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Tag Archives: Urban Fantasy

Eve Dallas is a terrible cop.

There, I’ve said it. I thought it the first time I read the series and as I wind my way through for the third time, it still strikes me as true. It’s not her ability to solve crimes that are at issue. As a detective, she’s very good, as she is written to be, and solves the crimes, gets her man/woman and throws them ‘in a cage’ at the end of every installment. This is her job, both as a detective and as the main character of an ongoing series of books. She’s entertaining which makes her fun to read about. She is an excellent example of a strong female character, one who has strengths aside from being able to beat up bad guys and being bitchy.

But gods in dark little holes, I’d never want to meet the woman myself. She’s a stone cold bitch who misuses her authority like nobody’s business. She browbeats damn near every person she meets from receptionists whose only crime was being there to the people she interviews. She is always using threats and harassment to get information she wants without a warrant and acts like people who want a warrant are the scum of the earth who do so as a personal slight to her. In the book I just finished, Holiday in Death, Eve thinks she knows who the killer is and makes his life hell for several days while she tries to pin the murders on him. She knows in her heart, which she admits to in the book, that she knows it’s not him, but has a personal reason for wanting it to be him anyway. She bullies him, uses illegal, warrant-less means to dig up dirt on him, threatens to destroy his life with information she knows about him and is eventually forced to let him go. In another scene she fails to indicate her change of lanes while driving, hits a cab and when the cab driver comes out and calls her on it, pointing out that her lights and siren were not on and that she didn’t use her indicator, she threatens him with resisting arrest, assaulting an officer and a few other things. And the cab driver was right! What makes it worse is that the people around her praise her for this kind of behavior and think she’s ‘iced’.

Eve Dallas is a bit of a Mary Sue. She’s a very readable and pretty entertaining one, but it can be annoying and distracting at times. I’m not going to lambast authors for writing wish fulfillment into some of their work. The idea that authors should avoid this at all costs is pure silliness. What’s the point of building a whole new world and creating new characters if you can’t have some fun with them? I don’t mind that Eve Dallas, Sookie Stackhouse, Bella Swan and any other female lead you want to add to this list, happens to be seen as hot by the male lead and maybe one or two others. That’s part of the fantasy. Men do it too, writing male leads that have women throwing themselves at him all over the place. Fine and dandy, but for the love of chocolate chip cookies, be subtle about it! You want to avoid readers rolling their eyes as much as possible. A few characters wanting to hump the female leads leg is fine, but when more than half of the men in the series want to hump their legs, you’ve gone to far. Balance is key.

And that’s what’s happened to Eve and her use of her authority. I want her to use it, I even want her to misuse it on killers, jerks and really annoying people, but she doesn’t. She’s a complete bitch who throws her weight around with pretty much every person she meets. We’re talking 90% here. No, I’m not kidding, she’s that bad. Yeah, she’s had a rough life and all, but it doesn’t really come back to bite her in the ass like it should. Instead, people throughout the series praise her to the hilt for it, which starts to get old if you read too many of the books back to back, which I keep doing. It starts to become book after book of Eve worship. She always talking about how she’s protecting and serving the people of NYC, but we really just see her abusing them most of the time.

Do I love the books? Yep! Do I think they could be better? Well yeah, but what book couldn’t be better? Eve has a lot going for her as a character and it outweighs her annoying parts. That’s one of the joys of reading books you love that have flaws. You get to find out why you love it anyway so you can make your own writing more compelling.

Write on~

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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in All About Writing

 

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The Sound that Moves

I’ve been thinking a lot about music today. I always do when I’m writing. I have a lot of trouble writing if I don’t have the right music to go with it. Music helps me focus. When I was in high school, my mother would scoff at these assertions, and I didn’t really know how to describe it to her. I do now. Without music, my mind wanders.

I’m not the best at focusing intently on a single thing for long periods of time. For 5 min to a half hour, sure. More than that? My brain melts and starts dripping out of my ears. My mind NEEDS more than one thing to think about at a time, or I start to go a little nuts. That’s why I am so very picky about the MP3 players I have. (I stumbled onto the best one without realizing it and I will never give it up! GRRRRR)

I know I’m not the only one and I find it interesting to see what other people listen to. Or how they pick the music. That’s sometimes hard for me. A) Because I have too many songs, some I’ve forgotten I have and B) because I’m always looking for a certain feeling. I have gone so far as to put a song on reply until I finish a scene to keep the feeling of the scene in my mind, in my body.

