It’s lovely to be back amongst the Darksiders. Thank you for having us, once again.
Reality and the paranormal—some would say the two just don’t mix, and they’d be a little bit right, and a lot not-so-right. We have read a lot of definitions of paranormal fiction, but the best one we found was on the teachmetonight blogspot where Sarah S.G. Frantz explains that “the primary theme of all paranormal novels is the interaction between the “normal” of our word and the paranormal” (2007, Sarah S.G. Frantz, Definition of Paranormal Romance).
So how do we incorporate patches of reality into our paranormal romances? What do we draw on? And how much do we need to incorporate for a story to be included in the genre?
We’ll answer the last question first.
How much paranormal needs to be incorporated in a story for it to be counted as paranormal?
Technically, not a lot. In reality, readers tend to like more.
Eleanor: In Hunters ofthe Nile, the only paranormal event is at the beginning when the main character falls through a hole in time while trying to escape a hunt in which she was the prey. That one time-travel event helps her enter the main setting of the novel, and without it, I would not have been able to incorporate a modern-day character into an ancient Egyptian setting. Beyond that, Callista has to use normal means to adapt to the world she finds herself in. I’m not sure I’d count Hunters as a true paranormal romance; it’s safer to call it erotic time-travel romance, which is one of the sub-genres.
But in my other book, A Gargoyle for the Hotel Gothica, I use mythical creatures and magic and incorporate them into the real world. I believe Ellie does much the same.
Ellie: Yes, I tend to use a lot of paranormal elements in Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat. Like Eleanor I draw on ancient Egypt and time travel, but I also bring in shapeshifters, sex magic, summoned monsters and an evil magician. It’s a lot in contrast with Hunters. And, I guess that brings us to the second question.
What do we draw on when writing paranormal romance?
Eleanor: Ellie, why don’t you talk a bit about what’s in Pussy Cat?
Ellie: Sure. So, for PussyCat, Pussy Cat I drew on four main paranormal things: ancient Egypt, shapeshifter lore, time travel and the idea of magic being real. I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egypt, how people lived, what they ate, what they believed in—yeah, I guess, especially what they believed in—their legends and such. It was just a really interesting time period. I had to do a lot of research, everything from what they ate, how their houses looked, what deities they worshipped and what their marriage customs were, and somehow I had to bring a little bit of that to the story. That’s where the time-travel came in. I wanted my main male lead to be a shemsu (a group of men who advised and protected pharaoh) and I expanded the role a little so that he travelled to our reality in pursuit of a threat to pharaoh. I also had my main female lead travel back to ancient Egypt and encounter some of the beliefs and social rules of that time. The other thing I did, was do a little tweaking of that time, so that it’s not entirely accurate, and I explained it by making it a time set even before our recorded histories, when magic still existed in our world. But you managed to incorporate a modern character into a more historically accurate ancient Egypt, didn’t you, Eleanor, in Huntersof the Nile?
Eleanor: I did, and like you, it involved a lot of reading, and some net surfing. There are some excellent sites out there… and some not so excellent ones, too.
Ellie: True. Why don’t you tell us about a few of the elements you used in Gargoyle?
Eleanor: Okay, but A Gargoyle for Hotel Gothica was my first real foray into this genre, and I had the help of a theme: Creatures of the Night, and I think the story had to incorporate some element of Scotland. I can’t recall exactly. It was a few years ago. Anyway, I remember wanting to write about something NOT werewolf and NOT vampire, because I thought those two were the most common creatures of the night and I wanted to do something different. I decided on gargoyles because of all the old buildings in Scotland, and then I wanted to use a real-world setting I was a lot more familiar with, so I brought the gargoyles to Tasmania, which is where I was living at the time. There aren’t a lot of legends about gargoyles, so I used the theme of making them creatures of the night to make them only come alive at night. It’s a common theme for stories with children’s toys and such, and seemed to work here.
Eleanor: Yes, the elves. Well, the fae are a strong presence in Scottish legends and tales, so I thought I would use some of that folklore to bring elves, or fae, into my world. Like the reality I use, I twisted them a little, but not too much. The fae in Scottish legends are not the nicest of creatures, so the fae in Gargoyle aren’t, either, but they are beautiful.
Ellie: So I guess that leads us back to the first question:
How do we incorporate patches of reality into our paranormal romances?
Eleanor: I think Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat has more paranormal in it than either Gargoyle or Hunters. How did you incorporate it?
