When Does Urban Fantasy Become Horror? Author Teresa Frohock Answers (and W*n a Book)

Please help me welcome author Teresa Frohock to Preternatura today! Teresa dropped by to talk about the razor’s-edge difference between writing urban fantasy and horror. She is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale, which was published on June 21, 201, by Night Shade Books. 
Raised in a small town, Teresa learned to escape to other worlds through the fiction collection of her local library. Although Teresa has been reading fantasy and science fiction since she was twelve, her fascination with the grotesque extends back into childhood. Whenever she went to a carnival, she was the first one at the tent that housed the freak-show. She wanted to see the two-headed (chicken, snake, fetus, fill-in-the-blank) and was always disappointed when it wasn’t alive–it seemed like such a rip-off.  Teresa was raised in North Carolina, and lived in Virginia and South Carolina before returning to the Piedmont, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter. Teresa has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying. *suzanne nods*
You can learn more about Teresa by visiting her website or by following her on twitter. 
ABOUT MISERERE: AN AUTUMN TALE:  Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina’s soul, but Catarina doesn’t want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell. When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath isn’t so easy to escape!
And now, let’s hear from Tereas…

Riding the Razor’s Edge


Writing short stories is not usually my forte, but recently I was offered the opportunity to submit a short story for a new anthology edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann called Manifesto: UF. Like any good author, I went and checked the submission guidelines to see what flavor of story that Tim and Tyson were looking to buy. Urban fantasy and the word “badass” was thrown around quite a bit, which excited me. I mean people have stuck all kinds of labels on my writing since Miserere was published, but “badass” never quite seemed to make the list.

I’ve always considered most urban fantasy to be really cool anyway. The genre is filled with crackerjack protagonists who can toss off one-liners while handily beating the bad guys at their own games. I wanted to write something with a cool antagonist, so I cracked my knuckles and sat down with an idea about a man who wanted to be a singer so badly that he was willing to do anything to make his dream happen. He meets a woman who promises to give him the secret of success, and then things turn dark. The title of the story is “Naked the Night Sings,” which is really about what happens when our pretensions are stripped away and we are left to deal with raw emotion.

When I finished the story, I was very pleased with it, but I was afraid that it leaned more toward horror than urban fantasy. Fortunately, Tim and Tyson loved it and wanted to include “Naked the Night Sings” in the Manifesto: UF anthology; however, the story made me think about the subtle differences between urban fantasy and horror and how fine the line can be between the two sometimes.

Urban fantasy and horror share many attributes: supernatural creatures and the interaction of the paranormal with the mortal realm are just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for pages. Yet in most urban fantasies, everything always seems to turn out all right in the end. I don’t want to discount urban fantasies that buck the trend, either, because there are always exceptions to the rule. Yet even when a character in an urban fantasy is lost to death or a curse, the reader is rarely plunged into the despair and gore of a horror story.

For me, that razor’s edge between urban fantasy and horror is always defined by the trajectory of the protagonist’s character arc. I love urban fantasies, because even though the protagonist always goes through an emotional and/or physical wringer, they manage to come through their adventures with their faith in humanity intact.

In a horror story, the protagonist is taken down into his or her lowest moment and often succumbs to the supernatural. Hope is quashed and in many ways, the antagonist wins, whereas in an urban fantasy, the protagonist overcomes the obstacles and triumphs over the antagonist.

Some of Clive Barker’s early works straddled that fine line between urban fantasy and horror. I can especially point to Cabal, which was a novella and several short stories, a couple of which might be called urban fantasy in today’s market. The difference is that Barker always slipped over the edge to deliver a horror story. Other urban fantasies teeter on the razor’s edge and the reader is never quite sure which way the protagonist will fall until the end.

The other, probably the biggest difference, between horror and urban fantasy tends to be what I refer to as the gore-factor. I’m not really big on the gore-factor myself and tend to avoid horror or urban fantasy that relies on blood for effect, and I’ve noticed that a lot of urban fantasy fans feel the same way.

My stories tend to fall on the creepier side of urban fantasy and often teeter on that razor’s edge to slide more into horror, because that is what I like to read. What about you? How do you define the razor’s edge between urban fantasy and horror? And which do you prefer?
Thanks, Teresa! I think Elysian Fields edged a little closer to horror because of bringing back the Axeman of New Orleans as a character. I do think I used the phrase “gobbets of burned flesh” at some point–LOL. And I do think it’s the resolution that makes the difference a lot of times. What about you guys? What do you see as the difference between fantasy and horror with paranormal elements?

Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Miserere: An Autumn Tale.

12 thoughts on “When Does Urban Fantasy Become Horror? Author Teresa Frohock Answers (and W*n a Book)

  1. I think it can vary with each reader when something becomes horror. I remember reading a book that other people called horror and scary and that wasn’t scary or horrorlike in my opinion. There’s probably a clear description of both genres, but I will read anything as long as it sounds interesting whether it’s called horror or (U)F.

  2. I’ll have to agree with Paul, when I read fantasy (without horror) at 3 a.m., I don’t turn on every light in the house to go pee! But if you start adding in horror elements, all of those lights go on 😉

  3. I agree with hope being a key factor. I don’t want my protagonist squashed without hope. And I don’t need the gore either. I don’t mind staying up all night reading a book, but I don’t want to stay up because it scared me to death!

  4. I think it all depends on what people classify as “horror” to them personally. Some stuff other people might find to harsh or scary others wouldnt. and I was totally thinking that about Cabal too and then you said it. 🙂

  5. Horror is stories that can scare the audiences. Urban Fantasy is stories that have heroes and heroines confronting the enemies that doesn’t leave that scary element intact in the stories.

  6. For me, horror is not about the amount of bloody gore, but rather the tone. A very ominous feel throughout the whole book (with a bit of mystery thrown in as well), and a sense that no one is safe (from either death or some other unhappy fate).

  7. Anything that spooks me I could classify as horror. I think that horror has less romantic scenes because the characters are tortured in most of the book. I love the thoughts the previous commenters made