Friday, June 5, 2009

Review – “Urban Fantasy Special Issue” from Locus Magazine

In May, Locus: The Magazine of the SF & Field had a special issue dedicated to Urban Fantasy. Curious to see what they had to say about my favourite subject, I ordered a copy. And oh boy, were there a few surprises and revelations. The issue included major interviews with –
  • Kim Harrison
  • Patricia Briggs
  • Marjorie M. Liu
And featured commentary by -
  • Charlaine Harris
  • Kelley Armstrong
  • Mike Carey
  • Vicki Pettersson
  • T.A. Pratt
  • Carrie Vaughn
  • Maryelizabeth Hart (Mysterious Galaxy Books, San Diego)
  • Ginjer Buchanan (Senior Editor at Ace/Roc)
  • Diana Gill (Executive Editor at EOS)
Here are some of the highlights from each of the contributors.

Kim Harrison Does Not Exist!
By far the biggest revelation was Kim Harrison’s announcement that she is not Kim Harrison, but in fact fantasy author Dawn Cook. Kim Harrison is a pen name and the entire Kim Harrison persona was created as a public alter ego right down to a special wardrobe for public appearances which includes the use of a wig. Talk about your secret identity.
"Having two personas lets you sneak around and be different for a day, and yet be the same person inside. It lets you explore your options. I've built tremendous skill in being able to speak to people the last five years. I am terribly shy, and I would rather write an entire manuscript than get up and talk to people for an hour, but the experience has been invaluable. I can be who I need to be. Then I go home, throw Kim in the closet, and I don't see her for six months. I can be my normal self again. Still, some of Kim's strengths have leaked over into me, and I am taking Kim out of the closet more and more. The good parts of Kim are soaking into Dawn. I'm a lot more confident now, in any situation, and what's wrong with that?”
Kim (or should I say Dawn) also states that the current contract for the Hollows series is for nine books but she sees a couple more beyond that before she wraps it up. Once that is done she plans to do something different but thankfully intends to continue writing urban fantasy. You can read some excerpts of the interview here.

For those curious about her writing as Dawn Cook you can visit her website here.

Another interesting surprise was a small call-out box that was part of the feature page listing online resources and look what I discovered.

I found all of the contributing authors and industry people to be insightful, with many fresh and interesting perspectives on the genre. I have captured a quote from each of the contributors to illustrate the range of discussion. The complete articles are well worth seeking out.

Patricia Briggs: (author of the Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series). You can read some excerpts of the interview here.
Urban fantasy lends itself to series with one major character where paranormal romance doesn't, actually. In paranormal romance series, we usually jump from one pair of characters in one book, to another pair in the next. (If there's gradual world-building, it evolves into urban fantasy whether the author wants it or not.) Urban fantasy series tend to be template series, where the characters don't do a lot of evolving. That isn't necessarily bad. Look at Louis U Amour, who made a career out of writing the same book over and over again! I love every one of his books and I have favorites, and I look at them and know they're predictable, but they're awesome and wonderful because he's a great storyteller. If you're a good storyteller, you can get away with anything. We have a lot of great storytellers in urban fantasy.
Marjorie M. Liu: (author of the Dirk & Steele and Hunters Kiss series). You can read some excerpts of the interview here.
Regarding urban fantasy and paranormal romance — these are two genres that are currently in a fuzzy sort of overlap. I was practically raised on Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, and authors like them — and then later in life began reading paranormal romance, which is a subgenre that has just exploded over the past several years. The sales numbers are huge.

But, of course, romance readers are probably the most flexible and receptive readers I've ever encountered. They are voracious. At conventions, people will arrive for an autographing session with empty suitcases, and then leave with three or four hundred dollars worth of signed books: science fiction, fantasy, pure romance, every genre imaginable.

And yet, on the science fiction/fantasy side of things, l"ve found that many readers, no offense, have a more deeply ingrained resistance toward reading outside genre. Romance novels, in particular. There's an 'ick' factor, a negative reaction that occasionally carries over to urban fantasies, which to some have become irrevocably (and damningly) linked together.
Charlaine Harris: (author of the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries)
Speaking generally, women writers seem to be more open to crossing from one genre to another than male writers. I could speculate on the reasons, but I think I'll skip the controversy. I've noticed that eight out of ten men who come from a mystery background will actually flinch if you ask them to write something with a paranormal element, while most women mystery writers will consider it readily. And romance writers, who probably run 98% female, don't think twice about making a leap into the supernatural. I guess after writing about couples who always have simultaneous orgasms, the supernatural doesn't seem so outlandish.
Kelley Armstrong: (author of the Women of the Otherworld series)
When I create my characters, I draw inspiration from the women around me, from those running their own businesses, those raising their kids alone, those battling physical or mental illness. They all have something that makes them bounce back where others would throw up their hands and surrender to fate. I see those same traits in the best characters urban fantasy has to offer. Yes, some of those characters are kick-ass, but they aren't invulnerable killing machines. They have other strengths and they have weaknesses, too.
Mike Carey: (author of the Felix Castor series)
Bumblebees, I was brought up to believe, can't fly: on paper, anyway, and from a strictly scientific perspective, they're aerodynamically unsound and ought not to be able to get their little butts up in the air in the first place, still less to do a waggle dance once they get there.

