Bright and early at the San Diego Convention Center, one of the first panels of the day was called Romantic Adventures, moderated by S.J. Harper (Reckoning). Harper assembled an impressive group of science fiction fantasy writers that included Sam Sykes (The City Stained Red), Chloe Neil (The Devil's Isle series), Suzanne Young (The Remedy), Beth Cato (The Clockwork Dagger), Mary E. Pearson (The Heart of Betrayal), and Gena Showalter (Alice in Zombieland).
Harper read an excerpt from Sykes' novel and then asked him about the importance of having conflict between the protagonists. Sykes said that romance gets treated like it is a reward, however he stated that it is really another layer of conflict for the protagonists to work through. He went a step further and said that what the writer should be asking themselves is "what happens when we [the protagonists] win?" Sykes said that good conflict should not end with the book; there should be some issues left unresolved. It will give the reader something to think about after the last page is read.
Neil was asked about the significance of sexual tension in a story. She said it is all about the banter between the characters because it reflects the want, but the cannot have or do not want that each character is feeling for the other. She stated that the tension is easy to create; the challenge of maintaining it through the long series is difficult. Cato's characters are steeped in steampunk Victorian values and mores so banter is very important in her story.
Harper asked Young if it was important to keep the character and their mission separate, for example, so the character doesn't lose themselves in their mission. Young shared that her character's conflict is a result of the mission she has to face and trying to mediate that mission with what she wants in her personal life. Showalter stated that she believed that characters can lose themselves in their emotions, and Pearson added that characters face the challenge to keep personal goals and dreams at the forefront, or not, in the face of the bigger mission of the story.
Cato focused on the importance of world building and the conflict it creates in the story and for the characters. However, it can bring the characters together as well, building bonds and respect between the characters, as they do between the protagonists in her story. Neil said she will give her characters the exact situations that would put her in conflict with her world.
The villain is the guy in the black hat, or is he? In Pearson's novel, she introduces two men vying for the attention of the female lead. One of the men is a prince and the other, an assassin sent to kill her; she must try to figure out which is which. Pearson used the narrative structure of using each lead's voice to tell the story. The author reminded the audience that, "the villain is the hero of their own story." She provided the example of Walter White from the television series Breaking Bad. Showalter added that sometimes the character is their own worst enemy; they have to work out their own demons before they can possibly be with anyone else.
Harper asked Showalter about her novel which takes from the classic Alice in Wonderland. Showalter said that she was influenced and inspired by the classic by pulling scenes and characters and then twisting it for her own story.
All the novelists have ongoing series available at your local bookstore or online retailers.
Event photos were taken by Michele Brittany.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company) as well as the forthcoming book Essays on Space Horror in Films, 1950s – 2000s. Read her reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage and space horror genres via her blogs at Spyfi & Superspies and Space Horror Films. Follow Michele on Twitter: @mcbrittany2014.