Hello there! Jess Haines here. I’m the author of the urban fantasy H&W Investigations series (HUNTED BY THE OTHERS [link: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/finditem.cfm?itemid=16761], TAKEN BY THE OTHERS [link: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/finditem.cfm?itemid=18148], and DECEIVED BY THE OTHERS [link: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/finditem.cfm?itemid=19226]). Jim was kind enough to invite me to swing by to speak here on his blog.
I imagine if you’re hanging out on this blog, you’ve probably read Jim’s book already. You may have noticed that, even though his story has supernatural elements, it is grounded in reality—Jackie is an FBI agent, and you can see how procedural matters are dealt with when investigating crime scenes. Even in the opening of the novel, you’ll notice that Archie was left in the cold and rain, worrying about food and shelter. These all add up to making a more believable world for the reader to explore.
It’s the little touches like that—shivering in the rain, a headache after a night of drinking, worrying about bills, the gnawing ache of hunger—that make for a more relatable story. When natural laws are thrown out the window with added supernatural elements, whether it be an unnatural creature or magic, it requires that the reader have something familiar to give them a yardstick of comparison, or so that they aren’t left feeling confused by what’s going on.
Adding ghosts and ghouls and vampires and witches to your story are all “familiar” creatures, but what if you’re doing something unusual with them? For example (don’t shoot me for this one, it’s just the most obvious I could think of off the top of my head)—what if you’re making your vampires sparkle?
Stephanie Meyer made this incredibly weird deviation from vampire lore acceptable to her audience by making the rest of her story so easily relatable. Bella was a normal teenager who dealt with all the usual high school drama and problems, the tests, the friendships, the prying parents, the prom—even though she also had to deal with the attentions of both a vampire and werewolf. The Twilight Saga made a generation of young girls believe in the possibility of romance and everlasting love. Even with the way she changed the “acceptable” norm for vampires and werewolves, she made an easy to read story which was so grounded in the real world, that it drew a whole slew of readers.
You’ll see this in urban fantasy, too. For example, take a look at Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. The early books start out very relatable. Anita is a “real” person who has “real” problems—she has bills to pay, not much of a love life, and sleeps with a stuffed penguin when she’s had a rough day. It makes her very human, in a very real and relatable sense, even though she also has the ability to raise the dead and hunts errant vampires during her time off. Or what about Harry Dresden, who is constantly worrying about paying his rent or where to come up with enough money to grab a beer and a steak at Mac’s pub even though he’s capable of incredible feats of magic?
It takes that touch of realism to make a story work. I incorporate that into my own novels. Unlike a number of urban fantasies you’ll see on the shelves today, my main character is fully human. She has family problems, a messed up love life, and a desire to prove to everyone—including herself—that she’s capable of keeping her business afloat on her own. Unfortunately, she decides that means taking on a job she normally wouldn’t touch. By accepting the offer from a mage cover to find an artifact in the hands of a vampire, she steps right into the world of the supernatural, and all of the many problems that entails.
So, what about you? Can you think of some examples of some stories that worked better for you because of how they had realistic elements? What about ones that didn’t work?
You can learn more about my work by reading HUNTED BY THE OTHERS (link: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/finditem.cfm?itemid=16761), and come visit me on the web:
Fan Forum: http://jesshaines.freeforums.org/
Thanks again for having me over, Jim!
And thanks for swinging by, Jess. Much appreciated. Also, since I haven’t done a giveaway in a while, I’ll hand out a signed copy of Deadworld and a coverflat for The Vengeful Dead to a random commentor one week from today! Jess’ book is also a free download for the next couple of days on nook/kindle.