So here are a few of my favorites. I happen to love Battlestar Galactica, the new remake, not the original, but even if you didn’t like it much, the music was amazing. I have all the soundtracks and there is every feeling you could want in that mix. I have few favorite though that I know by name. The Shape of Things to Come from Season one is probably the one I love the most. It always gives me chills when I listen to it. It’s gentle, sweet and yet insistent, pressing, expectant, all at the same time. When I first heard it on the show I was entranced by the sound of it. I wish the track were longer. Passacaglia, also from Season one has a similar feel to it as The Shape, but it’s five minutes instead of three and has a more consistent feel to it. The violins are just gorgeous. It’s a fairly simple piece, but I think that’s what makes it so lovely. And I can’t mention the music of this series without mentioning Gaeta’s Lament from Season Four. It’s just haunting, the minor tones unsettling and yet beautiful. It’s great for that melancholy feel, and I now sing it for hours after hearing it.

Yeah, I like Anime. I’m eclectic in my tastes, so sue me. You should see my music library, you’d really scratch your head. Anyway, this is a great soundtrack for a more Sci-Fi feel and also delivers a wide range of emotion, but with an electronic age feel to it. The opening songs are amazing. Who am I kidding, anything Kanno Yoko does is amazing. She’s done so many soundtracks for so many anime and they all have their own flare, their own feel but I almost always know when Kanno is doing the music.

Final Fantasy Piano Collection is another one I listen to a lot while writing. And there are a whole plethora of songs that I can’t begin to name. They are part of the lifeblood of my writing. Without them there to keep me focused, to keep me feeling a scene, I don’t think I could write. I’m an artistic person and I’ve always said that I’d rather be blind, than deaf. Silence would be torture to me. Darkness holds only possibilities for my imagination. Silence holds death. Maybe I’m being melodramatic. Or maybe just honest.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Just to be Random

 

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The Great Urban Fantasy Debate Part 4, Urban Fantasy vs Contemporary Fantasy

And you thought I was done at 3! Sadly no.

So here we come to an funny little side note to the debate, but one which is really the heart of the debate in essence. I don’t like the term Contemporary Fantasy. I don’t like the idea of even having a “present tense” genre. And I am being subjective, which is annoyingly unobjective I know, but hear me out. When is something no longer considered contemporary and what is it then? Is something written in the 60’s considered contemporary? Probably, but is it really? No, it isn’t, at least not to me. Technology is changing to fast to have long periods of time that are essentially the same with only minor changes in daily living. Yes, compare to the 1700’s, the 60’s are contemporary, but not compared to today. Heck, the 80’s can barely be considered contemporary. So what are fiction novels written in the 60’s called? Hippie lit? What would we call a book written about the world of Bioshock? It’s in an Urban setting so it’s sort of Urban Fantasy, sort of Horror, but not contemporary. Steam Punk would fit it to a point.

See my point? It’s all subjective to one extent or another on some level. And to be fair, Urban Fantasy is really a sub genre of Contemporary Fantasy…sometimes. And that’s why I don’t like it. As far as I’m concerned, if it happens in basically our world, past the point of industrialization, but has fantasy elements, then it’s Urban Fantasy. I know that’s not the strict definition of the term, but I think it can stretch to accommodate. Mercedes Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series is Urban Fantasy to me, even though half of it happens well outside cities and it should be rightly called Contemporary Fantasy. My current WIP isn’t really a UF, it’s a CF, since most of it happens outside of a city. But I consider it a UF anyway. It has those elements that I consider UF. So does that make Urban Fantasy set in Victorian England something else by my definition? Nope, just add a modifier and you get the very apt Historical Urban Fantasy.

There are many who already consider the two to be basically the same thing, and I’m okay with that, because the plot that drives them both is the fantasy elements of that world. That isn’t true with Paranormal Romance. (And for the record, I don’t like the term Contemporary Romance either.) There are even a lot of PR books that are labeled CF even though the Romance novel is clearly not a Fantasy Novel.

So I guess it comes down to what’s more important. I’d rather Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy be confused and interchanged than either be confused with Romance. Not because I have a problem with Romance. I freely admit that I read it so that’s not the point. I would be just as upset if Mystery were being confused with Urban Fantasy, and it happens. A lot. It’s the principle of the thing. There are fruits that are considered vegetables because of their lack of sweetness, such as the tomato and avocado. But they are still fruits. Why? Because sweetness isn’t what makes it a fruit, the hardness of the seed is. This is a set way of categorizing edible plants so scientists can speak the same language and understand each other. We need to have some understanding of how to group things so we can better understand our world and each other. It all really comes down to communication. We have enough trouble with men and women understanding each other, and people from different countries understanding each other, we don’t need to add to the confusion. Not when there is a system in place already to deal with this very issue.

