Issue #110 (February 1, 2001)

"Other" Worlds:
My love for "other" worlds began at a young age, when I was first introduced to Greek mythology. When I graduated from junior high and was taken on a month-long trip through Greece by a favorite English teacher with nineteen other "teacher's pets," we re-read The Odyssey and followed part of his trip. This trip no doubt is responsible for our home's "peasant Greek isle" flavor that sticks out amongst our neighbors' more traditional designed and decorated houses. By the time I was in college and introduced to Carl Jung's archetypal psychology, I was a goner - a class on the topic clinched it. My teacher was Thomas Moore, now quite famous as the author of Care of the Soul. Back then he was just a soft-spoken, really cool ex-monk. I don't know why I let my husband talk me into finally tossing my paper on the three virgin goddesses (Artemis, Athena, and Hestia) - it was great. My daughter has recently gotten into the act; we watched a two-hour documentary on A&E this past fall on the lost civilization of Atlantis, another one of my obsessions, and she is now convinced she knows where it is.

By the time I had graduated from college and was in graduate school, I had hooked up to a dream analysis group led by two students of James Hilman, whom I believe had worked with Joseph Campbell, the eminent Jungian scholar. At this point in my life, in my early/mid 20's, I was having incredibly vivid and bizarre dreams several times a week, sometimes more than once a night. This dream group and its leaders, all very vivid personalities, solidified those archetypal concepts for me - they became part of me.

Perhaps it's not such a surprise that I eventually found another pantheon to study - Anne Rice's vampires and witches. My favorite of her vampire series is Queen of the Damned because it delves so much into the mythology of her vampires. No one else I know loves this particular book as I do - they get bored by the very stuff that I find fascinating. Just last week I read her latest book, a combination vampire/witch tale entitled Merrick. Although not one of her best, it is also not one of her worst, and it completely sucked me in. I've enjoyed other vampire books, but none other than Kim Newman's Anno Dracula gets a truly enthusiastic recommendation - and though he has now written three books about Dracula, I could not get through the second and so did not even try the third.

My husband does not share my love for all things vampiric; he gets this lovingly bemused look on his face when I talk about vampires or sword fights. (He did, though, watch every episode of the re-do of Dark Shadows back in the early 1990's - maybe his mom wouldn't let him watch the original soap opera either!) He didn't get my fascination with Highlander: The Series at all, even though it seemed perfectly reasonable to me to love this television show with not only lavish attention to historical detail but sword play that was so much more interesting than the swishing of most swashbucklers. (Gripping a claymore in two hands is a far more primitively masculine pursuit than fencing, don't you think?) But while he doesn't understand this violent bent in the innermost recesses of my imagination, we do both share a love for science fiction.

The very first post I made on the Internet back in 1994 was to a Star Trek bulletin board asking for a definition of the Klingon term "petak." We've watched more Star Trek retrospectives than I can remember - no matter how cheesy the original series was. Just a few months ago Blythe and I had a discussion about Maria K's DIK review of Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis. Had she noticed, I asked, any similarities between the society depicted in that book and an episode from the first year of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled Justice in which one of the crew was nearly killed for stepping on a flower? No TNG slouch herself, she remembered it was Wesley Crusher (well, he wasn't actually part of the crew yet...) who was nearly killed, and Captain Picard had to violate the Prime Directive to save him!

I'm a devotee of the original Outer Limits; my husband knows that if any channel plays my favorite episode, featuring Martin Sheen as Private Arthur Dix entitled Nightmare, life as we know it will have to come to an end for an hour. He sat with me through the fairly horrendous Star Gate movie and held my hand when they took Highlander off television and replaced it with that horrible The Raven and the recent Highlander movie, which I'm sure will doom the franchise (the scenic photography was great, Adrian Paul was great, but the movie blew chunks).

The "Other" Worlds of Romance:
What has any of this to do with a discussion of romance novels? Just that there's a whole sub-genre of romance novels devoted to these "other" worlds. Do you read them? Surprisingly, I generally don't. I hadn't even realized there were romances beyond historicals, contemporaries, and series titles when I came across my first futuristic romance by Cinnamon Burke aka Phoebe Conn. Unfortunately, it was a stinker - the writing was overblown and the celibate hero with his flowing robes was not what I had in mind when I mentioned the "ascetic hero" in the last issue of this column! (If it turns out that this horrendous book was Rapture's Mist, I think I've discovered the basis for my aversion to virgin heroes, also alluded to in the last issue of this column.) Since that time I've read a number of futuristic romances, and the only one I can wholeheartedly recommend is Susan Grant's The Star King. Even what I sampled of Jayne Castle aka Jayne Ann Krentz's futuristic flower series did little for me, and I almost always enjoy her work.

