The lovely Gwenda Bond recently interviewed me for her fantastic article about romance novels and the supernatural, which came out today in Publishers Weekly. I highly recommend reading it, and I know I’ll be picking up many of the titles mentioned in her piece. She’s also very kindly allowed me to post the entirety of our conversation.
1) Tell me a little bit about the next books you have coming out in both your series.
My first major release of the summer is DARKNESS CALLS from my Hunter Kiss series, and it’s the second book after THE IRON HUNT, and the short companion story, HUNTER KISS. I’m not even certain how to describe the book, because there’s a lot going on—from demonic tattoos to genetic manipulation, to quantum mechanics and time travel, to crazy priests and the crazy barmaid psychics who love them, and lots more after that.
The premise of the series is this, though: Maxine Kiss is the last living Warden of a multi-dimensional prison that’s housing a vast army of demons just waiting to destroy the earth. Maxine comes from a long line of women dedicated to preventing that from happening, and this particular bloodline has been aided over the millennia by a small inherited force of demons—five lethal (and occasionally child-like) creatures that sleep by day as indestructible tattoos on Maxine’s skin, and who peel off her body when the sun goes down.
Maxine was raised to forgo relationships and even minor connections, and to constantly stay on the road—but she’s finally fallen in love, and has decided to try and make a life for herself. Except, the man she’s living with has his own powers—and DARKNESS CALLS is all about what those powers are, and who wants to kill her man because of them.
My second major release of the summer is a paranormal romance, and the ninth book in my Dirk & Steele series, which is about a group of psychics and non-humans (gargoyles, mermen, shape-shifters, and so on) who band together to help others under the guise of working for an internationally respected detective agency. Lots of magic and mayhem, that’s for sure. THE FIRE KING is about a female agent of Dirk & Steele who can communicate in any language in the world, just so long as she’s in the presence of a native speaker. She’s pulled out of retirement and sent to Central Asia where a strange man—a warrior—has been discovered after several thousands years of magically induced sleep. He can’t communicate with anyone, as his language is extinct, and while at first glance he seems to be a shape-shifter, his kind have been battling the shape-shifters for thousands of years.
In addition to these two novels, I’ve got a novella coming out in the summer anthology, HUNTRESS, along with the on-going DARK WOLVERINE, the monthly Marvel comic book I’m co-writing with Daniel Way.
2) You have a well-established series of paranormal romance books and just launched a new urban fantasy series within the last couple of years. What do you see as the main differences between these two genres and/or how does that manifest in your own books? (For instance, one thing I’ve heard while putting together this piece is that in romance, readers are way more used to also having access to the hero’s point of view, as well as the heroine’s.)
Well, that’s true. When I write my romance novels, the hero’s point of view makes up about half of the book—as opposed to my urban fantasy series, which is told exclusively from the perspective of the heroine. On the other hand, Charles de Lint, who as far as I’m concerned is the reigning master of traditional urban fantasy (along with Terri Windling, Emma Bull, Kelly Link, etc.) also tells his stories from multiple viewpoints. And there’s almost always a heavily romantic subplot.
Really, I think we worry way too much about where books should fit inside genres.
Since we’re on the subject, though, I find that the differences between urban fantasies and paranormal romances are subtle—yet distinct—which I know may sound like a contradiction, but it’s one of those things that you know when you see. For example (speaking in generalities, which is unfortunate), I would never call de Lint’s Someplace to be Flying a paranormal romance, even though there’s a sparking good one between two of the main characters. It’s really romantic. But it’s still an urban fantasy. Or rather, that’s how I would classify it. Which speaks, again, to the trouble of trying to fit books into particular categories, as that can be highly subjective.
On the other hand, I recently read the first novel in an ongoing series that has a distinctly urban fantasy feel to it: set in the modern world, dealing with magic and an evolving story line that won’t be resolved in the first book. It is very good. But from my point of view, it’s also very clearly a paranormal romance novel, not an urban fantasy. The relationship of the hero and heroine is front and center, and is the main focus around which the plot revolves.
