There’s probably more than a few regular visitors to Barnes&Noble.com’s book club forums that think I’m crazy. (Cue the footage of a wild-eyed, bearded madman at the end of the offramp holding a sign that says: “It’s the End of Genre Fiction As We Know It!” ) For the last few years I’ve frequently posted about what I’ve been calling a revolution in genre fiction – a genre transcendence – and it all revolves around that most nebulous of fiction classifications: paranormal fantasy.

But first let’s go back a few decades... After graduating from college and realizing quickly that “performance poet” wasn’t a realistic career option unless I wanted to subsist on ramen noodles for the rest of my life, I managed bookstores for eight years in the ‘80s and ‘90s and loved it. At the beginning of my time as a bookstore manager, it seemed that the definitions for each genre – romance, mystery, science fiction/fantasy, horror, etc. – were clear-cut and if a reader enjoyed, say, westerns, they rarely read anything else. To the majority of my customers, the boundaries between genres were like unassailable walls. But then, little by little, things started to change.

Anne Rice brought vampire-powered fiction to mainstream readers in the ‘80s with blockbuster bestsellers like The Vampire Lestat (1985) and The Queen of the Damned (1988). Customers who previously only bought romance, horror or fantasy were now all buying Rice’s novels. And although other iconic authors had blended genre elements long before Rice – Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Michael Moorcock, etc. – Rice’s novels brought this highly palatable amalgam to the masses. But it wasn’t until 1993 when this relatively quiet revolution really started making some noise. After Laurell K. Hamilton released her first Anita Blake novel, Guilty Pleasures, genre fiction – although no one knew it at the time – would be irrevocably changed forever. LKH’s Anita Blake saga fused narrative elements from dark fantasy, mystery and romance to create an action-packed, emotionally intense, downright erotic storyline that appealed to not only men and women but more importantly hardcore romance, fantasy, and horror fans alike. Proverbial light bulbs began going on over the heads of publishers and writers all over the world: novels that utilized conventions from multiple genres – hard-boiled zombie private detectives, a steamy love triangle between shape-shifting space travelers, vampiric aliens invading Earth, etc. – not only increased potential readership tenfold, it made for a more entertaining and singularly unique storyline.

I’m not saying LKH’s Guilty Pleasures knocked down the previously perceived unassailable walls between genres. This release was like a low-level earthquake that created the major fissures. But after 1993, the frequency of “paranormal fantasy” releases increased exponentially year after year after year. Piece by piece, bit by bit, the walls separating genres have crumbled into dust. Today, in 2009, paranormal fantasy is unarguably the most dynamic and fastest growing category in all of genre fiction – which is a little misleading because, in my mind, paranormal fantasy encompasses much of the new releases in mystery, fantasy, romance, horror, etc. Just look at any bestseller list and you’ll find that the revolution is all but complete – Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Stephenie Meyer, Cherie Priest, Mario Acevedo, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Simon R. Green, the list goes on and on. And guess what? There’s literally dozens of amazingly talented new authors who are creating legions of fans and furthering the narrative and thematic scope of this seemingly limitless fictional frontier – J.F. Lewis, Justine Musk, Adrian Phoenix, Stacia Kane, Jeaniene Frost, Jaye Wells, and Marcus Pelegrimas, to name just a few.

Paranormal fantasy has irrevocably transformed genre fiction and is in the process of taking over the world. If you don’t believe me, feel free to pick up and read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (currently #3 on the NYT’s trade paperback bestsellers list) – if I was told back in 1989 that not only was someone going to rewrite the beloved Jane Austen classic to include a scourge of flesh-eating zombies but also that it would be a runaway bestseller, I would’ve laughed out loud. Today, envisioning the Victorian warrioress Elizabeth Bennet disemboweling a zombie and strangling him with his own intestines doesn’t seem that far-fetched…
 
So, you see, I’m not crazy – just an enlightened witness. And I hear you already, all you literary purists out there, grumbling that this paranormal fantasy thing is just a fad and that eventually genre fiction will go back to the way it once was. Well, you’re wrong. Paranormal fantasy isn’t a fad; it’s an evolution.
Comments
by Peeps on ‎04-22-2009 01:07 PM

I apologize in advance for the obnoxious pedanticism of my comment...

