Modern Urban What?

I did a book signing last week, and I had several people ask me, “So what is modern urban fantasy, anyway?” as I chatted with them about my book. (This was often followed by, “I don’t read fantasy.”) The short answer is, “You take a modern setting and plop down a fantasy creature and see what happens.” That worked for most people.

The long answer is a little more complicated. It’s almost easier to say what modern urban fantasy isn’t.

It isn’t classic sword and sorcery. It isn’t mythology. It isn’t Lord of the Rings or Narnia. You can have elements from stories like that – the magic, the magical creatures, the mythology, the supernatural – but you have to put them in a modern urban setting. The story evolves from the interaction of the mundane with the fantastic in the here and now.

It isn’t romance. You can have romantic elements, but if that’s the main purpose of your story about the ordinary and the unreal, then you have paranormal romance.

You may say, “Huh. I’ve never read any of that.”

You may not have read it, but I’ll bet you’ve watched it on television. Ever watch Grimm, or Once Upon a Time, Supernatural or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Then you’ve experienced modern urban fantasy. It’s a very popular genre on TV right now.

I find the potential for conflict between what we see every day with what might be around the corner, just out of ordinary sight, to be fascinating, with endless possibilities.

So step into my world for a little while, and enjoy a few stories about the unexpected that winds up in everyday life.

There Goes the Neighborhood is available on Amazon as either a paperback or an ebook. The Door, a novella, is available as an ebook, and Dreaming of a Zombie Christmas, a set of three short stories, is also available as an ebook.

What would you do if you found out that a troll lived under the bridge in your local park – and charged exorbitant interest rates on unpaid bills for crossing it?

 

Sometimes, There’s This Book

Sometimes, there’s this Book. You know the one – it’s a book that you remember reading all your life. The one that you finish in record time, reading in great gulps, and then exclaim over, and pass along to someone else – all the while madly scrambling to see if the author has written anything else.

I was in high school, and I was on a Gothic-reading binge. Gothics had mystery, romance and a touch of suspense to them, all of which appealed to me. More importantly, they were readily available on the spinners and magazine racks in the stores of my hometown. And better yet, my mother would read them too, which meant that I could usually count on her to fund some of my reading habit.

One day, I found a book called Ammie, Come Home, by Barbara Michaels. It looked interesting, so I picked it up.

It was one of those Books.

In addition to the mystery and romance – which I had expected – Michaels had woven a deep stream of the paranormal into the book – which I had not expected. I loved it. In those days when urban fantasy did not exist as an official genre, Michaels was writing it.

Witch was the next of her books that I found. It confirmed that Michaels was an author I wanted more of, and more and more.

And the hunt was on. A book here, a book there – I found just enough to keep me tantalized and searching for still more.

It wasn’t until I got to college, with many bookstores available and larger libraries, that I found most of the rest of her books. I finally ran into that wall of having read everything I could find by a particular author, and was stuck waiting for each year’s new offering. A year is a long time to wait when you want that next book.

And then a librarian asked me if I knew that Barbara Michaels also wrote as Elizabeth Peters.

An orgy of reading followed.

Her Elizabeth Peters books had more archaeology and less of the supernatural, but they still sucked me right in and told a story that kept me there until I had consumed the entire book. Then they spit me out with a dreadful book hangover (that mix of rapturous oh-I-loved-it and miserable I-can’t-believe-it’s-done).

At least this time, when I hit the read-it-all wall, I could look forward to two new books a year.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz (her real name) died this past week, at the age of 85. There will be no more new books to wait for.

I will miss opening up the new adventures of an old friend from past pages. I will miss meeting a new character ready to dazzle with me with humor, intelligence and just enough quirks to make them seem like a real person I would like to know better. I will miss the plot twists Michaels/Peters tossed at her readers, and the romance – not heavy-handed sex or erotica but simple, sweet romance – that was in many of her books. Her regular use of older heroines appealed to me, particularly as I reached maturity myself. It was nice to see that you didn’t have to be twenty-something to have adventures!

Michaels’/Peters’ strong female characters – who could rescue themselves, thankyouverymuch – and her touch of the Unknown  – these things drew me in from the first book, kept me coming back for more for four decades, and have strongly influenced my own writing.

I could go on and on about my favorite Michaels/Peters characters and books, but if I got started, it would be hard to stop. Suffice it to say that she created many, many favorites of mine over the years.

So here is a huge thank you to author who not only entertained me for many years, but helped shape the path of the writer I have become.

Rest in peace, Barbara. You were a wonderful story teller – the highest accolade I can give an author – and an incredible influence on me.

Evolution of a Geek-Girl

I saw a video on Facebook today that I immediately identified with. I reposted it, and then started thinking and writing. Here’s the video, and the results of the thinking and writing.

