Monday, October 4, 2010

Urban Fantasy is Hot…But Why?

Heroes Found at fondos-gratis.net

You know, I didn’t set out to write urban fantasy or paranormal romance. It’s just sort of what happens when I start writing. A story starts out all realistic and stuff, and then BAM! Magic.

God, I love that.  But have you stopped to wonder why urban fantasy and paranormals are so hot right now? I have my own theories, of course, but I was a bit uncertain. And then I went to a book signing for Susan Mallery (months ago). I’d never read one of her books before, but I recognized the name, and why not go, right? She’s well respected, and I knew I could learn from her. But a strange thing happened near the end when she opened up the floor to questions: somehow the entire conversation kept circling back to the popularity of urban fantasy and paranormal. Now, I should have prefaced this by telling you that Susan Mallery writes totally realistic romance, and according to her, she has no desire to write fantasy. So, WTF? Why did people keep asking her about it? Leave the woman alone, people.

Okay, it’s sort of my fault.

Because I asked if she thought it would be worthwhile to join RWA even though I wrote YA. She was very kind and asked me what kind of YA, and I responded: urban fantasy and paranormal romance. And then, holy crap, it’s like a freaking tornado blew in—people just couldn’t stop themselves from talking about UF and PR in this spasmodic firing of question and comments about how much they were drawn to it.

Susan was very gracious and handled it very well.  To appease her audience, she gave her thoughts on why UF was so hot right now. Her theory was that 9/11 changed everything. Nobody believes in real living, breathing heroes any more. Because real heroes, like firefighters and police officers are clearly just as vulnerable as the rest of us. Now I’m paraphrasing, hoping I didn’t just butcher her thoughtful answer, morphing it with mine. Because this is a conclusion similar to what I also came up with, though I think it’s not just about 9/11, but rather predates it. I think perhaps we just want the invincible hero. Think about it. Edward Cullen cannot die. He can run into a fiery, crumbling building and save you (before you ever realize the building’s on fire) and totally sparkle while doing it.

Is it true? Do we want invulnerable heroes? Angels that fall to Earth and fall in love with us and demons that can be changed for the love of us?

Many of us read to escape this world that really sucks sometimes. And what better way to escape than to read about a world—this world—in which magic really happens. Where abused little boys discover that they’re actually powerful wizards who are loved by people he’s never met. Imagine if Hagrid had showed up at Anne Frank’s door? Or if Heathcliff had actually lived for a hundred years, sparkling and vegging it out with deer blood before he met Cathy? Maybe he would’ve been a little less emo.

Err…

The thing is, we still want to believe in heroes. But I think we’re struggling to believe that they really exist among the average Joe Schmo. Because the average Joe Schmo just lost a home to the bank. The average Joe Schmo was just held up at gunpoint at the 7-Eleven or got fired after twenty years of service or got sent to Iraq and lost an arm in a land mine. But Joe Fantasy? Now there’s a guy who will never lose his house. In fact, he’d mind control the crap out of the banker who tried to take yours.

So, is UF and paranormal here to stay? I think to some degree, it’s always been here. The fairy tale goes way back.  And the Brother’s Grimm weren’t exactly the pioneers of the weird and magical either. Greek mythology? Oh yeah. Totally urban fantasy (or paranormal, depending on the story). Contemporary fiction is still quite popular, but I think as long as people want to believe in a magical way out of desperate situations, UF and paranormals will remain. Right now, things feel a little desperate. The economy is crap, homes have lost their value, people are losing jobs left and right, terrorism is real, gang violence multiplies, drugs, guns, knives, bigotry, suicide, politicians…where does the madness end?

I don’t know that it does.

So, no, I don’t think UF/paranormal (or Sci-fi/Fantasy) will ever go away. It might change and it might lessen some in popularity, but I think no matter what, we will never stop wanting to believe in magic.

But, no more sparkly vampires. Okay? And while we’re having this discussion, please don’t create werewolves that vomit rainbows.

39 comments:

  1. Hmmm...I've never thought of 9/11 being a sort of catalyst for the popularity of paranormal heroes. It makes a kind of sense, but my first reaction was sort of "seriously?" Mostly because I've been a fan of the paranormal (by whatever definition) for as long as I've been reading. But then I think of a survey I saw a year ago. Someone at a paranormal romance book club asked the members, "when did you start reading paranormal romance and urban fantasy?" I was surprised. Almost all of them (28 out of the 32 members) said they read "Twilight" and the got totally caught up into the craze. For me, it was a book I read in 1988 called "The Matrix Witch" when I was 10. So maybe I'm not the best judge when it comes to figuring out why it's hot now.

    I agree with you that the popularity may lessen in the coming years but probably won't go away. I sincerly hope you're right! :D

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  2. Great post, I think it's here to stay and always has been here. It's just people who didn't read it before now do and think it only became popular with Twilight.

