I admit I’m a little slow. I often come to popular TV shows or books or authors (or genres) late, running full out, red-faced and out of breath, like that kid who never seems to get to the bus stop on time. (It’s because I hate to commit. The shows I like usually end up canceled after one or two seasons.)
Which is all to say that I haven’t been following “Torchwood”. (Yes, I know, you can all throw things at your computer screens now, in lieu of hitting me.) But I did catch the recent “Torchwood: Children of Earth” mini-series. I thought it was quite well done, and I enjoyed it. Still, when it was all over I had the strangest sense of the familiar. “Poor Captain Jack,” I said as I flipped off the telly. Off on another adventure—alone.
And isn’t just that always the way of it in “straight” science fiction/urban fantasy/graphic fiction? No matter whether you are gay or straight, alien or human, male or female, even good or bad, if you get involved with a space captain/demon hunter/vampire killer/superhero you end up dead/left behind/lost in the vast space/time continuum. And the hero/heroine goes on ALONE. **sigh** How tragic! How romantic!
What it actually is, frankly, is CONVENIENT for that hero. No messy relationships to worry about. Nothing to work out. Goodbye. Good luck. Just focus on the WORK!
Okay, but here’s the catch. Real heroes (and heroines) need to be real people, with real emotions and real needs. They need to have something worth fighting for, and not just in the abstract sense of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Every one of those guys in the trenches in Afghanistan has a picture on him somewhere—in his helmet, in his chest pocket close to his heart—of someone he loves. He’s fighting to stay alive so he can get back to that someone. You think that makes him weak? No. It makes him a warrior instead of merely a killer.
So it’s possible, just possible, that a real hero or heroine might fall in love in the course of an adventure and not have to leave that someone behind forever. We, as authors, might not have to kill them off or send them into an alternate universe! Men and women (lovers of the same gender, beings of all created types) might fight side by side for the things they believe in. We could, dare we think it, even write a HAPPY ENDING! Romance, in other words, is possible in the SF world.
I came to be a Skiffy Rommer because I got really tired of watching the hero ride off into the sunset/galactic plane alone, leaving some wench sniffling on the planet behind him. It was no better to envision it with the heroine in the captain’s seat, leaving behind a heartbroken lover. I like the idea of men and women as lovers and partners, taking on the universe together. Sure, they have their own problems coming together and staying together. The universe makes it difficult for them, too. But in the end, they overcome those obstacles. Their relationship survives. They defeat the bad aliens and ride off into the galactic plane together. That, to me, is the essence of science fiction romance.
In defining it this way, of course, I’m following pretty close to the rules laid out for traditional romance. I’m focusing on the emotions that motivate my hero and heroine and following, as the central storyline, the birth and growth of their relationship and how those emotions play out. The SF genre in which I’ve chosen to develop that relationship determines everything else—the plot, the setting, the style, the secondary characters, etc. Everything serves to illuminate the story of the relationship and how it grows.
In making my decision to do it things this way, of course, I run the risk of losing the science fiction audience. Certainly “pure” romance is as “unrealistic” as “pure” science fiction, for different reasons. Stories at both ends of the continuum can be formulaic, their characters and their settings flat and lifeless. I try to avoid both extremes and I work hard to give my work true depth. No matter what I do, not everyone will be happy. But, then, as some dead rock star once famously said, “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”
We all have to decide where the stories we want to tell fall—more romance, less SF? Smack in the middle? Science fiction with romantic elements? And once we’ve figured that out, we have to find the agent and publisher who fit that profile. It’s no use trying to sell hot SF romance to the Spectrum Agency and little use trying to sell hard SF with romantic elements to The Knight Agency (just guessing here—if anybody out there has had a different experience, I’ll bow to higher knowledge).
When I set out to learn about this thing called love (in a publishing context) I picked up a book called ON WRITING ROMANCE by Leigh Michaels. It is the best book on writing fiction I have ever read. And it’s terrific at defining what’s different about writing romance. I don’t think anyone out there will disagree that as aspiring writers we need all the help we can get.
Because, Lord knows, (and despite what your mom and your brother-in-law think) this writing business ain’t easy.