Sadly, although I'd like it to be true, it's probably just a rustic urban legend. Biologists probably sorted out the mechanics of bumblebee flight ages ago, assuming there was ever any mystery about it in the first place. But I'm going to appropriate the metaphor and propose something similar about urban fantasy: it ought not to be able to fly, because it exists at a genre intersection that by rights shouldn't be there in the first place – between crime fiction and supernatural horror.
Vicki Pettersson: (author of the Sign of the Zodiac series)
As young as the urban fantasy subgenre is, using the supernatural to explore the nature of what it means to be human isn't anywhere new. People have always sought to make sense of our world through mythic lessons and multicultural archetypes. Western storytellers don't have a patent on vampires or shapeshifters or heroes who actually show up when you need them. As I've already said, my entree into urban fantasy was a fortuitous accident. Apparently I was a lemming in the stampede of the collective consciousness, because despite being a part of it, I can't fully explain the cultural shift which led to the current demand for hot chicks in leather with a penchant for attracting all things that go Bump. All I know was that the moment I found Kim Harrison's Dead Witch Walking on the shelves, my mind started buzzing like I was Edward Cullen's midday snack. "Who is this? What is this? Holy Fang-Bangers, Batman! This is what I write!"
T.A. Pratt: (author of the Marla Mason series)
In many ways, the broader trends in "urban fantasy" don't synch up all that well with my Marla Mason novels. Yes, I have an ass-kicking heroine... but she doesn't spend any time thinking about her love life, she doesn't have low self-esteem (indeed, her greatest strengths and weaknesses spring from her own sense of unassailably high self-regard). Plus, she's unapologetically mean — she's one of the good guys, sure, but only because the bad guys are so much worse. Reader responses vary between people delighted to see a bitchy mean-tempered heroine because it's such a change from the usual, and people horrified by the character's moral relativism and occasional outright nastiness.
Carrie Vaughn: (author of the Kitty Norville series)
The thing I have to say about urban fantasy that people are most surprised to hear: My audience seems to be split pretty much 50/50 male and female. I get e-mails from both men and women. I have both in my audiences at signings. I have guys giving my books to their girlfriend vice versa. This isn't a "women's" genre even though it's characterized as being about women and empowerment, a genre primarily by, for, and about women.
Maryelizabeth Hart: (Co-owner Mysterious Galaxy Books, San Diego)
Readers, authors, booksellers, and publishers have engaged in lively discussion about the distinctions between and commonalities shared by urban fantasy and paranormal romance for several years now. Granted, the subgenres' most basic definitions do not really serve to exclude each other, if one defines urban fantasy as fantastic literature set in our present, and paranormal romance as a relationship story with speculative fiction elements. The trick is to define the many stories that fall in the very broad spectrum that covers and encompasses both elements, and to be able to match them to the correct readers. And the fairly recent mainstreaming of the subgenre of paranormal erotica complicates matters even further. A parallel in the world of mystery and suspense would be making distinctions between amateur sleuth and cozy mysteries.
Ginjer Buchanan: (Senior Editor at Ace/Roc)
Romance readers, who did not flock to the big, male-driven fantasies of the '80s, have embraced urban fantasy – and many romance writers have brought back elements into their own work. Authors like Angela Knight, Jeanienne Frost, Nalini Singh, and Yasmine Galenorn bring a level of world-building to their paranormal romances that would stand up to the scrutiny of the discriminating fantasy reader. Some paranormal romance writers, in fact, attracted by the chance to write a more action-driven plot which doesn't require their heroines be monogamous and their creatures of the night find true love by stories' end, have gravitated to urban fantasy, bringing with them their strong character-driven writing. Marjorie Liu, interviewed in this issue, is one of them. Chris Marie Green and Julie Kenner are two others that we publish.
Diana Gill: (Executive Editor at EOS)
It's no coincidence that escapist entertainment stays strong and often grows during depressions, as per Hollywood in the great Depression and World Wars, or romance and SF/F right now. Urban fantasy hits that same nerve; it's just packaged in a way that non-SF/F readers clearly find accessible and appealing (and some readers find off-putting across genres).

