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. ūüėČ 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!

My Favorite Genie Books

Wait, you mean there are books with GENIES in them??? GIMME ALL THE BOOKS!!!

We are just over two weeks away from the release of This Cursed Flame (and only a week and a weekend away from the start of the blog tour, starting April 21). So for the next two Fridays, I’ll be sharing things related to the book!

Today I want to talk about some of my favorite books and series that deal with djinn and genies. Genies aren’t common creatures for authors to use, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some really great stories out there that have them!

So without further ado, let’s get right into it! Here are some of my favorite books with djinn and genies.

Weather Warden, by Rachel Caine

If you’ve been around a while, you’ve heard me mention this before (maybe back in February?). This series is one of my favorite urban fantasies, and it specifically deals with the relationships between magically gifted humans, the djinn they capture and use, and the tumultuous planet under our feet. I greatly enjoyed the elemental nature of the powers and the complexity of the interactions between each magical thing involved in the story. And having a vengeful planet underfoot, one that seems to be sentient, well, that’s terrifying.

If Wishes Were Curses (Steel City Genie Series), by Janeen Ippolito

This one just came out earlier this year. It’s urban fantasy, takes place in Pittsburgh, AND features a genie… yeah, this was an insta-buy for me. And I didn’t regret it. This book had a fresh flavor of urban fantasy with unique shifters, lesser-known and lesser seen magical creatures, and a genie with wish magic. I loved every second of the read, and I cannot wait for the next book to come out!

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

This book was one of those more lighthearted fantastic romps. It felt like I was listening to someone tell me a story, which always warms my reader’s heart, and it stars a genie (jinni) and a golem straight out of Jewish folklore. The story was deep and engaging, and it was such a pleasure to read!

Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

This one is a young adult book set in a desert country full of legendary magic (that a friend of a friend has seen) and gunslingers. It was such an interesting blend of Wild West and desert culture, and then the idea of the magical creatures layered throughout, including genies, just kind of sealed the deal for me. It was a fun, magical read!

Bottled, by Carol Riggs

This one is about a teen who was changed into a genie a thousand years ago and has been on the run from a power-hungry man who wants to use her magic to become even more powerful. The main character has faced classic genie problems, such as horrible masters and inane wishes, and in this book, she gets a real, kind master who wants to help. This was another fun, unique story that I loved!

This Cursed Flame, by Selina J. Eckert

And, of course, how could I have a favorite genie books post without including my own??? This book, if you haven’t been paying attention to me lately, is all about a girl who was changed into a genie by an evil djinn… and now he finds that her very existence disrupts his plans. And then there’s the science nerd human. The two girls are accidentally thrown together, and it is only with each other that they can save their worlds, and themselves, from the reach of this evil djinn. This book is full of magic, worldbuilding, and strong female relationships. You can pre-order it on Amazon or any other major retailer, and keep an eye on Amazon for the paperback, coming soon!

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Have you read any other books with genies? Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear about some more!

All About Fantasy Genres

Fantasy is my favorite genre.

Okay, let me get a little more specific. Urban and contemporary fantasy are my favorite genres to read. For writing, I love writing contemporary and high fantasy.

Wait, is it really high fantasy? What about epic or heroic? What am I writing? What am I reading???

If you’re anything like me, you love fantasy, but you are a little fuzzy on some of the differences between the subgenres. So today I want to take a little time to examine a few of the lesser known genres and clarify the differences between some of the confusing ones.

Let’s start with something general.

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction in which the plot and the worldbuilding revolve around magical or supernatural elements that are not seen in the real world. All fantasy can be divided further and classified according to various elements and characteristics, such as the grimdark versus noblebright classification (which I won’t go into today). You may not agree with the subgenres I call fantasy, but that’s okay! We don’t always have to agree. ūüėČ

Low Fantasies

Low fantasy is fantasy set in the real world (low refers to the prominence of the fantasy elements in the story) and is also known as intrusion fantasy. Within low fantasy, there may be historical fantasies, alternate timelines, post-apocalyptic fiction (which could also be science fiction, depending on the story), or contemporary fantasies.