There is a whole lot more to alternate reality romance than simply futuristic romance, and I've sampled just about each different type. My favorite time travel romance just happens to also have been written by Susan Grant - Once a Pirate. None of the others I've read are particularly worthy of mention, although time machine stories have always fascinated me - have I mentioned I'm a Jules Verne fan? My daughter recently discovered his work and we had a terrific discussion on how George Lucas must have been paying homage to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with the creation of the underwater Gungan city in The Phantom Menace (her favorite movie).

Although I've heard terrific things about Terri Wilhelm's Storm Prince and have a nearly obsessive devotion to the selkie myth, I haven't read it yet - but it's in my tbr stacks. The one single title selkie romance I did try, by Tess Farraday, was pretty awful, though I continue to have high hopes for Anne Stuart's A Dark and Stormy Night, also in my tbr stacks. The selkie stories responsible for my obsession are Galway Bay, Morgan Llywelyn's contribution to the first Irish Magic anthology, and the John Sayles' film - The Secret of Roan Inish. As for angel romances, due to religious reasons, this is a tough one for me to handle, so I've never tried one (or thought I hadn't until I read on our Alternate Reality Special Title Listing that Marilyn Pappano's Father to Be is considered an Angel Romance.

Vampire romances? I've read several, but found none could hold a candle (or mirror) to Anne Rice, although two nice ones were Nightwing by Lynn Michaels and Love Bites by Magaret St. George (aka Maggie Osborne). I had heard great things about Linda Lael Miller's vampire series, but found the ending to the first to be a total cop-out, which was similar to the reaction of many time travel romance readers to Jude Deveraux's "classic" Knight in Shining Armor. My first werewolf romance - Susan Krinard's Once a Wolf interested me enough so that I want to read more of that series. As for ghost romances, I've tried several, and would say that the early titles (at least) in Christina Skye's Draycott Abbey series are definitely worth reading. Perhaps I've had more luck, relatively speaking, with ghost stories than other types of "other" romances because they seem less intrusive - there's only one ghost rather than an entirely different world involved.

On the other hand, that wouldn't explain why I fell in love with A Basket of Wishes by Rebecca Paisley; there's an entire fairy kingdom involved in this delightful romance. But it might explain why I love the equally delightful Bewitching by Jill Barnett; there's only two witches with which to contend. I've done well with witches too. In addition to Barnett's book, there's Untamed by Elizabeth Lowell and Nora Roberts' Donovan series. Lowell's book is a medieval featuring a witch/heroine in isolation while the Roberts' series focuses on a family of witches. Which is important, I think, because as far as I've discerned, how prominent the "other" world is in a paranormal romance effects how much I'll enjoy the book.

For me, "other" world romances too often suffer because of the romances. When I read a book or watch a movie that features a different world - in time, species, whatever - I tend to become more interested in that other world than in the lives of the individuals who populate it. If an "other world" is well written, I want to yell at the characters to get the hell out of the way so that I can delve into that world's intricacies. Conversely, many "other" world romances suffer because of deficiencies in those "other" worlds. Too much fiction, perhaps, and not enough science. Here's an excerpt of my review of Zinnia by Jayne Castle from when I was at The Romance Reader:

"While I think any author who can invent an entirely new world that includes psychic powers and metaphysical constructs gets points for creativity, too much of Zinnia is old hat...And, her entirely new world didn't seem altogether new either; cites are named for cities here on Earth, casino owners are still considered gangsters, and supposedly fallen women still wear red. And, oh yeah, adult women heroines in romance novels are still virgins."

Many of the reviewers at AAR are tremendous fans of alternate reality romance, so we conducted a round-table discussion. As you read through it, see if there's a reviewer whose viewpoint matches (or comes close to) your own. We'll start with Jane Jorgenson, whose recent review of Catherine Spangler's Shadower echoes my criticism of Castle's Zinnia. Her review, in part, says, "World-building in futuristic romances was a topic much discussed recently on the Canwetalk discussion list. Most agree that while the romance is usually strong in these crossovers, the world-building is less so...If (the hero) were driving around in a camper rather than a spaceship, the story would be the same for all the details we're shown..."

