Dresden

Picking Nits

This morning I was linked an article on Fantasy Fiction's blog discussing the differences between the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres. It's a decent blog and the author provides several examples of both genres. However, I feel this article misses the mark and does a disservice to authors of both types.

Definitions:  First off, let's start with the bare bones definitions of what we're talking about with these genres.

  • Urban Fantasy (UF) - This is a genre that generated from epic fantasy. By its very name and nature, these books have to have two main components: A) they must take place in a city and B) they must have elements of fantasy (eg. magic, mythical creatures, etc).
  • Paranormal Romance (PR)- This genre spun off of romance. Like UF, there are two main things you need for a novel to be called "paranormal romance": A) Paranormal activity (eg. ghosts, mythical creatures, psychic powers etc) and B) a love story.

Obviously, both genres have similar elements by including mystical power sets and giving time to things that go bump in the night. What separates them at their base level is the importance given to romantic plots and setting. UF typically focuses on a larger problem while PR focuses on a love story. UF must take place in a city while PR can take place in any setting.
These two genres are quite close to one another and are blending more and more every day. Also, they're growing. Off-shoots of speculative fiction continue to bloom and it's amazing to watch.
Okay, so far, I'm with the article I linked above. After that, my ability to agree begins to break down.
The author of the above blog, Marsha Moore, pigeonholes both genres by using blanket literary tropes to define them.

 Urban fantasy plot is the same as for any fantasy, good versus evil, saving the world. 

I said I was nitpicking here and I'll start with this line. While yes, there is an element of good vs. evil, the idea that a UF protagonist must "save the world" is limiting. It's true that many stories see our Hero/ine battling it out for the sake of humanity, but, frankly, this is a trope. This is something a little too common. It doesn't *always* have to be about saving the world. Sometimes, it's about redemption, saving one person, or even revenge.
Similarly, Moore limits PR writers by saying that their plots must culminate in the Happily-Ever-After. I disagree. While a romance story is expected to have at least some level of pay-off, the protagonist doesn't always have to get the girl/guy/vampire etc. And sometimes--especially in a series arc--it's better to stave off happily-ever-after. In books, like life, there is a time and a place for instant gratification and sometimes it's juicier to withhold.
Another beef I have with this blog is that while Moore provides several examples successful authors in both genres, she completely leaves out a hallmark of both. Charlaine Harris, the author of the Sookie Stackhouse series (you know, the books True Blood is based on). Her Louisiana vampire novels blend both UF and PR in that the love stories are central to the plot, they take place in a modern, urban setting and our protagonist isn't some wilting flower.
In place of Harris, Moore chooses to use the Twilight saga as an effective example of Paranormal Romance. One could argue that Twilight is more widely known, I suppose. With all due respect, however, it is my opinion that Sookie Stackhouse is what Bella Swan wants to be when she grows up. I'll leave it at that as my rants on Twilight's flaws are another blog entirely.
My biggest issue with this article comes when Moore goes on to describe what she feels are key differences in the genres' styles.
Urban Fantasy, she says, is written with a "more acerbic" voice and features "graphic, grittier violence". It's true that many UF authors keep their stories action packed with multiple fights. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books see the protagonist, Harry Dresden, getting the shit kicked out of him on a regular basis. It happens. However, like the above comment about saving the world, I feel Moore paints UF into a corner by insisting that violence is an inherent part of the story. In fact, I've been part of several discussions saying that some UF authors use fight scenes gratuitously and that the protagonist is unaffected by his/her actions in those scenes. Put simply: in UF action does not equal ass-kicking. 
 
Likewise, I don't feel Paranormal Romance should be boiled down to sex scenes. Sex and love don't always walk hand in hand. If I applied the same blanket stereotype to PR that Moore does to UF, PR would be nothing more than fluffy female protagonists getting rescued by vampires and falling in love with them, then having mind-blowing sex (that you or I will never come close to experiencing, nanny-nanny-boo-boo.)
 
I think these are both pits that authors can fall into, and quite easily. These are the easier routes. Write a bunch of emotionless fights or rip off her clothes every 20 pages and you've got yourself a bestseller. Wrong.  If you're writing sex and violence just for the sake of an action beat, you're missing something serious: STORY CONTENT! 
 
And I think this is where my biggest beef with the article can be found: While trying to compare and contrast genres, Moore is forgetting the great unifying element. Story. In trying to distill each genre to its component parts, she seems (to me, your mileage may vary) to forget that Urban Fantasy isn't just a dark, broody hero shooting vampires in the face with rock salt. I think to paint both genres with such a broad brush is a disservice not just to the authors who write those stories, it's a disservice to the readers who love them. 

