The Dragon Con Urban Fantasy track will host a rare summit featuring an extraordinary group of men currently writing in this popular genre. Kevin J. Anderson (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series), Jim Butcher (Dresden Files), Jonathan Maberry (Rot & Ruin series), S. M. Stirling (Shadowspawn Trilogy), D. B. Jackson (The Thieftaker Chronicles), James R. Tuck (Deacon Chalk series), and John G. Hartness (The Black Knight Chronicles) will gather to discuss urban fantasy on Friday, 8:30PM, International B-C (W).
The Daily Dragon asked panelists to address topics relevant to men writing urban fantasy today and received intriguing responses:
Daily Dragon (DD): First and very seriously, what do male authors add to the genre of urban fantasy? Feel free to expand on topic or style issues that perhaps men might be more likely to include, even if the difference is one of degree or some quality that’s hard to describe.
Kevin J. Anderson (KJA): Who better to understand monsters? We are intimately in touch with our testosterone!
John G. Hartness (JGH): I think every author brings a different set of experiences and perspective to the genre, regardless of gender. I bring a very Southern comedic tone to urban fantasy. David Coe brings a very detailed historical style to the genre. We all bring things to the form that are outgrowths of our personalities. I do think that urban fantasy grew out of two parallel root systems, one sprouting from a blend of horror and fantasy and the other a blend of romance and fantasy. And romance being a female-dominated genre, many women (certainly not all) come from that world. Many successful urban fantasy authors have a romance background, and frankly I wish that I did, since RWA is one of the best business-oriented organizations in the writing world. Most men, not growing up reading and writing romance, come at urban fantasy from a more horror-centric background.
But if I wanted to be a stereotypical rabble-rouser, I’d say that guys bring explosions and fart jokes.
D. B. Jackson (DBJ): This is not an easy question to answer, because I would not want to put myself in a position of saying that men do a better job of writing male characters than do women, or that men tend to be more effective at conveying any element of a narrative (be it emotion or action or suspense). In writing epic and urban fantasy, I have written from the point of view of men and women; my characters have been young and old, magical and mundane, even sane and insane. I don’t think that my female point of view characters suffer because I happen to be a man, and I know that I have read plenty of terrific male point of view characters that were created by female authors.
And so trying to explain what men add to urban fantasy is kind of tricky. Ultimately, for me, it comes down to this: Anytime we are limiting a genre or subgenre to only a certain kind of writer, we are hurting the genre, and we are depriving readers. For years, women had a hard time breaking into fields like epic fantasy and hard science fiction, to the detriment of us all. When at last the speculative fiction world opened itself to hearing from ALL writers, the genres flourished. Imagine epic fantasy without Marion Zimmer Bradley and Andre Norton; imagine science fiction without Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, and Octavia Butler. And imagine urban fantasy without Charles DeLint and Jim Butcher. I wouldn’t want to see any of those voices silenced. The more voices we accept in a genre, the richer that genre is going to be.
In the end, I would say this: It’s not necessarily that men as a group have something specific to bring to the subgenre of urban fantasy. It’s that there are unique male voices out there; some of them are contributing their visions to the field already, others have yet to be discovered. We owe it to our genre and its readers to let all of them be heard.
James R. Tuck (JRT): Not to state the simple, but we often offer a male perspective on the themes found in Urban Fantasy. Men and women look at the world differently for the most part. One isn’t better than the other overall, but they are different. Like the male perspective on the alpha male theme in UF. My main character Deacon Chalk, puts the alpha in alpha male, but because I’m a dude and I don’t think it’s sexy, I get to swing a stick at it and explore how being an alpha male sometimes makes Deacon do boneheaded things and occasionally makes things worse for him. But he tries hard and in the end usually his male stubbornness is what carries the day.
DD: Have male authors been particularly challenged in breaking into urban fantasy? Do you have any experiences you could share?
KJA: I came at it in a roundabout way. (Men don’t ask directions, as you well know.) With my Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series, I was writing a hardboiled detective who happened to be undead, solving crimes with vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc. The publisher decided it fit best in the UF genre.
JGH: I haven’t experienced anything personally other than the normal difficulty in selling a book. And really, I’m not stupid enough to sit in my position of natural privilege as a white American male and bitch about how difficult my life has been.
DBJ: I do believe that it’s a bit harder for men to break into the field these days, in part because the readership of urban fantasy tends to be overwhelmingly female, and publishers believe that books with female authors and female protagonists have a better chance of reaching that audience. This is not to say that men can’t sell urban fantasy in the current market. I have enjoyed a good deal of success with the Thieftaker Chronicles, and have been able to build a readership of men and women. Part of it may be that the historical element of the books appeals to all readers, but certainly women (and men) who have read my books like my male protagonist; they also like his female nemesis.
JRT: I haven’t. Everyone has been immensely welcoming and generous. I love working conventions and being one of the few men on a panel or even in the room. Sometimes my books are a bit too “male” for some female readers, usually ones looking for urban fantasy much closer to traditional romance, but overall, everyone loves Deacon. I think the streamlined, noirish prose and high action content is a refreshing change. Plus, my books are like me. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but the folks who like them REALLY like them.