Blythe Barnhill made some very interesting points in her discussion; she may have put her finger on the reason I'm so caught up in the worlds Anne Rice creates:

"I don't mind the idea of paranormals, and I would love to read more good time travels if they were out there, but my impression has been that most time-travels are published by the lesser houses and are not all that great. I also find ghosts and witches interesting occasionally, and I liked Karen Harbaugh's Cupid series. Other good and great paranormals: Outlander series, Ashton's Bride by Judtih O'Brien, and Nell by Jeanette Baker.

"I have no desire at all to read about vampires or werewolves, because both these just gross me out. I am one of the few people I know who was totally uncaptivated by Interview with a Vampire (I never went any farther in that series). I just don't want to read about drinking blood. I read the Mayfair Witch series and liked that better, but I still found it really flawed. I was spellbound by the first book right up until the point when Lasher is born and just walks off - I was totally disgusted by that. What those books have going for them is an interesting marriage of historical perspective with a creepy vibe (which is maybe why I liked Taltos better than Lasher)."

Blythe's mention of that "interesting marriage of historical perspective with a creepy vibe," really struck a chord with me. In Rice's Cry to Heaven, an historical novel about the castrati in Italy during the eighteenth century, her historical writing was incredibly richly textured. Were her witches and vampires purely contemporary, I doubt they would have held me in their thrall.

Teresa Galloway stayed away, until recently - or so she thought - from paranormal romance, although she is hard pressed to articulate a reason for this. But last year she read for review the Secrets #6 anthology, which featured two erotic paranormal short stories - one about a werewolf and the other about a vampire. She has since started to re-think her position on werewolf and vampire stories and AAR's technical editor, Sandi Morris, lent her some werewolf novels she thoroughly enjoyed. Though just at the start of this new fork in her reading road, Teresa is looking forward to a fuller exploration. About werewolf stories in general, she says, "I guess there was something primal in the werewolf stories which worked for me. There could be a certain level of aggression coupled with protectiveness depicted that might seem cartoonish in a human character but that could be acceptable for half-human characters, and maybe that was attractive on some level."

As the discussion among our reviewers continued, Teresa was reminded that she had indeed read paranormal romances previously, and had enjoyed some, including Linda Howard's time travel Son of the Morning, her ESP/romantic suspense Dream Man, and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. She was struck as to why she hadn't remembered these titles initially and believes that when a romance incorporates fantastic themes in so seamlessly, she doesn't even remember right away that the romance was a fantastic one.

A couple more titles Teresa remembered as fitting into this "other" worldly category were Justine Davis' Lord of the Storm and The Skypirate, both of which she considers excellent SF Romances, the latter with some fantasy elements as well.

AAR Reviewer Jennifer Keirans, who came to our attention with her DIK review of Tanith Lee's SF novel, The Silver Metal Lover, has always been fascinated by fantasy fiction. However, she hasn't had very good luck with paranormal romance even though she sees a lot of potential in the merger between fantasy and romance. She sees more success in fantasy novels with strong romantic elements than she does in romances with strong fantasy elements.

Jennifer finds a vast difference between fantasy, which she adores, and horror, which she is not drawn to read. I seem to lump them together, and whenever I'm at the bookstore and my daughter is looking for another Christopher Pike YA book as terrific as The Starlight Crystal that I'll let her read - at nearly 9, I don't know that she's ready for his vampire titles - I'm off to the adult horror section to see if he's written that sequel to The Cold One he promised years ago. (Another terrific Pike title for adults, btw, is The Listeners.)

On the other hand, Jennifer would like to see ESP, secret magical rituals, and the occult in more romances, although she singles out Linda Howard's Dream Man and Susan Carroll's The Bride Finder for praise. I'd also add Bride of the Mist by Christina Skye (one of the Draycott Abbey series), featuring a heroine with psychic abilities. Other paranormal romances Jennifer has enjoyed include Arabian Knight by Tracy Cozzens and Forbidden Garden by Tracy Fobes, although she liked those "because they were original and cheezily amusing rather than convincing." She points to Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series of medieval fantasies about a race of people born with sorcerous powers who have been persecuted nearly into nonexistence because of these powers, although a few still secretly practice the arcane arts. She asks, "Wouldn't a similar premise be a cool setting for a romance?" adding, "There are tons of good fantastic ideas out there; but I can't think of any really good romances that use them. I would be thrilled to hear suggestions."

Andrea Pool comes to paranormal books in the opposite direction from which Jennifer arrived. She says:

"I never really read SF or fantasy. The Star Wars movies are probably my all-time favorites, and I read some of the novelizations when the movies were first released, but other than that, nada.

