Historical and Paranormal: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together
by Victoria Janssen
For my December 2009 erotic novel for Harlequin Spice, Moonlight Mistress, I combined a historical novel with paranormal elements. The book is set during the early days of World War One, and begins with a romance between Lucilla, an English chemist and nurse, and Pascal, a French scientist. They’re trapped in Germany when war is declared and must escape together. I could have proceeded from there to write a perfectly straightforward wartime adventure novel, but I love science fiction as well as romance, so it turns out the reason Pascal is in Germany in the first place is because he’s investigating rumors of a werewolf held captive by an amoral scientist. Soon, two werewolf characters are introduced, one a soldier and the other a spy, and their role in the war and their relationship is woven into the novel’s main plot.
I love historical romance, but even more I love historical science fiction and fantasy with romance, or romantic elements. There’s something about the mix of flavors that draws me in; I get an extra buzz from the story when more than one genre element is present. I loved Colleen Gleason’s Regency vampire-slayer novels (The Gardella Chronicles) and the time travel aspect of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Susan Krinard’s werewolf romances do a wonderful job of fitting paranormal creatures into nineteenth century history. From the fantasy side, Judith Tarr’s novels such as Pride of Kings and Caroline Stevermer’s When the King Comes Home mix magic and romantic elements into history.
I think the main reason I love combined flavors is that mixing genres is a way to avoid the same-old, same-old of historical romance. The plot usually runs like this: hero and heroine meet, family/money/status/scandalous past/amnesia keep them apart, then they are brought together once more. For me, those plot complications become more compelling if the family issue is that a werewolf needs to marry another werewolf or he can’t have werewolf children, or if the scandalous past is only because the heroine isn’t human and doesn’t have human standards of behavior. I don’t know what to expect, and the reading experience becomes more exciting as a result.
From a marketing standpoint, cross-genre books can be a problem–how do you market the book? Is it a romance/erotic novel, or is it a paranormal? Should there be a clench on the cover, or a man turning into a wolf? Will the book be shelved in Romance on Science Fiction and Fantasy? Do the readers of the two genres have differing expectations, so in trying to please both, you please neither? For Moonlight Mistress, at least, this was less of an issue. As an “erotic novel” rather than a straightforward romance, I had a little more freedom in how the plot and relationships progressed. Though there are several romances in the novel, they proceed in different ways, and end at different stages: one clearly Happily Ever After, one on the brink of a marriage that’s clearly only the beginning of the relationship, and a third, a ménage, still in the formative stages. Adding werewolves merely added a new flavor to the blend.