Genres (and why we write them) #5: Karissa Laurel

Happy Birthday to Harry Potter! To celebrate one of the best selling series of all times, we have an author with her own Urban Fantasy series, Karissa Laurel for our “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series. Follow Karissa on Facebook and Twitter or find her at her own site:


Karissa Laurel: Writing Urban Fantasy

I primarily write in the urban fantasy genre, which has been one of my favorites since I started reading the Harry Dresden and Mercy Thompson series years ago. Both are great examples of standards in the category. Generally, urban fantasy is defined as a fantasy novel set in the real world, usually, but not always, in the present. That means settings are often real places, like Chicago in the Dresden Files; the Tri-Cities area of Washington State in the Mercy Thompson books; and Alaska, which is one of the settings for my series, The Norse Chronicles.

Although set in familiar surroundings, urban fantasy explores and expands those real world locations. So, while Chicago actually exists, it may contain portals to other worlds, or have magical elements hidden within the real, such as a secret society of wizards protecting mundane humans from paranormal threats. I love this genre because of the juxtaposition of fantasy versus real. It’s fun to play with the rules established by the real world and see how far I can bend them without creating a completely new and original world, which is the usual identifier of traditional fantasies like Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones.

The more experienced I’ve become in this genre, however, I’ve found there tends to be a pretty standard delineation between male and female authors, and what readers expect from those authors. Prime examples of this are the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, and the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Both of these series focus on rather macho main characters with wicked special abilities, and, often, a sharp sense of humor. They fight, they solve problems, and they grow stronger at the end of each book so they can come back to battle ever bigger and stronger protagonists in the next book. Their female counterparts are almost identical, except for a crucial difference: the inclusion of a strong romantic element, such as in the Kate Daniel’s series by Ilona Andrews (another long-time favorite of mine).

Before anyone starts throwing counter-examples at me, I agree, there are exceptions on both sides. Harry Dresden and Atticus O’Sullivan have had love interest, sure. Still, I’ve found urban fantasy series by female authors tend to focus more heavily on romantic subplots then books with male lead characters and male writers. As a female author, that’s an expectation I constantly run up against.

I don’t consider myself a romance writer and tend to shy from writing intimate scenes. In my opinion, the key to successful urban fantasy is a careful balance, keeping enough action and problem solving to please me, and enough romance to please the reader. Too much focus on sex pushes the genre into “paranormal romance” territory, although I often find readers automatically blending the two genres together, especially when the author is a woman.

Before you think I’m bashing paranormal romance, please know I love reading it. It’s just the writing of it that gives me troubles… at least not for now. Writers should always be willing to evolve, and to never say never. So, maybe someday I’ll write a romance plot with fantastical elements, and I might even get a sexy bare chested guy on the cover.

(Armentrout is one of my favorite paranormal romance authors, by the way.)

In the meantime, I’ll continue exploring urban fantasy because I enjoy writing a woman who has a broad range of goals, and whether or not she goes to bed with someone at the end of the day is an interesting consideration, but not fundamental to her need to kick ass and save the world.

About the Author

Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between.

Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you’ll find her on the slopes.

Karissa also crafts, paints, draws, and harbors a grand delusion that she might create a graphic novel someday.

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