"I've never really liked horror movies or books, either, but I do remember really liking the comedy Love at First Bite. The first vampire book I read was Maggie Shayne's Twilight Phantasies, and I loved it. It's still one of my faves. I think the thing that attracted me to these was the "good" vampires - they don't hurt other people, they get blood from animals or blood banks or something, and the thought of eternal life with the person you love - or maybe eternal life in general. To be totally honest, the thought of dying terrifies me, so maybe the eternal life is part of the appeal. Plus, their superhero-like powers are just totally cool.

"That takes me to another point about the vampire romances. My favorites are the ones where either the woman also becomes a vampire (like Shayne's) or they stay the way they are - one vampire, one human (as in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series). I really don't like the ones where they give it all up to become human (I think that goes back to the super hero thing). That may be why I also like the werewolf romances. Susan Krinard's second werewolf book was the first one I read, and I really enjoyed it. Rebecca Flanders aka Donna Boyd werewolf titles are also favorites. Teresa's point about the level of protectiveness and aggression is a good one, and I agree with it.

"I'm more hesitant and cautious about time-travel or SF-type romances. Kristin Kyle's Nighthawk was the first one I read, and I absolutely loved it. It reminded me a lot of Star Wars. I also read Grant's The Star King, and I have to say that all you guys who raved about it were completely right. It was so much fun! And since I've never read SF or fantasy in general, maybe that makes it easier for me to accept the SF aspects in a romance. I don't have much to compare it to, and I don't really care. If it adds a new and different element to the story and isn't totally unbelievable, then I'll buy it. Also, since it is future and we don't know what will happen, it's pure speculation anyway, so there's really not an accuracy issue to worry about like there is in historicals. On the flip side of that, though, authors could get too carried away with it and predict totally outlandish things. I think that's what makes me cautious about trying new ones. But most importantly, they have to be well written.

"I'll admit to being skeptical about LoveSpell titles, but two of my favorite new discoveries, Susan Grant and Kathleen Nance, write for them.

"I do enjoy time-travels, but it would be nice to see more people from historical times come into the present. I doubt, though, I'll ever love any as much as I love the Outlander series."

Lori-Anne Cohen, as did Andrea, came to paranormal fiction and romance later on, although as with me, she's always been a fan of SF movies (Metropolis, anyone?), including Star Wars, Blade Runner, and the Aliens movies - except for the last one. Since expanding her horizons to include SF fiction, she's gotten into the SF/romance hybrids of Catherine Asaro. She enjoys a mystical quality to her fantasy, and also mentions Carroll's The Bride Finder. Another Gabaldon fan, of the Outlander series, she says they are "just the right blend of everything."

About time travel romance, Lori-Anne says she has a high threshold of tolerance for suspension of disbelief, but "needs something semi-plausible" to happen. A medieval warrior who ends up in the 21st century should not be burning his own CD’s and writing code within a week. Of that sometimes-controversial ending to KISA, Lori-Anne was not bothered at all by it, even though in other good time travel romances she's read, one of the characters has to "really" give up their time.

Lori-Anne loves books and movies about vampires and werewolves, loves Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, particularly Anita's "struggling with the whole Jean Claude thing," and loves Anne Rice's vampire and witch series. The Witching Hour is a favorite for her, and like Blythe, found Lasher grossed her out; I kind of liked it myself.

Vampire fiction and film fascinate Lori-Anne. She loves old Dracula movies and "all those great 'B' horror movies" as well. She's not quite sure what the allure of vampires is, she doesn't share her mother's attraction to the whole idea of immortality and can't think of anything more horrific than constantly losing the ones you love over and over to death. She thinks perhaps it's the "the mystery or the darkness of the whole thing...or maybe, in some cases, I do like how it's romanticized. I am not above admitting that."

Mary Novak had a succinct summation for many of AAR's staff who enjoy otherworldly fiction and romance. She said:

"Part of the lure of paranormals is the chance to explore taboo territory in a safe way. That's why all vampire or werewolf stories are not created equal; it depends on what aspects of the situation the author chooses to highlight, and how the individual reader responds to them. I couldn't key in to the romance of Christine Feehan's all-consuming vampires at all, but someone on the message board gave a very compelling explanation of why she found them romantic. On the other hand, I've been sucking down the Anita Blake books like they were expensive, hard-to-find peanuts. I find them terrifically sexy and fun, especially the later books. I'm sure, though, that for some readers, Laurell K. Hamilton's black leather-and-silver BDSM is way over the top."

