Settings and Urban Fantasy

Some of the books that made me fall in love with the genre of urban fantasy were set in actual cities, or I guess, technically, they’re not really those cities but alternate magical versions of them.  The Dresden Files was set in Chicago and Greywalker was set in Seattle, so I when set to write urban fantasy, I also choose to set my books in alternate magical versions of real places.

I the case of Power Surge, it was Portland, Maine.

As a reader, I prefer urban fantasy settings grounded in the real world, but not fully limited by it. I want there to be some recognizable landmarks for the city the story takes place in, but I also don’t want the setting to adhere to strictly to reality because then it doesn’t feel enough like fiction.

I write the type of books that I want to read. So when I write urban fantasy, there are usually some landmarks with real life counter-parts that exist along side a plethora of completely made up ones.

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Portland Head Light

In Power Surge, the school Erin and friends attended was completely fictional, but one of the battles happens at Portland Head Light. The characters go in made up shops and restaurants, but those are within the confines of Portland.

I don’t put actual business in the story, though generically named places often bear some resemblances to my favorite eateries even if that was never my intention.

Good food sticks in my unconscious, and writing first drafts is a lot like dreaming.  The worlds of my urban fantasy novels wind up littered with almost-Doppelgängers of my favorite restaurants.

Legal and ethical issues aside, I don’t use exclusively real settings because I feel too limited if I can’t completely make up certain aspects of a place, like the staff, the decor, and the restrooms.

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A street in Portland, ME, similar to one Erin and Sam walk down in Power Surge.

However, a recent afternoon spent in Portland reminded me this balance is a tricky one to maintain, and I didn’t do quite as a good a job with it in Power Surge as I thought I did.

I’d been to all places that inspired my setting many times before I wrote the scenes that happened there. Years ago, shortly before and while I was working on early drafts, I frequented downtown Portland as well as the beaches and light houses around it.

Unfortunately, there was a large gap between those visits and the final revisions and edits of the book.

Google maps, even on satellite view, is no substitute for actually going to a place, walking around, taking pictures, smelling it, hearing it, and taking it all in.

I’m certain that in the early drafts, my description of places with real life counterparts, the ones that ground the fantasy, were very accurate. I’m not so sure I’d say that about the final version. I’m not way off, but when I think about how I described Portland Head Light and Crescent Beach, I realize I made them to small. I didn’t take the parking lot gates into account when my characters visited at night.

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Parking lot a Crescent Beach

How did this happen?

I revised my descriptions of the “real” settings the same way I revised descriptions of fictional ones, and wasn’t careful enough to make sure I was staying true to the place.

To readers who have never been to the places in the book, it won’t matter. However, if someone who frequented them picked up, I fear some inconsistencies with reality might yank them out of the narrative.

“That parking lot is way bigger than you described!”

“If it was ten at night, the gate would have been closed.”

This is the danger of mixing actual landmarks in fiction. You may start with a light house or beach readers could visit, but if you are not careful enough, you may edit that place away from it’s real life counterpart without even realizing it.

In some ways, that is for the better. I’m writing fiction, and no matter how much the Portland Head Light in my book may or may not look like the real thing, at most, it is a Doppelgänger. The setting of the book isn’t reality but an alternate version of it. Still, I don’t want to confuse or alienate local readers.

I’m not sure if I’ll change how I handle settings in urban fantasy, but I need to be more careful. I need to approach revision differently in those sections. I need to really be aware of how much time messes with my memory.

Have you ever used real cities or landmarks in your books? Why or why not?

Want to read a dark urban fantasy novel about demon hunters in an alternate Maine? Click here to buy a copy of Power Surge!

Book Review: The Disasters

The Disasters  is a treasure. After the last future-set, sci-fi book I read, The Disasters was like a breath of fresh air.  The Disasters had  a narrative kept me glued to kindle, only taking a breaks to do necessary things like eat, use the bathroom, and walk the dog until the book was done.

Thankfully, I’m a fast reader, and this was a fast book (in a good way).  

So, what is the story?

A group of teens who just failed out of an elite space academy survive a attack that takes out their classmates, flee the system, and fight to stop the terrorists from killing more people.

Said group of teens is pretty awesome.

The narrator, Nax,  is a bi pilot coping with anxiety from a wreck he was in a few years ago. I loved seeing how he decided to say things that made him seem like a classic, cocky, hotshot pilot while being very scared and insecure.  I was rooting for him from the start, and loved his interactions with a crew that was diverse in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, and nationality.

Terrorist attack aside, this future was super optimistic.

