Paranormal romance vs urban fantasy: Why are we afraid of kissing?

When I sent Eddy Webb a review copy of The Transmigration of Cora Riley, his initial pull quote labelled the book as “paranormal romance.”

I immediately bristled. I don’t see the story that way. In my mind, it’s firmly in the urban fantasy genre. Yes, there is a romantic storyline, but that’s not the whole point of the book. Not even half of the point.

So I (with great nervousness) emailed Eddy back to ask if he’d mind changing the quote to say “urban fantasy” instead. He did, without hesitation, then the following conversation ensued:

EDDY: I debated whether to even call it a paranormal romance, because while it checks the formula boxes, it did them in a way that seemed to further the story. The inevitable sex scene made sense within the plot, and reflected a genuine conflict for the characters. Cora repeatedly came across as a strong character in her own right, and I felt there is respect between the two characters. If you had dropped the romance angle, I think the story would be slightly diminished, but it would still be a strong story, which is a testament to your writing.

ELLIE: Okay, so this made me SUPER FUCKING HAPPY. I’ve been really angsting about being lumped into paranormal romance instead of urban fantasy (which is what I’m shooting for) because the relationships are not the point of the story. They’re supplemental and provide texture to characters and plot, but they’re not the guiding aspect. There’s a huge difference between a story with relationships/sex and a story ABOUT relationships/sex. Nothing wrong with the latter; it’s just not the book/series I’m writing. I am SO not a romance writer.

EDDY: That’s a weird thing, because the lines are REALLY arbitrary. For example, one could argue that certain novels of the Dresden Files are paranormal romance. When I’m bitter, the line seems to be “the gender of the writer.” But, in all honesty, I think you can make a strong case for urban fantasy. In my case, I just came off of a steampunk romance book that was explicitly romance, so that’s probably why my head was there. But like I said, the lines are really fuzzy and seem to ultimately boil down to “marketing.”

Eddy and I obviously see eye-to-eye on this topic: the division between paranormal romance and urban fantasy is incredibly blurry for what amounts to stupid reasons.

You can see where I’m about to go with this, right?

There’s a tendency – among all sorts of people – to chuck books with any sort of love story into the romance genre. A purposeful crowbar separation between “serious fantasy” and “romantic fluff.”

Setting aside how the whole male vs female author conflict plays into this, there’s a clear difference between a romance novel and a novel that has romance in it. It lies in intention, which, for a good author, is obvious in their writing – you don’t have to guess.

A romance novel’s intention is to get you hot and bothered, again and again, using the framework of setting and cast; the intention of a novel with romance in it is to tell a larger story, using love/sex as plot devices and character development. Where romance is a tool in the latter, it is the entire purpose of the former.

Now, it’s important you don’t misunderstand me here. There’s nothing wrong with reading romance novels. I know it’s somewhat popular to say there is, but I don’t believe it. You read what you dig. Those authors need your love and support the same way that any other writer does, and there are some truly spectacular things being done in the genre.

The rage-point for me is this idea that having any sort of romantic plotline in a book automatically makes it a romance novel. Disqualifying a book from a non-romance genre for including romantic and/or sexual situations is fucking ridiculous.

It tells people that those basic, common, fascinating, and important interactions between humans are dirty, bad, unacceptable, or “for women” (implying weakness and lack of worth).

It invalidates love and lust as legitimate story.

It implies that people who enjoy even the most tame romantic ties in their stories are not “serious fans.”

It’s erroneous and detrimental to writers, readers, and all genres because it says that love and sex belong in one very specific box and nowhere else.

It robs us of the richness of life.

We shouldn’t be afraid to see romance in our fantasy, our sci-fi, our mysteries, our cookbooks (okay, maybe that’s too far). Romance is part of being human, and we should be embracing it, not shunting it into a corner at the merest hint of a kiss.

Molly Weasley - What is this shit


2 Comments

  1. Erin S. Burns

    June 3, 2015 at 12:08 AM

    I think there’s a lot more grey and crossover than people want to admit. Like, I just finished Nalini Singh’s Shards of Hope, and while there is a romance (as there is in each book) there’s so much more going on than just the romance. There’s politics, action, and over all plots that affect more than just the individuals. And the story is as much of not more about their world than it is any couple. I’d categorize this as much urban/fantasy as I would romance.

    Admittedly, the romance categorization is personally helpful, because I want to know there’s the requisite happy ending, but otherwise, most books I read could just as early be classified some other way besides “just” romance, even if they are.

    1. elliedi

      June 3, 2015 at 5:28 PM

      I dig it! I think it would be super helpful for there to be better slices to guide readers; not necessarily sub-genres, but better descriptors for the folks who want to know what sort and how much romance they’re signing on for. While you may want the “requisite happy ending,” I may not but still like to see some steam. Having additional markers would make sure we both get a great read!

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