Two of our more ardent fantasy fans are Liz Zink and Laurie Shallah. Liz says "dragons, fairies, elves - yep - I love 'em all." She notes, however, that romance writers don't always "get" the fantasy elements correct, that the backdrops sometimes seem stiff or fake, and singled out Saranne Dawson as an author who fails in this area. On the other hand, she points to Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle's early paranormals, such as Sweet Starfire, Crystal Flame, and Shield's Lady, which are all among her "top ten list of books to snatch up if my house was on fire."

While both Liz and Jennifer have trouble with Saranne Dawson, they disagree on author Glenna McReynolds. Their grades on a dual review of Dream Stone differed widely, although Jennifer perhaps would have liked the book more had she read its prequel. (We plan to tackle reading books in a series in an upcoming ATBF, btw.)

While recommending McReyolds, Liz cannot and does not recommend the vampire romances of Amanda Ashley. On the other hand, a vampire series she does recommend are Christine Feehan's Carpathians. Whereas she finds Ashley's books poorly plotted, she believes the Feehan books work, in part because she keeps to the rules of the world she set up. Another series of vampire novels she enjoys tremendously are the Anita Blake novels. Of Laurell K. Hamilton's characters, she says, "I love them because they are flawed and therefore realistic." Anne Rice's vampire world, however, she finds too harsh and bloody, adding, "her characters aren't likable or sympathetic to me."

Two authors Liz mentioned as having "fallen off the planet, apparently," are Carin Rafferty and Jessica Bryan. We've never presented a review by the former, who writes about Wiccans, but we do have a DIK Review online of the first in Bryan's mermaid trilogy.

Liz echoes some of the comments made by others among us when talking about problems with some paranormal romances. She says:

"Most of the problems with some of the paranormals, I think, stems from the fact that the author throws in some exotic sounding names of places or things, and believes that makes it a paranormal. There is no real explanation or background, it could be like any other romance except for the names. JAK has sadly fallen victim to this, although her latest, After Dark, is actually a bit better than some of the others. Then there are those authors who could be Cassie Edwards in disguise, throw in some indecipherable language and you have a Native American romance. Throw in some even more confusing language and some green people and you have a paranormal! Heck, Cassie could do this easily, she already has her animals talking to people."

Laurie Shallah, whose favorite television shows include Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and the stand-alone episodes of The X-Files, has, surprisingly, some of the darkest tastes in fiction among us, particularly when you consider she also adores the lighter side of romance. Laurie began to read horror and dark fantasy fiction at the age of ten, and like Lori-Anne, loved B-movies. Her favorite was The Creature from the Black Lagoon and she admits to living for those Saturday afternoon creature double features. She prefers paranormal romances above all other sub-genres at this point in time.

Laurie was turned on to romance at the age of nineteen when an aunt gave her a box of romances, but says that her "longing for the dark side never totally disappeared." She soon began to look for romances with a paranormal bent and quickly discovered that "most of them were pretty darn awful and poorly constructed." She adds, however, that "when they were good, they were so very good.

Laurie attributes this attraction in the "dark eroticism, the forbidden, the step outside the norm," adding, "There's nothing more satisfying for me than to spend a few hours falling into a world that only exists in dreams. And when an author can take me to places that I know don't exist and make me believe, if only for a few hours that it is all real, well, that is the mark of a good paranormal romance for me. Unfortunately, books likes those are way too far and few between."

Like Liz, Laurie preferred Maggie Shayne's earlier paranormal romances, and enjoys the paranormal romances, fiction, and SF-hybrids of Donna Boyd, Susan Krinard, Justine Davis, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Catherine Asaro. She says those books succeed "because the fantasy worlds come alive." As with most of our paranormal aficionados, she feels that too many so-called paranormal romance writers simply "throw in a witch/fairy/genie into an insipid plot, bend all the rules - or worse, forget the rules, and/or twist them when it's convenient for the characters or plot." Laurie finds this infuriating and is the reason so many paranormals are failures for her. What's worse, she says, than being instantly pulled out of the world these authors set out to create? Very little; this gets her "blood boiling in a very bad way."

On the other hand, Laurie does have a strong sense of humor and enjoys a good "silly" paranormal when she finds one - unfortunately, they seem to be few and far between for her. She and I both love Rebecca Paisley's previously mentioned Basket of Wishes, where the allure was a fairy heroine. As she says of this book, "The magical aspect created all kinds of imaginative and very, very funny scenes that wouldn't be possible in a typical non-paranormal romance. How many heroine's get to dance (literally!) on their man's penis?"

When looking for something darkly romantic, Laurie indicates these are rare in the newest crop of paranormals; she returns to her keeper shelves or picks up her "much loved and very worn copy of the untraditional horror/love story (two men fall in love here) of Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite.

