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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sometimes You Feel Like a Paranormal...

Sometimes You Don't
Contest Challenges for the Skiffy Rommer Set

Contests are subjective.  No surprise there.  But when you pen Science Fiction Romance, sometimes it really comes down to the luck of the draw.  Let me 'splain.

As a recent contest campaigner, I've learned that most contests use broad spectrum categories to net large numbers of entries.  This can cause we rebel space cadets to make some hard choices.

In a recent non-RWA contest, my choice was to enter my work as either a Romance or in a category for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror.  Hmmm.  Quandry!  Do I enter it in Romance based on the crucial relationship between the MCs and risk being zapped by a judge who prefers contemporary or regency and hasn't a clue what to make of a love story set 1500 years in the future?  Ooooor, do I enter it in Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror where it's pitted against straight genre fare without romantic elements?  Hmmmmmm.  Hmmmmmm.  Okay....eenie, meanie, miney, moe...

I picked the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category based on the page requirement of the submission and the fact that my romance really doesn't engage all thrusters until the end of Chapter 3.  That gamble paid off.  I finalled...and then won the category.  Which made me do a very enthusiastic happy dance to have my little SFR placed over straight genre fare.  One point for the Skiffy Rommers!!!

My next challenge was an RWA-sponsored contest, where the decision was more cut and dried, but my SFR was still at a disadvantage. Because the romance is a given, the only decision was which category to enter, and that course was pretty much charted, too.  It's not contemporary, historical, suspense, so in the world of romance everything that's "offbeat" falls into a catch-all category called "Paranormal Romance."  In other words, my SFR was thrown into the mix with vampires, ghosts, elves, shapeshifters, demons, reapers, and the like which are often more accepted members of the paranormal realm than science fiction romance.  The Skiffy Rommer was the odd man--er, manuscript--out, once again. 

But hold the shuttle! you say, SFR isn't Paranormal!  Surprise!  (At least this discovery came as a shock to me.)  By most RWA standards, yes it is.  Because, again, there are lump sum categories to encourage lots of entries.  So now my space opera is facing Djinns and Vampires and Elves, oh my!  My SFR didn't do as well in the next contest, and I'll even share a couple of the anonymous judges' comments with you:

"Your elements of future fantasy were well done, very close to SF." 
"Although I love the writing and you’ve scored well, I have to ask—what is your main goal with this book? Is it science fiction or is it romance?"
 
Future Fantasy?  As the Hatfields and McCoys would say, "Them's fightin' words!"  And does there need to be an either/or between science fiction and romance?  Millions of Han and Leia fans would say "I think not!"  (Not to mention Linnea Sinclair, Lois McMaster Bujold and Susan  Grant fans, to name a few.)  But seriously, this isn't in any way, shape or form sour grapes...or even stale Bannan karri-fruit.  The judges are entitled to their opinions, and some are not going to be SFR-oriented.  SFR simply does not compute in their paranormal universe.

That said, I did score exceptionally well in a couple of later contests, possibly because my manuscript was a SFR, so the Skiffy Rommer dilemma can be a two-edged laze saw.  Sometimes it's a huge plus to have an entry that drifts far away from the typical worlds the judges normally see in the Paranormal category.

But will Skiffy Rommers always face these same issues? 

The good news is maybe not.  Is there a major division in the Oort Cloud starting to manifest? That can be answered with a great big maybe.

My helmet is off, way, way off--heck, it's in orbit--for contests like the Launching a Star sponsored by the RWA Spacecoast Authors of Romance (STAR) chapter for splitting the Paranormal Oort Cloud into two categories where apples are not being judged against oranges.  (It's much more like McIntoshs against Red Delicious, at least they are both subspecies of apples and not a different kind of fruit altogether.)

Launching a Star sponsors categories for General Paranormal (paws, claws, fangs, fins, ghosts) and Fantasy/Futuristics (urban fantasy, time/dimensional travel, sci fi).  Much better!  Although sweeping interstellar romance is still pitted against inner city noir, at least the general themes of the entries are getting closer and on more comparable terms.  (Thank you, thank you, thank you, "billions and billions" [as the late Carl Sagan would say] of times over, STAR chapter.

To do my part in this Battle between the Paranormal Genres, I'll be announcing and supporting any future contests that offer a specific division for futuristic, SFR, RSF, and related fare as a way of encouraging this trend.  As the SFR community has already learned, the only way we're going to break out of permanent Paranormal containment is to put our actions behind our words and show support for trends that advance recognition of our subgenre.

5 comments:

  1. Excellent plan, Laurie! And let's give a plug to ON THE FAR SIDE, in which ALL stories must include a speculative element. They have different categories for fantasy, futuristic, and paranormal.

    This contest is held by RWA's Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapter: http://www.romance-ffp.com/.

    There are also RWA chapter contests that use broader (more inclusive) category titles, such as:

    Linda Howard Award - Unique Genres
    Great Expectations - Specialized Category

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  2. Thanks for the break down and peek into your contest experiences.

    The either-SF-or-Romance mentality shows we have a lot of work to accomplish. *rolls up sleeves* Onward and upward!

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  3. Sharon, great idea. Yes, I'm a member of FF&P and support their great contest and RWA Chapter as a whole. It's one of the most active and proactive groups for futuristic romance and SFR that I know of. I need to start a side bar for links to these contests, as well as the Amazon (et al) SFR communities!

    Heather, yes, frankly I was stunned when I first read that comment. As vocal as the Skiffy Rommer set has been of late, there is still work to do, places to go and people to see. Ariba! (as we say here in New Mexico.)

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  4. Really interesting post, Laurie. And this category slippage issue is one reason I've never given much thought to entering contests. We're usually just given the one umbrella category--Paranormal--under which we must compete with the much more POPULAR vampires and their ilk. (My story also has strong suspense elements which confuse the issue even further.)

    I'm not at all surprised by the SF/romance comment. Romance judges, and romance READERS, are strongly conditioned to look for the romance elements right away. The romance--the relationship between the hero and the heroine--not the world-building, or the concepts or anything else we might call "science fiction", will be focus of their reading of the book. I would hope the comment was directed more at the balance between SF and R in the book, rather than to say that SF and R are mutually exclusive in general. Jeez, I REALLY HOPE SO!!

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  5. Donna, my avoidance of contests--up until this past summer--was for exactly the reason you stated. I didn't think my WIP had a chance. I've been *delightfully* proven wrong, and now I'm in a whole new gear--I want to champion SFR on the contest circuit! (Ok, sometimes the "champion" falls flat on her face, but SOMETIMES she wins the joust. Power to the Skiffy Rommers!)

    The feedback has also been excellent and worth the cost of entry alone. And my wins have given me shortcuts to the top of certain slush piles. I couldn't be a stronger advocate of contests now, dispite the uphill (uh...gravity-challenged) battle for SFR.

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