    I did a similar one to this last week if you want to check it out http://susankmann.blogspot.com/2010/09/urban-fantasy-as-genre.html

    I have added you to my blog roll, I have no idea why I haven't been here sooner. Looking forward to chatting with you.

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  3. Excellent post, Carol. Very well said, as always.

    But I do resent one thing: now I'm going to have to go back and revise those rainbow-vomiting werewolves out of my MS. Yeah, thanks for that. :)

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  4. I would literally love to stab my eyes out with a pencil than read a sparkly vampire story. And as for werewolves, well...there hasn't been a good werewolf story since "American Werewolf In London"...perhaps "Teen Wolf" (but then I'm really stretching the friendship there).

    I really like the notion of 9/11 having influenced the nature of paranormal literature, even though I think it's probably a stretch. I think as these genre's evolve, so to will the protagonists within them - they will move from being characters that seem 'on a pedestal' and 'other worldly' to become the every person. I'm in the middle of reading a book like this right now. It's really good to see traditional characterizations (ie. vampires) in not so traditional roles.

    I really enjoyed this article Carol.

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  5. Rainbow vomitting werewolves? You realize you've just given somebody an idea!

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  6. Great post Carol! And yea - we will ALWAYS need a little magic in our lives I think.

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  7. Oh wow, vomiting rainbows? That was a very confusing image. ;)

    Those are interesting theories on the popularity of UF/PR, and it rings true, but for more than just post-9/11 like you said. I think people always long for an escape, or for life to be bigger/better/more exciting, and what better way to experience that than with UF/PR? I love reading it (when it's well done) and writing it (which is hopefully well done!) and I hope it stays around for a long time.

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  8. Come on, Carol, everyone knows werewolves don't vomit rainbows. They vomit unicorns, and the unicorns fart rainbows. (Duh!)

    Nonetheless, excellent post! (Of course, I may have sacrificed any credibility I had about what is or isn't excellent as soon as I mentioned farting unicorns.)

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  9. I really don't think its the indestructable heros thing. Really, how many urban fantasy/paranormal stories have indestructable heros? Yes, there are few, like the vampires in Twilight. But in general... I'm thinking of examples, and most of the paranormal heros are vulnerable in some way or the other.

    I think it's some deep down quirk of the human race, you know like how we also drawn to hero's quest stories and archetypal characters (Joesph cambell's book).

    Still laughing about a 100 year old Heathcliff.

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  10. Hey, I love your blog so I'm giving you a Versatile Blogger Award! Go to the link below to get the details!

    Kelly @ Fresh From the Stacks
    http://freshfromthestacks.blogspot.com/

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  11. I have always thought UUF and PNR were hot, because they are hot. Something doesn't have to be explicit to be hot. The kiss in Twilight makes my stomach flip like am 14. It makes us feel not like the person in our everyday life. Very often the heroine thinks she is unattractive or average but the hero always thinks she is beautiful. By making the woman ordinary we can slip into the character more easily.

    Gabaldon was in the Fantasy Romance section long before 9/11.

    Whatever the reason I just sit back and enjoy it!

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  12. Things magical have been an escape hatch for humans since the beginning of time, I believe. Shamans told tales and emulated supernatural beings. I've always loved some sense of magic in stories I read, and I have a feeling that people need it even more when times are bad.
    Interesting post.

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  13. Interesting post! Thanks for your thoughts, Carol. :)

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  14. Rainbows are sacred!! Please no vomiting of rainbows! LOL!!!!

    All genres wil always exist in one form or other - but their degree of popularity may ebb and flow with the times! And their evolution will always be extremely flexible!! So like the wise woman says - just write what make you happy but do it well! :-) Take care
    x

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  15. What about zombies who cough fairy dust? How do you feel about them?

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  16. very interesting explanation. It is interesting how all of a sudden Urban Fantasy is everywhere. Your reasoning makes sense, and the fact that you have a HEROES image as part of your post just sums it up. Ya know, save the cheerleader, save the world? ha. But yeah, urban fantasy will be around for a long time.

    and um...how do you feel about a zombie werewolf hybrid? LOL

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  17. Wonderful post, Carol. I think you're right. We are irresistibly drawn to the possibilities of magic and impossible love and all things strange.

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  18. Great post! But why no werewolves that vomit rainbows? Why? I don't see the problem there. LOL. :)

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  19. See, I prefer flawed heroes. I love anti-heroes. You know, Batman. The vampire never held any appeal to me. That's not to say I don't love fantasy / paranormal. When done well, it's fabulous. But give me a human hero over a non-human one any day. :)

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  20. Zombie-ninja-unicorns that vomit vampire-mermaid's rainbow-colored brains (they just can't digest them for some reason) and fart sparkly gold fairy dust.

    (I left the were wolves out of the equation, per your instructions, but I think I jammed everything else in there ;)

    (Oh crap, I forgot about angels, demons, wizards and..and...oh yeah, aliens.)

