Sep 15, 2008

Jeanne Stein Writes on Urban Fantasy

Today I'm happy to welcome back Jeanne Stein, author of the popular Anna Strong series. Jeanne was interviewed at PVN on August 26. Today she is here to discuss the subject of Urban Fantasy. Most of us are familiar with the term, but how do you actually define it? Jeanne will answer this question for us.

She has also graciously offered a copy of her most recent book, Legacy (Book 4 in the Anna Strong series) along with a set of magnets to one lucky reader. [note: the contest portion has ended]

Urban Fantasy-- what is all the fuss about?

Thanks to Pat for the chance to share my thoughts. I recently finished teaching an online course about this very subject. About the same time, I attended DragonCon in Atlanta where it was a subject on every paranormal romance/fantasy panel. So just what is Urban Fantasy? Let’s see if we can figure it out The obvious place to start is what it isn't.

Until about two years ago, all paranormal works (and I’m using this term to refer to the type of book in which science or technology do not play a major role in the story) were categorized as fantasy, horror, or paranormal romance. Each was specific in its content and readers knew what to expect when they picked up a book from Carol Berg or Robin Owens (fantasy), Anne Rice or Stephen King (horror), J. D. Robb or Christine Feehan (paranormal romance.)

Paranormal romance, in particular, was (and is) a hugely successful genre. However, there are rules to be followed in any romance category. The most important is that by the end of the book (or story arc if it’s a series) the hero and heroine MUST end up together. Happily-ever-after is not only expected, it’s demanded. The romance is the driving force of the book whether the characters are human, otherworldly, or a mixture of the two.

Into this mix came a new type of book. Edgy, contemporary, set in an urban (or suburban or rural) setting, generally written in first person with a kick-ass hero or heroine who does not depend on a partner for protection or to save him or her when the going gets tough. The biggest distinguishing factor, however, is that at the end of the book, there will most likely be NO happily-ever-after for our protagonist. He or she may have a lover, may even end up in a committed relationship, But in urban fantasy, that relationship will be constantly challenged and will not define who our hero or heroine is or how they live their life. The romance, if it’s there at all, will play a minor role in the story.

The tag “Urban Fantasy” was coined specifically to differentiate these stories from paranormal romance. There’s nothing worse than buying a book with certain expectations and being disappointed when those expectations are not met. The interesting thing, however, is that readers of paranormal romance are making the shift to UF in record numbers. Not in place of paranormal romance but in addition to it. It’s a win/win situation.

UF appeals to a wide audience. More than any other genre, mystery, romance and fantasy combine to attract readers in a unique way. UF crosses genre boundaries. I’ve had many people tell me, for instance, that they usually don’t read “vampire books.” They like mine because there’s always a mystery to be solved as well as a world that they recognize—today’s world—with the twist that there are otherworldly creatures walking amongst us. Creatures who have integrated into society, hold down real jobs, might even be a neighbor, your child’s teacher or San Diego’s Chief of Police. The paranormal is the glue that binds the mix.

That’s my description of Urban Fantasy. Another can be found on the Wikipedia site. They also include a list of authors, which is by no means inclusive or complete. It just gives you some choices if you are looking for examples and a history of those who first wrote what we now call Urban Fantasy. To the list of pioneers, I would also add Ira Levin. Rosemary’s Baby, published in 1967, is UF through and through.

There are other UF sites as well. Urban Fantasyland at and Book Think at all offer their own interpretations and definitions. The one thing they all agree on, though, is the idea that UF offers readers a glimpse into a secret world within a world—our world.

Which is why I believe Urban Fantasy is here to stay. It’s the “what if” factor—what if there really are vampires and werewolves and fairies and shape shifters? What if that strange old man living down the block is a warlock practicing the black arts? What if there is a secret community of supernatural creatures trying to exist and survive in a world not ready to acknowledge its existence?

I know the popular theory is that if you write to what’s “hot” now, by the time the book is ready for publication, the wave has passed. I have a different take on the subject. If you write the book of your heart, if it’s well written and offers a compelling story, it will sell. The trick is to make it unique. Put your own spin on the Urban Fantasy phenomenon and watch what happens.

The genre is wide open.

If you have a question or comment, please feel free to send it along. You may win a copy of Legacy and a set of book cover magnets.

Jeanne C. Stein
The Anna Strong Chronicles

Jeanne, thanks so much for your insightful explanation of Urban Fantasy. You know the welcome mat is always out for you at PVN.


Contest information

For a chance to win a copy Legacy with a set of book cover magnets do one (or more) of the following:

*Comment or ask a question on Urban Fantasy, the Anna Strong Chronicles, the writing life, etc. Jeanne says "I'm up for questions about anything!"