That’s an essential part of defining the differences between these books. In a romance, the hero and heroine are on the journey together, and no matter how awful it gets, by the end of the book they’ll be in love, with the probability of a happy ending. The same could be true of an urban fantasy—de Lint’s books, for example, almost always end on a happy, or bittersweetly happy note—but usually that romance is a sub-plot to the rest of the story. It’s not the main focus. And in a romance novel—be it historical, paranormal, or contemporary—the romance comes first, always.
Okay, here’s another example of some differences. In my Hunter Kiss series, which I most certainly classify as urban fantasy, the heroine is in a healthy ongoing relationship. The books are not about her falling in love, because she’s already in love (unlike in my Dirk & Steele novels, where the stories are always about first meetings). She’s found her man, and they are committed to one another. But that doesn’t mean the relationship remains stagnant—or that it’s the focus of the book. It’s only a minor part of the story, and what readers get is a long-term sense of growth and development across books, a shifting landscape of conflicts that enrich both the characters—and the world they live in. World-building is key no matter what you write, but I find it doubly so in urban fantasies—especially in my Hunter Kiss series, where the story seems to be set in the modern-day twenty-first century, but one that is filled with an increasingly complex mythology that plays with ancient and current religions, fairy-tales, space travel, genetics, the origins of human life on earth, and so on.
3) Why do you think these books are connecting with readers so strongly right now?
That’s a hard question for me, as I’ve always connected strongly with these kinds of stories. In my case, my first encounters with urban fantasy and paranormal romance were probably on television, and not entirely in books—with some exceptions, as I was a voracious reader, though there was little crossover between straight fantasy and urban settings; the same holding true, to some degree, with television and movies.
Yet, as a kid in the modern world, watching the fantasy elements of Transformers or Thundercats, or The Secret of Nimh; or later, Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Beauty and the Beast, Highlander, Knight Rider, and so on, I think it couldn’t be helped that all those unique threads of storytelling got wrapped up in my notions of what I wished the “real world” would be like. Kids dream, right? I used to daydream about unicorns appearing in the woods behind the house, or being kidnapped by aliens and going on big adventures. That’s urban fantasy—maybe not the kind we’re talking about now, but for the imagination, that’s the root. That’s where it starts. Wishing for magic.
And I think that’s why it connects with readers, because it harkens back to those days when we were kids (and for those of us who are still big kids) when we believed that the impossible existed. Monsters in our closets, or fairies in the roses; and ghosts, and that magic dog that shows up one day and becomes your Lassie (except that it’s really a creature from another world). Urban fantasies (and paranormal romances) tap into our fantasies, the ones we tell ourselves that we’ve grown out of, when really all those tangled dreams inside our heads are just sleeping a little.
But as to why and now? I could blame the state of the world, that folks are hungering for fantasy to escape reality, but that seems like an answer that’s just too easy. On the other hand, maybe there is a connection. The one thing I learned from reading fantasy novels, and watching similarly themed television and movies, is that the only person in charge of your destiny is you. Folks in those stories never succeed by rolling over and playing dead. You have to fight for what you want, and take command of your life. Maybe urban fantasies speak to that need for courage—following the stories of characters who fight incredible odds, get beat down, but still find a way to stand on their feet and save the day. Endurance, guts, intelligence—those are good morals, no matter what state the world is in.
4) What shifts have you seen since you’ve been writing for this market? How is it changing/where do you think things are headed?
It’s been only five years since I started doing this professionally, but before that I was a reader (still am, of course)—and coming from that perspective, the biggest changes I’ve seen have been a willingness to embrace everything. Readers have always been fearless, but even so, they never had the options they’ve got now—and I think that this acceptance has only encouraged writers and publishers to push beyond the boundaries of what came before in terms of offerings in romance and fantasy. It’s a very exciting time to be a writer, a real privilege, because the perception of limits in storytelling are evaporating. I stress the term ‘perception’ because I don’t believe limits ever existed—just people who thought that they did. Which means, as always, that it’s impossible to determine where the market will head—but I know it will be to a good place.