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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Urban Fantasy (ConCarolinas 2012 Writing Panel Notes)

What's this? More notes?

Yup. Just in time for ConCarolinas 2013, which is happening next weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. If you're in the area, I recommend this convention. I for one can't wait! 

I found a few more sets of notes I never posted, so I'll share them in the days leading to the con. First up: a look at Urban Fantasy.

Urban Fantasy

David B. Coe (D.B. Jackson), Faith Hunter, Kalayna Price, Diana Bastine, J.F. Lewis 
Moderator: Gail Z Martin

How do you think in the last few years Urban Fantasy (UF) has  morphed or changed, or has it stayed pretty static?

DB: UF has been expanding, even though publishers' marketing geniuses have been making the book covers all the same. That does the authors a disservice because every series is vastly different (even when certain tropes are the same) – not everyone is writing the same book. Urban fantasy’s covering a *lot* of the fantasy section these days.

JL: UF has changed a bit. His pen name is his initials so that the reader can assume he’s female.

KP: UF really took off in 2005, first. Can trace it back to Bram Stoker, even though it really started to hit with Anita Blake in ’93. It stays true to the magic, but we kick a lot more ass now.

FH: We're not seeing new bad guys, new creatures. Still the same vampires, werewolves, and occasional mythological creature. Still the same “kill the bad guy” book, but introducing a few new characters. However, there has been much more crossover.

DBC: Thinks that there is and has been a conflation of what we used to call dark fantasy and what we call UF. We don’t really talk about DF anymore, it’s UF. Epic fantasy was driving the market 15 years ago, and had recently transplanted SF as driving the spec fic. Now UF is driving the spec fic market. Partly because female readership in the genre is way way up and UF has strong female characters (and male, but definitely females) Spec fic used to be about geeky pimply boys reading that, and now the readership  is vastly diverse.

GM: Agrees in the change in readership. Now looks at the attendance of conventions, UF market, female authors in the field, and now it’s vastly different from what it used to be.

What makes UF Urban? Why  Urban instead of small town or Rural?

DBC: Distinguishing itself from medieval pastoral fantasy. The landscape of the settings geared toward happening in cities. No matter what time period. If the landscape has an urban, seedy feel, rather han pastoral, it’s urban.

FH: A certain modernity, modern cultural feel to it at first. But now it also has expanded to mean urban, for other time periods. Now you can get historical urban fantasy, and not get bored with it.

KP: Not enough people to eat in the other places. The city is not completely necessary. Sookie Stackouse is UF, even though it’s set in a a small town. It’s about the feel.

JF: What makes it UF is putting monsters alongside the every day. The familiar setting and the unfamiliar monster.

DB: There's a certain different feel when it’s set in a city. It has a grity feel. There’s a certain edge to a city environment.

DBC: Charles de Lint used to be called UF, now it’s Magical Realism.

Going back to the idea of the city as a setting, as a character in the books, how do you think the flavour changes and what elements does a city bring to the story? What are the things that happens in a city that people can’t get anywhere else?

FH:  Really good food. Local culture. Adds an element you don’t have in a rural setting. The microbeers, the music. The choices are almost unlimited in the city.

DB: There's so much going on after dark in the city. There are places open all night. People are out and about 24/7. You have so much more of a culture happening after dark, when these stories take place.

DBC: A degree to which fantasy has transformed from quest literature to survival literature. The characters are under siege from page one, and a city environment can be threatening, so fraught with danger, that survival stories become so compelling.

GM: The infrastructure. The subways, the abandoned subways, building styles, mixed people and buildings and bacgrkounds and heritage – not likely to get as much of that in a small town, yet places where there's all of these things can be part of the story.

JF: Affects the story – e.g. population control for vampires

Audience: In a city everything’s packed in closely together. So many chances to be attacked out of nowhere. 

DBC: There's a certain claustrophobia.

GM – More chances for things to go wrong. In a city, more chance for anonymity. In a small town, everyone knows everyone. In a city, you don’t know the guy next door.