Maybe that’s what annoys me the most about this whole thing. We aren’t using that system and it’s creating a problem already. We aren’t using the time spent arguing and discussing this to do anything new. It’s a waste of time in the end. There is a system in place, so let’s use it and stop wasting time with miscategorizing things. We could be using that time to find new names for the next new kind of book to come out.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2011 in All About Writing

 

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The Great Urban Fantasy Debate Part 3

Finally, on to part 3. The publishers. Now, I’m not going to beat the publishers to death on this one, because they are doing the best they can to sell their products. They are businesses, they do their jobs for the same reason we all do, to get enough money to make a decent living or more if they want to put in the time and effort to get more. I’m not one to beat on ‘evil corporations’.

However, I find the drive to earn money, to cash in on the next big thing rewards, or at least doesn’t curtail confusion and ignorance on the part of the consumer. It happens with words all the time. We lose the rightful meaning to words more because of gross ignorance than to a true shift in language. I feel the same way about this issue. I think a lot of people just don’t understand what defines a genre and the publishers cater to that lack of understanding by lumping things into ill fitting categories for fear of losing money, instead of labeling books correctly and thus educating people on what truly goes where.

I know, educating people isn’t the job of the publishers. But, in the long run, it is of more benefit than continuing to allow the degradation of the category system. Especially in this age of internet search engines, when knowing what to search for is paramount if you want to find what you are looking for. If genres aren’t kept well defined, we risk making it harder for the consumer to find what they are looking for, which will result in people buying fewer books.

Now we add to that, the frightening proliferation of the ‘butt cover‘ and/or tramp stamp. These are becoming rampant and they do two things. They sexualize the female heroine, which I do not understand, since most of the readers are women, and they make the genre look frankly trashy. If you compare these covers with other fantasy book covers, you’ll find that, though there are a few fantasy covers with buxom ladies in impractical gear, there aren’t too many. However, compare the UF covers to that of the PR covers. In fact, here’s a video that shows both UF and PR covers in a parade of butt covers. And I’m not even close to the first one to notice this. It seems like the only way to show that a chick is tough is to make her overtly sexual to the point of nearly slutty and cover her in tattoos, even if she doesn’t have any. Let’s look at these covers of the Mercedes Thompson books by Patricia Briggs. They aren’t all butt covers, but look at how she’s dressed in every one. Mercy doesn’t dress like this and and she has a tattoo of a coyote paw below her navel and two celtic knots on her upper arms. She doesn’t have sleeves, she has an athletic build, not breast implants. So what’s the point of making her look slutty? Does it sell better? Why? Because if they are trying to make it look like Mercy is a girl who gets lots of fun on in the sac, then they are disappointing readers who want that.

Now lets look at The Dresden Files. Now here we have Urban Fantasy with a male hero and these look just like Harry Dresden, with the exception that he doesn’t wear a hat. Other than that, he carries a staff, wears boots and a long black duster and a pentacle amulet. So why isn’t one of the many lovely ladies of the Dresden Files draping the front in sex appeal? Wouldn’t that sell to the male audience who reads these books? Why not have him shirtless and manly looking to get the female readers interested?

This is the other thing I blame the publishers for. The covers they give female written books that are about female characters are a joke nine times out of ten. And we wonder why UF is lumped in with PR and why it’s starting to get a trashy rep. I’d really like to know if we the readers buy these books because of the covers or despite of them. I know I buy them despite the covers, usually while rolling my eyes at the silliness. This is the one thing I agree with Saintcrow about. Most female written and female hero-ed fiction seems to be poo-pooed. I don’t really care that it isn’t seen at real ‘literature’ since none of the Sci-fi and Fantasy is seen as real ‘literature’ and we are all glad of it. But I would like some of what we women like to read and like to write given some level of respect.

Part 4

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2011 in All About Writing

 

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The Great Urban Fantasy Debate Part 2

Continuing where I left off, my thoughts on Lilith Saintcrow’s post. Her first words are a question, what is Urban Fantasy. Not a bad start, but right off we have this as her answer. “That’s simple, you might say. Chicks kicking ass. Well, leather-clad chicks kicking ass. Leather-clad chicks kicking ass in an urban environment where some form of “magic” is part of the world. There. That’s about it.” I can not begin to state how disappointing this is, coming from a published author. Obviously, this is not at all the definition of UF, not by a long shot.

