(This is a long one, guys, so get comfortable.)
I’m sure you’re probably getting sick of seeing my reviews, but I do have another quick one to share. From WickedlilPixie at Writings of a Wicked Book Addict:
Unholy Ghosts is the first book in Stacia Kane’s Downside Series & it was phenomenal! It is one of the most grittiest, in your face Urban Fantasies I’ve ever read & I loved it…If you read one new Urban Fantasy series, make it Unholy Ghosts.
So something I’ve been thinking about for a while, as you guys know, is what urban fantasy truly is as a genre, and where it’s going, and how my books fit into it. (Remember the The Books Are Out There post?
And of course we’re now exactly one week away from the official release date of UNHOLY GHOSTS. And I’m wondering how people will respond to it, whether they’ll love it or hate it, whether the darkness will be too much for them, whether they’ll accept a drug addict as a heroine, all of those things that I worried and wondered about even as I wrote it.
But here’s the thing. I feel like urban fantasy has, as a genre, been somehow relegated to the “Girl” section. It’s been dismissed as “Girl books.” And many guys really do seem to think this way. I’ve seen a lot of them in various places referring to UF as “just paranormal romance with a little more action,” or “hot girl in leather solves mystery, sleeps with paranormal creatures.”
And honestly? I think to some extent that’s true. No, hear me out. Other worlds and paranormal creatures do tend to be a big part of urban fantasy. The heroines often have sex (mine certainly do) and it’s often with paranormal creatures (Megan sleeps with a demon, for example, but in Chess’s world the only paranormal creatures are ghosts, and they don’t really make good bed partners, what with the trying to kill you and all).
But I don’t see where that’s necessarily a problem. Why is it that as soon as romance and/or sex become genre tropes, that genre is automatically consigned to the Girl Ghetto, and judged to be “not real,” (as in “not real fantasy”) or “not as good.” Why is it that just saying it’s “for girls” automatically has such a negative connotation?
That’s not how urban fantasy started, and it’s not all there is to the genre. But even if it was, I don’t see what the problem is. Do men dislike reading about sex? Somehow I doubt it. Do men have a problem reading about hot chicks? Again, somehow I doubt it. So what is it? Why has urban fantasy become essentially chick-lit fantasy, and something men automatically avoid?
I think in part it’s because it’s considered “not manly” somehow to like books where there’s an emotional story s well as the main story, and where that emotional story is given a place of importance. Personally, I think that’s crap. Fantasy readers are supposed to be smarter than that, and less worried about what other people think of them. I get incredibly sick and tired of the idea that fantasy is only for boys, that comics are only for boys, that science fiction is only for boys, that shows like Doctor Who are only for boys, that fandom is only for boys, that comic conventions are only for boys. Who put them in charge?
You could make the argument that for years they’re the ones who kept various fandoms going. (I’ll never forget the movie Trekkies, when they interviewed some guys who did an annual birthday party for Captain Kirk [if memory serves] and one of the guys said, “Last year we even had a girl come.” Ouch.) And you know what, if that’s true, then I can see the resentment, at least to some extent. I really can. Nobody likes to see a genre or subculture or whatever to which they’ve given their time, attention, care, and support suddenly get co-opted and turned into some big huge thing. It’s irritating when those same people who laughed at you or spit at you or beat you up or called you names five years before are suddenly acting like they’re your best friends and always have been. I’ve been there.
But I’d really think that men would welcome women. If nothing else, it greatly increases their chances of getting laid, right? And nobody’s saying they can’t still have their boy-only gatherings. Just that it would be nice if they’d stop actively and loudly resenting the women, and dismissing them, and poking fun at them, and basically doing to them what many people in the past have done to them. It’s not right, and it’s not fair.
