Writing and Editing

262. What is Urban Fantasy?

April 18, 2024 Jennia D'Lima Episode 262
262. What is Urban Fantasy?
Writing and Editing
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Writing and Editing
262. What is Urban Fantasy?
Apr 18, 2024 Episode 262
Jennia D'Lima

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Author and project engineer Carina Steinbakk discusses the nuances of urban fantasy, how it compares to other fantasy subgenres, and her book "Flames of Eader."

Visit Carina's website:

Get a copy of Flames of Eader:

Find Carina on Instagram:

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Author and project engineer Carina Steinbakk discusses the nuances of urban fantasy, how it compares to other fantasy subgenres, and her book "Flames of Eader."

Visit Carina's website:

Get a copy of Flames of Eader:

Find Carina on Instagram:

Jennia: Hello. I'm Jennia D'Lima. Welcome to Writing and Editing, the podcast for people who write, edit, read, or listen. Author Carina Steinbakk is our guest today, and we're going to be looking at a popular fantasy subgenre. This is "What is Urban Fantasy?"


Jennia: Well, first, great to have you here on the show!


Carina: Thank you so much, Jennia. Like, it's so fun to be here! This is actually my first podcast.


Jennia: Oh, congratulations!


Carina: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're popping my cherry on the podcast side. I love it (both laugh).


Jennia: Well, if you'd like to let people know what it is that you do and a little about your book.


Carina: Absolutely. I like to think of myself as a woman of a lot of hats. Basically, I'm an author and a development manager for renewables projects. I'm a fur mom to my Brady—he's an Australian Shepherd, two and a half years old. And I'm also an entrepreneur living here in Gold Coast, Australia. So, basically a life juggler, but my life's passion is being an author. This is kind of my heart we're talking about here today.


Jennia: I love that. Well, do you want to tell people a little bit about the name of your book and what it's about before we get into some of the specifics?


Carina: So, my book is Flames of Eader. It's a contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy. It's my debut novel, and it was published last year, in June 2023. We are meeting Grey, the protagonist. He is a hermit. He lives alone, and we get to hear a little bit about his difficulty interacting with other people. So he's just decided to shelter himself. But one day, he gets this weird urge that, "You know what? I need to get out of the house," which he never does. He ends up in this glen in a forest, and he gets whisked away to this world called Eader. And that there is where he discovers that he's actually not just human at all. This is actually where he is from, and he discovers that he is key in solving a battle between, you know, the age old story light versus dark. But it's not just light versus dark. It's the energies of the world, and the balance is thrown out.


Jennia: Oh, that's a fun twist!


Carina: Yeah, yeah. So a bit about that too, because, I said I was a development manager, renewables energy. My background is actually in engineering. Being from Norway, living in that kind of environment, I've always been interested in how to improve the environment, all the things that we're doing to kind of throw that out of balance as well. So that's actually influenced this novel a lot. So I wouldn't call it science fiction, I wouldn't call it like a science novel, but it has a lot of math, has a lot of engineering insights in it as well, when I'm trying to put together that magic system. So that was fun for me. Like, it's math, it makes sense, but it's also magic (both laugh).


Jennia: The best kind. Well, that kind of helps lead into a little bit, because I think it can be hard for people to differentiate between the different genres and then also all their various subgenres. So how did you decide this was going to be urban fantasy or that that was the one that most applied to your work?


Carina: Honestly, I grew up reading, you know, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and all the, you know, the classics. Percy Jackson, like oh, loved it. But really, what spoke to me and the stories that I always would make up as a child was about things around me.


Jennia: Mhm.


Carina: Like at eleven years old, I was waiting for that letter. Like, I believed fiercely, that Hogwarts was gonna send me a letter, right?


Jennia: To open closets and just to make sure. Pushed it back. "Maybe today!"


Carina: Exactly! And like I would—even today I've named my car. We have conversations, deep conversations, when he doesn't want to start in the morning, you know. I mean, it just means a lot to me to believe in magic in our everyday lives and trying to find those magic moments. And I know, like, middle earth is amazing. All these other epic fantasy worlds. But thinking that Hogwarts, if you go to London and you get on the right train, you might get there, you know what I mean? Open the right wardrobe and you walk into Narnia, it just adds that extra layer. So for me, when I created the world of Eader, it was always something that always existed around us, and I just needed to put it on paper.


Jennia: What's fun about that is too, is that it's just like, exactly like what you said. Especially reading something like Lord of the Rings or for a long, long time, it felt like all fantasy had that medieval inspired setting and it just, it felt like fantasy, if that makes sense. But when you have something like urban fantasy or magical realism, it's easy to imagine that happening in your everyday life. That you might turn that corner and something happens or you might encounter one of these sorts of creatures that have been pure mythology until then.