DD: What does your work, in particular, and regardless of gender labels, add to the scope of urban fantasy?
KJA: Mine is intended to be laugh-out-loud funny. When you have a zombie detective and a bleeding-heart human lawyer for a partner, you can’t be too serious. Dan Shamble is tough and lovable, with a relatively high opinion of himself (he’s a “well-preserved” zombie who regularly visits the embalming parlor for a top-off), and manages to solve cases (even if by accident). The scope of monsters and absurd cases gives me a chance to make pointed commentary that would otherwise be too heavy-handed in a serious novel.
JGH: I add explosions and fart jokes. Seriously, though, I write the funny stuff. My series, The Black Knight Chronicles, features a pair of comic book nerds turned vampire detectives that snark and stumble their way through solving mysteries. It’s kinda like Buffy, a little like Scooby-Doo, and a lot like the Three Stooges. Book 4 of the series, Paint it Black, is available for pre-order now.
I also write the Bubba the Monster Hunter series, because fat rednecks are dramatically under-represented in the genre. Bubba is a cross between Buffy and Larry the Cable Guy, chasing monsters all across the Southeastern United States in his position as official Monster Hunter for the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The latest collection Scattered, Smothered & Chunked is available now from Dark Oak Press. All my stuff is also available here at Dragon Con in Exhibit Hall booth #2205 (AmericasMart, Building 1, Floor 2 ) (Tairen’s Lair/Authors Lair).
DBJ: The Thieftaker books are what I call Historical Urban Fantasy, or “Tricorn Punk.” They add to the field a unique blending of subgenres. They have a strong historical element. They have a strong mystery element. And they have a generous sprinkling of magic.
The series is set in 1760s Boston, in the years leading up to the American Revolution. My lead character is a thieftaker, kind of an eighteenth century private detective. He is also a conjurer, who uses spells to help him investigate those crimes he’s hired to solve. Each book in the series is a stand-alone murder mystery set against the backdrop of some event leading toward the Revolution. So, the first book in the series, Thieftaker, which came out last year from Tor Books, takes place during the Stamp Act Riots of 1765. The second book, Thieves’ Quarry, just came out this summer. It is set in the fall of 1768, as British soldiers begin their occupation of Boston. In both books, my hero interacts with Samuel Adams, James Otis, Thomas Hutchinson, and other historic figures. He also has to navigate the treacherous waters of colonial politics. And he has to grapple with his rival in thieftaking, the lovely and dangerous Sephira Pryce.
They’re fun books, and they should appeal to a wide readership.
JRT: I think I bring a lot to the UF landscape. Not only do you get Deacon in all his action hero badassery, but I also give you the following: In Blood and Bullets, you get a new origin for vampires in the Deaconverse that ties them back to the Crucifixion and the introduction of Charlotte the Were-spider who is an absolute fan-favorite. Blood and Silver gave you some wide swings on lycanthropy including, but not limited to: Were-spiders, Totem shifters, Were-gorillas, Were-rabbits, Were-stags, and a giant Were-Tyrannosaurus Rex! Blood and Magick brought the scary back to witches and started a chain of events that will make the Deacon Chalk series one of the CRAZIEST rides you have EVER been on! (parallel worlds, killer robots, demon hands who use people as puppets, clown demons, dragons, and more insanity!) Plus our normal assortment of chain smoking priests, undead strippers, homicidal ghost spiders, hotrods, and more silver bullets than you can shake a stick at!
DD: Expand on any other aspect of urban fantasy or your work that you think is germane to the subject of the panel.
DBJ: I think that part of what makes my Thieftaker books work is the fact that while my protagonist is male, he is not a typical male hero. He is older than most urban fantasy heroes — in his late 30s in the first book, in his early 40s for the rest of the series, at a time when life expectancies were shorter than they are now. He has been a sailor in the British army and second mate aboard a privateering vessel. He has also been a mutineer, and, as a result, a prisoner working at hard labor on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean for fourteen years. He is scarred, maimed, emotionally broken. But he is a survivor who is trying desperately to make a new life for himself. He lost one love when he was imprisoned, and is now building a relationship with someone new.
I delve deeply into his emotions; he is complex, difficult, and yet, at root, he is a deeply honorable and gentle man in a violent profession. My point is that while I am a guy writing about a guy, the issues I deal with are laden with emotion, at times with personal introspection. There is plenty of action, but there is also a lot here that readers might not immediately associate with “a guy book.” And that’s intentional. As I said before, it’s not that men in UF are all going to write a certain kind of book. Rather it’s that, like every woman writing in the genre, each male writer has something new and unique to offer.
JRT: I think it’s just important to realize that urban fantasy has a wide scope and that men usually explore a side of it that gets lost in the translation from Paranormal Romance. I love PR but it is different from UF and most men tend to write far away from the line of it. I write DARK urban fantasy; it’s bloody and rough and violent and a wild ride. John Hartness writes urban fantasy from just as wild a place, but injects massive amounts of comedy into it. David B. Coe gives you a deliberate, historical bent to his urban fantasy, Jonathan Maberry drops his urban fantasy with a literary bent to it, and Jim Butcher gives you straight urban fantasy with a jealousy-inspiring amount of phenomenal storytelling.