Jeffe Kennedy, Author of LONEN’S WAR: Has fantasy become a catch-all category?

Today’s guest is Jeffe Kennedy, whose new book LONEN’S WAR just released two days ago. She’s here to discuss the Saturn Awards, the RITAs, and our favorite topic — FANTASY!!


If a show has any kind of “woo woo” … it’s getting called Fantasy

Several things have happened lately to make me question how the fantasy genre is being labeled and represented in the larger world. Specifically, I triggered at the announcement that OUTLANDER won the 2016 Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Television Series. (The link is here: http://www.saturnawards.org/, but as they have the winners on the current home page and not at a specific link, I grabbed a screenshot, too.)

2016 Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Television Series

Now let me be clear: I *love* OUTLANDER. I’m a huge fan of both the books and the television show. I think the show deserves all the awards.

Except… maybe not the Fantasy award.

Because it’s not Fantasy.

I mean, sure, there’s time travel. But the time travel events occur at widely spaced moments. One per season, at this rate. Otherwise there are no fantastical elements. (Okay – Sam Heughan is fantastic, but I’m talking about the *other* meaning, as in relating to fantasy. And not that kind of fantasy, people.) Aside from the time travel that forms the premise, the story is really historical.

For comparison, let’s look at the other nominees. (Link here: http://www.saturnawards.org/The-Saturn-Awards-Annual-Nominations.php)

Game of Thrones
Haven
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
The Magicians
The Muppets
Outlander
The Shannara Chronicles

Of these, four – Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin), Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke), The Magicians (Lev Grossman) and The Shannara Chronicles (Terry Brooks) – are taken from novels or series firmly planted in the fantasy genre. They have solidly magical themes and alternate fantasy worlds.

I haven’t seen Haven, but it looks to be more paranormal. Kind of like Supernatural? Maybe someone who’s seen it can weigh in here.

I can’t even with The Muppets being included in the nominees.

BUT – that inclusion goes to a theme. If a show has any kind of “woo woo,” not solid reality elements, it’s getting called Fantasy by this group.

Let’s take a look at the Science Fiction category for contrast. (I’ll stick with the television series nominations, in an attempt to keep this apples to apples.) The nominees were:

The 100
Colony
Continuum
Doctor Who
The Expanse
Wayward Pines
The X-Files

I had to look up Colony, Expanse and Wayward Pines but, with the possible exception of the last, they all seem solidly Science Fiction. I dunno on Wayward Pines – maybe it’s really different from Haven in the fantasy nominees, but I’m not sure where the line is being drawn there.

ANYWAY, my point is that the Fantasy category tends to be a catch-all for “weird shit.” Which kind of bothers me. I’m seeing books out that are marketed as Fantasy Romance that read solidly to me as Historical Romance. It’s not enough to me for a story to take place in a non-tech world, especially one very recognizable as from our past. There needs to be more for it to be actual *fantasy*. Just as one time-travel even is not enough to make Outlander into a true fantasy, then a few magical elements in a historical don’t quite lever it into fantasy for me.

Another area that makes this problematic for me is RWA’s RITA awards. For the 2016 awards there were twelve categories. Some, like Contemporary Romance, are broken into subgroups of Long, Mid-length, and Short. Historical is broken into Long and Short. So, five of the twelve were for contemporary and historical romances.

How many for Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction Romance and Fantasy Romance? One. All under Paranormal.

Now, I understand some of the category breakdowns are fueled by number of entries. Maybe there aren’t enough entries in Paranormal to break down into more granular categories. But lumping all of these under the equivalent of the “weird shit” category seems unfair to the breadth of these genres.

Let’s look at the Paranormal finalists. (I added my take on their genres – feel free to argue!)

