Monday, 21 February 2011

Welcome Michele Lang!

As our first guest of honour this week, I'm delighted to be able to welcome an old friend, Michele Lang, whose haunting hitorical urban fantasy, Lady Lazarus, came out a few months ago... Hello, Michele and welcome!

Urban Fantasy – What is it?!
By Michele Lang

Welcome to the party, and thank you so much Marie for inviting me to join in!
Now, what is urban fantasy (UF) again? 

I thought I knew – after all, no matter what I write, my editors tell me that is what I am writing ?  My first book MS. PENDRAGON,  an Arthurian time travel romance set in NYC and featuring a reincarnated Queen Guinevere, was labeled an urban fantasy.  My current release LADY LAZARUS, set in a magical 1930s Budapest, has been dubbed “historical urban fantasy” by my current editor.

Clearly, urban fantasy is a broad umbrella, covering a wide range of situations, heroines and heroes, and villains.  Being a literal-minded person, I tend to define it based on the plain meaning of the words “urban” “fantasy” – fantasy set in an urban, usually contemporary setting.

As a romance writer, the salient question for me has always been the overlap between Urban Fantasy (UF) and Paranormal Romance (PNR) … and I’ve up until recently resolved the question in my mind by asking whether the primary plot is the romantic relationship between the heroine and hero, or the heroine or hero’s magical battle against their villain in a vivid urban setting.  If the romantic relationship is paramount, you’ve got a paranormal romance.  If the vivid urban setting and the heroine’s journey is front and center, it’s an urban fantasy (a hero can be the protagonist in UF just as easily as a heroine.  A romantic subplot isn’t even a necessary part of the UF recipe).

However, I recently had an enlightening experience at the World Fantasy conference last fall in Columbus, Ohio.  I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel with a number of urban fantasy authors, and I was the only one approaching the genre from a romance perspective rather than a background in fantasy.  All of them traced their inspiration to the Charles de Lint/Emma Bull/Peter Beagle lineage of contemporary fantasy, rather than the inspirations I would point to:  Sherrilyn Kenyon, Maggie Shayne, Nalini Singh, Patricia Briggs, and Marjorie Liu, just to name a few.

Some of these authors write PNR, some write UF, but all of them are wonderful!  It was amazing to me that most of the audience members did not know these brilliant UF/PNR authors, and didn’t consider how they have influenced the meteoric rise of urban fantasy as a subgenre.  I learned so much on this panel about reader expectations, and how rich and varied a writer’s influences can be.

How do *you* define urban fantasy?  And would you say a romantic subplot is essential?  We writers really want to know what you love!

A short excerpt from my current release, LADY LAZARUS.  In this scene, Magda first meets her guardian angel, Raziel.  She is in terrible trouble at the Vienna train station, and in desperation she summons the archangel himself:

A historical urban fantasy

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2317-0
It’s Budapest, 1939, and the entire world is balanced on the edge of war.  Magda Lazarus is a witch with the power to call souls from the dead.  In order to survive, Magda must battle SS werewolves and demons, including the one who has possessed a willing Adolf Hitler.  In desperation, Magda summons her avenging angel, Raziel, to stop Hitler and his supernatural minions from unleashing total war…

Lang crafts a creative and terse story as all of Europe awaits the September invasion of Poland.  Lang is a writer to watch and is sure to have wide appeal to fans of Jim Butcher, Kat Richardson, and other urban-fantasy A-listers.  An outstanding debut.”- BOOKLIST (starred review)

 I shut my eyes, dazzled by a brilliant, multicolored radiance, and didn’t see the blow before it came.  Something hard connected with my chest and threw me backward.  But instead of falling down, I fell up, into that divine, coruscating light.

When I opened my eyes again, I was flat on my back, my skull aching where it had connected with the platform.  I saw a living tapestry of luminosity, heard a cacophony of little bells, smelled a heavenly scent.  My senses were scrambled.  Suddenly, the ordinary world seemed dull and feeble.

 After another moment of celestial confusion, I realized I was still in the Vienna station; the angel Raziel stood over me, golden beams of light streaming from around his shoulders.  After another moment, he looked not like a heavenly being, but like a man – an exquisite, chiseled, Grecian statue of a man.  A man dressed in ordinary street clothes, a man who held a sword, streaming with silver shafts of light, over my head.

And I realized, finally, that he raised this weapon of righteousness, his fabled sword, against me.  Before he could smite me, I sat up, my muscles sore, my knees still shaking.

