Who Invented Paranormal Romance?

That’s a deliberately leading blog post title.  I’m sure it wasn’t one person, but rather a group of people responding to a lot of diverse cultural influences, many of those outside literature. But I was wondering all the same.

As romance readers, we have such a good grasp of the classics — even if we haven’t actually read them. But what are the first, classic paranormal romances?

I know there have been a lot of debates over the question of what the definition of Paranormal Romance is (like, is it romance if the relationship continues for several books? Nope, according to the geneaology by SF writer Cynthia Ward — see below), as well as how to categorize borderline cases. Is it really paranormal if there’s no tension between the fantastic and the realistic? Nope, argues Sarah Frantz of Teach Me Tonight). I think the question of who is doing the defining is also interesting (so, for example, does the RWA get to define romance? Or do readers?  Is it true that behind every effective definition is an effective use of power?).

But, in a move that shocks the hell out of myself, I am not seeking a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for “Paranormal Romance”, nor am I interested in the complete extension of the term (i.e. a list of all the books to which the definition accurately applies). I’m happy enough with a set of related meanings we can trace through similarities, overlappings and criss crossings of the use of the term in its many manifestations.

So, using your intuitive/common sense grasp of what a Paranormal Romance is, can you tell me what the classics are? Who started writing what most folks would now call Paranormal Romance first, and what are the best examples (these might be different lists)?

Here’s what Ward says about it (you need to register to read the full article, which was published in Fall 2006, but it’s free). I’m indebted to a great post at Bookdaze for even knowing about the Ward piece.):

“Looking back, a recent Publishers Weekly article states that “[t]he first paranormal romance read by many contemporary readers was Rita Clay Estrada’s The Ivory Key, a Harlequin Temptation published in the early 1980s.” The earliest publication date I’ve been able to locate for this title is 1987. If that’s the book’s original publication date, then it isn’t the first paranormal romance published in the romance genre.
Though not identified as either at the time, the romance genre’s first known paranormal romance is also its first “futuristic” (i.e., SF) romance. This novel is Sweet Starfire (1986), written by Jayne Ann Krentz, who’s become the biggest and most influential name in futuristic romance, as well as a bestselling author of contemporary, non-paranormal romance….
In 1992, the Romance Writers of America added a “Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal” category to their RITA Awards, which they awarded to Justine Davis’s Angel for Hire (1991). Interestingly, they awarded “Best Romance” to Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling and highly influential time-travel romance, Outlander (1991).

Here’s another candidate:

“Nancy Collins created a character named Sonja Blue in 1989. If I were going to give the title to anyone, it would be her. Sonja is a vampire hunter that is a vampire herself, not unlike Anita Blake. In fact I find striking similarities between the two. If you haven’t read them, I would suggest you try and find a copy…they are worth the read.” From TheGhost, a contributor at a Barnes and Nobel discussion.

What do you think? What should I read if I want to read the “classics” of paranormal romance (and I do!)?

Published in: on September 18, 2008 at 3:37 am  Comments (14)  
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  1. Definitely Jude Deveraux’s book A Knight in Shining Armor, a time travel book, deserves to be considered a classic of the genre. I just checked my copy and it was published in 1989.

    Constance O’Day-Flannery wrote some time travel romances even earlier than that, but they are less memorable than Deveraux’s, IMO. Wikpedia lists the following as paranormal:

    Timeless Passion (1986)
    Timeswept Lovers (1987)
    Time-Kept Promises (1988)
    Time-Kissed Destiny (1990)

    Linda Lael Miller wrote some of the earliest vampire romances, in a series that came out in the mid 1990s. It had both vampires and time travel. My favorite of these was Time Without End, the third book, published in 1995. Very interesting and different. I think it very well may have been groundbreaking for its time, and maybe even for today, given that the hero was bisexual.

  2. P.S. I would not consider Sweet Starfire a paranormal. I enjoyed it a lot but I think it was a futuristic / science fiction romance rather than what I think of as a paranormal romance.

  3. Well, according to my handy dandy excel spread sheet which tells me all KINDS of interesting and amazing facts, the first paranormal book I have recorded that I read was actually a Jayne Ann Krentz book – Gift of Gold, published in 1988. There was a sequel to this Gift of Fire published the next year. I think I’d consider them kind of classic for me because even though it’s a bit fuzzy, I kind of remember the storyline. This is strictly from the top of my head and not confirming at Amazon, but the hero Jared, has a kind of telepathy with metals and old weapons. He needs the heroine (whose name escapes me) to ‘enable’ his weird supernatural talent to work.
    Now I’m going to Amazon to check how close I am *g*

  4. OK – I got the heros name wrong – it’s Jonas not Jared. And the heroine’s name is Verity *smacking myself on the head – how could I forget that* and the reviews weren’t that helpful though they did mention his real specialty was renaissance weapons. I also discovered that my copies are going for quite a hefty price on Amazon!! That shocked me.
    And I was also wrong in that I read a book of hers that contained strong paranormal elements that was published in 1987 – Midnight Jewels.
    So while she might not have invented paranormals, I think Jayne Ann Krentz led the pack.

