Write Byte

The Allure of Paranormal Characters

(October 21, 1998)

Romances with a twist, and often a dark twist, have fascinated readers for years. I can recall sneaking off to my best friend's house as a child to watch Dark Shadows (my own mother forbade the watching of soap operas). When Dark Shadows was brought back to television as in the early 1990's, I fell in love with Ben Cross as the tortured Barnabas Collins, and wondered whether they would introduce a werewolf eventually. Alas, the show was cancelled after one year and I'll never know.

Tales of werewolves, vampires, and ghosts continue to fascinate us because these creatures are invariably tortured and difficult to love. Whether they long to become mortal again, want to transform their lovers with their dark gift, or enjoy their immortal status but just feel a modicum of guilt at the torture they inflict on others, we love being a part of their journey.

Author Susan Krinard has carved quite a name for herself as the author of several acclaimed paranormal romances "starring" such tortured creatures. I recently asked her to talk some more about the allure of paranormal characters. Here is what she had to say:

Just what makes paranormal heroes and heroines so fascinating?

I can answer that question for myself. I've been drawn to fantasy stories all my life, first as a reader engrossed in science fiction and fantasy novels. For me, science fiction and fantasy was an escape from a life that sometimes seemed difficult, a voyage to other worlds where my problems didn't seem so bad.

When I became a romance writer, it was only natural for me to use the types of themes I'd so loved in my reading. I wanted to write about relationships, but I wanted to keep that element of otherworldliness.

The first book I set out to write was Prince of Wolves. I'd always loved wolves, and the idea of shapeshifters, people able to assume other forms. But I also wanted to get away from the traditional "cursed" werewolf, which seemed to slander an animal for which I had great admiration. Why should it be a curse to become a wolf, I wondered? So I decided to feature a shapeshifter hero who embodied the admirable, as well as the wild and unpredictable, qualities of the wolf.

I guess you could call the werewolf the "ultimate alpha male." He's dangerous, but if he's anything like a real wolf, he's also a devoted mate and father, exceptionally loyal and affectionate to his own. He'll fight to the death to protect those he loves. He's very territorial, and doesn't let others into his circle easily - but once you're there, you're there forever. What could be more fascinating? And he (or she) has all the grace, power, and special senses of a wolf as well.

For me, the werewolf hero strikes a perfect balance between the "dangerous" qualities many of us like in a fictional romance hero, and the qualities of fidelity, loyalty and affection that we also crave. He fills many of the roles of myth: hero, trickster, shapeshifter.

In Prince of Wolves, the heroine is "only human" when she becomes involved with werewolf Luke Gevaudan. But Luke doesn't only seem different and a little scary, he is different! It's adding another layer to the time-honored story of struggle and accommodation between lovers.

That's what I love about paranormal/fantasy romance: that secondary layer. The same classic stories of romance can be told, but against new backgrounds and featuring characters whose abilities really play up the romantic conflict. The outsider hero becomes even more of an outsider if he's a life-force vampire, like my hero Nicholas from Prince of Dreams. The problems of commitment become all that much greater if the hero is a ghost, as David is in Body & Soul.

And for me, the sense of escape from the real world is that much greater. I know that not all readers like this kind of escape, but for me it's wonderful. I can let my imagination soar. Yet, at the same time, I try to ground my stories in reality, so that the paranormal element isn't jarring. I want you to really believe that the paranormal exists . . . for the duration of the book!

Most paranormal heroes have that "dark" element by their very natures. The same goes for paranormal heroines. But I like to vary my heroes from alpha and very dark and dangerous to a little less so. Luke is definitely alpha; Nicholas is more subtle. Liam in my time travel Twice a Hero is another alpha male who's pitted against a modern woman. David in Body & Soul is less sure of himself. Variety is what I enjoy, both in themes and heroes. That's why I like to write across the whole spectrum of paranormal romance, from futuristic to time travel to "supernatural."

I do enjoy writing heroes and heroines who face major problems and must fight to overcome them before they can accept love. Sometimes the paranormal element is a major part of this problem, but most times it's less so than inner, psychological issues. "Tortured" heroes are very satisfying for me, as a reader and writer. But I also want my heroes to be sympathetic, to have that spark of something that makes you sure they'll come around in the end and truly experience the healing power of giving and receiving love unselfishly.

We're often told that the paranormal romance is a "trend." I don't agree. It's what I love, and what I'll continue to write for a long time to come. As long as paranormal romance remains a vehicle for telling stories about people with real problems and real struggles, engaged in the classic search for love, it can reach out to everyone. I hope that I can continue to appeal to the imaginations, as well as the emotions, of readers through my books.

Susan Krinard

E-mail Susan
Susan Krinard on her SF/F roots