Susannah Sandlin drops in for a lesson in genre blending and blurring. Anyone getting dizzy in here?
“Genre” is a topic dear to agents and editors and publishers and booksellers. How should the book be marketed? Where will it get shelved in a bookstore? Is it urban fantasy or paranormal romance? Where does it get categorized on book websites? Which book reviewers should it be sent to?
They need a clear definition, an easy fit.
For authors, sometimes—maybe a lot of the time—the stories we want to write aren’t an easy fit. Sometimes they straddle two categories, or more.
When I first wrote Redemption, my new release, it sat firmly on the fence between paranormal romance and urban fantasy.
It is the first in a series that had an ongoing situation that couldn’t be resolved within the pages of a single book. A global pandemic has led to the development of a vaccine that caused a slight change in human blood chemistry—which has made the blood of a vaccinated human deadly to vampires. Suddenly, vampires are starving, fighting over unvaccinated humans, fanning into rural areas in search of feeders, threatening a civil war.
Sounds like urban fantasy, right? Maybe with a science-fiction twist? Maybe a little apocalyptic (at least for the vampires)?
Well, except that each book is told from the viewpoint of a vampire who finds his or her perfect mate in the midst of chaos and rebellion. In Redemption, Aidan Murphy has avoided relationships because of something that happened to his human wife and child in Ireland back in 1601. He’s deeply scarred by it, and isn’t expecting a human doctor—who he’s forced to kidnap so his people will have medical treatment—to change his life.
Krys and Aidan’s story is central to Redemption. Uh…sounds like paranormal romance, right?
You see the issue. So…do your favorite books fit neatly into a category? If you’re writing, how close to “genre” do you stick, or do you let the story go where it needs to go?
Following a worldwide pandemic whose vaccine left human blood deadly to vampires, the vampire community is on the verge of starvation and panic. Some have fanned into rural areas, where the vaccine was less prevalent, and are taking unsuspecting humans as blood slaves. Others are simply starving, which for a vampire is worse than death—a raging hunger in a creature too weak to feed.
Immune to these struggles—at first—is Penton, a tiny community in rural Chambers County, Alabama, an abandoned cotton mill town that has been repopulated by charismatic vampire Aidan Murphy, his scathe of 50 vampires, and their willingly bonded humans. Aidan has recruited his people carefully, believing in a peaceful community where the humans are respected and the vampires retain a bit of their humanity.
But an unresolved family feud and the paranoia of the Vampire Tribunal descend on Penton in the form of Aidan’s brother, Owen Murphy. Owen has been issued a death warrant that can only be commuted if he destroys Penton—and Aidan, against whom he’s held a grudge since both were turned vampire in 17th-century Ireland. Owen begins a systematic attack on the town, first killing its doctor, then attacking one of Aidan’s own human familiars.
To protect his people, Aidan is forced to go against his principles and kidnap an unvaccinated human doctor—and finds himself falling in love for the first time since the death of his wife in Ireland centuries ago.
Dr. Krystal Harris, forced into a world she never knew existed, must face up to her own abusive past to learn if the feelings she’s developing for her kidnapper are real—or just a warped, supernatural kind of Stockholm Syndrome in which she’s allowing herself to become a victim yet again.
Krystal Harris pulled to the shoulder of the two-lane road—highway was too grand a word—and punched the button to turn on the old green Corolla’s dome light. She counted to five before thwacking it with the heel of her palm, and a dim light blinked as if considering her demand. It stayed on—this time.
The car was a dinosaur, but it was a paid-for dinosaur.
She dug a folded Alabama road map from beneath her briefcase on the passenger seat, smoothing the creases to make sure she hadn’t driven past Penton, which she suspected was no more than a wide spot on a narrow road. She didn’t want to get lost out here in the boonies.
Yep, County Road 70. The highway to Penton just looked like the express lane to nowhere.
A gust of wind rocked the car, sending icy air around the loose door seals. Maybe the chill of this night was an omen that she should take this job if they offered it, just so she could buy a more respectable form of transportation. Still, doubts nagged at her. What kind of clinic conducted a job interview at nine p.m.? She should never have agreed to it, but the Penton Clinic administrator had waved big bucks in front of her huge college and med school debts, and she’d trotted after them like a donkey after a carrot.
