The other day a writer friend said he was submitting an urban fantasy to several potential publishers. Good, I thought. The genre has plenty of room for more writers. Then he stopped me cold when he admitted he had taken a story already written (and rejected for publication) and changed the same characters into vampires and werewolves and zombies. He seemed proud he had produced a new manuscript in a couple of hours of using Find and Replace.
I was astonished, and, I admit, a little disgruntled. Surely, it couldn't be that easy. Urban fantasy had to be more than changing the names and species. So, I sat down to take a look, not at the stories I had written—I already knew the struggles I'd gone through, but I looked at those of well-known authors in the genre, like Charlaine Harris or Kim Harrison or Laurell K. Hamilton. (Hmm, should I change my name to Hields? I digress.)
What I found was no surprise to me: good urban fantasy springs from hard work. It is a unique blending of the contemporary world with the supernatural world. The two are inseparable and must be intertwined from the beginning to the end. Both worlds are enriched by the differences, and the author plays on those differences.
Take the characters, for example. The supernatural creatures think and act in unique ways, not like humans. They view events through Otherworld eyes. The supernatural cop smells the crime scene, she senses evil, she seesauras with her inner eye. And supernaturals think about things that mortals rarely consider. Will the use of black magic destroy my soul? Will my roommate drink my blood or take over my mind? How do I kill a creature who is impervious to bullets? How do I even find the enemy if he changes his shape and appearance? Can I smell him, track him, sense him?
Urban fantasy can't exist without fantasy as an integral part. While paranormal fiction needs new writers and readers are waiting to be caught up in a great story, the writer who wants to walk on the wild side must respect it and learn to see the world through different eyes.
So, what do you think? What's at the heart of paranormal fiction? AShields