*Each comment on a different subject counts as an entry.

*Each question counts as an entry.

*Link to Patricia's Vampire Notes and send me the URL. Each link counts as an entry.

Be sure to include enough email information so that I will be able to contact you.

This contest ends at 11:59 pm on September 16, 2008.

Winners will be announced later in the week.


Anonymous said...

Just in time for Halloween - although vampires seem to be popular any time of the year - throw my name in the hat - you can never have too many of these great stories!

Posted for Cynthia

by Patricia

MsB said...

Hello Ms Stein

I love mysteries. Urban Fantasy is very new to me. You sound like an interesting writer. Where should I start?

Pamela K. Kinney said...

I write this along with horror and fantasy and paranormal romance under two names. To me urban fantasy is a fantastical story set in a modern urban setting. But no matter what the name, urban fantasy, fantasy or horror, I read it all. :-D
Pamela K. Kinney (also writes as Sapphire Phelan)

Ruby (Mouth) said...

I love this series. Read each one, but Legacy. I love Anna. How did you come up with such a good idea and character? What was your inspiration?

angelleslament @

Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Cynthia-- thanks for entering the contest.

To MSB-- each book could be read alone, but THE BECOMING is the first and it probably makes sense to start with that one. Hope you enjoy the series.


Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Pamela-- you have the right idea about UF--and like you, I read cross genre all the time. There are so many great books out there!

Thanks for stopping by.


Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Ruby-- I've had Anna in the back of my head since I began writing. With this series, I found the perfect venue. I wanted to write about a woman who was strong, loyal and independent but who had a family she loved and human connections she cherished. My first impulse is to say Buffy was my inspiration. But in reality, there's something of all the wonderful women I've known in my life reflected in Anna. I'm so happy you like her as much as I do.


gautami tripathy said...

Maybe I should reading this genre!

Count me in!


ddurance said...

Hi Jeanne! I have not read any of your books yet, though they sound wonderful. I am a big fan of urban fantasy though. I love the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris and I just got done with Patricia Briggs' book Moon Called, #1 in the Mercy Thompson series and I really enjoyed as well. I agree with you that urban fantasy is here to stay largely due to the fact that anything goes and it is escapism at it's finest. Personally, I read to escape and I can't do that if what I'm reading could actually happen to me or to just about anyone.
I enjoyed what you had to say and am looking forward to reading your books.

Deidre Durance

Michele Bardsley said...

Don't enter me in the drawing. I just wanted to drop by and show some lurve for Jeanne Stein. She so rules!

Rachel said...


Great topic. I really find that I enjoy UF more than any other sub-genre in the paranormal fiction realm. There are excellent stories in all of them. But a contemporary setting in a large cit (especially one I am familiar with) really appeals to me, and makes the story more believable.

How many more books will be forthcoming in the AS Chronicles?

Thanks for being here today, and a big thanks to Patricia for the invite!

Jeanne Stein said...

gautami tripathy said...

Maybe I should reading this genre!

Give it a try! It offers something for everyone.

Thanks for entering--


Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Deidre-- I'm a big fan of Charlaine Harris, too. Have you caught True Blood yet on HBO?

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy reading Anna as much as I enjoy writing her. Escapism is a wonderful thing!


Jeanne Stein said...

Michele-- You are such a pal. I'm sorry you didn't attend the RMFW conference. I kept looking for you!

Hope you are well-- Jeanne

Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Rachel-- I just turned in book five (pub date sometime next spring) and was offered a contract for two more. I'm very pleased as Anna has a few more stories to tell.

Thanks for stopping by-- and, like you, I extend my appreciation to Patricia for the opportunity.


Wendy said...

Hi, Jeanne!

Congrats on your contract for two more!

Pamk said...

I agree with what you said. My oldest son loves him some fantasy/paranormal books but wouln't touch my books even though some of the story lines were much better than what he was reading. and it was just because they are "" romances. But he is beginning to come around and realize that mom reads some great books. He has read all her CE Murphy books and just we just atarted Karen Morning's Fae series. I'll have him reading romances yet lol

Pamk said...

BTW just wondering since I don't have hbo is there anywhere you can watch true blood online maybe. Does anyone know.

Jeanne Stein said...

Thank you, Wendy!


Jeanne Stein said...

Pam-- Keep working on your son. He may come around yet. I do have men tell me, though, that they're glad my books aren't classified as romances because they won't go into THAT section in a bookstore!! :-)

And like you, I don't have HBO. Blockbuster has the first episode and that's how I saw it. I have friends taping the others for me. I do hope HBO will have some kind of download capacity available soon.


Cathy said...