What's Missing Here?
A couple of authors surprised me by their lack of mention by our review staff - what of J.D. Robb's In Death series and Dara Joy and her Matrix of Destiny series? So many of our reviewers love Robb's series, and yet, none of them mentioned her in our initial discussion. My co-columnist, Robin Uncapher, speculated that since this series crosses so many genre lines and is set not all that far into the future, it's not always seen as "futuristic," let alone as romance, or even romantic suspense. Then there's what Teresa previously mentioned about books that incorporate fantastic themes in so seamlessly that she doesn't even remember right away that they are fantastic. Then again, Nora Roberts often manages to defy analysis altogether, don't you think?

Since I could not imagine talking about "other worlds" without a discussion of Robb's series (and if I couldn't, then I imagine you all couldn't either), I turned to Jennifer Keirans, who just a few days ago sent me her review of the next title in this series, due out in March (look for that review soon). Keep in mind that of the ten books so far released in this series, we've reviewed eight of them. Of those eight, six have been given DIK status. Here's what Jennifer had to say about the series:

"J. D. Robb’s In Death series, one of the most honored group of books at AAR, takes place in yet another 'other world.' They are set in New York City, approximately 60 years in the future. This world is very similar to ours in most respects, but the author throws in more than a few striking differences to challenge the reader. Prostitution is legal but rigorously regulated by the government; new and every-scarier illegal drugs are being designed every day; and Eve Dallas, a police detective, can tap a few keys on her computer and track a suspect’s cash purchases at nearby boutiques. Robb gets very creative with her near future, allowing new technologies and shifting social structures to provide her with new motives and means for crime. But she succeeds in keeping the futurism of the books from overwhelming the story by making sure that none of the differences are all that great - the things that are different about Eve Dallas’ world are things that we’ve all heard discussed as possibilities for our own future. And while some of the crimes committed are new and different, most of them are powerfully familiar."

As for Joy's Matrix of Destiny series, each of the three titles already written in that series earned DIK status, and yet, until I specifically asked, none of our staff talked about her in our round-table discussion. As Laurie Shallah pointed out, her most recent release (and not a paranormal title), High Intensity - not part of this series - was, for many of us, a major disappointment. And, as I realized when I checked the release date for Mine to Take, the third and most recent title in the Matrix series, that book was released over two years ago. There might be an "out of sight, out of mind" thing working here, but is it possible that Joy, who took the romance community by a storm initially, is already going supernova? Is this "Robin Schone Syndrome"?

After having talked about both authors with readers and reviewers who enjoyed either or both authors' first books, some have noticed a certain sameness, and that what once seemed exciting and fresh is already in danger of self-parody. Could either or both authors be the romance version of The Emperor's New Clothes, authors who exploded onto the romance scene with books filled with imagination, verve, not to mention hot love scenes, but without enough stories within themselves to sustain their quick rise to the top? I've not called this "Dara Joy" syndrome; she has more titles to her credit and has proven herself for longer than Robin Schone, but still, I hear enough of the same sorts of comments to cause the question to arise. It's something to think about, anyway.

One author we've mentioned in this column who has proven perhaps lower star-wattage but perhaps longer staying power is Susan Krinard. We asked her about her influences - did they come from world of romance or the world of SF/F? I think you'll find her answer very interesting.

What is it About Werewolves?

As the author of four (soon to be five) romantic werewolf novels, some might consider me qualified to answer that question. I, among authors such as Alice Borschardt and Donna Boyd, have sought to create a new mythology of werewolves, leaving behind the old assumptions about curses, full moons and invariably evil killers. We have given the werewolf legend a new twist, and our heroes and heroines are complex characters with a rich cultural background of their own.

What is a werewolf? In ancient times, he or she was likely to be a witch under the tutelage of the devil, a wicked sorcerer, or a hapless innocent dogged by misfortune. Later, in the Wolf Man movies of the 40's, new legends evolved. There was the gypsy curse, the silver bullet, the full moon - all the creation of the vivid imaginations of the movies' producers and screenwriters.

But one thing all these old-time werewolves had in common: they were killers - amoral, savage, bestial. The historic werewolves committed their acts willfully; the Wolf Man and his kind were helpless to prevent the transformation and the destruction that came with it.

It's easy to see the origins of such legends. Early farmers competed with wolves for land and food; humans encroached on wolf territory and wolves, in turn, occasionally raided farmer's livestock. Wolves were frightening, intelligent, efficient killers with a pack structure not dissimilar to that of an extended human family. Eventually, this competition became imbued with religious overtones, and wolves became devilish creatures to be hated and feared.

