Why Write: Urban Fantasy with Emmie Mears

Said familiar face; Photograph by Colleen Barrett of Blue Tree Photography.

Said familiar face; Photograph by Colleen Barrett of Blue Tree Photography.

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?

See? FUN.

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!
Blog: http://www.emmiemears.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/emmiemears
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/emmiemears

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.

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Why Write: A Kristinish Kick-Off

As the responses to the Why Write genre questions have trickled and poured in, I’ve been thinking a lot about genre and why I define myself as a fantasy writer.

And of course, if I ask other writers to torture themselves with difficult questions, it’s only fair that I try to do the same. But since I’m queen of this little corner of the internet, I get to take a slightly different approach to the process.

I can’t quite remember how my love affair with fantasy started.

I embrace my own nerdiness.

Actually, that’s not true. I remember exactly how it started, but I can’t remember which particular book kicked it off. It was either Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, first of the Harper Hall of Pern trilogy,  or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight, first in the Dragonlance series—yes, novels based on Dungeons and Dragons modules. I was a nerd in the womb, I suspect.

I was between eight and ten years old.

Barbarians are sexy.

I don’t actually remember which of these books I read first, but I vividly remember coming across Dragonsong in the library of my gifted program. I read it in a couple of days, and then, completely book hungover, wandered down to my fantasy-loving older brother’s room in search of other dragon-filled reading material.

There, on his crowded bookshelves, I found the entire Harper Hall trilogy.

I was a goner after that. I think Dragonlance must have come next; Pern was my gateway drug. From that time on, I read mostly fantasy. I went through that long dragon phase, and after that it was King Arthur, and for awhile it was epics, and lately it’s been urban fantasy.

In discussing Why Write shenanigans on Twitter, I found myself saying, “The need to write is a part of me, like my blood type. I couldn’t not write. But what genre to write—that was more like choosing a friend or a lover. It’s part of me, but it could change.”

For me, that’s true. Maybe some day I’ll write historical fiction. I’ve always thought I might like to try. Or perhaps someday my fantasy tales will cross into horror. But for now, I want to write all across fantasy: epic, urban, romantic.

And in the coming weeks, I’ll tell you why.

Look for a Why Write post from Emmie Mears on Wednesday!

Gettin’ Nerdy With It: RPGs

My husband and I reached a whole new level of nerdy yesterday—and for the couple known as ‘the Doctor Who people’ among our local friends, that’s really saying something.

A degrading Changeling: who doesn't want to pretend to be a creepy horny fairy thing?

A degrading Changeling: who doesn’t want to pretend to be a creepy horny fairy thing?

We dug ourselves deep into the land of Storytelling RPGs, specifically Changeling: the Lost, one of the spin-offs of Vampire: the Requiem, and a sort of grandchild to the 1990s game Vampire: the Masquerade.

Whoa. That’s a whole lotta nerdy right up front there, so let me explain a little more for you muggles in the audience. (You muggles know you’re probably way cooler than me in real life, right?)

A Storytelling RPG, to simplify it vastly, is a game for two or more people based on made-up characters engaging in imaginary adventures: it’s not unlike when you and your childhood best friend pretended to gypsy princesses in a fantasy land, but you sit at a table instead of frolicking around the backyard. (Just me? Awkward.) The designated storyteller guides the characters through their quest, and each player rolls dies to determine the success or failure of their actions.

In White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness, everything is similar to ours but just slightly askew. Vampires, ghosts, goblins, and fairies are real. Quests generally involve chasing a magical item, seeking spells, and fighting the forces of darkness—or light, depending on your character preference. There are intricate backstories for every breed of character and every aspect of this universe. Game plots make for fantastic reading, as does the world-building.

It’s… an urban fantasy universe!

So let’s pause a moment here. This is a game that involves making up stories about imaginary characters and spinning out the tension in their adventures for as long as possible.

Why the hell aren’t all fantasy writers already playing this?!

Well, there are a few reasons.

1. It’s super-nerdy, and requires nerdy friends. People already think fantasy writers are crazy; we don’t need to give them more reasons to not hang out with us.

2. It’s time-consuming. You have to make up your character, spend ages learning minute rules, and then spend hours on game play… because we all have so much free time to kill.

