In a blog interview recently, someone asked me why I write fantasy. My answer was that I always wanted the world to be more interesting than it really is. For example, one autumn morning when I was a child, I looked out to see a leaf that looked like a little fairy perched on a wind-tossed tree branch. I imagined it was a tiny gnome hanging on for a wild ride. When I got older and discovered the genre of urban fantasy, where magical elements are part of ordinary life, I was hooked.
As a psychologist, I can’t help but ponder the question of why I and others like fantasy, and especially urban fantasy, from a psychological perspective. There’s definitely the aspect of wanting more magic in life, but I believe it goes deeper. A lot of the problems people come to me with end up boiling down to how they handle real or perceived power imbalances, both externally and within themselves. Urban fantasy is a great way to explore power and how it works – and could work – in our world.
So, with that in mind, here are some reasons I write and read urban fantasy:
We want to be magical:
I originally proposed this idea to my husband as, “men have always wanted to be gods.” “Yes,” he replied, “and to sleep with goddesses.” It’s in our culture and perhaps even in our psyche that we’d love to be more than human. Imagine how much fun it would be to have an edge getting around everyday annoyances. Traffic? No problem. Just go to the office telepathically. Mother-in-law won’t be nice? That’s fine, just string her up with webs – temporarily, of course. She probably won’t mess with you again. We all have life situations over which we feel powerless, and it’s fun to connect with characters who have more influence like Harry Dresden in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series.
Observing and experiencing life with/as the VIP:
That brings me to my second reason: it’s fascinating to think about and watch how humans interact with beings more powerful than they are. Think about your average VIP if there is such a thing. Here in Atlanta, we have sports stars and entertainment industry people. VUP’s, or very unimportant people, don’t act normally around them, and the stars often get special treatment. Now extrapolate that to someone who is magical, perhaps a well-known wizard. The treatment they’ll get will be even better, and it’s interesting to watch – and write – how humans and other paranormal creatures interact with them, especially if they’re in a modern setting. There’s often an element of fear, and what that magical VIP does with it reveals a lot about him or her. If you read carefully, you’ll notice that good guys often try to reduce the intimidation factor while bad guys cultivate it. Some characters go against that expectation for plot reasons or to keep others away from them emotionally, and they’re really fun to write.
We are the underdog and like to see them triumph:
A lot of people enjoy watching sports, and if they’re viewing a game between teams they don’t really connect with, they’ll often root for the underdog. Everyone has situations in their lives where there’s an unfair balance of power, and a lot of urban fantasy heroes start out with a major disadvantage. At the beginning of The Mountain’s Shadow, my heroine Joanie has just been fired from her job, and there’s a problem of lycanthropic proportions with the inheritance she’s counting on to save her. As the book progresses, she finds out how it’s all connected, and she’s in big trouble. To misquote J. R. R. Tolkien, one may not simply hide from a powerful adversary, and one cannot simply make your team beat the reigning national champion (unless you’re an Auburn fan), but hey, at least I know Joanie has a fighting chance, and I can vicariously experience her victory.
Consequences, what consequences?
Speaking of vicarious experience… Many of our cultural myths and fairy tales teach the lesson that grasping too much at divine power yields bad results for the ambitious human. Think about the Greek myth of Prometheus, who was punished for stealing fire from Mount Olympus and bringing it to mortals. Also, as with science, a magical system has to make sense, and actions have reactions and consequences for the user and the recipient. We know what it’s like to be tempted, and reading UF can give us the chance to somewhat unconsciously say to a character, “Hey, you try it first.” This can lead to humorous and/or tense situations for them, and, by extension, us. As for the backlash, that’s what keeps us reading. We can put the book away if we need to but are more likely to see how they get out of it and then experience the triumph with them without any of the lasting scars they may carry.
Fantasy and urban fantasy help us to deal with the problem of power and its imbalances and consequences on literal and metaphorical levels while bringing some magic into our imaginary lives. Now go imagine how much fun it would be to have a magic wand while dealing with holiday crowds and traffic.
Some mistakes can literally come back to bite you.
The Lycanthropy Files, Book 1
First it was ADD. Then pediatric bipolar. Now the hot behavioral disorder in children is CLS, or Chronic Lycanthropy Syndrome. Public health researcher Joanie Fisher was closing in on the cause in hopes of finding a treatment until a lab fire and an affair with her boss left her without a job.
When her grandfather leaves her his multimillion-dollar estate in the Ozarks, though, she figures her luck is turning around. Except her inheritance comes with complications: town children who disappear during full moons, an irresistible butler, and a pack of werewolves who can’t seem to decide whether to frighten her or flirt with her.
Joanie’s research is the key to unraveling the mysteries of Wolfsbane Manor. However, resuming her work means facing painful truths about her childhood, which could result in the loss of love, friendship, and the only true family she has left.
Warning: Some sexy scenes, although nothing explicit, and adult language. Also alcohol consumption and food descriptions that may wreck your diet.
Cecilia Dominic wrote her first story when she was two years old and has always had a much more interesting life inside her head than outside of it. She became a clinical psychologist because she’s fascinated by people and their stories, but she couldn’t stop writing fiction. The first draft of her dissertation, while not fiction, was still criticized by her major professor for being written in too entertaining a style. She made it through graduate school and got her PhD, started her own practice, and by day, she helps people cure their insomnia without using medication. By night, she blogs about wine and writes fiction she hopes will keep her readers turning the pages all night. Yes, she recognizes the conflict of interest between her two careers, so she writes and blogs under a pen name. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with one husband and two cats, which, she’s been told, is a good number of each.
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