Genre Talk

Urban fantasy/paranormal romance hybrids: How hot is too hot?

Earlier this summer, I attended the Romantic Times Booklovers convention in New Orleans, and among the many workshops being given on the business and craft of writing, there was one that particularly interested me. The title was “Writing in the Badlands,” and the topic was books that are hybrids between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. I knew I had to go, because (as I’m learning now that more folks are reading my books) this is apparently what I write.

The panelists were all talented and successful authors in this cross-genre space, and each of them tilts a little one way or another. Kristen Painter, Kristen Callihan, Amanda Carlson and Leigh Evans all gave their take on what makes a book a hybrid, but the question that most fascinated me was how the level of sexual content can shift readers’ expectations. More sex, it seems, and it’s a paranormal romance. Less, and it’s an urban fantasy.

There are exceptions, of course, but this seemed to be the general consensus. And I’m not talking about romance or romantic tension, here—I’m talking about open door, sex-on-the-page love scenes. The hotter the pages, the more likely it’s a romance.

Maybe this is obvious, but I suppose I found it interesting, because some of my favorite urban fantasy series (Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian series, Nicole Peeler’s Jane True series, Carolyn Crane’s Disillusionist series) are quite sexy. It’s also (no surprise) what I tend to write. But many folks in the room seemed to imply I’m in the minority.

Anyway, because I’m an incurable nerd, I condensed this idea into handy, oversimplified chart form:



I genuinely like stories that fall in all sections of this chart, but my favorites usually show up in the top right. How about you? Is your keeper shelf populated from one section or another?



24 thoughts on “Urban fantasy/paranormal romance hybrids: How hot is too hot?

    • Thanks, Liz! I’m interested in the fact that even books I’d consider very VERY different (like Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series and Stacia Kane’s Downside series) would fall in that same corner. They’re extremely different in tone, but they both end up there, and I love them both.

      I’ve also just realized that my second favorite corner is the bottom left, where I’d put things like The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen and Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. Hmm.

  1. AJ, I love this post! I read it all, but write in the upper right corner – definitely! I prefer a heavy dose of romance with my UF. I’ll admit that it has taken some die-hard genre readers off guard. But for people new to the category, they liked it just fine. I’m hoping to see more of it on the market…

    • Thanks, LG! I’m the same way–I read it all, but I write in the upper right. 🙂 So far, I think I’ve been able to find readers who are looking for that mix, but I’m curious to see how people’s reading preferences cluster.

  2. As a writer, I’m between light and dark fantasy. Sexual tension but no sex. Death only where it advances characterization. As a reader, anything but straight-up paranormal romance. Nice chart, AJ! I’m going to crack open your book eventually, but I’m insatiable about classics and literary right now. I know it’s a phase because I go in and out of phases.

    • Hi Jaimie! I like stuff on that line between light & dark fantasy. Maybe things like Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic (the book, not the movie) fit there? (Oh, and I totally get phases…crack it open when it speaks to you. Thanks for having it on your list!)

      • Wow. Wasn’t on my radar but it seems very promising. I think the movie turned me away! I never saw the movie but it looked awful and I looked no further.

      • Oh, I liked the movie! (It was pretty light, though, so if that’s not your thing, you might not like it.) And it was VERY different from the book. Enough that I consider them two different stories. The book is much more unapologetically dark. The movie softens the dark side of the magic and comes off more like a romantic comedy, and gets a little slapstick at times, while the book never does. I liked them both for entirely different reasons.

    • Hooray for Dark Fantasy! (And now I am wondering which books you would put there. I was thinking of folks like Cherie Priest, Marjorie Liu… What do you think qualifies?)

  3. I love that chart. I’m definitely in the hybrid corner – that’s probably why I loved your book and just pre-ordered the next one. If anything, I tend lean more toward UF and away from PNR, mainly because while I don’t mind the occasional hot scene, I find that many PNRs sacrifice world building for more sex, and I’d much rather it be the other way around. I also have no problem with death in paranormals. I like my UF dark. If I’m in the mood for light and bright, I pick up a straight romance, not a paranormal.

    • Hi, Jen! Thanks so much–and thanks for pre-ordering! (yay!)

      I tend to pick up lighter historicals when I want something with less death, but I’ve also found PNR series that I love & end up being auto-buys. Like Jenn Bennett’s Roaring Twenties PNR series–sexy and clever and utterly original–and set in SF!–but I suppose there’s a bit of death in them, too.

      Oh, and YES to world-building. Good world-building gets me every time.

  4. One of the reasons I’ve never outright said my blog was an UF or PNR blog was because Hybrids are my favorite. I want it all when it comes to reading and I like to dabble in all areas of the chart but Hybrids are definitely my favorite. Seeing Lisa’s comment it reminds me that to me her Night series would fall in there and it’s why I tag them UF and PNR when I review them on my blog.

    Really great chart BTW A.J.!

    • Thanks, Rhi! Nice to see you here. 🙂 One of the reasons I like ebooks and online book review blogs is that it’s easier to tag books as both, so it’s easier for people to find what they’re looking for.

  5. Pingback: Guest Post: Between the Genres My Writer's Cramp

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