For the most part, humans weren’t fighting each other. There was peace on Earth and in the “the colonies.” Most people were getting along…except for this one group that wanted to kill everyone…but that group was a small portion of the population. Most groups got a long way better than they do today.

The word “colonies” made me cringe a little the first time I saw it on the page, however, it’s un-inhabited planets, not cultures and people, that are being colonized. This universe is similar to the one Firefly was set in, where humans have found habitable worlds and terraformed others to make them habitable, but have not yet discovered other sentient life in the galaxy.

I also loved how the book handled diversity. It wasn’t about diversity. It wasn’t about being bi, muslim, trans, black, gay, white, or straight. It was about teens trying to save the galaxy. Their identities were part of them, added richness to their personalities, made them unique, and made them feel real. The book gave me hope that one day, things like racism, transphobia, islamophobia, and  homophobia will be things of the past. This future is the kind I seek out in science fiction.

I’ve read books like this before, that do all the amazing this one does, but most of them have been from small presses. I’m happy to see that larger publishing houses are finally catching on.

Next time you are in the mood for some great science fiction,  read The Disasters! 

2018 Publication Round-up

2018 is just about over, and while it may not have been my most fruitful year for producing new work, it was a fantastic year for publishing. My first novel was published. My short fiction and poetry appeared in nineteen publications

Of all of these, my favorite is my novel, Power Surge. For short stories, I’m most proud of “Ink and Ash” in The Society of Misfit Stories.

For flash fiction, it’s a tie between “You Won’t Believe How This Creature Changed Their Lives!” in Vulture Bones and “Roots” in The Cascadia Subduction Zone.

“Butter is Not a Dress” in Hashtag Queer Anthology Series is the best poem I have ever written!

If you’re looking for pieces to nominate for awards, check those out! Below is a roundup all of my 2018 publications, including cover art when applicable, links, and a short blurb for each story.

January 22:

“It Sucks to Be a Succubus” in Unnerving Magazine.

A succubus tries to have a fun night out without killing anyone.

February 6:

“Snow Fox” in Once Upon a Rainbow Volume Two

 Jealous Queen E’s attempts on Snow Fox’s life are trending.

March 5:

“The Blind Girl and the Troll” in Asymmetry.

A troll hungry troll decides to aid a refugee instead of eating her, and it alters the state of his existence. 

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March 21:

“Thunder Cars” in (Dis)Ability Short Story Anthology

Food shopping with anxiety is like weathering a storm.

April 3:

“Liberty Underground” in Teach. Write.

There is more to this seemingly haunted house than meets the eye.

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“You Won’t Believe How This Creature Changed Their Lives!” in Vulture Bones

Two siblings find a magical creature. 

May 31:

Dragon’s Bane” in Menagerie de Mythique Anthology.

Not your average dragon hunter

June 20:

“Gala Down” in Drabbledark

Politics and food don’t mix well.

June 22:

“Butter is Not a Dress” in Hashtag Queer Anthology Series

A poem about gender identity and clothing.

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“Roots” in The Cascadia Subduction Zone

Home isn’t always the house you live in.

July 31:

“The Debutante” in Fantasia Divinity Magazine

A steampunk match-making AI. 

August 30:

“Djinn and Tonic” and “Surviving Seaglass” in Chronos

Two speculative drabbles that explore how supernatural being perceive time.

September 19:

“The Omen” in UnSung (Better Futures Press)

*There is no link to this one because shortly after publication, the publisher appeared to have folded.

September 20:

“A Kitten for the Kelpiecorn” in Four Star Stories.*

A kelpiecorn adopts a kitten.

*The issue it appeared in is no longer available and has yet to appear on the sites archives page.

October 1

Power Surge (The Evanstar Chronicles)

Being hunted by demons isn’t the worst part; it’s the lies.

October 14:

“A Curious Case in the Deep” in Broadswords and Blasters.

Two brave ocean explorers make an unexpected discovery.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.17.20 PM.pngNovember 6:

“Piggish Persistence” in Empyreome Magazine

One magician tries to subvert the pharma-guild’s control on the medical. potions industry

November 1:

“Denial and Acceptance” in Trump Fiction: ECR Special Edition

Aliens invade in the final days of the Trump administration.

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.21.06 PM.pngNovember 12, 2018:

“Ink and Ash” in The Society of Misfit Stories

When the government outlaws the use of wands in magic, two siblings find themselves on opposite sides of the law.

November 30, 2018:

“Behind the Scenes” in Unrealpolitik

Werewolves play an important role in the National Park Service’s future.