  5. Wait… you lost me at spreadsheet.

    You have a spreadsheet? I don’t even have a spreadsheet for my grades or my mutual funds, let alone my romance reading. I have so much to learn!

    I did read Sweet Starfire, about 6 months ago, and thought it was a sweet but generic romance in superficially built SF world. Still, JAK gets all the credit for being one of the first.

    The question of whether it’s a paranormal at all is interesting — in the link to TMT in the above, Prof. Frantz says a true paranormal has to have a lot of “normal”, which creates a tension with the “para”, often between the H/H. This one doesn’t.

  6. Oh I LOVE my spreadsheet!! I’ve been keeping it for about 6 or 7 years now and it’s made the transition through 4 computers and 3 jobs *g*. I can find things in the blink of a moment. For example – the annual AAR poll – because I have a column for what year a book was published, what year I read it, book title, author, genre – when I do filters, I can Very Quickly come up with my favourite Paranormal published in 2008. Makes filling out the ballot ever so much easier *g*.

  7. Mmm…that is a tough call. I mean, when does a novel become a classic? Does it depend on how many times it’s been printed or how long has it been on the shelf?

    For me, I have a couple of classics:
    1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991) – I love her series. She’s the only author I’ve gone out and been at the bookstore when her hardcovers come out. Usually I wait until the paperback comes out or I go to the library, but not for her.

    2. Forever and the Night by Linda Lael Miller (1993) – she was my first paranormal romance that I can remember and I love the series. Her vampires and warlocks are interesting and yet she gives us more than just romance with them.

    3. The Irish Princess by Amy Fetzer (1999) – Another great start for a terrific trilogy. While I don’t believe the first one has as much paranormal aspects as the following two novels, it’s still gives us a great story with interesting characters that still capture my attention today. Granted, it’s not that old, but I would still consider it a classic.

  8. I forgot one…

    Merlin’s Legacy: Daughter of Fire by Quinn Taylor Evans (1999) – The first novel in a series of six, this is another one that I love and still sits on my shelf today. It’s very old world English and has a great twist, not on Merlin, but on his progeny and their lives.

  9. […] Romance Reviews is asking a good questions, who invented the paranormal romance? Or maybe not invented, but who are the classics in this genre? They have some pretty good ideas […]

  10. Thanks for the linkage. I’d forgotten I did that post 🙂

    I sort of agree with the posters above who think Sweet Starfire is more of a SF/futuristic romance than a paranormal one, though it’s a fairly thin line that keeps shifting. I remember liking it and her Gift of Gold/Silver books, so I think they’re worth hunting down.

    The Nancy Collins books sound interesting, esp with the Anita Blake comparison. Though Anita isn’t actually a vampire, unless I’ve missed something!


  11. Nancy Gideon wrote vampire romance before it became popular. I have never read these authors, but again they were around before paranomral was popular. Amanda Ashley and Maggie Shayne.
    I read Nancy A. Collins and found her books to be more in the horror side of fiction than romance. I remember there be little to no romance involved.

  12. Thank you, everyone, for these great suggestions. I’m compiling a list.

    I have such a hard time seeing Outlander as a paranormal. I;m not sure why.

    Does anyone think Anne Rice should be on it? I read one of her books years ago, but it seemed to have some romantic elements.

  13. Does anyone think Anne Rice should be on it? I read one of her books years ago, but it seemed to have some romantic elements.

    I was a huge fan of Rice’s early vampire books back in the day. There is something very romantic about them (The Vampire Lestat in particular) and yet I couldn’t call them romances. I do think that Linda Lael Miller’s vampire romances were influenced by Rice’s works, though.

  14. I have such a hard time seeing Outlander as a paranormal. I;m not sure why.

    Maybe because with the exception of the time travel part, no one has any special powers and there are no supernatural creatures?

    It’s what I alluded to earlier when trying to distinguish futuristic v. paranormal romance – again, in a futuristic storyline, there’s no “magic” as such, any additional abilities just comes from it being a more technologically advanced culture. I think.

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