Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Guest post by Amy Kuivalainen: Urban Fantasy - what I know for sure

 Urban Fantasy - What I Know For Sure 

This year I have been lucky enough to publish my books Cry of the Firebird, an urban fantasy novel with heavy Nordic and Russian Fairytale influences and as of June The Eagle Key, an original fairy tale about a key that can open the heart of anything it touches.
I have written eight novels but I like to look at myself as just gaining momentum as a writer. Urban fantasy is my stomping ground and there are three things that I have discovered are true no matter how strange the story gets. 
1. Real life finds a way in

Speculative fiction writers are often met with confusion in certain writing circles. I know from personal experience when I have told people I write urban fantasy the response has been a cool, “Oh, you write all that paranormal stuff not actually about real life,” like somehow if you aren’t writing literature you aren’t capable of drawing on real experiences or human suffering. We get a glimpse at worlds that such people could never imagine or experience so we can smile politely and not take it too personally. It is true that Speculative Fiction writers get comfortable working side by side with monsters and magic but that doesn’t mean real life doesn’t wriggle its way in.
            As an urban fantasy writer I am constantly trying to find the balance between the real world and the supernatural demi-monde operating behind it. Sometimes adding the magical into the mundane is a planned action. Sometimes aspects of real life and experience bleed in unexpectedly.
            Being born in Australia but raised as a Finn I have some serious displacement issues. When I first started writing my Firebird Fairytales Trilogy I wanted a chance to explore the Finnish side of my heritage. What I didn’t realise until it was done was that I ended up exploring all of my displacement issues at the same time. My protagonist, Anya, is half Finnish, half Russian, raised on a farm that sits on the crossroads between Karelia and Russia as well as the Finnish and Russian Otherworld. That’s three layers of being neither one nor the other and fitting in nowhere. This hunger for belonging, of finding a family, plays a large role when trying to understand Anya’s desires and motivations. In exploring my own experiences it allowed me to add a personal depth to Anya’s character.  Don’t be fooled folks, pieces of you will always find ways in and it’s not a bad thing.

2. Research Properly 

The majority of the Firebird Fairytales Trilogy takes place in various parts of Europe, most of which I haven’t had the privilege of visiting. So I researched my butt off. Google Maps, street views, tourist websites, local restaurants closest to where my characters were staying, anything I could lay my hands on. Much of what I researched didn’t make it into the books but I needed to do it in order to get the vibe of the place. You have to be able to know the city the way your character knows the city. Writing fantasy means we can add in the weird but we need to be able to know where the good places are in order to do it convincingly.
            A good example of this is Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series. He knows London like the back of his hand and because of that he can write about the spirit, history and geography of the city with confidence. By the end of researching I could tell you all about the flora and fauna of Nordic forests, esoteric folklore, shamanic practices and where the best place to buy dumplings in Budapest.
            In the fantasy sections you can go as weird and wonderful as you like but when traipsing about reality stick to the facts because if you don’t you can make damn sure your readers will pull you up on it.
3. Focus on Your Vision

People will either get what you do or they won’t. Everyone has a niche that they are trying to carve out and luckily the world is big enough that hopefully you will find readers who like that niche too. In my days of trying to get Cry of the Firebird traditionally published I often heard the same story of “we like it but can you write it for YA? YA is selling really well right now” or “your references are really obscure.” When all was said and done it basically boiled down to my marketability. That’s okay, the traditional publishers are a business and they have to weigh up the risk. Did it mean I was going to rewrite and compromise my whole vision because I wasn’t appealing to the Twilight crowd? God no and as a writer you shouldn’t either. My journey to get published was not the one I had first imagined but I can still hold my paperback every night in my hands and be proud of it. I’m finding more readers every day and the feedback I hear the most is how much they like the obscure references because it’s opened them up to myths and fairytales they never knew existed.

            Stay true to your story, don’t compromise and you will end up with something unique that readers will enjoy and you can be proud of.  

About Amy Kuivalainen:

I am a Finnish Australian writer that is obsessed with magical wardrobes, doors, auroras and burial mounds that might offer me a way into another realm. Until then, I will write about fairytales, monsters, magic and mythology because that's the next best thing. I am the proud author of CRY OF THE FIREBIRD (2014) and it's soon to be released sequel as well as THE EAGLE KEY (2015), an original fairytale for adults.

Find Amy on Facebook, Twitter and Amazon


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