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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ALA Report: Things That Go Bump in the Stacks Part 1- The Appeal of Paranormal Fiction

So begins the first of my reports on the programs I attended at the American Library Association Annual Conference.

On Sunday morning I went to a program sponsored by RUSA (Reference & Users Services Association: a division of ALA) entitled, "Things That Go Bump in the Stacks: Whole Collection Readers' Advisory for Paranormal Fiction." Here is the link describing the program as well as all of the resources and handouts.

This was a panel discussion with three popular paranormal authors, Charlie Huston, Charlaine Harris, and Marjorie Liu. If you are unfamiliar with these authors, use the embedded links to peruse their very useful homepages.

The panel was moderated by Neil Hollands of the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library. Hollands is also the author of Read On...Fantasy Fiction (LU).

Hollands began with a great overview of paranormal fiction by explaining that although it encompasses almost every genre, the overall grouping of paranormal fiction and urban fantasy is useful to explore because all of the books do share common elements. Paranormal fiction, Hollands explained, blends contemporary fiction with an alternate paranormal world. It can appear in any genre, not just horror. Again, click here for the list of Hollands' suggested paranormal titles (broken into genres).

Hollands then talked about how paranormal fiction got its start in horror fiction, but that horror novels were different in one big way. In horror, traditionally, the paranormal characters are less sympathetic; they are the "bad guys," the biggest threat to the heroes. In today's paranormal fiction, the paranormal characters are not only sympathetic, they are quite often the heroes of the story themselves.

Hollands argues that the shift in horror fiction which led to the popularity of today's paranormal fiction came with Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire, which made the vampires sympathetic.

Obviously I found these statements quite useful in my work deciphering horror fiction for librarians. And I plan to explore this much more closely in my research. Thanks Neil.

Moving on from horror, Hollands talked about the modern classics of what he is calling paranormal fiction. He noted Tanya Huff's Blood Price as the first key work. Authors like Jim Butcher opened paranormal up to more men. He also cited Kelley Armstrong and Charlaine Harris' obscenely popular Sookie Stackhouse books as influential.

Since the new focus in RA is to include a "Whole Collection" view, Hollands also talked about the popularity of paranormal TV shows today.

Before opening up the discussion to the authors, Hollands summed up the appeal of paranormal fiction very nicely with 11 key appeal points:
  1. Paranormal fiction puts magic in the real world, and, as a result, it is an easy entry point to fantasy
  2. There is a lot of genre crossover
  3. Specific or all paranormal creatures themselves are appealing to certain readers
  4. Many of these novels have strong female leads
  5. They tend to appeal to women and men
  6. They also appeal young adults
  7. They all have a contemporary setting and style
  8. These books have a lot of humor (even amidst some violence)
  9. There is a great deal of sexuality here
  10. Lots of fast paced action
  11. And most importantly, although these books have fantasy elements, they are all grounded in real world issues. The most common of which is the idea of diversity and tolerance of those who are different.
Look for part 2 of this report to see what the authors had to say about the paranormal fiction they are writing, who their readers are, and what those readers find most appealing about their works.

1 comment:

ckubala said...

Excellent set of resources here for paranormal fiction. Just finished reading Child Finder, the first in a Christian Fiction trilogy by debut author Mike Angley. Angely's character, Air Force Special Agent Patrick O’Donnell has psychic gifts. Angley is a retired Air Force Colonel with a 25 year career as a Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He knows his subject.

Initially I wondered how you mix terrorism, military, and psychic phenomenon with christian fiction but it works. The author has potential and I'll read on.