An Interview with Amber Benson, author of The Witches of Echo Park

amber-bensonAs a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fan, I must say that getting an email from Amber Benson, who played Tara on the show, is so exciting that I may have to go lie down.  Of course there is much more to Amber Benson than her work on Buffy.  She’s the author of the Calliope Reaper-Jones series, co-creator of Ghosts of Albion, and writer and director of several films.  She’s just started publishing a new series which kicks off with her novel The Witches of Echo Park, which comes out on January 6, 2015, and I am so excited that she was available to talk to us!

What can fans of the Calliope Reaper-Jones series expect from this new series?

It is a very different series in the Calliope Reaper-Jones books, as far as tone – but I would say that theme of “Finding Yourself” is still something I am extremely interested in exploring.  The Callie books are thought on religion and mythology – about how we can have so many disparate theories on why we are here on this planet/in this universe, but under the guise of silly fun. The Witches of Echo Park is a bit more serious, very character driven and locale specific…with this new series I wanted to delve into the creation of “atmosphere” – I wanted the reader to feel like they were living inside of the book, walking the street of Echo Park, encountering its denizens.  The greatest compliment I’ve gotten, to this end, was when my ex’s father, Robert Busch – who kindly helps proof read my books – told me that he was online looking up all the places in the book to see which ones were real and which ones were not. That was the greatest compliment ever.

cover of Witches of Echo Park

At the “When Myth and Magic Meet Main Street Panel” at San Diego Comic-Con, you mentioned that you like to write in public.  What’s your favorite kind of place to write in, and why?

Coffee shops…which I won’t name specifically, or else I can’t go there anymore…those are the places I like best…the smell of coffee beans, the comings and goings of the people, the loud hubbub…It’s in places like that where I can just put my ear phones in and get lost.

You’ve worked in multiple different mediums including novels, games, web animation, television, and film (as an actor, writer, and director).  What do you enjoy about different mediums, and do you have a favorite?

As an artist, I dance for the piper in order to pay my bills, so, I think, that’s why I’ve tried my hand at so many unique things…I love directing best. It takes all my talents: writing, acting, dealing with people and uses them in a collaborative environment. Writing comes next – enh, it’s probably tied with acting. I don’t know. I’ve just been really lucky to have found joy and excitement in all the weird, crazy, bizarre things I’ve done in my life.

As a Buffy fan, I have to ask – have you ever considered recording an album?  We miss your voice!

Aw, you are too sweet. I love singing…when I’m feeling crap, singing is what makes me feel better. If you go to the Worldbuilders charity website, you can see me and my friend Russell Brown performing a Joni Mitchell song – that should tide you over until I learn how to play the guitar 🙂


Book Review: The Witches of Echo Park

cover of Witches of Echo ParkHere’s what you should know about The Witches of Echo Park, which is out today:

1.  It’s not YA despite having a young protagonist.

2. There’s an explicit rape scene and an explicit sex scene.

3.  There’s barely any plot – it’s all set up.

4.  What’s with all the bashing of intellectual men?  Lyse and Eleanora both comment disparagingly about the intellectual men Lyse has dated in the past.  Not all intellectuals are snobs, Lyse and Eleanora.  Lighten up.

The Witches of Echo Park is about a young woman, Lyse, who leaves her adult home of Athens, Georgia to visit her dying great-aunt in Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA.  Lyse’s aunt, Eleanora, is dying of cancer.  She is also the member of a coven, and she wants Lyse to take her place.

There’s a lot in this book about bonds between women, which is one of my favorite topic.  The bond that came across most strongly is the one between Lyse and her best friend in Georgia, which makes me hope that the Georgia friend will join Lyse in Echo Park in future books.  There’s also a lot about how love can be a positive or destructive force.  Eleanora suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her grandmother, and only gradually comes to accept that her grandmother truly loved her and abused her in hopes of saving her from the Devil.  Eleanora is portrayed in a sympathetic light, but she does damage as well, raising Lyse in a web of lies that causes her considerable grief as a child and trauma as an adult, even as Eleanora also provides Lyse with a loving and stable home.

What this book lacks is any forward momentum.  It’s an entire book of exposition.  I enjoyed just kicking back and hanging out with the characters, but the slender plot is tacked on and is clearly intended to kick into action in future books.  If you are looking for an evocative, slow-paced, female-centric read, you will probably enjoy Witches.  If you want more focus on plot and action, start with book two.  There isn’t a second book yet but I have every expectation that it will be more plot-driven given the hints that are dropped in book one.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

When Magic and Myth Meet Main Street – Notes from San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic Con logoOne of my favorite panels at San Diego Comic-Con this year was the panel, “When Myth and Magic Meet Main Street”.

This panel featured Jim Butcher (Dresden Files), Seanan McGuire (October Daye series, InCrytpid series), Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim series), Amber Benson (Death’s Daughter series), Greg van Eekhout (California Bones) and Anton Strout (Incarnate).

I owe a lavish apology to Greg and Anton.  I was sitting so far in the back of the room that I couldn’t see their end of the table, so when they talked not only could I not hear very well but I also couldn’t see which one of them was talking.  Although I don’t quote them much here, please take it from me that they are intelligent, well-spoken people with thoughtful and funny things to say.  This year was quite the learning experience in terms of how to cover and event like San Diego Comic-Con and I hope to be better prepared next year.

Here’s some highlights:

  • Jim Butcher was asked why he sets his books in Chicago.  His answer:  “Because my writing teacher wouldn’t let me set them in Missouri”.
  • Seanan McGuire said this about her decision to write urban fantasy:  “Fairy Tales are the urban fantasy of their time.  I moved my fairy tales from dark forests to dark alleys”.
  • Seanan, who reports having put herself through college by writing Harlequin romances, said that she dislikes writing sex scenes.  Accordingly, one of her favorite scenes to write was the one in Discount Armegeddon in which Verity must get the mice who worship her to give her and her lover privacy by brining them with friend chicken.
  • Amber Benson, on the other hand, rather enjoys writing sex scenes.  She said that she only blushes because she likes to write in public (places like Starbucks).
  • Jim Butcher said, “Sometimes there are places in the world that need to be destroyed, and I might as well do it in as spectacular a fashion as possible.  I shall eviscerate them in fiction!”
  • Richard Kadrey’s advice to writers was “Write!  Carry a notebook, write stuff down, and finish what you start”.  I wrote those words immediately in the notebook I was carrying around and I still feel smug about it.
  • Seanan and Amber both cautioned against comparing you output to that of other authors.  Their advice was “Write, read, write, and don’t measure yourself against other people”.

This was the first panel that I covered (or attempted to cover and I learned a lot about writing and a lot about what to do and not to do in order to cover a panel!  The big thing I took away from this was the message to write and write and read and then write some more.  What a fun, inspiring group of people!