We are excited to have Michele Lang visit us on her blog tour for REBEL ANGELS, the third book in her historical urban fantasy series; Lady Lazarus (available out now from TOR Book)s. Today she is talking about the challenges of writing historical urban fantasy and gives us some of her tricks for balancing the historical with the fantastical. If you haven’t read this series yet, we’ve got three full sets to giveaway & everyone who enters the giveaway will receive the novella “The Magic of Fabulous” (set in the world of Lady Lazarus). Enter via the widget below.
Writing Historical Urban Fantasy
Writers of historical urban fantasy face lots of challenges. But hidden inside the challenges, like a pearl, are huge advantages and pleasures (especially for the history junkies out there!)
To start, you must satisfy the demands of urban fantasy when you are writing within the genre’s expectations. As a literal-minded writer, I tend to define the parameters based on the plain meaning of the words “urban” “fantasy” – fantasy set in an urban, usually gritty contemporary setting.
As a romance writer, one salient question for me is the potential overlap between Urban Fantasy (UF) and Paranormal Romance (PNR) … and I resolve the question in my mind by asking whether the primary plot is the romantic relationship between the heroine and hero, or the heroine or hero’s magical battle against their villain in a vivid urban setting.
If the romantic relationship is paramount, you’ve got a paranormal romance. If the vivid urban setting and the heroine’s journey is front and center, it’s an urban fantasy (a hero can be the protagonist in UF just as easily as a heroine. A romantic subplot isn’t even a necessary part of the UF recipe).
But things get much more complicated when you add a historical element to the mix. How do you integrate the noir vibe, the pacing, the fantasy, the love interest if there is one, and then add to this teetering stack of expectations a whole layer of historical setting?
By trial and error, I’ve developed some moves designed to balance the historical and fantastical in my work. Here are five of my secret tricks:
- Throw out your research. Look, I am a self-accepting history freak. I read books about the war of Jenkin’s Ear for entertainment — that’s just how I’m made. I could happily disappear into a library and never come out, so I have to watch myself. If I am writing a historical piece, I get enough to orient myself in the time, the place, and the essential conflicts of the time, and then I head into the story. Once I’m writing, I don’t look at my personal pile of research unless I get stuck. The key: the research is the servant of the story, a tool to keep you moving. If it doesn’t serve your story, put it aside. You can always obsess over historical details during revisions J
- Secondary Sources can get you up to speed quickly. Secondary historical sources – scholarly works, essays, biographies – will give you the best overview of a particular historical period. Here’s a little trick I use to get oriented as quickly as possible: I start with middle grade or YA histories – they tend to present the facts in a straightforward way.
- Primary Sources will give your time period a human voice. Diaries, newspaper articles, and letters will give you the opinionated, subjective voices of people who lived through the period. It’s good to read a number of them, and see where they disagree. Where to find good primary sources? A well-researched history will list primary sources in its Bibliography; costume books and cook books can also give you some insights into the clothes and culinary delights of a place.
- Use all of your senses to enter a place and time. The music, clothing, food and drink of a time period will bring you into history with all your senses, not just your mind. The Internet is a great place to find organizations devoted to exploring and recreating historical periods. Obvious places to start are groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism. http://www.sca.org/
- Travel Guides – your fastest comprehensive way into a different place. But beware the shifting tides of history…no location is static, and some places transform more completely and abruptly than others. For instance, since the 1930s time period of the LADY LAZARUS series, Eastern Europe has transformed again and again in the wake of enormous historical change. Budapest keeps changing, and yet the city retains a unique essence all its own…
Finally, here’s a bonus tip for people writing historical fantasy.
In some places, the magic simply leaps into the story. For example, in REBEL ANGELS Magda and Raziel soar above the lower Caucasus on magic carpets. Azerbaijan makes some of the most beautiful carpets in the world, and the carpet factory in Quba is much as I described it in REBEL ANGELS, with the magic woven into the threads…
Giveaway provided by TOR Books
3 sets of the Lady Lazarus series by Michele Lang
Everyone who enters wins the novella “The Magic of Fabulous” (set in the world of Lady Lazarus)
Available now from TOR Books
LADY LAZARUS Description:
With the romance of Twilight, the suspense of The Dresden Files, and the delicious thrills of True Blood, the enthralling saga of Magdalena Lazarus unfolds. Descended from the legendary witch of Ein Dor, she alone holds the power to summon the angel Raziel and stop Hitler and his supernatural minions from unleashing total war in Europe. The Nazis have fighters more fearsome than soldiers, weapons more terrifying than missiles, and allies that even they are afraid of SS werewolves; the demon Asmodel who possesses a willing Adolf Hitler, and other supernatural creatures all are literally hell-bent on preventing Magda from possessing the Book of Raziel, a magical text with the power to turn the tide against Hitler’s vast war machine.
Magda, young and rebellious, grew up in the cosmopolitan city of Budapest, unaware of her family’s heritage. When her mother dies, Magda–ready or not–is the Lazarus, who must face the evil that holds Europe in an iron grip. Unready to assume the mantle of her ancient birthright, but knowing that she must fight, she sets out across Europe searching for the Book. Magda is desperate enough to endanger her soul by summoning the avenging angel Raziel. When she sees him in the glory of his celestial presence, her heart is utterly, completely lost…
DARK VICTORY Description:
Magda Lazarus was a reluctant witch until the dire threat of Nazi Germany convinced her to assume the mantle of her family’s ancient powers. But though this young, beautiful Jewish woman has fought off Hitler’s SS werewolves and the demon who would rule through the Führer, she has been unable to prevent the outbreak of World War II.
As long as Magda can summon spirits, there is still a chance to save people from the dire threat of the Holocaust. Her family’s guardian angel, Raziel, stands beside her in the battle against the human and supernatural forces of evil arrayed against her people and all of Europe.
In Michele Lang’s Dark Victory, as the Nazis prepare to invade Poland, Magda and her beloved Raziel marshal their own army, a supernatural force that will battle Hitler’s minions to the death…or beyond.
REBEL ANGELS Description:
Magda Lazarus has twice come back from the dead to fight the Nazis’ devastating conquest of Poland. To prevent the Holocaust her sister has seen in terrible visions, Magda will need the Heaven Sapphire, a gem powerful enough to defeat even the demon Asmodel. With the future of all Europe in the balance, Magda and her husband, the fallen angel Raziel, begin a perilous journey to the Caucasus, the resting place of the fabled stone.
Surrounded by Germans, Russians, and mistrustful Azerbaijani tribesmen, Magda must summon all her magic to withstand the predations of the deadly supernatural foes. But more dangerous yet is the power of the Sapphire itself, which could stop Hitler…or destroy Magda.
Rebel Angels, the climactic book of Michele Lang’s Lady Lazarus trilogy, filled with suspense, magic, and action, will have readers at the edge of their seats until the exciting conclusion.
Enter the giveaway via the widget below – US/CA for the series set, but the ebook is available internationally
Interested in being a guest on All Things Urban Fantasy? Fill out our Guest Request Form