If you are interested in what some of the leading lights of urban fantasy have to say about the genre, see if you can lay your hands on this issue of Locus.


  1. *touch you* So famous! :)

    Thanks for the issue review - it's sitting on my kitchen table as anticipation builds.

  2. Ooooh, scrapbook-worthy! :D

    Sounds like a really good special issue. I'll have to see if I can get my hands on it.

  3. Hi Doug!

    Wow! IN PRINT! Too Cool! Kudos to you! Did that freak you out or what?


    Looks like a really good mag, is it only on order or can I buy this out somewhere?

    Kim Harrison is Dawn Cook? Amazed!

    Dottie :)

  4. I should've known that hair was too good to be true :-)

  5. You bet Chris. Want my autograph? LOL

    Everyone had lots of interesting things to say Pissenlit. Well worth searching out.

    Hi Dottie it sure caught me by surprise, not that it actually changes anything except I may check out her fantasy titles now that I know about them. You might find it at bigger book chains or in specialty stores, i.e. SF bookstores.

    Tez I have never heard of an author dressing for a part unless it was a character or fannish activity. Fascinating.

  6. Thanks for writing that up - looks like a fantastic edition. I'll have to get my hands on a copy.

  7. Cool mention!!

    Thanks for the post..looks like a good issue:)

  8. Congrats on the mention!

    Thanks for the post. It was very interesting to read the various "takes" on urban fantasy, especially Patricia Brigg's comment on reader flexibility when it comes to genre. Too true.

  9. Hi Nalini all of the contributors were thoughtful and passionate. It is a very thorough assessment of the genre.

    Thanks Hagelrat!

    Excellent issue Mandi. Thanks.

    Colour me surprised Jory. There are lots of other insights among the contributors which I would have loved to include but I doubt that would go over well with Locus :)

  10. You ROCK Doug. :)

    But you also work really hard to put all this stuff together for us book junkies - thank you very much.


  11. Thanks for this.

    I'm really surprised about Kim Harrison/Dawn Cook. I always thought Kim Harrison was wearing a wig, especially when I saw her in person once, but I assumed it was because she possibly had an illness and did not discuss it. I really enjoyed Dawn Cook's The Decoy Princess but I can't say I would have ever guessed it was written by Kim Harrison.


  12. A range of interesting comments about UF/PR. Thanks for posting this -- I'll see if I can get hold of this issue.

  13. Wow, Kim harrsion is just a pen name. Totally cool to know that and a big surprise. Never heard of Dawn Cook before. As Kim Harrsion she totally rocks!

  14. I read this when you posted it the other day but didnt have a chance to post. I am quite shocked to hear that about Kim Harrison!!!

  15. Thanks for pointing the Locus Magazine. I've been wanting to get my hands on a magazine of this type. Now, I'm going to see if I can my hands on this issue.

  16. Hey Michelle thanks so much. It's a labour of love.

    LauraJ her Clark Kent routine completely blew me away. I have never read any Dawn Cook but you can be sure I will now.

    Hi Erica I haven't subscribed to Locus for years but didn't want to miss the issue on my favourite subject so I ordered it direct. As you kindly remarked there are some very eloquent contributors. Maybe its time to start up the subscription again.

    Roxanne totally amazing that one of the leading lights in UF could do this Clark Kent thing for so long. She talks more in the article about maintaining the two identities. Fascinating stuff.

    Rachael it shows how little crossover communications there is between the SF&F communities and the UF community because this issue had been out for a month before I posted this and I hadn't heard a peep anywhere about this.

    Fantasy Dreamer, Locus has been around since the 70's and is a great source for publishing and SF&F news and industry news. It seems a lot more UF news is also creeping in too. Guess it is time for me to renew.

  17. Oh my gosh! I had NO IDEA Kim Harrison was actually Dawn Cook!

  18. Wanderer it seems she fooled all of the people most of the time. If the Kim Harrison gig doesn't work out she may have a future in Hollywood :)

  19. Cool! Didn't know that about Harrison!

  20. Lady_tink I was amazed to learn that.

  21. Whoa! I need to get a copy of that issue. Thanks for bringing this to our attention! Great write-up!


  22. Thanks Yasmine. I ordered mine by just calling their offices. They're helpful and fast! It's a very thoughtful issue and covers a lot of UF territory.


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