Monday, July 17, 2006

Why I Think Futuristic Romance Rocks

Before I get started, I'd like to thank the Star-Crossed Romance authors for inviting me to be a guest blogger. I appreciate it!

Lynda asked me to talk about what drew me to write futuristic romance and why. At first, I thought this was a pretty easy topic to address, but the longer I thought about it, the more complex the answer became.

I've always been drawn to futuristics. I remember being in a writing class, and when the teacher went around the room asking what genre we were interested in, I said romance mixed with a little science fiction. She promptly shot me down, telling me there was no such thing and that I had to pick one or the other. I still remember finding my first futuristic romance when I was in Waldenbooks--I think I shrieked with the thrill of discovery. :-) Yeah, it's lucky I wasn't banned, but here was exactly the kind of thing I was interested in writing and someone was publishing it!

I found out other romances like this had been released and I started a search to hunt down every single title so I could read them. Most were out of print, some weren't easy to find, but I spent weekends hitting used bookstores, thrift stores and library sales until I'd gotten each book.

So what is it that draws me as a writer to the subgenre? The infinite possibilities.

I'm very character-driven in my writing and I like to see how certain scenarios impact who a character is. For example, the idea for The Power of Two came to me with one word: nanotechnology. I'd done a lot of reading on this years before because it interested me, not because I ever thought I'd use it in a story, but now what I knew was zinging around my brain. What if I used Quantum Brain Nanotechnology as a basis for the story? What if my hero and heroine were connected to each other this way, but they'd never met? What kind of impact would this have on who they were?

That last question is the one that interested me the most. How would this shape these characters?

This all took maybe a couple of minutes to zoom in my head and then Cai made an appearance and the possibilities began to snowball. She was brilliant, shy and had been ridiculed mercilessly her entire life because of her intelligence. She'd withdrawn from the world and her only real connection was the man on the other side of the nanoprobes. But no matter how safe she tried to keep herself, Jake was almost always in her head. She learned to trust him, learned to rely on him--and she never told him she was human.

Jake was impacted too. A loner by nature, he doesn't trust easily either, but here he is, forced to have the implants put in his head. But he thinks Cai is a computer and so he opens up to her, developing an emotional closeness he believes is safe because she isn't human. Imagine how happy he was to find out he'd been sharing his deepest thoughts with a real person and someone who was very young at the outset of their connection.

How could I duplicate these circumstances in a contemporary romance? I guess I could have had both Jake and Cai telepathic or something, but it doesn't have the same thrust as being coerced by the military into having implants inserted. It doesn't carry the same ramifications or shape who these people are in the same way.

The second reason I like futuristic romance so much is that I have the power to create my own society and watch how it plays into who my characters are. Near future, far future, alternate reality, alien planets--it's all an opportunity to torment the hero and heroine. :-) My motto for writing is: Torture the characters before they torture me.

Justine Davis in her futuristic books Lord of the Storm and The Skypirate created a very interesting world that greatly impacted her heroes and heroines. In LOTS, the heroine is a coalition pilot and the hero was enslaved and used sexually by the elite of this society. He has every reason to hate the coalition, but the heroine defies her people to rescue him and he finds himself falling in love with someone he considers the enemy.

Skypirate took this world and impressed its influence on the hero and heroine even farther than in book one. The heroine here is a former coalition officer (and not a nice person in LOTS) who's been enslaved because of the escape in the first book. The hero is a space pirate who happens to be from the same world as the hero of LOTS and he's believed all his people are dead. This has had a profound impact on his life and on his beliefs.

Another book that I think used the society in an interesting way is The Crystal Prophecy by Janice Tarantino. The heroine is from our world and brought by The Widows to future Earth. This is a fish out of water tale because this place is drastically different from ours. Here we see an author use a futuristic world to impact a current-day character.

In contrast, the world in Ravyn's Flight and Eternal Nights isn't all that different from what we have now since it's only about 40 years out in the future, but these characters grew up with war. Not just a off-in-a-foreign-land war, but an on-US-soil war. They've never known what it's like to have a true peace, they've forever been aware that the US could be invaded again.

This isn't the main thrust of the books, in fact the wars on Earth are barely addressed, but this has shaped who the heroes and heroines in this world are. Ravyn not only grew up in a war zone, her mother was on the front lines as an army surgeon. She'd already lost her father and knew she could be orphaned at any moment. I also find myself interested in the differences between Kendall and Ravyn as heroines. Kendall is only five years younger than Ravyn, but those five years made a difference in who each woman is because of what was going on in the world around them.

As you can guess from everything I've said, I don't have much interest in the world alone. It all comes down to the characters for me and how society and events shape who they are. Futuristic romance offers limitless opportunities and new and creative ways to torture my heroes and heroines. :-)

A third reason I love the subgenre is that the story can be as big or as small as the author wants it to be.

In Lord of the Storm and The Skypirate, a group of rebels is fighting for the freedom of their world from coalition tyranny. In The Crystal Prophecy the future Earth is fighting for its very survival. These are pretty huge stories.

But there's room for the smaller scope story as well. In Ravyn's Flight the goal for the hero and heroine is to stay alive until help can arrive from Earth, and if possible, take out the bad guy. The fate of the world doesn't hang in the balance, just the fate of two people. In Eternal Nights the hero and heroine are trying to stay alive too and expose a smuggling ring.

