Genre Talk

Genre Loyalties—For the Love of Conflict!

We have some of the most devoted fans of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy as readers of our blog.  And I know from your comments that some of you also like to read traditional sword-and-sorcery type fantasy, and that a lot of you, like me, adore Steampunk, and historical paranormal.

But I’m curious how many of you read romance outside the paranormal sub-genre?  I admit that for a long time I exclusively read paranormal (with the occasional historical thrown in for variety).  Last week a few of my Twitter friends mentioned they never read paranormal, and it made me wonder: How many people are truly omnivorous, and how many stick with only one genre?

Months ago, when I first stumbled upon the blog Wonkomance, Ruthie Knox had written a post about what she loves about historical romance: the burdens of the social customs of the time.  I share her preference that historicals explore those tensions, and her post helped me to understand what I love about the paranormal and historical genres–lots of external conflict.

It also, ironically, made me aware of why I am wary of contemporary romance.

Without all those historical strictures or a set of fangs to keep secret, a hero and a heroine can easily get caught up in melodrama, as in the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” type contemporaries I read as a kid.  I don’t much enjoy people with that degree of artificial drama in their real lives, why would I want to read about them?  I came to see that I like the way historical and paranormal stories remove us from and at the same time sharpen reality in such a way as to help us see it.

That said, I like the blog Wonkomance so much that I have read a few of its contributor’s contemporaries as well as a few books by authors I heard speak at RWA Nationals in Atlanta.  And, low and behold, I’ve liked them!

Some of them had loads of great external conflict and explored burdens of modern life. (We have social rules and tensions around class, gender and sexuality, after all; they are just perhaps harder to see because they are the water we swim in and also perhaps more controversial to address head on without touching on something political.)  Other books I read had really compelling internal conflicts, which of course is crucial to any romance, no matter the genre.  I encountered scarce melodrama, and when I did find, it seemed to be employed ironically, which made it hilarious.


Ruthie Knox’s analysis got me thinking about what kind of contemporary settings foster rich external conflict.  My aha moment was more like a “duh!” In my professional life as an Episcopal Priest, I occupy a world very tied to history and moral codes that the institution is struggling to update, not without conflict.  My own ordination process as a young woman was fraught with these tensions.  I began thinking, “I could write about this!”   And so I did, and just sold my first contemporary novella to Entangled Publishing.  It’s called One Sinful Night in Sao Paulo and it’s about a young woman about to begin seminary who is struggling with what will become of her sex life once she becomes a priest at the same time she is forced to spend time with an old flame.  It’s light while paranormal is dark, but it has the same level of humor and high heat.

I certainly plan to keep writing dark paranormal, but I have a few more stories set in the world of my day job in mind, and I am excited to write them.  It surely poses some branding problems to write light contemporary and dark paranormal.  And I am very curious whether there will be overlap in readers as I do so.

Do you read multiple subgenres?

What do you love about the various ones?

Do you read any authors who write in multiple subgenres? 

Do you prefer external to internal conflict? A well-woven combination?

17 thoughts on “Genre Loyalties—For the Love of Conflict!

  1. I tried to read “contemporary” romance recently. Threw the books in the garbage lol. I do read mostly paranormal and urban fantasy. Historical is good too. But most people I know offline and who do read, do not read paranormal and as someone said recently. They just don’t get it. Right!!! “contemporary” romance is forced for the conflict I’ll check out the blog you mentioned

    • Hi Sue, LOL indeed! Yes, I specifically had people say they only read one or the other. It’s fascinating how we develop these preferences! And yes, forced conflict is definitely what I don’t like!

  2. I read many genres, SFR, westerns, mystery, historicals, steampunk, fantasy and occasional contemporary. Almost everything I read is fiction, except for my medical journals. I will read an author who writes across genres, but sometimes, I before one over the other. For example, I love the J.D.Robb In Death series, but have had mixed success with other Nora Roberts stories. The whole point to any good story no matter what genre is to take me away from my reality and pull me into the story’s world. Contemporary is my least favorite because it doesn’t create enough distance for me.

