annotation by Melissa Olson
Like many English literature students, by the time I graduated college I’d developed quite a scornful attitude toward the fantasy novel.
It wasn’t a malicious thing – in fact, I’m not sure I’d even call myself a snob. It’s just that I had been trained in Literature, with a capital L. My undergraduate degree was in reading Literature. The master’s degree I eventually obtained was in writing Literature. I had no problem with the fantasy genre, or with people who wanted to read it. I simply considered myself better than those books.
Okay. Maybe I was a bit of a snob.
But about seven years ago, I was talking to my kid sister about what we were reading, and she started gushing over a book she was really enjoying: Nightlife, by Rob Thurman. She made it sound interesting enough, but I was still rather skeptical as I skimmed the first few pages of her copy. After all, it was fantasy, which to me meant I’d probably have to memorize a map and a couple dozen names that were mostly consonants. But by the time I finished the book – about eight hours later – the ground had shifted beneath my feet. I had discovered urban fantasy, a genre that I would read addictively for the next five years before writing my own.
Nightlife taught me that no only could the genre be wonderfully enjoyable and exciting and clever; it can also take bold risks. The story is written in first person, but halfway through the book the character is possessed by an evil entity, and the rest of the story is written from the entity’s point of view, filtered through the voice of the protagonist. That may sound silly when you read it as a description, but I promise that within the story itself, it is captivating. And as a vehicle for demonstrating someone’s writing talent, it is a breathtaking success.
Most readers probably have books that changed their lives, but Nightlife gave me more than a new passion: I eventually got a career out of it. Reading my first urban fantasy convinced me that I wanted to write my own. Reading Nightlife convinced me that I needed to wait until, like Thurman, I had an original story to tell.
It was years before I came up with an idea that I was proud of and hadn’t seen before. Dead Spots is about a young woman with a unique gift: she nullifies supernatural powers. Any witch, vampire, or werewolf who gets too close to her becomes a human again for as long as they’re in her presence. Because her ability protects her from the supernatural, she makes a living cleaning up their crime scenes so these creatures can stay hidden from the rest of the world.
I’m proud of Dead Spots and its two sequels, but four or five reads later, I am also as impressed with Nightlife today as I was seven years ago, if not more so. That one book taught me to respect subgenres I didn’t previously understand, and to appreciate that although “genre fiction” may have a reputation for being assembly-line drivel, when you really look at it you can find a sublime, exhilarating creativity that is as joyful as it is original.