Contemporary fantasy is the wider term for what some people call urban fantasy. It is a fantasy story that takes place during the present day in the present world, or during the time in which the author lived and wrote. It often incorporates elements of real places and people to ground it in reality. The Lost Voices trilogy by Sarah Porter is an example, as it is a mermaid story set in the Pacific Northwest (but also the ocean) during modern times.

Urban fantasy, on the other hand, is a subgenre of contemporary fantasy. It still takes place in modern times in the real world, but it is specifically set in cities (hence urban). Popular examples include Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson books and Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

There is also paranormal, but the jury seems to still be out on exactly what this is and how it is defined. Some people suggest that paranormal is like urban fantasy, but instead of following a fantasy story, it has other genre elements to it, like thriller or romance. Either way, there appears to be a lot of overlap between paranormal and urban.

High Fantasies

High fantasy, often referred to as Tolkienesque or Lord of the Rings-type fantasy, is a fantasy set in a secondary world with its own set of rules and laws. Magic or the supernatural is highly prevalent in the world and the plot, and these stories are often associated with large, sweeping stories with grand stakes.

One confusing distinction in high fantasy is epic versus heroic fantasy. Epic fantasy are stories which often have large casts of characters, dramatic fights between good and evil, and plots on a worldwide scale.

Heroic fantasy, on the other hand, focuses more on the characters than the world. It often follows a hero or set of heroes on a specific quest, often with a good versus evil plot, on a smaller scale than epic fantasy. Some people refer to heroic fantasy as sword and sorcery.

Portal Fantasies

Kind of in between high and low fantasy are portal fantasies. These stories often start in a low fantasy setting (our world), but the characters are transported to a new secondary world for much of the story (hence portal). My upcoming release This Cursed Flame is a portal fantasy. So are the Kacy Chronicles by A. L. Knorr and Martha Carr.

Magic Realism

Here is another, similar beast. Magic realism is a bit of fantasy and a bit of literary fiction smashed together. In these stories, magic elements intrude on real life, but it is so smoothly integrated that it is often unclear if the magic is real or some sort of delusion. Many magic realism authors are associated with Latin America, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I would argue that other authors such as Neil Gaiman can fit this genre (I’m specifically thinking of The Ocean at the End of the Lane).

Science Fantasy

The last genre I will discuss today, even though there are many other possible subgenres, is science fantasy. Science fantasy is a unique blend of science fiction and fantasy in which both technology and the supernatural or magic elements play a role.

Sometimes steampunk is classified here, though I would say that gaslamp fiction is more accurate (think of gaslamp fiction like steampunk with more magic).

I would also argue that many LitRPG books could fit under science fantasy as well. LitRPG is a somewhat new genre in which much of the story takes place inside a video game world, like in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It’s somewhere between science fantasy, portal fantasy, magic realism, and sometimes science fiction, in my opinion.

Concluding Thoughts

If I spent the time to discuss every potential subgenre of fantasy out there, we’d be on this page for hours. Just look at this site’s list! (Though I disagree with some of the lines they draw) But the subgenres I discussed above are some of the more well-known or easily confused ones, and those are what I wanted to highlight today.

So now I want to know what I missed; tell me some of your favorite fantasy subgenres! What other subgenres would you like to discuss? Do you disagree with anything above? Let’s talk in the comments!

Continuing Fantasy Month

This post is part of the Fantasy Month blog tour! But did you know there’s a whole list of posts like this here? You can see the previous post here, too. So jump in to the other blogs, hop onto¬†Twitter¬†for the hashtag game, and let‚Äôs have some fun!

Other Participating Blogs

There are a ton of bloggers participating in February is Fantasy Month. Here is a list (and hopefully I didn’t miss anyone!):

3 Reasons I Love Urban Fantasy

Werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires, and… cell phones?

Yup, you read it right. Urban fantasy is one of those genres that likes to mix unlikely creatures with our very own world. But what exactly is urban fantasy, and how does it differ from other, similar, types of fantasy?

