Today, I’m thrilled to welcome DaViniciKittie (aka DVK), the proprietress of GraveTells News & Reviews, to Paranormal Unbound!
GraveTells is a review site for the sorts of books we love at Paranormal Unbound. Paranormal romance (PNR) and urban fantasy (UF) feature large, but DVK and her team review all sorts of genre fiction. The site isn’t just for reviews, either—there are also special features like character interviews, editorials and interviews with authors and other publishing industry professionals.
There are a couple of things that, in my mind, set GraveTells apart. First, the review style invites reader participation. There’s a place where readers can rate books on their own, and blog visitors can compare the average reader rating to the reviewer’s. And, GraveTells reviewers break down their ratings by element (character development, originality, heat, etc.), so it’s easier to tell if a book is your style or not. Second, GraveTells highlights all sorts of romance, with tabs that point you to books featuring military characters, LGBT characters, BDSM and erotica. Finally, the blog has a reputation as a good place to find books from all sorts of places: traditional publishing, self publishing, small presses—everywhere! I discovered a favorite new paranormal romance author there: Lindsay J. Pryor, who’s published with the new small press Bookouture. I’m not sure I would have found her otherwise.
Today, DVK and I are talking about a subject she knows quite a lot about, and that’s the romance and paranormal fiction communities. We both got a little excited about this topic, to say the least. Read on and join the discussion in the comments!
AJ: One of the things I love about genre fiction is the breadth and engagement of the fans. There are so many places online to talk about our obsessions—some series even have their own wikis and their own dedicated fan websites. Why do you think genre fiction has produced such an active online community?
DVK: Oooo, Proprietress! I love it! Say it again! *wink*
Genre fiction definitely has dedicated fans. In fact, when I get together with other romance readers (especially paranormal and military contemporary, with their hubba hubba alpha males!), we usually click like old girlfriends. I mean, who else can you giggle and rant about too-sexy-to-be-true fictional characters with as if they are real people? Try that with “serious” readers and they’ll look at you like you need to be committed… and I don’t mean to memory. And that is why, I think, genre fiction is so incredibly popular and the people who love it are so compatible and supportive of each other. It makes our most secret dreams and needs, sometimes things we didn’t even realize we needed, more real and gives us hope and a feeling of camaraderie.
AJ: That feeling of camaraderie is huge in genre fiction! Once you’re tapped into the community, it’s like being part of a tribe. I just got back from the RWA national conference, where there was a great panel by Drs. Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois on the romance writing community and how welcoming and supportive it is. They also discussed how genre fiction is stigmatized by those who don’t read it. (For a recap, check out this great interview with them by Sarah Wendell at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, or you can read my storified tweets of the panel). It made me wonder if the strength of online romance communities stems in part from the fact that some of us have trouble finding like-minded reader friends in our offline lives. What do you think?
DVK: Yes, absolutely! Nothing makes you feel closer to a fellow reader than fighting back together against the adversity, even if it’s just in shared smiles across a train car or heated online discussions about why the rest of the world is SO totally missing out and how that’s COMPLETELY fine with us so we can have those sexy heroes all to ourselves. *grin* That said, the more fans a series has, the more exciting it is to be part of that fanbase, as it justifies that feeling of rightness and solidifies your dedication to the characters and story universe. Odd how ironic that is, eh?
AJ: So true! I love it when I find other readers who are in love with a character or series, I feel like I’m part of an exclusive club. no matter how big that club is. Are there particular series or authors that you see inspiring a particularly committed fan base? Why do you think readers are drawn so strongly to these stories?
DVK: There are the obvious super-series out there, which I don’t even need to name because I bet two or three of them just popped into your head. Aside from those megastars though, I can definitely think of some up-and-comers that I’ve had the pleasure to read, review, and work with, and I believe readers will gravitate to them because they call to some need within us as individuals. Reading their stories fills a void and makes us feel more complete and happy, even if it’s just for a little while. Sounds kinda cheesy and sad when I put it that way, but when I read Joan Swan or Rebecca Zanetti or Sara King, “cheesy” and “sad” is the LAST thing I’m feeling! Hah!
