Guest post: ‘Switching from fantasy to urban fantasy’ by Phoebe Matthews

Tonight’s guest blog post, of the fantasy genre, is brought to you by novelist and short story author of fantasy, paranormal, YA, romance and historical novellas (does that leave much? :)) Phoebe Matthews.

‘Switching from Fantasy to Urban Fantasy’

The first hardcover I ever wrote was a fantasy titled Cast Down the Stars, for Holt Rinehart Winston. That was many years ago when the fantasy market was thin and so my agent sent me off in the direction of romance, Regency and YA. It wasn’t what I wanted to write but I like to think my writing skills improved with those dozen agent-driven novels sold to major publishers.

With the market in its current upheaval and NY publishers’ decisions filtered through agents and taking forever and my patience shortened with age, I recently decided it was time for a change. The first change was to start writing books that were fun for me to write, which meant switching to urban fantasy, my favorite reading choice.

Cast Down the Stars was pure fantasy, based in an invented world. At its core was a teenage astrologer who taught in the local school and was heavily involved with her community. I always liked that girl. With her in mind, I came up with a new protagonist, a young woman in her early twenties who lives in Seattle and works two jobs to pay the bills. One job is part-time tutoring at a community center in her neighborhood, called Mudflat by the residents. Here old magic runs through the local families and is inherited in weak doses.

This was the start of a series and I wasn’t sure anyone would like it beyond the publisher and editor who were both enthusiastic. About the time my confidence hit bottom, the first Mudflat book, titled Tarbaby Trouble, won an EPPIE for Best Fantasy of 2009 and so I kept going and have loved every minute of writing this series. I am now working on the sixth book.

Urban fantasy differs from straight fantasy in that it is contemporary and set in the real world. Characters can wander in and out of fantasy worlds in their adventures, but their lives are grounded in a real place. Some of the protagonists have powerful magical abilities that can affect many lives, like Harry Potter and his friends. Some, like Lori Devoti’s heroine in Demon High, have strong magic limited to a narrow situation. Some are more like Sookie Stackhouse who has no magic other than an ability to read minds and that skill causes her more problems than it solves.

No one approach is better than any other. I enjoy reading all types. But when I write, I like women who have no magic and must use their smarts. They have to figure their way through personal and local disasters. They aren’t Buffy. They can’t save the world with amazing strength or magic.

This possibly makes them easy for readers to relate to, because most women have to use their wits to survive and be happy. The difference between these protagonists and their readers is that the protagonists face fantasy enemies and situations. The similarity is that both the fictional protagonists and readers grind their teeth in frustration and then charge in and find solutions to their own problems.

This is my formula for the Mudflat series and for the Sunspinner series. Both have non-magic heroines. Claire lives in a rundown Seattle neighborhood called Mudflat. Claire’s fortunetelling skills are accurate enough to attract danger, but she has no magic with which to protect herself other than her wits. Across town in a wealthy neighborhood Elaine fronts for a household of paranormals who are being threatened by a demon invasion. Elaine is smart but hey, we’re talking demons here. So those are my typical non-magic heroines.

On the other hand, rules are made to be stretched. And so I veered off into creating a protagonist who is not your normal lady next door. She is a vampire in the Turning Vampire series. What she has in common with my other heroines is that she keeps stumbling into situations she doesn’t know how to control. Like the Claire and Elaine, Georgia has to depend on her wits rather than her physical strength or magic abilities. Unlike them, she greatest battle is to maintain self control. If she loses it, she will become the villain and end up with a dead boyfriend.

Urban fantasy series are a bit like mystery series, tied together by the same protagonists continuing through the stories. Romances aren’t always HEA or monogamous. The romance is often secondary to the main plot of suspense or adventure. What urban fantasy and pure fantasy have in common is tension, suspense, excitement, and a chance to let the reader escape the humdrum and stand on the cliff edge of magic.

Thank you Phoebe!

Phoebe Matthews has a backlist of books published by Avon, Dell, Holt, Putnam, Silhouette and others. Most of her out of print titles are now available again as ebooks. She is currently writing three urban fantasy series:

Mudflat series, BookStrand, first book is Tarbaby Trouble, winner of the 2009 EPIC Award for Best Fantasy. Available from

Turning Vampire series, Dark Quest Books, first book is Vampire Career. Also available from Amazon.

Sunspinner series, LostLoves Books, first book is Demonspell. Also available from Amazon.

All are set in the Pacific Northwest where she lives. Her historic Chicago 1890s series occurs in the neighborhood where she spent childhood holidays with her grandparents. Phoebe’s website is

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

4 thoughts on “Guest post: ‘Switching from fantasy to urban fantasy’ by Phoebe Matthews

  1. Phoebe Matthews says:

    Years later, all three series are now published by LostLoves. Mudflat Magic series is at book 8 and all the titles have been slightly changed. There are 4 books in the Turning Vampire series. Sunspinners series book 5 is my current WIP. And I am still loving writing urban fantasy. Cheers! Phoebe


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