Get a dose of Dragons and Urban Fantasy this week! Author Dan Rice provides a sample of his debut novel, Dragons Walk Among Us, and explains how an otherwise normal (so far as we know) human makes the decision to write fantasy books. It’s a question I’ve often asked myself–and I answer myself out loud no matter where I am and in much the same way Dan describes.
If you are an author–what books led you to write the books you do? If you are a reader, what fantasy books did you read as a kid that sparked your imagination?
Why Write Urban Fantasy?
by Dan Rice
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in writing fantasy. My first inclination to do so came after reading Dune by Frank Herbert or perhaps The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. My interest grew as I read more fantastical works by Tolkien and The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Of all these classics, I was most impressed by Dune because Herbert creates, in my mind, an engrossing imaginary world with scads of memorable characters in a dearth of pages. If you discount the appendices, the book is well shy of five hundred pages. This is an impressive accomplishment when you consider many fantasy and science fiction tomes can double as doorstops.
When I first started seriously writing, I was totally enamored with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones; I still am. I desired nothing more than to write an epic, gritty fantasy. Several attempts of varying quality are squirreled away on my computer’s hard drive, likely to never be looked at again, even by me. You could say I had the lesson pounded into my skull many had learned before me. There’s only one George R.R. Martin (you could insert any great author’s name here, really), because he’s an incredible writer, hard-working, and super talented. That’s not to say I won’t go back to writing epic fantasy in the future, but I wouldn’t try writing the next Game of Thrones.
My interest in trying my hand at urban fantasy started after reading Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
At first, I was put off by the first-person present tense narrative, but it quickly grew on me. I thought, wow, this really gives the story immediacy. Fast forward a couple of years (or more!), and I was struggling to make my writing more in the moment. From my critique group came consistent criticism about how distant my characters seemed. In response to that, I decided to try out this first-person present tense heresy and see what happens. Urban fantasy seemed like a genre suited to that narrative style. Plus, I had a growing interest in Twilight Zone-style stories. You know, tales where on the surface everything seems ordinary while beneath the façade reality is askew.
Well, believe it or not, this all worked out marvelously, and Dragons Walk Among Us came to fruition. The criticisms about my characters melted away. It seemed I had finally solved the riddle of writing with immediacy and creating memorable characters. When The Wild Rose Press picked up Dragons Walk Among Us, I knew my foray into the concrete jungle of urban fantasy was the right decision. Since its release, I’ve received more validation. Perhaps the most personally meaningful review was my very first from Readers’ Favorite: “This enjoyable story is well-crafted with a female protagonist that is not just lovable but adorable.” For many years, I put in Herculean labor to create characters readers could identify with, only to fail time and time again. To finally succeed and have critics call out my character as a wonderful creation pleases me almost beyond words.
Dragons Walk Among Us by Dan Rice
Shutterbug Allison Lee is trying to survive high school while suffering the popular girl’s abuse. Her life is often abysmal, but at least her green hair is savage. Her talent for photography is recognized by the school paper and the judges of a photo contest.
While visiting her friend Joe, a homeless vet, Allison’s life irrevocably changes after an attack leaves her blind. All her dreams as a photojournalist are dashed as she realizes she’ll never see again. Despair sets in until she is offered an experimental procedure to restore her vision. But there are side effects, or are they hallucinations? She now sees dragons accompanying some of the people she meets. Can she trust her eyes, or has the procedure affected her more than she can see?
A Sample of Dragons Walk Among Us
Dalia waves over a harried waitress to take our order. “I ask for two bowls of spicy ramen, one to eat in and one to go.
“For Joe?” Haji asks after the waitress moves on.
“Yeah, he loves the ramen, and I want to talk to him about the photo contest,” I say.
We talk about school until the waitress arriving with our food puts the conversation on pause. As we slurp ramen, Dalia guides the discussion to the upcoming homecoming dance. My knees clatter together in a frantic rhythm. Will Jason ask me to the dance, or should I ask him?
“Is everyone going?” Dalia asks.
“I’m attending as a reporter,” Haji says between mouthfuls of soup.
I notice Haji staring at me. I meet his look and flash him a saucy smile. His gaze darts back to the soup bowl.
“I am,” Jason says.
