Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What is Urban Fantasy

I’ve seen this question asked a lot lately. Everyone from agents to editors to authors are coming out with their own versions. And I’ve been asked this a lot by students and others. So this is my version:

When I first started writing vampires, the tag urban fantasy didn’t exist, so I used “paranormal.” But paranormal to me, is really ghosts, psychics, that kind of otherworldly phenomenon. And it can be in present day, or the past, as long as it’s not fantasy. Fantasy, anything goes, because it’s fantasy and exists in a world that is not our own.

So what is urban fantasy? To me, it is mythical, fantastical creatures living in our contemporary times. Have a demon romance? It’s urban fantasy. It can be urban fantasy horror, or urban fantasy romance. But it’s urban fantasy. The fantastical element in modern times.

Think of the hero, werewolf extraordinaire, working on his computer. It’s urban fantasy. He can be sitting in the country estate, or living in the city. But it’s still urban fantasy.
Think of the gargoyle that protects your apartment complex at night, and talks to the heroine during the day. Urban Fantasy.
Now, what is being said–urban fantasy is first person. Why? I’ve read tons of third person POV urban fantasy werewolf stories, for one. And they were urban fantasies by virtue of the fact werewolves live among us. Whether they’re in the closet or have come out, it doesn’t matter. It’s a fantasy world within the normal structure of our world.
Some say that urban fantasies are not romances. Why? Are paranormals not romances? Some are, some aren’t. Some historical fictions have romances and some don’t. I know, because I review them and ask for only the ones that have romances. So sometimes we try to limit ourselves into some narrow defined category because some write like this and all of a sudden we’re all supposed to write that to fit the category, and again I ask why?

My werewolves, as well as many others, are sexy. They are romances. They are third person, and they are urban fantasy. They’re not fantasy, which would be set in a different world. They are not paranormal, dealing with psychic or ghostly entities. They are urban fantasies.

Why get hung up on a tag? Because people who are writing them want to define this for query letters to agents and editors. And also because readers and devout fans of urban fantasies need to see the tags. Some readers might not like hot, sexy urban fantasies. That’s okay. They can read the reviews and see if it’s something they want to read. Some want hot, sexy reads. The same thing.
So what is urban fantasy? Mythical creatures living in present day society, whether they’re vampires, werewolves, mermaids, gargoyles, other shapeshifters, fairies, pixies, ghouls, or other kinds of creatures that we normally don’t see joining the exercise clubs or dancing in our dance clubs–that’s urban fantasy, 3rd person point of view, 1st person point of view, romance, no romance, light, dark, doesn’t matter.
So what is your take on urban fantasy?
Terry Spear/Terry Lee Wilde
Deidre's Secret (paranormal, psychic YA)
Heart of the Wolf, Don’t Cry Wolf
The Vampire…In My Dreams
, coming Aug 26 to bookstores!
Deadly Liaisons, coming November! (vampire adult romantic suspense–urban fantasy )


Stewart Sternberg said...

Excellent post. I need to address this on my blog at some point in the future. Sometimes I think certain of these labels are dreamed up by the marketing folk as an attempt to be able to entice the placement people at Barnes and Noble into thinking that they know their audience and are hip to what's up. So to speak.

Urban fantasy. I grin. "The Exorcist" was urban fantasy. "King Kong" was urban fantasy. For its time, "Dracula" was urban fantasy.

Seems like urban fantasy has been around for a long time. Or perhaps there is another element to the emerging concept of this subgenre. Perhaps it has to have a certain sensibility. Could it be that it is aimed at a female audience? Is it that it is becoming formulaic? Only questions for consideration.

What sort of heroes are there in urban fantasy? Is that the difference? Most of the heroes in today's urban fantasies are what we would call romantic. They are better than we are, but still vulnerable to the Gods and to the supernatural. Perhaps the difference between "horror" and "urban" is that urban horror's heroes are ordinary folk put into a dreadful situation.

Nightingale said...

This post was very eye-opening. I'd never considered that I wrote urban fantasy because I saw it as a narrow graphic novelish characters in contemporary times.

Thanks Terry.