Urban Fantasy: A Closer Look

Let’s talk urban fantasy!

Welcome back to Fantasy Month! As a reminder, you can find out all about this event over on Jenelle Schmidt’s blog.

Previously, we’ve discussed some of the subgenres of fantasy, but today I want to delve more into urban fantasy, its own subgenre of fantasy. Why? Because urban fantasy has a lot of subtle nuances that tend to be used interchangeably, and there can be a lot of disagreement about what exactly urban fantasy is.

But first, a note. Even though this is how I define urban fantasy, you don’t have to agree with me. Not everyone does! But I encourage you to share your ideas in the comments so we can chat. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Urban fantasy is not contemporary fantasy

I feel like this is a common misconception. Many people equate urban fantasy with anything set in modern time. However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

By definition, urban fantasy (UF) must take place in a city setting (urban). It could be historical urban fantasy, but the most likely, and the most recognized, is modern day city settings.

Contemporary fantasy, on the other hand, isn’t restricted to a city setting. It can be rural, under the ocean, on the moon…though there may be other overlapping genres there. 😉 But the key is that it takes place in current times without specifying location.

Contemporary and low fantasy aren’t the same

Low fantasy, similar to contemporary fantasy, takes place in our world. However, similar to urban fantasy, it does not have to be modern time. Contemporary, by definition, does take place during modern times.

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are similar…but not the same

This one is still fuzzier to me. Urban fantasy is similar to paranormal romance (PNR), but it tends to focus much less on romantic elements. PNR centers on romantic relationships, though it shares many other characteristics with UF. As I had mentioned last year in the fantasy subgenres breakdown, paranormal itself tends to center on another specific characteristic, so I’d say that PNR is just paranormal with a romantic twist.

Do you have a good definition of PNR? Do you love it? Hate it? Tell me in the comments!

So what are some hallmarks of urban fantasy?

Many people will overlap urban and contemporary fantasy, and there are a lot of book series that fall into this category in bookstores and online. Many of them tend to share some of the same features (but these are by no means inclusive and UF doesn’t have to contain all of them):

  • Brandon Sanderson once described urban fantasy as “chicks in leather fighting demons”. This can be accurate for some.
  • Many main characters (not all) are female.
  • Main characters may be human or not. But they become deeply immersed in supernatural culture.
  • There are often slow-burn romantic elements, but it is not the focus of the story, and romance isn’t a requirement.
  • Books are often long-running series.
  • Each book in a series is self-contained, but overall character arcs continue to develop from book to book.
  • UF may contain the following (or more!): shifters, fae, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mages, demons, angels, any magical creature you can think of.

Do you have other characteristics you’ve seen in urban fantasy? What are they? Tell me in the comments!

Final thoughts

Personally, I LOVE urban fantasy, but I know it isn’t for everyone. For me, I love that idea that magic could be just around the corner, that we just don’t see it around us. It’s an idea I became almost obsessed with over the past several years, starting with when I read the Mercy Thompson books in grad school. And because of my love for it, I tend to write quite a bit of it.

This Cursed Flame is a YA contemporary/portal fantasy. It doesn’t take place in a city, but it is set in modern times. It includes many, many djinn. And a genie.

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks is also contemporary fantasy, but it doesn’t take place in a city, so again, just contemporary. It does, however, have fae all over it.

And my newest release (out today!), Freeze Thaw, is a blend of contemporary and historical fantasy, as it combines magic in the Ice Age with magic in the modern world. But it’s set at an archaeological dig rather than a city, so I say, again, contemporary.

I’d love to tell you of all my upcoming projects, but it would simply take too long. So instead, do you have any favorite UF (or similar) reads? What are they? Why do you love them? Let’s chat!

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New Release Announcement!

As I mentioned, Freeze Thaw is out today! It is novelette length and a Sleeping Beauty retelling…in fact, it’s the same story that started all the Seasons of Magic stories! It was a Top Ten finalist in the Rooglewood Press Five Magic Spindles contest, and I am still in love with my story.

Click on the picture or the link above to find out more!

Cover Reveal: Freeze Thaw!

It’s time!!!

Guess what? It’s time again! The next Seasons of Magic is coming!

You may have seen this one floating around on the home page of this site for YEARS, and I kept promising to release it. It’s a story I wrote as part of Rooglewood Press’s Five Magic Spindles contest (Sleeping Beauty retellings), and it hit the top ten finalist list! Of those ten, five were chosen for the anthology…mine wasn’t picked because it didn’t quite fit with the others.

But that one thing inspired the entire Seasons of Magic series. We’ve already seen Rapunzel in Of the Clouds and Hansel & Gretel in Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks.

