Thursday, August 5, 2010

Urban Fantasy and a Little Sass

I like Urban Fantasy. Sue me. Sometimes I need to be entertained and opening a novel of Urban Fantasy is a bit like finding an action flick on paper.

Don't confuse Urban Fantasy with Urban Fiction--they are not the same thing. For more information on URBAN FICTION, please visit Sherryle Jackson's excellent post about URBAN FICTION on the ECFL Summer blog tour.

Now back to the topic at hand: Urban Fantasy

I like that a lot of the characters within this subgenre talk like me. I mean, if I possessed a magical weapon/ability or could sense/destroy otherworldly creatures of evil intent, we could totally hang out and bond.

It might be fun, except I don't look so good in leather pants, and that seems to be a requirement.

But wardrobe aside, I like the pace of Urban Fantasy. Within most of the Urban Fantasy novels I’ve read, I’ve found dialogue (and internal monologue) that drips (sometimes literally—there’s no shortage of gore in Urban Fantasy) with sarcasm, irony, and a certain GILMORE GIRLS-go-hunting-for-vampires sensibility. Often using the First Person Point of View, the Urban Fantasy authors I most enjoy craft their prose to be funny and fast-paced—the books read like a movie with the bonus of seeing the protagonist’s innermost, and often hilariously self-deprecating thoughts.

Hang up the disco ball, baby, cuz I can groove on that. Self-deprecation is my life.

Authors like Seanan McGuire (a new fave in the genre for her October Daye series—with an added bonus: she doesn’t pander into gratuitous sex scenes), Ilona Andrews (On the Edge Chronicles and the Kate Daniels series. *beware of the latest title in the series for reasons of aforementioned gratuity*), and Michelle Sagara West (Cast in Shadow and other titles) have built believable, yet frightening worlds of imagination within this female-protagonist-heavy sub-genre. It's way too much fun.

As a sub-genre, Urban Fantasy ROCKS at portraying straight-up GIRL POWER.

Maybe that’s why I like Urban Fantasy. While there are authors (like Jim Butcher) who write great (and funny, though not necessarily Christian-friendly) male protagonists within this sub-genre, most of the Urban Fantasy books hitting the new release table at my library sport leather-bound, dagger-wielding females on their covers. And, even though these evil-slaying women are sometimes scantily clad (and I must mention this in case any Urban Fantasy book jacket artists should happen by: Cup size is not necessarily an indicator of one’s ability to vanquish evil. At least not the last time I checked. And the idea of cleavage as a selling tool for a book about a woman who literally kicks butt sort of denigrates the whole idea of “girl power”-- but, whatever.) they do look tough and, beyond Urban Fantasy I find there is a shortage of believable GIRL POWER protagonists in the overarching genre of Fantasy literature.

Does fiction mirror truth in urban fantasy? Yeah, it often does--most often by showing the layers of darkness within a soul or a culture—but sometimes the reality is found as simplistically as by tapping into a disguised comment on our culture, our language, or just our… sarcastic sensibilities. Yes, I enjoy Urban Fantasy, but I don’t read it with the intent of taking anything away from it. I don’t expect to be “moved” by Urban Fantasy. I expect to be entertained.

And that’s okay.

A steady diet of salt-laden movie-theater popcorn, however, will leave one thirsty. So I don’t read it all the time. (I believe I've mentioned my genre-hopping habits before.)

In my need to entertain my own sarcastic muse during a “dry period” of writing "my real stuff", I have dabbled in creating Urban Fantasy characters. It's way fun, but I haven’t (yet) let their stories come to life. Dabbling isn’t where passion lives. And I want to go to that address when I write.

While it’s fun to bring sassy, strong women to life, I don’t want to relegate them within the boundaries of a dark, urban environment. I would rather take them out of the city and place them in the fresher, brighter world of EPIC FANTASY. Who says strong, brainy, tough, and verbally sharp women can’t transfer their sarcastic commentary onto this brighter plane? (Well, CBA publishers seem to shout that from the hilltops, but that’s another story….) I don’t want to write popcorn to be mindlessly consumed, I want to fill my prose with the aroma of a rare-cooked steak, garlic smashed potatoes, and a bowl of fresh, tropical fruit. And when the nutritious content of the meal has been consumed, I want to polish the story with the rich and tart sweetness found within a thin slice of Key Lime Cheesecake. I want to create fiction which doesn’t leave the reader hungry for a sequel, but leaves the reader so satisfied --gorged, even--on story that she wants to go to sleep and dream of it—before she wakes up refreshed--and ravenous--and ready to break her fast on the soon-to-be-published sequel.

But, alas, Book One must first make the grade before the dream of Book Two is set upon the table.

That said, I guess I should post this puppy and get back to work. My well-spoken heroine could benefit from a little sass and I know just the well from which to draw it.


Tracy Krauss said...

This is one genre I have never really ventured into. Maybe it's time ... In any case, I do agree that we all just need to be entertained once in awhile - it does always have to be about a profound moral lesson!

S. R. Van Ness said...

I guess should put an addendum on this post: I am NOT promoting urban fantasy. Yes, I like it. Selectively. It is not appropriate for all audiences. Urban fantasy often touches on (or lives within) an occultish culture. The important thing to remember when reading urban fantasy is the same importance to be placed upon content when reading other fiction: It ain't real, friends. That's why they call it fiction. There are no vampires, elves, were creatures, or other members of the "fictional fae community" within our reality. And as escapistly awesome as urban fantasy can be, it can also be (but not always is) dark and anti-Christian with messages that war against the light. I have put MANY UF books back on the library shelf unfinished because even though the story/plot/characters intrigued me, the subtle (or not so subtle) insults toward my faith were just that: insulting.
You've been warned.