Midnight’s Kiss by Thea Harrison – PNR, splash of UF
Must Love Chainmail by Angela Quarles   – Time Travel
Possessed by a Wolf by Sharon Ashwood – PNR
The Shattered Court by M. J. Scott – Fantasy
Soulbound by Kristen Callihan – PNR/Steampunk
Stars of Fortune by Nora Roberts – PNR
Viking Warrior Rising by Asa Maria Bradley – Historical with a dash of magic? (Haven’t read this one and hard to tell from the descriptions)

The book that won, Angela Quarles’ Must Love Chainmail is a pretty solid time-travel, much like Outlander. No shade on her or her book – big congrats to her on what I understand is a well-deserved award! – but is this like comparing Outlander to Game of Thrones to, well, The Muppets? To me these books aren’t all the same genre. Is it really fair to lump them all under one umbrella for our industry’s highest award?

Maybe I’m wrong here. Help me out, people!!


More about Jeffe

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014 and the third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books will follow in this world, beginning with The Pages of the Mind May 2016. A fifth series, the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, started with Going Under, and was followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.


Lonen's War, Sorcerous Moons, Jeffe Kennedy, fantasy

Lonen’s War

Sorcerous Moons – Book 1

An Unquiet Heart

Alone in her tower, Princess Oria has spent too long studying her people’s barbarian enemies, the Destrye—and neglected the search for calm that will control her magic and release her to society. Her restlessness makes meditation hopeless and her fragility renders human companionship unbearable. Oria is near giving up. Then the Destrye attack, and her people’s lives depend on her handling of their prince…

A Fight Without Hope

When the cornered Destrye decided to strike back, Lonen never thought he’d live through the battle, let alone demand justice as a conqueror. And yet he must keep up his guard against the sorceress who speaks for the city. Oria’s people are devious, her claims of ignorance absurd. The frank honesty her eyes promise could be just one more layer of deception.

A Savage Bargain

Fighting for time and trust, Oria and Lonen have one final sacrifice to choose… before an even greater threat consumes them all.

Available now at Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Smashwords. For buy links, click here.


Jill’s take:

I think the fantasy label often serves as a catch-all, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. I agree that defining Outlander as “fantasy” isn’t entirely accurate. It’s kind of like calling Game of Thrones a romance because of Sam and Gilly. I always refer to Outlander as historical fiction with lots of romance and a bit of time travel.

Focusing on the Saturn Awards, I guess I’m wondering what other category it could have been nominated in. Best Television Presentation? Even if it had been, it would have been competing against even more apples-to-oranges shows though.

Similar to your point above — I’ll share a pet peeve of mine: When people use the term “science fiction” as a catch-all label for ALL books with ANY type of speculative element. Drives me absolutely nuts.

Terrific post, Jeffe. And great cover for LONEN’S WAR! Thanks for guest blogging today!!

EVERYONE– WEIGH IN! WHAT DO YOU THINK? HAS “FANTASY” BECOME A CATCH-ALL CATEGORY? IS THAT BAD? OR ARE YOU OKAY WITH IT?

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Jill Archer

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels including DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.

30 thoughts on “Jeffe Kennedy, Author of LONEN’S WAR: Has fantasy become a catch-all category?

  1. I totally agree with you. Likewise New Adult and Young Adult is a catch all for Books aimed at younger readers and yet it too is a catch all as there are no sub categories within – everything from Sweet Romance to Sci Fi

  2. Loved this:

    “Granular categories are good, but fantasy has room for whatever else won’t fit beside the Sword-and-Sorcery novels I write.” Tom Crepeau

    Agree with Jeffe though that magic shouldn’t necessarily be the deciding factor. A book can be fantasy even if it doesn’t have magic and books with magic aren’t always fantasy.

  3. Hi Jeffe and Jill,
    Great post, and I absolutely agree that fantasy deserves breaking down into more categories, and I love that you want to take that to RWA for the RITAs.
    In the absence of more categories, however, I think Outlander fits into the fantasy category. Here’s why. Although the major “woo-woo” moments are pretty far apart, the situation they launch continues throughout the book. The story falls apart without the fantasy element because the key of the book is the modern (relatively speaking) woman living in the 18th C., the ensuing conflict, and the way she affects the world. No fantasy element–no story.

      1. I think the difference between fantasy and scifi should be not past or present but what sends them. Druid magic = fantasy cause magic not technology (or so we think 😉). I’m not familiar with Continuum. What’s the thing that sends them?