I've always been a huge fan of paranormal romance stories, so I've been pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoy the urban fantasy stories that I've read. The world building has made for some amazing storylines and hooked me on several new series. I haven't had a chance to start your series yet, Jeanne, but it's definitely on my wish list.

Anonymous said...

Gawd, I lubs me some jeanne. I heart you!

Dakota :)

Jeanne Stein said...

Right back at 'ya, Dakota. I'm counting the days til RT...


Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Cathy-- glad you're liking UF-- it's definitely got something for everybody.


Night critter said...

Hi Jeanne,

I just brought the first book in the Anna Strong series yesterday and I'm really looking forward to reading (I have read some great reviews about this series).

UF is definitely here to stay. It's one of my favourite genres.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jeanne,
Loved chatting with you at RT. Charlaine has finished writing Sookie# 9 (working title DEAD AND GONE) and I have just finished the continuity edits on it as well.

I have an answer for the person without HBO that would like to watch True Blood. It was first thought that HBO would make each episode of True Blood available on Itunes right after the episode was shown on HBO...however, they rethought their strategy and will not release to Itunes and DVD until all the episodes have been shown, so you have 11 more weeks to wait unless you can talk a friend into taping it each week for you. Sorry...

That said, I find the field of Urban Fantasy to be so refreshing after reading a glut of paranormal romance-not that there is anything wrong with romance, mind you, but in the real world things don't always work out to a HEA. I like the dose of reality in the middle of the fantasy. LOL!

Take care and see you in Orlando!

Debi Murray

Jeanne Stein said...

Nite Critter--thanks for taking a chance on Anna. Hope you enjoy the book--


Jeanne Stein said...

Debi said:Charlaine has finished writing Sookie# 9 (working title DEAD AND GONE) and I have just finished the continuity edits on it as well.

Good news. May not be able to follow True Blood, but I can look forward to another book! You've got a good job!

Debi said:I find the field of Urban Fantasy to be so refreshing after reading a glut of paranormal romance-not that there is anything wrong with romance, mind you, but in the real world things don't always work out to a HEA. I like the dose of reality in the middle of the fantasy. LOL!

Couldn't have said it better myself!

Will I see you at RT this coming year?


Tez Miller said...

Because I'm nosy (and feel free not to answer this)...word on the street was that you'd be writing a series about Sophie, the witch from your contribution to the Many Blood Returns anthology. Any more news on that front?

Have a lovely day!

Tez Miller

Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Tez-- I'd love to write a book about Sophie but my publisher and I can't seem to decide WHAT kind of book... Sophie is in book five, however, so you'll see her there!

thanks for asking-- J.

Suzanne said...

Hi Jeanne,

I really loved Legacy. They just get better and better. I was curious as to why you chose to set it in San Deigo? I'm always curious as to why authors choose certain cities.

Also, I thought you'd like to see the eyes of the Legacy cover through the eyes of the tot, my four year old.

"Who's she mama?" (tot takes book off pile, she likes to admirte book covers)

"That's Anna, she's a Vampire."

(pets cover) "She's so pretty and beautiful. Does she play on the moon with the fairies?"

I couln;t stop laughing. She just started school and I have a feeling I'm going to have to explain why my child knows what Vampires are and why she refers to people as mortals lol...

Also, inquiring tots want to know what Anna's favorite color is, lol.

Thanks! Oh, the tot just blew you a kiss.


suzannelazer @ hotmail

Book Spot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Book Spot said...

I love the Anna Strong series...and look forward to anymore writing from Ms Stein in the future :-)

Also curious as to what made you (Ms Amazing Author) choose to have a female vampire as your mc/heroine...It seems there aren't many books with main characters that both women and vampires (or maybe I'm blanking)...So I was just curious if that was a decision or...

That and I was wondering what Anna would (does) think of some of the vampire books/TV shows that are so popular--I seem to remember something about James Marsters once?


Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Suzanne-- what a great post--I have a feeling I'd love your daughter. She's a lot like mine was at that age. Tell her Anna says hi and that her favorite color is red. Who knows? She hasn't met any fairies yet, but she hasn't shared all her stories with me yet, either.

I chose San Diego because it's my home town. I live in Denver now, but SD will always be home. It's the main reason I chose to give my vamps the ability to walk in sunlight. How could you set a series in a beach town and relegate the characters to the dark?

thanks for writing--and Anna is blowing the tot a kiss right back.


Jeanne Stein said...

Hi Lucile-- I always wanted to write a character like Anna-- female, strong, independent. When I made her a vampire I thought I waa being unique but I've since found I wasn't alone in that decision!! :-) Anna would love the humor in Charlaine Harris' books and probably laugh at the darkness of Anne Rice. As for TV, if I could figure out a way to bring Spike into my books, boy, would I!!!! I mean, of course, Anna would love to meet him. :-)

Ms. Amazing Author? Is that me? I'm blushing...