Carina: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Like even Percy Jackson, right? We know now it's on Disney. Like it's blown out of proportion. Like Twilight, you're getting into a bit of the horror, you know, that other side of fantasy, but still urban fantasy, it's happening in our world. American Gods, Neil Gaiman, like, there's so many versions. And specifically about Percy Jackson, just the thought of, you know, we have half-gods living among us. Like, we can go to Camp Half Blood if you just stumble outside of New York City, or San Francisco if you want to go to the Roman Camp. Like, it's all these different things. So for me, it just adds that extra magic in our world. But like you said, all the different subgenres. If it's magic realism, I think in-in terms of City of Bones, that series, right? Same thing. Like, it's in our world, but it's a world that we just can't see because we're not half angels, but still (laughs).


Jennia: Yeah, but the possibility is there.


Carina: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.


Jennia: Yes! You've talked a little bit about using the real world and how some of that has creeped into your work, like the engineering background. Are there any other things from your real world that have been integrated into your fantasy world or that maybe helped inspire it?


Carina: Absolutely. So when it comes to getting inspiration, like I said, I created a lot of stories when I was a child, but also growing up, I've met a lot of different people. I've also traveled heaps. So for me, when I'm thinking about where I am, integrating language, culture, places that basically just creates so much more than a passive backdrop in my stories. For example, imagine a story set against backdrop of rugged Australian bush, where vastness becomes a metaphor for challenges, the characters, or the untamed nature of Scotland and the Highlands. So those two are very good examples of places that I've lived. I went to university in Scotland. I now live in Australia. I worked in the outback. And just meeting all these different characters, people, the different cultures that are introduced as well. Scottish Gaelic culture, Maori culture, Aborigine culture here in Australia. And all the different colors, the names, the languages. So you'll see that in the Flames of Eader, for example. And as you can probably think when you read other fantasy books too, that'll seep in, because it is in our world and it is part of their world as well. So it's kind of that common bridge between the two. It's where, remember Ron Weasley's dad and Harry Potter and how he talks about, like, what is this? And he holds up a rubber duck—


Jennia: Oh right (laughs).


Carina: —you know what I mean? Like, things that for them is weird in our world, but also it's a common thing, like trying to understand Eader. For example, it is from the word adar, which means between, in Scottish Gaelic. So that, for example, you'll see a lot, in Flames of Eader, or the village, or the town in Eader is called Manawa, which actually means heart in Maori.


Jennia: Ohh.


Carina: Yeah, so those things, for me was just so important to integrate and make part of, because Eader itself is a salad bowl of all different cultures and people who've come together over thousands of years to protect Earth against the darkness. So that, again, for me, integrating places in the world, people in the world and culture, that just makes a story come together much more. It kind of acts like the glue when it comes to urban fantasy.


Jennia: I love it when authors are able to do that too, just because I think it sparks a lot of interest in the readers when they realize it is based on something real. Or they might see a word and look it up, and they realize it did come from this Gaelic word for so and so place, and it can just naturally lead to them wanting to learn more about that thing or that people or that culture. And so, in a way, it's like the story really doesn't stop because you've propelled them onto something else.


Carina: Exactly. And that-that's the main part about reading these books too, right? Like, they're inspirational. They take you on a journey. And also, I know a lot of people say, like, we read books to escape. We read books to get inspiration. We read books to learn new things. That's also okay. And, like, I have, for example, I have a sister. She reads crime stories. And for me—


Jennia: Hopefully she's not looking for inspiration! (laughs)


Carina: Yeah, no, no! But you know, it's exciting, and it takes you on a different kind of journey, and, like, it's a mystery. You need to figure it out, which, of course, is common thread in all books we read. But for me, there's enough. There's enough for real. Like, that type of realism, that type of things happening, just turn on the news every day.


Jennia: True.


Carina: So, for me, it's that transportation into something impossible that, you know, you wish maybe could be possible, sometimes. Find that little hidden gems in the books.


Jennia: That's just so neat. I love that you do that. And so, thinking about all the places you've been, have there ever been any places where they've brought up a new idea that maybe you haven't explored yet, but you're saving it for later because you can already see the potential in it for another book?


Carina: Oh, yes, yes. And I like that you say that other places I've been because I dream a lot, and I write down my dreams. So I have a lot of weirdness happening and a lot of ideas starting here and there. So, yeah, no, definitely unstarted stories aplenty. But also, first of all, I'm gonna focus on Flames of Eader. I really wanna finish that story. Cause it's living in my head and I need to get it down on And and I know that Callan and Darby, Grey, they're all waiting for me to just like, "Come on, Carina!" Like, it's happening. I can hear Grey's sarcasm linger in the back of my head. Like, "Dude, we need to get this done." A lot of people who know me, actually, they're saying that, like, when they read Grey.


Jennia: Mhm.


