The Worst Taboo In Urban Fantasy

Illustration for article titled The Worst Taboo In Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy often seems more open-minded than other fantasy subgenres. You can have more sex, more swearing, loads of blasphemy, and tons of gonzo violence. So what can't you have in urban fantasy books? Apparently, an older female protagonist, as author Harry Connolly found out.


Writing in Black Gate, Connolly describes why he wanted to write his new urban fantasy book A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark. And why he was pretty sure it was a bad idea, but he wanted to do it anyway.

Connolly writes:

I was coming across a lot of articles, interviews, and news stories about people treating older women as though they were invisible: actresses who could not find roles to play, wives whose husbands had finally made their fortunes turning them out in favor of trophy wives, and so on.

Taken together, those observations made me want to read an urban fantasy novel with an older female protagonist, a book where the character who knows what needs to be done doesn't pass that information like a shopping list to a young character. I wanted a book where she does it herself.

But I couldn't find one. There were mysteries with older protagonists, definitely, but urban fantasies? No one knew of any. What's more, the oldest female protagonists in fantasy anyone was able to come up with in that thread was 35.****If I wanted to read this book, I'd have to write it.

It's commonly accepted wisdom that no one in sf/f wants books with an woman in her sixties in the lead. Supporting character? Sure. In the mystery genre? See above, because yes. But urban fantasy? Think again. The market wasn't interested and publishers don't take them. And yet, here I was, about to commit Senior Protagonist, and she wasn't going to be helpless, or doddering, or in way over her head. She was going to be the UF Miss Marple....

It's taken me years to get a draft I like and release it, and I'm already seeing negative reviews from people put off by a forceful older female protagonist.

But why else am I writing if not to fill the world with books I want to read?

Connolly's whole essay, including his observations on "writing to the market," is well worth checking out. [Black Gate, via SFSignal]


And that's why Susan Calvin needs to go around kicking everybody's arses! Although, look what they did to her when it came to the big screen.