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by Barbara Sheridan
Leslie Tramposch: Managing Editor - Sara Reyes: Marketing and Publicity
To submit articles of interest to our readers Email Barbara.

May 2001


TOP Paranormal Romance Authors Define the SUB-GENRE!

Not quite sure? We asked the experts, the authors who write them!

Jo Ann Ferguson: My definition of a paranormal has always been: "A story that has an element of the impossible which makes everything in the story possible."

Megan Sybil Baker: What is a Paranormal Romance novel? To me, it's a romance story set in another place, time and/or universe, in which one or more key elements involve the mystical, mythical, supernatural or fantastical. If Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz' had married the Scarecrow, that would have made it a paranormal romance: talking lions, witches and a pair of red high heels with matter transportation abilities are not consistent with our 'universe'. And if George Lucas had pushed the subplot of Han Solo and Princess Leia to the forefront, 'Star Wars' would have been a paranormal romance. Same is true if Scarlett O'Hara had encountered Rhett Butler as a genie from a bottle (good Southern Bourbon, no doubt!). A paranormal romance is a romance with the added element of the extra-ordinary. Or more succinctly, a paranormal romance is what I love to read, and to write. ;-)
Karen White: Yeesh. Isn't that a bit like asking "What is the meaning of Life?"

To me paranormal is synonymous with "other worldly." Meaning--anything that
is outside the "reality" of our every day existence. This would include
anything from shapeshifters, vampires, ghosts, reincarnation, traveling
through time.

Susan Sizemore: Define "Paranormal", eh? Well, the Webster's dictionary defines paranormal as "not scientifically explainable". In publishing, the term has come to mean anything "other" than normal (brides, babies, cowboys, dukes, rakes, pirates). For publishing purposes Paranormal is a blanket term that covers an entire range of not necessarily related types of stories. Futuristic and SF romance and all sorts of fantasy romance, -- time travel, angels, devils, fairies, vampires, reincarnation, psychics, etc -- are published under the label of paranormal. Me, I call it "The Weird Stuff" with pride, and get a great kick out of reading and writing it.
Liddy Midnight: Hmmm . . . paranormal. The word conjures so many images for me. Fascination. Out of the ordinary. Psychics. Inexplicable phenomena. Fairies. Outside the bounds of normal time and space. Time travel. Magic in all its wondrous forms. What can't be - but is. The improbable, come to pass. The impossible, come to life. The imaginable, come to love.

On a more useful note, I'd define paranormal romance as those stories involving an element of unreality as we presently know it, be it time travel, the future, the realm of faery, telepathy, and so on. I say "unreality as we presently know it" because not so long ago, radios and jets would have been considered a paranormal element.
Rosemary Laurey: Paranormal is an element in the story immediately recognized as fantasy or invention: vampires, werewolves, angels, time travel to the past or the future, ghosts, genies, you name it, but is vital to the course of the romance. It adds to, or may even be the conflict, it ups the tension, complicates the plot line, and is part of the resolution. Take away the paranormal element or character and your romance would collapse.

Deb Stover: Paranormal is a term coined by the romance industry with regard to categorizing a particular type of fiction. A broader and more recognized term would be "Fantasy Romance," but the romance market is accustomed to Paranormal now. Like Fantasy, paranormal Romance can be light or dark, historical or contemporary (or futuristic), and includes fantastical elements that may or may not exist: ghosts, angels, shape-shifters, vampires, werewolves, faeries, witches, time travel, etc. The primary difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy is that SF incorporates elements which may be explained through science or fact. They can be pretty far fetched, but there is some basis in fact/logic. Somewhere. For Fantasy/Paranormal, the fantastical element does not have to be explainable,though it still must be created in such a way to enable a reader to suspend disbelief.

Marilynn Byerly: There's a huge difference in what the fans mean when they say paranormal or futuristic and what the writers mean. Paranormal and futuristic are catchall terms for most readers meaning any book with weirdness -- ghosts, vampires, time travel, reincarnation or science fiction elements.

Writers and some publishers break them down
. (Editor's note: We agree that the sub-genre has many distinct sub-categories which inspired us to create the P.E.A.R.L awards which recognizes these distinct categories).