I swallow the spicy concoction in my mouth and choke. My hand goes to my chest as I cough on the gob of noodles lodged in my throat.
“Are you okay?” Dalia asks, voice shrill.
She raises her hand, ready to pound on my back. The boys jump up. I hold up a hand to keep everyone at bay. With a final heave that makes my chest throb, I manage to dislodge and swallow the noodles.
“I’m okay,” I gasp. God, I’m such a klutz. Why did I ever think Jason would want to go to the dance with me?
The boys sit down, and Dalia lowers her hand. “You’re sure you’re okay?” Dalia asks.
I nod and pick up my soup spoon. There is an awkward silence as we recover from me nearly choking to death and get back to eating.
“So, Jason, you have a date?” Dalia asks.
“I do.” Jason sets his spoon in the bowl. “She asked me today.”
“She asked you?” I ask.
I hold the oversized soup spoon in my hand like it’s a club. Jason smiles, his gaze dropping to the table.
“I was going to ask someone else, but then she asked me. I couldn’t say no.”
“Just tell us who it is already,” Dalia says.
The spoon falls from my hand and plops into my bowl of half-eaten ramen. Soup splatters across the table. My eyes feel like they’re bugging out of my head.
Leslie Chapman asked Jason to the dance?
He said yes?
Oh my God.
Blinking, I rub a hand across my brow. “Wow.”
I look around the table, searching for a sign that what Jason said was my imagination. Dalia’s face is ashen. Jason looks apologetic, maybe, I don’t know. Haji continues slurping soup.
I stand, grabbing my jacket and plaque. “I think my to-go order is ready.”
I rush to the front of the establishment, retrieve my order in a brown paper sack, and pay the cashier in cash. I turn to leave to find Haji by the door.
“Can I tag along?” he asks.
“I just want to be alone right now.”
I push open the door, and cold air blasts my face. Rain pelts my coat, and a gust of howling wind blows back my hood. I pull my hood up and hold it in place. Cars whizz by on University Way, headlights highlighting the heavy rainfall.
My tears intermix with the rain while I wait for the light to change at the intersection of 42nd and Little Tahoma Avenue. Why am I crying? Over Jason? If he is dumb enough to date Leslie, he isn’t worth my time or tears. Doesn’t he realize she is a racist mean girl? Maybe that’s too harsh. How could he know? I should’ve asked him out sooner.
I’m such an idiot.
The wind dies down. I release my hood and wipe the tears, not wanting Joe to see me crying. A big truck roars by just before the light changes, leaving the stench of diesel exhaust in its wake. I cross the intersection and scramble up the low retaining wall separating Tahoma University’s grounds from the sidewalk. I march across the dark swath of wet grass interspersed with towering Douglas fir toward the lamplight in the distance.
Obscured by the surrounding shrubbery next to the base of a conifer is a blue tarp. I press my free hand against the brown bag, feeling the warmth radiating from the container of broth. Good. I’d hate for the soup to be cold.
A gust of wind pushes me sideways. From somewhere overhead comes a loud crack like the bone of some gargantuan creature snapping. A widowmaker thumps to the earth. Gasping, I nearly drop the soup and freeze in place. Overhead, the trees sway in the wind, branches creaking and groaning. I scamper toward the encampment.
About half a dozen tents surround the base of the tall conifer. A wide man with hunched shoulders moves around the camp. I smile. It’s Joe.
I’m about to call out to him when I smell a strange mixture of eucalyptus and menthol and sweat on the wind. It’s the kind of odor I’d expect to roll off guys at a crowded dance club. I scan my surroundings for the source of the scent.
A figure stands behind me in the gloom.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
The stalker strides toward me, raising something about a foot long overhead. A club?
My muscles tense like springs under immense pressure. Dad warned me about attacks on campus. I back away, a scream rising up my throat. The club whirls through the air too fast to avoid.
Meet Author Dan Rice
Dan has wanted to write novels since first reading Frank Herbert’s Dune at the age of eleven. A native of the Pacific Northwest, he often goes hiking with his family through mist-shrouded forests and along alpine trails with expansive views.
Dragons Walk Among Us is his debut novel. He is currently working on the sequel to Dragons Walk Among. You can explore his blog at https://www.danscifi.com.