3. It can lead to excessive nerdiness, like LARPing, which involves dressing up like your characters and pretending to be them in real life. *shiver*

This history of LARPing goes way back to… wait, no, that’s not history. It’s an old-time fauxtograph of people LARPing as Victorians. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Spouse and I started checking it (Changeling, not LARPing!) out because, well, we’re already super-nerdy, and because we want a new game to play with some of our friends.

Now the real question is… how do we convince our friends to play with us?

Being me, I have listed a few reasons why it’ll be fun:

1. We can pretend to be fairies with specific magical powers! They can look like unicorns if we want them to! We can draw pictures and make up back-stories! (This may not work on the menfolk.)

2. It’ll be hilarious. Come on, grown-ups sitting around a table arguing over why Person A’s vampire is a way better candidate to take on that NPC-troll than Person B’s darkling fae? That’s comedy gold.

3. It’s not that different than historical re-enacting, really. (Our friends used to re-enact.) Actually, it’s just like it, but without the real history or the trips to cool places. And we’d rather not start doing the costumes.

4. It involves some theater! We can turn down the lights and pretend my husband (designated Storyteller because only he actually understands the rules) is telling us a scary choose-your-own-adventure story. And when we need sound effects, like gunshots or ghosts moaning, we can totally add them in!

5. There will be alcohol involved!

What do you think, readers? Would you play with us? How would you convince someone to try an RPG? 

Overcoming Genre Stereotypes

Yep, I said genre.

For Christmas/Yule/halfway-through-the-dark-day, my lovely spouse gave me a big stack of paranormal romances—at my request.

I’ve never really read any paranormal romance, you see.

What?! The urban fantasy writer does not know the genre’s illegitimate-half-sister, the paranormal romance?! It’s madness, I know, since the line is so fine it hardly exists. Is Laurell K. Hamilton’s work urban fantasy, or P.R.? Jim Butcher’s Dreden series is firmly (harhar) U.F., but where does Kim Harrison fit? Is Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series a romantic urban fantasy or a thriller urban fantasy?

You get my point.

You may remember that I said I’m currently writing a romance, and if you follow me on Twitter, you may further remember me saying that I’m almost a quarter of the way into the book and there have been about six fighting scenes and zero kissing scenes. Romance continues to elude me.

So now I’m reading paranormal romance, and I’m finding the hair even harder to split. But as I make my way through the twelve-book stack, I’ll be observing here some of the things I learn from each book. I hope, as readers and (some of us) writers, we’ll learn a little bit about genre, writing, and reading as I study each book with a critical eye.

The more, erm, “romantic” books, I may be less critical about because, um, the squelchy bits* only vary so much from book to book. So stay tuned in January and February, and I’ll tell you a little bit about my exploits in the paranormal romance genre.

Coming soon: Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione and Darkfever by Karen Moning. I’ll also be venturing into Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series and crossing from True Blood to The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Are there any other paranormal romances you would recommend? (They may very well already stand in my to-be-read pile, but refer away!)

*Should I drop the act readers? Is this a PG13-blog, or an R-rated blog?

A Little Dash of Romance

My new project is a romance.

Well, not really, because the genre “romance” inspires visions of well-muscled men wearing half-buttoned shirts and tight pants on the florid covers of paperbacks in one corner of the bookstore.

My book is also a small-scale epic fantasy, about two peoples who are at odds because of a single lie in their mutual past.

Yes, I’m writing a star-crossed love affair. But I think both my lovers will come out of it alive.

Anyway, it’s gotten me thinking about love stories and romance, and how those things fit into a fantasy world. This New Yorker blog post called, Is Anna Karenina a Love Story? made me start wondering what love stories in novels tell us about the novel itself. In a fantasy world, does the romance have to crystallize some part of the greater conflict? Or is it just a love story, compelling and satisfying in itself, set in a world of dragons and magic?

I’m choosing option A for my new project, largely because of the nature of my book’s conflict, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the right or the only way to do it. Every fantasy-romance is different, and I have to admit that I’ve not often thought that deeply about the love stories in the fantasy novels I love.

What are some of your favorite fantasy love stories? Why? What do the love stories say about the book as a whole or the world it creates?

