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Guest Blogger - Author Caitlin Kittredge

March 10, 2008 - Amy Phelps
Please welcome urban fantasy author Caitlin Kittredge. Her book, Night Life, is out now at bookstores nationwide. Today she is talking about the art of world building in novels.


People ask me the question all the time: “Why do you write urban fantasy?”

The answer, counter-intuitive as it may sound, is that urban fantasy is real. When I was starting out as a novelist, the settings that appealed to me were the ones just a step to the left of real, lurking in the shadows rather than living in a far-away world.

Creating a world simultaneously real and fantastical isn’t without its challenges. An entire host of questions come into play that don’t exist in a sword-and-sorcery epic, or at least not as they relate to the tangible world. Can a vampire be declared legally dead? Does a troll pay taxes? Is the supernatural accepted, celebrated or reviled by the human beings in your story?

While the issues with world-building in urban fantasy are challenging, I’d be lying if I said they weren’t also a lot of fun. Because if your troll doesn’t pay his taxes, who comes knocking on his door? (Come to think of it, a novel about a paranormal revenue collector wouldn’t be a bad read…)

Integrating the fantastic into reality can open up a host of odd and spooky avenues…is that really graffiti, or an incantation to a dead god? What are the iron of railroad tracks and bridges holding in…or keeping out?

I faced an even more unique challenge when I wrote my debut novel, NIGHT LIFE. I couldn’t find a city in the United States that fit all of my criteria for the setting I needed for this novel, a supernatural noir mystery. I ended up combining elements of Boston, Seattle and San Francisco, my three favorite places in the U.S. Out of that grew Nocturne City. I’d intended to keep it simple—though I should have known better—but the city took on a life of its own, and soon I had not just a map and an idea of what each neighborhood looked like, smelled like, and whether or not you’d get mugged if you walked down the wrong alley at night, but an entire history of the place, stretching back to the 1800ds, along with restaurants, dive bars, swanky hotels and everything else you’d expect from a city. Nocturne City had become a real place in spite of itself.

When you write fantasy, your world is almost always a character in and of itself. Memorable worlds make readers feel like that if they wandered down the wrong blind alley, they could easily step into Nocturne City, or any other fantastical place that lives under the skin of the real world. Whether it speaks to a reader’s desire for escapism or their need to ground themselves remains up for debate, but I find the worlds that resonate with me are the ones that are vividly drawn and so close I feel as if I could touch them, such as London Below in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere or the Weird in Mark Del Franco’s Connor Grey series.

Urban fantasy authors sit in a unique position, able to offer readers a tangible glimpse of the unknown, and hopefully draw them in deeply before they realize there’s no chance for escape. It’s easy to fall into the worlds you create, and they never really leave you. To answer the question I cited at the beginning, I write urban fantasy for a lot of reasons. I write it for the characters and for the chance to play with supernatural creatures, but peeling back the veil of the unseen, and having the power to spin a world out of a “What if?”—that’s the biggest reason of all.

Caitlin Kittredge is a novelist and former game designer who lives in Seattle, WA. She is the proud owner of 3,000 comic books, an English degree and lots of really bad horror movies. She’s also the caretaker of two pushy cats and enjoys a nice cup of tea and getting weird looks from the neighbors. Find her online at for blogs, novel excerpts and more.


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