Kim Harrison, dark urban fantasy author of the New York Times bestselling series The Hollows, was born and raised in the upper Midwest. After gaining her bachelors in the sciences, she moved to South Carolina, where she remained until recently moving back to Michigan because she missed the snow. She is a member of both the Romance Writers of America and The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. When not at her desk, she’s most likely to be found landscaping her new/old Victorian home, or scouring antique shops to fill it.

Excuse me, your romance is in my urban fantasy

One of the best things about being a writer in the age of the Internet is the easy accessibility between authors and readers. Some might argue that it’s one of the worst, but over the last decade, I’ve found that it’s the readers who often ask the hard questions, not about the storylines, but wider concerns of genre trends and what they’re seeing on the shelves, and when a longtime poster lamented to me that he was seeing the shine fading from the urban fantasy genre, that the kick-ass protagonists were melting into damsels more worried about getting their man than the big-bad-ugly, I listened.

I heard what he was saying. I am seeing it myself. The industry is seeing it. The industry had a hand in causing it to a certain extent as many houses grabbed anything they could find with a vampire and sexy protagonist, thinking that was all urban fantasy was. Manuscripts that would otherwise be passed over were picked up and promoted. Books that would be stellar romances on their own were lessened by well-meaning editors trying to make them something they were not by asking their author to “stick a vampire in it! They’re hot right now!” Please don’t think that by saying that that I’m dissing romance, because I have a great respect for romance writers and readers. Romance has enriched many urban fantasy story lines including mine, right along with the genres of mystery, thriller, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Unlike many genres, urban fantasy thrives on the mix, the unifying factor seeming to be the characters themselves, rather than a writing style or convention. But the most successful urban fantasies are still those written by people who have always loved vampires, witches, and little beasties that bite–not by those who write it because it’s hot.

I’m all for trying to write for the market. It stretches our creativity and we often find techniques or voices that we otherwise wouldn’t, but if the writer doesn’t understand the paranormal, hasn’t grown up loving it for its strengths and weakness, been exposed to the greats before them who have loved it as much as they do . . . well . . . maybe what I’m saying is that I love finding magic within the everyday, that I defend its believability with a fierce determination, strive to keep it from falling into the inane and stupid where the suspension of disbelief breaks. I know where that line is. The greats before me drew it very clearly in the sand. Just as much as romance should not be written by those who don’t believe in the happy ending to the depths of their soul, urban fantasy should be written by those who respect the genre to the bottom of theirs.

Has urban fantasy reached its peak? I doubt that it’s going to go away anytime soon. Urban fantasy has been around forever. For the time it was written in, Dracula could be classified as an urban fantasy. Hollywood is eating it up and throwing it on the screen in blockbuster movies. However, the very aspects that give it strength-the mixing of many genres-may now be threatening to eat away at it. It’s up to the authors and publishing houses to understand that having a vampire in the storyline does not make it urban fantasy. Vampire can be another word for the abused and their abusers. Witches are the innovative scientists, both good and bad. Werewolves are the baser shadows that live in all of us. Paranormal characters are at their best, reflections of human nature, and they deserve the respectful treatment that comes with that.

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