal, bring them on! I love the whole out of bound-ness of paranormals.

  7. Teddypig
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 10:48:34

    I find myself really loving them for the use of allegory. You can have interracial issues, discrimination, bisexuality, menage, BDSM dynamics… etc etc etc.

    And no one blinks an eye.

    Paranormal Romance is full of awesome!

  8. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 10:52:56

    I always find it interesting to see people lay out WHY they like paranormals. I often feel like I got an entirely different book than the fans did. Every once in a great while there's just soooooooo much hype for a book or series that I can't resist the urge to see if this is THE ONE that will turn me into a paranormal fangirl. But I've yet to find that book . . . Many of them are full of angst, and angst (such an Emo boy emotion) just doesn't do it for me. And soooooo many of them fall into the “fated mates” trap, and that turns me off too (just want is romantic about a love that can not be denied, that's instinctual?).

    Maybe it really does come down to the desire for a hero who can behave in un-PC ways and get away with it (another thing I'm not looking for in a romance). *shrug* That's the theory my friends who glom the subgenre have settled on, and I see it raised here too. They say historicals have succumbed to the need for heroes to act as though they are modern men, and that paranormal heroes are the only real bad boys left (I disagree, but that's a whole nother issue).

    I'd really LOVE to see a paranormal that wasn't about the hero being “saved by love”, but was about there heroine being seduced and converted to the dark side (and loving every minute of it). When that book comes out (and no, I have no desire to write it myself) I may well become a convert.

    Anyone got any suggestions for my TBR pile?

  9. Jaci Burton
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 10:55:16

    ‘when done well’…

    that’s the key here, Jane. And both these authors do it oh so well. That’s what makes the bad boys of paranormal work. You can tell which authors do it well, the ones who make you hold your breath, whose words curl your toes and build a fire in your belly.

    Lara and Meljean have the magic. :-)

  10. Robin
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 11:49:22

    I don’t really think any subgenre of Romance is more plagued than any other by less than stellar handling of its particular motifs, themes, and elements. Rather, when one subgenre enjoys the appearance of greater popularity or plentiful availability, there’s a certain burn effect, where the heat of those initial books that turn on the subgenre eventually burn out the reader somewhere in the many that crowd the market afterward.

    When I started reading Romance, I was very wary of contemps, because the sexual politics were SO evident that I was consciously struggling with the books I read. Then I found some great books and authors and realized that it’s not the subgenre so much as the book. Same, IMO, with paranormals. I adore Meljean Brook’s books and Kresley Cole’s books, for example (and have purchased the first two Adrian books to try), and while I was riveted by Ward’s Dark Lover, I have been less and less interested in each subsequent book in that series.

    Some of it is just that magic in reading that makes each of us fall in love with some books and not others. IMO you see the same discussions occurring in every subgenre. That doesn’t mean every reader will love every subgenre, but IMO there is a certain reader-book alchemy that can happen in any subgenre, regardless of the particular characteristics of each subgenre.

  11. Janine
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 12:07:20

    I'd really LOVE to see a paranormal that wasn't about the hero being “saved by love”, but was about there heroine being seduced and converted to the dark side (and loving every minute of it). When that book comes out (and no, I have no desire to write it myself) I may well become a convert.

    Anyone got any suggestions for my TBR pile?

    I wonder if The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe would work for you, Kalen. It’s not exactly what you describe but it’s also not a book where the heroine saves the hero with her love. I don’t know if it would appeal to you but I love Abe’s paranorals so much that I try to convert everyone to them.

    I reviewed the book here.

  12. Kerry Allen
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 12:14:00

    I lurve angst. Goth angst, not emo angst (AKA Diet Angst). Those emo boys need to go scratch themselves and let the gals wrestle with the men who aren’t just playing at being dark.

  13. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 13:27:57

    Goth angst IS Emo angst, IMO. And they’re all “playing” at being dark, that’s my problem. The theme so often is about love saving the hero from being dark, it’s about castraing him, making him tame or safe. Making him into the very thing we were glad he wasn’t in the first place.

    I hate to bring it all round to Buffy, but I think it comes down to are you a Spike girl or an Angel girl? An Angelus girl or an Angle girl? I always thought that the Darla/Angelus romance was way hotter than the angst-driven wounded-soul romance of Angel/Buffy.

  14. Janine
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 13:35:07

    I’m a Spike girl all the way. I still am waiting for a character as great as Spike to turn up in a paranormal romance. The Buffy and Angel relationship, on the other hand, did nothing for me.

  15. Jane
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 13:38:45

    Kalen – do you have an example of the angst done right? I certainly didn’t read Tegan being declawed at all but maybe my frame isn’t the same as yours.

  16. Robin
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 14:17:47

    Well, considering that a number of readers, including the reviewer at AAR, felt that Kit completely overpowered Rue in The Smoke Thief — bent her to his will and remained far too powerful — I’d say that’s one book in which the hero isn’t castrated. I felt that Rue was every bit as powerful as Kit, but in any case, he was hardly tamed by the end of the book, lol. If anything, his feelings for Rue made him more feral, IMO.