Joan Swan writes action like you’re standing right there in the thick of it, and the connections between her characters are so intense it makes my chest ache. Rebecca Zanetti is the queen of the alpha male; her men can leave you riveted to the pages, ready to do anything they ask, and begging for more. Is it hot in here? *fans self* Then there are authors like Sara King, who have mostly flown under the radar until recently, and excel at just about every aspect of writing engaging fiction. Who knew a story about a 13 year-old boy kidnapped by aliens and forced into their army (The Legend of Zero: Forging Zero) would become one of my favorite books of all time? And it’s not even romance, just pure awesome sci-fi!
AJ: Dang it, as if I need a bigger TBR pile… Serves me right for asking. Seriously, though, these all sound amazing. I love sci-fi, and I adore finding authors who’ve flown under the radar, if only to say I “knew them when.” 😉
It seems like every year, we hear that another sub-genre of romance is dying while a new one is heating up. Where do you see paranormal romance and urban fantasy in the next few years? Are there trends we should be watching?
DVK: Aaah, I never get tired of that question! *grin* Critics of PNR have this doomsday outlook on the genre, as if it’s just going to fade away because they don’t like (or maybe understand) it. How long has it been since Twilight (the movie) came out? 2008. It’s been 5 years since that movie put paranormal romance as a fiction genre on the map for a large majority of its current fanbase. And PNR/UF was trending a good bit before that too (Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series has been around for a looong time). Even now there are more and more movie and TV deals featuring it, inspiring an entirely new generation of fans. Maybe the media craze will pass in the next few years… because Hollywood is fickle and people like cyclical change… but I believe paranormal romance fiction is here to stay. Let’s face it: vampires are sexy. They are basically one big metaphor for sex, and sex is a huge motivator for a lot of the things that happen in, well, life. Getting to fantasize about a man (or woman!) who will live (and be smolderingly sexy) forever, has super-human strength and abilities, and can give you the biggest sexual high of your life? Priceless and oh-so-NECESSARY. *grin*
Yes, PNR has tropes and over-utilized plot devices just like every other genre, romance or not, but for every 4 or 5 run-of-the-mill copycat stories we get in the GraveTells review submission box, there is at least one gem with fresh ideas and a new take on the paranormal universe just waiting to be promoted and discovered, and more and more of these are small press or self-published. You mentioned Lindsay Pryor earlier; her Blackthorn universe is one of those little gems because it is edgy, unpredictable, and walks the line of what is considered “appropriate” for romance. It’s an engaging combination of urban fantasy and paranormal romance because even though you know there’s at least a happy-for-now ending coming, you can’t help but wonder if the good guys are going to turn out to be the bad guys while you’re reading it. The heroes are gritty, raw, and extremely dangerous, and the heroines stubbornly committed to their own cause. I see more and more stories treading into previously-considered risky territory and taking on issues like AIDS, imperfect bodies and body image problems, and homosexual/polyamorous relationships. BDSM has gotten a huge dose of the spotlight and now that it’s more socially acceptable reading material (thank you, E.L. James), I think a lot of readers who previously didn’t know anything about it are discovering an itch for things they never would have considered before. There’s nothing wrong with “safe”, but edgy stories that push all sorts of boundaries is where I see PNR and urban fantasy, along with romance in general, headed in the next few years.
AJ: I love what you said about PNR pushing the boundaries. So true. Sometimes it’s easier to accept a little envelope-pushing when the characters are vampires or demons. PNR gives us a “safer” way to explore taboos. And whatever you think of Fifty Shades as a book, it did a lot to expand the boundaries of romance.
DVK: What I find fascinating is that even within the romance community, people who know what it feels like to be ostracized by readers of other genres, it seems to be universally acceptable to criticize fans of blockbuster series like the Fifty Shades trilogy. I mean, for a book series to so completely captivate the world and sell such a phenomenal number of copies, there are sure to be some detractors, but I’ve seen some serious venom from the books’ critics and some of it is from readers who gush over other alpha male romances.
