I’ve mentioned before that when I first started writing and selling mystery short stories, I got more respect. Now, when people ask, “What do you write?”–I’m almost apologetic when I answer, “Urban fantasy.” “Is that the stuff with werewolves and vampires?” they ask. “Yup,” I say, “and witches, succubi, Druids, and gargoyles.” Some are intrigued. Some give me an odd look and say, “But you seem so nice.” Most wrinkle their noses and announce, “I never read that kind of stuff.”
That’s fair, but I don’t turn up my nose if they write literary novels, and I’m not a prolific reader of those. I’m not offended, though. My agent warned me that urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy, and editors mentioned the market was glutted. Other markets are bigger and, maybe, more open. But it doesn’t matter, because urban fantasy makes me happy, and for some reason, writing it freed me in unexpected ways. I could never quite pinpoint why…until I read Lev Grossman’s article in The New York Times. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/16/finding-my-voice-in-fantasy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 He brilliantly identified what it was about writing fantasy that appealed to him. And his reasoning resonated with me.
I went to a writers’ conference once, where a speaker on a panel explained why each genre appeals to its readers. She said that mystery readers like the idea of justice, that good ultimately conquers evil. They like the idea that reason wins over chaos. Crime fiction is different than mysteries. It concentrates on…well, crime and criminals. Noir gives it a dark tone–the protagonist who doesn’t care about good or bad, but is swayed by what’s convenient for him at the moment.
Science fiction and fantasy readers, according to Carol Pinchefsky, http://www.intergalacticmedicineshow.com/cgi-bin/mag.cgi?article=012&do=columns&vol=carol_pinchefsky, often feel like aliens, or outsiders, in society and the stories they choose to read often reflect that. Horror readers, according to the panelist, enjoy scary stories as an outlet for the fears they have about everyday life. Romance readers, mostly women, like the emotional appeal of a hero who is completely focused on his love interest, unlike real life where a woman has to compete for a man’s attention against his job and favorite TV shows: http://www.ibtimes.com/why-do-modern-women-love-romance-novels-call-it-fifty-shades-grey-syndrome-720842
When I read the explanations for the appeal of each of these, I got it. I understood. But what pulls me to urban fantasy? At first, I thought it might be because the protagonists are kick-ass heroines. That’s fun, true, but action/adventure doesn’t have the same pull for me as UF, so there has to be something more. Lev Grossman nailed it when he mentioned the use of power. Who has power, who wants it, and why have always appealed to me. I believe what my parents told me–with power comes responsibility. Is it worth it? Not always. And what if you didn’t want the power in the first place, but no one asked you. What if you’re the only who can make a difference, but you don’t want to? These are questions that fascinate me. And thanks to Lev Grossman, I no longer feel apologetic about my love for urban fantasy. I embrace it. If more people thought carefully about power, the world would be a better place. Or not. After all, people are people. And that’s what makes them so interesting to write about.
P.S. I put a new post on my webpage and added a new, (longer), free short story. Hope you enjoy it. In Caleb’s casino (from Fallen Angels), the stakes are high.