|Must all our heroes be alone in the galaxy?|
Yes, it’s true that for a tiny fringe group in the science fiction community, the thought of “contaminating” their “pure” SF with romance is an abomination. My answer to them is “too bad”. Obviously my books—and the books many of my SFR brothers and sisters write—are not for you. I won’t waste time trying to sell to you.
The idea of romantic elements in science fiction is nothing new to those familiar with the work of any of the Golden Age authors, with writers like Zenna Henderson, Ursula K. Leguin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Theodore Sturgeon, Anne McCaffery and others of the New Age, or with trailblazers like Linnea Sinclair, Susan Grant or Ann Aguirre of the modern age. The thought of setting romance in a science fiction framework is likewise not unknown or unpalatable to the thousands of fans of romance superstars Sherrilyn Kenyon, Nalini Singh, Suzanne Brockman, Gena Showalter or Jayne Ann Krentz.
So let’s leave the old issue of whether science fiction romance to the dinosaurs, shall we? As writers and advocates of this genre we need to move on to more difficult and complex questions.
What is our target audience? Really. If the first answer that comes to mind is “women who like science fiction”, then you’re thinking way too small. The SF-reading audience is tiny to begin with; reduce that to the number of women who read SF and we can practically call them by name. We might expand it a bit if we include women who like watching SF—fans of beloved TV shows, J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, AVATAR and the like. And their significant others, or males like them. But, still, this is a very small slice of the reading pie.
How about “romance readers who like adventure”? Or “romance readers who like kick-ass heroines or wounded heroes”? Okay, now we’ve expanded our target audience by a mega-factor. We might draw in urban fantasy readers or paranormal readers by thinking of our readers that way. I think of my readers as romantic suspense readers who might be open to a little alien twist. Or fans of J.J. Abrams and Linda Howard—both of whom work close to home, though J.J. often throws in a little weirdness.
Are we willing to broaden our approach to the story? Writers used to be told to write what they know. Now, it seems, we’re supposed to write what we love. But that doesn’t have to mean that the story of your heart is so narrowly focused that you exclude the vast majority of the reading public.
I’ve read too many SFR stories in which the author used the characters for therapy, the world-building as a second job or the romantic arc as an afterthought. Your friends might go along with you in the first case, hard-core SF fans in the second or third, but if you are trying to sell to a broader audience, no one will be interested.
Must all of our heroes and heroines be alone in the galaxy, serious as an alien attack and without any sort of longing for the relatably human needs we all share—hearth, home, comfort? If it’s a romance, there is usually some sort of sex, but sexual tension and emotion are too often lacking. Romance readers, in particular, look for these familiar things in a story. They want humor. They want the hero and heroine to have friends and a home, something to sustain them, even when the romance is not going well. It can be a ship, or a crew. Why do you think STAR TREK was so successful?
Next week: Moving beyond our “dime novel” niche.