 I rose to my feet, smoothed my hair and did my best to compose myself.  “Help,” I said.  My Hebrew was far too rudimentary to use in a magical battle to the death, so I spoke in Hungarian, hoping an Angel of the Lord would surely understand.  The Lazarus family spellcraft is based in the use of the holy words of the Hebrew Bible, but my ignorance of the family spells was just one of the gaps in my training.

 He frowned.  “You broke the Law.”  I risked a look into his eyes, squinted against the unearthly godlight his face still generated.  Raziel was glorious.  Terrifying.  And truly, cosmically furious at me.  “I should strike you down where you stand.”  His voice rumbled all along the platform.

 I heard a low cackle behind me, felt a hideous whisper of a touch along the tops of my shoulders.  I shrugged my shoulders away from the Staff’s fingers, rose slowly despite a prickle of pain through my entire body.  “Don’t do the wizard’s work for him.  Please, give me a chance to explain myself. . . .”

 I looked at the wizard, saw the unholy glee on his face, and realized that he relished the angel’s display of wrath.

 As for me, I stood rooted to the spot, knowing I was next to die unless something fundamental changed in this encounter.  I wasn’t used to being the object of righteous – even if justified -- scorn, and the knowledge burned.  Despite the danger, I could not tear my gaze away from the sight of him, filled with a luminescent rage.

 The angel turned to me, eyes wild.  The sword he held above my head loomed huge; I wondered how I could possibly return from a death inflicted by an Angel of the Almighty. . .

Michele Lang

To be entered in Michele's contest for a copy of Lady Lazarus, answer one (or both!) of her questions above: How do *you* define urban fantasy?  And would you say a romantic subplot is essential? The contest will close at midnight tonight, and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread.


  1. Hi Michele! You know I loved Ms. Pendragon, AND Lady Lazarus, although they each have a very different "feel". So what are you working on now, and what other writing plans do you have?


  2. Hey Marie! Right now book two of the Lady Lazarus series, Dark Victory, is in production with a winter 2011-12 release. I'm working on Book 3 now, as well as some shorter works that are on submission right now. Thanks so much for having me here at the party! :)

  3. Hi Michele and Marie ;)
    great excerpt!

    The difference between the two has always been very confusing to me, but Michele's explanation makes the most sense to me.

  4. Ohhh... Lady Lazarus sounds awesome. 1930's Budapest (LOVE that city) is such a unique setting. I have to check it out.

  5. Michele, sounds like Dark Victory for Christmas then :). Delighted you joined the party!

    Hi Gigi! Good to see you again.

    Cynthia, it IS awesome :). I'm another Budapest fan, although I was only there for a week many years ago! When were you there?


  6. Good Morning Michelle and Marie! I too had problems distinguising between Urban Fantasy(UF) and Paranormal Romance (PNR) least until I read a really good blog post on it. To me Urban Fantasy is a fantasy story setting (paranormal inhabitants are a must) taking place in an urban setting where the main focus of the plot is saving the world as we know it and finding love while you do it. The romance is a secondary character all on it's own and the heroine is the central character focus - the hero is a strong secondary character. There can be time travel and historical involved because of the fantasy situation. In paranormal romance, the romance is the central focus and the primary character is the hero.....
    Either way romance is definitely a must:)

    Thanks for the excerpts...Lady Lazarus looks great!

  7. Urban fantasy to me is fiction in an urban setting but in an alternate reality. I read a lot of urban fantasy now. I do read some romance UF but prefer any romance as a sub-plot. I get hooked on UF series that stay with the same hero/heroine. Usually the romance type UF can't make this work (next book typically moves on to a friend of the hero of the first book).

  8. Good morning, Marie!

    Wow, such a good question. I was told my book was urban paranormal romance, and I'd never thought about the genre before. I guess I would define an urban fantasy as being a fantasy that takes place in an urban setting, as opposed to a medieval castle type setting. For a paranormal UF, add supernatural creature and shake well?

    I happen to find a romantic subplot essential to everything, but that's just me.

    Good luck with Lazarus, it sounds great. I love historical settings.

  9. I define urban fantasy as a contemporary setting with supernatural elements. If you mix in vampires or werevolves it turns into paranormal. And no, it doesn't need a romantic subplot, although I can't think of a single urban fantasy off the top of my head that doesn't include one.

  10. We're getting some great and varied ansers here!

    How interesting, Maria! I assumed the female cetral characters Ive encountered in UF were because the authors were female :). I hadn't realized it was a genre convention.