Now meet Talia, my Ice Age Sleeping Beauty, waking in the middle of a glacier archaeology dig.

Here’s the blurb:

An archaeology student, an Ice Age princess, and an undead sorceress…

Talia was meant to be her clan’s greatest leader. But when her parents fail to invite a powerful—and very dangerous—sorceress to her birth party, the clan’s long-desired blessing becomes their final curse. As Talia comes of age, the power of the sorceress finds her, and she is lost in a blizzard.

Millennia later, archeaology student Owen is on the field trip of his life to a glacier dig. But what begins as a routine dig soon becomes much more when he discovers a perfectly preserved mummy in the ice—a mummy that returns to life and drags him into a millennias-old dispute.

For deeper in the glacier, dark magic is at work, waking the sorceress known as the Shadow Woman, and she will stop at nothing to end Talia’s life and destroy the clan once and for all. If Talia and Owen can’t stop her, she will destroy not only Talia but also Owen and the rest of the team. But if they can survive, they may just re-discover more than they could have ever hoped for.

This was a Top Ten Finalist for the Five Magic Spindles contest by Rooglewood Press.

And now, without further ado, what you’re all here for: the cover!

Isn’t it beautiful? (Image shows the cover for Freeze Thaw, mostly black with an Ice Age woman standing in the foreground and an aurora and waterfall in the dark background. The title looks like it is made of ice, and green sparkles surround it and the girl. The text around the title reads “Cover Reveal”, then “An archaeology student, an Ice Age princess, and an undead sorceress…” followed by the title, the author Selina J. Eckert, and the designer Dragonpen Designs. Surrounding text is on a backdrop of green ice.)

And, as promised, this was a finalist, so I HAD to share my finalist medal on SOMETHING:

(Image of the cover again, this one including a medallion that says “Five Magic Spindles Top Ten Finalist”)

Convinced?

You can preorder this beauty, or it will also be available through KU…this is my first book ever available through the program, so take advantage of it!

If you’re not quite ready to order, you can also add the book to Goodreads.

The story will be available on February 14 (just in time for Valentine’s Day). I can’t wait for you all to read it! 😀

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PS: If you have read any of my previous books, I’d love it if you could leave a review on either Amazon or Goodreads (or your favorite book seller’s website!). It doesn’t have to be long and can say whatever you want! I’m so, so grateful for every review I get (even the critical ones), and I’d really appreciate any additional reviews. But even if you choose not to, I hope you continue to enjoy my stories! ❤

Of the Clouds Release Day!

Happy birthday, Quri and Sumaq!

Today is the day! “Of the Clouds” is finally out! That means those of you who have been waiting can finally get your hands on this sweet, adventurous, and hopeful retelling of Rapunzel!

Here’s the blurb:

What would you do to be free?

Shaman-in-training Quri only knows her master’s hut…until the neighboring prince arrives, showing her what life could be. But her master has other plans for Quri, and she will stop at nothing to keep her young apprentice from leaving her, including locking her in an old tomb. Now, Quri must defy her master to learn the magic she needs to free herself or lose her chance for the prince, her own happiness, and the life she wants. Can Quri find the strength she needs to save herself and the prince, or will the shaman keep her locked up forever?

This sweet and exciting retelling of Rapunzel will have you asking what you would do for your freedom.

Get it at your favorite retailer, or add to Goodreads!

And don’t worry; next we we’ll be back with our regularly scheduled posts! Underwriters and overwriters, prepare to examine your books!

Of the Clouds Cover Reveal!

Okay, I know I’ve been slow to share the helpful articles lately, but there have been so many good things to share, and today is no exception!

It’s finally time to reveal the cover for the first Seasons of Magic: Fireflies & Faeries retelling. This book is a novella-length retelling of Rapunzel, set in a Mesoamerica-inspired setting, right at the heart of a jungle mountain. You will find yourself plunked down in the middle of a small village, in a hut with Quri and her shaman-teacher, Chuki, right before a very sick neighboring prince is dropped at their doorstep.

How about a little teaser?

Shaman-in-training Quri only knows her master’s hut…until the neighboring prince arrives, showing her what life could be. Now, she must defy her master, risking all she’s known, to be free. This sweet and exciting retelling of Rapunzel will have you asking what you would do for your freedom.

Okay, okay, enough procrastinating. Here’s the beautiful gorgeous amazing cover, once again designed by Dragonpen Designs!

Without further ado… *drumroll*

*sparkle sparkle sparkle*

This beauty is now up for pre-order, or you can add it to your Goodreads list! It will be released on August 17, just in time to wind down the summer and get ready to go back to school, just like Quri is learning her own lessons.

How about a peak at how Savannah came up with the cover? Check it out!

