Archive for November, 2007

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Paranormal Romance: “super hot nookie with supernatural boys”

November 23, 2007

By Jenny B

I love, love, love this post on why readers love paranormal romance by one of my favorite blogs, Dear Author. I think she’s hit the nail on the head with her observations as to what makes paranormal romance such a compelling read:

“Of course, the obvious reason that readers love the paranormal/fantasy is that it is about super hot nookie with supernatural boys. However, underneath all the super nookie and super boys is the layering of strong emotional elements. … Without a strong emotional conflict, all the lust in the world for undead hotties would crumble like a vampire in the sun. Emotional conflict is the bailiwick of romances and paranormals/fantasies with the centuries old loss magnify the emotional conflict.”

Very succinctly and eloquently summarizes why, for me at least, paranormal romances have such powerful emotional resonance — the enduring romance themes of love and loss and loneliness are magnified in paranormal because the characters are also dealing with the supernatural elements of immortality, power, and being outsiders.

Of course, that’s just me (and Jane); the same might not be true of you and if not, please feel free to comment and share your views on what elements of paranormal romance float your boat!

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What makes paranormal paranormal?

November 22, 2007

By Laura 

The larger question “what makes Genre X Genre X?” is always hard to answer. Is it the external trappings (e.g. space and ray guns for sci-fi, wizards and elves for fantasy), or something more fundamental about the story?

Most people, publishers included, take an “I know it if I see it” approach to genre division. It works surprisingly well: even if it’s hard to define, we do have a strong shared understanding of what belongs in each genre. But the system breaks down in the face of works which could fall into multiple genres. For example, is Deanna Raybourn’s Silent in the Grave a historical? A paranormal? A mystery? A fantasy? A romance? Or some combination of all of these?

At first, paranormal seems easy to define. Paranormal books, TV, movies, etc. contain, of course, the paranormal. This generally takes the form of mental powers (psychics, telekinesis), supernatural creatures (vampires, werewolves) or the crossing of boundaries between the living and the dead (ghosts, mediums). The question remains: is it the list of possible elements which defines the genre, or some underlying theme—for example, the discovery that there is more mystery and danger in the world than most people understand or can explain? If it is a list of elements, how do we know what belongs on the list? If it’s an underlying definition, what is it?

The underlying theme idea is attractive. After all, stories in the same genre have more in common (in terms of narrative elements and readership) than you would expect if it was all about set decoration.

But it’s hard to track down a theme general enough to cover everything which we define as paranormal, while excluding things we don’t. Even the phrase “unexplained phenomena”, seemingly synonymous with “paranormal,” is too broad. Magic is unexplained; does that make Lord of the Rings paranormal? Currently it would be impossible to explain faster-than-light travel; does that mean the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive makes Star Wars a paranormal?

Sure, magic and sci-fi technology generally have well-defined rules in the stories in which they appear so that, while we could not explain them in our own world, they are not “unexplained phenomena” within the story. Yet, stories which most people would agree are paranormal often have rules just as well-defined. Vampires from Bram Stoker Buffy, Anne Rice to Caridad Pineiro have their own sets of rules for when they can come out, how they can be killed, and whether and how they can have sex and breed. Does the comprehensive internal logic of the world (often including an origin story for how vampires came to be, so that they are no longer unexplained!) make them less paranormal?

So what separates the sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal genres? One possibility is that, while sci-fi and fantasy transport the reader to a whole new world, paranormals generally take place in the world as we know it—with just a few changes. So, is They Live (a movie in which the world is mostly as we know it, but aliens walk among us) a paranormal? Is Harry Potter (where the world is mostly as we know it, but there’s a secret community of magic-users)?

Or perhaps you would categorize a magical story taking place in the present-day world as “urban fantasy”! Blogger Milady Insanity would–she explains the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal as “magic vs. ghosts”: urban fantasy has magic, whereas paranormal has “otherworldly” elements, e.g. vampires, spirits, etc. This looks like a straightforward “set dressing” explanation of the division between the genres. But, as she points out, there are other, more difficult-to-pin-down differences—the books simply read differently. So what accounts for this? Does the use of magic vs. ghosts as a narrative device lend itself naturally to different overarching themes in the story (for example, destiny vs. mortality)?

So what do you think—what defines paranormal vs. sci-fi vs. fantasy? If you like one genre but not the other, why do you think that is? Do you like traditional (non-paranormal) romance, and if not, what is it about the paranormal genre that makes it more interesting to you?

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Heather Graham, The Seance sparks a real seance in Salem

November 8, 2007

By Marleah Stout

The Seance House

What better way to celebrate Heather Graham’s October title, The Séance, than with a real séance in the rich backdrop of Salem, Massachusetts? This was more than a perfect choice because Heather has such a vast knowledge of Salem and some truly creepy stories about what went on in Salem in the 1600s and beyond.

It was a perfect autumn day in late September when we drove into Salem and directly to Pickering Wharf. We lingered there loving the scenery until we looked around and spotted a shop called The Cat, the Crow and the Crown. The shop is run by the town’s Official Witch, Laurie Cabot. After purchasing some much needed potions and oils we moved on with Heather for a real ghost walk through the streets of Salem.

The atmosphere is incredible there. Heather took my colleague Michelle and I though a full history lesson from the dramatic, cloaked statue of Roger Conant (I still have nightmares) to the Salem Witch Museum. We ended up at the Charter Street Old Burying Point listening to Heather’s chilling stories about the witch trials and the pasts of many of the people named on the head stones. It actually was quite a beautiful if not slightly eerie place.

Our last stop was the House of the Seven Gables where the Séance took place. Once we were all seated and ready with our pens and paper, the Medium running the evening told us that this would not be a séance like what we have all seen on TV. No scary footsteps or tables rising off the ground but special messages from our friends and family from beyond. The only thing asked of us was that we keep an open mind. I was lucky enough to have had a visit from my aunt who passed away several years ago. The whole experience was not frightening but rather nice. The event left us all with a hopeful feeling that there may be something else out there.

Check out this article from the Boston Globe that will give you more information about the wonderful Heather Graham and our amazing day in Salem!