Thank you.


Anonymous said...


Oh, yes, I will be at RT with bells on. LOL! And...since I think we'll be driving, I'll be able to bring my books along so you will have some signing to do.

Charlaine doesn't know yet for sure if she will be there. This is her daughter's senior year and that weekend is one of two possible dates for her prom. She won't want to miss that. We are sad but will soldier on. I had fun despite missing her this year. I met a lot of great people (including you!).

See you there!

Debi Murray

P.S. I am really hoping that True Blood will be Out on DVD in time for Christmas. I am putting it on top of my list for Santa. :-D

tetewa said...

Sounds like my kind of series, glad to see you here today!

MsB said...

Now I have a copy of The Beginning. I have read 100pages. I love it. I want to read all the books!

Anonymous said...

MSB: glad you're enjoying them!

Tetewa: thanks for having me-- and thanks for joining in~

Debi: Charlaine has such a nice family. And if she can't make it, you and I and anyone else who would like to join in can meet and raise a glass of Tru Blood to our favorite vamp author!


Anonymous said...

PS From Jeanne--

I'm in San Diego on a signing trip and using a new laptop which has not saved all my passwords-- I may have to post as anonymous if I can't figure it out!!!


Sewicked said...

Would you consider Emma Bull's _War of the Oaks_ Urban Fantasy or straight fantasy?

Anonymous said...

Blogger Sewicked said...

Would you consider Emma Bull's _War of the Oaks_ Urban Fantasy or straight fantasy?

I am ashamed to admit I haven't read Emma Bull-- but I have heard her mentioned as one of the pioneers of Urban Fantasy. Have you read her? What do you think?


Patricia said...

I was not familiar with Emma Bull's War for the Oaks so I did a quick google search.

From Review:
Emma Bull's debut novel, War for the Oaks, placed her in the top tier of urban fantasists and established a new subgenre.

From Wikipedia: Emma Bull (born 3 January 1954) is a science fiction and fantasy author whose best-known novel is War for the Oaks, one of the pioneering works of urban fantasy....

A fantasy novel by Emma Bull, War for the Oaks (1987) is the story of Eddi McCandry, a rock musician who finds herself unwillingly pulled into the supernatural faerie conflict between good and evil. War for the Oaks is a pioneering work in the subgenre of urban fantasy: although it involves supernatural characters, the setting (Minneapolis) is decidedly real-world.

I thought Tanya Huff was an early UF with Blood Price, but that was 1991.

Judi said...

Hi Jeanne & Patricia!

I'm a huge fan of both Urban Fantasy & Paranormal Romance. Here's to two genres going and staying strong forever. :)

Congrats on the two more books being contracted Jeanne! I've really enjoyed reading about Anna Strong and the world she lives in.

Sewicked said...

I came to Urban Fantasy from the fantasy/sci fi audience instead of from my romance reading, so I guess that I always had a different outlook on it.

Charles deLint is another Urban Fantasy pioneer (late 80's). Mercedes Lackey's Burning Water is another example; ditto her SERRAted edge series.

There might or might not be a happy ever after, relationship-wise, but there's at least the indication of some romantic relationship. But that's common for many genres, because people form attachments, whether that's the focus, as in romances, or not of the story.

I would say that I look at Urban Fantasy as another genre that is now being used as a sub-genre of Romance. For which, I am profoundly thankful. I like my historicals but I also like to have my other loves, sci fi and fantasy involved.

Patricia said...

The contest portion has ended. I want to thank everyone for participating. I'll post the winner's name tomorrow.

Jeanne, thanks so much for the brilliant article on Urban Fantasy! It generated such lively discussion!

My best to everyone!

Anonymous said...

Patricia said: I thought Tanya Huff was an early UF with Blood Price, but that was 1991.

And what about Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby? It was published in 1967! One of the first for sure! And, as I've mentioned before, one of the best.


Jeanne Stein said...

Judi said: I'm a huge fan of both Urban Fantasy & Paranormal Romance. Here's to two genres going and staying strong forever. :)

I second that! And thanks for the congratulations.


Jeanne Stein said...

Sewicked said:I would say that I look at Urban Fantasy as another genre that is now being used as a sub-genre of Romance.

Absolutley--and like you, I'm profoundly thankful for it!

Jeanne Stein said...

Thanks for hosting me, Patricia and to all who participated. I enjoyed it immensely. I hope to meet all of you personally at sometime in the future and we can continue the discussion.

Best, Jeanne