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Why I write romance but love science fiction

Last month I released my new feel good romance, Felicity at the Cross Hotel, and so I missed writing a post for our Round Robin group of authors. I’m looking forward to taking part in July’s..

round robin, helena fairfax

…and this month’s topic is:

Whatever genre you write, do you have a different one that you love to read? What do you think attracts readers to certain genres?

Great questions, and as usual the subject has made me think about my own reading habits. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know I write contemporary romance novels. All my stories centre on the relationship between the hero and heroine, and they all have a feel good factor and a guaranteed happy ending. They’ve been described as “beautiful reads”, “gentle, old-fashioned romance” and “guaranteed to leave a smile on your face”. The question is, is this the type of book I also love to read? I’d say definitely yes, but I also read a whole range of other genres, from crime to biographies to literary fiction, and – after thinking about this question – I think the genre I love the most besides romance is science fiction.

helena fairfax, contemporary romance, science fiction

It might seem a strange leap from a romance to sci-fi, and I’ve been asking myself what it is about the genre that I love so much, and why I like sci-fi and not fantasy. Both sci-fi and fantasy have fantastical elements – they are both genres that describe imaginary worlds. But I think what I love about sci-fi is that the imaginary world of sci-fi authors is grounded in reality. I’m a logical person, and even though I write romance and my characters come out of my imagination, I like my romances to be credible and for my characters to act in a way that’s believable.

A sci-fi novel tells a story the author believes could actually happen, even if it takes place on an imaginary planet. Fantasy novels are just exactly what they say – they are a fantasy. I have no desire to read about worlds full of dragons and elves, witches and wizards, and yet I devoured Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. The reason I could engage with the series is that the worlds Philip Pullman writes about are parallel universes, and so they could in theory be possible. There is a theory that there are an infinite number of parallel universes – that with every decision or action we take, we split ourselves and one version of us carries on in one universe, and the other in a parallel universe, and this happens an infinite number of times. So according to this theory there is a parallel planet earth right this minute where no one has invented the petrol engine, or where the UK is still in the European Union, or where Adolf Hitler has never been born, or where you never did that stupid thing you once did. I can believe in parallel universes – but I can’t believe in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and I’ve never managed to read past book two of The Lord of the Rings.

helena fairfax, stanislaw lemApart from when I was a child, the only fantasy series I’ve read all the way through is the Harry Potter books. Books with magic in that are aimed at children are perfectly OK :) The only time I got a bit frustrated was when J.K. Rowling conveniently brought out the Invisibility Cloak. This is another problem I have with fantasy. If the author has a plot hole or a situation they can’t resolve in a realistic way, they can just invent an invisibility cloak or a mystical creature or a rain of fire, or any other thing that leaps to mind, and the problem is solved. Writers who are writing books grounded in reality find it a lot harder to resolve plot dilemmas in a realistic way.

My favourite sci-fi authors are Ursula le Guin, Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem. Stanislaw Lem wrote one of my favourite sci fi novels ever – Return from the Stars – which is a mixture of a romance and sci fi. What could be better? :) (Lem also wrote the brilliant novel Solaris, which has been made into a film twice – the latest version starring George Clooney.)

As for the question “What attracts readers to certain genres,” I’m not sure I can speak for other readers, but I was at a talk recently at the Bradford Literature Festival called Book Bidding Wars.  The panel – Lisa Milton of Harper Collins, literary agent Kate Nash and Ailah Ahmed of Little,Brown, all believed that because we’re going through troubled times, and because we’ve seen a lot of violence on the streets in the UK recently, that feel good books, escapist will become more popular. I thought that was interesting, and I can believe it’s true.

I’m curious to know what genres other authors love to read, too! If you’d like to hear from the other authors in the Round Robin, please click on their links below.
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How about you? Is there a genre you don’t enjoy reading? A genre you love? And do you like fantasy novels? If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!
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15 thoughts on “Why I write romance but love science fiction

  1. 9/11 may have been one very big reason HARRY POTTER broke the US market in a big way; and a star trek no different from those tales of courtly love in times past where the hero rode through trackless wastes in search of his true love…

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  2. I’m with you! I write romance, but read sci-fi, primarily. I’ve tried writing sci-fi, but it’s a lot of work to do all of that world-building. Like you also, I ground my books in reality. My characters behave as real people would, and I consider it a huge compliment when readers tell me that my hero or heroine behaves so realistically they wonder if I based them on someone I know. Not really, but thanks!

