by Alayna Williams
One of the tricky issues in writing urban fantasy is finding the appropriate balance between fantasy and reality. Urban fantasy, by definition, includes fantastical elements (including paranormal ideas or magic) in a mundane setting. Fantastic elements make a story interesting, and realistic elements make a story believable. Too much fantasy makes the magic less special, drowns it in a sea of fantastic characters and places. Too much realism makes the world too gritty or dull. But how much of each is too much?
Often, this takes a good deal of trial and error, depending upon the rules of the world. There are two types of general settings in urban fantasy: an open world in which the fantastic elements are known to all its inhabitants, and a hidden world in which the fantastic elements are unknown except to a select few.
Open worlds include worlds in which fantastic creatures roam the streets, have the right to vote, and are well-integrated into the fabric of society. An open world would be the kind of world in which my brother would bring a vampire home for dinner that he met on a paranormal dating site. I’d be glowering at his hickeys while I was spooning out the mashed potatoes. Open worlds allow for more elements of the fantastic, because they have become ordinary in that setting. People are accustomed to hair removal products for Weres being marketed on daytime television. The world is flexible and resilient, operating under a different set of rules than our own. The reader’s beliefs are effectively suspended at the outset, and the reader knows that anything is possible in this world – it’s wide open.
Hidden worlds require a lighter touch with the fantastic. Hidden worlds operate almost exactly the same as our own on the surface. It’s what’s beneath that’s cause for alarm. Too much magic roiling underneath the surface can make the fantastic elements seem less special and dull their impact. Too much magic can also strains the credibility of a secret world needs to remain secret. Ordinary humans may miss a few supernatural creatures or organizations operating in their midst, but ordinary people less likely to be able to ignore a zoo of things that go bump in the night living across the street.
The world of the oracles I created in ROGUE ORACLE is a hidden world. Tara Sheridan is a criminal profiler who uses Tarot cards to solve crimes. She's also a member of the Daughters of Delphi, an ancient society of oracles who trace their heritage back to the times of the Oracle of Delphi. They're a secret society with diverse talents: the women of Delphi's Daughters possess talents as diverse as pyromancy and geomancy. They can see the future in something as mundane as the yolk of an egg or as dramatic as a house fire.
But they hide their talents. They exist side by side with the rest of the world, blending seamlessly with the everyday. Sometimes, they use their powers for pure purposes, sometimes for political ones. But they always work behind the scenes, nudging the course of world events to suit the direction of their leader, the Pythia.
Tara hides the source of her power, as well. Paired with a skeptical partner, she's assigned to chase down a serial killer who's selling nuclear secrets on the world black market. She keeps her cards tucked in her pocket, consulting them surreptitiously for guidance.
Because her world is much like ours, she must fear discovery. What would her superiors think if the direction of a major investigation was guided by a deck of cards? What would her partner think? She stands to lose everything, all her professional credibility, love, and her mission, if she's found out.
I enjoy having that threat of discovery that a hidden world creates, an extra obstacle for my heroine to overcome.
I want her to be looking over her shoulder. I want her to wonder who's watching her, waiting for her to slip up and reveal her hand.
Alayna Williams (a.k.a. Laura Bickle) has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She lives in the Midwestern U.S. with her chief muse, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. Writing as Laura Bickle, she's the author of EMBERS and SPARKS for Pocket - Juno Books. Writing as Alayna Williams, she's the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE. More info on her urban fantasy and general nerdiness is here: www.salamanderstales.com
About ROGUE ORACLE:
The more you know about the future, the more there may be to fear.
Tara Sheridan is the best criminal profiler around - and the most unconventional. Trained as a forensic psychologist, Tara also specializes in Tarot card reading. But she doesn't need her divination skills to realize that the new assignment from her friend and sometime lover, Agent Harry Li, is a dangerous proposition in every way.
Former Cold War operatives, all linked to a top-secret operation tracking the disposal of nuclear weapons in Russia, are disappearing. There are no bodies, and no clues to their whereabouts. Harry suspects a conspiracy to sell arms to the highest bidder. The cards - and Tara's increasingly ominous dreams - suggest something darker. Even as Tara sorts through her feelings for Harry and her fractured relationships with the mysterious order known as Delphi's Daughters, a killer is growing more ruthless by the day. And a nightmare that began decades ago in Chernobyl will reach a terrifying endgame that not even Tara could have foreseen…