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October 16, 2013 / minusbar

Epic Battles in Fantasy: Anton Strout vs. Patrick Rothfuss

Walking The Razor’s Edge of Humor in Urban Fantasy

by Anton Strout

Fight of the century


Some of you may know me as America’s Favorite Lower Mid-list Urban Fantasy Author ™.

And some of you may not know me at all… but  you might know me as the man epic fantasist Patrick Rothfuss tried to have killed via fortune cookies.

Exhibit A:


Long have Pat and I had this sort of “blood feud” with each other, all stemming from a MYSTERIOUS and NEVER SPOKEN OF MOMENT from the 2007 World Fantasy Convention.  It has been a long and constant battle against that great-bearded raconteur, but Pat really upped his game at Gen Con a few years back. Over the Best Four Days of Gaming, he toted around an enormous box of fortune cookies, where one random run of fortunes called for my death.

I found this hysterical, but it also planted this seed in my head:  Pat has readers who seriously put the FAN in fanatic.  They’re hardcore.  What if I wake up one night and a superfan is standing there ready to take my life with the blade of Kvothe, the hero from Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles?

What if that reader hadn’t gotten the joke?

Which—getting around to my real point here—happens to be the constant wonder I have when crafting the urban fantasy books I write….

I suppose that’s a long way to get to the point of this article, but it is a very important point I’m trying to make here:  Humor is subjective.  Not only is it subjective, but when I’m writing urban fantasy, humor can be downright deadly.

Urban fantasy relies on both tension and horror elements to keep readers on the edge of their seats.  Add too much of the funny and my books might become cartoonish.  The tension would break, nothing would feel at risk and I could lose the audience.

But I can’t not have humor in my work.  The idea of facing Lovecraftian and Gothic horrors in contemporary Manhattan without being able to nervously laugh in the face of them seems absurd.  It’s for this reason I have long loved Spider-man.  Humor gets my heroes through.

The important trick is in balancing how and where I apply humor.  Making it believable within the context of my series so it doesn’t take readers out of the story has me pulling out a few tricks:

First Time Blues
When I wrote Dead To Me, the first book of my Simon Canderous paranormal detective series, I was really swinging for the fences, humor wise.  Yes, you always want to give your current project your all, but when it’s your first born, it’s easy to become blind to what should or shouldn’t go into it.  The other three books that followed in that series established a more even tone, but to my eyes I can see myself trying so hard to be a clever little writer monkey.  They really should let authors do a director’s cut of their first works.  I haven’t met an author who didn’t want to jump back in and tweak their first born, and for me I’d mellow out the humorous tone a bit.

I’d still, however, keep in the carnivorous bookcase from the arcane bookstore that can only be slain by being fed self pubbed books.  That’s just comedy gold, baby!

Killing Clever

The things I laugh hardest at are usually the things that should—no, have to—go.  It’s the old kill your darlings Law of Writing.  If I’m feeling terribly clever about something I’ve written, I first try to find something better or simply get rid of it completely.  It’s too much.  After seven books and countless editorial passes, I can use my Spidey Sense to find those biggest offenders and cut them with extreme prejudice.


I imagine my books as a delicious stew. The plot and characters make up the hearty meat and potatoes of it, but it’s the humor that acts as the seasoning.  It’s not the main part of the stew, but it adds flavor.  And much like salt, too much is a bad thing.

Self Awareness

The Spellmason Chronicles—Alchemystic and the just released Stonecast—take place in contemporary Manhattan.  This is a world the readers know, just with the twist of magic and alchemy being real.  That means they know of the Harry Potter movies, of Dungeons & Dragons… they filter the fantastical through eyes that are self aware of fictional magic and alchemy.  Their sense of wonder as they use those pop culture reference points to process what’s going on around them are what helps readers by giving them touchstones that add an authenticity and realism to the story.  It’s why I loved in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians that one of the characters actually calls the spell he is learning Magic Missile.

It’s those kind of details that make the story richer, sturdier.

I’d like to think these days that I dispense my humor with a far more even hand than before, always hoping that my readers—much like I do for the Pat Rothfuss fanatic bent on killing me—get the joke.

Boy, I really hope they get the joke. Especially the person at the foot of  my bed wielding the blade.

On the bright side, those of you with signed copies of my work might want to hold on to them. Their value is about to go up.


Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.
With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.
But the question of Stanis’s fate haunts her—and as the storm around her grows, so does the fear that she won’t be able to save him in her turn.

Anton’s newest release, Stonecast, is available everywhere awesome books are sold!


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