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Phèdre and Joscelin in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series. Two lovers who come from completely opposite backgrounds and, through circumstance, find each other as the thing most worth saving in their lives. Joscelin may get the short end of the stick in this one.
  • Vin and Elend in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. Two semi-nerdy super-heroes fall in love and save the world—sort of. I can’t say much more without spoilers!
  • Dante Valetine and Japhrimel in Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series. This is a fairly typical hunter-meets-demon love story (is that a typical thing, now?) that starts out great and is pretty fraught by the end of the series. Lies and concealment inevitably take their toll on the lovers.

Costumed Curses: And the Winner Is…

I know you’ve been waiting. I know you’ve been wondering…

Okay, that’s a lie, because I know MOST of you didn’t even pay much attention to the contest. *aims SQUIRT BOTTLE OF SHAME at readers*

But that’s okay, because I’m delighted to announce that the WINNER came from this very blog. We had ten awesome entries, and it was really difficult to choose the best: some were funny, some were fairy-tale-rific, others gave us a shiver. But in the end, we narrowed it down, and now we’ve got four great offerings, creepy and fanciful, and I know you’ll love them all.

So without further ado, the winners of the Costumed Curses Flash Fiction Contest ARE…

In first place, our HERO: N. E. White, “Blood, Flesh, and Bone”

In second place, WARRIOR: Leslie Fulton, “Murphy’s Law”

In third place, our MINION: Stacy Bennett-Hoyt, “Stuck in the Loop”

And an unplanned HONORABLE MENTION goes to Eleni Sakellis, “The Bridge,” because we just couldn’t resist this story.

So winners, claim your badges and be sure to email me at KRISTINLYNNMCFARLAND AT GMAIL DOT COM (yep, you have to translate into characters, sorry bots), so that I can mail you your goody bag and help arrange for other prizes!

And readers, you can now enjoy our winning story.

Blood, Flesh, and Bone

N. E. White

420 words

Lilia Lluc buried her husband’s fingers, careful to scoop up the blood soaked soil and turn it under along with the severed digits. She wouldn’t want her children investigating the dark stain.

She frowned, thinking she would never be free of her strange children, then immediately chastised herself for such a blasphemous thought.

“What are you doing?”

She glanced up with a start. Her heart felt as if it would leap out of her chest.
A strange man stood above her, his face shadowed by his wide brimmed hat. The sun hung low in the western, clear sky, throwing long pillars of shadow through her almond orchard.

Standing, she swung her bloodied hand behind her back. In her other hand, she held tight to the ceramic succioro.

She gave him an innocent smile. “Hello and welcome. Are you lost?”

The man squinted at the sun. He snorted a laugh then said, “Actually, yes, I think I am. I was just passing by on the road…and, well, here I am. I’m not sure how I got here.”

Lilia kept the smile on her face though she did not feel it. Whether the stranger or she would enjoy the coupling, it mattered not, but she soon learned she might as well be pleasant enough with them. After all, she would be the last thing they ever saw.

Slipping the succioro into the pocket of her apron, she trailed her fingers across the top hem of her shirt, straining the fabric over her bosom.

“Do you want me?” she said.

The man took a step back, hands up in defense, but then he removed his hat, his eyes scanning her body before settling on her breasts.

“Yes,” he said, his voice already husky.

She sighed, the repetitive manner of the ritual boring her. Pointing to a nearby tree, she directed him to lay down and remove his trousers. Lifting her skirt, she straddled him and began a rhythmic rocking, waiting for him to plant his seed.

When she and her husband had failed to conceive within the first two years of their marriage, they had tried everything, until finally they consorted with a witch. Her potion had required her husband’s blood, flesh, and bone, a price that many would have thought too high. But not her husband. He said he was willing to sacrifice a bit of himself for his children.

And it worked. Oh, yes, each time it worked.

But the witch had not said anything about whose seed would take root.

The End

Costumed Curses: The End is Nigh

People, the end of the Costumed Curses flash fiction contest is TOMORROW, October 27, at 23:00 EDT.

So far from this blog, we’ve had one entry. ONE. I am deeply ashamed. You have cast dishonor on my family and on my people. I may never show my face on Twitter again. I shall have to punish myself by writing my own story and posting it here tomorrow.

Plus, if this were a contest between my blog readers and Emmie’s blog readers, Emmie’s readers would be spanking you guys with a rubber spatula. And you probably wouldn’t even notice!

So, COME ON! 500 words! You can do it! Just go to this page and leave your entry in the comments!