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Today's visitor is the fabulous author kz_snow whose book Looking for Some Touch recently blew me away. I'm gradually reading other works by her, but this one gathered up all the things I love in a book. Vivid worldbuilding - without grinding pages of detail down my throat OR expecting me to hit the credibility ground running - sympathetic, well-rounded characters, fascinating plot, tight, lyrical, delicious prose. And did I mention the tense, provocative, HAWT m/m interaction?!

This one will remain on my Keepers Shelf. Which is actually quite small, not because we have no room in our house, virtual or otherwise *lol*, but because although I love a lot of fiction, I don't 'keep' many of them, in either my hard drive or my heart.
Can't wait for the follow-up in February!!

KZ says: I began writing prenatally. Sacred to profane to paranormal pretty much describes the range of my fiction. (I suppose it could also describe my life.) As an author for Ellora's Cave, Loose Id, Cerridwen Press, Samhain Publishing, Double Dragon Publishing, MojoCastle Press, and Changeling Press, I've given my creative impulses free rein. Like the great Willy Wonka as played by the great Gene Wilder, I do believe there is no place anywhere that compares with the worlds created and explored by the imagination.

And an impressive publishing portfolio supports that.

Find her at MySpace
and at her great blog Dreams know no Bounds.

So... today?

KZ posts about her perception of what's popular in genre fiction nowadays, and why she might feel guilty about her paranormal and fantasy themes. Is the whole thing a "Big-Assed Cheat?"

A Big-assed Cheat?

When I started writing erotic romance (initially, for Ellora’s Cave), I had my first niggling suspicion that it would be all too easy to skimp on character and conflict development in this genre. Adding paranormal or fantasy elements could make the skimping even easier. An author could get so wrapped up in her “otherworld,” or in her nonhuman sex-crazed creatures, that any psycho-emotional depth might be overlooked or simply rendered superfluous.

As I eased into m/m fiction, which I did through two male characters who insisted on being together, it was enough of a perspective shift to make me pause and take stock. Hell, the paranormal and fantasy elements were still present in my books, and suddenly they made me feel . . . guilty. (Believe me, courting guilt is not a good thing for a lapsed Catholic girl to do!)

I’ve sometimes gotten the impression that contemporary, real-world GLBT fiction is given more credence and considered more substantive and moving than the paranormal, sci fi, and fantasy offerings. Maybe I’m imagining this. Maybe the impression is accurate. In either case, it does make sense for readers to find contemporary stories more relevant. In this world, our world, people are entirely human and fallible. They’re always in danger of being tripped up by their own flaws, the asshattery of others, or a social/political/religious machinery that’s beyond their control. It’s easy for us to care about contemporary characters’ struggles, because those struggles are comprehensible. We’re all part of the mess that is 21st-century life on Earth.

In a future- or other-world, however, societal norms, sexual mores and practices, and even personal characteristics can be altered as the author sees fit. Want a civilization where all manner of human sexuality is fully accepted? ABRACADABRA! There it is. A world where HIV, STDs, and unwanted pregnancies don’t exist (and condom use is optional) because vaccines can prevent them? SHAZZAM! You’re safe. And if extraordinary endowment trips your trigger, like monster (or multiple) dicks and endurance that outlasts Bush’s vision of being a great president, you’ve got it. Moreover, life is never boring. Mystery and adventure reign. Anything is possible. Any dream can come true.

So how do authors of paranormal, fantasy, or sci fi romance (erotic or not, het or GLBT) make readers care about the characters who inhabit their special worlds, where the inflexible norms of our time and place don’t apply and characters aren’t always human? Quite a few masterful writers have managed to do it, so it certainly can be done. But how?

By proving the dream a lie. That’s how. By showing that no matter where or when a story takes place, and regardless of the types of beings who populate that story, there will always be both internal and external forces working to undermine the common good as well as personal fulfillment. There has to be a recognizable thread of humanity that strikes a sympathetic chord . . . and, even in erotic romance, that thread can’t simply be a product of sexual dynamics.

The name of my futuristic m/m urban fantasy series for Loose Id is Utopia-X. It carries the implication that any vision of perfection, even one driven by the best intentions and governed by supernatural forces, is bound to be tripped up by the unavoidable and unpredictable wrinkles of imperfection. An ideal always labors under the threat of being gobsmacked by reality. Nobility lies either in trying to keep the ideal alive or fashioning something just as fine from what might, at first, seem like dross.

The angel-demon-human hybrids at the center of my series might be called EBs or Exceptional Beings, but they hardly see themselves that way. They’re mutts, confounded at every turn by their own mixed natures and by other creatures, including pure human beings, with whom they must interact and sometimes bond. Personal evolution is an even more complex and wrenching process than species adaptation. Any intelligent creature sooner or later must face that fact.

