The ignored (relatively) side of Urban Fantasy

I’m postulating this notion more on circumstantial evidence than anything else right now. It’s something I plan to delve into a bit more, do some more research, and ask some more folks about, but I wanted to put this out there for people to comment on because it’s something that I find unfortunate for many UF writers.

UF exists on a pretty broad spectrum. It’s what one might call a blended genre, pulled together from several other genres. If we were to look at it on a line from one extreme to the other, we’d find something like this:

Romance——————————–Fantasy—————————————-Crime Fiction

Each of these genres on their own contain their own tropes and character types, and have a general story structure that readers have come to expect over the years. While UF spans across these three genres, the one common thread they have is the use of a contemporary fantasy element in an urban setting. If one examines review sites across these genres, one finds a wealth of reviews, comments, and information among all but the crime fiction end of things. I find this a bit baffling. A sizeable chunk of the books you find on the shelves labelled UF, involve crime-fighting characters who solve a crime of some kind. We have private detectives, cops, FBI agents, etc. all working to stop some kind of paranormal villain. Is it just me, or is it rather odd that the characteristic “paranormal” somehow precludes these stories from being considered within the crime fiction genre?  On occasion you can get someone who breaks beyond these bounds and gets considered by almost everyone, i.e. The Dresden Files, but in general this wealth of paranormal crime fiction is relegated within the ranks of those who typically cover the UF genre.

Some of this could easily be due to how UF is marketed and shelved. You just don’t see them among the ranks of mystery and thriller writers. Somehow, the paranormal precludes them from membership, and I just don’t get this. There are a lot of readers out there who read primarily mysteries and thrillers, who would likely find a great deal of content within UF that would appeal to them, but they’re never made aware of them. I have no answers around how to change this. I merely want to point out the fact and bring it up as an interesting issue that I believe deserves some discussion. What do you think? What are some UF books you’ve read that are really crime fiction disguised in paranormal clothes?  Or some mysteries/thrillers you’ve found that have paranormal elements but aren’t actually labelled as UF? I’d like to hear about them.

Happy reading/writing everyone!

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Vengeful Dead Excerpt-The Spindly Man

I’ve mentioned in other places, that my sequel to Deadworld, The Vengeful Dead, introduces something from the other side that begins to introduce a bigger story line that will be carried into book three and beyond. Name at this point, I refer to it simply as, The Spindly Man. What is it? Why is it around? These questions remain to be answered, but I thought I’d offer a little introduction to him, as presented in the book. Here’s a short excerpt wherein he’s introduced to the story (note this is from my final draft, not the final copy). Hope it intrigues. Happy reading/writing everyone.

Excerpt:

The thing had arms, long and spindly, with sharp joints that gave the appearance of tree limbs, which swung with smooth grace next to its body. Without getting closer, Jackie could not tell for sure, but it looked to be covered in something, stiffer than fur, maybe quills, that ran vertically over its body, flowing right up into its head, which gave it a ragged paintbrush look. Well, it wasn’t human, of that Jackie was certain.

The black creature began to move over the bridge at a very casual pace, its head turning back and forth. It seemed to be looking for something. Jackie turned away to gain protected cover from the corner of the building. That’s not human, whatever it is. So why is it in this place? Of greater concern was the fact people were running away from it frightened for their lives. Maybe it’s time I got the hell out of here.

Jackie gave it one last look and froze. It stood in the middle of the bridge, facing her with silver-dollar-sized eyes distorted by the wiry hair that grew over every part of its body, glowing with a luminescent, emerald green stare. The head cocked to one side as though perplexed or confused by what it saw. It wonders why the hell I’m here, just like I do. But Jackie did not think that little cock of the head was curiosity in a puppy dog sort of way. She got the panicky feeling its curiosity tended toward the, “How many different ways can I cook it?”side of things. This was where humans came when they died, so what in god’s name was that? The panicky feeling bloomed into full-on dread. When it turned and continued to cross the bridge, Jackie spun back between the buildings and fled, hoisting Laurel up over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry.

“Shit. Holy shit. Laur? Now would be a good time to wake up. Something really bad is after us.” Jackie sprinted down the street, watching the gauzy fingers of fog make their sluggish turns in the other direction toward the gathering storm that had to be named Death.

Reader Question: What would you like to see in your paranormal?

There are no new stories to be told. We writers have likely heard some form of this on more than one occasion. On a basic level this is probably true. There are a limited number of story types that we all fall in. Because I’m fond of architecture, I’ll use it as an analogy. There are only so many foundation types upon which to build. The cityscape of books throughout history is a varied and marvelous site to behold. However, if we tear it all down to the ground, we’ll see vast, repeating pattern of sameness. The trick obviously, is what you build on that foundation.

