Why I Write Urban Fantasy: A Guest Post by Rhiannon Held

It’s an absolute pleasure to host Rhiannon Held on the blog in celebration of the release of her third novel, Reflected. Today, Rhiannon will tell us why she writes urban fantasy:

I’ve always been drawn to urban fantasy, even back when I was just reading it rather than writing it. When I started my first real novel, I didn’t have to think twice about what genre it would be. There are several reasons for that, but even more interesting to me has been the gradual change in the opinions of the people around me.

Back in grad school when I was still plunking away at short stories, learning my craft, I visited home and my parents gave me an article they’d clipped for me from the local newspaper. It was about the surprising popularity of Twilight, which, while it was news to my parents and the national media, I was already perfectly aware of. I was kind of like yes, and? My mother told me that she and my father had thought maybe my short stories weren’t getting published because they were all weird and about vampires and stuff, but apparently that’s a good thing!

So I remember a time when someone asking why you picked urban fantasy was actually them asking why you’d picked that weird, pocket genre instead of writing a proper fantasy or horror novel. Why would a vampire be a character? Monsters should be scary and rawr, not sexy and emotionally nuanced.

But of course, making scary beasties into characters is part of what I love most about urban fantasy: it allows extraordinarily robust metaphors. And I’m all about metaphor! See, if someone has an opinion about a topic (let’s say drug addiction) and you present them with a character that’s an addict, bing! That previous opinion springs into action. You haven’t really done much to make the person reevaluate it. But if your character is a vampire, you can talk about addiction without it being about addiction, and the previous opinion says quiescent. Maybe you won’t change the person’s mind, but at least you’ve given them a new perspective while their previous opinion slept.

Beasties are great for that, because they can be about a whole range of emotional and physical states, without being about those emotional and physical states. For example, one of the main metaphors of my Silver series is using my werewolves to represent the struggle of immigrants and members of minority cultures to balance the traditions they keep at home with the ones they have to follow every day at work and school. Since my werewolves are born rather than turned, they can be born into a culture they have to keep secret from the humans around them.

There are also a few other reasons I write urban fantasy. It’s a genre that lets you hit the ground running. As a reader, rather than a writer, I love that, so I write what I love. In traditional fantasy, a talented writer can smoothly work in all the many details of the world, but there’s still a whole, entirely new world to take in and understand before you can get to the plot. Some readers like the feeling of being immersed in another place, and want lots of world details. Me, I want to be thrust into the character’s emotional arc and zoom ahead. Having a world that is somewhat similar to ours saves time explaining, and allows zooming.

I also find that urban fantasy can be fundamentally optimistic. It presents a world like ours, with very familiar problems—poverty, corruption, inequality—and then offers the characters a way to address those problems head-on. If the drug kingpin taking over a neighborhood is a vampire, you can stake him! I’ve heard some people present urban fantasy as the exact opposite, pessimistic, because there’s all the grit of the real world plus additional monsters on top. And some can certainly be written that way, but every time one of the additional monsters is excitingly vanquished, it’s giving characters in a world very like ours something concrete to celebrate, to hold them through the tough, incremental battle ahead against a non-fictional problem like poverty.

Of course, now urban fantasy has entered popular consciousness, questions about why I’d want to write in it sometimes trend more toward why I’d write in a genre that’s been tapped out, overrun by sparkling vampires. But no genre is ever completely tapped out, which is why I’ve made my werewolves different, and focused on things like their religion and culture, that most authors haven’t explored before.

But I know I don’t have to convince you guys or Chadwick, who kindly granted me space on this blog, about the fact that there’s plenty to love in urban fantasy. Since we all know it’s a ton of fun, we can turn instead to comparing our specific reasons. Now you know mine!

Reflected cover

Here’s an excerpt from her new book!

An Interview with Rhiannon Held

Creating Mythology: A Guest Post by Rhiannon Held

Rhiannon Held is the author of SILVER, and TARNISHED, the first two novels in an urban fantasy series published by Tor Books. In her day job she works as a professional archaeologist. Unfortunately, given that it’s real rather than fictional archaeology, fedoras, bullwhips, aliens, and dinosaurs are in short supply. Most of her work is done on the computer, using databases to organize data, and graphics programs to illustrate it.


