Monday, July 03, 2006

Romancing the (SF Shy) Romance Reader

Other side of the coin this week, kidlings.

I've often said that writing Science Fiction Romance is like being the bastard child of two genres who never much liked each other in the first place. Traditionally (as noted last week), science fiction readers get the yips at any mention of romance. And romance readers get the ickies when the word science fiction is mentioned.

Now granted, romance readers--in my humble experience--are far more likely to at least give SF a chance. But there are still those--and they invariably end up at my table at a book signing--who state: "Science fiction in a romance? Oh, I could never read that! Because [pick one or more and yep, I've heard all these excuses]:

1 - I'm not smart enough
2 - It's too full of strange words
3 - I failed science in high school
4 - I only read about familiar places
5 - It's all about weapons and ships

and so on and so forth.

This baffles me, as much as I'm baffled by SF readers who balk at romance, never considering that romance is as much a part of our existence as gravity, never considering how--duh--they came to exisit in this world (you think what, Immaculate Conception?).

But let's take them one by one:

Not Smart Enough - Egads, what a horrible thing to say. "But you DO read books?" I ask (being we're in a book store, it's an obvious conclusion though they could be there for the coffee). "Oh, I love books!" Ima Dummy answers and rattles off a list of authors from the NYT and USA Today best seller lists. Aha, so you can wrap your mind around a who-dunnit set in London or follow a family saga with more players than the Super Bowl, but you're can't read SF.

Strange Words - And "reticule" isn't? (if you all read my parting comment on last week's post then you know this already). Surcoat? Are "gainsay" and "fortnight" words you routinely use (well, maybe Rowena does). When's the last time you had ratafia or orgeat?

Those are all terms routinely found in historical romances. If the reader can wrap her brain around them, what's so problematical about "transporter"?

Failed Science in School - Did you fail People 101 as well? SFR books are about people. Granted, some may be androids or have blue skin, but they're people: people striving for something, people getting into trouble, people falling in love, people facing danger.

Remember, to YOUR grandmother or great-grandmother, your current existence in 2006 is high-tech. Wouldn't your grandmother be interested in reading your life story?

Familiar Places - I often respond to that with: "Ever read or watch the tv movie, Shogun?" And follow it with, "And the last time you went to Japan was...?" Now, once in a while I get someone who goes there routinely. Like dear 747 Captain Susan Grant. But Sue reads and WRITES science fiction romance (damn good ones, too!). So she's excused.

But how about 16th century Scotland? That's certainly not familiar. Or present day Moscow, Sao Paulo, Oslo or Amsterdam? Point is, one of the reasons we read is to explore unfamiliar places. I'm sure if I went to the outbacks of Australia it would be as bizarre to me as the red deserts of Riln Marin.

And a space station? Try going to the Sawgrass Mills Outlet Mall (Ft Lauderdale FL), especially around the winter holidays. Talk about an enclosed CITY with every conceivable language! I did a book signing there last winter and, sitting in the entry way of Books-A-Million, between hearing Russian, Yiddish, Spanish, Haitian, French (Canadian and Continental), Portuguese (Brazilian and Continental) and at least four other languages I couldn't identitfy AND watching the teenagers lope by in their Goth outfits... my own space station of Cirrus One (An Accidental Goddess) seemed damned bland and normal by comparison.

Bang bang, Zoom zoom - All about weapons and ships? No, it's about people but yes, there could be weapons and ships. And those pirate romances you love to read are, what, set in a lounge chair with feather wands? Okay, so maybe you're never been in a starfreighter, but I've never been in a hansom cab or a coach-and-four or a chariot. And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts there are a lot more among us who haven't ridden a horse than have. Or a camel. Or a donkey.

Reading is all about expanding our experiences. Well, let me back up for a moment. Reading is about fun. But after the fun it's also about expanding our experiences, stepping into someone else's shoes (or gravity boots), tasting their fears, feeling their joys. Seeing life through a different set of eyes.

To me, there's no better palette to create with than science fiction romance where I'm immersed in a new world and everything comes to me fresh and untested. In the same way that 17th century England is new and unusual to me. I just don't know why some romance readers can't see that correllation.

