Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Paranormal Superheroes in Love

She's actually reading a JR Ward Black Dagger Brotherhood book                          
I'm reading Ava Gray's Skin Game for this month's TBR Challenge, but I haven't finished it yet, so I can't count this as my official post.  But I will, because Super Wendy is so delightfully laissez faire about the challenge.  The whole idea is to read the books, not write the blog posts.  The blog posts are almost the reward for getting the reading done.

But I did read Cherise Sinclair's Hour of the Lion over the weekend, and it got me thinking -- as I work on revisions to my own contemporary romances -- what is it about paranormal phenomena that engages readers, inspires authors, and seems to dovetail so well with romance?

Here's my theory:  it's all about superheroes.  If you're within a decade or two of my age, you probably read some comic books as a child.  (I'm not sure what people born in the 80s did -- read graphic novels?)  Sure there were Archie comics, and Richie Rich, but most of what I read had superheroes.  Batman, Superman, even Casper-the-Friendly Ghost counts.  Human or not, they all had special, larger-than-life powers.

And that's what paranormal characters have.  They can run faster, or live longer, or see better, or something.  They're not like you and me.  That's for dead certain.

When they fall in love, it's a human scale phenomenon writ large.  They love more -- and I'm not talking about the sex.  (Frankly, even human heroes in historical or contemporary romances love more than real life heroes do.  It just goes with the territory.)  But when a superhero falls in love, it's huge.  It's a tsunami as opposed to normal surf.  It's an avalanche, not a snowfall.  There's no mistaking the metaphorical thud a paranormal hero makes when he falls for a human heroine.

Now, I write about mere mortals, but yeah, I've tried to make them just that little bit special.  They have jobs most people don't have, they get into situations most people never experience, and they are -- if I'm doing my job right -- smarter and more articulate than most of us.  But they're not paranormal.

This is not a new concept: the super hero.  It's one of the secret hallmarks of a romance novel: the heroine might be a Plain Jane or have an average body or work in a dead-end job.  But the hero is special.  He's better looking, makes (or just has) more money, is a business tycoon or a duke...or he's a werewolf, a vampire, able to time travel or something.  He's huge.  (Yup, still not talking about the sex.)

One of the effects of the standard paranormal romance is the ease with which all the stakes are ratcheted up.  Human heroine and werewolf hero?  Instant conflict.  When your lover could bite or maul you to death, the romance is going to have its ups and downs.

And that makes for a more thrilling read -- or at least it does if the reader can stop thinking about how someone who's been alive for a thousand years may not be someone I want to chat with at the breakfast table.  (I also have a problem with the physiology of shapeshifters.  Even if I accept that their bones and bits are capable of all that transformation, I keep thinking of how much arthritis is in their future.)

Another cool feature of paranormals is world building.  Don't want your readers to be thinking about arthritis?  Make your shapeshifters have superhuman healing.  Cuts and scratches disappear within hours, life-threatening injuries might take a couple days.  Arthritis?  What's that?

To recap:  The hero is extraordinary but falls in love like a human, only with a bigger thud.  The heroine has instant conflict with the hero because -- well, you know, he's weird.  Lots more action -- no couch potatoes need apply.  And the laws of real life, the vicissitudes of daily living and the toll it takes on our bodies and relationships, are simply written off in the world building.

I can totally see their appeal.  But I'll be honest here:  when I went to look for a paranormal for the November TBR Challenge, I passed over some fae and some demons in favor of Ava Gray because she opted to write about humans with a little bit of extra ability.  (I like Carolyn Crane's Disillusionists series for the same reason.)  The real difference is that the world as we know it is still in force, so people can get hurt, feel sick, and even die.  They just get a few extra toys to play with along the way.

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