So I keep writing in this oddball subgenre. It’s a unique challenge. Sf-f and paranormal fiction, done right, can rise above category contrivances and enter the realm of fairy tale or even parable. An escape, yes, but in its best form, an escape to rather than from reality . . . and with a lot of interesting detours!

Sez Clare: it's a subject of interest to me, having books out in both fantasy and contemporary worlds. What do YOU all think?

and quick note to KZ, yes, please,I'd LOVE to come on your blog next month to talk about Freeman, thanks for the offer! LOL

And a gratuitous pic of your cute Muse, just because MisterMuse of Mine has got some kind of crush on her...♥


Follow this month with Clare (yes, it's all about the MEEEE...):

COMING SOON: charlie cochrane, marquesate.

Week 4:
Jan 23 : jaime protests the use and mis-use of labels...
Jan 24 : clare pimps the imminent release of FREEMAN...
Jan 25 : ginger simpson shares an interview with her latest fictional heroine...
Jan 26 : dakota flint confesses to the irresistible lure of research...
Jan 27 : the Blog is hijacked by my lippy Muse...
Jan 28 : clare muses on the ups and downs of getting older...

Jan 16 : jenre discusses what she loves best about m/m fiction...
Jan 17 : clare posts YouTube frippery and her brief skirmish with a recording career...
Jan 18 : report from the prestigious *cough* OTP Con UK 2009...
Jan 19 : emily chats about the principles of good reviewing...
Jan 20 : josh lanyon talks about the proper place for your green-eyed feelings...
Jan 21 : sharon offers great advice and support for all of us trying to live a healthy life...
Jan 22 : merith writes about the slow but steady epiphany of love...

Jan 09 : ravensilver describes the creativity of independent manga publishing - and the challenges...
Jan 10 : kitzheng talks about Kink...
Jan 11 : chrissy munder shares the struggles of writing, NC17 penguins and mantyhose...
Jan 12 : 1more_sickpuppy bares her soul about confessing her love for m/m fiction...
Jan 13 : erastes talks about taking that leap from fanfiction to the 'original' world...
Jan 14 : meet my Muse, the 'man' who has way too much power in my writing house...
Jan 15 : Sloane Taylor heats up those chill new year nights...

Jan 01 : the Cheeky Cherubs welcome us to 2009 with a pithy verse or two and the threat of piercings...
Jan 02 : sweet, sexy fiction from lilzazu, all about the perennially tricky problem of a sticky shift...
Jan 03 : excellent editing tips for all authors who ever wondered whether to be cruel to be kind to their prose, hosted by jolilightner...
Jan 04 : Clare pimps the fabulous I DO anthology, now available in ebook and all proceeds to Lambda...
Jan 05 : abstractrx ponders the changing role of Romance and its reflection of - or on?! - the society around it...
Jan 06 : FREE FICTION from me and my friends!
Jan 07 : Jordan Castillo Price discusses what tempts us to try out a new author...
Jan 08 : Clare rambles on about perceived plagiarism and posts excerpts of her Torquere titles...

No days left now to pimp, pose or pontificate! Join me next time I'm mad energetic enough to do this again!
Original call-up post HERE!!


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 29th, 2009 12:21 pm (UTC)
Interesting post (and budding Muse romance as well). I will say as a reader I think that a good paranormal/fantasy would be as difficult to write as a contemporary piece if not more difficult because you have to make me believe in this new world and care for the characters. Unfortunately, while I'm all for suspension of disbelief I've put down many a book in this genre because a writer has failed to grab me on both counts.
Jan. 29th, 2009 12:31 pm (UTC)
As a reader of the genre, it has to be about the characters. I'm not a lover of these SF/F books (and there are many, even written by huge names in the genre) which dump the world-building on you in the first chapter, stunning you to death with place names, socio-political ideas, government structures and lots of weird names with too many Xs and Ys. If the characters are easy to get to know, and the world is gradually introduced, that's what I like the best. Contrary to most people's belief, I do love me a bit of SF/F so I'll have to check your stuff out, great post!
Jan. 29th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
I'm curious, Erastes--how do you manage to evoke a solid sense of time and place in historical fiction without period details distracting readers?

That's another subgenre that really fascinates me, and when I see what writers like you and Alex Beecroft can do with it, I'm super impressed. I thought Katrina Strauss's novella, Sleight of Hand, was beautifully handled, too.
Jan. 29th, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
That was me, not Anonymous. (Told you LJ drives me crazy, Clare!)
Jan. 29th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
Oh. What a very nice thing to say, Anon.

I suppose I don't really know, and that's not a very helpful reply so I'll just see if I can work something out.

I use all the senses. Many "how to" writing advisers say that weather and description is old hat and shouldn't be done, but I think it's vital. If you want to really get into the head of a character you need to get into his body too - not JUST when he has sex but for every other time too. Is he comfortable when he sits down? Do his boots fit? How old are his clothes, is he embarrassed about how tatty they are? Does he even notice? What is the street like? What's the road covering? Cobbles? How easy is it to walk on them in Hessian Boots?