Now, of course, we know better. Wolves are not indiscriminate killers; they prey on livestock only under certain circumstances, generally when their main sources of prey have been wiped out or thinned to the extent where they are no longer reliable sources of food. They have strong "family" lives, are devoted mates and parents, and are the ancestors of our own faithful dogs. Because of my own enormous respect for wolves, I never liked the "evil werewolf" legends. It seemed only natural, when I set about writing my first paranormal romance, that I should choose a wolf shapeshifter as my hero, and that I should try to undo some of those negative images by presenting him, and his kind, as a positive figure and an intrinsic part of nature, like wolves themselves.

I chose to "attack" the werewolf legend from a Fantasy/Science Fiction direction rather than horror point of view: I created my shapeshifters as a separate race of beings who had evolved alongside, and sometimes lived among, humans. There are no curses here, no particular susceptibility to silver bullets, and no changing only at the full moon. My first hero, Luke Gevaudan - the last name is derived from a French werewolf legend - was a man capable of anger in defending his own (with a wolf's loyalty) and also possessed of human compassion. He combined the fascinating wildness of a wolf with a human's restraint.

Shapeshifters make ideal heroes, because they are incredibly sexy and mysterious. They possess the power and cunning of a predatory animal, along with the civilizing aspects of a human being. All of us, at one time or another, have played at being some sort of animal: a horse, a wolf, a cat. I think we all keep a little of that longing within ourselves as we get older. We continue to search for that wildness within ourselves. For me, the werewolf hero strikes the perfect balance between the "dangerous" qualities many of us like in a romance hero, and the qualities of fidelity, loyalty, and affection that we also crave. He fills many of the roles of myth: hero, trickster, shapeshifter.

The question we face with a shapeshifter hero is: how do we control him? Can he be controlled at all, or will his wild side predominate?

I set about creating a race of "natural" werewolves: men and women who could change shape at will and developed this ability at puberty. They evolved alongside mankind and have kept their abilities secret from all but a few trusted humans. Throughout history they have been persecuted and hunted, but their unique powers, including a form of telepathy, have enabled them to survive and some to rise to positions of power, scattered all over the world. My books deal with the history and present of several families of werewolves, who are gradually coming together to save their race from extinction.

I mentioned earlier that I chose to approach the werewolf myths from a fantasy/science fiction direction. Since I've been reading SF/Fantasy since childhood, this is a natural direction for me.

I've always sought "escape" in my fiction - the farther away from our ordinary world, the better. Yet I also like my escape grounded in reality - the kind of reality that show people acting like people whether they're of "paranormal" origin, living on other worlds, or adventuring in the future. Science fiction has taught me to make a set of rules and stick to it. For instance, I had to think about what would happen if a werewolf were wounded in his wolf form. Would the wound transfer over, or disappear when he changed into a human again? I came up with my own solution to that question, and made sure I was consistent.

My greatest influences as a writer have come from science fiction and fantasy rather than traditional romance. (Indeed, most Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Romance - F, F&P - derives not from horror but from Fantasy and Science Fiction.) Today, what is known as "crossover" SF or romance is gaining a foothold, though it still has a way to go. True crossover manages a balancing act between two genres without totally sacrificing one or the other. SF/Romance crossover is seen most often in SF rather than in the romance genre, in the works of such authors as Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Catherine Asaro, Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne McCaffrey, and Jennifer Roberson.

I can usually tell when a FF&P Romance writer is familiar with SF/Fantasy, because the worldbuilding is strong and the concepts clear. And I encourage romance readers who enjoy FF&P to try some of the authors who inspired me, since many of them feature strong, compelling relationships equal to those in Romance. Among the books I recommend are:

  • Maxwell, Ann Name of a Shadow, others
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Grey Horse
  • Roberson, Jennifer: The Sword-Dancer Saga
  • Miller, Sharon and Lee, Sharon: Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, Carpe Diem
  • McCaffrey, Anne: Dragonflight (and others)
  • Bujold, Lois McMaster: Shards of Honor, A Civil Campaign
  • Bull, Emma: War for the Oaks

This is just a sampling, but it provides a good starting point for those who would like to discover the SF/fantasy origins behind FF&P romance.

As for myself, I'll continue to explore the world of shapeshifters - and other fantasy heroes and heroines - by combining my two favorites genres, Fantasy and Romance.

