RT Booklovers Convention 2011: Being Un-Human In Paranormal Romance

When it comes to the world of paranormal romance, readers know that they can will be able to find anything and everything that could go bump in the night within the pages of these books. But how do authors keep these characters fresh? At today’s paranormal panel readers got an insider look at how genre experts Angela Knight, Shana Abe, Kate Douglas, Jacquelyn Frank and Erin Quinn make their magical beings seem so real. 

We got a chance to chat with the authors about which otherworldly characters are their top creature choice and how each author makes their special characters come to life:

Angela Knight shares that her choice was easy to make. “My favorite otherworld creature to write is the vampire. I've been fascinated by vamps since I was a teenager in the late 1970s, when I read Interview With a Vampire by Anne Rice. Which was a very sensual book, if disturbing in a lot of ways.

I started looking for books about vampires, but I wanted HEROIC vampires; I didn't think a real hero would kill people because he was hungry, and I still don't. I mean, I know I wouldn't kill and eat someone no matter how hungry I got. 

But nobody was really writing what I wanted to read, so when I started writing erotic romance for Red Sage, I wrote heroic, sensual vampires (this was in 1996, when NOBODY was doing vampires in romance). And my readers loved them! So then Cindy Hwang at Berkley discovered my Red Sage novellas, and contacted me to ask me to write vampires for her. I wanted to do something different, so I crossed the Knights of the Round Table with vampires. There you have it.”

Author Shana Abe couldn’t narrow it down to just one species. “I suppose the otherworldly creature I like to write best would be whichever one I feel most like at the time, LOL. I've written about fairies and mermaids and witches and dragons, and right now my favorite is dragons: specifically, shapeshifting dragon-people. I've called them the drákon. They're not just dragons, but magical, endangered creatures with the ability to Turn from human to smoke to dragon, and back again.

I love the idea of having magical powers. In my deepest, brightest fantasies, I have these powers. So these characters become real to me in a very visceral way. It's important that they feel real, both to me and my readers, or else their story becomes flat. 

I think one of the reasons they've become so popular is that their essential physical and social structure is teasingly close to our own: they are not all-powerful. They're not indestructible. They have messy, human-like emotions, including joy and despair, fear, lust, hate--and incandescent love.

Yet they are still dragons, miraculous and rare. They're beasts hiding behind the glamour of human faces, struggling to make their way through a human world that is not fully understandable or even their own. In a very elemental way, I think most of us can relate to that.”

While Jacquelyn Frank told us the genre keeps her on her toes because … “The otherworldly creature I like to write best is the one I haven't written yet...the one no one has written yet. It's a uniquely made creature with depth and dimension, part of a society that moves in very different ways than we are familiar with in our Western world. It will have its own religion, its own rules and laws, whether or not it chooses to obey those rules and laws will vary from character to character, making them interesting or fleshing out the species. They must have weaknesses that are extraordinary as they are themselves, but in the end it is the humanistic qualities we like best in them, or find most compelling in their enemies. For example, the Shadowdwellers, one of my favorite creations, were powerfully religious, teetered on a reputation of lawlessness but the history of the species explained why and also how they reached a tipping point where they were being discovered to be quite lawful. The history of a paranormal species is fraught with all the things that makes our own species so interesting, barbaric, or civilized. Claws, fangs and magical abilities aside, it's the politics, the villainy, the flaws and the humanity of otherworldly creatures that make them truly appealing to me as a writer...and hopefully you as a reader!"

Erin Quinn reveals that her favorite paranormal activity comes from an unexpected source - humans. "I absolutely love the idea of the girl/boy next door appearing 'normal' to all but actually possessing powers or abilities that make her or him unique and special. My characters are often unaware of what they are and how much power they hold until they are confronted with a dire situation which has forces them to draw on their gifts. One of my favorite characters is Rory, the hero of Haunting Warrior. All his life he's had an innate understanding of language which, when he is tested, becomes an ability to communicate not only with people who speak another language, but with animals. Shealy O'Leary of Haunting Desire is able to move through time and the ability is often uncontrollable until she is forced to harness it and use it to save herself and those she loves.

What I love about writing paranormal is that there are no rules. If I can imagine it and I can describe it in a way that allows the reader to imagine it, then I can write it. Paranormal romance readers have vast and vivid imaginations and as long as the writer stays true to their world, they will go along wherever the writer wants to take them.

I think the most important elements of writing paranormal is to remember that PARAnormal does not equal ABnormal. Readers want to relate to the paranormal characters even if those characters are from another world or reality. Chances are that most of us will never meet a shapeshifter, but that doesn't mean we couldn't fall in love with one in our imaginations. If the writer gives the creatures human characteristics, it is easy for the reader to connect." 

And Kate Douglas rounds out the group with her pick saying, “… I definitely have a favorite, and that would be Anton Cheval, the über-alpha and pack leader from my long-running Wolf Tales series. 

What makes him special, however, isn’t the fact he’s the perfect alpha hero—and he is that, in many ways, as a shapeshifting Chanku with added magical talents and a strength of character that’s impossible to ignore. What I love best about Anton is the fact he’s a horribly flawed man. He makes mistakes. He overestimates his own abilities and underestimates the strength of those around him. He’s got an insufferable ego, and yet he admits when he is wrong and does his best to make amends, even as he knows he will probably make the same mistakes again.

His personality has evolved over the course of twenty-one novels and novellas, so I’ve had plenty of time to allow him to develop into a very real character. What has brought him to life for my readers, however, is that I write him (and all my characters) from a very deep point of view. When I’m writing Anton’s story, I become him. I see what he sees, feel what he feels, and I respond as he would respond to each situation.

I think that by putting yourself fully into the part, you not only believe each word you write—you also share the strength of that intimate view of your character with your readers. I don’t write about the Chanku. I become them so that when you read the lines, you’re hearing them directly from the character, not filtered through the author’s—my—vision.”

Want more paranormal creatures conversation? You can meet up with Kate Douglas for a Twitter chat on Friday, April 8th from 2:00-3:00 Pacific Time, hashtag #StarFire. And you can download the complete audio recording of today's Characterization In Paranormal Romance panel at www.ConferenceRecording.com.