Many of our readers have faithfully followed the first half of our yearlong series of lectures on different romance fiction sub-genres. Today, we’re excited to talk about a sub-genre that has seen an explosion of creativity in the past few years. Paranormal romance started out with vamps and shapeshifters, but has moved into different worlds, heavenly realms and age ranges (who can deny that Stephanie Meyer made the vampire cool/kewl with pre-teens, teens AND their mothers?).
We’ve snagged three wonderful visiting professors for today’s lecture. Please welcome New York Times bestselling author Angie Fox, best known for her Accidental Demon Slayer series, and debut author Erin Kellison! Dorchester editor Leah Hultenschmidt will also stop by throughout the day to respond to comments and questions. RU crew, you’re in for a treat!
Kelsey: Ladies, what’s your opinion of the state of paranormal romance today?
Angie: Paranormal romance is hot, hot, hot. I keep hearing that it will slow down, but I haven’t personally seen that yet. As a writer, I just sold a new paranormal romance series. As a reader, I’m having a great time finding new authors and keeping up with favorites I’ve been following for years. There are so many authors out there creating fantastic new worlds. You have your authors who write darker, like: JR Ward, Laurell K Hamilton, Sherrilyn Kenyon. As well as those of us who pepper our stories with lighter moments and humor, like Charlaine Harris, Katie MacAlister and MaryJanice Davidson. My books are more in that vein as well.
The wonderful thing about paranormals is that there aren’t any limits as to the kinds of characters and worlds a writer wishes to create. As long as you make me believe, as a reader, that something is possible, I’m on board.
Erin: A stroll past the romance section at Wal-Mart will tell you paranormal romance is doing great. The genre is explosive. Why? Paranormals, to me, have it all. The subgenre allows for new world building limited only by the imagination, while tapping into and heightening basic human concerns and fantasies. Tone varies hugely as well, from light, comedic turns to dark fantasy, and everything in between. Even time period varies. Further, paranormals have a cross-genre appeal, even hopping the aisle at the book store. For example, my debut Shadow Bound is shelved in the Barnes and Noble fantasy and sci-fi section, while elsewhere it’s romance. Go figure. I don’t think demand is going to ebb any time soon. The main concern, I think, is how to stand out in a market where there is an abundance of fantastic authors.
Kelsey: Why do you write paranormals, and do you write in other sub-genres?
Angie: I had someone ask me the other day if I ever planned to write about good ole humans and I had to think. Humans? Hmm…wait. There have to be a few humans in my books somewhere. The biker witches are human. They might count if you forget about their spell work. Seriously, though, I’m having too much fun with the paranormal right now. I love creating entire worlds where I get to make up the rules.
There are so many interesting things you can do. For example, when I sat down to write the Accidental Demon Slayer series, I had no notes about a sidekick for my heroine. But in the first book, when Lizzie learns she’s a demon slayer and there are some very scary, very angry creatures on her tail, she takes comfort in her dog. As I was writing, I thought, ‘This is a sweet moment. Now how do I throw her off?’
I made the dog say something to her. Nothing big. After all, he’s only after the fettuccine from last week. And he knows exactly where Lizzie can find it (back of the fridge, to the left of the lettuce crisper, behind the mustard). It amused me, so I did it. Thanks to her unholy powers, Lizzie can now understand her smart-mouthed Jack Russell Terrier. I had fun with it. Pirate can say and do things that Lizzie can’t. He’s such a kick to write. And that’s the beauty of a paranormal.
Erin: I love and have always loved fantasy and sci-fi. I grew up on Tolkien and Star Trek. Then, in the sixth grade, I read my first gothic romance, Jane Eyre, and I was changed forever. Combine the two and I am in heaven. Right now I just write paranormals, but I can see myself doing romantic suspense because I love danger and have a murderous streak J. Eventually, I’d also like to try my hand at YA.
Kelsey: Angie, how do you think this sub-genre has changed in the last five years?
Angie: Paranormal romance has expanded with the imagination of its authors. I’m convinced vampires will never go out of style, no matter how much readers enjoy delving into other things. It seems like fresh, different takes on vampires will always sell well. In addition, authors are writing some great books about werewolves and other types of shifters, mermaids, Greek gods, witches and even fallen angels. I think the genre will continue to grow and change and become even more interesting.
Erin: When I started Shadow Bound, I was looking for a mythological figure with the same kind of pathos so popular in vampires, but with opportunities for fresh world-building. I found it in a banshee, who became my heroine. (Banshees are heralds of death.) She let me have fun playing around with the concepts of life, death, and immortality. My best guess is that the premise resonated with what was already selling, yet offered a different take and a new world to explore.
I sold out of an RWA contest. I’ve heard people praise them and dismiss them. I’m in the first group. I received hugely varying scores for the exact same submission. In fact, the day I got The Call, I got some first-round scores back, too. One judge had given me a don’t-quit-your-day-job kind of score, so I understand the frustrations of contests. However, they are a viable way to get your work in front of and read by an agent or editor. I was fortunate enough to find myself on the desk of an editor at Dorchester.
Kelsey: Angie, what do readers tell you they love about your paranormals?