Audience: There's much more collateral damage and innocent people hurt.

Audience: Also, you can visualize these real cities it’s been set in.  You can see taste and smell it even if you haven’t been there.

DBC: Madeline Robbins – The Stone War -  a MUST read. A story about a post-apocalyptic new York. Turns it into the most terrifying place imaginable, even for New York.

GM: UF has bled into other areas. Like the show: Life after People.

Audience: Also, the crime element. Generally there's more crime in a big city because there’s more opportunity and more places to hide.

Audience: More bad stuff happens and people don’t seem to care as much.

GM: An alien invasion will happen best in NY because nothing phases them!

KP: A city as character offers much more crossover opportunity, such as film noir. The potential is extremely high.

Audience: Hot, graphic – where do you draw the line between UF and Paranormal romance?

KP – if romance is central to the plot, it’s PR – if killing the bad guy is central to the plot, it’s UF.

Audience: With all the things in the city and the city as a character itself, does it pose a problem in the plot?

FH: Where it takes place is much less important than what takes place in the scene. The city only comes into matter when the scene requires it. (e.g. if you're going to drown someone, that requires nearby water).

DBC: Overwhelmingly character driven. (FH: No, I just blow things up.) DBC – if the world is serving as a distraction, that’s a sign for him that he’s getting away from what his story needs.

Audience: Since UF is set in cities, how much research  is required? Do we have to have lived there?

KP: Doesn't write about real cities. She makes imaginary cities. She wants to make what can happen, rather than what can be there.

GM – Ficticious cities in a fictitious world.

DB – Also depends on how specific you need to be. The specificity of where things are in the city aren’t needed (like where is a pub located) – it depends, do you need to be specific?

FH – the French quarter constantly changes, so she gives herself freedom to change names of pubs/bars, etc – but she keeps the street names.

DBC – Writing novels set in Boston in 1765 (The Thieftaker series, under his pen name D.B. Jackson) presents problems, too. He’s found books about the time and place.  He’s researching extensively.

GM: No matter how much you research, your readers always know more and will be quick to point it out to you.

RA: Go to Youtube. Lots of people make driving videos these days.

Audience: Do you pick places for foreshadowing?

FH: Always.

Audience: There always seems to be a hateful relationship with the protagonists and law enforcement.

JF: It can happen. It does in his void city series.

GM: Depends on how you set up your series. Do people know about the supernaturals?

KP: Agreed.  Depends on your worldbuilding. Consider it part of the worldbuildig. You should.

GM: And sometimes, the people keeping the peace get it wrong.

Audience: Can  you change details? Blow up a landmark?

DBC and FH: Will change details as needed.

FH: It’s my N'awlins. Not the real N'awlins.

GM: Creative change. If you live in that city, you can laugh because those things aren’t there.

Audience: Obviously, the smells are big, important, part of the feel of being there.

DB: Yes, you can tell what cetain places smell like. The smells are different. Cities smell different. Smells are vital, are important. They really ground the reader in the feeling of being there.

GM: If you’re reading a book set in a city and have some experience with that smell, it’s gratifying if you’ve been there and you know because the author got it right. Adds another element of realism.

GM: Also, certain technology, behaviours can date things. Yes, it’s definitely useful to use a generic term rather than specifics. Specifics date and confuse.

Audience: Is it always going to be the case that humans have no chance? Can the police force get lucky?

KP: Your protagonist should be the only one who can solve the problem thoruhg great effort and change, and otherwise it’s someone else’s story.

Audience: So many humans. Humanity bands together.

GM: The human element: yeah, we’ve got opposable thumbs and we’re adaptable.

DBC: Yeah, but the hero is the one who overcomes through taking the road less traveled, unconventional thinking.

GM: We’re adaptable and on our good days we can do pretty darn well.


  1. What an informative panel! Wish I'd been there for this one. Thanks for posting it.

    1. You're welcome, Carolyn! Glad you found it useful.