 

The Evolution of a Character (or a career)

I’ve lived my entire life with characters and stories in my head. Some were as original as anything can be while others were fan-fictions that never escaped my maze of a mind long enough to be put on paper.

After watching  Xena: Warrior Princess, I’d run around the house with music blasting. The living room would fade as I retreated into my head where I reimagined the episode with myself, or a character based off of myself, involved in some major way. If no one interrupted me, I’d plot out the next episode and the next. Each would steer further from the plot, featuring more of me and my made up characters and less Xena and Gabrielle.

TV shows and movies never failed to rev up my imagination, but they were not my only source of stories. Songs, fears, news, and my contorted perception of reality  were compost to my imagination’s produce.

For all the stories I dreamed while running and dancing, I wrote sporadically, scribbling ideas in journals and penning poems for school assignments. As much as I loved making stories, the creative part of my brain rarely worked unless my body was moving.

So the characters stayed inside me. To an extent, they grew with me.

They evolved.

Terrifying magical adventures involving waterfalls, brain-altering head injuries, supernatural relatives, and a fair amount of time travel shaped them into distinct people that had less and less in common with me as time went on.

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An aesthetic I made for Mel (Amelia)

They reproduced like cells.

 

As the adventures piled up an they grew more and more complex, sometimes, they split into two or three different characters.

Yes, some of them had things in common with me, but none of them were me. I no longer had a version of myself that popped into tv shows and fan fiction. I had a cast of distinct , developed characters trying to claw their way out of my head.

Ari. Amelia. Elle. Erin. Lucy. Michael. Sam.

There are more, but some of their names have faded from memory even if their personalities haven’t.

I started writing. I had to. My brain would’ve exploded. Reality would’ve shattered. Something bad would’ve happened.

At first, writing came in short bursts. Stories would fill a notebook on rainy summer days or cold winter nights. Senior year of high school, I wrote and illustrated the first twenty or so pages of a centaur portal fantasy. Freshmen year of college, I wrote the first act of a screen play. I started a novel. I wrote a short story. Started another novel.

Each time I wrote, the characters that grew up with me appeared in the story along side new faces. My burst of writing grew longer each time they happened.

When I was 26, on a cold October night when I couldn’t sleep, I started the longest writing spurt I’d ever had, meaning it hasn’t ended. In one for or another, I have written every day since then.

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Power Surge aesthetic 

Characters and pieces of stories coalesced into novels.

The characters continued to grow through the whole process.

Now, I’m proud to say that the world gets to meet two characters that have lived in my head under one name or another for most of my life.

Erin and Mel (Amelia) debuted in notebook pages. They solidified in a screenplay. Bloomed in a mess of a half of a book I started in college. They slept for decades, through short stories and a paranormal suspense.

They slept but the they never left. Their identities evolved with mine.

Erin’s mental health deteriorated with mine. When I discovered the words and concepts that I could use to finally explain how I felt about my gender, Erin used those words too

I could tell you what Mel or Erin had for breakfast on any given day. I could tell you about their first kisses, their greatest fears, most embarrassing moments, successes and failures. The last mountain they skied. The last trail they hiked

People always ask me how I keep it all in my head, if I had spreadsheets and pages of notes.

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Cover Art by Natasha Snow

When it comes to the Evanstars? I didn’t need those things. I  internalized world and most of it’s inhabitants long before I started writing. I have drafts and short stories and micro stories and poems.

I have dreams.

These characters own a piece of me.

They are pieces of me.

Their stories will always live in my soul, but if I have readers willing to read, then I will write and write in this universe as long as I can.

 

I just hope that when readers meet them on October 1st, they love them as much as I do.

Add Power Surge on Goodreads

Pre-order the e-book from NineStar Press

Micro Fiction: What Comes Out of the Ground

Here is another bit of micro fiction inspired by Cracked Flash’s weekly prompt. This one was a runner up.

What Comes Out of the Ground

By Sara Codair

“My flesh is clothed with worms and a crust of dirt,” I said, shuddering on the doorstep. The open door loomed over me, black and peeling, like the mouth of an ancient monster waiting to swallow me whole.

“Stop being dramatic,” muttered my mother. “Just make sure you wipe your feet before you go inside. I don’t want my floor ‘clothed’ in that shit.”

I brushed the flecks of brown off my clothing, pulled a wriggling worm out my hair, and rubbed the soles of my sneakers on the emoji door mat. I stepped inside, staring at immaculate white tile and paint, so clean it glowed. The floor creaked behind me. The door slammed shut.

“Please shower before you touch anything.” She shuffled past me, putting more weight on her cane than I remembered during my last visit.

