by Suzanne Johnson
Writing is an odd occupation in my family of salt-of-the-earth Southerners. My people work hard for an honest wage, watch Southeastern Conference football on Saturdays in the fall, and take casseroles to church fellowships. My people don’t do weird.
Then there’s me. I spend my days writing and editing at a university―a vague concept among my family members but respectable enough since the school has a football team―and my nights writing novels. About wizards. And mermen. And vampires. Some of whom consort with humans.
So, what is this crazy thing called urban fantasy, and why do people keep reading and writing it?
Here are my highly unscientific theories:
―It lets us look at the human condition from a different angle. What if our jaw-droppingly sexy hunk of manhood hero never aged? What if he needed our heroine (literally) in order to stay alive? What if he struggled at the loss of his humanity as he fought to contain the beast within him―a real beast? Every decision in our paranormal relationships becomes amplified, has huge implications that could extend far beyond the scope of a couple or a band of characters and their families.
I’ll admit it: the power struggles in BELLE CHASSE, my new novel in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, were inspired by the American political climate over the past few years. There are few in positions of power among the Interspecies Council of wizards, elves, faeries, and shapeshifters who have the strength of character to make the hard decisions that might be for the good of all but that might not be popular. They want to hold onto their power at all costs. Hm. Sound familiar? But in paranormal fiction, as an author I can take it to extremes. I can make it personal.
―It lets us indulge our taste for danger. There’s a good argument to be made that the most dangerous creature to walk the earth is man, right? But setting that aside, we all love a bad boy and a badass chick. Give that bad boy fangs, or make him a tortured soul who changes form every full moon and struggles to keep from putting your heroine on his dinner menu. Imagine your heroine having powerful magic at her disposal. Or what if your hero is a nice, solid guy―real hero material―but your heroine has a paranormal flaw that could kill him if she doesn’t give him up? Big stakes, big emotion. Enough danger to make it exciting…without really being dangerous.
―It lets us test the mettle of the human spirit. Okay, that sounds really lofty. But most paranormal romance takes a human hero or heroine—or an inexperienced or emotionally damaged paranormal one—and thrusts him or her into a situation where only a noble spirit (and maybe a bottle of Jack Daniel’s) will see things through to the end. There are worlds to save, evil beings to conquer, the ultimate face-off of good and evil. In other words, the conflict is serious, and the stakes are big. (No vampire pun intended.)
Yet at the heart of all the drama is the interaction between “people” who, despite their vast differences, make us care for them, cheer them on, and find a bit of ourselves in their plight. Those are a few of the reasons I like to read urban fantasy and its “kissing cousin,” paranormal romance. The reasons I like to write it are similar except I’ll add this:
In addition to building deep, heroic characters, paranormal fiction gives me the opportunity to let my imagination soar. To create worlds and whole systems of behavior that don’t have to conform to the laws of physics or reason. It lets me be weird and romantic, all at the same time, and find new ways of putting the idea out there that, at the end of the day, love is worth the struggle and the happily-ever-after even sweeter because of it.