Urban fantasy: A subgenre of fantasy which takes place during contemporary times, often in cities (hence “urban”), and involves typical elements of fantasy such as magic and fantastical creatures. Urban fantasy is often associated with leather-clad demon hunter ladies, but that is not a requirement. Also I don’t really like the leather-clad demon hunters… give me the coyote shifter mechanic any day (Hello, Mercy Thompson).

Now, you may be wondering about stories that don’t take place in cities but fit the other requirement: a contemporary setting. Technically, these are¬†contemporary fantasy, though they are often still called urban. The difference is the physical setting.

Then there’s magic realism, a fantasy subgenre made famous by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude). It is normally associated with Latin American writing, but other writers can also pull it off. For example, Neil Gaiman does a wonderful job using this subgenre, though I think most people call it something other than magic realism, like contemporary fantasy¬†(The Ocean at the End of the Lane). Magic realism has its own unique feel; it comes across as a dreamy writing style that seamlessly incorporates magical elements into the everyday. It is difficult for the reader to separate the expected from the magical, and the characters see these magical elements as part of their everyday experience.

But I digress.

While I love other fantasy genres, urban fantasy (including contemporary fantasy and magic realism) has become one of my greatest loves. Why, you ask?

  1. It involves our world. I love the idea that magic could be just around the corner from me. That it surrounds us, even if we don’t know it. I love the possibility.
  2. It involves technology. I don’t know about you, but I love my devices. I don’t mind reading about pre-digital devices times, but the concept of magical creatures using a cell phone or computer is something that really gets me… it humanizes them, in some cases, or draws them into greater relatability, giving them more depth. I love the idea of mixing magic and science! Hey, I’m a scientist.
  3. It has great heroes and heroines. Let’s face it. Some genres just naturally pump out characters we love. I find that urban fantasy is one of the best. You get shifter mechanics (who also have history degrees), half-fae detectives looking for their place in the world, vampires warring with their natural desires, and mermaids trying to hide what they are from the swim team. Extraordinary beings thrust into entirely ordinary situations. I love the contradiction. And I really love the characters for that reason.

Those are my top reasons for loving urban fantasy, but what specific series or books do I love most? Here are my top favorites:

This is by no means an exhaustive list, though. I still plan to read some others, like the Dresden Files, and I love a number of other books and series I didn’t mention here. But my list is pretty long. Indie authors especially, like A.L. Knorr above, tend to publish urban fantasy a lot. Unfortunately, the traditionally published urban fantasy is trickier… some agents and publishers think urban fantasy is dead. But I disagree wholeheartedly; the number of books available and published every day in this genre scream otherwise.

So, I will continue to read (and write) urban fantasy. And I will love it without shame.

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What about you? Do you like urban fantasy? Do you prefer other genres or subgenres? Why? Tell me in the comments below!

New Draft Complete!

Exciting news: I finished a new draft!

A brand new story, so shiny and sparkly, is finally drafted after an agonizing year of trying to get through it. I never fell out of love with the idea, but slugging through the middle was really hard this time around. I knew where I had started and where I was going, but I spent a long time figuring out how to get my characters there. There were definitely some surprises and twists along the way, and I fell in love with relationships I hadn’t originally planned. Actually, two of my characters were supposed to hate each other… and they ended up in love! I gave myself warm fuzzies, and I can’t wait to give them to you, too!

Then I hit the last third of the book. Once I knew what was going to happen again, the words flowed like I had turned on a faucet. And last night I hit that last key. Finally. This feeling. Ugh, amazing. If you’ve ever completed a large project or a passion project, you know this feeling.

What’s next? Well, letting this one air dry for a bit (about a month, just long enough to work on a new story for NaNoWriMo!) so that I can come back to it with new eyes. As I was writing, a lot of different things changed, like the age of my main protagonist and her feelings about another character, so I know there is going to be a lot of rewriting and cleanup. After the sitting-period, I will print off the draft, read through it for overall notes, and then open up a brand new file to redraft… something I’m actually really looking forward to. I can’t wait to shine up this story, to tie up the loose ends and plot holes, to implement the new ideas that I had mid-drafting.