**********

My first steps toward geekdom were small ones. I grew up in a small Southern town in the 1960’s and 70’s, and there really wasn’t a lot of fodder for geeks there at that time. Comic books, three channels on television (and an early bedtime) and a public library that ran to mainstream fiction were all I had at my disposal. Still, I showed potential early on; I spent weeks being a cat at age two, with a tail safety-pinned onto me (role-playing and cosplay, anyone?) until my dad brought home a kitten for me, and at age four, I had a fairy-tale character as an imaginary friend. (I reluctantly dismissed her when my mother questioned whether or not she was a “good” imaginary friend. Okay, fine, so she was a four-year-old version of Maleficent, the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty, but it was before she became evil, I swear! I just liked the name and the cool clothes she got to wear! I mean, purple and pink robes? Way cool! And well, magic, but like I said, it was totally before she went to the dark side.)

I did have comic books. My grandmother, who was a teacher who understood the value of comic books in getting kids to read for pleasure, had a large stack of them, which eventually filtered down to the vacation cabin on Black River, (where we spent most weekends) for my cousins and me to read on rainy days. I started with Casper and Ritchie Rich and worked my way up through Archie to Superman and finally into the realms of scary comics that told Twilight Zone-type stories. (My mother tried to steer me away from these, telling me they were too scary, but I loved them – partly because they were a semi-forbidden fruit.)

My mother was an early geek. She taught high school math and read what science fiction she could find in our small town. I still recall seeing Isaac Asimov’s books in paperback around the house. She also watched the original seasons of Star Trek. (It was on way past my bedtime, but on a few occasions when I could not sleep, I remember hearing the haunting sounds of the theme music.)

When I was seven, Mom got me seven of the 14 Oz books, by L. Frank Baum, setting my feet firmly on the path of fantasy and geekiness. Several years later, she gave me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which I read over and over again. There wasn’t a lot of fantasy available for kids in the 1960s, so I did not read a lot of it besides Oz, myths and fairy tales. But I was ready and waiting, and read everything else I could get my hands on.

As I reached the middle and high school years, fantasy and science fiction became a little bit more mainstream, and therefore, available. Star Trek was in reruns, and I watched it faithfully. I found a few more books – the Narnia series, Watership Down (which was mainstream enough to appear on the book spinners at the drugstore) and the Asimov anthology Tomorrow’s Children, which the public library, for a wonder, actually had. During that era, Zenna Henderson’s short stories about The People were turned into a TV movie of the same name, and when I watched it, I wanted more. (Imagine my delight when, in college, I found the books this movie was based on!)

I sampled the harder science fiction my mother had around the house, but never found the right book to really draw me in. An aunt (who knew me better than I knew myself) gave me a boxed set of Tolkien one year, but I (stupidly) left it unopened on the shelf until I was in college, when I finally read the books. (I could have kicked myself to the bottom of the mines of Moria for ignoring it all those years. But at least I finally understood the graffiti “Gandalf Lives!” that adorned one of the buildings I saw every day on the way to class!)

I was the loner, the outsider, the girl who wrote poetry and got good grades and read a lot. The one who worked in the school library and took care of her parents. I wasn’t popular unless someone was looking for a person to torment for a while. And since what interested them did not interest me, I really didn’t care, except when they bullied me.

But something was missing. I just didn’t know what it was, yet. Dribs and drabs, drops and hints of what was to come for a lonely geek-girl who didn’t know that she was a geek – I was a butterfly still in the cocoon.

Then I went to college.

The University of Colorado in Boulder, in 1976, was a whole different world from the one I had grown up in.

Culture shock? Maybe a little. Okay, maybe more than a little. I had never even eaten a taco before. I had certainly not lived in a town with a real bookstore, let alone multiple bookstores!

I hadn’t been in the dorms more than a few weeks when someone introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. I was hooked, immediately. Planning adventures with fantasy creatures and treasures, or playing a character who traversed someone else’s creation? Heady, heady stuff. (I still have my first D&D books – the set of three little books in a little white box, plus the first expansions of Greyhawk and Blackmoor.)

I read my Tolkien books, finally, and I found Anne McCaffrey’s first two Dragonrider books on the shelves of the university bookstore. The second semester I met a guy who liked games, science fiction books and comics, and he took me with him down to Mile High Comics and Science Fiction on Pearl Street when he went to get his comics.

Oh myyyy, to quote George Takei.

I was set loose in a veritable feast – at that time, the store had nothing but new and used science fiction and fantasy books and comics. Anything you could want was in there.

I ended up with a part time job there.

And I married the guy who took me there.

Star Wars came out during the first summer I was in college. I will never forget the first time that Imperial Cruiser rumbled overhead on the huge screen, with surround-sound vibrating the theater. Just, wow.