A Breather

Good morning, kids. How are you? It's Saturday of a long weekend and I hope everyone is enjoying themselves. I thought I'd come up for air for a bit to say hey. This week I've been immersed in writing and being sick. The sick is finally starting to go away, and I'm taking a break from the manuscript.At present, the new project is at 20,500 words (that's about 80 pages). Once more I find myself having doubts about the last scene, so I'm taking a couple days away to clear my head, recharge and get some perspective. I rarely share rough draft work that isn't short fiction, but I've sent the pages to a friend just to see if fresh eyes confirm my suspicions. We'll see. But, today is for gaming. Dresden Files RPG with a group of friends. And tomorrow is for more gaming. And Monday? Well, I'm not sure.

Stay safe and have a great weekend, gang. Oh, and if you're at Dragon Con, have a blast for me and swing by the Pyr Publishing booth! (Because if you're there I must live vicariously through you and I really want to hang with the Pyr crowd.)

Leave a note and tell me what's up in your world.

Social Media

So, I had a great lunch today with a friend I don't see nearly often enough. Good face time seems to be more scarce than a chupacabra sometimes. Anyway, talking with her made me realize it's been forever since I talked to one of my bestest soulfriends in the Universe. And this, led me to thinking about how social media has impacted the way we all interact with one another. So, here are some things I dig about the social network.

1) It's Easy: I admit it. I can be lazy. When I was in college (before Facebook, Twitter and MySpace), I had like a handful of friends that I saw every day. We constantly talked or hung out or IMd and all that stuff. And it's not hard to understand why. Well, other than being socially awkward and trying to figure out who the hell I was, my favorite shows were Sex and the City, Friends and Queer as Folk. Think about what you see here (and on most shows, for that matter)... a tight group of 4-6 people form your ensemble cast. Anyone who comes in is a guest star. They don't last long, just help spin plot and fill time during season lag. And at that time in my life, it felt like the writers for those shows were doing the scripts for my relationships. Face time in these kinds of situation comedies is easy, because the core cast is always together. Maintaining friendships like that is simple.

But then, stuff changed. I moved and my life got out of the holding pattern it was in. My social circles exploded. Suddenly, I had to work to make sure everyone got time and that blew my mind. This is one reason that I love social media. It allows me to have daily interactions with people even if we can't make time to sit down and see each other.

2) Reunion: I have reconnected with people I knew in high school. Some were really close friends then and we've picked up right where we left off. Others? Others I didn't talk to much because in that funhouse mirror that is high school, I thought they hated me. I totally dig that with Facebook, I can get to know these people as *people* and not as a series of socially aggravated neuroses. We're (mostly) whole people now. We've grown into ourselves and all of that petty shit that seemed monumental back then, isn't. So, I love that I have made friends with old enemies or people I was too scared to talk to then. Those people are some of my best friends and biggest supporters right now. 3) Cute pictures of cats: This is pretty obvious. Go on internet. Find pictures of cats. Share link. This happens all the time on Twitter, Facebook and every other social site you'll find. Sometimes, it's the one thing that can turn a bad day into a tolerable one. Seriously, just look at that kitty! KITTY!

4) Networking: I admit that with few exceptions, I have compartmentalized my social media use. MySpace? Irrelevant. Deleted. Facebook? Friends and family. Google+ ? Still figuring that one out. Twitter? Twitter is my place for professional networking. It's my water cooler. While yes, I talk to friends there, mostly, I use Twitter to listen to and have conversations with other writers, agents, editors etc. And it's so cool that we can all do that. We can all find people with similar interests and geek out about it... and hopefully become better at our passions. Added bonus? Some of those writers and agents I started following for professional advice became people I consider to be good friends who've helped me through some rough spots on this journey. They're people I drink chai with in the morning from a few time zones away. And I think that is pretty damn cool.

*5) Pure Shits and Giggles: I admit it. It gives me the chance to continue to annoy my ex and act as a force of castrophony in the lives of others. Oh, and there's an endless supply of awesome videos, time sinks and Dr. Who quotes flying about at any given time. ("That's all I am now. Rude and not ginger.")

Social media is part of living in the future. Some may ask if the Internet has killed privacy, if it's made us worse. Some may argue that we have a stronger sense of community and humanity because of the Internet. I dunno. I'm in the middle. Nothing beats good face time and shared tiramisu with one of your tribe...but when that's not possible, a hug on Twitter can really change your day.

What about you? Do you use social media? Do you separate business/family/friends? Weigh in.

*edited after original post.