    Hi Carol - I admit I rather like to stay with the same characters too. Moving on to another couple with each book seems to be common in all romance sub-genres - though I have bucked this trend with my Awakened by Blood series (PR rather than UF romance!

    Hi Julie! Sounds reasonable to me :). And I agree, I like romance with everything :)

    Hello, Amber! The UF I've read certainly all invovle romance too, but interesting that you limit it to contemporary settings.


  11. I can never tell the difference between the 2 genre and since I love them both I stopped trying lol. and romance is a must for me .

  12. Hi,

    Just breezing in real quick, I'm actually on my way to bed....sigh!!!

    So, for me Urban fantasy is when you have a contemporary setting with paranormal beings living and being a part of it. And of course, romance is the cherry on the cake!!! Hehe!!!

    Great to see you here Mechele. I love your books!!!!

    in Germany

  13. Hey everybody! Thank you for your terrific comments...

    Gigi, I'm glad my post helped to clarify a very muddy situation :)

    Cynthia, my family is from Budapest so I have a place in my heart for that town. It's a beautiful gilded city, and I write about a cafe culture that has all but disappeared.

    Maria, I am fascinated by your definitions! Where is the great blog post you read about this? I have seen a lot of PNR featuring female heroines (and lots of UF with male protagonists as well), so I am very interested to hear more. And I agree that romantic subplots are wonderful in UF :)

    Carol, I love UF that sticks with the primary character too (Sookie Stackhouse comes to mind). I love to see the character progression in a good UF series.

    Julie, thanks so much for your good wishes! I'd love to hear more about your book!

    Amber, I often wonder where steampunk falls into this hazy mix. And as for non-romantic UF, check out Simon Green, and some of Neil Gaiman, too. On the fantasy side of UF, there is a lot of contemporary/urban fantasy that doesn't feature a romantic subplot -- they read more like harboiled noir detective stories, by and large. Or like magical realism.

    Jennifer, LOL -- at some point, this game of UF vs. PNR becomes unwinnable -- the real question is, do you have a good story?? That's what really matters in the end!

    Such wonderful comments -- thank you so much, everybody!


  14. And Valerie, so great to see you here! thank you for stopping by :)

  15. Good excerpt and post. For me urban fantasy has always seemed to be a post-apocolyptic world were demons, vampires, etc are now running the world but they are evil and it is up to the hero and heroine to save the world for the future. Of course, there is romance there and hot sex. I obviously have not read much urban fanstasy.

  16. I have never been able to tell the difference between UF and PNR.

    kissinoak at frontier dot com

  17. Hey Michelle,

    Great excerpt! I have always wondered the difference b/t the two PNR and UF as well. It seems to me that an PNR has a HEA in each book, while a UF has the same character and the book follows that one particular character. I most definitely want romance in the UF's i read. I think i might just have to check out LADY LAZARUS!

  18. I never really understood the difference. I don't search for books based on genre. I'll choose a book if the storyline appeals to me. Thanks for sharing the excerpt Michele! Your books have been added to my wish list!

  19. She, your description reminds me of Nalini Singh Psy Changeling books, or Lilith Saintcrow's Dante Valentine books. Works for me! :)

    Estella, you are not alone! I've come up with this working definition, but I think the lines blur quite a bit.

    Practimom, thanks for the kind words! I love series like the Dresden Files or the Sookie books, where you follow the protagonist over time. Lady Lazarus goes that way, too.

    CindyL, I'm the same way. I love good books, and don't much mind what particular genre they are labeled. And I'm so glad you enjoyed the excerpt!

    Thanks again all for the excellent comments. Lots of food for thought here...


  20. This is great stuff!

    She, like the post-apocalyptic angle - maybe I've written UF after all!

    I suppose there's no real need to label what we read - although publishers like to, I suppose to target the book's likeliest readership!

    Anyway, loved the discussion! Just reamins to thank Michele for being such a fab guest of honour and spending time with us today.

    Oh yes, and to pick our random winner for Michele's contest :). Back in a moment!


  21. And Michele's winner of a copy of LADY LAZARUS is... ESTELLA!

    Estella, congratulations, you'll love it! Could you please send me your postal address? Marie AT MarieTreanor DOT COM (this is my effort to avoid spam which has gone wild since I started this blog!).


  22. Thanks so much everybody for stopping by -- and have fun partying in UF world all week :)

  23. Congrats, Estella, you'll love it!!!

    in Germany