Within a year of leaving that small town I grew up in, wondering what else there was in life, I was set free as a geek and loving it. I had friends, I had hobbies, I had passions. It changed my life.

Geek-girl? From the bottom of my heart, and proud of it.

Happy Birthday – A Gift to You from Me!

Just a quick post to let you know that in honor of my birthday, I decided to give everyone a present. My book of short stories, “There Goes the Neighborhood,” is free today and tomorrow, July 28 and 29, in Kindle format, from Amazon.

These are modern urban fantasy short stories, and there should be something in there to please almost everyone. I have funny stories, chilling stories, and a few touching ones as well. Please take advantage of this, and download your copy. Then let me know which story is your favorite, either here in the comments, or in the reviews at Amazon!

If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry – you can download a free Kindle reader app for your computer or mobile device and read away: http://www.amazon.com/There-Goes-the-Neighborhood-ebook/dp/B006KUUWUC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375024278&sr=8-1&keywords=jane+w.+wolfinbarger

Exactly

multi-sided diceIt’s hard to be a teenager – everyone knows that. It’s even harder when your parents are embarrassing. And as every parent of teenagers knows, sometimes we embarrass them just by being ourselves.

My kids are all grown up now, but I remember back when we had several teenagers at home. They tended to be conspicuous by their absence on Saturday nights, which, coincidentally, happened to be our (my husband’s and my) gaming night. Friends, chili, and games – sometimes board or card games, but usually tabletop RPG’s, like Dungeons and Dragons, or some related game.

Yes, we are geeks. Nerds. Happily so. We read comics, science fiction and fantasy, play games, like science fiction and fantasy movies – well, you get it. Pretty cool, right? And our friends like the same things we do. Somehow, though, since it was their parents who were doing these things, our kids weren’t so thrilled, and our Saturday night antics were kept a deep, dark secret except to a few of their trusted friends.

I decided to write a few stories from the viewpoint of teens whose parents are *ahem* loosely based on us. Names have been changed to protect the innocent – or the potentially embarrassed, even if they are all grown up now.

Oh, and thanks Aar, er, “Jake,” for the brainstorming session. Like I said, Names Have Been Changed….

*******

“Hey, are these yours? You play Magic?” Jake’s friend regarded the kitchen table with multiple stacks of cards from a collectable card game. “Boy, that’s quite a collection!” He moved closer to get a better look.

“Not exactly,” Jake mumbled. He grabbed Tim’s arm and pulled him away, wincing as a burst of laughter came from the dining room.

“Oh, your brother’s?”

“Not exactly.”

Tim looked puzzled, but moved away from the table.

The noise in the other room died down enough for them to hear, “Critical fumble! Roll a d8 for damage!” “D8!? It was my dagger, not a sword!” and a groan from someone as something skittered noisily across the wood of the table.

“Your sister? They don’t usually play Magic or D&D, but hey, that’s cool.” Tim nodded.

Jake’s sister, who had just come from the direction of the noisy dining room, pushed past both of them on the way to the door. She looked at Jake and they shared a glance. “Not exactly,” she said to Tim.

Then a middle-aged man wearing a Batman t-shirt came into the kitchen.

“Hey, I made chili, and there’s plenty, Jake, so you and your friend help yourselves!”

A middle aged woman wearing a Hogwarts t-shirt that said, “You say nerdy like it’s a bad thing,” slid past him, smiled a welcome and indicated the bowls on the counter. “Like your dad said, help yourselves.” Then she grabbed a can from the refrigerator, calling out, “Hey, anyone else want a soda?”

Tim turned to Jake, his eyes big. “Your parents?!”

Jake sighed and closed his eyes. “Exactly.”

Jake led Tim through the perils of the tabletop gaming adventure in the dining room, where a treasure trove of multi-sided dice lay on the table. They needed to be fast, or, Jake knew from experience, they would be invited to “roll up a character and join in!” He hurried Tim down the hall where bookshelves groaned under their load of science fiction and fantasy books and into the relative calm of the family room.

Since all of the kids normally cleared out on Saturday nights, the boys would have the TV and gaming console to themselves. Usually, none of them stayed around when it was gaming night. Not that their parent’s friends weren’t nice, but playing games with your parents just wasn’t cool, unless it was only the family at home. And even then, it had better be something, well, normal, like Monopoly.

But Jake was tired of going to other people’s houses on Saturday nights. He knew the TV wasn’t in use at home, and he really wanted to have a friend over. His parents were fine with the idea; Jake was the one who had a problem with it. He had worried about this for a week, but finally he had decided that Tim was his best bet. He would let Tim in on his dirty little secret – his parents were geeky, nerdy, played D&D and any other game they could find, collected comics, read science fiction and fantasy… He only hoped that he had made the right decision, and Tim wouldn’t smear his name all over school.

