|Sausalito, California. But is there an incubus lurking beneath the pier?|
Urban fantasy is a strange mix of the world we live in and the world of fantasy. I thought it might be easier to write than straight fantasy. After all, I grew up in Marin County, California. I remember it very well and have friends there who take pictures of bizarre spots I need. They scour my manuscripts for factual errors.
Making something up from scratch might actually have been easier, just so you know.
But the creatures in an urban fantasy--those have to be unique. Every vampire, werewolf, angel, or demon story out there has a distinct take on what we think we know. The settings may look like our world, but the rules are always different.
My Monster Haven stories are filled with a menagerie—closet monsters, brownies, fairies, an incubus, sea serpents, skunk apes, the Leprechaun Mafia. You can’t sneeze without something weird handing you a tissue.
|Though probably delicious, these|
are not the kind of brownies I mean.
And every one of them has rules to their existence, a family life, and of course, a description. If I’d gone with an epic sword and sorcery fantasy, I might have been able to use, for example, what everyone generally accepts as a dragon.
But how can you fit a dragon into someone’s cramped garage? I couldn’t. Zoey’s garage was too full of boxes. She needed to get into those boxes to find Barbie furniture for the family of brownies hiding in her linen closet.
And that’s how the pigmy dragon, Bruce, was born. More compact, you see. Molly, the brownie, explained it to Zoey. The world is a much smaller place now. It’s hard enough for someone Molly’s size to keep out of sight of humans. Dragons adapted and became smaller.
In my books, I have a philosophy: The more fantastic the creature, the more down-to-earth I should make his problems. If I’m going to ask you to believe that Maurice, the closet monster, is not just real, but someone you want to hang around with, I have to give him recognizable, human problems. His gargoyle wife is having an affair with a bridge troll, and she kicked Maurice out. He’s homeless, miserable, and cooks better than a trained chef. Here’s a little spoiler for you: In Monster in My Closet, the closet monster is not the bad guy.
|Photo credit: Nick Ballard|
The point is, monsters have real problems, too. I think that’s why I love urban fantasy so much. That line between the fantastic and the mundane zigzags, blurs, and eventually becomes irrelevant.
Molly and her kids are the victims of domestic abuse. A black eye is a black eye. It doesn’t matter if the person who was hit is less than a foot tall. Iris, my skunk-ape (cousin of Bigfoot, often sighted in the southeast U.S.) does not stink to high heaven like the rest of his clan. He doesn’t want to smell bad. He likes flowers. They kicked him out. Conform or leave. And poor little Bruce? He’s got a nasty cold.
Because sometimes the problems of monsters are actually pretty simple.
So, the next time you run into a monster or other fantastical creature, maybe take the time to get to know him. See if he needs some help or just someone to listen to his problems for awhile. Maybe he could use a friend.
And maybe, despite his glowing eyes, fangs, and claws, he's just like you.