I came to science fiction and fantasy in pretty much the usual way: one chance encounter with Foundation in my junior high school “resource center” and I set off to work my way all the way through that SF section and then moved on to my town’s public library, completing the Asimov-Zelazny circuit and then back again to catch up with whatever had come out in the last few months.
I wasn’t exclusively a SF reader; I was also deep-diving into the mystery section and, once I began studying Latin in high school, a fair amount of classical history. Plus random bits of this and that. Basically, if it was a book, and you put it in front of me between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, there was a good chance I’d read it.
There was, however, one type of book I decidedly did not read, and that was romance.
I didn’t make any distinction between historical and contemporary romance; it was women’s stuff, it was all the same story, badly told at that, and I wasn’t interested. (Never mind that I had systematically read my way through the DAW editions of John Norman’s Gor series—those Boris Vallejo covers!—I was years away from developing anything remotely like a sense of irony.) As for the idea that you could combine science fiction or fantasy and romance, no dice: I distinctly remember one summer, when my grandmother brought home a stripped paperback from the gift shop where she volunteered, assuring me that it was a fantasy because the main character was psychic; I got through about four pages of this woman bemoaning her “gift,” double-checked the back cover and established that the story was headed towards her meeting up with some brooding rich guy in a big house, and chucked it, probably in favor of Ed McBain or Elmore Leonard.
So what changed? Jump ahead to my late twenties and early thirties, when I had had a few years of interviewing authors for Beatrice.com under my belt. Though I’d never completely abandoned SF/F, my reading tastes had gradually embraced more mainstream “literary” fare, and because I was relying to some degree on publishers’ publicity departments to supply me with authors, my attention was being drawn to what they wanted to promote. So when “chick lit” started to catch on in the United States, I was hanging out with Laura Zigman and Jennifer Weiner and having a blast, which led to hanging out with more chick lit authors…and then, in the summer of 2000, I stumbled onto an article about Michele Jaffe, a historical romance author who’d just gotten her Ph.D. and abandoned academia to sign an exorbitant deal for a series of 16th-century romances. I thought she would be a great interview subject, and that’s what got me into historicals. It was only a few months after meeting Michele that I was introduced to Laurell K. Hamilton’s erotic fairy novels, which I suppose was my first foray into paranormal romance.
I didn’t plunge whole-heartedly into either genre, though. For most of the last ten years, my taste in romance ran almost entirely to contemporary chick-lit, and as that began to flame out and be replaced by a string of light-hearted romantic comedies with vampires, werewolves, and witches, I lost interest—and I’d never gotten much past Hamilton when it came to the darker-edged stuff, so the whole urban fantasy boom pretty much passed me by. I got deeper into historicals, Eloisa James and Julia Quinn and the like—and it’s only in the last year or so, as I found authors like Gail Carriger (or my friend Leanna Renee Hieber, who I’ll be telling you more about later this month) queering the historical romance with fantasy elements that I started paying attention. Then I found writers like Nicole Peeler and Jaye Wells doing similar things in urban fantasy… My thirteen-year-old self would almost certainly be astounded by the 180-degree reversal in my reading tastes. What can I say? I grew up.
Photo by Miriam Berkley