So, what are your thoughts, your suggestions for bringing the wary romance reader to our books? I look forward to your input.

And now I think I'll down a quick ratafia, grab my reticule and head out for the nearest jumpgate in my huntership...

Hugs all, ~Linnea


  1. I think perhaps they were turned off sci-fi by the extremely dry, technical stuff that some of our male counterparts have written. So the romance reader needs to see that it's possible to write character-driven sci-fi romance. Excerpts may help with this.

  2. I came to romance from horror, fantasy, and "soft" SF, so I've never had a problem with the FF&P subgenre, needless to say. On the contrary, I greeted it with great joy. Never read much romance before paranormal caught on, except that I did read an occasional historical, or pick up a category romance now and then for a quick, fun read. At present, the vast majority of romances I read are paranormals, and it's the only kind I'm interested in writing. I love a good historical such as the work of Mary Jo Putney or Diana Gabaldon, and I like humorous contemps, but I have no illusions about being able to write these subgenres.

  3. Readers pick up books by word of mouth. So if we can get enough people talking about our books, readers who are excited about our books, then new readers will find us. It's a slow process. I've had many readers who used to read my Harlequin Intrigues and Blazes try my futuristic books because they have enjoyed my stories in the past. Many of them have told me they had never tried this kind of book and loved them. And with paranomral markets booming, we are getting cross over readers from vampires to werewolves to those with psychic powers. I wish the process could be faster, but we are in a growing market segment. We just have to keep writing books we love.

  4. Anonymous4:20 PM EDT

    I started reading SF in high school, EE Doc Smith for one. I switched to romances a little later but kept on reading sf. Character based SF is definitely my cup of tea and others usually lose my interest.

    Robin Greene aka Tweetybird2

  5. I think another reason romance readers can be reluctant to pick up anything with the whiff of sci fi is the dystopian world view often found in that genre.

    As in horror, everyone the reader cares about tends to die in the end.

    Of course, also like horror, if SF writers realized that by using genre convention to guarantee the reader a happy ending, they could DO ANYTHING to those main characters and we'd happily read on.

    Why doesn't anybody get that? I think the key to the popularity of all romance is that the reader feels safe in empathizing with the characters. No matter what conflicts they face, main characters don't die in the end.

    I guess I just don't "get" the positive reader experience from dead protagonists.

    Unless of course they are zombie protagonists.

  6. Anonymous8:12 PM EDT

    One reader at a time, dear heart. (wink)

    Or as those of us in the library trenches say, crossing genre
    boundaries is the salvation of many a readers' advisor whose most
    popular titles are all out in readers' hands, while another reader is standing there wanting something just like it to tide him or her over until the one s/he Really Wants is back...

    Find the things readers enjoy about what they currently read, and
    then suggest authors whose work is similar In The Overall Reading
    Experience (use of language, amount of explicit sexuality,
    adventurous or more sedate, fast-paced or leisurely, yada yada) but
    who may write in a different genre.

    And it's interesting to me how many of the current authors of what's called Paranormal Romance (vampires, magic, etc. - Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb & Jayne Ann Krentz among them) and SF Romance (Sue Grant, Robin D. Owens) grew up reading Andre Norton's relationship-based form of
    SF as well as the works of those technology-focused SF authors that
    make a "stereotypical romance reader" cringe at the thought of SF, and took those early experiences and expanded the romance genre so that today there are all sorts of options.

    We just need to let them (the readers I mean) know that yes, there's this dichotomy in SF, and probably some of the stories they, too, read in their Weekly Reader or school library as kids could also be considered SFF ... not all of them will be converts, but my personal success rate ranks right up there at about 85% ...

    climbing down off her soapbox now (g)

  7. Anonymous10:06 AM EDT

    Shelving, Captain. Too bad you can't be shelved in both SciFi AND Romance - in romance you'd be purty darn close to J.D. Robb, too, methinks. *evil grin*

    But, yes, WORD OF MOUTH, and also BRANDING, are the keys, IMHO. Not to mention the ever popular 'promoting the heck outta ya' options.