  4. Fantasy is, of course, the elder sibling of all of these categories. Before Jules Verne invented science fiction, there was fantasy. Before horror was a genre with Frankenstein and Dracula, there was fantasy. And, if you don’t have smaller categories, it is still that gigantic portmanteau or carpetbag category that holds almost everything that don’t fit into whatever little clutch-purse barely big enough for your credit card and your house and car keys, but not the dangly you normally hang on your keys to find them in a larger purse. By all means call your paranormal romance fantasy, if there isn’t a carefully-defined paranormal category. If regular fiction tires of magical realism, it can still be welcome next to JRR Tolkein, GRRM and The Rivet In Grandfather’s neck by fantasist James Branch Cabel.

    Granular categories are good, but fantasy has room for whatever else won’t fit beside the Sword-and-Sorcery novels I write. -tc

    TomCrepeau-TomCrepeau3@aol.com

      1. Technically, yes, novels *are* fantasy We fantasists don’t claim them, except in the general sense that anything which qualifies as *fiction* qualifies. So I’m recommending that we use “fantasy” as a place the genres with fantasy elements in them come out to play, including emerging genres in which fantasy races and magic exist-This covers Narnia and Tolkein’s Middle-earth and paranormal. I’m still not sure what the difference between paranormal romance and fantasy romance would be. Would an elf loving a mortal be one of those in particular, or would it have to be in a modern setting for it to be paranormal? In either case, it’s fantasy. Orson Scott Card once derisively said purchasing editors of the NY big publishers seemed to feel that anything with rivets is science fiction, and with trees is fantasy. Magic, however, seems to be more what I define as the divider between fantasy and not-fantasy. According to me, this puts Austen in the non-fantasy category.
        -tc

  5. Okay, as someone who read science fiction, fantasy and horror since she was young (and I am close to turning 62), since the time travel is in Outlander and no time machine built by anyone, still sorta fantasy. I read the books and sen season one, part one due to buying the DVD. No way out of the fantasy tag, as that is how a modern woman got there and by end of er time there, got back to the 40s. Maybe could be called historical with fantasy time travel elements? As for Wayaward Pines, yes, SF. Whay? They wnr to sleep to awake in the future hoping mankind died out so they could build Wayward Pines and repopulate with people from out time. But there were people alive, just changed.
    Now, it used to be science fiction was hard and soft. Nothing else. Fantasy-think Tolkein and even today, GRRM’s -high fantasy and the others, like Andre Norton,’s and even with time travel (not by machine, but magic), there were alternate worlds (like Norton’s, even the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe children;s fantasy series) and modern fantasy (like in a city or our times). Over time, publishers changed names, to add subgenres and is still going on. When Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks came out, first type of urban fantasy, but it never had that attached. Of course, over time horror elements are added to UF, vampires and werewolves. Took me a while to accept that. But thanks to publishers and now filmmakers, , makes it hard for us the writers and for readers to determine what a book is.

    1. I’m not sure there’s no way out of the fantasy tag when Time Travel is perfectly serviceable. The presence of magic doesn’t automatically put a story in Fantasy. Look at Sarah Addison Allen’s magical realism. Plenty of magic. So not Fantasy.

  6. Enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. What a great discussion!
    Thanks again to Jeffe and to everyone who shared their thoughts.
    Have a nice weekend, all!

  7. Unless the show throws in a lot more regarding the time-travel aspect, I’d agree that Fantasy is becoming really broad. On the other hand, Fantasy used to be a lot more magic and swords and it seems like is a big no-no these days. Now the middle ground of soft-Fantasy bleeds over into what would have been normal when Fantasy was more fantastic.

  8. Thanks Jeffe this topic is very real to me.

    As a new author (unpublished) in the Fantasy/romance genre, I find it difficult. In my head fantasy is magical, whether the location, the characters, or both.

    One of my books is High or Epic fantasy, in a nutshell, LOTR with romance. When submitting for critiques and to editors and agents, its length is always called into question. I don’t follow the romance writing recipe. Or that it’s to much sweet romance for fantasy. Contests that I’ve entered have lumped me with PNR.

