First, there’s an excellent ATBF column that confronts issues of racism in publishing, marketing, and the reading of romance over at AAR.
Second, Candy of Smart Bitches has a rant In Defense of Girly Men over at SBTB that is generating a lot of comments I haven’t had time to read through yet, but it does touch (along with Charlene Teglia’s RTB column Romance That Go Bump in the Night about paranormal romances in honor of Halloween-month) on some thoughts I’ve had lately about heroes, horror, and my own book.
One of the complaints I hear most often about paranormal romances is that, despite the werewolves and vampires, they aren’t scary. There’s no sense of terror or fear that you’d get with, say, a Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel (even though both authors (but especially Koontz) have romantic elements to them). And I wonder if one of the reasons for the lack of real horror in the romance genre is an unwillingness for authors or publishers to have a hero who is afraid (and for me, if the characters aren’t afraid, there’s no reason for me to be, either).
Oh, it’s okay if he fears for the heroine’s life after the villain abducts her. That kind of fear is manly, and spurs him to action. But what about fear of the unknown? What about being totally freaked out because some unnatural, totally freaking crazy-out-there thing is happening in his town, and he doesn’t know what it is, but it’s creepy and frightening?
Sure, the heroine can be freaked out like that. But the hero? The hero is usually worse than the bad guy. Of all the creepy-crawly bad things out there, he’s got to be the darkest and the toughest (even if he’s human) or he might just be too weeny.
But that doesn’t have to happen — one of my favorite Koontz books is WATCHERS (not the movie…god, what a mistake that was). The hero there is ex-Special Forces, but he KNOWS that the Outsider could tear him to pieces, and he is afraid of it (and afraid of the people looking for Einstein, too). But even though he’s afraid, he makes a stand to protect the people he loves. No weeniness there, not at all.
The bad guy should be stronger/smarter than the good guys. This can’t be just in comic books and horror novels, right? What’s sexier, what’s stronger than a hero and heroine who have no freaking chance, are scared out of their wits, yet fight and win anyway?
I haven’t been reading a ton of paranormals lately, I’ll admit (issues with voice and siphoning up too many ideas) but when I do read them, I’m not scared. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been really freaked out by a romance novel, if ever.
But I think it could be a really fantastic subgenre–horror/romance. If emotions are running high from fear it opens up a million ways to twist that just a little bit into passion, or whatever…intensity of more than just one emotion (not much different from romantic suspense). And part of me does want to see the vampires and werewolves as the bad guys again (with maybe a few exceptions for those really, really, really hot vamps :-D)
But maybe it’s already happening, and I just haven’t been (not) reading the right books? Right now, I read paranormals because I like the world-building, I like the forbidden aspects of the relationships, the way in which the Other is presented in a hypersexual way, the lure of the dangerous hero/heroine — but not because they are scary.