My First Contemporary Fantasy

After years of writing epic fantasy and historical fantasy, and having to watch every word of what I write for possible anachronisms, I have finally turned to writing contemporary urban fantasy. And I have to admit that I’m having a blast.

My first urban fantasy novel, Spell Blind, book I in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson, comes out from Baen Books on January 6. Last week, my first short story set in the Fearsson universe, “Long Nights Moon,” was published at Baen.com.

I have loved writing in all fantasy genres, and my Thieftaker novels, which I publish under the name D.B. Jackson, also have an urban fantasy element to them (along with the historical angle). So it’s not as if the combination of mystery and fantasy is really a new one for me. But writing novels set in our modern world has been incredibly freeing. I don’t have to search through my dictionary every third word to make certain that the word in question was in use by a certain date. I don’t have to question every mention of a gadget or technology to make sure it existed in the period I’m describing. I can use colloquialisms, bring in modern technologies, give my characters weapons and cars and clothes that my readers have heard of, perhaps even used. This means that I have to get my details right. Rather than demanding less research, in many ways it demands more, since many of my readers will know if I get stuff wrong. But is also means that my readers and I are working from the same rulebook as it were. I don’t have to explain as much, which allows me to keep my storytelling lean and concise.

And best of all, I can bring in all the pop culture, political, and sports references I want to. How fun to have my protagonist use a quote from The Princess Bride or Casablanca, or mention a Rolling Stones song, or talk about entering a bar and seeing a Diamondbacks game on TV (the series is set in Arizona). My character isn’t me — we are different in lots of ways. But it’s nice to write a character who loves baseball and jazz and old movies as much as I do. In many respects, I’ve never created a character with whom I have more in common.

These fun pop culture references aside, I have found that setting my fantasy in today’s world has other narrative benefits as well. With my historical work and my epic fantasies, I attempt to transport my reader to another time and place, to make them feel that they are leaving this world behind for a short while. It makes the books feel exotic in some way, and I think my readers have enjoyed that.

With the new work my readers remain right here, which at first glance would seem to be a disadvantage. But instead, with the Fearsson books and stories, the boundary between my fictional characters and my readers’ real-world lives seems much less substantial, much more porous. There is an immediacy and an intimacy to this new work that is, in large part, a product of that juxtaposition between the fictional and the actual. Put another way, the suspension of disbelief required with these new books is far less difficult, and so my readers are more apt to feel that the stories I write in the Fearsson world really could happen. And that’s pretty cool.

Perhaps my biggest and most satisfying challenge in making the transition to writing contemporary urban fantasy has been integrating a magic system into our existing world. When I have created worlds for epic fantasies, I have been able to build magic into the histories, cultures, religions, political systems, etc. to make the supernatural element seem endemic to the setting. But with my historical work, and especially with this new series, I have had to graft magic on to something that is real and known. In the Fearsson series the resulting expression of magic resembles a cross between Jekyll and Hyde and the Wolfman. My lead character is a weremyste, a sorcerer whose power waxes with the coming of the full moon even as his mind and his hold on reality weakens. Hijinks ensue.

The release of a new book is always a big deal for an author. The release of the first book in a new series is ever more exciting. So forgive me for indulging that excitement with this post. I hope that you’ll check out Spell Blind when it is released, and I hope you’ll go to the Baen website to read “Long Nights Moon.”

Finally, I hope all of you reading this have a joyous holiday and a wonderful 2015.

*****

David B. Coe is the award-winning author of more than fifteen fantasy novels. His newest series, a contemporary urban fantasy called The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, debuts with the January 2015 release from Baen Books of Spell Blind. The second book, His Father’s Eyes, will be out in the summer of 2015. Writing as D.B. Jackson, he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach (also coming in the summer of 2015). He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

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  1. 1. Paul Weimer (@princejvstin)

    Now you’ve got me wondering about the “shelf life” of urban fantasy. Is UF inherently more disposable and less a work for the ages, since it is tied to a here and now? There’s certainly UF that has stood the test of time so far (c.f. War for the Oaks, American Gods) but does it last as long as secondary world fantasy ought to do.

    I know you didn’t even mention this at all, but your post about Spell Blind inspired these thoughts

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Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.

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