“You had the goody-two-shoes idea of practicing rural medicine, plus you’re already here,” she chided herself, clicking off the overhead and pulling back onto the road. “And you’ve gotta admit, this is rural.”
Another omen, and not a good one: she was talking to herself. Out loud.
A couple of miles later, her headlights illuminated a battered wooden sign covered in peeling paint: Welcome to Penton, Alabama. Founded 1890. Population 3,275.
Twenty years ago, maybe. Krys had done her Penton homework, and that was the boomtown population, when the mammoth East Alabama Mill still churned out threads and batting. It had wheezed its final belch a decade ago, and the town had suffered a slow death by attrition even before the pandemic. The most recent listing Krys found online estimated a population of three hundred. She was surprised they could afford to hire a doctor, much less pay a more-than-competitive wage.
But this was what she wanted, right? A place to practice medicine and be her own boss, to find a community where she could belong? After growing up in Birmingham—the wrong side of Birmingham—she hated the grime and crowds and noise of the city.
Lost in thought as she approached the outskirts of town, she thought she saw an animal in the road—a deer or a bear, maybe—God only knew what wildlife lived out here. But it was a man. He wore a long coat that flapped in the wind and was backlit by a lone streetlight in front of an abandoned convenience store. She’d have blown past him if he hadn’t moved into the middle of the road when the glare of her headlights hit him like a spotlight.
He stood with his hands in his pockets, feet planted apart, watching calmly as she floored the brakes. The Corolla’s old tires squealed, stinking up the air with the smell of hot rubber and stressed brakes.
Good Lord. Was he nuts?
She got the car stopped and took a deep breath, hands frozen to the wheel, her muscles jittery from the aftershock. The man walked around and tapped on her driver’s side window, motioning for her to lower it.
Krys’s foot hovered over the accelerator, indecisive. Should she drive on and get the hell out of here?
No, by God, she should not. She’d at least lower the window enough to tell the jerk how close he’d come to ending his life as a hood ornament on a green Toyota Dinosaur.
He held up his empty hands in a gesture of peace. Right. Like he was going to hold up a sign that said Beware of Murderous Backwoods Whack Job.
She snaked her right hand to her purse in the passenger seat, wrapped cold fingers around the handle of a small pistol, and slipped it into the pocket of her suede jacket—after she was sure the man had seen it. The .38 Smith & Wesson snub-nose was her security blanket, and she knew how to use it.
His only reaction to the gun was a raised eyebrow. “I have a man injured here.” His voice was deep and melodic, and he had a trace of an accent, as if he’d grown up not speaking English but had been around a few too many Southerners. “You the doctor coming to Penton for the interview?”
She lowered her window an inch and stared as he knelt next to the driver’s side door, putting his face at eye level. And damned if it wasn’t one of the most beautiful faces she’d seen since…maybe ever.
He’d pulled his dark hair into a short ponytail except for one wavy strand that had pulled loose and blew against his cheek. The streetlight cast enough illumination for her to see the dark lashes fringing blue eyes that reminded her not so much of summer skies or robin’s eggs but of the richness of an arctic sea flowing over darker depths. They appeared to lighten as he studied her with an intensity that almost robbed her lungs of air. He had a strong jaw, full lips, and a slight cleft in his chin.
If he was a serial killer, he was at least a pretty one.
He cleared his throat. “Are you Dr. Harris?”
Krys caught her breath. Good Lord, what was wrong with her? She’d been practically drooling through a half-open window as though he were Adonis personified. He could be Charles Manson’s separated-at-birth, unidentical twin.
Except he knew her name.
Susannah Sandlin (www.susannahsandlin.com) is the author of paranormal romance set in the Deep South, where there are always things that go bump in the night! A journalist by day, Susannah grew up in Alabama reading the gothic novels of Susan Howatch, and always fancied herself living in Cornwall (although she’s never actually been there). Details, details. She also is a fan of Stephen King. The combination of Howatch and King probably explains a lot. Currently a resident of Auburn, Alabama, Susannah has also lived in Illinois, Texas, California, and Louisiana. Her novel Redemption won the paranormal romance category in the 2011 Chicago North RWA Fire and Ice contest, and is the first of three in a series that debuts this year.
Book buy links
** Note: The Kindle version of Redemption is only $3.99 at Amazon right now.