Magic, Czerneda Style: A Guest Post By Julie E. Czerneda

Many of you know Canadian author Julie E. Czerneda as the former biologist turned science fiction novelist published by DAW Books NY. You may have read her Clan Chronicles series, or be a fan of Mac or Esen from her other work. Maybe you’ve heard she’s an editor. Also true. This spring, however, prepare to meet the Julie you don’t know. After three years of work, she’s letting out her whimsical side with the release of her first fantasy novel, A Turn of Light, also from DAW. The setting, Marrowdell, is based on pioneer settlements in Ontario. There are toads. And dragons. The magic? All her own. For more about Julie’s work, including book excerpts and upcoming events, please visit www.czerneda.com.

A Turn of Light Cover

Art Credit: Matt Stawicki

To say I’m not known — yet — for magic is an understatement. There’s not a whiff of it in my previous novels; for good reason, since those were science fiction. But I knew there’d be magic in A Turn of Light. The first paragraph I wrote of this story, decades ago, told me what kind I wanted. My kind.

Jenn laughed. The sparkling sound brought up the nose of a curious digger, crowned with a moist dab of soil. Nearer the forest, a rabbit paused, ears flat back to listen for the swoop of an early-hunting owl, and found the strength to jump into the safety of a thorn bush. While on the Northward Road, a weary stranger lifted his head and caught the scent of sunwarmed pine.

Magic innate, yet without guile. Magic of extraordinary consequence, often unexpected. Magic both carefree and wild.

I don’t write magic as tech. To me, that’s too close to science fiction, which I do write very differently and adore for itself. If I had boxes in my brain, tech would be in lovely organized rows and magic would spill throughout and betwixt as lush green vines and ancient silvered spiderwebs. With toads peering between.

I prefer not to do magic as spells. Here’s another bit from that very first paragraph.

The shimmering spot beside her on the hill began to whirl, the long rays of late afternoon sun picking out confused motes of dust caught by its frenzy, yellow pollen spiraling up in streaks of gold.

This introduces my dragon to readers (and to me). Magic again innate. Magic that belongs, as bone or breath belongs, to particular shapes of life. Magic as power is a potent theme in fantasy but in mine, including Turn, I give it away. To beings who are magic, for magic is what they can’t help but do. Here be wonders.

Or monsters. It depends on you. I’m more interested in our reaction to magic than in magic itself. How open to different are we? How willing to give respect instead of fear? If magic is the embodiment of imagination, who embraces it? Who walks away, oblivious? Who flees?

By lamplight, the roses were blood red and black, trailing over the lines of roof and wall, nodding overhead. She’d need a ladder to reach one; not that flowers would let themselves be picked. “I’m here for Poppa,” Jenn whispered. She lifted her hands. “He needs you.” There was a snap somewhere in the darkness overhead, then a single bloom tumbled down. It landed, dew-damp flower and stem, across her palms, and had not a single thorn.

There’s earth-rending magic in Turn as well as dire peril, because there are consequences not to ignore. There’s Bannan, with his truth-seeing eyes, and Jenn Nalynn, on a journey that will change everything she knows. Looking back, however, I find the smallest bits of magic are what I love best. The talents of  house toads and efflet. The ability of a horse to express opinion. The courage of a dragon.

Hurried, his body creaked and strained and tried to fail. The turn slid over and passed him as he pushed his way between neyet. Ylings trilled warnings. Nyphrit slipped into their holes. His useless foot snagged in a root and he pulled if free with a jerk that snapped bone. The road at last. He flung a breeze outward, “RUN!”

Before writing A Turn of Light, I worried if I could set aside, for the time required, my science and science fiction self, the one that demanded rigour and explanations and would never let anything of magic slip by. (Wonder, yes.) I used all sorts of tricks, a topic for another blog, to ensure I changed whatever I could of my work environment and my craft. When I sat to write that first day (October 2nd, 2009, if you’re curious), none of them mattered. I literally trembled.

I thought, then, of how very much I loved imagining my kind of magic. How, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that readers respond best to what I care about most. Write from the heart, I told myself. It’s always the right advice, even when it’s terrifying. Just like that, my fingers flew over the keys and A Turn of Light came to life.

Magic. Czerneda-style.

Julie Czerneda author photo credit Roger Czerneda Photography

Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

(All quotes from A Turn of Light, DAW Books, used with permission.)

