As part of my Guest blog series for authors and fellow bloggers I am proud to present another guest blog spot. I am very excited andthe author of
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Contemporary Fantasy: The Great Genre Confusion
by Seth Skorkowsky
When I was young, there were exactly to genres that I read. They were SciFi/Fantasy and Horror. Those were the sections in the bookstore that I found them in. As I grew older, I added Sword & Sorcery and Epic Fantasy to the list.
The list slowly expanded over the years until I began writing. At that point the number of genres and sub-genres seemed to explode. When trying to pitch my first novel, Dämoren, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the sheer number of categories that it might fall in to. But as my knowledge grew, I came to the realization that while sub-genre labels work great, they also pigeonhole us. I both love and hate genre labels, especially for Contemporary Fantasy.
Contemporary Fantasy is the catch-all term for fantasy that takes place in a modern setting. It’s also a weird category that’s only recently been accepted as Fantasy at all. In my youth we called it Horror.
I cut my Contemporary Fantasy teeth on Stephen King and Clive Barker. They were famous for their Horror, and it was a surprise when I learned that a good chunk of their work was actually Fantasy. But since it was Fantasy without castles and swords, no one knew what to do with it. So, it was isolated away from Lord of the Rings and Dragon Riders of Pern and called “Horror.”
Eventually the Internet happened and fandom was able to get together and begin educating each other and creating new labels to describe the kaleidoscope of various sub-genres. Now we have Portal Fantasy (which both Barker’s Imagica and King’s Dark Tower fall under), Urban Fantasy, Magical Realism, Supernatural, Paranormal, Post-Apoc, Zombie, and a slew of others including the Romance categories of each of those.
One problem that arises has nothing to do with the genres themselves, but to do the perception of those genres. Many readers and authors (including myself) hate the term Contemporary Fantasy. It sounds boring. It doesn’t evoke any mental image and the punch that Portal or Zom-Poc Fantasy do. Both of those names are two-syllable and give a clear image of what to expect between the covers. “Contemporary” meanwhile is a massive six-syllable word that doesn’t evoke any image except for boring. So even though it means “Contemporary Fantasy set in a city,” many of us prefer to use the catchier term Urban Fantasy.
The problem with that term is not for stories that aren’t exclusively set in a metropolitan city. The problem is that readers, and many editors, perceive Urban Fantasy as being similar to wildly popular stories such as the Dresden Files. Those stories follow a particular style that’s first-person detective stories with clever little one-liners. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but when many hear, “Urban Fantasy,” that’s the style they expect. This might turn some readers away from it or it might disappoint some readers that open the story expecting that.
Another case where perception can cause issues is with Paranormal Fantasy. Paranormal Fantasies are stories about the paranormal (obviously, because it’s great and descriptive sub-genre name). However, Paranormal Romance is a separate and massively popular sub-genre. So popular, that when many readers hear “Paranormal” they automatically add “Romance.” This has led many non-romance authors to call their work “Supernatural” instead.
Most readers aren’t even aware of this genre soup. It’s not like the bookstore posts a comprehensive guidebook next to the Fantasy isle. The most effective way an author can pitch where there stories fall is to list two to three works that it’s comparable to. That’s why my Valducan Series says, “In the same vein as Supernatural, Hellboy, and Blade…” in the description. That gives potential readers a good idea of what to expect without assuming they understand all of the odd quirks of genre labels.
Maybe one day I’ll stumble upon a book that says, “In the same vein as the Valducan Series…” If that does happen, I’ll know it’s something I’ll probably enjoy.
Seth Skorkowsky is a writer that gravitates to the darker sides of fantasy, preferring horror and pulp heroes over knights in shining armor. He is the author of Dämoren and Hounacier, both titles in the Valducan series. Seth has also released two sword-and-sorcery collections in the Black Raven series, Mountain of Daggers and Sea of Quills. He lives in Flower Mound, Texas.