 

Elizabeth Bennet is not Victorian!

by Moderator paulgoatallen on ‎04-22-2009 01:26 PM

There's a difference between "Victorian" and "Victorian Era." I know Pride and Prejudice was released before the Victorian Era (1837-1901) but, to me, Elizabeth Bennet was an archetypal "Victorian" heroine...

 

Victorian (def) – priggish: exaggeratedly proper. 

 

Paul 

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎04-22-2009 02:13 PM
Paul - I think the genres have been merging for awhile, but now it's like a culture clash.  It's hard to draw the line now -- mysteries have blended with romance, sci fi and paranormal, some urban fantasies have both mystery and romance, even historicals have merged with paranormals.  Defining books by genre is getting harder and harder.  I think that's probably a good thing!
by on ‎04-22-2009 03:55 PM

Paul,

 

I love this article and agree with you  100%.   I love the way that it has evolved and don't see things going back the way it was.  I think that the stories are better for the blending.

 

Toni

by debbook on ‎04-22-2009 05:54 PM
I don't like to classify my fiction into genres, to me there is fiction and non-fiction. And sometimes that gets blurred!
by on ‎04-22-2009 06:56 PM

oooooh.....I think there are a lot of purests out there, who are now pulling their thinning white hair out!  

 

Actually, mixed genre has always been around [well, at least in the 20th centruy].

 

I just think that more people are recognizing [through advertising], and distinguishing what they like, now.  Romance has always wrapped itself around mystery, horror, and those pesky blood-sucking vampires....and it all is contained in whatever you describe as "history".  Anything, and everything, happens in history! 

"My Mother Married An Alien"...or was it my father?

 

I like the term, Literary Fiction...says, hey, I'm contemporary, but  like it witten with a certain amount of "whatever-genre-you-want-me-to-believe in", and literate!  Seriously, whatever the genre, I don't care,  just let me know with a little blurb  writen on the cover?

by ReaderGal74 on ‎04-23-2009 12:40 PM

Paul you have once again proven why I like to read. I like to think that a reader should grow and not just stick to one "genre".  I remember in high school our teachers having us read One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest or The Outsiders, I loved these books but I wanted more.  Even my teacher thought I was a little crazy when I wanted to do my term paper on The Iliad, but I proved to her that I wanted to find other reading directions and it was not a bad thing but fantastic that I wanted to read and that they had given me the tools to move along that path. There is so much more out there and I can even follow your timeline myself of when I started to explore other avenues of reading themes.

Great article and fantastic examples. 

 

Kudos from one enlightened witness to another!

by Chomp on ‎04-25-2009 11:47 AM

Thanks, Paul, for bringing up yet another timely and interesting topic - one with parallels to that of last week.

 

Often when I tell people that I mostly read paranormal fiction these days, they kind of raise their eyebrows, and you can see they are thinking, "oh, those vampire books." Well, paranormal fiction, as with SF and Fantasy, is at its best when dealing with issues of the present, and, as I said last week, asking "what if."

 

Aside from the blending of Horror and SF/Fantasy, Romance and Horror, or Romance and Fantasy/SF, over the last few years we have seen the emergence of books that are primarily mysteries with an added  paranormal element, such as those by Casey Daniels and Shirley Damsgaard.

 

Magical realism, a main staple of much Latin American fiction, started appearing in what would commonly be described as "mainstream fiction" by Alice Hoffman several years ago, and more recently Sarah Addison Allen.

 

The melding of elements and genres, if done well, can result in a much richer reading experience for those who are willing to suspend their disbelief just a bit. 

 

And, by the way, I think I would pay money to see you on the side of the road with that sign.  :smileyhappy:

 

Carol

by carmen22 on ‎04-26-2009 01:44 PM

  Paul what an atonishing proclamation, good job!!

 

   You know what's funny is I actually picked up a couple books called Unclean Sprits and Magic Study in the romance section and to be honest I have seen some paranormal fantasy/fantasy books with more romance than these books. Me personally, I would have never put these in romance, they were more like Fantasy or paranormal fantasy. So, I agree, it seems they are having a hard time figuring out what goes where. For me, I don't mind at all, I like them all shaken up.

 

Carmen

by carmen22 on ‎04-26-2009 01:54 PM
My bad, I had a typo I meant astonishing proclamation!! lol!!
by on ‎04-30-2009 01:30 AM

Only one thing to say really.

 

Viva Revolution!

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