Thursday, January 7, 2010

FOLLOWING THE STORY--TO SFR

I was lucky enough to speak with the extraordinarily talented Linda Howard at the 2009 Romance Writers of America National Conference last July. A frequent visitor to the NY TIMES bestseller list, Howard has written some 23 best-selling single-title romance novels, the last few released as hardcovers. Lately she has been writing romantic suspense thrillers, but she started out with westerns, tried her hand at contemporaries, slipped in a time travel historical—you name it, she’s done it, except for maybe a Regency historical.

I asked her how she managed to span such a wide range of sub-genres. “Well, that’s easy,” she said in that magnolia-and-molasses Alabama accent of hers. “You just have to follow the story.”

Follow the story. And if it takes you to a ranch in Colorado, a high-rise in New York or a cruise ship in the Caribbean, as her stories have, you give each story its separate and very different due. Most of us can understand that rule, even if our muses demand that we travel to very different places—a ship bound for the Outer Planets or a lab in Victorian England or the heart of a time warp.

But what if most of the time you hang out in, say, a cold northern forest filled with werewolves, and all of a sudden the muse says, “Nope! Today, you’re going to a planet in Beta Quadrant ruled by tripedal mesomorphs.” Yikes! Worse if you’re a published author with a career built on said werewolves and no track record with mesomorphs!

There’s been a bit of a Revolt of the Muses lately, if we can judge by some of the titles hitting the book stores. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s new LEAGUE series (BORN OF NIGHT, BORN OF FIRE and BORN OF ICE) is the most visible example of an author famed for her paranormal novels following the story into SFR territory (with spectacular sales results!)

But she’s not the only one who has done it with her latest work. Jacquelyn Frank, known for her paranormal series THE NIGHTWALKERS and THE SHADOW WALKERS, has begun a new series, THE GATHERERS, with an SFR theme. The first title in the series, HUNTING JULIAN, offers us a fresh twist on the old “Mars Needs Women” theme. The story may not be for everyone, with a heroine so prickly she borders on the unlikable for much of the book and a sympathetic hero with a not-altogether-supportable cause. I found it engaging, if not quite up to the world-building level of Frank’s paranormal series. Maybe she just needs more time in this part of the universe to feel comfortable.

But travel is broadening, and I highly recommend it. Those of us who pay for the trips—the readers—will certainly be glad to foot the bill for those who want to travel into the SFR universe.

Oh, and by the way. The well-traveled Linda Howard has taken a trip out our way, too. In 2005, she wrote a book called KILLING TIME, which was nothing less than a full-fledged time-travel science fiction romance involving a murder mystery across time, complete with the dangers of introducing future technology, alternate timelines and all the other headaches of time travel with which we’ve become so familiar. Because of the work of the geniuses of marketing which we’ve noted here before, nothing on the cover, nothing in the back cover copy, nothing in the frontispiece indicated this was a science fiction romance. I was twenty pages in before I figured it out. Still, since she came all this way, I say we skiffy rommers should give Linda Howard the requisite visa stamp in her passport. Buy her book! Read it, enjoy it, tag it, bag it for a friend!

Follow the story, y’all. Just follow the story.

Cheers, Donna

5 comments:

  1. *KA-THUNK*

    Stamps Linda Howard's KILLING TIME with our fantabulous Seal of SFR Approval stamp.

    Welcome to the Brigade, Ms. Howard! :)

    Great article, Donna.

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  2. How do you define the difference between a fantasy and scifi romance? When the worlds are created from thin air in both cases, the names of the characters are often weird- what is it that makes the two different?

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  3. Hi Anonymous. I agree the line does seem very gray at times.

    Generally, Fantasy Romance focuses on magic or magical creatures and Science Fiction Romance is based on technology and/or alien creatures.

    For instance, in Sherilyn Kenyon's League series the characters move between planets in ships (technology) and use weaponry (not magic) to fight their battles. The League series is SFR. In her Dark Hunter series the characters traverse between realms, use superhuman powers or magic elements and shape shifting (magic) to fight or evade their enemies. That's fantasy.

    I've heard Twilight described as Science Fiction Romance and it is unquestionably a Fantasy Romance. There's no science driving the plot or world-building. It's all about humans interacting with Vampires and Werewolves.

    I hope that helps explain the differences.

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  4. Nuts and bolts. That's the difference. Scifi is technology based and fantasy is magic based. Both are fiction so you can write anything you want to spin from your imagination, but your fantasy readers will buy into the more "fantastic" ideas than the sci fi readers, who want the tech to be a possiblity. My novels have both elements, leaning toward futuristic urban fantasy.
    Slipping the Past, which is released Monday with Liquid Silver Books is exactly that, a blend of both.

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  5. Laurie and Dawn have it exactly, A., though with individual stories, it's hard to tell which category they might fall into. Frank's GATHERERS series does qualify as SFR, due to its otherworldly/alien themes and a foundation in science, rather than magic as the explanation for what happens, but it does have a fantasy feel to it.

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