Guest Blogger: Jeri Smith-Ready
The winner of Jeri's book is: The Ink Gypsy! Congrats! Send me your contact information and I'll pass it along to Jeri. Thanks to everyone who participated.
Even in urban fantasy, these visions of “our world” can vary. They can be identical to the one we know, where the supernatural remains secret; or a parallel world, in which magic is integrated into society. As it so happens, I write one of each, so I’ll try to describe some of the challenges I’ve faced.
My WVMP RADIO series (WICKED GAME and next month’s BAD TO THE BONE) is solidly set in our world. The truth about vampires, including the station’s disc jockeys, is hidden from the public (though it is eventually used as a marketing gimmick). Therefore, their existence has not changed the world we know. The only addition is a covert paramilitary organization known as the International Agency for the Control and Management of Undead Corporeal Entities (aka the Control), which works with federal agencies in various nations at top levels of secrecy.
I incorporate real-life details such as music, technology, and even sports. In BAD TO THE BONE, the actual November 5, 2007, Steelers-Ravens football game plays a role in one of the subplots. I worked the game into the backdrop of a dramatic scene, and the final score sharpens the rivalry between Shane and David. (In real life, I was heartbroken at the Ravens’ crushing defeat, but then realized, “Hey, I can use this!” Great art comes from great pain. ;-)
The characters’ close ties to the real world allows them to step out of the books into our reality. They might even, oh, hypothetically speaking, have MySpace and Twitter accounts. They can communicate with readers about current events and music, because they share our culture.
To build this series’ world, I must decide which real-life elements to include. Which kinds of events are relevant to the characters? In BAD TO THE BONE, a single football game causes a cascade of conflict and confusion.
On the other side, how much of Ciara and Shane’s world should be brought into our domain? Does their online reader interaction enhance the world building, or could “breaking the fourth wall” make their fictional world feel less special?
My other project is a young adult urban fantasy series, which will begin in 2010. It takes place in our world (Baltimore, which many people think already exists in a parallel universe), and also mentions modern music. But this world has one major addition: the heroine (Aura) and everyone younger can see ghosts, due to a mysterious event called the Shift, which took place at her birth.
Proof of the supernatural sends shock waves through Aura’s society, even for those who can’t see them—i.e., anyone seventeen and older. The government forms the Department of Metaphysical Purity (DMP, whose agents are colloquially called “dumpers”). An obsidian-based technology called BlackBox™ is developed to keep ghosts out of sensitive areas such as bathrooms and military buildings.
To build this fictional world, I had to decide how much of our world would change over the course of sixteen ghost-filled years. Adults would be slow to adapt and accept the new reality, especially since they can’t experience ghosts directly. This reluctance would manifest in religions clinging to the old ways, or pop culture fetishizing ghosts in a cynical attempt at profit. The youngest generation would feel isolated and misunderstood by the larger world. They wouldn’t have the influence to mold their culture—yet.
So in building this world I have to think about how the two vastly different segments of society would react to the existence and presence of ghosts. One would fall into denial and paranoia, and the other would find ways to adapt, since they have no other choice.
Along with a few other individual, the heroine Aura is determined to discover why the Shift occurred in the first place, maybe even figure out how to reverse it. Until her boyfriend dies and becomes a ghost.
I hope that in my own rambly way, I’ve helped illustrate a few of the different challenges involved in urban fantasy worldbuilding. Turns out, it’s just as complicated as any other kind.
To enter to win the last Advance Review Copy of BAD TO THE BONE (release date May 19), just leave a comment below. It can be about worldbuilding either from the perspective of a reader or a writer, or a reaction to what I’ve written above.
Or, you can suggest a title for my YA series. I am desperately seeking a name, both for the series and for Book One, so any help would be very appreciated!
A name will be drawn at random on Wednesday evening, April 29, and posted here.
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