What’s this new story about? Without creating an actual summary, here’s the idea:

Ember is a half-human, half-Nis (fox spirit) hybrid who never quite felt like she fit in. Then, she finds herself forced to graduate (or, you know, expelled) from Nis school and moves in with her brother. However, she is left with this warning: she must learn how to be a real Nis, or she will be rejected from their society altogether.

Then she meets Sora, a Swan-shifter. Sora is part of a discreet organization known as the Knights Errant, an organization claiming they want equality and justice for all types of supernaturals, not just the Nis. This quest for equality strikes a chord in Ember’s bruised heart, and she begins spending more time with Sora. However, not long after this, her pearl, the seed and anchor of her magic and the most important part of Nis life, is stolen. If she can’t recover it, she may just be banished from Nis society permanently and without the chance to make amends.

In an effort to recover her pearl, she begins going to Knights Errant meetings with Sora. Before she realizes what has happened, she’s in over her head and forced to resolve a centuries-old cover-up by the Nis Elders… one that could ultimately destroy the world. With the help of her brother and her new friends, she joins the fight to stop an ancient evil and find her place as a true Nis.

So there you have it! I’m so excited about this story, and I can’t wait to polish it up and get it out into the world.

In the meantime, anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year? I’m going to try to complete it with a new high fantasy based on a D&D campaign I wrote a couple months ago.

Tell me your stories and plans in the comments!

Starting with a Spark: Ember of Foxfire

It had been a while since I started a completely and wholly new¬†story. Yes, there were a few starts, a couple short stories, a couple incomplete beginnings that have since been largely abandoned, but nothing I’d intended to be a real new world.

You see, I have been working on a series of fantasy novels since 2011. I finally completed my editing process in the month of March 2016 and sent it out to my first potential publisher. I had spent years upon years, countless hours and brain cells, thinking and living and breathing that world.

And then it was time to step back and wait, and I was left in a story vacuum.

After editing for so long, bouncing back from a huge dry spell, and needing something new purely for the joy of creation, I needed fresh inspiration. I thought about how things had started for the previous series. That was simple: I had been watching I Dream of Jeannie and really wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a genie. And it grew and morphed into a new, complex, colorful world filled with characters I loved. Stories I had to tell. Worlds I wanted to explore.

But what about now? All I had was my current fascination with urban fantasy. I was sucked into worlds of werewolves, floating on ocean waves with sirens, dreaming of creatures who prowled the night and fought evil right in our own world or in variations of our world.

And I love it.

But, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of vampires, I’m not feeling the urge to write beautiful mermaid tales, and the world is saturated with werewolf fiction. So where did that leave me?

I narrowed down that I wanted to write urban fantasy. But I was still without the “fantasy” element.¬†I scoured online lists of mythological beings, writing out notes on selkies, swan maidens, and kitsune, just to name a few. And of everything I read, I kept coming back to the kitsune. I searched for other kitsune fiction, and while it was there, it was sparse and questionable. But I wanted to read about fox shifters. They didn’t have to be perfect kitsune. But they were different and powerful and had a hierarchy already built in to their growth and development. It was the first spark.

And then a character started forming in my mind. A half fox shifter, half human girl just entering her independence in the human world after years of learning from the other fox shifters. She was young, naive, and not exactly popular with her peers because of her parentage. But she was also brave and strong and wasn’t afraid to be both girly and tough.

But what would happen to her? I’m not a huge fan of romance, especially the love-at-first-sight kind that plagues a lot of urban fantasy, so I knew I wanted it to be romance light¬†or romance free. I knew she would have a fully fox brother who was older and more experienced than her.¬†And then I read more about the kitsune. I created a similar North American kitsune lore. I developed the basic plot of what would happen to my character. I knew where she was going and what she would be facing. I knew how she would have to grow. I saw her trials, her enemies, and her friends. I had finally met Ember.

And there it was. I was ready to start creating again.