Am I Paranormal Romance Or Urban Fantasy?

I’ve been having a bit of a genre–well I was going to say crisis, but it’s not that severe–thing lately.  Now here’s the thing–as an adult writer, everything I’ve done has in some way, shape, or form, fit into the romance genre.  Mostly romantic suspense.  But it’s always about a relationship.   A hero and heroine who come together and have to overcome stuff to make that relationship work.  So when I made this jump back to the paranormal last fall, it seemed natural that what I was writing was paranormal romance, or what I consider more properly to be paranormal romantic suspense.  When I described my concept to a few other writer friends, they said “Oh, that sounds like a really cool urban fantasy.”  To which I replied, no, it’s paranormal romance.  Because there is nothing remotely urban about this book.  It takes place in a tiny town with a population of around 600 people.

Now I’m not so sure.

No matter what, I will continue to write about relationships and those heroes and heroines who come together.  That will always be a central part of my stories because that’s what I love to read.  And as far as I’m concerned, that’s equally important to the paranormal and suspense parts of the equation.  That often doesn’t seem to be the case with urban fantasy.  There may be no specific hero.  The relationship is not resolved at the end of one book.  There may not even ever be a happily ever after.  Those are all important things to me in the series I’m creating.  Each book will be about a different pair.  Their story (or at least the relationship part) will be resolved by the end of the book, though we will likely see them as secondary characters in other books.  And there will absolutely be a happily ever after for them (even if they still face other hardships in future books, they are together).  This would all seem to put me fairly solidly in the romance camp, right?

But there seems to be a trend lately that paranormal romance is getting hotter, sexier, darker.  The dark part I don’t have a problem with.  I just spent 5 years crawling around in the minds of serial killers for the romantic suspense I used to write.  But the hotter and sexier part…while I enjoy reading it, I absolutely SUCK at writing it.  I don’t like writing it.  It’s a massive struggle to write and never ever comes off how I want it to.  And while certainly practice would enable me to get better at this sort of thing, it’s just not me.  There are usually one or two love scenes in my books, but they’re far briefer than is often the case in romance these days–at least what I’ve been reading.

So does that mean romance is leaving me behind?  Should I hop over to the urban fantasy camp?

Part of the confusion for me is the name of the genre of urban fantasy.  Really it’s a misnomer because there is NOT an urban element in all of it.  I don’t know why they didn’t call it contemporary fantasy when they named it.  That seems to encompass a broader range of stuff.  I guess the early examples of the genre were urban settings and it stuck.  But is that actually important?

Also of note among some urban fantasy fans, I have heard that they get annoyed if you focus too much on the relationship in a “if we wanted to read romance, we would” kind of way. Just check out some of the raging debates that occurred after J.R. Ward announced a shift into urban fantasy from the romance that got her started.

Where does this leave me?

Is there some hybrid of the two where I can focus on the relationship and the paranormal/fantasy?  This inquiring mind wants to know.

And those of you more knowledgable in urban fantasy as a genre, can you point me in the right direction with some book recommendations?  I’d like to read more widely to make a better decision on this front.

6 thoughts on “Am I Paranormal Romance Or Urban Fantasy?

  1. I think its a valid question. I always assumed I was writing paranormal romance until I got an agent and she explained I write urban fantasy with a romantic element. Yeah, whatever.

    Umm…I think there has been a cross-over and to be frank, I do think there is a misnomer. Authors who consider their work “urban fantasy” are really writing paranormal romance. But urban fantasy sounds so much more hip.

    I would say Jim Butcher’s “The Dresden Files” are a really good example of true urban fantasy. Simon R. Green’s “Nightside” series employs a lot of different fantasy elements in an urban setting. Some series have started out as good urban fantasy but seem to be sliding into romance. That’s okay, but it does change the definition and blurs the lines.

    When I told my agent I was working on an urban fantasy without any romance she ixnayed the idea saying publishers do want some romance. I’ve given up defining and am now just writing what feels natural.

  2. Don’t ask me. I thought I was writing a contemporary fantasy (gave up long ago calling it urban fantasy or paranormal romance) and I think I ended up with a thriller.

    From the bits I’ve read here and your other work, I’d tentatively agree that you’re writing paranormal romance. True, the current trend appears to be hotter/sexier, but that doesn’t exclude you from writing in your zone. No one knows what the market will look like even next year.

    In the end, it comes down to what the publisher decides to put on the spine anyway. Concentrate on what makes your story special and unique, and let the agent/editor figure out how to label it. Easier said than done, I know, because I fight that battle every day.

  3. Obviously, I think, the HEA is crucial in a romance, but UF can have a happy ending, too, so it boils down to the relationship being inextricable from every other component of the story in a romance. If there’s a murder to be solved, a portal to hell to be closed, whatever, the protags have to deal with it together, and dealing with that “whatever” together has to also further their relationship in some way. There should be very few, if any, scenes in a romance that don’t add some insight or progress or setback to that relationship.

    UF also accommodates things romance readers tend to be touchy about, such as one of the protags having an interest in someone other than the second protag and other behaviors unbecoming a “hero” or “heroine.”

    Some of my favorite UF:

    Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series (starts with Ill Wind) contains a fabulous, complicated romance, but the heroine is going it alone the majority of the time, and she really has bigger issues to deal with than her love life.

    Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series (starts with Magic Bites) has one of those antagonism/attraction relationships you know will eventually lead to hot, sweaty sex, but the heroine has her demanding job and the whole destiny thing to occupy her, besides being resistant to the idea of being this uber-alpha’s possession.

    Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series (starts with Moon Called) has an obvious love match, but far more of their interaction with each other deals with supernatural politics than their personal relationship.

    Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt series (starts with Already Dead) stars a thug vampire whose motivation for EVERYTHING he does is to make life better for the woman he loves, but he spends all his time DOING these things rather than waxing poetical about the reasons and probably only sees the girlfriend once in the course of a book.

    They all CONTAIN romance. Most books do (hell, even Harry Potter had a love life). Relationships are part of the human condition, and it would seem strange for a character to have an absence of them, but they’re not the dominant, unifying theme the way they are in the romance genre.

  4. Kait Nolan

    Clearly I should use questions as post titles more often. That’s the fastest I’ve gotten comments in months… Kerry, thanks for the book recs. I shall add them to my bookstore list for when I allow myself to remove my ban (I have to get through part of my TBR pile before I’m allowing myself to bring MORE home).

    In a lot of ways I feel like this is kind of a distant debate. My stories are what they are. I’m not the one who really makes the decision of whether they are urban fantasy or paranormal romance–that’ll be publisher/agent/some other publishing industry professional who has more to say about the issue when they get to that spine.

    It’s just been on my mind a lot lately. Thanks for the comments!

  5. I can ask the same question: am I writing historical romance or romantic historical fiction? Like you, I’m finding that although the genre is getting hotter and hotter, I have zero desire at the moment for sex in my books. But I hate the terminology “sweet”–there’s nothing sweet about my books. But kisses only and no sex relegates you to the dungeon in the romance genre. I want the HEA, but I want to adventure, and also a deeper use of history that is no longer found in historical romance. That’s why I put out a call for a historical romance/historical fiction hybrid. *g*

  6. so maybe the Urban Fantasy simply indicates that the romance is part of the secondary or sub-plots whereas with paranormal romance the romance is first and the adventure second?

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