Jake tossed a bag of chips, rescued from the kitchen counter as they had gone through, onto the sofa and turned to Tim. “Um, my folks…”

Tim smiled. “No biggie. My folks do some strange stuff, too. At least we get the PS3 to ourselves!”

Jake sighed with relief and dug up a couple of remotes. As a loud conversation comparing the new Star Trek movie to one of the old ones rolled out of the dining room, he thought that maybe they’d even brave passage through the dining room once more for some chili later on. His dad’s chili was really good.

Off and on, gamers would cycle through the family room on the way to the bathroom, and offer comments on the game the boys were playing. Tim asked, “Is it like this all the time around here?”

“Every Saturday night,” Jake replied, his teeth gritted slightly.

“Man, it’s okay, really it is. I kind of like it. It sure beats my dad’s poker parties, where it’s just guys and they all get bombed and mad at each other.”

Jake had to admit that yeah, this would be better than that.

“Or my mom’s Bunco parties. All women, talking about clothes or diets or other women.” He rolled his eyes.

Jake had never thought of it that way. In comparison, his parents’ gaming night was pretty decent. At least they didn’t get bombed and they talked about some cool stuff.

“Yeah. Huh. Hey, you want to get some chili? And have you seen that new Star Trek movie yet? What did you think?”

It looked like Tim was going to work out great, he thought, as they plowed into the conversation and die-rolling in the dining room on their way to get chili.

“Having a good evening?” someone asked when they came into the dining room.

Jake smiled, and said, “Exactly.”

The Curse of Imagination

I have a very vivid imagination; that is quite clear to anyone who has read my stories. And most of the time, I try to use its powers for good, not evil. But occasionally, it gets away from me and veers over to the dark side, usually at the most inopportune times.

Bad-news times are always inopportune, and these seem to be when my imagination is most likely to kick over its traces and head for the swamp.

A few weeks ago, we found out that my husband Pat has prostate cancer. It is still very, very small – so small they said that if it were any smaller the biopsy would not have found it. The pathology report gave it a 6 on the Gleason scale, a method of rating prostate cancer, which basically means they think it is neither the least aggressive nor the most aggressive type. It is highly treatable, and we have been told we have plenty of time to weigh our options, see other doctors and decide how we wish to proceed.

My imagination immediately took off for the lowest portion of the landscape it could find. With my rational brain chasing along after the thing, trying desperately to rein it in with words like “caught early” and “highly treatable,” my emotional brain was being dragged along by the runaway imagination and screaming, “My God, my husband has cancer!!”

It has spent far too much time since then lost in the murk, fueled by fear and torturing me with worst-case scenarios and words ending in “-carcinoma.” My rational brain has done a lot of research, from which my imagination has managed to pick out the bad bits about side effects – it immediately rolled those into its arsenal.

My emotional brain did break free from the errant imagination long enough to send up an SOS to family and friends, and they have rallied around both Pat and me in a truly heart-warming way, tossing us both lifelines of love and encouragement. And slowly, my imagination is pulling itself out of the swamp it buried itself in.

And Pat and I will, with the help of all the wonderful people who care about us, find our way through this mess. At least we have the gift of time to figure out the best approach for Pat as an individual. We’ve already made it through his heart attack ten years ago, and a second stent five years ago – both of which were, in reality, much more of a threat to his life than this, so we know we can do this. But frankly, dealing with medical crises does not get any easier with repetition.

Pat will be blogging about this journey, over at his blog, Wolfyworld. Wolfyworld is worth checking out anyway; Pat has something interesting to say about many things.

A friend and fellow writer mentioned that this would be a good opportunity to find out how writers do function through crises, as I was totally paralyzed in my ability to write for a few days. (Except for poetry; I write bad, sentimental poetry when I am stressed. My wayward imagination is happy to supply unpleasant images for that sort of thing.)

What I am finding that I will need to keep my imagination very, very busy during this time, now that I am managing to lure it back within reach again. I will need to harness it quickly, and then keep it distracted with other things so it doesn’t run away with my emotional brain once more.

I really don’t like that swamp it heads for.

The Door, My New Novella, is Now Available on Amazon

The Door is now available on AmazonMy novella,The Door, is now available on Amazon, for just $.99.

Follow the adventures of Liz and her friends Jon and Rob as they get drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding a marvelous door that Liz has spied on a walk. The door is bright green, covered with intricate carvings, and has dragons carved around the doorknob – dragons that move if you take your eyes away for a few seconds.

Danger, magic and mystery await the three – things that will change the way they look at the world forever!