Christine Feehan, whose first romance was published in 1999, has become one of the most recognizable names in the paranormal romance arena for her vampire romances. The fifth book in her Carpathian series was released in November 2000 and received DIK status from us. As we've indicated throughout this column, vampires are admittedly an acquired taste, and Feehan's books in particular have caused quite vocal debate between those who love her Carpathians and those who find them too extreme. In last year's Annual Reader Awards, Feehan received three honorable mentions; the book that earned highest accolades from readers was one we'd not reviewed well. Whenever we post a review for her, we hear from those on both sides of the fence. I asked Christine to talk about the Carpathians, and what led to their creation.

Those Wild and Wacky Carpathians

I particularly love paranormal because it provides an element of risk and danger I'm always looking for in reading material. There is power and darkness or magick and illusion. There can be a creepy feeling that raises the hair on your skin and makes you look over your shoulder. Paranormals allow so much more scope for the imagination. Because paranormals have an edge to them or risk and danger, they can also be sensual and exciting reads, both of which strongly appeal to me.

To me, Carpathians are the ultimate dark and dangerous heroes. They are creatures of the night without color or emotion, holding on to their honor for long endless years of emptiness. Although the woman seems to be powerless against him, she provides a light to his soul, something he treasures above all else and that gives her power over him. Where everything seems balanced on his side, it really is an illusion. His returning emotions are overwhelming and at times his controlled behavior is imperfect which is difficult for him. I enjoy seeing two people thrown together who have no choice but to learn to get along, to learn to compromise and work through the problems both people have.

I've always had a fascination with vampires and the occult. I read just about every vampire writer fiction or nonfiction. I'm don't prefer horror so I tend to lean toward romance writers but I have a wonderful collection of vampire research books.

When not reading fiction I prefer to read research material. My passion is wildlife, rare and endangered, and I often include these animals in my books. I love storms and volcanoes and, again, use the research material in the books I write. Certain periods of history and also architecture fascinate. I have a huge collection of martial art books and vampire, legends and other myths from around the world. I research ancient magick and have a large collection of voodoo, spell-books, and other amazing material on the occult.

Time to Post to the Message Board:
Here are some specific questions to think and post about:

What's the Definition? - How do you define what constitutes "paranormal" entertainment? Do you separate the futuristic/SF/fantasy from the horror? Are vampires and werewolves different from time travel? Share your definitions and compare and contrast them with the definitions we've presented in the column.
The "Other" Worlds - Are you a fan of paranormal entertainment? If so, what led you to those types of stories? What kinds of paranormal media are you a fan of - movies, books, television, graphic novels, etc.? If not a fan of "other" worlds , have you ever tried the books, movies, T.V., or , or is something you've never considered?
The "Other" Worlds of Romance - Are you a reader of paranormal romance? If so, how did you come to it? Did you come to it from movies and television? Did you come to it from paranormal fiction? Or did you come to it by branching out on your romance reading? If you are not a regular (or ever) reader of paranormal romance, how come?
What's Your Favorite? - What are your favorite other worldly romances? Do you find you just love witches and angels and don't like fairies and ghosts? Which authors and which titles are your favorites, and why?
The Ick Factor - Some readers wouldn't read a vampire romance on a bet - all that blood, gore, and the undead is not the stuff of romance. Other readers may think the concept of a futuristic romance is good, but haven't read any good ones. What books have you read in the paranormal sub-genres that didn't float your boat, and why? Is it the "science" that's missing in the SF/Romance, or might you want less romance and more "other worlds?"
Robin Schone Syndrome? - Does a "Robin Schone Syndrome" exist, and if so, what authors who've risen quickly might just turn out to go supernova quickly?
What & Who is Missing? - Here's where you get to tell us whether this was more a hit or miss column. Did we provide enough viewpoints on this topic? Did we leave authors out that are definitive in the sub-genre? Did it bother you that your tour guide through these other worlds is not a general explorer?
Susan Krinard - I found it very interesting that Susan Krinard came to her werewolve romances not via romance but from SF/F. What about you? Have you read any of the titles she recommends? Do you find werewolves sexy? If so, why? If not, why not?
Christine Feehan - What do you make of Christine Feehan's Carpathians? Do you find them exotic and sexy as hell or are they too much for you?
Don't Forget to Vote! - Polling continues through February 15th for our annual reader poll. Make your vote today!

In conjunction with Susan Krinard, Christine Feehan, Blythe Barnhill, Teresa Galloway, Jennifer Keirans, Andrea Pool, Lori-Anne Cohen, Mary Novak, Liz Zink, and Laurie Shallah

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