Guest Blog & Giveaway: J. Kathleen Cheney on Where Is the Romance Line Drawn? & Win The Shores of Spain

July 13, 2015 Giveaways, Guests 14

A big welcome to J. Kathleen Cheney who is here writing about romance and fantasy and celebrating the release of The Shores of Spain, The Golden City #3 (published on July 7, 2015 by Roc). Want to win a copy? Enter via the widget below.


Where Is the Romance Line Drawn?


J. Kathleen Cheney

Romance is fairly hard to define, but you can find this definition online: A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful. (Yes, I know that this isn’t the first definition.) Notice that there’s nothing about kissing in there. Ivanhoe is considered a Romance, even though it’s actually more of an adventure story. It’s covered under the heroic part of that description. By modern standards, though, it would never be shelved among the Romance novels.

When I was at the Romantic Times convention earlier this year, I gave away many copies of my first novel, The Golden City. My contract with the publisher actually calls the book Romantic Fantasy (although Amazon has it shelved in Historical Fantasy). I felt compelled, however, to warn readers when I signed it for them. I kept telling people, “There’s no kissing in this book.” I didn’t want them to get to the end and be disappointed that they hadn’t found a torrid love affair in its pages.

So why would my publishers, who did read the whole thing before buying it, stick the label Romantic Fantasy on it? Because Romance isn’t just about the kissing, it’s about the relationship. And I think that my publishers saw a lot of pages of text dedicated to the relationship between Oriana and Duilio, even if it wasn’t a physical relationship.

(Is there a physical relationship in the later novels in the series? Yes.)

That convention hosted a number of discussions (usually over hard cider in the bar) about whether something was Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance, whether something was Romantic Fantasy or Fantasy Romance. The usual advice I heard? Count the number of pages dedicated to the relationship rather than the plot. If Relationship is greater, you’ve got a Paranormal Romance or Fantasy Romance. If not, you’re writing Urban Fantasy or Romantic Fantasy.

First, that sounds like more work than I’m willing to do for a 400 page novel. Second, I don’t think it’s an exact science. I doubt that my editor sat down and sorted the pages to determine which pile was larger. (And you can have both plot and relationship on the same page, too.) She just went with her overall impression, and that’s good enough for me.

I think most readers can tell whether a book is more about one or the other. They can tell how important the relationship is to the general plot. So even if there’s no kissing in a book, it may still be a Romance, especially if the book is part of a multiple book story arc.

So far, pretty much everything I’ve written has fallen on the Fantasy side of that imaginary line in the sand. Recently, however, my agent looked at one of my proposals for a new series and deemed it very close that line, so you may eventually see me writing on the other side of it. And I won’t mind that at all. Either side is a good place to be.

J. Kathleen Cheney

 J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, “The Golden City” was a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel). The sequel, “The Seat of Magic” came out in 2014, and the final book in the series, “The Shores of Spain” will come out July 2015.

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Signed copies of J. Kathleen Cheney’s The Golden City Trilogy

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 The Shores of Spain by J. Kathleen Cheney


Available on July 7, 2015 by Roc


A brilliant new chapter in the Novels of the Golden City.

Even as the branches of peace are being offered, there are some who still believe those who are not human should be used as chattel. And they are willing to go to great lengths to retain their power.

Newlywed siren Oriana Paredes has been appointed Ambassador to her home islands now that communication between Northern Portugual and the magical races has been restored. But convincing her people that the new Portuguese Prince’s intentions are honorable after years of persecution is difficult. And her husband, Duilio, faces his own obstacles among the sirens where males are a rare and valuable commodity with few rights.

In addition to their diplomatic mission, the two hope to uncover the truth behind Oriana’s mother’s death. Evidence suggests that Spain—a country that has been known to enslave magical beings—may have infiltrated the siren authority. Unable to leave their post, Oriana and Duilio must call on Inspector Joaquim Tavares to root out the truth.

But even his seer’s gift cannot prepare him for what he will discover.

Read an excerpt

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14 Responses to “Guest Blog & Giveaway: J. Kathleen Cheney on Where Is the Romance Line Drawn? & Win The Shores of Spain”

  1. Erin-Joi

    Thank you for the wonderful explanation. I often wonder why some things get the romance tag when they do not seem to be romances. I would love a longer explanation of urban versus not-urban fantasy. This is another distinction that doesn’t always make sense.

    • J. Kathleen Cheney

      It’s often a mystery to the writers, too. And I suspect that it’s sometimes almost luck of the draw. THe right editor in the right place sticks a label on something, and suddenly it’s Urban Fantasy.

      Also, I suspect that some series cross over that line many times, depending on where the protagonist is in his or her love life (I’m actually thinking of Carrie Vaughn at the moment), but once a series (or author) gets labelled as UF or Paranormal, they’re pretty much stuck with that, no matter how much Romance is is what they write.

  2. Melliane

    Thanks for the nice post! I loved book 1 and I’m so impatient to read the others and conclude with this one! soon!

  3. Danielle D

    I’m so happy that this book is out – I’ve been eyeing the others and can now read them all together! What was your favorite part of writing this world? I suppose that’s a generic question, but I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately and wondered what you feel is especially lovely to you about the Golden City! <3

    • J. Kathleen Cheney

      I think that my favorite part was learning about the history of the country. Although I ended up altering it to work with my fiction, I never have known much about the Portuguese people and the country. It just wasn’t something we studied in high school. So learning about one of the world’s great Empires was fascinating. The Portuguese controlled land from Brazil all the way to Japan–pretty impressive for a country 1/3 the size of the UK.
      Learning the story of how they ceased being an empire was equally interesting, but sad. The Portuguese have a term called ‘suadade’…”a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament”…and much of that melancholy is associated with no longer being the great world power they once were. (Listen to fado sometime, which is the music of suadade.)
      So it’s a fascinating culture, and I loved learning about it.

  4. Ally Broadfield

    This is an interesting topic. I think it depends on who you ask and what type of books they normally read, which of course skews their view. Looking forward to reading The Shores of Spain!

  5. Mary G loki

    Do you start a story with a summary? Or random bites that you piece together?

    • J. Kathleen Cheney

      I’ve found that different stories require different methods. Usually, though, I start off where I think the beginning should be (although I often change that), and write everything chronologically…