Hey readers! As promised, here is the very first Why Write interview! Because Emmie Mears is my critique partner, query-trenches comrade, and generally buddy, she gets to open this (hopefully) entertaining and enlightening series and set the bar for the rest of us. Plus she’s a fantastic writer and keeper of a fabulous blog, so you should listen to what she has to say.
Hello, Emmie, and welcome! You’re a familiar face around these parts, but go ahead and tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I was that kid who moved around all the time. No, we weren’t military. No, I can’t give any great reason for it, other than that we were excessively poor and usually searching for better economic climes. Because of all the moves, I was a child with a painstaking level of shyness, and I escaped into books more often than not. I fell in love with fantasy and horror first — R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike practically raised me to be this nuts. Sprinkle in a bunch of teen babysitters and L.J. Smith’s Night World series, and I can pretty much see my writing preferences forming in front of my eyes.
I first attempted writing sci-fi, then gave up because I really had no idea about space (I was 9). After that I tried epic fantasy, but found my own work so naive that I almost threw it into the woodstove. Finally, I settled into urban fantasy, and I’ve made a nest there. I love grit and darkness with a healthy addition of quirk and humor. I adore writing female characters who rise above their circumstances in some way and who are more concerned with saving the world than finding a boyfriend.
What made you decide to write urban fantasy?
I don’t remember hearing the name of the genre when I was growing up, but a lot of L.J. Smith’s books would probably fit into that genre (though an argument can also be posed for paranormal romance). I love both the ideas of worlds within our own and the supernatural among us, and I’m lazy, so this way the basic structure of our world remains intact (usually).
What types of stories does urban fantasy make possible?
I think that this genre has a very interesting ability to allow for human stories to be told through a supernatural lens. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a perfect example — many of the episodes use demons and apocalypses to personify the struggle of reaching adulthood and beyond. That’s not to say the same isn’t possible in other genres, but there’s a candor to urban fantasy that I like. It’s not afraid to get messy, and it gives me the freedom to explore all sorts of “what if” scenarios. What if you drank a serum that was supposed to cure your boss’s daughter of terminal cancer? What if that boss already had it in for you? What if she was involved in a political conspiracy against your country?
What audience do you think urban fantasy attracts? How does that audience influence the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
I think urban fantasy readers (like most fantasy readers) want an escape. There tends to be a common element of “chosen-ness” within the fantasy genre as a whole. A protagonist is the only one who can fight XYZ Evil. I think growing up it attracted me because I (the painfully shy) desperately wanted to be chosen for something majestic and terrible and awesome. At the same time, these characters are often deeply flawed, which is something I think people relate to. Most humans don’t like themselves all the time.
I try to write urban fantasy with that in mind, because I don’t think I’m alone in that mindset. If people want an easy escape, they’ll read something less gritty. But urban fantasy readers want that darkness, that gray area. I try to let that breathe in my characters and like to give them problems that challenge what they’ve thought in the past and push them into territory that makes them uncomfortable — and that makes them have to face their flaws head-on.
How does urban fantasy affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
As you know, *laughs* I tried to write a magical realism novel this winter. I’m so used to the stakes being primarily physical (if you don’t succeed, you and a bunch of other poor sods will DIE HORRIBLY!) that I struggled writing something where most of the stakes were emotional. In urban fantasy, the stakes tend to be very physical AND emotional, but the physical stakes usually drive the plot. When there are literally creatures that want to eat you, well. Stakes. You’ve got them. And you might become them. Or become steaks, anyway.
Why do you think people love to read urban fantasy? How do you think urban fantasy affects its audience?
I think there’s a certain amount of wish fulfillment involved. Urban fantasy protagonists tend to be badasses in larger-than-life conflicts. And who doesn’t want to be a badass hero from the safety of your living room?
I think urban fantasy as a genre can really allow readers to question themselves in a healthy way. I still remember the effect Buffy had on me when I first watched it, or how I felt about Anita Blake’s development and how it challenged how I thought about my own power and my sexuality, or how I could empathize with Rachel Morgan as she discovered things about herself that made her squirm. I’ve grown up in a lot of ways as a direct result of my imagination coming into contact with these characters and these stories. I think other people feel the same.
For funsies, what is your favorite genre to read?
Erm…urban fantasy. Well, any fantasy. Give me magic and creatures and gray areas, and I’m a happy Emmie.
Thanks so much for having me around today, Kristin! *waves to readers*
If you want to track Emmie down, you can reach her via the following links!
Student of history. Gamer. Language nerd. Displaced Celt.
Emmie spends at least an hour a day preparing for or thinking about the zombie apocalypse.
Future calamity notwithstanding, Emmie hunts stories in dark alleys and in stone circles and spends most nights listening for something that goes bump.
Emmie lives outside D.C. with her husband, a husky puppy who talks too much, and a tabby who thinks she’s a tiger.
She is currently mucking up the lives of demon-hunters and mythology professors for her current projects. Emmie is represented by Jessica Negrón of Talcott Notch Literary Services.
Woo, first comment! Thanks so much for having me, Kristin!
Nice work, Emmie (and you too, Kristin). I love the grey areas in UF – it’s truer to life than some of the other genre fiction I read.
That’s why it’s my favorite! *snergles urban fantasy* *gets poked in the cheek*
Definitely! Traditional fantasy tends to be more black and white than some urban fantasy; good versus evil and light versus dark, with ugly orcs and gorgeous elves… perhaps I smell a Freudian Friday post in the making.
Buahahaha. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Though GRRM has made some nice mucky gray areas with GoT. Traditional epic fantasy is definitely of the good versus evil variety.
Though I always loved how David Eddings simplified it to “Us and them.” 😉
Thanks for sharing with us, Emmie. It sounds like you’ve given a fair amount of your writing attention to finding that “just right” genre for you. What’s in the writing pipeline? Anything you can talk about? And will you be at BaltiCon in May?
Great choice for an interview, Kristin!
*buffs nails* I have excellent friends. 😀
Also, I’ve read some of Emmie’s latest work and it’s delightful.
Thanks for stopping by! Right now I’m working on the first book in an urban fantasy series about a demon hunter who finds out that the creatures she’s killing aren’t wholly evil, so that’s been fun. As for BaltiCon, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it. 😦 I work in a restaurant, and there’s no way I’m getting off that weekend. I had to beg to get that Saturday night off to go see Chris Hardwick’s stand up.
Ooooo! Ambiguity! I think it’s highly underrated, as it lends so much in the way of conflict. It seems to me that ambiguity can make writers uncomfortable if they fear they may be building in inconsistencies in characterization. To stay on track with its more useful aspects, I remind myself that readers are sophisticated thinkers who deserve three-dimensionality in two-dimensional scribbles on thinly pressed sheets and virtual pages. Respecting readers has never steered me wrong.
Sorry to hear you can’t make BaltiCon. Maybe next time. 🙂
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I’m coming late to this party, but I’ll still add my two cents. I like this:
“there’s a candor to urban fantasy that I like. It’s not afraid to get messy, and it gives me the freedom to explore all sorts of “what if” scenarios.”
I think it’s the messiness that helps set it apart, aside from the obvious not-on-another-world-ness of it. Complications, unforeseen consequences, all that ugly stuff we have to deal with in real life, but with an added element of the fantastic, can be electrifying.
Have you ever read Steven Brust’s Jhereg series? I like that he took a high-fantasy setting and applied UF-like sensibilities to it — the characters have to deal with crime, systemic racism, class warfare, and other uncomfortable things, but it’s also funny as hell. I might almost call it “Fantasy Urban.”