Tater Tots & Sex on the Desk: Is that Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance?

A Tale of Fried Foods, Definitions & the Improper Use of Office Furniture

“So what is urban fantasy anyway?” Bill asked before popping a tater tot into his mouth. “And what’s paranormal romance? Are they the same thing?”

“Um…no,” I replied hesitantly. “Not exactly.”“Well what’s the difference?”

That’s a really good question. And I have to admit / hate to admit that even though I’ve written an urban fantasy novel, I have no idea how to explain the difference. Urban fantasy, the kind I write and the kind I read, seems to have an awful lot in common with paranormal romance.

If you ask the experts, by which I mean wikipedia.com, they’ll tell you: “Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements.”

Wikipedia describes paranormal romance as “a type of speculative fiction, paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasy, science fiction, or horror.”

Does that clear things up for you? No? Yeah, not for me either.

Carrie Vaughn, an author who writes (among other things) a series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, has written a great article about urban fantasy, its characteristics, and its origins. I fully recommend you read the entire article but I’ll tell you that for Carrie, urban fantasy must have a kick-ass heroine. She says, “We also have a generation who grew up after first and second wave feminism, who watched the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman and Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels at young, impressionable ages.  Who also grew up with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Conner.  Who took it entirely for granted that women could be heroes and kick a lot of ass while doing so.”

For UF author Tracy Cooper-Posey the genre is defined by wordiness. She says, “Urban Fantasy is mostly about the back story. The history. While the romance reader wants to know about the romance, dammit.”

Tab Bennett and the Inbetween has a kick-ass heroine and as the series goes on, Tab is going to get tougher and tougher – mostly because she has no choice. It also has a complicated back story full of intrigue and curses and prophecies and murder plots and a war between Light and Dark. So it seems Tab and I meet the basic criteria for urban fantasy anyway. (Huge relief. Huge.)

Which brings me back to Bill. He wanted to know the difference between the two and he was quickly running out of tater tots. So I took a sip of my Diet Coke and said, “Urban fantasy is the combination of fantastic elements, like elves or fairies, and realistic settings, like elves or fairies who live in New York City and work at the New York Times. If it’s a paranormal romance, they have sex on the desk.”

Now it’s time for you to educate me, readers. What’s your take on Urban Fantasy? What’s the separation line for you? Do you love UF but hate PNR? Stop by and tell me all about it in the comments.

 

 

Thank you Mr. Tolkien

About two years ago I decided I wanted to write a book about elves. I imagined it as your basic good versus evil, light versus dark, princess in disguise fantasy story with a beautiful heroine, a handsome prince, some unresolved daddy issues, and a quest for revenge. It sounded simple. I sat down and, drawing on everything I learned about writing fantasy fiction by watching the Lord of the Rings movies, I wrote the first draft of Tab Bennett & the Inbetween. And that’s when I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about fantasy, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance. I was in way over my head.

As is so often the case, I found the solution to my problem in a book – in many books actually. Here’s what I learned by reading the work of nine bestselling authors and the father of modern fantasy:

  • From J.R.R. Tolkien I learned that people will believe what you tell them to believe. If you do it well enough they’ll forget they ever believed anything different.
  • From George R.R. Martin I learned that constructing a world and its mythology and then moving everyone around in it is difficult and time consuming but worth the effort.
  • Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer reminded me that a woman should not wear a hair bow to coordinate with her reindeer sweater and a man should never wear a sleeveless button-up. Ever.
  • Karen Marie Moning and her excellent Fever series taught me that a cream puff can become a tough cookie with the proper motivation. Also never trust a man who can manipulate time and space or cause mind shattering orgasms through sheer force of will.
  • In the Merry Gentry series Laurell K. Hamilton introduced me to the necessary mix of magic and menace and power. Also tentacle sex . . . but that’s a different story.
  • The compulsively readable Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole showed me how to use an enigmatic and (almost) all-powerful character to guard rail the plot when things get messy.
  • Gena Showalter and the Lords of the Underworld showed me how to overcome my inhibitions and write sexier sex scenes.
  • J.R. Ward and the Black Dagger Brotherhood confirmed what I already knew: vampires are dead sexy.

These authors taught me a lot, gave me a lot to think about, and, completely without their knowledge, made me a better writer – which in turn made Tab Bennett & the Inbetween a better book.  I owe them each a muffin basket and a great deal of gratitude.