It is interesting to note that “chicks kicking ass” does seem to fit with the majority of the UF out there. And there are some truths to the points she brings up, but I think she focuses a little too much on what are her pet issues. She mentions in passing male authors of the genre, but only the once, even as she promises to get back to them in due course. I’m going to digress for a bit here and note something I found both interesting and alarming. In the second part of this blog by Carrie Vaughn, Vaughn laments the lack of strong female characters, other than the main character. It’s a pet peeve of hers in UF, and one I myself share. And reading Saintcrow’s article, you’d think the majority of strongly caste female in UF would be from female authors. Not so much. Of the UF I have read, Jim Butcher’s Dresden files has far and away, the most strong female characters of any UF I’ve read. In fact, pretty much every female in Harry’s world is a strong woman with the very few weak ones being notable for that trait. Even one of the females that looked weak turned out to be strong. I can name off the top of my head 13 strong female characters from the Dresden files. (I just now counted them on my fingers as I thought about it for a whole 15 seconds.) I can not think of another UF with even 5 female characters that pop out to my like that. So at least Jim Butcher has no problem with strong women. If anything, he has more respect and love for women than most of us have for ourselves.

Saintcrow goes on to say “What truly defines UF, and why the genre has exploded recently, is the moral and ethical ambiguity of its protagonists.” Once again, I think this a flawed idea. I can think of several High Fantasy and Sci-Fi Protags that fit this bill quite well. In fact a lot of them do. I don’t think this has anything at all to do with it and is not at all a new thing. Her point that the gender for this has changed may have some merit, but then why are the Dresden files and the Nightside books so well loved? From what Saintcrow is saying, this is old hat and shouldn’t be new or interesting.

At this point the article does cover some interesting ground on the nature of the relationship between women, power and violence. But I’m not sure what that has to do with UF in particular. I think it’s coming into a lot of genres, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and most notably, Mystery. Nora Roberts under the pen name J.D. Robb has birthed Eve Dallas, one of the foremost ass kicking women in fiction with over 30 stories dedicated to Eve’s foot kicking said ass. It’s not UF, it’s not romance, so how does that fit with the idea that UF is about this issue? It doesn’t and it isn’t. That is not what defines the genre.

I think there is still some merit to the argument that women and female fiction is second class, both in the reading and publishing world. And this is were we get to the meat of my issue with this whole debate, which I touched on in the first part. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance should not be so closely tied. I don’t like that fact that it is and it concerns me that it is looked as almost the same thing.

Why? How did this happen? Why would Twilight ever be even remotely considered UF? And yes, I’ve seen it put in that bracket. Twilight is barely Paranormal Romance, it’s Young Adult PR if anything. It doesn’t take place in a city, it’s primary plot focus is on romantic relationships. The age of the characters involved put it firmly in the YA category. So how did it ever end up being lumped in with UF? Here’s were Saintcrow and I will agree. It’s not that PR is being lumped in with UF, it’s that UF is being lumped in with PR…if it has Vampires in it and is written by a women. I hate to say it, because it just makes me look like a frothing feminist fanatic, but the publishing world in many ways looks on women readers as bored house wives. Think about it. Titanic anyone? Why did it do so well? Because there was a certain set of women and teen girls who went and saw the movie over and over again in the theater. That alone wouldn’t be so bad, look at Star Wars. (the original trilogy, not the new crap which has no business being in the mythos whatsoever) But here’s what makes it different? It was a good story! If Titanic had been a good story, it wouldn’t be seen as silly as much as it is, but it’s not a good story. Women, whom men do and will always see as being silly and emotional, get caught up in the love story and men don’t get it. What makes it worse, is that there are women out there who think Titanic is bad and roll our eyes at the ones who see it over and over again. It’s a tangled problem.

It also doesn’t help that the market is being flooded with books by authors who themselves don’t understand the difference between UF and PR or don’t care because let’s face it, it’s what’s new and hot. Which brings me to the third big culprit in this debate that should not be. But another time. This one has grown too long as it is.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2011 in All About Writing

 

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The Great Urban Fantasy Debate Part 1

I found a blog post that delves into some of the same questions and dilemmas I have about writing Urban Fantasy. I don’t want to be forced into writing a mystery, which seems to be a staple of some of the genre, but something I have no interest in writing. Not only does it intimidate me, it downright terrifies me to even think of writing a mystery. And I am not going to be pigeon-holed into doing so.  It was an interesting article that brought up some of the very points I had mulled over such as the seeming proliferation of PI plots, both professional and civilian, such as the Dresden Files, the Mercedes Thompson series, the Anita Blake series by Laurel K. Hamilton and some others. It seems that there is always a mystery going on, though not always in the same fashion as in the mystery genre itself, which I won’t touch with a ten foot pole. But that brings me to the thought that most plots involve a mystery to some extent and that my own plot does indeed have some elements of that in it as well. Just not a lot and that was pointed out as well and made me feel better about the idea of mystery being included and not having to deal with the PI and police procedure.