Taking baby steps, I made my way to the powder room where I washed my hands, stripped out of my  muddy clothing, put it in a trash bag, and got in the shower. I covered myself in a lather of soap and let the water rush over my skin until it looked like it belonged to a living human, not a zombie.

I got dressed, brought my soiled clothing to my car, and found my mother sitting on her front porch.

“Thank you for helping out,” she said. “We got good harvest. Those potatoes should last until the spring.”

Micro Fiction: Bullet Hole in a Yellow Window

Bullet Hole in a Yellow Window

By Sara Codair

Congealed sugar crystals.

Bubbles captured in amber.

Spider webs waiting to trap unsuspecting flies.

A perfectly round path to another world where your blood isn’t splattered all over the sofa, sinking into the deepest part of the cushion staining pure white stuffing red.

In that other world you’re still smiling at me, laughing with me and loving everything about me. In that other world, I’m free to love you out in the open, free to live a hundred years by your side.

“You have the right to remain silent,” says the man in this world, encircling my wrist in metal.

###

I wrote this story for the 100 word story photo challenge back in August. They never posted a winner for August, but you can see the photo here if you want: https://www.facebook.com/100wordstory/photos/a.374368579247657.94462.213141275370389/1298620266822479/?type=3&theater

Micro Fiction: Garden Wars

This piece of micro fiction has been hiding in various files on my hard drive, but I have finally wrangled it onto the internet were it can be seen by more than just lonly gigabytes.

Garden Wars

By  Sara Codair

The garden is city for faeries so small they’re invisible to the naked eye.

DSC_0683Scientist would be dumbfounded if they held their microscope here and saw the buzz of activity happening beneath the stems. There is a whole economy flourishing in the garden: The Allium Folk are trading pollen stock with the Peony People and warring with the Hydrangea Colony.

Last year, the Allium Folk lost a war the Lupine Ladies, but hope to gain some new territory from their inferior blue neighbors. The Hydrangea Colony may be wide, but its people are short and stunted. They have quite a few prisoners of war already, and might have conquered the whole bush, had it not been for the Fly Siege.

Thankfully, the Spider showed mercy and saved them from the dreaded flies. However, they must offer a sacrifice, or they will be his food tomorrow.

The blue prisoners will suit his needs just fine.

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©2016 Sara Codair

Flash Fiction: At Last

The following piece of flash fiction was originally published on Cracked Flash and was the runner up for their week 44 competition. I made some revisions based on the feedback I received from the judges.

At Last

By Sara Codair

The sword fell out of Lenora’s hand. It was over. After years of slaving away on the battlefield her ex-husband, the emperor, was finally dead. His head lay on the ground next to her fallen sword. She expected to feel some sense of excitement or victory, but she was empty, too tired to muster the smallest smile.

After fighting for years without victory, she had all but lost hope, believing the Gods were against her until the mysterious army of white knight appeared out of nowhere. These allies beat back the enemy legions and paved a way for her to reach the emperor and finally slay him. Now, she was watching blood pour out of his corpse like sand in an hourglass.

As the last of the emperor’s blood soaked into the ground, the landscape broke down. Bodies and vultures, mud and murder, armor and arms dissolved into tiny little squares.

Lenora looked down at herself. She still appeared solid. Crouching, she waved a calloused, gauntlet-clad hand through her enemy’s corpse. It went right through his pixelated body to a stone floor.

She choked on her next breath. She’d grown accustomed to the stench of blood, death and sweat, but it’d been a lifetime since she smelt melting plastic mingling with coffee and beer. It was terrible and beautiful and she sucked in as much of it as she could.

“It worked,” shouted a voice as foreign and familiar as the smell.

The battlefield was nothing more than fading dots dirtying the floor of a room filled with screens, wires and video game controllers. Two men rushed towards her. They bore no armor or weapons, and wore only ripped jeans and t-shirts.

“Nora!” shouted one of the men. “Thank God you’re back. Are you alright?”

“Ray,” she whispered as memories long buried broke through the dungeon doors. She ran towards him, all but collapsing in her lover’s arms.

“I love you,” she said inhaling the stale beer and coffee that clung to his breath.

“I love you too. You’re home now. You’re safe.”

She clung to him, crying to tears of relief to be out of the virtual hell her ex-husband had trapped her in. She was back in the real world. She was finally free.

© 2016 Sara Codair

Flash Fiction: Hope

Hope

By Sara Codair

“Don’t feel bad. I’m pretty hard to kill,” said GiYu. His purple appendages were already reattached and his torso was knitting itself back together.