A PARANORMAL usually has some otherworldly element -- ghosts, angels, vampires, werewolves, reincarnation, or characters with paranormal, psychic or magical abilities. (PNR breaks this into sub categories of SHAPESHIFTER and MAGICAL).

Some include TIME TRAVELS in this grouping, but I prefer a separategrouping although the time travel itself often has a magical element. (Romance editors [NY print] hate time machines!)

The FANTASY ROMANCE has elements of the fantasy novel (trolls and elves, castles, and magic) thrown into a historical romance plot.

The FUTURISTIC has a science fiction element but is at heart a historical romance in the future. Substitute the spaceship captain for the pirate captain, etc.

A SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE is similar to the futuristic, but the science fiction elements can't be removed because the book would be totally different. My STAR-CROSSED is a sf romance because my planet Arden with its social structure couldn't be removed because no human culture (thankGod!) has ever put the men in the role of sex slaves.

Christine Feehan: I'm sure it means different things to different people. I was surprised by the differences in the discussions we had at CR.

To me, paranormal is something out of the ordinary. Something extraordinary. When I pick up a book that is paranormal, I know I'm in for a surprise. It might be another world or a ghost or a shapeshifter, it might be the occult or the magic of legends. The one and only thing I will know for certain when I open that book is that it will be different. I love that element of surprise and I'm always willing to go where the author takes me. They won't all be perfect, but there will be something there, something magical that will transport me to the world of the extraordinary. That's what paranormal means to me personally.

Elaine Lanmon: For me, paranormal romance means: Love bites; love can frighten; and love always illuminates!
Susan Grant: For me, as someone relatively new to romance, at first paranormal meant "weird, ghostly happenings." Now, of course, I know "paranormal" means any romance that has something you don't find in everyday life, an element that doesn't exist (or so we think, anyway <g>). But I can see how the term can prove confusing and off-putting to some readers. The pot is even moremuddied now that many publishers are marketing paranormals as contemps or historicals, or in the case of The Star Prince, my upcoming SF romance/ futuristic, as a plain "romance," with no labeling of any kind. (leaving it up to me to let the paranormal fans know it's out there)

Along these lines, there is a wonderful Dell historical that finaled in the 2001 Prism light paranormal catgory. I bet that until now many readers didn't know Whirlwind Wedding was a paranormal. (It certainly wasn't marketed as one, and the author wasn't known for writing in the sub-genre.) Of course then we get into the debate of "is it or isn't it?" In other words, how much paranormal does a book require to be truly paranormal? I think our sub-genre would either hugely expand or shrink depending on the guidelines put in place. So I don't worry so much about labeling, and simply tell readers to expect the unexpected. We might not want to compartmentalize ourselves and instead let the borders blur. A good book will be a good book, no matter what it's called.

Julie Kenner: To me, paranormal is any story that takes us out of the realm of the ordinary through a means other than currently existing science (magic, futuristic, etc). It's a broad category, and that, in part, accounts for its broad appeal!
Catherine Spangler: What does 'paranormal' mean, especially as the term applies to romance? One of the definitions for 'para' in my dictionary is "beyond". For 'paranormal', the definition is: "Not scientifically explainable: supernatural". I think both of those definitions come close. To me, paranormal romances contain elements that go beyond what we perceive as normal in our world. Perhaps these elements exist in some other dimension, but they don't occur in our everyday world. Yet they fascinate us and bring about endless speculation. They encompass such things as aliens, angels, fairies, ghosts, superheroes, vampires, werewolves, wizards; settings such as other planets or mystical places; reincarnation, soul mates. Actually, paranormal romance is a catch-all category for numerous 'other-worldly' elements.

Despite the unusual elements, these stories are absolutely romances--character driven, with sexy heroes and resilient heroines, and the empowerment of love the overriding theme. But they contain added dimensions that are alluring, exotic, and mysterious, enhancing the romance even further. Paranormal romances encourage us to step outside the box; to look beyond our safe, ordinary world; to stretch our boundaries and our imaginations. They force us to suspend belief, to question reality, and open our minds to endless possibilities. And because they challenge us in the safety of our real world, and tempt us with romantic archetypes as old as creation, they enthrall and entertain us, even as they alter our perceptions.

How wonderful to have the romance we love and expand our creative horizons at the same time! Here's to paranormal romance.

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