Sometimes, I am not the brightest Crayola in the box. I was talking to someone the other day about writing, and he said, "So you write romance right? All the heaving breasts and ripped bodices?"
"No. I write fantasy."
He looked puzzled. "Isn't romance a fantasy?"
Avoiding the obvious comment I should have made, I replied, "No--think Lord of the Rings."
Yeah, I know. Although Tolkien probably spins in his grave everytime someone equates his work with fantasy, it is the quickest route to understanding for the genre-impaired.
And then I stopped. After thinking about it for a minute, I said slowly, "Well, you know--I guess I really do write romance. Fantasy romance."
For some reason, it was hard for my to make that statement. Why was that? Every story I've written has a romance woven into it somewhere. It may not be the focal point of the story--like Tamsen and Brial, for example--but it definitely influences the plot and the character arcs. I've always thought of my work as straight up, hard core, plain and simple swords and sorcery epic freaking high fantasy.
But it's not.
I refuse to think it's because I'm a chick; guys write romance too when you get right down to it. It just feels natural to me. My characters (and most fantasy characters in my opinion) are in the middle of a high stakes game--for power, for freedom, for humanity...whatever they're fighting for. In real life, relationships are born and nurtured hand in hand and side by side with stressful situations. When human emotions (or Elven or trollish, I suppose) are at a high pitch, it just seems natural to me that the door is opened for other, intense emotions. Emotions like love, for example, which can be wonderful and terrible at the same time. Love automatically raises the stakes, makes the struggle more intense. A character has someone else to be concerned with, someone they instinctively want to protect. Love can divide a character's focus on the battlefield or sharpen it when dealing with Machivellian machinations. Love can be both a punishment or a reward, depending on how the character sees it. A character can fight against it nobly, sacrificing her love for the sake of the greater good. Or she can embrace it wholly, allowing the swift current of love and desperation and determination sweep her up into a maelstrom of emotional turmoil which can mirror the actual plot arc leading to resolution of the conflict or, in some cases, divert that plot arc into some other unforeseen direction.
There's a tendency to think of fantasy romance like some Sleeping Beauty kind of thing, where the hero battles the supernatural to save his endangered beloved--David Eddings' series The Elenium, for example, does this. Sparhawk has to find a way to free his beloved princess from the gemstone she's been set in to preserve her life. But that's not all there is to fantasy romance. Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart series for example (yes, I gush about her a lot) deals with the love between a courtesan and a priest sworn to celibacy. Their love hinders the resolution of the conflict, distracting them from things they should be paying closer attention to but, at the same time, strengthens them for the conflict ahead.
So, at last, I was able to look at my conversation partner and admit, "Yeah, fantasy romance. That's what I write." And as far as I can tell, it's true.
And if that romance occurs over a big pile of elf guts, well, then everyone is happy. Nothing like a steaming pile of entrails to give you that rush of butterflies to your tummy. Who needs roses? Give me carnage anytime.