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    1. I’d love to write sci ifi, Fiona. I really admire sci fi writers for their leaps of imagination. That’s a great compliment your readers have given you! Another interesting topic for our Round Robin. Thanks for dropping in!

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  3. This is very funny, Helena, I love scifi & fantasy (but not like what you dislike but more based on science possibility) but love to read historical and contemporary romance. Go figure! Enjoyed your post.

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  4. Hi Helena, I’m new to the round robin and so enjoyed your post. Like you I really enjoyed the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. But I also LOVED ‘Lord of the Rings’ and other fantasies like the Dragonworld books. I think I like both sci-fi and fantasy although my main reading is literary. It’s so interesting to hear other people’s views. I did think about rewriting my first novel as a straight romance but simply couldn’t do it. I guess we all have our own particular ways of writing that makes us us!

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    1. Hi Anne, good to meet you! I totally agree about us all having our different writing styles. It would be a boring place if we all wrote the same genre. I know so many people who love the Lord of the Rings. I really should give it another try! Thanks for dropping in!

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  5. Couldn’t agree more that in the world we live in escape to somewhere better in our reading holds a lot of appeal. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been cheated of a life-long love affair with your soul mate (like I was when my husband died of cancer) or never met the right one, falling in love vicariously in a romance is a satisfying experience. If your job keeps you tied to a desk all day, why not feel the adrenalin rush of an action/adventure story. If life seems same old same old, why not escape into a fantasy or a sci-fi that creates a whole new world to explore.

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    1. Hello Skye, I totally agree about some books providing a satisfying experience. Recent research has also shown that reading fiction can be great therapy. Books have brought me through some very hard times. I’m very sorry to hear that you lost your husband. I hope your reading and your writing have brought you strength. Thanks so much for dropping in on my post.

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  6. Hey, Helena. I used to read ScFi, like back in middle and high school. Devoured those books. Aside from fairy tales, not much of a fan of fantasy. Though I was hooked on Grim for a time, while it was more based on reality. And I did a series about shape shifters, but that’s been years ago now. LOL Maybe I’ve read more fantasy than I think. But basically, like you, I want something grounded in reality. And it has to have a HEA.
    I attended an RWA conference one time, feeling a bit embarrassed by the fact I write romance. A luncheon speaker told the story about when her home was flooded and she and her mother went to Walmart to buy the bare necessities. They both also picked up a romance to put in their baskets. So we do a service with our stories. Give people hope and take away the pain of the present for a time. I shared. :)

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    1. I love fairy tales, too, Marsha. I often really enjoy fantasy that’s aimed at children. It’s when it’s aimed at adults that I find it difficult to enjoy.
      That’s a lovely story about the two women picking up a romance. I like the idea of us doing a service with our stories. Reading is therapeutic and I don’t know what I’d do without books :)
      thanks so much for dropping in, and for your great comment!

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    1. Hi Rachael, I’ve really enjoyed this month’s Round Robin. So interesting to find out what draws people to different genres, and why they struggle with others. I know a few people who just don’t enjoy sci fi at all, and I can understand their reasons for it. It would be a strange world – a sci fi world! – if we all read the same books :)
      Thanks so much for dropping in. I enjoyed your comment!

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  7. I write science fiction with a strong romance element. The world I present is, like you suggest, certainly feasible and a haunting mirror of our own. I was advised not to blend genres as it makes the book less marketable, but it’s the book I wanted to write, so I wrote it!
    I love reading sci-fi, but also like far out fantasy and all the gradients in between. I used to read far more widely, but things that are too ‘real’ bore me nowadays! :-)
    An interesting post. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Victoria, your books sound just my cup of tea. I think readers are far more open to mash ups of genres than publishers believe. It’s a shame they think only in terms of marketing. Good for you for writing what you believe in.
      Thanks very much for your comment on my post – and thanks for dropping in!

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