I currently live in the neighborhood of urban fantasy. It is an often creepy and violent landscape full of broken down tenements, gothic mansions, and overgrown bungalows (among others). The foundation of my building is much like others in this part of town, set down in the concrete of law enforcement, ghosts, and vampires. What I’ve built is not a bright and cheery place. It’s overgrown with peeling paint and cracked window panes. Some rooms in the house are a jumbled mess, filled with broken furniture and blood stains on the floor, while others are stark though expensively furnished. There’s a basement, dank and dark, seeping with musty, unwanted odors, and locked storage spaces you’re pretty sure you don’t want to open. And then, there’s the attic, inaccessible by normal means, requiring a pulled down ladder, from which strange and alien sounds come in the night. Okay, you get the idea and I’m having too much fun with my analogy here. Though built upon the familiar, the architecture of your story can and should be uniquely yours.

My story has ghosts and vampires, tried and true story characters of the urban fantasy landscape. Done time and again over decades past. Some readers may roll their eyes at the thought of yet another building thrust up in this crowded space. My hope of course is that the tour through this place will make it feel like a unique journey, sometimes familiar, yet not like any place else you’ve been.

So, readers of the paranormal, what do you hope to find in this familiar part of town? What would you like to read that would take these stories full of paranormal creatures and people in a new direction? Or have you left the neighborhood entirely, looking for new places to live/read.

Why do we like to read dark stories?

Dark urban fantasy. You see this term tossed about quite a bit. The word “dark” gets attached to other fiction as well. My debut, Deadworld, is considered a “dark urban fantasy.” So, what does it mean exactly? What is it about the term that makes it a selling point to readers? 

The term can apply to a variety of elements within a story. You can have dark characters, people who are pretty flawed, who don’t live particularly ethical/moral lives, and are just downright difficult to like in some significant way. The plot can be dark, which can mean a lot of things, but usually is a step up in graphic violence, bad things happening to good people, and/or involving content that pushes into the realm of disturbing. It can be dark in mood, such that the overall feeling is is one of gloom, where you get the feeling, sometimes literally, that it’s always night and raining, or the setting is run down, over run, in other words, the bad side of town. You can have all of these in a story, but suffice to say, it isn’t glitz, glamour, and sparkling rainbows in this story.

Some might say dark means more realisitc, because let’s face it, there’s some pretty dark shit that goes on in this world, but you can just as easily find the lighter, feel good aspects of life to write about. Urban fantasy, crime fiction, horror, science fiction, thrillers, all lend themselves well to making things dark. I think a lot of readers like to immerse themselves in it because it’s a way to vicariously experience a life too dangerous to exerience on one’s own. But let’s face it, reading in general is a way to take us to places unknown, too dangerous, and/or unaccessible to us in our normal lives. It’s fun, and when it comes down to it, that’s what the reading experience should be. Light or dark, it should always be an enjoyable experience.

Oh, yay. It’s that whole piracy thing again.

I came across an interesting argument going on between a writer and a reader this morning on twitter around the issue of illegally downloading a book because they couldn’t get it from amazon in the format they wanted. “I’ll buy it when amazon finally gets around to making it available to me.” The names are irrelevant here, so I’m not going to mention them, but the issue is for many a writer. Piracy is an issue, and likely will be for the foreseeable future. I know my book is going to end up on some torrent site somewhere for people to download. Some asshat will make copies available on ebay. The publisher will lose sales, and more importantly, so will I.

We live in an age where tons of content is available for free on the internet. You can get music and movies all over the place. And these people lose money too. There are all sorts of reasons and justifications for it being done. It can’t be purchased legally in the buyer’s location. The format isn’t going to be available for another three months. The legal price is more than it should be. The list goes on. Too much of the “I want it, and I want it now” mentality in our culture. Technology has driven patience out of cultural psyche. Somehow, waiting has become an unacceptable state of being. For anything. The point is however, sidestepping the legal channels is more than just sticking it to the corporate powers that be who are trying to maximize their profits. It hurts the creators. There’s no way around this. If you don’t pay, the creator is not compensated.

In publishing, which runs on such a tight margin, losing sales, even a small percentage can sometimes make or break you. Many readers don’t quite get just how tough it is for writers to make any sort of living at it. It’s also a matter of respect. If you have respect for the artist/craftsperson, why would you want to take their creation without paying for it? There certainly is no inherent right to get books or music or film for free. Artists don’t create simply for the pleasure and convenience of the consumer. One thing that really gets under my skin is when readers (or any other consumers of artistic creations) claim that the artist should just be glad more people are experiencing their work. Because? It does the artist no good if they have no time to create because they aren’t being adequately compensated for their efforts. The growing problems with privacy leaves me with the niggling feeling that our culture has/is declining in its appreciation for artistic endeavors, that somehow the consumer has a right to it, and the artist should be happy with the mere fact that people even desire it.