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  21. Oh, I got it: the witch-ghost stows away on the space ship, which time travels into the future and she falls in love with a hot angel-alien [alliteration, yo}...but he falls from grace and after his trip to Space Hell he becomes an alien-demon...witch-ghost is cool with it. Until the ninja-wizard rides in on his rainbow colored zombie-unicorn and ...

    Uncle.

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  22. First of all, I love Susan! She is such a sweetie, and a wonderful writer. Second, I have to agree with her that the events this country has gone through affected a lot of people in different ways. The whole hero issue is one thats been "shaken" in a way. People dont believe in the goodness of man without a little twist to it anymore. Because is a story is paranormal then its not real. But if we write stories that are too close to reality, what if the hero doesnt make it in the end? or what if the hero makes it every time? I love both YA and regular fiction. Right now, my writing is focused more on real life situations, and I hope that my readers can relate to my characters in the way that would be helpful to them. Wow, I was just going to say that I love Susan, but here you go Carol :)

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  23. Fabulous post. I never thought of the 9-11 aspect of it...

    Technically I do write 50% paranormal (because it's so much fun!) but it doesn't really FEEL paranormal most of the time. My characters are as flawed as what you'd find in a more "realistic" story. In other words, I don't know if you could call my story "escapist." And that's the way I like it. The idea of an "invulnerable hero" or sparkly vampires is kinda creepy...

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  24. Great - and very funny - post. RT'ed

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  25. Wonderfully insightful post! This is exactly why I love everything fantastic, from magical realism to space opera.

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  26. That's an excellent post! I love your take on UF and PF. The 9/11 makes absolute sense. I never considered that before. Smart girl, that Susan :)

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  27. I had a teacher once say that when the economy is crap, that's when the superhero movies/books take hold. He had a point, and 9-11 works well with his theory.

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  28. Well, I'm off to delete my new vomiting werewolf scene. Thanks a lot. ;)

    You already know I love UF, but I always have and always will. Reality isn't as much fun. xo

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  29. "Maybe he would have been a little less emo." LOL!

    I both agree and disagree with you. I think that teens are drawn to UF and Paranormal romance because they're at a point in their lives in which everything they have always known to be real is being questioned. They can see the world more clearly for what it is, warts and all, and those warts are pretty scary looking. This is something that will always be there, so I think that in YA, UF and Paranormal are here to stay.

    The big draw for adults may be more temporary, though; we're in a depression now, but when it wears off, will adults gravitate more towards more contemporary or lighter fare? We'll have to see.

    Great post! I've given you a blog award - check it out at www.ishtamercurio.blogspot.com

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  30. I have a slightly different theory as to why UF and PR are doing so well but I get where she's coming from.

    I think that over the last ten years things have been so grim, from war to the economy to polarised politics that people want to believe there's more to life than this crap. I mean, for the better part of ten years our own government frightened everyone into believing that at any minute we could all be dead. We were told that our law enforcement agencies didn't work, our intelligence was faulty, our international community was impotent.

    No wonder people began looking for superheroes.

    Jai

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  31. Great post! Could I just say I don't want my werewolves vomitting rabbit either! Super-heroic fantasy it is then ;)

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  32. Hey, Caroline, really fascinating post. I recently began a Victorian paranormal and am having such fun with it. I think you may be on to something theory-wise. I've been wondering ever since TWILIGHT hit, why one of the first vampire novels for YA - the fantastic, inventive and superbly written book SILVER KISS by Annette Curtis Klause never rocked the charts like Twilight did. Maybe this is one of the answers.

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  33. Excellent post. I loved it. Werewolves that vomit rainbows are off limits, huh? How about zombies that fart moonbeams? Sorry, running low on sleep here.

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  34. Oh, and I love the pic. Heroes was such a great show (although the later seasons were lacking). I loved Peter!

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  35. Really great post! I agree: fantasy is here to stay. But I do not agree on the werewolves vomiting raindbows - I would read that. Any other takers?

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  36. Great post Carol. This makes a lot of sense. We need to dream. We need to hope. When the real world makes us feel like that is hard, books can help us find our balance again.

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  37. hmmm, werewolves the vomit rainbows, you say? I smell an idea. ;)

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  38. I don't think it will ever go away. For me it is representative of ALTERNATE REALITIES. My generation doesn't want one way to do things, as in HS-college-marriage-kids. We want to find our own way to live, our own worlds. Obviously this is true for all people in a way, but you can just ask the NYT and they're tell you that we're taking it to the max. My question is, what are my future kids going to do with vampires? Something new and crazy, I'd wager.

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  39. What a great post (*runs to check MS to make sure there are no rainbow-vomiting werewolves*) ;)

    I love your take on why UF and Paranormal are here to stay - very insightful, and something I haven't really thought about before. And I had to laugh at the thought that your question at the interview started that whole discussion (did you take a few steps backward and hide after that???) LOL

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