So amazing how we start with two completely different images to get this gorgeous design. I’m in love! And, of course, SPARKLES!

Don’t forget to pre-order your copy, and I can’t wait for you to meet Quri and Sumaq!

Guest Post: Kathryn McConaughy

MagicMirrorsGraphic.jpg

Hey folks! Today we get another peek into these amazing Snow White retellings with a fantastic guest post by the author of Overpowered, Kathryn McConaughy! Just a reminder in case you missed the last post, these are seven Snow White inspired retellings that are part of the Seven Magic Mirrors joint release. You can find more stops on the blog tour here, and be sure to look for information about the giveaway while you’re there!

Overpowered by Kathryn McConaughy

41575887Taliyah bat Shammai is fleeing a terrible crime. Though she has no hope of shelter, she must keep running—for the Avenger will be coming. Even losing herself in the mist-haunted hills cannot protect her for long. But perhaps other criminals can…

Yotam bin Yerubba’la has left his home, his only guide a cryptic dream. Endangered by a perilous secret, he soon finds himself among men with secrets of their own—in a place where trusting others may be his most serious mistake… or his best defense.

Cypress and his band have been mercenaries for a long time. Criminals all, they don’t trust easily and never reveal their hearts. But when a battle goes horribly wrong, each man must decide whether he fights for gold, for fame, or for something yet more rare…

Disguised as a boy, Taliyah finds the outlaw life to be full of more questions than answers. What are those strange tracks around the ruined houses? Why is Yotam so calm in the face of battle? Where are the rest of Cypress’ men? And who is the Avenger?
There may not be much time for Taliyah to find the answers, for war is about to ignite in the hills. And they all will burn…

Add it on Goodreads, or buy it on Amazon today!

Now, without further ado, Kathryn herself on the inspiration of this fantastic historical fantasy!

The Inspiration for Overpowered by Kathryn McConaughy

What inspired Overpowered?  A lot of different things.  I’m never short of inspiration, just short of time to write things down!

Obviously, Rooglewood’s Five Poisoned Apples contest was a big factor, because I had to write a Snow White story.  This was a challenge for me, as I’ve never been a huge fan of this particular fairy tale.  While Snow White is more sensible than many fairy tale heroines, managing to make a new home for herself with her work ethic and housekeeping skills, she is also very naïve, instantly trusting groups of men in the woods and mysterious old ladies. (Can I ask—how did Snow White learn to cook?  You don’t see many princesses in kitchens.) Then she rides off into the sunset with a man whose only credentials are that he can kiss a dead/sleeping woman and that a previous member of his bloodline achieved political power. I don’t think it’s the plot itself that I have a problem with—like Snow White, many people do live life reacting rather than acting—rather, it’s the fact that Snow White’s choices are presented so positively.  “Of course you should marry the handsome stranger.  And of course your friends the dwarves will be perfectly okay with this.”

Ayeh.  So it took me a while to wrap my head around writing a Snow White retelling.  I originally tried writing an SF version in which Snow flees the colony where she grew up after her stepmother tries to have her killed for her planetary corporation shares, but my SF Snow kept coming across as too passive.  So I moved back to my home court—the mythic ancient Near East—and started a version that was set there. I made Taliyah more active from the very beginning, a woman wary and brave, though still a bit too trusting.

The first scene I wrote was the one where Taliyah, my heroine, approaches the outlaw camp and meets my “dwarves.”  I love writing “band of brothers” characters—they play off each other so well. And, as you know if you read “Guardian of Our Beauty,” I find the Late Bronze Age hillmen endlessly fascinating.  I had been reading a lot of books and articles on the relationship between townsfolk and nomads in the ancient Near East, so that information also made its way into the story and into the character backgrounds.  Anyway, in this scene I was able to explore who Taliyah was and how she was going to relate to the other characters. I was amazed that she was able to get Thorn, the band’s paranoid lookout, to talk to her, but their first conversation was wonderful.  After that, I was really excited to be writing her story.

About half of the ideas that took root in Overpowered had been hanging out in my head waiting to be used long before I knew that I would be writing a Snow White retelling.  For example, I’m very interested in the ancient Near Eastern wisdom traditions, whether they be in the Bible or out of it. I think that we often don’t appreciate what a big part those wisdom traditions—whether in the form of proverbs, poems, or parables—played in the lives of the ancient people.  There was one character, a middle-aged man who only communicates in proverbs, who had been living in my head for quite some time. So when I saw an opportunity to drop him into this story (where he would have to stay instead of wandering around in my brain making trouble) I wrote him in. That’s where Willow came from.