  17. Meljean
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 14:25:54

    I’m a Buffy/Angel and a Buffy/Spike fan. I thought they were both great relationships for where Buffy was in her development. A Season 2 Spike and a Season 1 Buffy wouldn’t be as hot as their later relationship, or as interesting because she hadn’t gone through the stuff with Angel — and a Season 6 Buffy and a Season 6 Angel would have bored me to tears.

    And after Buffy ended? Hell, I’m all about the Spike/Angel, then.

  18. Janine
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 14:48:28

    I dunno, Meljean. It may have something to do with the fact that I stated watching Buffy in season 5 and then caught up on the early years, but I thought the first season of Buffy was terrible and the second season way too melodramatic. In season 3 they started getting the balance of satire and drama right and from then on I loved the show more with each season — up until season 7, which I didn’t think was quite as good. For me, the pinnacle of the show was the musical episode “Once More With Feeling” but I also loved so many Spike and Buffy moments, starting with when they lost their memories and mistakenly thought they were a couple, and when Spike started having a thing for the Buffybot.

    Spike and Buffy were hilarious as well as hot. Angel and Buffy? Their angst just seemed like so much melodrama to me.

  19. Meljean
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 14:54:36

    I’m a fan of melodrama :-D I also like the funny/hot, too — so that’s probably why both work for me.

  20. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 15:18:14

    No, Jane, I don’t think I have an example of angst done right (except, maybe Louis in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, but that hardly counts in this context). That’s kind of my point. I find paranormal heroes very angst-ridden, and it’s a big turn off for me. Maybe it’s just a case of me and the genre not being a good fit? I don’t know. But I don’t like the feeling I have of missing out on something. I’m greedy that way. LOL!

    I try REALLY hard not to talk about specific books, unless I have something nice to say, cause I cross paths with–or share friends with–so many of the authors under discussion (romance is SUCH a small pond when you get right down to it).

    I’ll add the Adrian book to my TBR pile . . . she’s an author I don’t know and haven’t yet tried.

  21. Jane
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 15:25:35

    Is there a non paranormal that has angst done right? or a non neutering of a powerful alpha male?

  22. Janine
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 15:37:06

    Hmm, Jane, I don’t think it’s an angsty book, but Dream of Me by Lisa Cach is another book that had an alpha hero who wasn’t neutered IMO.

    Meljean, I can like melodrama too, when it’s more than just melodramatic. Then it doesn’t seem over the top to me, but in the second season of Buffy, it did. Maybe because Buffy was still a teenager, and Angel looked too old for her, I just couldn’t take that relationship seriously and angst about it along with the characters.

  23. Meriam
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 15:53:45

    I was never a huge Buffy/ Angel fan, and my Spike love withered by the end of season 5. But season 2 – when Buffy has to kill Angelus, all alone, after the most tumultuous year of her life – awesome. Shiver inducing awesome. I loved the second half of that season and the last two episodes in particular (when Buffy and Spike strike up their first alliance…). For me, whilst the following seasons were more polished and had better standalone episodes, nothing matched the emotional heights of Becoming parts I and II. Nor quite personified Buffy’s ‘hero’s journey.’

    Also, I secretly belonged to that tiny minority of Buffy/ Xander shippers… the anti-supernatural boy.

  24. Meriam
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 15:54:51

    Damn you, winky icon! I’ll never learn!

  25. Meljean
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 16:05:49

    Maybe because Buffy was still a teenager, and Angel looked too old for her, I just couldn't take that relationship seriously and angst about it along with the characters.

    I think this is at the core of why it does work for me: her age. For me, teenage relationships and melodrama go hand-in-hand, and anything more probably wouldn’t work for me, just because it doesn’t fit. Like, if Buffy’s (or any other teenager’s) relationship had been as layered and interesting as hers and Spike’s, I couldn’t maintain that suspension of disbelief. I’d be like: this is a teenager? Pfft. But for a teenager looking to define herself and find out how strong she is, the melodrama completely works for me (and his age, too).

    Teenage relationships are hard for me to take seriously or believe in a HEA — but as a step along the way, I did think it was compelling.

    Spike/Buffy comes at a point when I feel she’s already established who she is and her strength, so the relationship as a whole just feels more adult (and any melodrama there would have just felt wrong, like it was a kiddie relationship). And (to bring it back to the main topic) in romance, this is definitely the type of relationship I prefer to read about. A little bit of over-the-top melodrama and angsting is fine, but I like two characters who are coming together as equals (even if they are opposites), and where their relationship is funny, hot, and complex.

    So both relationships still work for me (and I see something similar to the first type in, say, a Harlequin Presents, which are a huge guilty pleasure of mine) but the other types of romances aren’t a guilty pleasure at all, more just a pleasure.

