Among writers, the shades of genre can be passionately
argued discussed, as we try to figure out what readers expect from their fiction.
And recently, I had one of those discussions about urban fantasy.
Actually, it was my fault the discussion took place at all. I asked the fatal question; What IS urban fantasy?
I know what urban fantasy used to be.
When it first emerged as a category of fiction, urban fantasy was always set in a city, where the city itself was almost a character on its own. The story was always gritty and dark, and it always featured at least two fantasy species. Often, those species were at war. (Underworld, the movie, is an almost perfect example of the genre as it was, then–shooting out a circular piece of floor with a pair of Glocks notwithstanding.)
Whether humans were aware, or not, of the fantasy characters moving among them was up to the author. I used to love discovering how an author handled that particular question!
But what is Urban Fantasy now?
This is the question that has vexed me for a while.
You see, since I set up this site and started publishing fantasy fiction, I have been calling what I write urban fantasy.
The Magorian and Jones series was certainly set in a city–Toledo, Spain–for the first book, but later books spread out across Europe.
While the Harley Firebird series has never come close to a city setting. It’s set in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Yet both series are set in contemporary times, and feature far more than two fantasy species.
So the discussion I was having about the definition of urban fantasy was important to me. I wanted to know if I was disappointing readers because there weren’t dim, damp and gritty streets in my stories.
Urban Fantasy = Contemporary Fantasy?
There are still some authors and publishing experts who adhere to the narrow, classic definition of Urban Fantasy.
But there are just as many authors who feel that urban fantasy as a genre now stretches to include any fantasy story set in contemporary times, featuring fantasy species.
That’s pretty broad. It also happens to be the exact definition of Contemporary Fantasy.
Where authors all get stuck is that we want to put our books in the genre where readers who will like our stories will actually search to find them.
And most readers wouldn’t think to search for “contemporary fantasy”.
The belief is that readers already equate urban fantasy with contemporary fantasy (if they even know there is such as thing as a contemporary fantasy category), and when they search for such stories, they search for urban fantasy.
You Tell Me.
For a while, I called my stories contemporary fantasy. But I have switched back to calling them urban fantasy, because I want readers to find my books.
What do you search for, when you’re looking for fantasy set in contemporary times? Do you go straight for urban fantasy?
What does “urban fantasy” mean to you? I’d really like to know. Leave a comment, if you’re reading the post on the site, or hit reply and tell me, if you’re on my email list.