Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Treat Yoself to a Dragon*Con

First, if you haven’t seen Parks and Recreation, do that. Do it. All of it.

Next, go to Dragon*Con.

This year was my first Dragon*Con, and can I just say “wow”? Wow. While it has a reputation as being a party Con, I found Dragon*Con to be one of the best. There’s something about being in a place with thousands of other people, taking up a lot of space, and being there for the same reason: to geek out together! I especially loved that I could look at anyone and smile. I felt the excitement and camaraderie almost immediately.

Dragon*Con has a few unique aspects. The panels and events are held in six hotels and buildings in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Also, because it’s such a big Con, the organizers put the events and panels along a number of tracks. You can access the schedule and information about these panels via the Dragon*Con app. For example, if you are particularly interested in Anime/Manga, the organizers have a proposed schedule for you for each day. Some of the tracks include: Animation, BritTrack, Comics and Pop Art, Costuming, Fantasy Literature, High Fantasy, Horror, Military Sci-Fi Media, Paranormal, Podcasting, Sci-Fi Literature, Star Wars, Table Top Gaming, Urban Fantasy, Writer’s Track, Young Adult Literature, and many more.

But what’s in it for you as a writer? Lots.

I attended about 13 panels at Dragon*Con this year, most along the Writer’s Track. I loved the YA panels – it felt like we were all there together, laughing and geeking out over YA literature instead of an audience watching writers talk about writing.

I especially liked two panels over the weekend. The Magical Mavens of Fantasy/SF panel included Laurell K. Hamilton, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mercedes Lackey, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Jane Yolen (I’ll save you the play-by-play of my geek-out over Jane Yolen). Hearing these women talk about the industry, the people who told them they wouldn’t make it, and how they paved the way for the rest of us really made an impact on me. The sister (brother?) panel to Magical Mavens of Fantasy/SF I attended was Magnificent Men of Fantasy/SF with Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, Peter David, and Larry Niven. I wasn’t expecting to laugh that hard, nor come near tears when they told touching stories.

Each night, the Westin hotel hosted a Writer’s Bar where professional writers could go to meet fans and fellow writers. I spotted and/or talked with Myke Cole, Sam Sykes, Jim Butcher, and Delilah Dawson. The cast of Wynonna Earp also showed up to hang out, which blew a lot of our minds. The accessibility of writing professionals at this convention seems abnormal, especially compared to other bigger Cons like San Diego. But nothing will light a fire under your ass to get published more than talking with professional writers and wanting to be on panels with them.

I’ve attended smaller conventions and a few huge conventions. Dragon*Con was my favorite. The Writer’s Track, High Fantasy Track, Sci-Fi Track, Urban Fantasy Track, and the Young Adult Literature Track provided multiple choices of panels each hour, and I didn’t attend one panel that I didn’t love. The access to professional writers was unlike any other convention I’ve been to. You’ll find that price of admission is well worth it to attend Dragon*Con. Oh yeah, and you’ll have a blast, too.

Setting in Urban Fantasy: Tool, Character, and a Pacing Device

A guest post by R.R. Virdi

It’s a cool night, the sort you’d find in late Autumn. You’re in the dark and gritty underbelly of your city rooting out crime and all without a weapon. What’s left?

The concrete below you. Brick walls. Maybe the unforgiving and cold metal of the railings lining the old apartment buildings. Enter the 2008 film, The Spirit, an adaptation of the Frank Miller comic. We’re brought to Central City on a nighttime patrol along with the fictional character the movie is named after. It’s one heck of a showcase on how setting is more than just a place.

We’re treated to a near-romantic inner monologue about the relationship The Spirit has with his city. It’s his weapon, a tool to sleuth through, fight back with, and it’s really a she, and she’s one great character.

Rewind back to your early schooling. You’re taught that setting is a place. You’re told how to fill out neat little boxes and describe your surroundings a bit too literally. There’s no life. Everything’s a compilation of objects. That’s it.

Or is it?

Setting is malleable—a living thing. One of the greatest places to see that as a working example is the cities littering the world around you. But, if that’s too much, try urban fantasy. From superhero comics, to novels starring magically powered protagonists, cities offer a certain complexity and variable use to the old writer’s tool of setting.

What do I mean?