The human female nodded and sucked air in through her nose. The slurping sound worried GiYu that the mucus her crying had evoked was making it hard for her to breath. Her skin was still flushed red though, and everything he had read about humans had said they turn blue when they are suffocating. Her eyes were focused on on torso, watching feathery tendons flicker back and forth.

“What do you think of it?” asked GiYu.

At first, the female didn’t respond. However, GiYu was patient. He watched her brow furrow, her lips quiver and her shoulders square before she finally speaking it a quiet, raspy voice. “It’s…Like…like 3-D printing, only without the extruder. It’s…it’s magical.”

“Regeneration is the art of my kind.” GiYu beamed down at the missing section of his torso. It was wide and purple, but shaped like a an earth-tree half eaten by one of their furry beavers.

“Does it hurt?” she asked with a steadier voice.

GiYu shook his head. “It is pleasant, almost like mating. Some of my kind get addicted to it and harm themselves just to experience the pleasures of regeneration.”

“You’re not mad?” Her eyes were wider now, and the tears were starting to dry up.

“Quite the opposite.” GiYu wrapped a fuzzy, purple tentacle around the human female’s back. “I’ve met many humans, but none of them were born during The Melt. None possessed your unique abilities.”

The female’s hands had uncurled as she let out a slow breath. GiYu could see the tips of her ten tiny fingers now. He was pleased to see the flesh on the the tips were still smooth and whole and he was relieved that using her ability did not do harm to her.

“My own people think I’m a monster.” The human’s creamy cheeks glowed red as she looked up. It was the first time her two green eyes made contact with any of his seven eyes. “I burned my family’s home when I was seven. They wanted to kill me, but the government took me, experimented on me, deemed me unfit for service and sold me to you.”

GiYu pulled her closer. “We have plenty of use for a firestarter here on SyLur. Fire is the only thing that keeps the mold at bay, and it really isn’t a problem if you accidentally set me and my kin on fire. We rather enjoy it, and we hope you will enjoy our planet.”

“But I’m a slave,” said the human.

“For now,” said GiYu. “Dedication and hard work may yet earn you your freedom.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

GiYu was pleased to see a flare of hope in the girl’s eyes.

***

The above story was originally written for the Cracked Flash Fiction Competition. It was the runner up, which meant the judges wrote a brief review about saying a few things they liked and a few things they thought could be better. That draft had been written from a more omniscient 3rd person point of view where the human female talked a lot more. The judge liked the concept of the story, but said the following:

“I felt like her personality felt incongruous with her backstory–for someone who was a pariah for most of their life, and probably both mentally and physically tormented and abused (generally what ‘experimented on’ stands for, since experiments tend to not be gentle things), she felt far too talkative and adventurous. It would be more believable to me if she was more timid and had a lot more nonverbal gestures; it might have been useful to write from a more limited third-person view from GiYu, where he observes her more closely, and we hear more of his thoughts.”

So I took that suggestion, more or less, before posting the story here. The reader does here more of GiYu’s thoughts. The girl is more timid and has more nonverbal gestures. As she realizes GiYu isn’t going to eat her and is pleased with her actions, then she becomes more talkative.

You can see the original here.

If you have any further suggestions for the piece, I’d love to hear them. I don’t think this piece is quite finished yet, but I am trying document/show my revision process online. I learn a lot from revising and documenting that revision. I hope other writers can too.

Thank you!

©2016 Sara Codair

Flash Fiction: Feline Frenzy

Here is a goofy cat story to brighten your Friday:

Feline Frenzy

By Sara Codair

I see you thought the kitten as it skulked toward the cheesecake.

The cheesecake didn’t say anything back. The kitten took that as a sign that the cheesecake didn’t see him. Just to be safe, he crouched a little lower to the ground. He didn’t walk straight towards the cheesecake, but took a drunken path, zigzagging across the room, hiding behind every obstacle he came across before he reached the table.

He stared up at his prize – just a little further. He wiggled his behind, ready to pounce, when he heard a faint buzzing. Looking around, he spotted a fly hovering near a porcelain vase.

Turning in a circle, he wiggled again, adjusting his angle, and leapt towards the fly. It zipped upwards seconds before his paws crushed it. He leapt again, landing on the end table, knocking the vase over as he sprung towards the curtains. Up and up he climbed until he was level with the fly, which was resting on the ceiling.

He threw himself off the curtains. His paw grazed a smooth carapace before they both tumbled down, landing smack in the middle of the cheesecake. The kitten ate the fly in one bite, then proceeded to lick the cheesecake until his little belly was full.

©2016 Sara Codair