    We'll see what happens next year if/when you're shelved in Romance - then we'll have to do a whole diff marketing/target plan.

    Carla, Linnea's PR slave, now holding my head. ; )

  8. Anonymous10:25 AM EDT

    This post may also concern the other one about Romancing the SF reader.

    After receiving the last weekly newsletter published by Fictionwise last saturday, I got curious about their top 15 authors and investigated their genre: the majority seemed to be mixed genre (attributed by Fictionwise), Romance + Sf or Fantasy. Of course that didn't concern Patricia Cornwell or Mercedes Lackey.

    It made me wonder about the readers. It seems reasonable to think that an ebook site will be visited by geeks or at least tech loving people. At least for these people, the mixing of genre is not a problem, and they necessarily are men or women, aren't they? The trick would be how to enlarge beyond these precursors. I'm convinced Internet can play a big part in that, beginning with this blog.

    Maybe I overdeduced from what I read and I'm sure the PI out there will show me where:-)

  9. Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books tend to be highly relationship-oriented. SPELL SWORD could easily be marketed as SF romance, if it were published today. So relationship-focused SF is hardly new -- Intimate Adventure, as Jacqueline Lichtenberg has identified it -- therefore I have a hard time understanding why my fellow SF / fantasy / horror fans would be so reluctant to cross over. Except for the singleminded hard SF fans, of course, the creators and readers of what C. S. Lewis called "engineers' stories" -- the kind that predominate in ANALOG, and even ANALOG isn't ALL like that.

  10. When I was seven years old and spending family summer holidays in a Cornish rental that smelled of beach tar remover and wet, salty towels, I liked Waggon Train.

    A convoy of horse-drawn waggons crossing the vast wastes of the American West, might just as well have been Battlestar Galactica as far as I was concerned.

    Best wishes,
    Rowena Cherry

  11. I like what Gerard said.

    But, I don't think our appeal is just for geeks. At least by the INS definition, there must be millions of us who are either aliens or assimilated aliens.

    Millions of us are in marriages to members of an "alien" culture, and either we are seeking to learn our mate's culture, help them acclimatize to our own, or find a happy middle ground.

    Best wishes,
    Rowena Cherry

  12. Millions of us are in marriages to members of an "alien" culture, and either we are seeking to learn our mate's culture

    And it's friggin' hard.

    --an expat living in Mexico

  13. Joyce said: Why doesn't anybody get that? I think the key to the popularity of all romance is that the reader feels safe in empathizing with the characters. No matter what conflicts they face, main characters don't die in the end.

    Oh, dittos. The HEA is a must for me no matter what genre I read. I can cry in life for free. If I pay money for something, I damn well better get a smile out of it. ;-) ~Linnea

  14. I'm new to your blog and love it. I particularly like the post on SF Romance. I have a difficult time with most "paranormal" romance, in that I like romance, but I like it balanced with all the other stuff too - adventure, character building, world building, etc. Coming from an SF/F background (reading it since the early 60's), I have to say, that 75% of the "sf or paranormal" romances I read are not interesting to me. (to me, I'm saying, not that they aren't good in their own right) I agree a little with the dystopian world view of SF. I think the SF/F Romance world is growing up, slowly, but getting there.

  15. Alleypat said: I have a difficult time with most "paranormal" romance, in that I like romance, but I like it balanced with all the other stuff too - adventure, character building, world building, etc.

    Hi Alleypat! (love the name, BTW).I think one of the issues may be that paranormal romances are so wide in genre and published by houses with different philosophies. I know Dorchester/Lovespell's guidelines as to what they want in a book aren't Bantam's. Bantam's are probably closer to Tor's but then Anna Genoese--the editor for their PNR/SFR stuff--has her own likes and dislikes, which aren't Anne Groell's (senior editor at Bantam Spectra) likes and dislikes. So the balance of SF or the paranormal elements with the romance varies to some extent because of that.

    Also, SFR is lumped in with vampire/werewolf and yet the stories and how they flow are very often not remotely the same.

    Just some thoughts... ~Linnea