    Even when I’m doing a search for Fantasy/romance to read, most of the search engines are flooded with Time Travel, SF or PNR. I love to read those genres, but really have weed through to find what I consider true Fantasy.

    1. I hear you there, D.V! Really, Fantasy Romance is still rising as a subgenre and, yeah, there’s a lot muddying the waters. I suggest following FR authors you like and seeing who THEY recommend. Right off the bat I suggest Grace Draven and Dana Marton as two I love. 🙂

      Keep fighting the good fight! We do *not* write PNR. Nothing wrong with it, just not Fantasy.

    2. I totally understand what you’re going through, D.V. Fantasy Romance is still an emerging subgenre, so there’s lots of muddying of the waters out there. As for finding books to read, I suggest following authors you *do* think are capturing the genre. We try to rec each other as much as possible. Right off the bat, I suggest Grace Draven and Dana Marton.

      Keep fighting the good fight! We are *not* PNR. Nothing wrong with that genre, but it’s not Fantasy.

  9. Jill – I think it’s salient that it appears the Saturn Awards didn’t even *have* the Fantasy category last year. Just as, with RT Book Reviews, when my TEARS OF THE ROSE was nominated for Best Fantasy Romance, it was the first year for that category. This could be part of the growing pains of a genre that’s gaining more profile. It drives me crazy, too, that “Science Fiction” is a catch-all term, much like some people using “man” to mean all human beings.

    Thanks Amanda! I think it is time to push for more granular representation. I’m considering running for the RWA Board and trying to get exactly that to happen.

  10. Great post Jeffe. I would like to see category’s for Scifi Romance, Urban Fantasy, Fantasy and Paranormal. Maybe we can send RWA a petition.

  11. I really don’t think you’re wrong. You a totally right on. The Muppets? Seriously? I love both GoT and Outlander, too, but I have to say GoT totally got robbed of an award in that category. It IS fantasy. Outland not so much.

    Perhaps the RITA win happened because there is so much buzz about Outlander/time travel at the moment. Not saying she didn’t deserve it – any RITA winner has to be a fantastic book – but it could have helped sway the judges decision. Just my thoughts. 🙂

    Great post!

    1. I think there’s that, MM – and I think Amanda’s point is a good one, too. Arguably a time-travel romance is going to read more like a “standard” romance – like a historical romance! – than an SFR, FR or UF story. We know it’s not anyone who entered a book in any of the latter genres who’s judging these stories, so it’s entirely possibly they’re read by people who prefer contemporary or historical. This is part of why I strongly believe we should be judging the genres we write in.

  12. Great question, Jeffe!

    I’m a fan of the “big tent” theory of genres. They’re human-made categories that shift and mutate all the time, and I’m not sure that pinning them down helps us very much. Fine distinctions matter somewhat to those of us inside the field, but I spend most of my life teaching (and reading) various forms of realistic fiction, and to those massive number of readers outside the SFF community, we all do look kind of similar. And I LIKE acknowledging and celebrating our commonalities across our sub-genres. After all, most of us shift pretty comfortably (as readers and as writers) between paranormal, time-travel, sci fi, pure fantasy, etc. We like the edge of adventure and wonder, the jolt of the unusual and surprising, and we find it in all those types of stories.

    In fact, in the romance world, I’d vastly prefer if our general category was “fantasy” rather than “paranormal” (which to me implies that at least one of the protagonists is something other than human). But maybe we should take your (tongue-in-cheek) suggestion and just call it “the woo-woo category. In any case, you certainly do it very well!

    As to Outlander, I loved the book and am loving the tv series, too.

  13. Great post, Jeffe! I hear from many writers in the broadly-termed Paranormal category that they feel marginalized by their own writing community. Maybe it’s time to push for more representation? The category seems to engender a lot of reaction – people I talk to either love or hate it. But I seem to hear that about Inspirational and Erotic Romances, too. It’s possible Outlander was the least “woo-woo” of all the contenders and, therefore, more attractive to the voters.
    I read the Outlander series back in the 90s, and am huge fan, but I agree, it’s historical fiction with a couple of time travels and some romance thrown into the series, not what I would consider a true fantasy-based story.

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