Why Urban Fantasy?

This blog is not intended as a researched study.  More my own observations and prejudices about the various aspects of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Next week, February 1, 2011 my 4th urban fantasy Forest Moon Rising, A Tess Noncoiré Adventure by P.R. Frost will be released by DAW Books.  Why did I write this series?

I fell in love with the subgenre when I read Sacred Ground by Mercedes Lackey, and later the Diana Tregarde mysteries by the same author.  I liked the idea of modern people battling paranormal evil in contemporary settings.  I still have bouts of absolute certainty that a monster resides under my bed.  These books gave me hope that I might one day banish it, on my own, with my own powers.

Then I read the early volumes of Anita Blake’s adventures by Laurel K. Hamilton.  These books are dark, sometimes downright gory, more so than the Diana Tregarde books.  Normally I shy away from graphic violence and gore, but the well drawn characters kept pulling me back.  Then along came one book in the series that destroyed my personal image of these characters.  I haven’t gone back.

But by this time I’d discovered Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs, Anton Strout and others in the genre.  Traditional fantasies paled in comparison for me.  I gobbled them up even as I wrote my own stories.  The characters in every book took up residence in my bookshelves and stayed there.  Tess and her companions feel like my best friends.

More recently I’m seeing a drift toward lighter atmospheres in the genre, closer to paranormal romance but with more grit.

Why are these contemporary stories hitting the best seller lists and continuing to occupy our imaginations long after we close the books?  I don’t know for sure.  In part vampires and werewolves have been romanticized and become the sex toys of the last decade, or more.  I personally don’t understand the vampires.  They are blood suckers, worse than the mosquitoes that carry malaria or other hideous diseases.  But the werewolf?  I get the ideal that wolves are majestic and misunderstood kings of the forest.  Werewolves are the ultimate bad boys that women need to tame and bring low by the power of love.  Beauty and the Beast endures.

Literature, even genre literature relies heavily on metaphors.  The demons our hero and heroine slay represent the stuff of our nightmares: plague, violence, dirty politics or conspiracies, poverty—of wealth as well as the spirit—an abusive spouse, whatever you fear most.  Contemporary or urban fantasies don’t require a lot of soul searching to find the metaphor.  The defeat of those demons by a character gives us hope that we can overcome our own personal bug bears, real or imagined.

Another draw is that the heroines are sexy, sassy, and smart.  Same goes for the males leads.  The kinds of people we want to be.  A little hero(ine) worship doesn’t hurt.


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: www.ireneradford.net Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Why Urban Fantasy? — 4 Comments

  1. Though, I, too, am not a huge fan of writing about vampires, there are some things that they represent in a protagonist role that I find appealing. They usually have to overcome their vampyric nature in order to coexist with humans. This is a good use of conflict and character development. They change throughout the book as they constantly battle the need to feed on those who they care about. It really is about human nature and overcoming those parts of our nature that keep us from bettering ourselves.

    I really enjoyed your perspective. Keep up the good work!

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  3. I think that’s what draws me to contemporary fantasy, too — I know there are monsters under the bed, and I want us to be able to do something about them. Plus, this gives a canvas for evaluating all the other interesting things about modern thought and society — from someone who may be able to do something about a few things. Just a few.

    Are you willing to admit which Anita Blake book lost you? I lost personal involvement at one point, because of how she handled certain major character things. I kept reading for the interesting world building and evolution, until the next book in the series obviously was not for me. So I stopped there.