It's that sort of thing - those are the questions that I ask myself as the character progresses through the book, it's not just a case of "Gideon walked down to the quay" but I get maps, know my streets, then I try and "walk as Gideon" down to the quay. Or - if Rafe enters Ambrose's house from a sunlit park, I imagine what it would be like, how dark, what it smells like, the height of the ceiling, that kind of stuff.

Does that make sense?

I'm sure Alex must work in a similar way, because her books really capture me from the first page, from the first cry of seagulls. I haven't read Katrina's book, but I'll seek it out!

Thank you, again!
Jan. 29th, 2009 12:44 pm (UTC)
What a thought-provoking post, KZ!

I have to agree with you that sometimes paranormal romance has many contrivances. I've lost track of the number of paranormal books where one of the characters says "we don't get your human diseases" and which point I raise an eyebrow and say 'well that's convenient'! The author never goes on to explain whether there are any different paranormal diseases they can catch, or even what it is about their genetic make-up which allows them to have immunity to AIDs or Cancer or the common cold. That's not as important, apparently, as being able to have sex without a condom.

I've also noticed that the powerful paranormal character rarely questions his or her place in the world and the effect they have on others. They are the powerful one and therefore they establish dominance over the weaker humans. Or, they cut themselves off from the human world and exist as their own elitist group. One of the things I especially liked about "Looking for some Touch", was that the powerful EBs were in many ways dependant on humans as well as being frustrated by them. They needed the humans just as much as the humans needed them and they recognised this. I'd say more, but I don't want to give away spoilers!
Jan. 29th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
Good morning, everybody, and thanks for stopping by. Wow, interesting posts so far. (Clare--{{hugs}}--hope you don't have a hangover today!) I must hurry to get my brain up to speed; those of you from across the bounding sea have a big start on wakefulness.

Everything you've all said more or less verifies the impressions I've gotten. What's ironic, considering I've written so much fantasy and paranormal stuff, is that I agree with you. (Lord, Erastes, I can't count the number of times I've never even made it past an excerpt because of contorted character names!)

The threat of "strange world" overload is always compounded, too, by the erotic factor in romance--something impossible to put aside when one's publisher is known for that element. The juggling act becomes even more complex and daunting.

So I'm not terribly surprised that many readers are quicker to embrace contemporary characters in contemporary settings and situations. There are fewer balls to keep in the air (uh, sorry...not the best metaphor when talking about m/m fiction), and it's easier to keep attention focused on the central relationship and core conflict.

Jan. 30th, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
This was really interesting. I've written one (fanfiction) story that has aliens, which is sort of like another world, right? I found that I tried to explain things to make it work and I wondered if that was my own flaw as in...I can't let things sit without a bit more explanation! But I don't think I've managed yet to balance between explaining enough and boring the reader...

But the point that the 'other world' can't be completely perfect definitely makes sense. I kind of see it as a part of making readers identify SOMEHOW with the world/characters even if it's meant to be totally different, but I wonder if that works? Does no one want to read about a too-perfect world?
Jan. 30th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)
It's indeed a very delicate balancing act. The reader obviously needs to get a sense of the world, but more important aspects of storytelling--particularly character definition and development (and, after that, a compelling plot)--absolutely cannot be sacrificed in the process. No reader will be engaged in a story that doesn't have, first and foremost, fully conceived characters.

And that brings us back to the world itself. It would be tough for us earthlings to relate to a place and time that bears little resemblance to our own, at least in terms of personal challenges. Throwing in space monsters might make for some rip-roaring action, but that alone won't add depth to the characters and make them sympathetic.

Thanks for your input, lilzazu!
Jan. 30th, 2009 07:49 am (UTC)
Great topic, KZ, and one very close to my heart because I'm such a huge fan of speculative fiction.

It's such a fine balance between world building and character development in this genre and I personally think this is particularly evident when you are reading a one-off story vs a series. In one-offs the author might try to cram so much in that a reader may feel overwhelmed, whereas in a series I've noticed some fantasy authors tend to rely on the first novel for world setting with the hopes they've intrigued the reader enough to read the next book, which is where the characters will come more into play - unfortunately this doesn't always work.

There are also those authors who fall so in love with their worlds that they tend to loose the story and characters in amongst long-winded descriptions.

Believability definitely comes into play, although I have to admit - as long as I can connect to the characters - I tend to accept things that happen a lot more in speculative than I would in contemporary fiction.

Looking forward to Feb 24 for the next in the Utopia-X series.
Jan. 30th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
Hey, Kris! Yup, a stand-alone spec fic novel is a major challenge. Oy, cramming in world-building AND character development? Small wonder so many sf-f story arcs come in series form.

I completely agree with you about the importance of believable characters, regardless of species or race. The "human element" is the key to helping readers connect with a different world, no matter how alien it is.

Glad you stopped by!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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