Describing Urban Fantasy and YA Trends

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend!  Mine was busy, but tons of fun. We hosted the birthday party on Saturday, hung out with Jill on Sunday, and played tennis with family (including CP-Pat, and test-readers Jeanette, Jill, and Savannah) on Monday. I am sunburnt, sore, and full of ice cream… so overall very happy. 🙂

I originally had a different topic in mind for this week. But a few days ago, a new idea grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. So I’m obliging the idea and talking about YA urban fantasy today. The idea was probably born while I read Handyhunter’s comments on last week’s post, “Acting My Age.” We were discussing urban fantasy, and how a lot of protagonists in the genre are in their early twenties. Handyhunter pondered, “Maybe protags ought to be of legal age before getting involved with the undead?” Then I got to thinking about the recent surge in YA urban fantasy… and wondering about the reasons behind this trend.

Before I go any further, maybe I should try to define “urban fantasy,” just in case anyone reading this isn’t familiar with the label.  Urban fantasy is sometimes called a subgenre of contemporary fantasy.  So how are urban/contemporary fantasies different from historical or high fantasies (any story in a different time period, world, or planet)?  Here is one quote:  “A definition of contemporary fantasy and urban fantasy might be that the story must contain magical elements within the real world, but these magical elements must remain unknown to the majority of the world’s population.”  

But what about the differences between contemporary and urban fantasies?  Those are harder to agree on, and I’ve seen several conflicting opinions.  Urban Fantasy Land provides many great links in which authors/readers discuss what the terms mean to them.  I can’t quote them all, but I’ll try to summarize in a broad sense.  Of course, both types have fantastic elements in a modern world.  Urban fantasy used to refer to a city setting, and the story was often dark, gritty, and with no guarantee of a Happy Ever After for the protagonist.  Some people say that urban fantasy has to be written in first person, but others disagree.  Novels labeled “contemporary fantasy” possibly had rural settings, third person perspective, and maybe a lighter and happier tone.  However, now it seems “urban fantasy” is becoming more and more flexible as a label, like an umbrella for several subgenres.  The term can describe a modern fantasy novel no matter what the setting is.  Urban fantasies can be dark or light, funny or sarcastic, a romance or horror or both.  I like “urban fantasy” because it has a nicer ring than “contemporary fantasy.”  So when describing the trends in markets, it’s easier for me to say “urban fantasy” as a sort of catchall.  But if I was worried about misleading someone concerning the tone and setting of my novel (which takes place in rural southern Illinois), I’d probably use the label “contemporary fantasy.”  

Moving on… YA urban fantasy is hot right now.  Think about all the recent YA books by authors who used to (and still do) write adult urban fantasy.  Rachel Caine, PC Cast, and Rick Riordan are just three examples of authors who started out writing adult books and are now excelling in the YA field (I have no idea if they’ve sold more YA books than adult; I’m just saying that in my biased opinion, I hadn’t heard of them until they wrote YA books).  Rachel Vincent and Jenna Black have upcoming YA releases, and Jeri Smith-Ready is working on a YA proposal.  These three ladies also have several adult books to their credit.  And I know I’m forgetting several other examples.  So I’m wondering:  what motivated these adult writers to turn YA?  Was it simply the booming market that attracted them and made them brainstorm for YA ideas?  Or did they always have YA ideas in their heads but didn’t try writing them until publishers wanted them?

An even harder question:  why is the YA urban fantasy market improving?  Is it all due to the success of Harry Potter and the Twilight books?  In other words, more adults are discovering they can enjoy YA (whereas kids aren’t as likely to seek out adult books yet), and so YA books are selling larger numbers than adult books.  Or is there more to it than that?  Something about our culture/current-state-of-mind that I’m missing??  Are kids growing up sooner, so they’re more likely to enjoy the undead?  

It’s funny, because I’m not sure I could be an “adult” writer.  All the story ideas I have involve teenagers, which means they’ll end up labeled “YA.”  So even if the adult market was booming, I would no doubt still be writing YA.  🙂  I think writing for children can be challenging, and it comes with responsibilities.  But YA books can have so much hope and potential for the characters.  Some of the books I read as a kid probably shaped me into the person I am today.  When I read adult books now, I don’t usually feel that same level of inspiration.  There are exceptions of course–adult books that are awe-inspiring and YA books that are low-quality.  But for me, the books I end up rereading are almost always YA.  

So I want to know:  what are your thoughts on the growth of YA urban fantasy?  Any ideas to explain the boom?  And if you read both YA and adult urban fantasy, which do you prefer?  I look forward to hearing your opinions!

Note:  sorry if this post is rambling or confusing.  I have sun/tennis brain, and I’m having trouble concentrating.  🙂  See you on Friday!


One thought on “Describing Urban Fantasy and YA Trends

  1. This is really helpful…I think! I do have a couple questions, if you have a minute to answer them. Say someone (me, cough cough) was writing a book. YA. Set in present times on earth, but there are gods, magic, and the existence of other realms. The general population is not aware of this. Earth exists as a sort of wasteland, a hideaway for people from others realms, to so speak, due to its lack of magical hot spots. It’s told from the perspective of a 17 year old girl, first person. Urban fantasy?

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