It gives me great pleasure to welcome Linnea Sinclair to the lair. Linnea and I first knew of each other back in 2003 when we participated in a paranormal anthology, Dream Quest. We reconnected in 2006 in Atlanta when Linnea was nominated and then won a RITA award for Gabriel's Ghost (Best Paranormal). Don't be surprised if she does it again with Hope's Folly. Romantic Times Bookreviews awarded the story a coverted Top Pick and called it, "a roller-coaster ride in the extreme!" Please join me in welcoming Linnea Sinclair.
HOPE’S FOLLY: Aiming to Misbehave…
Firefly fans will recognize Captain Mal Reynold’s quote in the title of my blog. Others will hopefully be intrigued enough to read on (and maybe even be encouraged to seek out Firefly and Serenity on DVD—yay!) But I’m not here to plug Joss Whedon’s works (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but to talk about Hope’s Folly and the subgenre of science fiction romance—and why you should read it, if you don’t. And why you should read more of it, if you do. And how reader expectations might be a bit skewed either way.
Hi, I’m Linnea Sinclair and I write space opera romance (I always feel like I’m standing up at some meeting, apologetically, when I say that.) It’s also called science fiction romance and sometimes labeled futuristic romance. I actually think Great Fun Book With Hot Hero And Lots Of Action is the preferred label but as of yet, I can get neither Bantam (my publisher) nor the chain bookstores to agree to that.
Science fiction romance is a genre that misbehaves. It puts the intellectual and thematic issues of science fiction smack-dab up against the emotional and angst-y issues of romance, and forces them to cohabitate. It’s tastes great-less filling fighting with less filling-tastes great. It’s you’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter. It’s…still a genre—despite the best efforts of Catherine Asaro, Susan Grant, Jayne Ann Krentz, Robin D Owens, yours truly and others—that makes people go “Huh?”. At least, according to my forays on places like GoodReads and Shelfari, it does.
Science fiction romance scares some readers. It angers others. (How dare you put chocolate in my peanut butter!) These reactions have a lot to do with reader expectations, something you all have, whether you admit to it or not. Romance readers expect an HEA—a Happily Ever After. Mystery readers expect a puzzle to solve, a dead body or three, a stolen object or two. Inspirational romance readers expect a plot line heavily involved with faith issues. Science fiction readers expect the book to be based on a theme question—a deep “what if?”—and they expect alien worlds/concepts and/or detailed world building. For starters (and yes, I know many of these things wax and wane depending on current book trends).
As with any other cross-genre book, science fiction romance has to take two (or more) reader expectations and address them in the same “real estate” (to quote Mary Jo Putney) as a one-genre novel. That means SFR authors have the same 350 pages to work with as any other author—they just have to do twice as much. Two times the plot arcs. Two times the world-building. Two times the “what ifs.” In the same space.
You know. It’s like when you were single and you had your whole bedroom closet to yourself. Then your significant other moves in and suddenly your clothes have half the space…
Let’s take my current release, Hope’s Folly (and in fact, I hope you do. Hope’s Folly can be found on either the romance shelves or the science fiction shelves of your local bookstore for only $6.99 US and $7.99 CAN! Get it now, while it’s hot, fresh out of the author’s mental oven!)
Sorry. Got carried away. Anyway, Hope’s Folly at its essence is a May-December romance. The hero, Admiral Philip Guthrie is (and I like the way Laurie at Spacefreighter’s Lounge describes him:
“Guthrie is, of course, the ex-husband of Captain Chasidah Bergen of the first two books in the series, GABRIEL'S GHOST and SHADES OF DARK. And alive he is. Injured, hobbling, disillusioned, lonely and with the weight of the universe and the hopes of the rebel Alliance on his shoulders...but still breathing. He's dismayed to find he's saddled with a derelict former citrus hauler as his command ship. This scrap-ready heap is named HOPE'S FOLLY, an unfortunate tag that Philip must live with. He hopes it's not prophetic.”
Philip is forty-five. Rya Bennton is twenty-nine—and the daughter of Philip’s first commanding officer and long-time friend, Captain Cory Bennton. With her father’s death, Rya finds herself assigned to a ship that is—unbeknownst to her initially—under Phillip’s command.
Trouble is, that last time she saw Philip, she was about ten years old, and he hated her. Well, okay, he didn’t hate her. But he was a young military officer and found her…annoying.