I’m getting a bit ranty here, so I apologize. Personally, I expect to gain compensation for my efforts. It’s a lot of work to create a story that people will desire to read. Publishers are in the business of finding stories people will not only want to read, but be willing to invest their time and money in. Pirating a book is saying that the reader believes the work isn’t worth compensation or not worth the compensation desired. While the feeling may be that one is telling the publisher that they are demanding too much compensation for the work, it is a huge slap in the face to the writer. It’s saying the writer isn’t respected enough to compensate them for all of the hours and effort put into creating the work.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I want as many people to read my stories as possible. Part of the reason I write is because I want people to read and enjoy my stories. I do however, want at least a bit of respect for the time and effort that has gone into my creation. If I were to break it down, I won’t likely even make minimum wage  for my books when all is said and done. Am I looking to get rich off of my endeavors? Obviously not. Very few authors do. I take my craft seriously though and would hope that readers believe books are worth taking seriously too. If you pirate (and not saying anyone reading this is) it tells me you don’t take books or my efforts seriously at all, and I’d rather you didn’t read my book if that’s the case. So, please, don’t pirate. Have a bit of respect my work and for the art of storytelling as a whole. To me, it’s worth the money (how much money is a whole other bucket of worms).

Note: for a great look at how it can really effect an author, read this: http://anywherebeyond.livejournal.com/342581.html

Nick’s Journal #1

I thought I’d offer a little insight into one of the main characters of Deadworld today. Nick Anderson is the hero in my story. He is not the main character, but he is a central figure in the story and the series as a whole. Actually, Nick was the character upon which my whole story began. When I started this, I wanted to write a story with vampires, in some form or another. I wanted to do something different and steer away from the more typical gothic mythos. I wanted a tormented man, a loner, struggling with who and what he’s become, and hellbent on tracking down the one who has made his life such misery. My inspiration for Nick, and one of my all-time favorite characters, was Roland the Gunslinger from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Personally, this is one of my favorite stories of all time.

Below, is the first entry in his journal, kept as he travelled around the states trying to track down and kill his nemesis. I hope to make this a regular feature, if readers enjoy it, so please feel free to offer feedback on it and let me know what you think. If you click on fullscreen mode in the scribd reader, it’s the easiest way to read. Enjoy!

Writing the F****d up Heroine

I’ll admit right up front here that I like messed up characters. I like them to be one step away from imploding. I want to skirt the line between competence and falling apart into a blubbering mess. I believe it makes the characters more interesting. Kicking butt is all fine and dandy, and in some ways, the hero/heroine should do so, at least in the genre of Urban Fantasy. But, I find it more interesting when characters have flaws, are tormented by them, and when these flaws put their success in jeopardy, at least when it comes to story. Sure, all kinds of paranormal badassery can impede the MC, and should as far as that goes. The fantasy elements of UF would be rather boring if they didn’t. However, I want the MC’s own issues to be as much of a problem as the non-human ones. In essence, they need to be fucked up.

The trick of course is to not be so over-the-top that readers lose sympathy or believability in the character. You can’t have a “Woe is me” character and maintain sympathy. You can’t have some issue that is so overwhelming that the reader won’t believe any normal person, or even a kick-ass person can overcome it. For example, if you have an alcoholic or drug-addicted character, you can’t have them in a state of intoxication all of the time, or nobody will believe they could be successful against the villains. You can however, have them struggle with it, binge on it, and otherwise have it interfere with their ability to succeed. Struggle is the key. Readers like to see characters struggle. They want reasons to root for the character’s success. So, while you can have a character who has some serious issues, it’s important to make sure they don’t drown out the character’s strengths. We have to believe they can overcome their obstacles as well as want them to.

Having a messed up character also gives the writer a bit more freedom to really torment them. Often, a person’s strengths are such that they allow them to skate by just enough to survive, but to reach any lasting success or happiness down the road, they have to be pummeled down to the point that they realize they really are messed up and have to deal with their issues. As a writer, I find this rather enjoyable (not sure if this says anything about my personality, but there you go). As a reader, I like it when I get to ride that rollercoaster of emotions swinging from, “Come on, you can do it!” to, “Oh my god, how could you do that?” It’s that fine line between cheering and giving up on the character as hopeless.

In my upcoming novel, Deadworld, my heroine, Jackie, likes to think she has it all together, but in fact, she doesn’t at all. Because this is a series, I also get the bonus of pushing character arcs across more than one book, because in real life, serious issues don’t get resolved in a matter of days or weeks. People have their ups and downs, highs and lows, and the hope is, that gradually they will achieve success in the end. And just like real life, overcoming issues for a character, is not a one-stop shopping sort of affair. Those issues that screw them up are always waiting, behind closed doors, in the dark alleys, or under the covers, to rear their ugly heads and bite the character in the ass. It’s fun stuff. And I hope readers will feel the same with Deadworld.