I write Urban Fantasy. Biggest part of that whole Urban Fantasy thing is the Urban part.
Guess what? I’ve spent my whole life living in Rural Fantasyland. A block from cornfields, silos instead of skyscrapers, and the small-towny feel of tipping hats and conservative feelings. I ask my readers to supend their disbelief, yet I wasn’t even researching the basic grit of an UF novel: the streets, the people, and the feel.
I assumed I could wing it because I drove through the places I’m writing about. Damn, was I wrong.
I recently moved to St Louis, a sprawling city where every little area feels like a new city. Where there are cultural districts, cops who say, “You’re German, aren’t ya?” and it means something, and some of the best food I’ve ever had is in the gay district(s). I didn’t know this, but St. Louis is cut into smaller cities: West County/City, South County/City, Florissant/North County, and downtown (we won’t talk about East St. Louis, on the other side of the Mississippi river. It’s a third world country).
Each city feels different. Feels, truly, different. You drive down the right roads, you pass ruins forgotten by the rest of the city. You drive one block, you go from expensive, posh houses to run-down and destroyed bungalows. You stand at the post office behind a crew of six Russian-speaking men, who travel in packs because they’re afraid of being singled out, yet none of them can string together a single line of English for the woman behind the counter. Luckily, she knows enough smattering Russian to connect international zip codes and deliver a price for a package. The oldest, or should I say eldest, is a short, potbellied man that can’t stop staring at me and everyone defers to.
Churches everywhere. St. Louis is a city of churches. I’m not sure if it’s similar in Chicago, or New York, or Seattle, but you pass ten in a five block radius. One, a run-down and repurposed stronghold of sandstone, has massive, gothic letters on the front saying, “No evil enters here.” Oddly enough, all the buildings around it are haunted and destroyed from the spiritual out.
Parks everywhere. Every part of the city and surrounding cities have parks: large parks, small parks, long parks (Tower Grove is ten blocks long and only one wide).
Somewhere, in the bowels of South City (South City has the feel of 1980’s lost, a pancake of a city where seeing more than two stories is out of place), on an underpass on Chippewa, is a gated walkway cemented off from the rest of the world. Its function is removed, destroyed, and all that remains is the promise of something. Perhaps a repurposing. A place for homeless to sleep. A secret place.
And I spent two years writing about a character that knows nothing about this place. He drove from Forest Park to St. Charles in ten minutes, as if he had some magical rocketpack that allowed him to avoid all stop signs, traffic lights, and traffic to blast 115 miles an hour across the city. I wrote about a fabricated church when any number of hundreds would do, including the unsettling place of worship I spoke of above. The Urban, and Suburban, is a much different creature than a 50k population town.
I’m honestly very glad I’m not published; this novel wasn’t authentic. Now, with all this active researching finished, I can begin creating something real.
Sorry, Soren. I have done you wrong. I have done St. Louis wrong.