    • Liz, thanks for this comment! It’s exactly what I was curious about. And yes, I think that distance thing is really interesting. By and large, I prefer it in my reading too. I have friends that prefer to watch reality TV to a drama and non-fiction to a novel, but I like to get far away from reality in my reading.

      In my work as a priest, I spend a lot of time teaching methods for interpreting the Bible, and I am always trying to explain the way that stories can contain Truth without containing Facts. Postmodern scholars have been very helpful in pointing out that our definitions of “facts” and “literal truth” emerged in the Renaissance/Scientific Revolution and the Bible was not written to be read that way. (There was an interview on the Daily Show with Reza Aslan where he talks about this distinction very clearly.)

      Although it’s not scripture, I guess my appreciation fiction comes from the way that distance you described helps us see reality with more clarity that we can see what is very close to us.

  3. Fascinating post, Amber! I can’t seem to write anything but paranormal and urban fantasy…maybe one day I’ll manage to write a contemporary. But I read tons of romances of all genres (plus all sorts of other books). The last time I tried to write a contemporary, my bartender heroine insisted on being a shapeshifter. It’s funny, because internal conflict is what I’m most drawn to.

    I think you’ll find plenty of crossover readers, Amber–good stories trump everything else!

    • I think you’re right, AJ, or perhaps I will find new ones!

      But there is still a hurdle in breaking one’s readerly habits, I think. Much like the way I always order salted caramel ice cream at the Birite Creamery. Something else may rock my socks off, but that caramel never disappoints.

      Oddly, given how expensive they are, but I am almost more likely to take a risk on an audio book than on a novel. I guess because my time for actual reading (not listening and driving or doing chores) is so little!

      • I can only listen to audiobooks in the care if I am not the driver. I find I get too engrossed in the story to concentrate on the driving!

  4. I read Urban Fantansy, Paranormal romance, Romantic Suspense, thrillers (some), Mystery (some) Regency, a bit of time travel, but don’t get into contemporary romance all that much but will for a really good one. And if I do it is never secret baby, sweet type. Oh I also dabble in light sci-fi and fantasy, futuristic.

    • Good to hear from you, Cassandra! LOL! I know exactly what you mean about “the sweet type.” I secretly want to write a secret baby story–I don’t think I’ve every read one, but I do have one in mind, and it WON’T be sweet!

  5. I definitely read cross genre. Like you, I definitely prefer the higher stakes conflicts that come from external conflicts and therefore gravitate to paranormal, urban fantasy, horror, sci-fi/ fantasy, mystery and thrillers. My first introduction to romance was Suzanne Brockmann and I love her Trouble Shooters series. I picked up her paranormal romance, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I assume she does it as well as she does the contemporary military. 🙂

  6. Great post! My first love was historical romances, from that I landed in (high) fantasy, but my love of magic and wizards and the likes brought me to paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Some sci fi (romance) was added, and I also read cozy mystery (no thrillers or suspense please) and romantic suspense, and just a little bit of contemporary romance. Those last ones are more comfort reads, where you don’t have to pay that much attention. Bella Andre, Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber are my choices for them. Although the “message” is sometimes heavy handed, like no woman is happy without a husband and children (which is so not true for me), I still like to read about it.

    • Xaurianx–how interesting. I think that is my progression too, mostly! Eek, I’m not a fan of heavy handed messages, but I know exactly what you mean about comfort reads. That’s how I feel about the historical romance type mysteries I like, like Deanna Raybourn or C.S. Harris. Romance, history, and sometimes dark plots, but always with a historical distance and emotional austerity that makes me feel “safe” as a reader–not too involved, not likely to give up during the dark moment (which I do more often than I like to admit–as in “no resolution I can imagine makes this worth it”).

      • Hi Amber, you like historical romance mystery? I do recommend Robin Paige. I loved that series and am sad it has ended. It is so good, interwoven with famous people from that time, and inventions. Late 1800, early 1900.

  7. Great food for thought, Amber. When I dip a toe or two outside of Paranormal-Land, it’s usually to read a contemporary written by authors who also write paranormal. Laura Kaye, for example. I like her military Hero series and am a big fan of her novella Hearts In Darkness.

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