Ellie: I think the most important thing when writing this genre is to be absolutely sure of your realities. For instance, the first murder is located near the Esplanade where the Salamanca Markets are held. I used my knowledge of the restaurants along there, and the fact that there is a small park as a basis for the real location, and then I tweaked that location just a little bit to suit the story by adding a few more bushes. It’s true that people can go to restaurants along there, and very true that there are some excellent restaurants located near the water, so it is perfectly believable that a couple would be dating in the area.
Eleanor: And the seagulls?
Ellie: The seagulls are real, too.
Eleanor: They really will eat—
Ellie: Uh, yup… let’s not go there.
Eleanor: But the magic is not real.
Ellie: No, the magic isn’t real. And I wanted it to be a new thing for our characters, so that they’re just learning how magic works, and so are the readers. I made a lot of my own magic rules up, but I’m sure there are other authors who have come up with similar ideas. The trick with making up your own lore is consistency. I decided that magic could only be seen by people with the genetic make-up to do so. I gave magic from different sources, different colours and flavours—something for the detectives to recognise and detect. I decided that spells from a specific person had specific traits that could be recognized in addition to the usual colours of that kind of magic. These traits don’t vary, so I had to make sure they didn’t vary in the story.
Eleanor: And the shapeshifters?
Ellie: Yeah, well, I wanted my characters to have something extra to worry about. Being shapeshifters brings its own difficulties in a world where shifters are usually encountered as threats. The characters have to be careful with this aspect of themselves as they don’t know how society will react, and are worried about losing their jobs, amongst other things. I had to remember to think of the impact that magic and the appearance of shapeshifters would have on society. What mechanisms would be needed to provide rules on how shapeshifters would be treated? What rules would be applied to them? Because the characters don’t know these things, and society is new to magic, there’s a reasonable amount of uncertainty and caution.
Eleanor: I guess this would be especially so, after the change of rules to do with journalism and reporting magical incidents.
Ellie: Oh, especially so. I mean, reporters are now forcibly ‘quarantined’ until an incident they photographed, witnessed and tried to report has been investigated and the authorities have decided if it can be reported and how much.
Eleanor: ‘Bag him and gag him’.
Ellie: Exactly. Now imagine how a shapeshifter with the abilities Kitty, Charles and Sera have, might be treated.
Eleanor: I guess there’s good reason for them to be cautious.
Eleanor: And that brings us to the end. Before we go, we’ll sum up some of the ‘rules’ or guidelines to incorporating paranormal elements into your realities, or reality into your paranormal.
- Do your homework: if you’re going to incorporate a real location or known historical facts into your story, make sure you get them right. If you want to incorporate a mythical creature, make sure you know the myths and legends and reflect them.
- Don’t be afraid to tweak: Nothing has to be one hundred per cent accurate. For instance, locations change. You might want to acknowledge how it is, by noting in your story how it ‘used’ to be, and then doing your alterations, or your changes might be so minor no explanation is required. You might want your creature to be a little different to the stories. You can throw a metaphorical nod to the stories by highlighting the differences, or putting in a pseudo-scientific explanation, or pointing out that storytellers don’t know everything. But, however you handle it, remember you can tweak a real location or setting and you can change “known” facts about a monster if you incorporate it in a believable or logical fashion.
- Write like your paranormal is everyday known fact. Sometimes paranormal elements are well enough known in the world that the characters don’t consider it different or strange, and you should remember to incorporate it as though it’s a normality if you are writing from their point of view. For example, a character might lose another housepet to a wendigo, and think something like: Goddamn wendigos. When was I going to remember I had to get the cat in before dusk? I mean, how many more did I have to lose?
- Know the rules of your world. Think about how things fit together. What are the characteristics of magic, elves, trolls, shapeshifters? What effect to do they have on the world around them? What mechanisms does society have in place for controlling, interacting with and looking after them?
- Be consistent. When you give specific characteristics to a paranormal element in your world, don’t go changing it, without having a very good reason for doing so. Consistency is what will make your world believable.
Happy writing all :-)
Eleanor Maine is another Canberra writer. She enjoys telling stories of paranormal and urban romance, including work once published under the pen name Ellie Moonwater ('Hunters of the Nile' and 'A Gargoyle for Hotel Gothica'). Her favorite technique is to take things that aren’t quite real, and wrapping them in the trappings of the world we know. Time travel, werewolves, magic and vampires all form part of her favorite subjects, as well as history and places she can visit and then shade with paranormal color.
Eleanor Maine’s work can be found at http://cmsimpsonpublishing.blogspot.com.au/
As Ellie Moonwater, she loves writing erotic tales of paranormal and fantasy romance set on faraway worlds or in faraway lands. Sometimes she wanders into the realms of erotica, and sometimes she explores ideas that make some people uncomfortable, but her characters are her love, and their wish is her command.
You can find Ellie Moonwater at: