Categorically Misguided

by Arthur B

How could anyone get worked up about the arrangement of a book shop? Here's how.
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Today I went for a stroll on my lunch break and stuck my head into the Fleet Street branch of Waterstones, and discovered that they'd been doing a little rearrangement of the store. A whole new shelf of genre fiction now proudly stood: "Dark Fantasy", standing vaguely between the horror section and SF/fantasy as if birthed from a forbidden union between the two.

Intrigued, I examined the section to see what was there. Twilight and sequels were out in force, as was Anita Blake and The Vampire Diaries. The works of Kelley Armstrong and Anne Rice were well-represented, as were that series of novels whose name I forget which True Blood was based off. Down in the corner, a few copies of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sat around, looking a bit lost and bewildered. It's no surprise that they were incongruous, because pretty much the entire section was devoted to books about classic horror monsters such as werewolves and vampires dealing with concealing their true natures in the modern day and getting involved in some pretty hot 'n' heavy romantic entanglements along the way. And a clear majority of the books were by women.

Hmmm, I thought to myself. This section is a really, really bad idea.

Now, hold up there, don't click on the comment box yet. I'm not trying to say that books by female authors about the sort of subjects I've outlined above don't deserve shelf space. I'm even, for the purposes of this article, going to refrain from teasing Twilight. They're not my cup of tea, but the fact that Waterstones could gather together enough books in that vein to fill an entire shelf proves that they are someone's cup of tea. It's just that I don't think the exercise of gathering them together and calling them "dark fantasy" is necessarily a sensible or helpful thing to do.

For starters, this exercise appears to have ripped the guts out of the horror section in the store in question, which, after this reshuffle, has become a thin, wan parody of its former self (or former shelf - a ha ha!). Science fiction and fantasy stands as proud and strong as ever. Pretty much all of the Dark Fantasy books came from one of the two sections, but it's clear that they were drawn more from horror than from the spaceships and dragons area of the store. In fact, it looks like they'd ripped out the majority of the store's stock of horror books to stick them in the section - either that, or they stocked up on lots of Dark Fantasy but didn't bother to replace the horror stock. Either way, it begs the question of why would they create what is in effect a new subgenre of horror which in fact accounts for the vast majority of the horror supplied by the store? It's like creating a special section out of the fantasy books for "books with swords in them".

Indeed, what is the rationale for this decision? The phrase "Dark Fantasy" is pretty broad, but the range of books stocked under that name is not. One could quite justifiably argue that "dark fantasy", as a term, could be applied to such things as the more po-faced Warhammer novels or the really over-the-top grim George R.R. Martin imitators; the phrase suggests fiction in the fantasy genre, right, which is, you know, totally dark. Logical, right? Except, no, not really. Aside from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - which I am increasingly certain was misfiled - the books in the section were overwhelmingly of one very particular type. Namely, books (almost all by female authors) with a strong romantic element and a modern day supernatural setting. The World of Darkness with snuggles and kisses and boners, if you will. It's almost as though "Dark Fantasy" is being used as a euphemism for something. It's almost as though "Dark Fantasy" is being used as a euphemism for THIS SHIT IS FOR GIRLS!

Now, again, let me be careful to explain what I mean here. I'm completely comfortable with the notion of women writing horror and fantasy with a female audience in mind. I'm also comfortable with the idea of women's fiction having its own section, just as you occasionally see a section for gay and lesbian fiction or "black interest" - so long as such sections are used to promote voices not often heard in the mainstream, as opposed to a means of ghettoising the writers written therein. What I am not OK with is the idea of someone making a decision to stock a section with women in mind but not admitting that this is what they are doing. And I'm not ok with the idea that there are two horror genres (or two fantasy genres) - one which is full of boys' stuff like blood and killing, which is for boys and which boys should read, and one which is full of stuff that girls enjoy, like blood and fucking, which is for girls and which girls should read. A while back Kyra and Dan got ticked off at me because they thought I'd been unfair to Emily Gee's The Laurentine Spy, assuming that just because it was a fantasy novel written by a woman with a strong romantic plotline that it was a fantasy romance novel. As it turned out, we eventually did agree that it was a romance novel at its heart, but it's easy to see why things got confused, because people who don't know any better do have a habit of making precisely that sort of assumption. And it seems to me that someone at Waterstones is making exactly that sort of assumption when it comes to Anita Blake et al.

But let us be generous for a moment; let's imagine that it's not born out of sexism but genre elitism. Clearly, these books can't be pure horror or pure fantasy, because they have a strong romantic/erotic element to them! Well, let's put them in Dark Fantasy then! Except wait, hold on - what about Let the Right One In - that has at least as much romance in it as, say, Interview With the Vampire - heck, the premise of a school kid and a vampire falling in love is nigh-identical to that of Twilight! That has a modern-day setting, with a creature from a White Wolf RPG trying to conceal itself amongst mankind! Why is that still in the horror section? Could it be because it was written by a man, and men don't write silly things like romance or Dark Fantasy, so it couldn't possibly belong anywhere but the horror section? Could it be because the vampirism isn't sanitised? But Anne Rice doesn't exactly pull her punches in the better parts of Interview! Perhaps it's down to the social realism elements of Let the Right One In in its evocation of a deprived area of Stockholm in the 1980s? But surely that would imply that the authors who have been dispatched to the Dark Fantasy section couldn't possibly handle Serious Issues to the extent that a sensible man writing in a sensible genre could! No, whichever way you cut it there's something decidedly off about where they have decided to draw the line.

Perhaps there is merely a commercial imperative to do this, rather than any coherent philosophical reason behind the decision. It could be a response to the popularity of Twilight, and a rush of customers asking for similar books. ("Do you have any like this one, only good?" [1]) Even though many of the books in question predate Twilight, most of them (except for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) aren't completely ludicrous recommendations for a fan of the series. Except, even this doesn't quite wash with me. The Da Vinci Code phenomenon was at least as big as the Twilight one, as was Harry Potter. You don't see "Wizards At School" or "Offensively Inaccurate Revisionist History Bullshit" sections cropping up in bookshops, despite the tidal wave of books which either imitated those stories or were marketed as being along similar lines by opportunistic publishers. Why does it make sense to create a new genre to accommodate Twilight when it didn't in either of those two cases? Neither of them, of course, were especially genre-defining or trailblazing, but neither was Twilight.

Perhaps this is a sick punishment upon us from the gods (or the management of Waterstones) for our transgressions. Perhaps a badly socialised fanboy complained once too often about there being icky girl stuff amongst his Brian Lumley novels or Warhammer 40,000 compilations and we are all suffering for his misdeeds. (If we track him down and sacrifice him maybe the curse will be lifted - now there's an idea...) Or perhaps it's for the convenience of the stores themselves? I've seen the authors in question drift from horror to SF/fantasy and back (with, in the case of a very few of them, an occasional stopover in romance) quite often. The thing is, inventing a whole new genre for the sake of having a way to unambiguously categorise things is pointless and misguided. It's based on the fallacy that if you can break the wide world of fiction down into enough categories, eventually there will be an unambiguously correct category for every book out there. I don't see it that way: the more categories you have, the more boundaries you have, and the more boundaries you have, the more books there will be out there which straddle them, so you only make the problem worse.

No, the creation of the section is just a bad idea all round. It needlessly splits up the horror section, leaving only a vestige behind. It uses a vague and apparently quite broad term to denote what actually seems to be a fairly narrowly-defined range of books, although whoever actually cooked up the definition hasn't done a very good job of it. It comes across as a cover for sexism, a handy means of tidying up all those works by female authors or aimed at a female audience which we don't want to clutter up the better class of bookshelf - women are so silly, after all. It's based on the dubious premise that the horror or fantasy genre ends as soon as the serious kissing starts. It's inspired by a transient publishing fad, a move which will look spectacularly silly once said fad dies away. It's based on an unwillingness to actually understand what a book is about and a desire to fit everything into neat and easily-marketable categories.

And why, for crying out loud, is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in this section? What possible connection does it have with anything else in there? I can only conclude that at some point, someone thought to themselves "Well, Jane Austen is basically a romance novellist, and Dark Fantasy is what you get when you add monsters to a romance novel, so it goes there." I'm sure Kyra will have a word or two to say about that.

If you want to see for yourself what Waterstones are classifying as Dark Fantasy on their website, read it and weep.

[1] Remember when I said I wouldn't tease Twilight? I lied.
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Comments (go to latest)
Melissa G. at 20:38 on 2010-02-04
It sounds to me that this genre would be better served as an endcap display. That way you can highlight the books and make sort of recommendations of "If you like Twilight, you'll also enjoy...." without making it a genre all it's own, which to me sounds utterly ludicrous. I used to work in a bookstore, and it's almost easier to have large generic sections like: Fantasy/Sci fi, Fiction, Romance, Teen, etc, and then to have little displays to highlight certain authors/subgenres/selections. Just my opinion.

What I don't get is why it's called "Dark Fantasy". The images and ideas that I get from that title do not lead me to things like Twilight or the like....
Shim at 22:20 on 2010-02-04
Personally, I feel 'Dark Fantasy' suggests the type of adult (but not necessarily "adult") fantasy that's either sinister or "gritty". The kind of stories that don't have neat, upbeat endings or everyone going back to normality. So a fair chunk of Warhammer and indeed 40K would be in there, especially the short story collections, which are darker and more cynical than the novels, in my experience. Tanith Lee stuff might be (at least the "Secret Books of Venus" which is all I've read). "Sorcery and Cecilia" would not, nor would Thraxas or Harry Potter (which is not actually very dark at all). "Sabriel" and stuff might, despite the fairly cheerful endings. Tolkein and Garner could go either way.

But that's just me. Any thoughts?
Arthur B at 22:36 on 2010-02-04
You see, that's a sensible definition. Obviously, you don't work for Waterstones.
C J Morgan at 00:17 on 2010-02-05
The best definition of dark fantasy that my boy and I could come up with was "paranormal romance goes to goth night at the local fetish club." We both agree that it has potential to be more than it is.
http://boojumlol.livejournal.com/ at 00:41 on 2010-02-05
I was amused and faintly horrified to see that Galaxy (the Sydney sci fi/fantasy bookshop) had started a section called Paranormal Romance, the equivalent of Waterstone's Dark Fantasy. I think it's a better name. Dark Fantasy makes me think of George R. R. Martin and Guy Gavriel Kay. Calling Twilight dark is laughable.

Perhaps they feel that many avid readers of Twilight and The Vampire Diaries or Academy are not big readers and that it's easiest to make the works readily accessible to them. It seems idiotic to me, too. It may also mean that some readers won't stray beyond this section as they might if they were browsing in the fantasy section.
http://liadlaith.livejournal.com/ at 01:42 on 2010-02-05
I was amused and faintly horrified to see that Galaxy (the Sydney sci fi/fantasy bookshop) had started a section called Paranormal Romance

I'm down with the idea of Paranormal Romance, as it's a subgenre title I've seen in the Romance genre at large.

I seem to remember Galaxy having a few romance novels in stock any way, which I always thought a little odd for a Sci-Fi/Fantasy bookshop.
Liam King at 05:29 on 2010-02-05
I'd call it low fantasy. There's nothing dark about it. But then I suppose the word "low" doesn't sell books unless it refers to the price.
http://hadesarrow.com/blog/ at 06:43 on 2010-02-05
I don't have a problem with the creation of the subgenre, but it's clearly been mislabled. As you say, these titles are clasic horror subjects cuted and/or sexed up, very little fantasy theme overlap. From a commercial standpoint, it makes sense to seperate these out so people who are into this type of book won't be scared off by the harder line horror stuff, and serious horror fans won't be offended by the fluff. The horror section is sparse because classic horror sales are generally on a decline- they should either make the section smaller or find ACTUAL dark fantasy to fill it out. Fans of real dark fantasy are more likely to buy horror titles than Twighlight fans.
Arthur B at 07:35 on 2010-02-05
I'm down with the idea of Paranormal Romance, as it's a subgenre title I've seen in the Romance genre at large.

It does seem to be an established term. Forbidden Planet, which is London's largest SF bookshop, has a paranormal romance section too.

I wonder why Waterstones don't want to use the name? Anne Rice didn't really write romance novels, despite their determination to mislabel the Vampire Chronicles as such on their website. (Well, Interview didn't strike me as a romance novel at any rate. I've not read much further than that.) Perhaps they feel that the "romance" term has a stigma to it that they'd like to avoid? But then why not use the term for the section title and then misapply it to Rice?
Arthur B at 08:01 on 2010-02-05
Oh, and on this note:
I don't have a problem with the creation of the subgenre, but it's clearly been mislabled.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with subgenres in general, But I don't think that the subgenre should necessarily be elevated to the status of a genre of its own, which is what has happened at the Fleet Street store. The Dark Fantasy section is emphatically not presented as a subsection of horror or SF/fantasy there - it's presented as a full-blown section in its own right.

Now, if you have a very large store, or a shop specialising in a particular subgenre, then having individual shelves for each subgenre could well make sense. Forbidden Planet almost do this, but they haven't really bothered to split the main SF/fantasy section down into, say, High Fantasy and Hard SF and Cyberpunk subsections. But the Fleet Street branch I'm talking about has nowhere near the amount of shelf space or specialisation that would make this worthwhile.

Basically, as Melissa said, if it were a mere subsection within the horror shelves or something, then it would be a less bizarre decision; it would have all the benefits you outline of steering readers towards the flavour they want without making it look like one of the pre-existing sections has been disembowelled.
Arthur B at 09:37 on 2010-02-05
Sorry about multi-posting, there's things that I keep noticing and want to comment on...

I'd call it low fantasy. There's nothing dark about it. But then I suppose the word "low" doesn't sell books unless it refers to the price.


Do you mean the sort of stuff that's actually in the "Dark Fantasy" section at Waterstones, or Martin/Kay/etc? In the latter case, yeah, I've seen low fantasy used before in reference to the grimier sort of fantasy. In the former case, not sure what the connection is.
Wardog at 14:31 on 2010-02-05
Hehe, awesome rant Arthur. You're right, they should just have gone all out and labelled it GIRLY SHIT. And maybe put a toxic label on it or something, in case poor little geekboys accidentally got too close.

I noticed paranormal romance sections cropping up - which, I guess, didn't bother me over-much and it stopped all this vampire / lifemate bullshit cluttering up the noble romance category :)

But strikes me they're asking for a world of trouble when you start breaking down fantasy/sci-fi into sub-genres.

I would have considered Joe Abercrombie a prime candidate for "dark fantasy"... except it's a stupid title for anything.
Arthur B at 14:52 on 2010-02-05
I noticed paranormal romance sections cropping up - which, I guess, didn't bother me over-much and it stopped all this vampire / lifemate bullshit cluttering up the noble romance category :)

Interesting; I assume that the romance section in those shops that have done this has remained vibrant and healthy and rosy-cheeked after the purging of the unclean? Because the impact this move has had on the horror section in the Fleet Street store just goes to show how little horror fiction these days actually concerns itself with, you know, scaring people. It's like my beloved genre has been seduced by this foul temptress that has sucked it dry of all its vigour and left it hollow and empty...
Sister Magpie at 15:31 on 2010-02-05
::sigh:: The poor horror genre. It sounds like people are determined to split it between "adolescent boy stuff" and "adolescent girl stuff" with the adolescent boy stuff obviously winning the title of "true horror" and the girl stuff being anything with romance.

So I guess Dracula is Dark Fantasy now? Or really most of the horror classics that were written for adults? Not that I consider Twilight written for adults, obviously, but the horror genre actually does encompass all the emotions in the spectrum. Shirley Jackson--where does she go? As well as many of the others you mentioned? Seems to me the obvious thing to do with "Dark Fantasy" books if one's worried about it is just cross reference them if you're worried the girls won't be able to find them. I mean, these books are best-sellers so it's not like somebody's going to be hunting for them. They're certainly not a subgenre of horror any more than Stephen King is his own subgenre.
Jamie Johnston at 20:05 on 2010-02-05
- so long as such sections are used to promote voices not often heard in the mainstream

At first attempt I read this as 'vices not often heard in the mainstream'...

Anyway, yes, this is odd news. My guess would be the commercial explanation, though I'd speculate that it's a desire not only to get those books into a new section but also positively to get them out of the ones they were in. The reasoning may go something like this:

'Many of the people who want stuff like Twilight would genuinely not be entirely certain whether to look for it in 'Horror' or 'Fantasy' or indeed somewhere else, because they aren't used to reading horror or fantasy and don't really think of what they're looking for in those terms. Moreover, because they don't think of horror or fantasy as the sort of thing they would read, the mere placement of the books in sections labelled 'Horror' or 'Fantasy' might consciously or unconsciously put them off (all the more so if 'Fantasy' is labelled 'Sci-fi / Fantasy'). And since at the moment we're more likely to sell these books to that category of buyer than to habitual readers of fantasy or horror, it makes sense to reorganize things to maximize their chance of finding the books easily and minimizing their chance of being discouraged from buying them.'

Which at first sight almost seems fair enough, especially given that a major goal of laying out any shop is to put things where the people who want them will be likely to look for them. And I have to confess that I'm not entirely sure whether I'd look for Twilight in 'Fantasy' or 'Horror' either (which is perhaps why my local library's decision to have a combined sci-fi / fantasy / horror section isn't as odd as it seems). But in a sense it's just a disguised version of the 'girls like kissing and boys like killing' rationale you describe, and in any case it ends up (1) endorsing that target group's prejudice against fantasy and horror rather than saying, 'Look, you've already read and enjoyed these genres, and there's much more to discover' (which is not only more enriching but more likely to increase sales in the long run), and (2) reinforcing that prejudice by removing everything they might find most appealing from those genres and leaving only the stuff that put them off in the first place.

And it certainly doesn't justify the name 'Dark Fantasy', which is indeed utterly misleading. Though I can see why they might not want to use 'Paranormal Romance', because 'paranormal' is simply not a very attractive or widely-used word. Personally the first thing I think of when I see 'Paranormal Romance' is two pot-bellied little grey aliens making out, which I'm afraid doesn't make me reach for my wallet.
Frank at 23:18 on 2010-02-05
It's odd that the 'genre' doesn't discern between adult and youth/teen.
What audience are they trying to capitalize on? I know quite a few Twilight Moms and none of them care for Anne Rice or would read any other youth/teen horror/fantasy though they all love the Sookie Stackhouse books which I hear is like Twilight except that it's good and has vampires in it.

@Arthur: do you remember if you saw any of L.A.Banks' books in there? If not, call out some racist unicornshit on Waterstones.

Arthur B at 23:24 on 2010-02-05
I don't remember, I'm afraid. Remind me on Monday and I will go check. ("Hello, I'm here to inspect the Dark Fantasy section for infractions." "Umm... do you have any sort of identification?" "I don't need any, sir. I'm from the Internet.")
Claire E Fitzgerald at 19:12 on 2010-02-07
Speaking as a former bookmonkey in a large chain bookstore, I think you make a fundamental mistake in assuming that they want the books arranged so that customers can find what they want quickly and conveniently. Actually, they're set up to make the process of finding your book - unless it's a lossleading special offer - as slow as possible. It's deliberately done that way so you spend more time in the store, surrounded by sweet, sweet branding, and looking at things which you didn't come in for, but might actually buy. (This is why Borders, despite customers asking them to do so literally every day, never had a biography section: because people who come in for a book about David Beckham are unlikely to also impulse-buy a book about Caesare Beccaria.) By the same token, if market research said that half the people who buy PG Wodehouse novels also buy Snowboarding for Dummies, there would be a '30s Social Comedy and Winter Sports section in every branch. This ties in interestingly with Julian's recent article about libraries. Bookshops used to use something approximating the Dewey Decimel System for classifying their stock, but discovered that it was just too effective in guiding people to the book they wanted.
Melissa G. at 19:36 on 2010-02-07
@Claire: Oh, yes, good point! I am also a former bookmonkey, and now that you mention it, it does seem that a bookstore's primary function is to try and persuade people to buy books they otherwise wouldn't have looked for. Hence all the endcap and wall displays, not to mention the bookmarks and things at the counter. Total impulse buys.

I was a B&N employee; I take it you were Borders. Does this mean we have to fight to the death now? :-P
Claire E Fitzgerald at 19:53 on 2010-02-07
Fortunately not, as it seems B&N has already won. By virtue of still existing.
Jamie Johnston at 22:14 on 2010-02-07
I'd heard that it was only the UK arm of Borders that had folded and that it was still okay in the US, but that was a couple of months ago... Anyone with more recent / direct knowledge?

... with Julian's recent article about libraries...

[Chuckles inwardly.]
Melissa G. at 22:21 on 2010-02-07
I'd heard that it was only the UK arm of Borders that had folded and that it was still okay in the US, but that was a couple of months ago...


I was at the mall in New Jersey not long ago, and I'm pretty sure they have a Borders. And the internet is still allowing me to use the website and look for store locations. I think it still exists here in the US, or at least in NJ.
Viorica at 23:37 on 2010-02-07
Actually, they're set up to make the process of finding your book as slow as possible

Good point. My local bookstore (part of a larger chain) tosses all fiction that isn't horror, sci-fi/fantasy, or romance into oe giant section labelled "Literary." So if you want to find a good historical fiction (the impossibility of that aside) you've got to wade through a bunch of authors wanking about how controversial and deeeep they are.
http://boojumlol.livejournal.com/ at 05:19 on 2010-02-08
I'm down with the idea of Paranormal Romance, as it's a subgenre title I've seen in the Romance genre at large.


I'm in favour of paranormal romance as a romance subgenre, but not as a fantasy subgenre. Dividing romance into sections - paranormal, historical or contemporary - is practical, and there is rarely doubt as to which section a book goes in. I'm less comfortable with fantasy being divided in such a way - it seems more likely to limit a more tentative reader's choice. This is somewhat inconsistant, I suppose.
Frank at 07:17 on 2010-02-08
@Arthur: Here's the reminder: if you head over to Waterstones at lunch, would you check to see if that Dark Fantasy section/stand has any L.A. Banks? Thanks!
Shim at 07:50 on 2010-02-08
Jamie Johnston at 22:14 on 2010-02-07

... with Julian's recent article about libraries...

[Chuckles inwardly.]

No! He is Spartacus!
Arthur B at 12:04 on 2010-02-08
@Frank: I took a look, and they do indeed stock LA Banks in the Dark Fantasy section. Only a single copy of the first Crimson Moon book, imported from the US, but that's significant in itself - this branch just doesn't stock that much imported stuff unless they're sure it will sell.

It looks like the first Vampire Huntress book is getting a UK version published later this year, so I suspect they'll stock more Banks once that happens.
Claire E Fitzgerald at 12:21 on 2010-02-08
GAH!! Sorry Jamie!!! You know how easy it is to confuse libraries and pizza restaurants, right? Especially if you're, uh, a bit of a dumbass. Profound apologies to both of you.
Arthur B at 12:51 on 2010-02-08
I wouldn't go to a restaurant that worked like a library. You'd only be able to borrow the food for a short while, and six other people would have "borrowed" it before it got to you...
Rami at 13:48 on 2010-02-08
I'm pretty sure they have a Borders [snip] I think it still exists here in the US, or at least in NJ.

I can verify it still exists on the left coast as well. Now all we need is reports from intrepid Ferretneurons in between ;-)
Arthur B at 14:11 on 2010-02-08
It's definitely only Borders UK that went into administration. The main US website is still happily selling books, whereas this sad little notice is all that's left of the UK one.
http://sorenlundi.livejournal.com/ at 04:23 on 2010-02-09
Honestly I think this is a great idea. In my local Borders the vampire dating books are spread out between Romance, SF/F, Horror and Young Adult. It makes much more sense to have them all in one place.

It's interesting that you assume they're catering to fanboy purists that don't want their serious horror/sff diluted with kissing instead to the women and girls who read this sort of thing. Women and girls buy more books, so I would assume the latter.

I think the name is great. It isn't dark as in grim'n'gritty but dark as in gothic, and fantasy suggests both the unreal and sexual fantasy, which is what these kind of books are all about.
Shim at 07:01 on 2010-02-09
@Sorenlundi: I'm not going to say there's anything wrong with all the vampire-romance* books being in one place. It seems like a reasonable enough thing to do, at least, assuming that what people want to read is more books with those two elements**. I'm not completely convinced it's a more coherent set of elements to highlight than (racks brain) love and murder, or love and geeks, but there's a fashion for it at the moment, so fine, be responsive to what people want. However, as Arthur said, some books that should be in a "vampire romance" section seem to be excluded, and others that are included make no sense - which led to his conclusion that it's exclusive in both senses. That is, it's excluding some books from this section, because (possibly) they're too Serious and written by men and their readers might take fright at seeing them next to Twilight; and it's excluding the VR books from other sections that might put off the VR readers.

'Paranormal Romance' or something along those lines ('supernatural romance', possibly?) makes more sense as a title, because both vampires and love clearly fit there. It also seems less misleading than 'dark fantasy', as we mentioned above. The meaning you highlighted is clearly the one they're going for; the trouble is, it's exactly not what seems to spring to mind from the little unrepresentative poll here. I suspect the same would apply elsewhere, but that's extrapolation. Those two words to me imply either a) gritty or sinister fantasy without happy endings; or b) the more BDSM end of erotica. If I'm at all representative***, a fair number of people will never look at that section.

I can see it being useful as a temporary display to help plug related books, as a few people have said. Maybe neutrally located between the Fantasy, Horror and Romance sections with arrows pointing each way... what seems weird is creating a new whole section, then gutting other sections to build it, rather than just deciding to put all the VR books in one section and highlighting them.

As a last thought, maybe the reason why vampire dating books are spread out is that apart from those two elements, they're sufficiently different to fall into clearly different genres. In which case, putting them in those genres doesn't seem unreasonable. I enjoy light books with skilful use of language, and romance, and witty characters, like Sorcery and Cecilia and PG Wodehouse and Georgette Heyer, and for some reason nobody's collected those into a single section yet because other elements of the books are felt to be more defining.

* not necessarily the same as Vampire Romance, Romance being a bit of a loaded term, as Arthur mentioned

** this is not a criticism

*** which is a bit of a stretch
Arthur B at 08:57 on 2010-02-09
@Shimmin: Exactly. I can't see any reason why Let the Right One In shouldn't go in Dark Fantasy, unless someone somewhere is being ludicrously judgemental.
http://sorenlundi.livejournal.com/ at 17:59 on 2010-02-09
Because its expected audience is people who liked the film and people who watch art house horror are not always the same people who watch the CW (although I at least enjoy both)?

Because its scary and most of these other books are not actually supposed to be scary, even if they are shelved in horror?

Because its not about characters you're expected to identify with or be atracted to, which is a big part of what makes these other books so popular?

Because I don't actually have to agree with every shelving decision someone at your local bookshop made to think that the catagory itself is a good idea?

I can see why someone might put it there and I can see why someone might put it somewhere else. There are book by men I would probably put in such a catagory, but I don't know that this is one of them.

I think there is actually quite a bit of confusion about which vampire/werewolf/whatever books go in SF/F and which go in Horror, if the number of times I have seen the same book shelved in different sections means anything. The books in Romance are probably a little different since if they are published as Romance they must follow Romance rules, but I have also heard of books migrating in and out of romance.

And of course there's nothing remotely suggestive of BDSM in all of that blood sucking.
Arthur B at 19:08 on 2010-02-09
Because its expected audience is people who liked the film and people who watch art house horror are not always the same people who watch the CW (although I at least enjoy both)?

By this logic Stanislaw Lem's Solaris should be in a separate section from Warhammer 40,000 tie-in fiction.

Because its scary and most of these other books are not actually supposed to be scary, even if they are shelved in horror?

Most, but not all. Interview With the Vampire has some downright chilling scenes. The Dark Fantasy section had a mighty supply of Anne Rice.

Because I don't actually have to agree with every shelving decision someone at your local bookshop made to think that the catagory itself is a good idea?

I'd like you to point out where, in my article, I say that the category in question is a bad idea. In fact, I could have sworn I went out of my way to point out that I didn't have a beef with the subgenre in general, simply the elevation of it to a full-blown independent genre by this shop.

Cyberpunk is a clearly identifiable, well-established, and distinctive subgenre of science fiction. It does not get its own shelf entirely separate from the SF section in bookshops. The same is true of historical whodunnits, who survive perfectly well in crime, and sword and sorcery in the vein of Howard and Moorcock, which lives perfectly happily in the fantasy section. For that matter, the general fiction section happily accommodates a host of modern-day thrillers with a grounding in historical conspiracy theories, a la The Da Vinci Code without separating them out into a separate section.

Just because a subgenre forms an easily recognised category, doesn't mean it qualifies for its own special shelf in a book shop. That's all I'm saying with the article. I'm not saying the category shouldn't exist. I apologise if you think that's what I was saying.

I think there is actually quite a bit of confusion about which vampire/werewolf/whatever books go in SF/F and which go in Horror, if the number of times I have seen the same book shelved in different sections means anything.

Except I don't think creating a Dark Fantasy category really helps. Rather than arguing whether a particular book goes in one of two categories, we end up with an argument about which of three it goes into. The fact that we have just had precisely such a spat about Let the Right One In kind of proves this.

And of course there's nothing remotely suggestive of BDSM in all of that blood sucking.

Interestingly, the books in the Dark Fantasy section do seem to run the gamut from Twilight, in which making out is dangerous and risque, to Anita Blake, which I understand starts out fairly light on the sex and then ends up wandering into erotica (at least some of which in a BDSM flavour) in the later books. Which is not unusual - SF ranges from celibacy to Gor, after all - but it does suggest that whatever measure Waterstones are using to define Dark Fantasy, sexual content (bar the obvious vampire-as-metaphor stuff) isn't considered to be a definitive aspect of the genre.
http://sorenlundi.livejournal.com/ at 20:18 on 2010-02-09
No, I never thought you were saying these books shouldn't exist. When I said "I think this catagory is a good idea," I meant I think puting them in their own seperate section is a good idea. Because A) there are a lot of them, B) they are (in my local bookstore) spread out in a way that doesn't make much sense to me, and C) there isn't that much crossover in readership between these books and the books they are (in my local bookstore) shelved next to.

Yes there are a lot of sub-genres and I don't think they all need to be seperated out from each other, but I think sometimes it makes sense to. many bookshops do separate the original SF from the tie in novels and I think that makes sense. Many bookshops would put Lem in Litterature and I think that makes sense. I don't think either is nescicary but neither do I find it objectionable.

Yes there are a lot of books that could very well be placed in one or more genre, but that isn't an argument against having genres or making new genres as needed. I do not think the fact that people are able to argue about what genre a book should be placed in on the internet mean much of anything. I've always felt these books didn't quite fit where they are and had more in common with each other than the books they sat next to, so I would be happy to see them on their own.

I think most of these books contain an element of dangerous sexuality regardless of whether or not sex is depicted. This has little to do with BDSM as it is actually practiced, but vampires, by their very nature, suggest blood and death, and if you have them as the love interest instead the villian, some sort of BDSM sensibility is implied. It is true that I am not very good at determining what is supposed to be scary, as prose rarely scare me.

I really don't know why I only seem to comment here on the topic of where books I don't even read should be placed in bookshops, but whatever.
Arthur B at 20:27 on 2010-02-09
Yes there are a lot of sub-genres and I don't think they all need to be seperated out from each other, but I think sometimes it makes sense to. many bookshops do separate the original SF from the tie in novels and I think that makes sense.

All the ones that I have seen that do this have the SF tie-in novels as a subsection of the SF section. They don't present tie-in fiction as a wholly separate genre, with the same sort of big shelf label that they give the other individual genres.

Literally the only exception I am aware of is Forbidden Planet, which is an SF-specialist store - their book section is effectively one enormous SF section anyway, so it barely counts. Otherwise, everywhere else presents the tie-in fiction in an endcap, like Melissa suggested upthread that dark fantasy could quite happily be presented in.
http://sorenlundi.livejournal.com/ at 20:36 on 2010-02-09
Yes, but since this genre also includes elements of Romance, Horror, and occasionally Mystery and Erotica, it is less clear that it is purely a sub-genre of SF/F.
Arthur B at 20:47 on 2010-02-09
I think SF/F is a red herring as far as the genre is concerned; it's much more of a subgenre of horror. The one uniting strand that links all of the books in the section is the appropriation of monstrous creatures developed in the horror genre as a device to suggest the sort of dangerous (or faux-dangerous) sexuality you've been citing. If you dropped that, then you'd clearly no longer qualify, whereas you could drop the mystery elements, or the erotica elements (or even ditch most of the romance and stick with the erotica, if some of the reviews of late Anita Blake I've seen are anything to go by), but if you purge the books of creatures from World of Darkness games they suddenly have barely any connection to each other.

Of course, it's shaky territory to try and diagnose a genre based on whether it's got vampires and werewolves or not. But the books in question all seem to buy into a dark, gothy atmosphere which seems intended to evoke the horror genre, if only in a campy, non-scary way.
Melissa G. at 00:41 on 2010-02-10
I think SF/F is a red herring as far as the genre is concerned; it's much more of a subgenre of horror.


That's an interesting way of looking at it. Though, the store I worked at didn't even have a horror section. We had Fiction, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and Romance. And it might be worth noting that our Star Wars novels and Forgotten Realms type deals were in Sci-fi/Fantasy but found at the end and alphabetized differently. The rest of the section was, of course, by author, but the series were by name of series to make them easier to locate and keep them together. We also had an African-American fiction and non-fiction section, which I always had mixed feelings about.

We definitely had some annoying cross-genre stuff too. I would find the same series in different sections at times. I even saw little paperback sized versions of comic books in the teen section last time I was at a bookstore! I get why they were there, to try and get teens who wouldn't normally read comics to buy them (it was Runaways, which would appeal to teens), but I couldn't help thinking that the comics had no place in Teen Fiction....
Jamie Johnston at 20:08 on 2010-02-11
Incidentally, the latest Litopia after dark has a little discussion (starting at about 18·17) about the effect of Twilight &c. on general fantasy & horror sales (triggered by this article - note the way the journalist mis-spells Meyer's name despite also quoting a market analyst who twice spells it correctly), and they talk a little (from 22·48) about how bookshops shelve vampire books.
Arthur B at 12:11 on 2010-02-15
An update! The store in question has modified its stance somewhat. Pride and Prejudice With Zombies has been moved out of Dark Fantasy and into Horror, which I suppose is a sensible place for it until they come up with a "Parodies Where The Joke Is In the Title" section. There's also a big display in their window declaring that those into Twilight might want to look at their Dark Romance section, suggesting that a rename of the section might be on the cards.

I think these two steps are reasonable ones. The filing of Pride and Prejudice With Zombies under Dark Fantasy seemed to be, at best, a mistake. And "Dark Romance" is probably less confusing than "Dark Fantasy". But then again, Interview With the Vampire is still in Dark Fantasy, and to call that a romance seems mildly ridiculous to me.
Jamie Johnston at 23:09 on 2010-02-25
I was wasting time in Foyles this evening and noticed how they've done it. There's a free-standing unit of three book-cases on each side. It was obviously originally undifferentiated 'horror', which is what it said in the official bits of signage at the top. They've put printed-on-sheets-of-paper divider thingies in so that one side is still 'horror' (Annie Rice is still there) but the other, though still under a top-sign saying 'horror', has two out of three book-cases sub-categorized as 'paranormal fantasy'. That's evidently their equivalent of Waterstones' 'dark fantasy' / 'dark romance': it has all the a-bit-like-Twilight stuff. Then, in a cunning move, the remaining one book-case in the unit, next to 'paranormal fantasy', is the 'romance' section. Hmm.

I was also amused to see, at entirely the other end of the shop and on another floor, that the photography-and-gayness department (which nestles cosily between fine art and philosophy) has a whole couple of shelves labelled 'lesbian crime'.
Arthur B at 00:40 on 2010-02-26
So, if I'm understanding you right, it's like a Toblerone of love and terror?
Rami at 08:05 on 2010-03-02
I've been inspired by your sleuthing to scour my local bookshops for odd category decisions. Haven't found anything that leaps out at me so far in the nearby Borders, but I shall have to report back after a trip to Barnes & Noble...
Viorica at 18:30 on 2010-03-02
has a whole couple of shelves labelled 'lesbian crime'.

There's an Anne Perry joke I could make here, but it would probably be in bad taste . . .
Arthur B at 14:22 on 2010-04-13
Update! Another nearby branch of Waterstone's has the Dark Fantasy section.

On the plus side, it has a horror section of about the same size, unlike the store which inspired this article which more or less banished horror to the wilderness.

On the "what the hell" side: in addition to a Dark Fantasy section they also have a Dark Romance section of around the same size. It's next to the "Teens" section. I can only assume it's the YA equivalent to Dark Fantasy (Twilight and sequels are stocked in Dark Romance rather than Dark Fantasy, for example), although there's little indication that the books in question are intended for young adults, and indeed the section heading is in the same style as the adult sections rather than the children/teens sections, which have headers in vivid colours.

Even then, the idea that it's meant to be the younger reader's equivalent of the Dark Fantasy section seems mildly ludicrous. They never made a separate "children's fantasy" bit at the height of the Potter craze. It's just bizarre.

Also Pride and Prejudice - not the with-zombies version, the original - is filed in Dark Romance.
Viorica at 17:38 on 2010-04-13
Also Pride and Prejudice - not the with-zombies version, the original - is filed in Dark Romance.

. . . what.
Dan H at 18:51 on 2010-04-13
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a half-demon monster hunting wife?
http://roisindubh211.livejournal.com/ at 23:08 on 2010-04-13
Is this the edition with the black-and-red-and-white cover? It looks just like part of the Twilight series, and I think it will probably deeply disappoint a lot of teenaged fans of gothicky romance based on that cover alone.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 23:46 on 2010-04-13
Is this the edition with the black-and-red-and-white cover? It looks just like part of the Twilight series, and I think it will probably deeply disappoint a lot of teenaged fans of gothicky romance based on that cover alone.

I managed to find a teen edition of Wuthering Heights that had a similar sort of purple-and-black job. Fortunately, the back blurb gave every indication that it was intended for people who don't get the friggin' point of the book, so the cover fits quite nicely, IMHO.

Anyway, I was motivated to take a scan of my local Chapters (the American-owned soul-destroying megalithic commerce-cathedral of a book chain we have in Canada), and I'm pleased to report that there is no "dark fantasy" section as of yet. Unfortunately, this is mostly because the teen section is being slowly digested by dark fantasy-type material. It's not overwhelming, but the rot is spreading. Meanwhile, Horror is a howling wasteland of sexy vampire ladies who appeared to have pawned their clothing for dagger money, famed historical personages who maim their way through the gothic bestiary, and - God help us - Dean Koontz. Still, Peter Straub and Dean Simmons are still fighting the good fight, however futile.

Incidentally, on the subject of murderous Who's Who entrants, I'm tenatively outlining a potential project I've decided to call Cecil Rhodes: Wendigo Puncher. Any takers?
Arthur B at 00:43 on 2010-04-14
To be fair, Wuthering Heights at least has a (fucking terrifying) dream sequence which might possibly involve a ghost, and a bunch of other ambiguously supernatural stuff here and there too. Which doesn't mean it's anywhere near Twilight but you might be able to observe it from the same planet as Twilight if you use a really powerful radio telescope and point it in the right direction.
Arthur B at 11:40 on 2010-04-14
Oh, and roisindubh211 - yes, it is the version with the Twilight-y cover.

Googling around, I note that it (and Wuthering Heights) are meant to be Edward and Bella's favourite books, so there is a Twilight connection. But that's still a stupid reason to file them in the vampire romance section unless you believe that the people who frequent said section are too stupid or narrow-minded to look at any other shelf in the store.
Melissa G. at 16:36 on 2010-04-14
Romeo and Juliet has also been reprinted with a Twilight-esque cover, and the information "Edward and Bella's favorite book!" obnoxiously emblazoned on it.

Stop raping my classics, Twilight!!!!
Viorica at 04:45 on 2010-04-15
unless you believe that the people who frequent said section are too stupid or narrow-minded to look at any other shelf in the store.

Well, they are Twilight fans . . .
http://roisindubh211.livejournal.com/ at 05:12 on 2010-04-15
To be fair, Wuthering Heights at least has a (fucking terrifying) dream sequence which might possibly involve a ghost, and a bunch of other ambiguously supernatural stuff here and there too. Which doesn't mean it's anywhere near Twilight but you might be able to observe it from the same planet as Twilight if you use a really powerful radio telescope and point it in the right direction.


Wuthering Heights also has the same kind of screwed up romance as Twilight. I think it will make a lot more sense to the fans than Pride and Prejudice would- they'll all read it and adore the "twu love" of Cathy and Heathcliff (or of Cathy II and whatever Heathcliff's son is named).
Arthur B at 08:07 on 2010-04-15
I actually think Cathy and Heathcliff's romance is depicted much more convincingly in Wuthering Heights. I can understand why they're interested in each other, if only because they're the only people psychotic enough to tolerate each other. Kind of like Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers.
Sonia Mitchell at 15:44 on 2010-04-15
Wuthering Heights also has the same kind of screwed up romance as Twilight. I think it will make a lot more sense to the fans than Pride and Prejudice would- they'll all read it and adore the "twu love" of Cathy and Heathcliff (or of Cathy II and whatever Heathcliff's son is named).

I can see that the obsessive Cathy-Heathcliff dynamic could appeal to them, but not sure how the next generation would. The Catherine-Linton 'relationship' is pretty much the inversion of C-H, and doesn't have any of the doomed-love glamour. It's mostly just pathetic.

There's a charm to the development of Catherine-Hareton (Hindley's son) but it's much more earthy... again it lacks glamour and passion and I can't see it appealing to the same people who'd fall for Cathy-Heathcliff.

All that aside, though, I don't really see anything wrong in marketing WH (and the others mentioned) off the back of Twilight. I've frequently sought out books because they're mentioned in other books... it doesn't mean I expect them to be the same. Just means something sparked my interest,and if someone's interested in WH after reading Twilight then why not make it easy for them to find?

I mean, enjoying trashy books doesn't mean someone isn't capable of, or interested in, reading something more challenging.
Arthur B at 16:28 on 2010-04-15
I think the problem with that is that if you start filing Pride and Prejudice or Bronte in the Dark Romance section simply because Twilight mentions them, you make a nonsense of the section - you've defined Dark Romance in a very particular way, and then you've turned around and tossed the definition out of the window. That's going to make finding books more confusing, not less.

Austen and Bronte are perfectly easy to find. In any particular bookshop they are almost certainly in the "Classics" section, or failing that general fiction. Giving them a ludicrously gothy cover and putting them in Dark Romance has nothing to do with making them locatable and everything to do with misleading people as to what they're about by implying a connection to the Dark Romance genre that goes beyond being mentioned in passing in a major book in said genre.

Granted, the only people who are likely to be misled by the repackaging are folk who never heard of the books before they were mentioned in Twilight. It still doesn't feel entirely ethical to misrepresent them as being more closely related to Twilight in terms of genre and style and aesthetic than they actually are.
Sonia Mitchell at 22:19 on 2010-04-15
Yeah, I was talking rubbish there, sorry.

I have few issues with redesigning covers. I take your point but I don't think giving Wuthering Heights a gothy cover is particularly heinous. P&P would be a different matter, though, not having the gothic atmosphere of WH.

Reshelving, though, is ridiculous.
Dan H at 11:56 on 2010-04-16
I think the problem with that is that if you start filing Pride and Prejudice or Bronte in the Dark Romance section simply because Twilight mentions them, you make a nonsense of the section


I actually don't think that's true. As people who actually work in bookstores have pointed out above, I think we're missing the point of what categories in bookshops are for: they're not about categorising *books* they're about categorising *customers*. They're the equivalent of the "people who bought this book also bought" section on Amazon.

I mean there's really no similarity between The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Star Wars expanded universe, but they're shelved together because people who buy one are fairly likely to buy the other.

Thinking about it, it's actually quite an interesting way to look at genre.
Arthur B at 12:54 on 2010-04-16
But then again, while you have a body of customers who are happy to read Donaldson and expanded universe stuff, you also have a body of customers who are passionate about one but dismissive of the other.

I suppose part of what gets to me about Dark Fantasy/Dark Romance is that it's so very specific. SF/fantasy, classics, general fiction, romance, crime - these are all pretty broad categories, and I suspect they reflect pretty broad categories of customer. Whereas if you have Dark Fantasy or Dark Romance, which seem to be much more narrow categories, you're clearly catering to a significantly more narrowly-defined customer. Why are "people who liked Twilight" getting entire categories created that are devoted to them when "people who liked Harry Potter" or "people who liked The Da Vinci Code" didn't? Rowling and Brown's particular niches can be defined just as narrowly as Meyers's, and they have just as many authors writing similar books - there's a wealth of children's/YA fantasy out there, and there's a huge amount of revisionist history thrillers out there too (many, admittedly, inspired by Dan Brown, but a fair number predating him as well).

Why is this particular niche getting a special treatment that Waterstone's didn't extend to other niches? Meyer's a big deal, but surely she isn't a bigger deal than Rowling or Dan Brown? If this is a shift in policy at Waterstone's, I fully expect to see entirely different genres taking their place in the shop, which I consider to be kind of a pain - I'd prefer it if stores stuck to the broad categories and didn't change them very often, so I can know where everything is, rather than changing them around every few months in response to the latest publishing craze. If this is not a shift in policy, and they simply decided that Revisionist History Thrillers or Children's and Young Adult Fantasy didn't deserve the same treatment, why did they think that?
Dan H at 15:19 on 2010-04-16
Rowling and Brown's particular niches can be defined just as narrowly as Meyers's


You're still thinking in terms of content, not demographic.

There are no books which could usefully be marketed to Potter or Brown fans that are not already being marketed to them. This is chiefly because Rowling's target audience wound up being "everybody" and Brown's target audience was basically "people who read bestsellers".

By comparison there were a lot of books which were normally filed under Fantasy or Horror which could be sold to Twilight fans who were *not* the normal target audience of the Fantasy or Horror genres.
Arthur B at 15:36 on 2010-04-16
But surely content and demographic aren't so easily divorced? Surely there is a demographic of people who want to read something "just like The Da Vinci Code" or "just like Harry Potter", just as there's a demographic of people who want to read stuff that's "just like Twilight/The Vampire Diaries/True Blood"?

The fact that there was a massive boom in books about historical mysteries following The Da Vinci Code kind of suggests that this is the case.
Arthur B at 20:07 on 2012-01-26
Both the Waterstones stores local to my work have now abolished their Dark Romance sections. And, indeed, seem to be drastically trimming back the amount of stock in that vein they carry. One of the stores - the one which had two of these sections, "Dark Romance" next to horror and "Dark Fantasy" next to "teen fiction" and carrying the YA stuff - has killed off both sections, reabsorbing only selected portions of Dark Fantasy into "teen fiction" and outright junking the Dark Romance material. (Seriously, I checked and it isn't in any of the other fiction sections.) The other one has the Dark Romance section in the same shelf as horror and with no actual signposting indicating that it's a different section, so at a casual glance you'd assume it's just a horror shelf and you need to look closely to realise the lower half is all Charlene Harris and Laurel K. Hamilton.

Are other people seeing this? Has someone at Waterstones HQ run the numbers through a spreadsheet and decided to pull out of the DR/DF market sharpish (which'd imply that there's a slump in the market either on its way or already here)? Or is this a local aberration? More data points would be appreciated.
Andy G at 00:00 on 2012-01-27
It's been temporarily withdrawn while they think of a new name that they can deliberately leave an apostrophe out of in order to really piss off the punctuation pedants.
Andy G at 00:04 on 2012-01-27
Or they could insert one: Fantasy for Girl's
Arthur B at 00:22 on 2012-01-27
I would like to point out that in this article "Waterstones" is consistently spelled without an apostrophe, and that's been the case since it went up.

I'm basically dictating the future here.
Michal at 01:35 on 2012-01-27
Has someone at Waterstones HQ run the numbers through a spreadsheet and decided to pull out of the DR/DF market sharpish (which'd imply that there's a slump in the market either on its way or already here)? Or is this a local aberration?


Silly Arthur, it's obviously the result of a nefarious Russian plot. In Soviet Russia, all fantasy is dark.
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