So these are the reasons why I love the subgenre so much, but I've spent days trying to figure out how, exactly, my interest originated. Before I knew there was a such a thing as futuristic romance, I wanted to write it, so why? Was it the reruns of Star Trek that my friends and I watched as very young children? Or was it born at some other time?

I haven't come up with any definitive answers, but I'll probably be thinking about this for a while now.

Patti O'Shea

8 comments:

Lynda K. Scott said...

Patti, thanks for joining us!

I was interested in your take on combining the SF with the romance. I've heard many readers say that they don't like a 'nuts & bolts' approach to the science (ie, they're not interested in the science itself, just the setting) and you do a fantastic job with that.

Though your characters outshine the science, it's apparent the science aspects are important in a number of your stories. Once you get an idea, how far do your research? What's your M.O? :-)

Patti O'Shea said...

Lynda,

That's difficult to quantify. I've always had an eclectic range of interests and I've always read things on my own or taken college classes in topics that interest me. (It's why I graduated with 60 more credits than I needed, yet had no minor and only one major.) For example, I've read a ton of books on sharks, so many that when I did a tour of Sea World a number of years back, I was answering questions about them for our guide.

The information for my books came about in kind of the same way. Back in the early 1990s--before Suzanne Brockmann wrote her first SEAL book--I had an idea for a story that had a Navy SEAL hero. I started the book, then realized I wasn't a good enough writer yet to tell this story and I put it on the back burner. But in the meantime, I read everything I could get my hands on about US Special Forces. By the time I wrote Ravyn's Flight, I had a huge amount of information. All I needed to do while I was writing any of my books with Army Special Forces heroes was find out small facts or pieces of information.

Like I mentioned in my post, The Power of Two had a lot of story that stemmed from nanotechnology and this was another topic I found interesting and read on years earlier. I never thought I'd use any of this in a book, but I was fascinated. Again, it was a matter of looking up specific facts since I already had a knowledge base.

To give an idea of just how geeky I am and how wide ranging my interests are, in the last couple of weeks, I've read articles on a cargo cult in Vanuatu; genetic diseases among the Amish; Evard Munch, the painter; the encroachment of coyotes into urban centers across the US, including New York City and Washington D.C.; there was another article about the roots of the human family tree; the destruction of Pompeii; giant rogue waves; and I read a theory on different types of genius. I listened to a radio show on NPR Science Friday about the mass extinction of amphibians and watched television shows about modern day pirates; meerkats; global warming; pirate technology from historical times; and some other shows that I'm drawing a blank on.

I have no plans to use any of these things in a story, but if an idea ever comes to me, I have a base to start from to do more research.

Patti

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Hi Patti! As a fellow sci-fi romance writer and reader, I'm always happy to meet someone else who enjoys the genre. Dorchester was my first target pub for my work because they actually recognized that sci-fi romance deserved a place on the shelves.

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

I have no reason why that creative writing teacher would tell you you have to choose. If you asked me, that wasn't very creative of her...quite ironic, but not creative.

Anyone who's ever read the Dragonrider series knows that there is definately a romance element to that story, as well as MZB's Darkover series. Again, there are definate romantic elements threaded through there. Perhaps they weren't shelved in the romance section, but they were definately the precursor to our current sci-fi and futuristic romances.

I don't think I ever looked at one of my ideas and thought 'No one writes these so there isn't a market.' I write what I want to read, because at the time no one was. I don't know if the market finally came around to what I write, or what...but I've always written and thought in terms of paranormal and futuristic/sci-fi. Now, I just hope the market swings around to encompass my fantasy romance as well.

-Kat

Skylar Masey said...

I fell in love with Johanna Lindsey's WARRIOR WOMAN, and was hooked on futuristics from then on. My twin and I also devoured the Dragonriders of Pern books. For a long time Crystal Singer was her favorite book. Our mom thought we were way weird. Could've had something to do with us preferring to play with He-man and Masters of the Universe action figures over girly dolls. :0)

I'm also a sponge on topics of interest and think it helps to toss out a wide net. You never know when something might come in handy. Maybe that's the Girl Scout days rearing their beanie-covered head.

Patti O'Shea said...

Bernadette/Jennifer,

Dorchester has been the only romance publisher who's consistently released futuristic romance from the late 80s through today and they were my primary target for Ravyn's Flight. There were some lean years there in the mid-90s after futuristic crashed, burned and nearly died, but they led the comeback with books Catherine Spangler and Susan Grant. It's good to see futuristic flourishing the way it is right now.

Patti

Patti O'Shea said...

Kat,

I was pretty young when I took that writing class and trusted the teacher when she said the subgenre didn't exist. Now, I'd do things my own way, but then, and at that age, it was a different story. All writing is a learning experience that helps hone craft and this gave me a chance to work on story ideas that weren't futuristic (and I have a lot of those) for a while.

Patti

Patti O'Shea said...

Skylar,

You're exactly right--you never know when something you read will come in handy later. I never would have guessed that nanotechnology would one day be in a book I wrote at the time I was reading about it, but that knowledge gave me the idea that formed the kernal of the entire story.

I played with the girly dolls :-), but my friends thought I was weird because they'd be done with their scenarios and waiting for me to finish so we could go do something else and I'd be acting out these long, involved stories with Barbie and Ken. :-) I don't think they understood that I was already creating romance stories in my head.

Patti