I don’t think I have to write a mystery UF, but it’s a worry that it might be the only one that would be picked up for publication. The posts at the end of the blog were reassuring, reminding me that not all UF is a mystery and I feel free again to write what’s in my head and not try to force it into an unnatural shape, which would prove disastrous.

From there I found this blog by Carrie Vaughn. It comes in 3 parts and the second part is particularly interesting and helpful. I was much relieved to find that my book does not have any of these issues in its current first incarnation. I’ll be rewriting basically the whole thing and it was good to re her pet peeves and keep mind what not to add. And it was funny, since I have had some of the same issues with female leads lately. As she put it “When the heroine is insecure about her appearance and ability to attract men, and talks about this by comparing herself to her best friend who is a blond bombshell. You would be amazed how often this happens in these books. I take this one personally, for obvious reasons (I am, in fact, blond). “Blond” seems to be a code word in some of these books for “not the heroine.” Or even, in at least one book, not that I’m going to name names or anything, “bimbo.”” Yeah, being a fellow blond, I too find the blond bombshell/bimbo label annoying. I am neither a bombshell by virtue of being blond, nor am I a bimbo. Just saying.

Now from here I found this article by Lilith Saintcrow and all I can say is wow. I mean wow. But before I delve into my thoughts on this blog, let me first address the classification of books into genres.

How genres are defined.

Apparently this is an issue. I hadn’t realized that it was a big debate since the books I have read about writing, written by both authors and editors, made it clear how books are defined. By what drives the Plot and by the setting, in that order. There shouldn’t be a question about weather something is Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy, barring a few books that straddle the line. Since both are similar in setting we have to look at the plot. What is the main focus of the plot, what drives it forward? If the primary focus of the book is the romantic relationship between two people, if that is what drives the plot forward, their actions and reactions to each other, then its a Romance. I don’t care where it takes place, what’s happening in the background, its a romance. There can be a mystery happening around them, or a war, or a Zombie apocalypse, it doesn’t matter. There can be lots of sex or no sex, it doesn’t matter. If the focus is the relationship, it’s romance. Just to make things clear, if the focus and drive of the story is sex and not a relationship, then it’s erotica.

Urban Fantasy is primarily a fantasy as defined by the setting. There is magic, other races or supernatural occurrences in our own world. It’s Urban because it happens in a city. Time frame isn’t a defining part of it, but most of it is contemporary. (If it happens outside a city, it is considered Contemporary Fantasy, but I find so few people know of the genre that it’s easier to call it Urban Fantasy, but I digress.) Pretty much just like a paranormal romance, so here’s where the plot matters. What drives the plot? In UF it should not be a romantic relationship. It should be the protag against something, preferably of a supernatural persuasion, vampires, werewolves, his/her powers, a mob boss, whatever. There can be romantic elements in it, but that isn’t what drives the plot along.

Let’s look at Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs. Cry Wolf On her website, she lists this book under Paranormal Romance and this is one of those books that walks the fine line between UF and PR but I think she has the right catagorization. In her own words “The series has plenty of action, but there’s more emphasis in on the romantic attraction between the hero and heroine.” She is right but it’s not easy to say it’s wholly one or the other. The relationship between Anna and Charles does take up a lot of the book and it is the more central point of the book, but it’s not a typical romance plot. There isn’t a high level of sexual tension or graphic sex scenes and the side plot seems more main plot than just side plot at first glance. But in the end, it is a paranormal romance if you have to pin it down and you do. Not to force it to be one or the other, in fact this is a particularly skillful blend of the two and it stays away from the pitfalls of both with enviable ease.

Categorization isn’t a dirty word, and it isn’t there to make books fall into rigid formulas and defined boundaries. Every genre book doesn’t have to be the epitome of the genre. It’s there to make it easier for us all to find what we like, to talk about what we like and describe it to others in ways we will all understand. It’s so much easier to tell people what genre or genres a book falls into, such as Cry Wolf which I would describe as both UF and PR. The people I’m talking to will understand what the book is about without me telling them the whole plot and ruining the book for them.

The problem comes when people don’t understand what the defining characteristics of a genre are. Or don’t know what makes it one genre and not another. UF and PR suffer from this and I see the problem being mostly with the publishers, some with the authors and the rest with the people who don’t read them in the first place but tell everyone what they are about. But that comes back some to the publishers.

So tomorrow, I’ll delve into my thoughts on Lilith Saintcrow’s post and we can delve into this problem more.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2011 in All About Writing

 

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