Carina: They're just like, "Carina, you just written yourself as a dude. Like, this is literally you on paper." That's fun. And, like, being able to kind of bring part of yourself into it as well.


Jennia: Yeah.


Carina: Not hold back in that sense, sharing yourself through fantasy


Jennia: And it probably helps too with character development. Because, you know, you know what you're like and so you're able to get that across on the page. So and so would never eat sardines because I would never eat sardines.


Carina: Exactly, exactly! The only difference is, though, Grey is a hard-knocked coffee addict. And if you ask anyone in my family, I don't drink coffee. It's like, literally a thing. I think my grandma told me once, "You will never grow up, Carina, because you don't drink coffee." (both laugh).


Jennia: See, I was told the opposite.


Carina: Yeah!


Jennia: I was told if I started drinking coffee, I would stop growing.


Carina: Exactly. Like, I've been through seven years of uni and still no coffee. It was like this thing. It just became my mantra, "I'm not going to drink coffee." But a lot of energy drinks, Jennia. A lot of energy drinks.


Jennia: Well, it probably evens out then.


Carina: Yeah, yeah. But the thing with the character development too, though, like you say you get to kind of give of yourself, but you also get to like—no one knows if this is real or not, so I can just use whatever I want of myself and be like, "Oh, no, that's totally made up. Or is it?"


Jennia: Oh, that's a good point. Yeah. How do you think that differs, balancing that when you're doing something like urban fantasy versus if this was just a contemporary novel? Do you think that plays a part in character development?


Carina: Oh, I would say when it comes to, you know, personalities, characteristics, I think that would be a lot of the same. The difference, I would say, is when you're doing epic fantasy, high fantasy, of course, you have to make sure that all the normal, call it "traumas," influences from modern living would be definitely different. Growing up in a city versus growing up in a village or middle Earth versus being in Paris. Like, it would be different influences, different characteristics. I try to make sure of that because you'll see that in Grey, for example, he grew up on the streets. And when I say the streets, I'm purposely not mentioning any specific city because urban fantasy, of course, it's in an urban environment. And the story takes place in Eader, which is this world that overlaps with ours and has portals through to our world. But it also happens in an urban setting. And I didn't want to put a name to it. Like in Harry Potter, like, we know exactly where Harry lives, we know exactly where he takes the train from. But here, I just wanted to be like, anywhere you are in the world, this could be in your backyard, it could be in your neighborhood. So, of course, for him, growing up on the streets, he would have that type of trauma, that type of impact, the mistrust. And I would understand that better. Not that I grew up on the streets or anything, but, you know, I could relate to what that would happen in the systems, how he would go through in school, how he wouldn't have that human connection. But for me, I wouldn't know if I grew up under the tyranny of Sauron, how that—I would just have to imagine that, which is, you know, part of the fun of being an author. So it kind of becomes a bit more real and you kind of get more material to use.


Jennia: Mhm.


Carina: You could Google different things versus Googling "middle Earth" is harder. But yeah, you get a bit more freedom with high fantasy, I think, and you get a bit more help with urban fantasy and contemporary.


Jennia: That's a really good summary. Yeah, because I can see high fantasy though, too. And this goes into the world building where you trip yourself up inadvertently. You know, you plan something here and you plant it in book one, and then in book three, you need to do the opposite, or you need to somehow work around it, or you've forgotten that you have that element of world building and now you've just contradicted yourself. It's a little easier to get around that when you're using a real world setting because you can look something up or you can understand how someone would feel and be like, "Oh, that's completely—even for fantasy, that's unrealistic. No one's going to buy that."


Carina: Yeah. And you have to think of too, like, if you have readers who's gone through similar things or know people who have, and they'd be like, "Well, that's totally wrong. Like, that's not how that would actually connect." So you have to do a bit more research to make sure that you're staying true to what your readers might be going through as well to build that relationship.


Jennia: I'm glad you brought that up because I think sometimes we can get into that headspace of it's fantasy, so therefore it's just pure fantasy. But you're mentioning that we do have to do research and we have to understand these people, these characters we're creating, so that we can better bring them about on the page in a way that's realistic and relatable. And I think that's just such a vital component because I think it can be a little too easy to think, "I'm just going to imagine that this and this would happen," and then that's what you write down. But then, of course, someone who's had an experience that's similar, obviously not quite the same because there is no magic involved at the end with a portal, but up until then, they've had a similar experience, right. And they'll be able to refute it.


Carina: Exactly, exactly. For example, with Mister Harry Potter, losing his parents, growing up with his aunt and uncle, like, what would that be like? And then he finds out about his real parents. Like, you have to do some research around what a child would feel, right?


Jennia: Mhm.


Carina: And how that would act out over time. And the other side of that is Severus Snape, his journey in terms of, you know, being in love with his mom, losing her, going to the dark side, but still supporting him. I can't even imagine what research did to kind of understand his journey as well.


