Guest Post: “A Three-Headed Monster: Mixing Crime Fiction, Horror, and Urban Fantasy” by Jamie Schultz
We’re very pleased to welcome Jamie Schultz, author of Premonitions, to The BiblioSanctum today! In case you missed it, be sure to check out the review. Premonitions is cool, deliciously dark, and definitely not your average urban fantasy, and we’re gonna find out why. Take it away, Jamie!
A THREE-HEADED MONSTER: MIXING CRIME FICTION, HORROR, AND URBAN FANTASY
By Jamie Schultz
My book, Premonitions, is kind of an odd duck. It’s urban fantasy, certainly, but it’s got hardboiled crime fiction spliced into its DNA, and it was raised on a steady diet of horror until it grew up and became the strange beast it is today. I’ve written elsewhere about what urban fantasy, crime fiction, and horror have in common—in my mind, they are each aspects of what I call the literature of hidden worlds—but not so much about the unique contributions each genre has made to Premonitions (and, arguably, to my writing style and focus in general).
Premonitions is, at heart, a heist novel. It takes place in the occult flipside of Los Angeles’s criminal underworld, and there are supernatural goings-on galore, but the core of the story is a rather bizarre heist and its aftermath. I doubt it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that the heist doesn’t go quite as planned (do they ever?), so we’ll just take that as a given.
So, given all the ways to approach urban fantasy, why a heist? I like a good heist story for a couple of reasons. The first is that, traditionally, they will involve an unusual mix of characters, each with their own particular contribution to make to the team. In her review of the book, Mogsy talked about that as part of the draw of these types of stories for her, and it’s a big part of the draw for me, too. I like seeing how the people in a team fit together and complement one another, whether that’s DeNiro’s team of crooks from Heat, the ex-CIA guys from The Losers, or even the freaking A-team. There’s a lot of opportunity for chemistry there, and that can be a ton of fun.
The other reason I like the mix of characters is for the opportunity to look at a range of character motivations. Let’s face it, you gotta have some pretty good reasons to get into a dangerous life of crime, and having a crew of crooks, each with their own motivation, not only provides an interesting glimpse into that, but it offers opportunity for conflict where those motivations rub together, even on the most tightly-knit team (witness trying to get B.A. Baracus on an airplane, for a particularly silly example of that). In Premonitions, each of the crew has their own motivation—Karyn’s desperate to pay for the drug that keeps her sane, Anna is determined to stick with her friend, Nail needs the cash to keep his brother out of trouble, and Tommy is darkly fascinated with the occult and all its trappings. Part of the interest for me is watching how those motivations direct their actions.
And, of course, the last draw of the heist story is the inevitable disaster. It’s a given in virtually every heist story that the job will go pear-shaped at some point, either during the execution or in the aftermath—and, frankly, I have a morbid fascination with watching things come apart.
It’s almost scary how naturally the urban fantasy and horror elements slotted in place once I’d decided on the heist framework. Somebody who read an early draft of the book made a comment about how, instead of the crew having to sneak past a laser tripwire, they have a freaking terrifying demon to contend with, and I thought the statement particularly apt. The function is the same, but the flavor is dramatically different, which is part of the fun.
Another reason the horror elements crept in has to do with the overall mood. The characters are criminals, operating in a conjoined criminal/occult underworld, and as such, the story pulls pretty heavily from some of its hardboiled and noir influences. There are lots of uses the supernatural is put to in literature, but I like to use it as an intensifier—it helps heighten contrasts or reinforce existing themes. For example, magic is not a very nice thing in the world of Premonitions, explicitly fueled by demonic forces, and the occult underworld is a heightened reflection of the criminal underworld in the book. In the case of both criminal activity and meddling with occult forces, you may get something you want right now, but it’s risky, and there’s a very good chance you’ll pay dearly for it later. I liked the way those two elements played off each other, and I tried to reinforce that every chance I got.
At some level, though, dissecting one’s own book is more of an exercise in after-the-fact diagnosis than an accurate depiction of where the book came from. I can see how the bits fit together now, in hindsight, and there are some definite places where that was more deliberate than incidental, but overall I ended up with this unusual combination of genres more because it felt right than anything else. I read a lot of crime fiction and horror, and drawing on those influences felt as natural as breathing. I liked the way urban fantasy works with the two. The book ends up being a bit of a departure from most urban fantasy—a little darker, a little less heroic—but maybe a little more earthy because of it.
I think it works, and, maybe more importantly, I had a great time writing it.
* * *
Jamie Schultz has worked as a rocket test engineer, an environmental consultant, a technical writer, and a construction worker, among other things. He lives in Dallas, Texas. His first novel, Premonitions, received a starred review from Library Journal, who called it “a sterling urban fantasy debut with a great cast of characters.”