So a question for you, AJ – why do you think readers get so passionate either for or against a series like that? And, as an author, how does it affect your own work? Do you worry about people comparing you to the “wrong” popular series?
AJ: This is a fascinating question. So much of the romance community is defined by what I recently heard called “relentless enthusiasm.” It’s considered bad form to be too critical, especially as a writer, and I don’t exactly disagree with that “rule.” I think it’s totally fine for authors to review books, but personally, I made a decision not to review books once I started writing. I developed a painfully intimate understanding of what goes into producing a story, and with that understanding came a reluctance to judge anyone else’s attempt to get their words on a page. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, but because Fifty Shades came from “outside” the community (relatively speaking), I wonder if people latched onto the books as an outlet for a lot of unvoiced criticism? Maybe the series became a kind of whipping boy boy for romance in general.
As for whether I worry about being compared to the “wrong” series, for me, it’s a question of book discoverability. If people are expecting JR Ward-style alpha males or Twilight-style vampires from my books, they’re going to be disappointed, and I never want a reader to be disappointed. That said, once someone picks up a book (any book), I think the story and the writing will speak for themselves. So I don’t worry about it too much. When my family asks me if I’ve written the next Twilight, and am I going to quit my job? I just laugh.
I have a feeling we could keep talking about these topics for another five pages! I think everyone who’s stuck with us deserves a little reward in the form of book recommendations. 🙂 Do you have a favorite new series for us to get hooked on?
DVK: Do I have a word limit? Pretty sure I’m past it if you do, so here goes… *wink*
GraveTells does a yearly award event where readers can vote for their favorite books and authors and the GT review team can sing the praises of the ones who knocked our socks off. You can see the winners for 2011 here (Readers Choice | official GT awards) and some of those megastar series came out on top (there’s a good reason they’re so popular!), but the newcomer standouts were Laura Kaye’s Hearts of the Anemoi, Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey, Sarah Humphreys’ Amoveo Legacy, and Rosalie Lario’s Demons of Infernum series. In 2012 (Readers Choice | official GT awards), top honors went to Joan Swan’s Phoenix Rising, Rebecca Zanetti’s Dark Protectors, Felicity Heaton’s Vampire Erotic Theatre, and Laura Kaye’s Vampire Warrior Kings series.
For people who are new to paranormal romance, my fave biggies to start with are: J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress (I will love you F-O-R-E-V-E-R, Bones!), Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling, Karen Marie Moning’s Fever, and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Chronicles series.
For lesser-known-but-still-awesome authors and series not mentioned above, Blackthorn from Lindsay J. Pryor is fab and Joey W. Hill’s Vampire Queen series just about changed my freaking life (her Jacob is another hero I would like to lick all over). Holy hotness, Batman! Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden series is really heating up and Donya Lynne’s All the King’s Men has a couple heroes that make me want to just live in my head full-time with them (uh, hopefully my husband is not reading this *blush*). On the contemporary LGBT front, Riptide Publishing’s Tucker Springs story world is a newly found addiction of mine, with stories that tackle serious issues and real-life problems while still working in sexy chemistry and happy endings with quality writing and editing.
AJ: Bones! He can bite me anytime. And THANK YOU for all the “lesser-known-but-still-awesome” recs. My favorite kind. 😉 I recently met one of Riptide’s editors (Sarah Frantz) at RWA, and I was super-impressed. She’s very smart and thoughtful, and I’m looking forward to checking out some of her titles.
Thanks for hanging out with us today, Madam Proprietress. 🙂
DVK: Glad to be here! Thank you so much for inviting me to chat about one of my absolute favorite topics in the world! ❤
AJ: Anytime! Readers, what about you? Are you already a fan of some of DVK’s recommendations? Why do you think genre fiction inspires such committed communities?
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