Well, take New York’s favorite wall crawler, Spiderman. The boroughs of New York are microcosms of the world. Bustling hives of activity that add color and vibrancy to Spiderman’s life. But through those throngs of people are endless and often unseen dangers. There’s an undertone of possible threat each and every time Spidey is navigating the concrete jungle on the ground or in the air.

Urban fantasy relies heavily on its setting to put in place the tone of the series. You city is your character. It’s your maze, a living history, and a multi-tool. You can do nearly anything you want with it.

When you have a city, well, you know have all the sorts of people and institutions you’d expect with it to work with. Everything from billionaire CEOs as characters who’d call it home, to the less fortunate. Now, push either or both of those sorts of people to a life of crime. Congrats, you’ve now birthed someone like Gotham City’s Black Mask, or, Joe Chill.

Cities are melting pots of people and architecture that give you an endless literary sandbox to work in. Imagine the long, open streets of New York’s grid system. Pretty nice place to set a foot chase, even a car one. Great line of sight, tons of bright lights and activity. Now imagine you’ve taken a few wrong turns and are winding down unfamiliar alleyways.


Great place for an ambush. Maybe cornering your target. Too bad you weren’t carrying a weapon to defend yourself. I hope you’re good with your hands. And if you are, you just might find yourself in a handy place to be. Hard surfaces can be your friend. Cities have no lack of those.

Navigating them can be a chore or an adventure, and in all of that, a bit dangerous if you want it to be. Within this page, you’ve already seen one city be a weapon, a threat, a multi-tool for different scenes and pacing, whether high pumping chases or heart pounding ambushes, to a home that shapes its people into protagonists or villains.

Urban fantasy relies on that. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is the perfect example. Bring on Chicago, an endlessly diverse city with a history of dirty politics and money, tough law enforcement, a forgotten under town, and a great balance of towering concrete monoliths and everyday suburbia as its landscape.

What can’t you do with all of that?

It’s a place that could be home to a hardworking blue collar father raising his kids in the suburbs. And at the same time, the city that birthed an iron-hard gangster who clawed his way to the top of the criminal underworld. One city, two different people coming out of it.

It nurses the beautiful and opulent Gold Coast, where some of the human and paranormal elite make their wealth and power known. The second you show up, you get the hint. It sets quite a tone. It also changes the battlefield. Slugging it out in a skyscraper business center is way different than the open ground of a suburb. But, if you’re Chicago’s resident wizard, you’ll be called on to do both, and more.

You’ll be asked to lurk and skulk through alleys, boxed in both sides with one way out ahead of you, and one behind. But, it’s not that easy keeping an eye over your shoulder in that setting and one on what’s before you. Nice way to get trapped or attacked.

Moving through one city environment allows a creator to control the pace however they want because cities offer it all. Sluggish public transport, leaving you crowded, pressed for time and up for danger, should the writer feel like it.

Enter any number of thriller novels and movies with a close quarters fight on a subway.

Or, let’s cut to hoofing it on foot through massive crowds on the streets. Always great if you need to eat up some of your character’s time. And through it all, it’s an experience. Cities always come with a five-way sensory assault. Ones that can go overboard.

Blitzing and jarringly bright colors, ear-rattling sounds, sometimes smells you wished you couldn’t pick out—ones you can almost taste. Not to mention the air that seems to cling to you like a second skin or a thin film of hot breath and unclean air.

There’s a certain set of voices to each city. Blaring traffic, clamoring people, chittering electronics, and let’s not forget construction.

Yeah, cities are certainly a setting, but they’re a living one. They’re something that you can’t really pin down. They’re something to be experienced and are in reality, entire world’s of their own. They certainly have enough slices of our globe nestled within them.

Setting isn’t just a place, it’s a tool. It can be as strong a character as you want it to be. Heck, cities already have names and reputations, what more do you want? They’re alive. Do something with them. Give them a chance to pop out and shine.

Want to really get into the mind of your reader, make sure you choose one heck of a place for your characters to live and act. If you do, that place may end up living on in the reader’s mind long after they close that book.

Cities, you can end up lost in them, and in more ways than one.



About the Author:ronnie

R.R. Virdi is the Dragon Award—nominated author of The Grave Report, a paranormal investigator series set in the great state of New York. He has worked in the automotive industry as a mechanic, retail, and in the custom gaming computer world. He’s an avid car nut with a special love for American classics.