Many of my favorite wisdom tales from the Bible use plant imagery.  My favorite of all is Jotham’s cautionary speech to the Shechemites in Judges 9.  Distressed by their support of his murderous brother, he tells them a story about trees.  The trees want to have a king, but all of the trees with good reputations turn down the job.  Finally, the trees ask the bramble to rule over them. The bramble agrees, but pronounces a terrible curse on them if they betray him.  (Basically, Jotham is trying to tell the Shechemites that making his brother king was a bad idea.) I’ve always been intrigued by this tree tale, so I amused myself by giving my “dwarves” tree names in keeping with their appearances and personalities.  The grumpy “dwarf” is named Thorn, the giant is named Cedar, and so on.

Then I thought, “Why not make the homage to Judges 9 more obvious by letting Jotham’s brother Abimelek run around in the background?”  So I put him in. In the Five Poisoned Apples version of the story, you never actually met him, you just got Easter Egg-like references to him and his campaigns through the hill country.

Then Jotham turned up and said, “I’ve just had to flee after giving that tree speech against my brother.  I think I’ll join this outlaw band.” Well. I couldn’t chase him away; he was so friendly and polite. So I thought that he could be a dwarf, and maybe no one would notice that he was a biblical figure.

Then Taliyah started noticing how brave and kind and godly he was.  Long story short, he ended up as the hero of the piece, and I went back and wrote a bunch of scenes from his perspective.

As you can see, Overpowered came together from a lot of different sources—but I think that it really did come together into one integrated story world, a story world that I loved writing about.  In fact, I got so attached to these characters that I’m working on a sequel! I’m very excited to share the story with you all. I hope you enjoy it.

Concluding Thoughts

I had the great opportunity to read this story, and I have to say it was such a refreshing taste of a culture we very rarely read in most fiction, and especially as a fantasy! If you have any interest in the Near East, or fantasy, definitely give this a try!

If any of this has piqued your interest, remember you can add it on Goodreads or buy it on Amazon!

Happy reading!

How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

Fairy tales have become very popular lately, particularly unique retellings of fairy tales such as The Lunar Chronicles series, Ella Enchanted, Hunted, the ACOTAR series, and many, many others. In fact, the small publisher Rooglewood Press has been hosting a fairy tale retelling contest for a few years now, and they just recently announced this year’s (sadly the last): Snow White. If you’re interested in that, I’ll include a link to the contest page and previous winners below.

If you find you’re one of those people (like me) who is just a sucker for fairy tale retellings and want to try your hand at writing one, how do you going about doing that? Well, there are a few simple steps to make it the best it can be.

  1. Pick something new. Personally, I am tired of the “classic” fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Everyone and their mother retells those. What about other classics, like Donkeyskin and the Little Match Girl? I love the story Donkeyskin, but very few authors choose to retell it. Just by picking something lesser known or with fewer popular versions, you will immediately create something that stands apart from the crowd of retellings. In a world saturated with fairy tale stories, that’s a good thing.
  2. Start with the source. Go back to the source material, those first recorded instances of the story. Read the base story before you dive into creating your own version. How can you make a retelling if you don’t know the original? And no, Disney absolutely does not count!
  3. Expand to variations of the source. Look at different variants of the same story. Did you know that many fairy tales have versions in a number of different cultures? A couple years ago, Sleeping Beauty was the theme of the Rooglewood contest, and I hated how passive the heroine was. Turns out, all I needed to do was find a different version, and there she was! My active participant from a Middle Eastern version of the story. Dig around, and it will almost definitely give you ideas and inspiration.
  4. Look at other retellings. Find other, more recent versions of the story you want to tell. Look at how other authors approached the story, what they changed and kept, how it influenced the themes and plot. But don’t stop there! Look at reviews from bloggers and readers of the story. See how the audience reacted to the retelling, the elements they liked and didn’t like. Use this knowledge to your advantage!
  5. Make it recognizable. One of the most important parts of writing a retelling is making sure enough elements are present that the reader knows what story you are retelling. Otherwise, it’s just another story, not a retelling at all. Recognition is key.
  6. Make it new. We are all familiar with classic versions of stories. What readers want is a new take. Maybe there’s something different about the hero and the villain. Maybe the setting is in outer space instead of a woodland. Give your plot twists that may not have been present in the original. Maybe even mix several fairy tales together, like in the Lunar Chronicles. Whatever you decide to do, make it your retelling, not just a copy. Your readers will find it far more interesting that way.

For more reading on fairy tale retellings, you can check out this post from Ink and Quills and this post from Lianne Taimenlore. And if you have any suggestions for writing these kinds of stories, be sure to comment! I’d love to hear your input!

Rooglewood Press 2017 Contest: Five Poisoned Apples
2015 Contest: Five Magic Spindles
2014 Contest: Five Enchanted Roses
2013 Contest: Five Glass Slippers