Monday, April 23, 2018

Am I Writing the Wrong Kind of SFR?

I recently wondered if I've come to a creative crossroads. Come muse with me a bit on the status quo of SFR.

When I started penning SFR about ten years ago, the "flavor" of the genre that inspired me was Space Opera Romance. That fit nicely with what some of the big names in SFR were also writing at that time, like Linnea Sinclair, Susan Grant, Ann Aguirre, Lois McMaster Bujold and some of Catherine Asaro's work. It wasn't a copycat scenario for me, in the least. Space Opera has always inspired and moved me, and adding the "R" only enhanced the stakes, in my very humble opinion. It's always been what I've been inspired to write.

I like big, visual, high-stakes SFR--with equally high-stakes romances--whether set on an advanced phototype ship, in an alien civilization, or a near future solar system expedition.

But in the last couple of years I've noted a definite paradigm shift in popularity from Space Opera SFR to Shifter SFR. That would be Dragon, Wolf, Bear, Lion, Tiger shapeshifters, in spaaaaaaace. And other flavors of SF that edge into the Paranormal sectors of fiction.

Hmmm. Is my work out of step with the times? And what does this mean for the genre?

It concerns me that SFR's already tiny sliver of the Romance pie is now being further divided by these new trends. The genre has always been wildly diverse flavor-wise, but it's struggling (yet again) with what it wants to be when it grows up.

For reference, this is the list of current "types" of SFR that fall under the SFR Brigade's umbrella:
  • alien romance
  • alternate history romance (with technology, aka Battlestar Galactica)
  • apocalyptic romance
  • bio-engineered romance
  • biopunk romance
  • cli-fi romance (severe or catastrophic climate change not due to magic)
  • colonization romance
  • contemporary science fiction romance
  • cyberpunk romance
  • cyborg romance
  • distant future romance (takes place far in the future with advanced tech, etc.)
  • dystopian romance
  • Earth-based science fiction romance (such as Jurassic Park)
  • erotica science fiction romance
  • first contact romance
  • futuristic romance
  • interstellar adventure romance
  • military science fiction romance
  • medical science fiction romance
  • near future romance
  • parallel dimension romance (when technology or physics is incorporated)
  • planetary colonization romance (romance happens during space colonization efforts)
  • planetary romance (romance happens on another planet)
  • psi-fi romance (story has a basis in science, technology or physics)
  • space colonization romance
  • space opera romance
  • science fantasy romance (technology blended with metaphysical elements ala Star Wars)
  • slipstream (sci-fi with fantasy, horror, etc. with technical/scientific elements)
  • steampunk romance
  • superhero romance (when superpowers are based on technology or science)
  • time travel romance (when technology or physics, not magic, enables the time travel)
  • top gun romance (top pilot or captain in space)
  • young adult romance or new adult romance with any of the above

  • Whew! That's a very broad spectrum for one genre. (Or even one sub-genre, if that's how you choose to classify it.)

    Though Shifter SFR isn't yet specifically mentioned, most could probably fall under science fantasy romance, futuristic, slipstream, bio-engineered or alien romance, depending on the level and type of science elements introduced to explain (or not explain) the "shifter" characters.

    Looking closer, SFR now seems to be morphing into Paranormal-based SFR and SF-based SFR. That trend concerns me, for a number of reasons.

    SFR seems to be about the only genre struggling with this breakdown. Historical Romance is much more cut and dried in what its readership expects--era-based romances. Contemporary Romance is the same--modern themes and complications. Suspense Romance may be a little more diverse in what creates the "suspense" elements for readers.

    But SFR?---it's all over the frickin' board!

    Some SFR readers like shapeshifters in space. Some like cyborgs. Some like gladiators. Some prefer alien warriors. A unifying theme sometimes helps, like the Pets in Space collections, that joins various genre-diverse stories in a common element. But, all-in-all, the readership of one SFR may not transfer to another.

    This made me take a hard look at my planned series to ponder if the vision is still valid for SFR readers.

    And my intuition tells me it is.

    Expanded novella coming soon
    But that said, a course correction may be in order. Going forward, I need to focus a little more on how I'm going to market my books, since they do venture dramatically close, or even cross over into the fringes of SF territory--where romance plot threads are sometimes immediately discounted by some SF fans. (See my previous blog: Re-Visiting an Old Battle: Keep Your R out of my SF!)

    The flipside of that is I'm seeing romance themes getting more and more acceptable with SF, since they're now found--or at least given a bit of air time--in some very popular series (televised or otherwise). Even The Martian, where author Andy Weir has stated he intentionally created a hero without a love interest back home on Earth, explored a very subtly portrayed romance between two of the crewmembers, Chris Beck and Beth Johanssen (though the scenes where Commander Lewis actually deals with their mission-taboo romance were cut from the original movie and are only seen in the extended cut version).

    So, after much pondering, my advice to myself (to quote a line from an old Star Wars episode) is to: "Stay on target."

    So back to writing my SORs (Space Opera Romances).

    Have a great week.


    1. I'm looking to read more SFR but what I'm looking for are the explorations and space battles. I don't want my paranormals in space. I want the gritty going where no one else has, the discoveries (alien or ancient civilizations), the fight for survival.

      Yes, the Stargate series are my spirit animals. I love the conflict between military and science/civilian cooperation balance that needs to be juggled.

