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!
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
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. . .
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.