The hardest challenge for him up to this point has been fooling most of society into believing he’s a completely sane member of the general public.  There are rumors that he wanders the streets of his neighborhood in the dead of night dressed in a Jedi robe and teal fuzzy slippers, no one knows why. Other such rumors mention how he is a professional hair whisperer in his spare time. We don’t know what that is either.

Follow him on his website. http://rrvirdi.com/

Or twitter: @rrvirdi or https://twitter.com/rrvirdi


The Thin Line between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance

sinsofthesonWhen I’m looking for urban fantasy in the bookstores or online, I also check under paranormal romance.  Some of my favourite urban fantasy authors—including Linda Poitevin (The Grigori Legacy) and Carrie Vaughn (The Kitty Norville series)—often end up filed there.

What is paranormal romance?  It’s a romance—a story that focuses on a romantic relationship developing between two characters—which also features paranormal elements, such as shapeshifters, magic-users, ghosts, vampires, psychic powers, cryptid monsters and the like.

What is urban fantasy?  It’s a fantasy story—a story containing magical, mythical and/or supernatural elements—set in a modern, contemporary world.  While these stories usually take place in a city, the opposite of “urban fantasy” isn’t a story with a modern rural setting; the opposite is the entirely fictitious worlds of most high fantasies.    In short, urban fantasy is a fantasy story set in a world that is very much like our “real world.”

From these definitions, it’s easy to see where a crossover can occur.  If your paranormal romance also takes place in a modern setting, rather than in a wholly imaginary landscape or a historical setting, then your paranormal romance is also an urban fantasy.  And if your urban fantasy has a strong romantic subplot that rivals the main plot, or if the romance elements are critical to the main plot, then it may be very close to becoming a paranormal romance.

So what’s the difference?  The romance genre has a number of conventions and expectations.  The fantasy genre has entirely different conventions (such as “we want to see things we don’t see in “the real world,” often “we want there to be magic,” that sort of thing.)  Its conventions with regard to character relationships are much looser.

Romance readers usually expect a happy ending.  (And those romances  that don’t guarantee a happy ending, like Dreamspinner Press’s “Bittersweet Dreams,” are often branded so readers know what they’re in for before they start to read).   Readers want the hero and heroine to get together.  They want sexual tension to blossom into an actual relationship, and they want that relationship to work out, at least until the end of the story (“Happy For Now”) if not forever (“Happily Ever After.”)  They want the romance to be foregrounded.  While plenty of paranormal romances incorporate action, horror, mystery, and suspense elements, the developing relationship is always at the heart of the plot.

Urban fantasy, meanwhile, isn’t obligated to include romance in any way.  Some writers do:  romantic relationships developing between characters can make compelling subplots.  Unlike in romance-the-genre, the romance is usually not the main plot.  But sometimes these relationships don’t result in happy endings.  The sexual tension isn’t acted upon.  Or the characters break up.  Or one of them dies—or is revealed to be a villain.  These are perfectly legitimate plot points for fantasies, but they are likely to disappoint romance readers who expected a certain kind of story when they picked the book up.

Needless to say, things can get complicated when your publisher wants to play up the romance elements of your urban fantasy book, particularly if you don’t consider yourself a romance writer.  Or when bookstores keep filing your urban fantasy book under “paranormal romance” when you haven’t written a romance-centered plot with a happy ending.

Why don’t I find Harlequin Nocturnes in the fantasy section very often?  Possibly because of the branding.  Harlequin is a well-known romance name, so it’s natural that people would file Harlequin’s paranormal romance line with other romance novels.

Branding may be the best way to identify your urban fantasy as primarily fantasy rather than primarily romance.  If you’re traditionally publishing, the final choice will be your publisher’s, but if you’re self-publishing or your publisher allows your input, consider your cover carefully.  A shirtless man and a young woman staring into one another’s eyes screams “romance.”  Make your cover look like an urban fantasy cover, not like a romance cover.  Choose excerpts that emphasize the magic, the action, the horror or the mystery elements of your story rather than the romantic ones.

Some confusion isn’t all bad.  Romance sells very well.  Many people find romantic elements very appealing in their fiction.  If your urban fantasy has a strong romantic subplot, you may benefit from emphasizing it.  But if you’ve written an urban fantasy with a lead who isn’t interested in romance, or a villain that makes the hero fall for her before revealing her true nature and breaking his heart, maybe you want to do what you can to help romance-loving readers know what they’re getting into.