She found him beyond dreamy:
Lieutenant Philip Guthrie. Odd how over the years she’d forgotten his face but not the effect he’d had on her. And not certain details. The way he’d lounged at her parents’ dining room table, a slender-stemmed wineglass in his thick fingers. Strong fingers. Strong enough to hold something so delicate without breaking it. Strong enough to fire those powerful weapons that were her father’s passion.
She’d tried so hard to behave that night, but when her father said he was bringing home one of his officers, she’d never thought it would be someone like Philip. She’d met his officers before. Gruff women who pinched her cheeks. Fat men who smelled like cigars.
And then Philip strode in, tall and strong, with those beautiful blue eyes, like a prince from her storyvids. And for the first time in her life she’d fallen in love with a man who wasn’t her father.
She could not sit still. She’d wanted to fling her arms around his waist and hug him.
But she was just a child. Fat and freckled with frizzy hair.
Then he’d put his Carver in her hands, talking all the while about the weapon’s problems as if she were a grown up and really understood, and he held her small hands in his large warm ones while she aimed at the target and fired.
She didn’t wash her hands for a week after that.
(from Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair, Bantam Dell, 2009)
But she was ten and he was twenty-six and it was a one-time meeting.
At least it was for the next nineteen years…
Sounds like classic historical May-December, doesn’t it?
So why did I have to set it in the science fiction genre and by so doing, have to deal with that extra set of reader expectations and the problem of romance readers who get the yips when they see the words “science” and “fiction?”
The short answer is because I’m nuts and have an affinity for gin and tonics.
The long answer is that the genre of science fiction permits me to write outside of reader expectations, to create worlds and cultures and ethical issues we may or may not have here on this planet aptly named after dirt, and permits me to draw my characters out of such worlds. I don’t have to deal with the current (or past) stereotypes of what women can or cannot do. I can invent my own stereotypes. I can invent my own ethical issues. And I can wrap all that around a story which is very familiar to most romance readers: May-December.
It’s been noted that agents and editors often demand: “Give me more of the same, but different.”
I don’t think there’s any better avenue for that than science fiction romance.
Fear, hope, longing, the desire for love…all those common human issues are found in science fiction romance. Just the settings, the cultures change but because they do, and because they’re often so different, those same human issues take on greater impact. You can see them more clearly because they’re not surrounded by things we know so well we often fail to recognize. We make inferences as to what a city girl from Manhattan is like, or a country boy from Alabama. We carry stereotypes with us that may not be at all what the author wants to convey.
In science fiction romance, those stereotypes are for the most part, gone. It’s all new, fresh and exciting. And yet it’s still fear, hope, longing and the desire for love.
He watched her handle the weapons and saw clear echoes of Captain Cory Bennton in her movements, in her scrutiny. He wondered what Cory would think of his daughter’s situation now. He wondered what Cory would do if he knew Philip had kissed her.
“I’m a grown woman, Philip.” She hefted the Carver-10 in her hand and faced him, chin lifting almost in defiance. “The fat little girl you taught to shoot a Carver has been through a lot in the past twenty years. Enough that she—that I—have very few illusions about myself. I know what I am. I know what I have to give. And I know what I want. And when you’re ready to discuss that in a mature fashion—without guilt or excuses—you know where to find me.”
(from Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair, Bantam Dell, 2009)
Sadly, the very things that make SFR familiar yet at the same time unique are giving chain store buyers and publishing house marketing departments the fits. Is it tastes great or less filling? Borders shelves me in romance. Barnes & Noble shelves me in science fiction. Readers get confused. And sales…well, the numbers for most SFR authors aren’t where we’d like them to be (except perhaps in the case of JD Robb’s In Death series but then Nora is a galaxy unto herself). And until publishers and bookstores invent a shelf labeled Great Fun Book With Hot Hero And Lots Of Action, SFR is destined to be bounced around and at times, overlooked.
So your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to throw out ideas for getting the word out on Great Fun Books With Hot Heroes And Lots Of Action also known as Science Fiction Romance.
In return, I’ll throw out an official Linnea Sinclair “Interstellar Adventure Infused With Romance” canvas tote bag and an “Interstellar Adventure Infused With Romance” coffee mug! Now, who wants to play catch?