guest post by Phoebe Mathews
The first hardcover I ever wrote was a fantasy titled Cast Down the Stars, for Holt Rinehart Winston. That was many years ago when the fantasy market was thin and so my agent sent me off in the direction of romance, Regency and YA. It wasn’t what I wanted to write but I like to think my writing skills improved with those dozen agent-driven novels sold to major publishers.
With the market in its current upheaval and NY publishers’ decisions filtered through agents and taking forever and my patience shortened with age, I recently decided it was time for a change. The first change was to start writing books that were fun for me to write, which meant switching to urban fantasy, my favorite reading. This choice sent me to small indie publishers where I now have direct and immediate contact with publishers, editors and cover designers.
Cast Down the Stars was pure fantasy, based in an invented world. At its core was a teenage astrologer who taught in the local school and was heavily involved with her community and I always liked that girl. With her in mind, I came up with a new protagonist, a young woman in her early twenties who lives in Seattle and works two jobs to pay the bills. One job is part-time tutoring at a community center in her neighborhood, called Mudflat by the residents. Here old magic runs through the local families and is inherited in weak doses.
This was the start of a series and I wasn’t sure anyone would like it beyond the publisher and editor who were both enthusiastic. About the time my confidence hit bottom, the first Mudflat book won an EPPIE for Best Fantasy of 2009 and so I kept going and have loved every minute of writing this series. I am now working on the sixth book.
Urban fantasy differs from straight fantasy in that it is contemporary and set in the real world. Characters can wander in and out of fantasy worlds in their adventures, but their lives are grounded in a real place. Some of the protagonists have powerful magical abilities that are useful, like the wizard in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Some, like Lori Devoti’s heroine in Demon High, have strong magic limited to a narrow situation. Some are more like Sookie Stackhouse who has no magic other than an ability to read minds and that skill causes her more problems than it solves.
No one approach is better than any other. I enjoy reading all types but I like to write about women who have no magic and must use their smarts. They have to figure their way through personal and local disasters. They aren’t Buffy. They can’t save the world with amazing strength or magic.
This probably makes them easy for readers to relate to, because most women have to use their wits to survive and be happy. The difference between these protagonists and their readers is that the protagonists face fantasy enemies and situations. The similarity is that both the fictional protagonists and readers grind their teeth in frustration and then charge in and find solutions to their own problems.
This is my formula for the Mudflat series, and for the Sunspinner series. But being a writer, I can’t control my imagination that well. And so that’s how I veered off into creating a protagonist who is a vampire in the Turning Vampire series. But, like all my heroines, she is really short on skill. Keeps stumbling into situations she doesn’t know how to control. Keeps having to depend on her wits rather than her physical strength or limited abilities.
A major difference between romance series and fantasy series is that in most romance series each book is about a different couple and ends in an HEA, with the books tied together by a shared family or town or some such. Fantasy series are more like mystery series, tied together by the same protagonists continuing through the stories. The romance isn’t always HEA or monogamous. Also it is often secondary to the main plot.
On the subject of romance, there is one other characteristic my own heroines have in common. They pick nice guys. But maybe that’s a subject for another time: the difference between bad boys and keepers.
Phoebes urban fantasy series include:
Mudflat series, BookStrand
Turning Vampire series, Dark Quest Books
Sunspinner series, LostLoves Books
A complete list of current and backlist books, along with order sites and reviews and first chapters, is posted at Phoebe’s website.