My love of fantasy came from my brother, who was way into D&D. He’s five years older than me, so at the age he was really getting into role-playing games and Lord of the Rings, I was seven. He used to test some of his new games on me, and occasionally I’d just ask to play one with him, because it was neat. I liked being a tough girl warrior; I liked inventing new characters and writing them up on sheets of graph paper. We watched LOTR, the animated Bakshi version, almost every day. For like a year. We read Warlord comics and I became obsessed with them; I had a huge crush on Travis Morgan, and wanted to go to Skartaris so bad it hurt. I wanted to own the Hellfire sword!
And you know, I bet there are a lot of women out there who had similar experiences. Or, as in the case of both my daughters, had parents who were very into that stuff, and so were raised with it. My girls collect Justice league action figures, and they can name every member. They read comics. They watch Doctor Who with us (and that’s another show that earned lots of grumbles and ire when a romantic subplot was introduced). They love the Superman and Batman animated series. I fully expect that will continue as they grow up, and I hope they find when that happens that they’ll be welcomed by everyone, that they won’t be looked at as “she’s just here because her boyfriend is here,” or “now we’re going to have to add kissing to everything,” or whatever.
But I’m straying from the point. Yes, there is a lot of urban fantasy that has sex with paranormal creatures. But there’s a lot that doesn’t too. There’s a lot written by men (I consider both Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman to be urban fantasy). There’s a lot that deals with complex moral issues, that makes you think, that asks questions.
That’s what I was going for when I wrote UNHOLY GHOSTS, in fact, and I hope I succeeded. I wanted to write the kind of fantasy I wanted to read, something dark and gritty and tough, something morally ambiguous, something that wasn’t filled with beautiful people being slick and cool, but with people struggling to get by, people who weren’t perfect. I’ve been told by several men who’ve read it that they loved it. Ironically, in fact, the only negative comments I’ve seen about it have all come from women, who have issues with the drug use, or think the world is too dark, or whatever. The men seem to like it because it’s not a stereotypical creature-sex-and-snark urban fantasy, and the few women who haven’t liked it seemed to dislike it because it’s not a stereotypical creature-sex-and-snark urban fantasy. And hey, to each his or her own; nobody’s going to like everything all the time, and I’d much rather write a book that inspires passion and thinking than one people just sort of shrug about, and forget five minutes after they’ve finished it. Although what this says about my “UF isn’t just for girls, and it isn’t just thinly veiled paranormal romance” topic here I don’t know.
My Demons books were very close to paranormal romance. I still don’t think they were, because ultimately they were Megan’s stories, and about how she came to accept herself and the changes in her life, and ultimately she was the one who had to defeat the Big Bads. But I freely acknowledge, and did when they were released, that they skirted the line between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. The Downside books really don’t. Yes, there’s a romantic subplot, but it’s a small part of the series (it gets more attention in the third book, but if the series continues I expect the third book will still be the most romance-heavy of the series; I don’t have any plans for it to get any more romantic).
In writing the Downside books I wanted to stretch the limits of urban fantasy. I wanted to return to its roots. I want to raise questions and examine issues. I wanted to make people think. Because I think that’s what great urban fantasy can do, and what it should do. I think it’s an amazing genre, one that can really turn a bright light on society and humanity and expose the underbellies, both the good and the bad. So it makes me sad to see that it’s become a genre (or subgenre, really) so easily dismissed as “sex with vampires.” It makes me sad to see men automatically turning away from it because they think–many times without even having read one, or having just read one they grabbed at random–that that’s all the genre is, and so they put it down and decide it’s just for those wimpy, sappy girls who need material for their sexual fantasies (as if the preponderance of incredibly–and improbably–large-breasted women with teeny tiny waists and Callipygian asses has nothing to do with male sexual fantasies). In saying all of this I certainly don’t mean to imply that mine are the only urban fantasies that do this, of course. There are many that do. I’m just saying what my specific goal was.
This is turning into an incredibly long post, and I really should wrap it up. So I’d like to know what you think. Do you think urban fantasy deserves its reputation as just chick books? Why do you think men avoid it or put it down? How do you think that could change, or do you think that could change? Or do you have any other thoughts?
Feel free to comment anonymously if you like. Either way I’d love to hear what you think.