Like in A Tale of Two Demon Slayers when Pirate the dog finds a dragon egg. The thing hatches and he decides he has a pet. I mean, how fun for a pet – to own a pet. Lizzie the demon slayer is not happy about that. She has enough going on and doesn’t think her dog needs to own a pet.
So she tells Pirate to find a new home for Flappy the dragon (Pirate named him, not Lizzie). So Lizzie is battling evil people and losing track of what Pirate is doing. He keeps promising to find a new home for the dragon, but instead Pirate is hiding the dragon, and loving the dragon and teaching him tricks. Every time Lizzie realizes the dragon is still there, it’s gotten bigger and bigger and, well, it’s just one more thing she can’t quite control.
Kelsey: What do you think it takes to be a NYT bestselling author of paranormal romances?
Angie: Make the story big. I had an agent tell me that if I wanted to sell, my characters had to take bigger chances, have more to risk and lose. It’s easy to say, but a hard thing for a writer to do. It’s a vulnerable, risky place to be. I knew my first book was big enough when instead of ending my writing sessions thinking, “I hope that’s good enough to impress an editor.” I ended them thinking, “No. I didn’t not just write that. I did not just make my character defend herself with a toilet brush and a can of Purple Prairie Clover air freshener.”
Also, you want to have a plan going in, but also be willing to let the story take you where it wants to go. When I began the Accidental Demon Slayer series, I started with a kernel of an idea that amused me. What if a straight laced preschool teacher suddenly learns she’s a demon slayer? And what if she has to learn about her powers while on the run from a fifth level demon? And wouldn’t it be interesting if she’s running with her long-lost Grandma’s gang of geriatric biker witches?
I started writing and let the story evolve based on the characters and that central issue of what happens when a reluctant heroine is thrust into a series of extraordinary situations. And I knew the story was working when I couldn’t wait to get back to the keyboard every day.
Kelsey: What advice do you have for writers who want to break into this sub-genre?
I wrote three books that didn’t sell before I wrote The Accidental Demon Slayer. Those three books were rejected by everybody in town, with everything from written notes saying things like, “your death scenes are too funny,” to “not for us” rubber stamped on my original query. But if I’d have quit after any one of those three books, I never would have written my fourth book, which sold and ended up hitting the New York Times list.
Erin: Go for it. Trust your voice. Understand the basic elements of your subgenre and the industry. Write your heart out. Pursue every avenue to get your work on an agent or editor’s desk. When you finish one book, begin another. And most importantly, protect and nurture the joy of writing.
Kelsey: Angie, what are your predictions for paranormal romance in the next one to three years?
Angie: I think it will continue to grow. There are a lot of people writing paranormal romance right now, so the stories that sell will be the ones that are fresh and different. And that is great news for paranormal readers.
Kelsey: Erin, please feel free to share any other comments on paranormal romance or publishing in general.
Erin: I recommend to authors on the verge (who have a complete manuscript, are actively sending it out to agents/contests and pitching at conferences) to be already working on acquiring information on the business side of publishing. For example, I had begun a messy file of marketing tips. When I was putting together my marketing plan, I was so glad that I had amassed that information. Similarly, I had an idea about the process the manuscript would go through to publication and was basically familiar with each phase. There are so many firsts and so much to learn that having a little background is vital.
Also, paranormals often sell as a series. I recommend having a good plan for the scope of any following books, with blurbs and/or outlines prepared. One of the first questions asked by my agent and editor was, Do you see this as a series? Do you have plans for subsequent books? My agent requested blurbs on the next two books immediately. It was a tremendous relief to go into this situation at least somewhat prepared and with a basic working knowledge of what to expect.
Strong plots are a necessary part of a good novel, but I think it is the characters and the fun things we discover with them that keep readers coming back.
RU Crew, now it’s your chance to ask questions about paranormal romance or anything else the strikes your fancy. Erin and Angie will pop in to chat. Also – don’t forget to grill Leah Hultenschmidt from Dorchester!
Come back on Monday when writer Sally Bayless will continue her series on Confessions of a new writer.
Angie Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of the Accidental Demon Slayer series. She claims that researching her books can be just as much fun as writing them. In the name of fact-finding, Angie has ridden with Harley biker gangs, explored the tunnels underneath Hoover Dam and found an interesting recipe for Mamma Coalpot’s Southern Skunk Surprise (she’s still trying to get her courage up to try it).
Angie earned a Journalism degree from the University of Missouri. She worked in television news and then in advertising before beginning her career as an author.
Visit Angie at www.angiefox.com. You’ll find freebies galore and answers to burning questions, like What is Your Biker Witch name?
Erin Kellison is the author of the Shadow Series, which includes Shadow Bound and Shadow Fall. Stories have always been a central part of Erin Kellison’s life. She attempted her first book in sixth grade, a dark fantasy adventure, and still has those early hand-written chapters. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English Language and Literature, and went on for a masters in Cultural Anthropology, focusing on oral storytelling. When she had children, nothing scared her anymore, so her focus shifted to writing fiction. She lives in Arizona with her two beautiful daughters and husband, and she will have a dog (breed undetermined) when her youngest turns five.
You can contact Erin though her website, www.ErinKellison.com, where you can also sign up to receive her newsletter.
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