Since I’ve taught a course titled Urban Fantasy for the last few years, I’ve had to answer that question a lot. It’s not easy. What I mean by the term is fantasy grounded in a modern world. The terms “modern fantasy” and “contemporary fantasy” are hopelessly ambiguous as course titles. Contemporary American Novel, for example, would denote when the novels were written, not the settings or time periods therein. A course called Contemporary Fantasy could include T. H. White’s Once and Future King or Le Guin’s Earthsea books, even Tolkien for that matter.
To further complicate the issue are the various ways folks perceive the word “urban.” If you grew up in one of the “real cities” like New York or Chicago, like most Americans haven’t, urban doesn’t include suburbia or even, let’s say, Sean Stewart’s Houston in Perfect Circle. Sarah, an urban planner, uses the term urban in a variety of ways. People live in cities in a variety of ways, but most people live in cities. It all depends, I suppose, which axis, time or space, is being emphasized. American Gods is urban fantasy to me, though if cityscape is the requisite factor, clearly it’s not. It’s not urban enough, which I suspect is a term, like “black enough,” that is fraught with peril.
As for my own work, no matter what I myself label it, editors tell me I’m wrong. All this matters to me this morning because a story I felt embodied my own notion of urban fantasy was rejected for not being urban fantasy by a wonderful editor whose work I consistently admire. Urban fantasy? Don’t ask me, obviously. If anybody says “interstitial,” I’ll slug them. Anyway, if you come to the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, you can decide for yourself. I’ll be reading the story, whatever it is, Friday, November 2nd at 5:30 pm.