Guest Post: Clare C. Marshall On The Creation of Marlenia, The World of the Violet Fox

Welcome to the last stop on The Violet Fox Blog Tour! As I talk about mythology with some regularity around these parts, when I agreed to host a blog by YA author Clare C. Marshall, I asked her to talk about the mythological inspirations for her novel, and here’s what she had to say: 

The creation of Marlenia, the world of The Violet Fox, boils down to one element:


I’m particularly fond of names, especially unusual ones. My protagonist’s name is Kiera (alternate spelling: Ciara) and it’s an Irish name meaning “dark one.” Kiera isn’t particularly dark but she does have a temper. Her love interest’s name is Keegan, which is an Irish surname. I chose these names back when The Violet Fox was about twenty pages of loose leaf in a writing binder in elementary school.

When I revisited the manuscript and expanded the story, I realized that I really liked these names and there was no way I was going to change them. Meaning, I would grow the world and its mythology from the names. But because the land of Marlenia has four provinces, I wanted to give them each a distinct culture. The events in The Violet Fox are set in Western Marlenia, where Keegan and Kiera are from, and thus that province is Irish/Scottish/English inspired.

Not only did I grow the culture from the names, but also the religion. The people of Marlenia live under what I like to call a “lapsed theocracy.” Their main ruler is the Holy One, and he presides over all four provinces of Marlenia from his seat in Western Marlenia. “The Holy One” was another artifact from my elementary school manuscript. I didn’t write it with the intention of having a religious monarchy–it just sounded cool to my nine- or ten-year-old self and was different than “king” or “queen” or any of your other standard ruler monikers. But again, I realized that if I wanted to keep the Holy One as a title, I had to work it into the culture.

So, under the intense focus of many energy drinks, I drew up a document that contains a basic history of the religion and culture of Marlenia. Marlenians worship a man-god named Dashiell, who supposedly lived and ruled thousands of years ago, and affected the lives of everyone with his god-like powers. Once, religion was strong in the land of Marlenia, but over the past couple of generations, the Marlenians have become more distant from their faith. The Holy One supposedly speaks the will of Dashiell, but because the people of Marlenia don’t care as much about Dashiell anymore, this lessens the influence of the monarchy. This ties in with the unrest created by the Freetors (the people who are forced to live underground).

The Freetors, originally, didn’t have any religion, or idols. But as I completed the second draft of the manuscript, I realized that they needed something, someone to look up to, someone that inspires them to continue fighting for freedom on the surface. So, Alastar the Hero was born. Two hundred years before the events in The Violet Fox, a man with magical powers beyond human comprehension sparked a rebellion against the monarchy. The Holy One saw this as a threat to Dashiell and the religion created around him, and fought back.

It was actually a lot of fun to create Alastar the Hero. While the Freetors look up to him as a inspiration, he’s become a legend in the mythology of the world. Like most legends, he has some bizarre stories that may or may not be true. One of these such stories has become the basis for The Silver Spear, the sequel to The Violet Fox. It just goes to show that a story mechanic doesn’t have to be mechanical–it can bring new life to your manuscript in ways you never thought possible.

Drawing mythology and culture from names is not the normal way to do things: it’s just a challenge I put upon myself because I wanted to salvage what details I could from the original manuscript. When creating mythology or culture for your own world, you can draw it from all kinds of sources, from existing ancient mythology, to a story that resonates with you, to an event that happened just yesterday. You just have to go with what feels right.

If you’d liked to be entered in a draw to win a copy of The Violet Fox or other Faery Ink Press swag, click here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Clare Marshall grew up in rural Nova Scotia with very little television and dial up internet, and yet, she turned out okay. She has a combined honours degree in journalism and psychology from the University of King’s College, and is a graduate from Humber College’s Creative Book Publishing Program. She is a freelance editor, designer and website manager, and enjoys publishing books through her publishing imprint, Faery Ink Press. When she’s not writing, she enjoys playing the fiddle and making silly noises at cats.

Here’s where you can find Clare online:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/faeryinkpress
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ClareMarshall13
Website: http://www.faeryinkpress.com
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14743283-the-violet-fox
McNally Robinson Buy Link: http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/9780987779441/clare-c-marshall/violet-fox#.UKCNBYf_l8F