Jennia: Oh, that's a really good point. Just trying to be able to understand all those different possibilities that would come about from different people and different life experiences and being able to find a way, especially because it was written for a younger audience. Well, now you also have to look at, well, how can I get this across to people who haven't yet really gone through something like this, but they'll still be able to imagine it based on how I write it?


Carina: I think it's important too, like, you have the tools to then impact positively that reader. If they're going through something and they can show how this person got through it, give them tools to understand, because even though yes, it's fiction, it's supposed to be something kind of like a paper hug, right?


Jennia: Right.


Carina: But you can also give them tools. It's not supposed to tear them down. Be like, he went through this, but then he found the tools, and he got through it. He got stronger. He got help. He asked questions. I think especially for young boys or men, even, it's good to know that you can ask those questions. There is people out there that have been weak, but you can actually push through. And for women as well. Like, I don't want to not talk about Darby, who is the strong female warrior in Flames of Eader, who had herself a few battles that she went through. And I'm not going to lie, like, I've had a few things on my personal side that I've gone through, and I will say that I gave a few of those things to Darby. I don't know if she's happy about that (both laugh), but for me, it was cathartic to write that, right? And give that story to Darby and, like, see her fight through it literally, and come out the other end. I think that's a big part of fantasy, like, it gives you the tools. Especially urban as well, because, yes, you're going through something that people might call mundane or is in this real world—


Jennia: Right.


Carina: —but you're giving them fantastic tools to work and push through that.


Jennia: Like, blast your enemies away with a dragon. Because why not (both laugh). I'm sure a lot of people have been daydreaming about all those possibilities that a dragon brings to the table.


Carina: Oh, and Andarna. Like, I would love to just go flying with Andarna, oh my God.


Jennia: Before you wrap it up, you talked a little bit about pulling from different languages and using that. And one thing we talked about before we started recording is that you wrote this book in English, but you had other choices available to you. So if you wanted to tell us a little bit about that and what led you to the decision to write this book in English?


Carina: Yeah, so I did mention it slightly earlier. I'm actually Norwegian. Not just by one parent or two, I'm actually born and raised. I moved to Australia when I was 27.


Jennia: Mmm.


Carina: So this is not how I usually sound, but I actually taught myself English when I was five years old.


Jennia: Oh wow!


Carina: Because I read a lot of books when I was growing up. It was one of the hobbies that my dad would say, like, "I would sponsor every time you want a book." Like, if I wanted candy, if I wanted to buy, like, a movie? No, no, no. But books, that was kind of—that was our thing. When I was humbled enough to be able to write a story, it was the only language to me that made sense. And people can say, "Oh, it's a commercial choice. The Norwegian market is small." But for me, it's kind of where my brain goes when I tell stories. It's what I hear when I dream. Like, it's kind of my storytelling language. It wasn't a choice. So sitting—like, I've been traveling now for a large part of my life. Even growing up with my dad, being in the oil and gas industry, we would move around with my mom and two sisters. It was kind of always the books that I kept with me. And every time we moved somewhere, I would create new stories, get new friends, get new influences, and just keep that . . . I don't know, what do you want to call it? But keep that treasure chest—see the Norwegian's coming out now—


Jennia: Ohh, love it! Yes.


Carina: —of opportunities and in English with me, so. And I even lived—so I did a couple years in Scotland for university, and that's, you know, Scottish Gaelic, all the Scottish names, all of that. Even now, part of me feels like if I speak Norwegian, that is my inner true self. You know, when you talk about authentic selves, like, if I speak Norwegian, like, it's almost like I can't lie in Norwegian. Like, it's just—it's kind of just that little bubble. So I kind of put on this persona, or at least I felt like I did. But now I've been living here for seven years. You know, you feel like you have two places to go to in your brain, Norwegian and English (laughs).


Jennia: Talk about an in-depth character study. We just did one for the author. (both laugh).


Carina: I love that!


Jennia: Well, thank you again. And do you want to let people know where they can find you or anything exciting coming up soon?


Carina: Yeah, yeah. So please check out my Instagram so @carinasteinbakk or @flamesofeader. I also have my webpage, which is carinasteinbakk.com. There is news to come very shortly. I am about to launch some little tidbits of my upcoming book. Not going to display the title quite yet, but just stay tuned. . . and it's available online as well!


Jennia: Perfect. And we'll have all those links in the show notes too.


Carina: Amazing. Thank you so much, Jennia, for having me!


Jennia: Thank you for being here. It was so fun!


Jennia: And that's all for today. Thank you for listening, and please check out the show notes for more information and all those links we just mentioned. And then please join me next week as Vanessa Rogers talks about folklore and fairy tales and why they still have such a huge impact on the modern literary world. Thanks again!

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