Book Review: Echoes

It’s been a while since I’ve read a paranormal romance centered around vampires. However, I used to be a big fan of the Sookie Stackhouse books, before HBO ruined them with “True Blood,” so when I had a chance to get an ARC  of Echoes from the author, I took it.

Echoes was one of those books where I sat down, the cat jumped on my lap, and then I read the whole book in one night.

I really liked that both of the love interests were 1,000 year-old  vampires as opposed to the cliche young human paired with an old vampire.

They author did a great job distinguishing the voices of the two characters and crafting their personalities. They were different but compatible. They both had complex backstories which were expertly woven into the narrative with details being revealed at just the right time.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel the opening was a little contrived. However, I’m not sure there is a way it could feel less so. There was no deception or misdirection at least. You knew right away who was playing what role in the book.

I think there was something that was supposed to come across as a twist, but the way it was set up in the beginning made the big reveal no surprise.  Thankfully, I don’t like surprises.

My only other issue was with the end. I like happy ever after and happy for now, but this one was a little too neat and tidy. I kept waiting for the “but” and it never came, not even in the epilogue, which seemed like it was there to make sure readers knew this was a 100% happy ending with no loose ends.

Overall, it was a great read. It was cute. It balanced plot tropes and original, complex characters. It was predictable in a good way. Even though I had a good idea of how it was going to end from early in the book, I still couldn’t put it down.

Settings and Urban Fantasy

Some of the books that made me fall in love with the genre of urban fantasy were set in actual cities, or I guess, technically, they’re not really those cities but alternate magical versions of them.  The Dresden Files was set in Chicago and Greywalker was set in Seattle, so I when set to write urban fantasy, I also choose to set my books in alternate magical versions of real places.

I the case of Power Surge, it was Portland, Maine.

As a reader, I prefer urban fantasy settings grounded in the real world, but not fully limited by it. I want there to be some recognizable landmarks for the city the story takes place in, but I also don’t want the setting to adhere to strictly to reality because then it doesn’t feel enough like fiction.

I write the type of books that I want to read. So when I write urban fantasy, there are usually some landmarks with real life counter-parts that exist along side a plethora of completely made up ones.

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Portland Head Light

In Power Surge, the school Erin and friends attended was completely fictional, but one of the battles happens at Portland Head Light. The characters go in made up shops and restaurants, but those are within the confines of Portland.

I don’t put actual business in the story, though generically named places often bear some resemblances to my favorite eateries even if that was never my intention.

Good food sticks in my unconscious, and writing first drafts is a lot like dreaming.  The worlds of my urban fantasy novels wind up littered with almost-Doppelgängers of my favorite restaurants.

Legal and ethical issues aside, I don’t use exclusively real settings because I feel too limited if I can’t completely make up certain aspects of a place, like the staff, the decor, and the restrooms.

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A street in Portland, ME, similar to one Erin and Sam walk down in Power Surge.

However, a recent afternoon spent in Portland reminded me this balance is a tricky one to maintain, and I didn’t do quite as a good a job with it in Power Surge as I thought I did.

I’d been to all places that inspired my setting many times before I wrote the scenes that happened there. Years ago, shortly before and while I was working on early drafts, I frequented downtown Portland as well as the beaches and light houses around it.

Unfortunately, there was a large gap between those visits and the final revisions and edits of the book.

Google maps, even on satellite view, is no substitute for actually going to a place, walking around, taking pictures, smelling it, hearing it, and taking it all in.

I’m certain that in the early drafts, my description of places with real life counterparts, the ones that ground the fantasy, were very accurate. I’m not so sure I’d say that about the final version. I’m not way off, but when I think about how I described Portland Head Light and Crescent Beach, I realize I made them to small. I didn’t take the parking lot gates into account when my characters visited at night.

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Parking lot a Crescent Beach

How did this happen?

I revised my descriptions of the “real” settings the same way I revised descriptions of fictional ones, and wasn’t careful enough to make sure I was staying true to the place.

To readers who have never been to the places in the book, it won’t matter. However, if someone who frequented them picked up, I fear some inconsistencies with reality might yank them out of the narrative.

“That parking lot is way bigger than you described!”

“If it was ten at night, the gate would have been closed.”

This is the danger of mixing actual landmarks in fiction. You may start with a light house or beach readers could visit, but if you are not careful enough, you may edit that place away from it’s real life counterpart without even realizing it.

In some ways, that is for the better. I’m writing fiction, and no matter how much the Portland Head Light in my book may or may not look like the real thing, at most, it is a Doppelgänger. The setting of the book isn’t reality but an alternate version of it. Still, I don’t want to confuse or alienate local readers.

I’m not sure if I’ll change how I handle settings in urban fantasy, but I need to be more careful. I need to approach revision differently in those sections. I need to really be aware of how much time messes with my memory.

Have you ever used real cities or landmarks in your books? Why or why not?

Want to read a dark urban fantasy novel about demon hunters in an alternate Maine? Click here to buy a copy of Power Surge!

IWSG Day: Hero, Villain, Perspective

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The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

March’s Question is:

Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

My favorite characters to write are the ones who are both hero and villain.

Power Surge is a great example of this. The whole book is from Erin Evanstar’s point of view, and the conflict with the most tension is Erin versus Erin.

Technically speaking, there is mysterious demon stalking Erin who eventually plays the role of the villain Erin has to fight. But honestly? For most of the book, Erin is in more danger of hurting  themself than they are of being seriously wounded or murdered by the demon. After all, the demon wants to capture Erin alive, and while it isn’t shown on the page, readers know that Erin has attempted suicide at least once in the past two years.

Danger factor aside, the demon villain isn’t on page as much as a villain should be and doesn’t take as much action as a true antagonist would. He’s not even the real big bag behind the apocalypse, but an agent of that big bad.

Power Surge QuoteErin is their own antagonist.

In the relationship subplot between Erin and José, Erin is the biggest obstacle Erin has to overcome. José isn’t perfect. He says and does some stupid things because he is a mess, but inside, he really is a sweet guy who selflessly loves Erin. As much as Erin loves him too, there are times where they treat him horribly. If the relationship is going to work, Erin needs to defeat Erin.They need kick their dark, selfish side’s ass.

I have written heroes who are actually decent human beings and have actuall villains to defeat, and I’ve enjoyed writing them, but not as much as I’ve enjoyed Erin and other characters like Erin. I love the necromancer, succubus, troll, and human-eating alien farmer that have doubled as antagonists and protagonists in my short stories.

I think I know why.

The stories and characters I become the most invested in are the ones inspired by my fears. There are plenty of things I’m afraid of. Serial killers, bad dog owners, parking garages at night, elevators, crowds, sexual predators, and the dark are just a few items on a long, long list.

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But the darkness I fear most is the one that quietly lurks inside of me. What would happen if it got too loud? Who could I hurt? What lines would I cross? Would there be any chance of redemption?

I write this darkness into my characters. I make it worse. I give them less self control. I make their upbringing rough and filled with tragedy and a lack of good mentors, and with things I imagine would have pushed me over to the dark side.

Soon enough, the characters take on a life of their own. When I start to get that feeling that they are growing independently of me and making their own choices, it is time to get plotting.

I want to see how long they can hold their own darkness off for. I want to see what happens when they fail. What lines will they cross? Can they come back once they cross those lines?

Interested in Power Surge?
Get the ebook  for $3.25: http://bit.ly/PSSmash