    2. Thanks so much for your comments, Beth. It's always great to hear from readers who love space opera SFR. :) Though my series doesn't incorporate aliens (yet--that'll be later, and they'll be VERY alien), they do incorporate various human subspecies and battles or intrigue in space. Is the SyFy series The Expanse also your cup of tea?

      Thanks so much for commenting. And Happy Monday. :)

    3. I'm with you, Laurie. I also write Space Opera Romance. And without for a moment wishing to diss writers and readers of cyborgs, shifters, vampires etc in space, it's not my thing. I often feel my books would be more comfortable in SF - which is why I wish we had a sub-category called Science Fiction - Romance (as opposed to Romance - science fiction). I hope you're right that R in SF is becoming a bit more mainstream. As you said, that hint of a forbidden romance in The Martian was certainly there, and that sort of thing happens. Perhaps Avatar 2 might actually happen.

    4. Thanks, Greta. And yes, here's hoping there's an Avatar 2 (and even a 3, which I once heard was being shot simultaneously *crossing fingers*). And I agree, this definitely isn't intended as a diss of the more paranormal-SFR inspired stories, more of a "Where/how does my work fit with the new trends?" musing.

    5. Interesting, Laurie. I'm not sure we could ever limit what is considered SFR, even if we wanted to. SF, and thus SFR, just has too many plot/character possibilities to be so constrained. But the paranormal SFR is the direct result of publishers/editors seeking that PNR/SFR hybrid and calling for submissions a few years ago, thinking maybe they could find an audience for it, where SFR was, in their minds, a no-go. I remember my agent telling me this, hoping I'd jump on the bandwagon. I laughed. Well, look who's laughing now! LOL! My next book does have a shifter in it, as it turns out, but not really in SP-A-A-A-C-E!

    6. Great insights, Donna. I do agree that the "flavor" diversity in SFR has never been confined. Settings and defining elements have always been wildly imaginative across the genre.

      I'm sure the trad publishers may be a big reason for the sudden Doppler shift toward PNR-SF. They're always calling for something "different" ( long as it's not "too different"). I can see how putting traditionally PNR characters in an updated setting (e.g. in spaaaaace) might fill that need for them nicely, and that trend may have organically carried over to the indie market.

      I'm always a little baffled why Space Opera SFR never became a big market when it's clearly a popular genre for television and motion pictures, but we've had discussions about the media-to-literature fandom disconnect before. Maybe just the term "Space Opera" is off-putting for some.

      I guess if my vision as an author (and preferences as a reader) buck the trends and shuffle my books more into outlier SFR territory, I'll just have to be good with that.

    7. I've struggled with this question since I first got into publishing (so far back it makes me wince lol) and the first editor or agent told me they loved my book but it wasn't publishable (aka marketable). I'm still selling copies of that book, but I'm not selling thousands of anything a month. Writing what your heart loves is not an easy path IF what you love is not hot or highly marketable. Like you, I plan to press on, however. If I am going to be a writer, if I'm going to spend the time, then I want to spend it writing stories I love. :-)

      1. That was part of my final decision-making process too, Pauline. In order to write books of the quality and level I feel they need to be written, my passion has to be in it. And I know you're in it for the long haul as one of SFRs most quintessential authors. :)

      2. Thanks, Laurie. We didn't choose an easy business to be in. lol

      3. Ha. I could have probably tried my hand at Historicals. But something tells me my stories would have had wormhole anomalies or mysterious craft appear in the skies. I just can't not write SFR. Paranormal-SFR hybrids is about as far as I stray. I did try a contemporary once. Emphasis on "try." *cough*

    8. SF has struggled with "what is" the genre (hybrid science fiction/fantasy, all the punk subgenres, spaceships, apocalyptic, SF horror, some medical thrillers) for so long that I'm not surprised SFR does too. I'm not sure if anyone can have a definitive place to stay long term among the trends, since those shift. Space Opera Romance will always be around, but its prominence will wax and wane, I think. We know what it means, so the term will probably stay.
      Spaceships are all well and good, and I'm happy to read them, but they're not my first choice in SF or SFR. That's just a personal preference. The genre is and will remain such a large umbrella of possibilities that nobody's going to like everything within it equally.

    9. Very good points, Lee. SFR is a genre where it's probably far easier to state what it isn't, rather than what it IS. It definitely covers a broad spectrum, and as you mentioned, some of that spectrum may not appeal to some readers. :)

      Thanks for commenting.

    10. I also think we probably look at these distinctions more closely than many readers do. How many times have you heard readers who don't read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy refer to the whole category as sci-fi? Always makes me go "but-but-but", and then I watch them glaze over as I try to explain. :D

      I do think the paranormal-in-space thing is both an attempt to bring something fresh to paranormals and to bring something marketable to sci-fi romance. And I figure why not. My gut tells me that readers care more about story than label. I've read many a book in a category I formerly cared nothing about just because someone I trusted told me it was great.

      Now discoverability, that's a whole different topic...

    11. Ah, yes. The "D" word. Wish there was an easy answer to that particular dilemma, but what is "discovered" and what isn't seems to be based on a keen talent for promotion compounded by a freakish bit of luck.

    12. It looks so cool and interesting. I love to read the novel Specially Read sci-fi novel and watch Sci-fi movies. Recently I had Watch deadpool 2 online trailer and so excited about to watch Full movie.


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