First things first! I’ve gotten tons of submissions for the first part of The Skybound Sea ARC Giveaway Contest! But I need more art! I need more faces! The field is prime to compete, with only one or two entries so far!
I hope I get some anyway, or I’ll probably cry.
And while I’m busy shoving links in your face that you probably didn’t want to read, I’ll go ahead and put this transcript of my chat with SFF Writer Chat on twitter right here. Right here in your face. Picture me taking this link in my hands, my sweaty little palms, and rubbing its against your cheeks. Inhale its aroma. Feel its thousand prickly kisses upon your flesh.
If you don’t read that, I probably won’t cry. It’s full of lovely information, of course, about me and what I do and who I am as a person and a writer, but you probably don’t care about that, do you. Still, it’s a fairly average interview until you read and get to the point of what kind of romantic elements I’ve got in my books.
And then things get interesting.
I sometimes think that an unfortunate part of writing genre fiction is choosing which cynics to appease. There are people who won’t read one book because it has elves, people who won’t read another book because it has elves that it doesn’t call elves but you know they’re elves so why not call them elves, there are people who won’t read another book because it’s not like George R.R. Martin enough, there are people who won’t read another book because it’s too much like George R.R. Martin, there are people who just don’t like to read outside their comfort zones, period, and those zones frequently extend to a few concepts written by a few authors and no further.
And that’s a shame.
Because I think romance is one of those elements that’s gotten swept aside, out of the purview of epic fantasy and into the realm of urban fantasy…or romantic fantasy…or anything written by a woman.
If you’ll read that transcript, you’ll note that Bryan Thomas Schmidt brings up the idea of the romance in The Aeons’ Gate trilogy as being “male-centric.” Curious about that categorization, I asked Bryan about it earlier today. I wasn’t upset, of course, merely interested in why he came up with that particular way to describe it. He went on to explain that he thought the romance was less “sappy” and more “gritty.” Ultimately, he agreed that these are not inherently and exclusively male traits, but I think it’s fair and unfortunate (unfairtunate) to say that, as a general rule, “romance” and “epic fantasy” are generally considered to be like Lucy and Desi’s bedroom: they can make eyes and talk to each other, sure, but they sure as shit better not get into the same bed.
And maybe we, as readers, are a little to blame for things coming the way they are.
Personally, I didn’t write the romantic elements of The Aeons’ Gate to be male-centric, nor did I really intend for them to be exceedingly gritty or sappy. An author’s sole obligation, and what he or she can’t help, is to present life as he or she sees it. When it came to romance, I did just this. And to me, romance is not something neat and tidy. It’s harsh, it’s disagreeable, it doesn’t always make sense (in fact, it frequently doesn’t, hence why I often find myself in love with small, angry women when my ideal match is a towering sasquatch).
It is difficult. The stakes are tremendous. Killing requires hatred and hatred is based on taking. The worse you can do is wind up with the same you had before. Love, though, requires giving. And failure to find it means you have lost something dear and precious and are much smaller than you were.
Summarily, all story is conflict. All characters are defined by their conflicts. And there is no greater conflict than romance.
And to be honest? It’s worked out very well for me. Some of the most ardent followers of the romance between Lenk and Kataria are men. Beer-swilling, football-watching, hooting dudes who desperately hope that these two emotionally damaged kids find love. And the vast majority of Kataria’s fans, angry and irritable shict that she is, are women.
I suspect that when Bryan, when he suggested that most romance was “female-centric” (inadvertently, mind you. I don’t want to appear as though I’m putting words in his mouth), he was sharing a view that I think a lot of us have that’s been shaped, forged and tempered in the novels of today.
There are a startling number of “clean” romances. The vampire is in love with you and only you, because you’re so special. The awkward flirtation around the lawyer only gets better. The weird guy in the suit has nothing else going on and his only desire is to tie up the inexperienced young lady and fondle her. To me, these ring false.
I’m not saying they are false, mind you, to me, they ring hollow (this likely explains why I am still single) and thus, I don’t write that romance because I’ve never seen romance as being quite that clean.
And I wonder…do others? Do you?
To me, I’ve seen an evolution of fantasy in which emphasis begins to swing back to conflict. The heroes aren’t always perfect, the villains aren’t always horrible, the problems aren’t always solved by throwing a ring into fire and the world is often a big, fat, ugly, messy, plorbly schmorbly piece of what-what. And to me, a conflicted romance is just the evolution of that.
But I note that romantic elements are a pretty rare thing in fantasy. Given our current obsession with grimdark, a lot of the relationships tend to go no further than poorly written sex scenes. And when they do go further, they’re often as clean: the farmgirl falls in love with the hero because the hero needs a girlfriend, the princess falls in love with the prince because what else is she going to do, the otherworldly angelic fey queen isn’t doing a lot today–sure, she has a tennis lesson at six, but she can move that around a little–so she might as well spend a few chapters fucking the hero’s brains out before he goes on to finish his next quest.
And because it’s my nature to turn inward wherever I see a problem, I wonder if the average fantasy reader just don’t need no stinkin’ romance. And I wonder if perhaps it’s time we challenge that notion.
The Book Smugglers is one of my favorite blogs because they do just that, and they brought up a point from a post long ago that I sadly can’t remember the name of. But the point was clear: a lot of people don’t read stuff like romance because they are taught to fear the feminine. Sappy, squeaky stuff isn’t supposed to be interesting. We’re supposed to want blood and death and worldbuilding and politics. Somewhere along the lines, the gulf between romance and fantasy became canonical.
But I think we’re doing a disservice to ourselves, as readers and writers alike, by not thinking that there must be more. There must be more going on with these characters. There must be some attraction to explore beyond “the root of his cock” and “the glisten of her honey.” As writers, I think we can afford to think on this more. As readers, we can surely afford to be more open about it.
As a genre, I think we can do this.