  26. Meljean
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 16:07:13

    And I forgot to add: I love love love Dream of Me. Highly recommended, and the hero is unlike any other in romance (paranormal or otherwise) that I’ve read.

  27. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 16:33:53

    Maybe I’m not saying it right.

    I don’t like angsty heroes, regardless of subgenre, but they seem to be a common feature of the paranormal books that I’ve tried. They crop up a lot in other subgenres too (lots of angst-ridden Regency Dukes and Navy Seals in Romancelandia; I don't much care for them either). Maybe angst isn't even the right word? Maybe I mean something more like: I'm looking for a hero with balls (as Stephen Colbert would say). One who doesn't spend half the book whining about how unworthy his is, how damaged he is, or how he's unsalvageable.

    Maybe what I'm looking for is an anti-hero romance? Maybe it doesn't exist. Maybe it never will (unpublishable comes to mind). It just seems to me that the real freedom of the paranormal subgenre is that BIG BAD LOVE should be possible.

    For me, the PERFECT paranormal romance is Anne Rice's THE MUMMY (even though it's not published as a paranormal romance). I have yet to find anything else in the market that hits the same sweet spot as that novel.

  28. Janine
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 19:30:00

    Meljean, I agree that teenage relationships are melodramatic, but I guess this is why I wasn’t invested in the Buffy/Angel pariring. It felt very adolescent to me, like something Buffy was sure to outgrow, and Angel, who was over a hundred IIRC, should know better than to involve himself in. Perhaps if they had both been teenagers, I might have been moved to care, but since Angel wasn’t, the immaturity of the relationship was what struck me more than anything else.

    I agree with you that the Buffy/Spike pairing was more adult, and to me it was also (becaue the age difference factor wasn’t there) a whole lot sexier.

    But I’m sure my preference also relates to other factors like the fact that I loved James Marsters, and thought David Boreanaz’s performaces were wooden as Angel and over-the-top/scenery chewing as Angelus. And that the whole show seemed better written, filmed and edited to me in four of its later seasons.

    It’s great to hear that you loved Dream of Me, too. Such an underappreciated book. It’s not flawless (I wish the historical and setting details were more developed) but I adored Theron too. And you’re right, he’s a hero unlike any other.

  29. Janine
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 19:46:25

    Maybe I mean something more like: I'm looking for a hero with balls (as Stephen Colbert would say). One who doesn't spend half the book whining about how unworthy his is, how damaged he is, or how he's unsalvageable.

    Well then in paranormals I would definitely recommend Dream of Me (the hero is an incubus, and the book is both funny and dark). And I think The Smoke Thief might work for you as well.

    For me, the PERFECT paranormal romance is Anne Rice's THE MUMMY (even though it's not published as a paranormal romance). I have yet to find anything else in the market that hits the same sweet spot as that novel.

    Hmm. I read that book when it came out and was disappointed in it at the time. I wonder if I would appreciate it more now? I was a huge fan of Rice’s early vampire novels, and The Mummy seemed positively tame compare with something like The Vampire Lestat, or even Rice’s emotional BDSM romance Exit to Eden.

    Now if Lestat were a romance hero, I would totally agree with you. Lestat knows he is bad, but he doesn’t angst over it like Louis does. To the contrary, he embraces his bad side and thrills in it. I think at the end of The Tale of the Body Thief, he concludes that given the choice, he would always choose to be a vampire. It was a great ending to a somewhat disappointing book.

    I liked Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and (to a lesser degree) Queen of the Damned best, and I’m always thinking that maybe I should reread one of them and review it here, but that TBR stack never gets any smaller…

  30. k
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 23:45:44

    I read the headline, then started reading the article, but I was confused. “Where are Jared and Jensen? This isn’t about my Supernatural boys,” my brain said.

  31. Patrice Michelle
    Nov 17, 2007 @ 00:07:59

    Kalen said, I'd really LOVE to see a paranormal that wasn't about the hero being “saved by love”, but was about there heroine being seduced and converted to the dark side (and loving every minute of it). When that book comes out (and no, I have no desire to write it myself) I may well become a convert.

    There’s a movie that touches on this theme…except it’s the flipside…the hero changes. See Original Sin with Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas. Verra sexy.

    K, I thought the same thing when I saw the title at first. I lurve those Supernatural Winchesters!

  32. francois
    Nov 20, 2007 @ 05:49:50

    These books don’t work for me. Mostly. Perhaps because I too can’t believe it when these supposedly Big Bad guys turn into pussycats overnight. I’ve just finished Dark Lover and while there was the odd thing I liked, the pussycat thing ruined it for me. The vampires were too much like stereotypical humans from old school historical romance. Which is alright if thats what you like.

    Plus it is obviously part of a series and setting up the other men to be saved by love in later books. I can’t stand that! I’ve just started “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer and IT IS A THING OF BEAUTY. So its not that I hate vampires…

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