Monday, July 9, 2012

Paranormal vs Horror, the Jmo opinion

When I was younger, around nine to whenever, I was the biggest scaredy cat you'd ever want to meet. I blame Salem's Lot, a miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. Something about that movie scared the stupid right out of me. I think it was the kid floating outside the window scratching to be let in, or the Master at the end. Whatever it was, I slept with a crucifix for a long time after it. As you can see, it took me a long time to come to grips with things that go bump in the night.

How did I overcome my fear of the things lurking in the dark? I read Salem's Lot and generally devoured everything by Stephen King I could before moving onto other horror novelists. Nothing like facing your fears to overcoming them. later on, I discovered other horror masters, Dean Koontz, and the unforgettable H.P. Lovecraft, who I believe talked to me on levels that the other authors didn't even come close to reaching..

Strange thing is, I wasn't afraid of Dark Shadows. It had vampires, witches and werewolves. If it had the big three of horror, why didn't I hide under my blankie with a crucifix firmly in hand? Because, Dark Shadows wasn't horror. It was something totally different. A hybrid of Horror and an old romance staple, Gothic. Sure at the time people called it Gothic, but looking back I believe with all my heart that Dark Shadows was the forerunner of what we modern day romance novelists call Paranormal.

It had all the requirements we look for in Paranormal. A tragic tortured hero cursed to live forever in darkness, while his hearts yearns for the sun and the love of the one woman who he can never have. Or, can he? That question was asked a lot over the course of that show. More times than not, the answer was no.

Years later I discovered Anne Rice, Nancy Collins and a number of authors who wanted to push the envelope of horror fiction. We had the monsters we had come to love, but they were us! Us, in that they questioned their existence, wondered if they had souls, and more importantly wanted to love more than be mindless monsters bent on the destruction of the things they couldn't have. Later Sheri Kenyon, Lynsay Sands, J.R. Ward, and a host of other authors would take this to a whole new level.

With our framework of Horror and Paranormal in place, what differentiates Horror from Paranormal? For one thing, the point of a paranormal romance isn't to scare the crap out of you. Sure, Stephen King, most Horror authors for that matter, might have a heroine and hero that is brought together during the course of his novels, but that isn't the central theme in the book.  Believe me, if a romance novelist threw as much crap at their main characters as a horror novelist did, there wouldn't be time for romance. Whereas horror deals with the psychological aspects of a story, romance deals with the emotional. Now, that doesn't mean just the lovey dovey part, but the hard problems of getting past the differences in people to find true love.

Let's get back to the topic at hand. Why isn't Paranormal Romance Horror? Well for one thing, it combines so many genres that it can be hard to untangle what comes from where. Here's the kicker that makes Paranormal Romance uniquely its own. Paranormal contains elements of horror, so we're threading a fine line trying to separate the two. I'm not through yet, so don't blink. It is wrapped in the best parts of high fantasy. Most of them are deeply rooted in the contemporary world. Some even have components of Science Fiction incorporated into them. Being from Louisiana, I know just the word to describe Paranormal Romance. Lagniappe. If you're unfamiliar with the word, let me define it like this--romance with a little something extra. You can't get any better than that.

So when someone says that paranormal is just watered down horror feel free to laugh in their faces. If they say something about it, tell 'em Jmo made you do it. Probably won't save you from a butt whooping but you never can tell. As you can tell from my books, I go the other route. I make them laugh in mine, or snort Coke all over the place. Either way it's fun to watch.

Check out the second half of this debate with Stephanie Burkhart over at the Morgan Diaries, where she gives her take on the subject.


  1. I think that paranormal romance has a different feel. It is not written to scare you but to thrill you and take you into a world you want to be in. Horror is just scary and it is meant to give you creepy crawlies over your skin. It is not meant you bring warm and romantic feelings.

  2. I agree-horror is that feeling of not wanting to turn off the lights after reading it, in case the ugly bad thing might come for you next. Paranormal gives you that feeling that, regardless of your problems, there is a way to overcome them or someone out there that will love you, in spite of or because of them.

  3. Yeah, it lets us in a way see that love can overcome anything, even a slight case of vampirism or a hair disorder that not even Nair can fix.

  4. Paranormal romance isn't there to scare you, but make you fall in love. Still, I'd be a bit leary about the vampire under the bed.

  5. I told you vampires aren't scary. It's the nuns you have to worry about.

  6. I would think it is the unknown that scares you. I would prefer spending my time reading romance and all that gushy type stuff, but lately I have met new friends who are leading me down new paths and I am finding it exciting. I do draw the line at some of the established stories who everyone else seems to find a thrill to watch, but in time I may even fall prey to whatever it is they use to draw in the audience.