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