Swords & Shotguns: Epic and Urban Fantasy
By Gail Z. Martin
What’s the difference between epic fantasy and urban fantasy?
Generally speaking, epic fantasy happened long ago, often in a medieval time period, with swords and castles. The stakes are big, often the fate of a kingdom or dynasty at risk. Urban fantasy usually means books set in present-day or at least Twentieth or Twenty-First Century, where it’s our world but with magic and the supernatural.
I think the lines are blurrier than that. I could envision a story in a medieval setting that deals with supernatural goings-on within a city that saves the world but never has the epic Lord of the Rings-style big battles. And I’ve written stories set in a modern city where the fate of the world hangs in the balance because of paranormal problems.
I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk. (And as far as I’m concerned, Steampunk is often Victorian urban fantasy with cool gadgets.) So while the sub-genre categories are handy on Amazon and to tell booksellers where to shelve novels, they matter less to me as an author, because I come up with the story first, and then figure out which bucket it best fits.
Epic fantasy is fun because I get to put my degree in medieval history to use and research fun things like trebuchets and garderobes, and what kind of explosives were available in the 1400s. Oh, and I’m gaining the ability to swear with words no one’s bandied around since before Shakespeare.
Urban fantasy means I can use pop culture references and modern slang, and I have to research the history of the cities in which I base stories, because people live there and can catch me if I’m wrong about something. I look up stuff on guns and modern explosives and probably have a file at the FBI for questionable internet searches.
I think the hardest thing about writing in both epic and urban fantasy is switching mindsets. My urban fantasy characters have largely experienced the same world I live in, with some paranormal twists. But the epic fantasy characters are going to see the world differently because of how people back then understood science, medicine, rank and class. They’ll pay no attention to things like abysmal sanitation or take for granted the pecking order of a hereditary nobility, but fail to understand disease transmission or infection. Not only is the wording different, the world view is different. This is important, because if you don’t write about characters who are products of their times, then you’ve just got modern people dressed up in costumes.
So the trick with urban fantasy is to make people believe that there are ghosts in Charleston, SC, vampires in Central Park, or fae riding motorcycles through West Virginia. You’ve got to get readers to suspend what they know about the world and make room for magic and the supernatural, which suddenly makes the familiar into new territory.
And the difficulty with epic fantasy is creating characters who are true to their world and the limitations of the knowledge and cultural failings of their time and make them sympathetic and relatable to modern readers. To be realistic, they’re going to have some of the biases and blinders common to their era, and that becomes a growth opportunity for them to overcome. They’re going to view the world through scientific fallacies and since-disproven theories. Yet for the reader, those assumptions and the actions that follow have to make sense and not get in the way of the story. They may be progressive or enlightened in some ways, and very much a product of their times in other ways.
Believe it or not, this is the fun stuff for an author. People in the past had incredibly clever ways of dealing with the world around them in lieu of the technology we take for granted, and ferreting those details out makes the world come alive. Likewise, when I can find a bit of history or a detail about a modern city that supports the case I’m building for a supernatural threat, I celebrate, because the plot then becomes even more tangled up with the setting.
I’ve written three epic fantasy series so far, including the new Darkhurst series (Scourge) and the upcoming Assassins of Landria series. I’ve also written or co-written two urban fantasy series (Deadly Curiosities, Spells Salt & Steel) with three more new series forthcoming. There’s lots of territory left to explore!
My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Get all the details about my Days of the Dead blog tour here: http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/2017/10/25/its-my-days-of-the-dead-blog-a-palooza/
Let me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight 2017, back for more with new authors and fantastic new posts! 130+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at www.HoldOnToTheLight.com
Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! All of my guest blog posts have links to free excerpts—grab them all!
Rafflecopter giveaway—enter for a chance to win a copy of Spells, Salt and Steel! http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/9751c0426/?
An excerpt from our new Spells, Salt, and Steel: A New Templars Novel— http://www.ascendantkingdoms.com/short-stories-and-more/spells-salt-steel/spells-salt-steel/excerpt-spells-salt-steel/
And an excerpt from my friend Jean Marie Ward’s ‘Fixed’ from The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity: http://jeanmarieward.com/books/excerpt-fixed/
About the Author:
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. Vengeance: A Darkhurst novel, is the second in a new epic fantasy series for Solaris (coming April, 2018). Her Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC has a new novel, Vendetta, and a new collection, Trifles and Folly. Spells, Salt, and Steel is the first in another new urban fantasy series set in upstate Pennsylvania.
Other work includes the Chronicles Of The Necromancer series, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms series, the Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series, and Iron & Blood (co-authored with Larry N. Martin)