Unbeknownst to most of humankind, a powerful network of witches thrives within the shadows of society, using their magic to keep the world in balance. But they are being eliminated—and we will all pay if their power falls…
When Lyse MacAllister’s Great Aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, becomes deathly ill, Lyse puts her comfortable life in Georgia on hold to rush back to Los Angeles. And once she’s back in Echo Park, Lyse discovers her aunt has been keeping secrets—extraordinary secrets—from her.
Lyse is heir not only to Eleanora’s home, she is also expected to take her great aunt’s place in the Echo Park coven of witches. But to accept her destiny means to place herself in deadly peril—for the world of magic is under siege, and the battle the witches now fight may be their last…
At this year’s New York Comic Con, I got to sit down with an incredible actress, writer, director, and all around awesome person Amber Benson. For those of you not religiously following her, she has a new book coming out, and we got to talk about it, and other things.
Can you tell me a bit about the story?
So, in a nutshell, it’s about a young woman named “Lyse” who lives in Georgia and one evening she gets a phone call from her great aunt who’s dying and wants Lyse to come home, but when she shows up in Echo Park, CA, she finds out that not only is her great aunt dying, but that her great aunt is the coven master of a coven of witches, and they want her to join the coven, which is sort of the jumping off point, really. More importantly, what I wanted to talk about is women’s relationships with each other. Growing up, I was a tomboy and I had all these dude friends, well one or two girl-friends but it was always me and the dudes. And as I got older, and hit my 30’s, I finally found my crew of ladies and the book is a bit of a mash note to them.
What inspired you to write the story? You mentioned growing up and having to find your women friends, was there more to that?
Well, I set it in Echo Park because I’m a little obsessed with that neighborhood. It’s super magical, you walk around Sunset Blvd and Echo Park and there are botanicas on the sides of the street that you can go into and there are saints candles you can buy and magic spells and then there are houses that are built on the hill and there are no ways to access them except for these crazy winding stairways. So, there’s just something magical. And then there’s Angelino Heights right there in Echo Park and there are all these Victorian houses and its super creepy and they have these hitching posts where people used to tie up their horses! You know, before they would go in to go visiting, and I don’t know, I just love that neighborhood and I wanted to combine that magical realism with these relationships that these women in the coven have together. And also, I wanted to work with my editor at Ace/Roc which is a part of Penguin, and continue to write urban fantasy and I thought, well, what better way to talk about these things that I want to talk about, deal with this magical world, then to put it under this auspice of these magical witches.
For my edification, because I might be having a total dumb moment, Echo Park is in…?
It’s near downtown Los Angeles. It’s one of the many myriad neighborhoods that make up L.A. It’s super hipster central right now, so we’re getting a lot of flak.
I feel like I should know this, but I haven’t been in LA since 1990-something. My grandparents lived in Fountain Valley and so I remember that area but I don’t remember the rest of L.A.
A really interesting movie to watch if you want to see the neighborhood is Allison Anders’ Mi Vida Loca. It’s set in Echo Park and it’s a great film!
Just a little bit!
And there’s still some going on, I believe! Has that influenced this at all, or any of your writing, or this, since we’re talking about this?
I think anything you do creatively expands your horizon and opens your mind. You know, working on Buffy, obviously, I played a witch and it was kinda fun to go back to that world. It’s always interesting to me when we would shoot stuff, and people would come up and be like “I saw that episode and you floated a rose! How did you do that?!!” Do you really think that we were using magic to… You really think we were using magic to float the rose. Yeah, if guy with a pole and an invisible string is magic then sure. Well, the whole “string is magic” thing is real.
There’s lots of theater magic out there.
How did you get into writing?
You know, I always wrote growing up. I wrote a lot of really bad poetry.
[here is where I start cackling wildly] Sorry!! I did, too!
You have to! You have to!
Yeah, I think there’s a diary somewhere that I don’t wanna open.
Well, it’s funny, I just did a show called Mortified on Thursday at the Bell House in Brooklyn and it’s all about people get up and read from their journals from when they were teenagers. The thing I did was, my friend, he wrote a fan-fic for Less Than Zero when he was 14, and Adam Busch and I READ it, and it was super hysterical, but I do not have the balls to read my own stuff.
I don’t even want to be reminded that mine exists, so that’s scaring me right now!!!
So yeah! I always wrote and then when Chris Golden approached me about doing some Buffy Comics while I was in the show, that’s sorta how the writing professionally started.
Speaking of Buffy, you played Tara, who has become a queer icon, has that gone into your writing at all, or is that Tara and not Amber?
No! Like I said, I think that everything you do informs how you create. Like in “The Witches of Echo Park,” I have a lesbian character, Danielle, she’s an empath. She’s like Rogue, in that she wears gloves because she can’t touch people. But yeah, I think playing Tara and becoming an ally of the LGBT community really impacted my life. Both Allie and I feel very blessed to play those characters and to tell that story, but the fact is that in 2014, we’re still fighting for equality!
[Editor] Buffy was when the WB kinda started, and the CCW is a different feel rom them. What’s your take on those shows?
I think they’re a lot glossier, the shows. A little more that you look cute and adorable, and you look at shows like Dawson’s Creek or Buffy and everyone was attractive, but there was a quirkiness to Joey on Dawson’s Creek. She wasn’t all slick and glossed out. And I think there were better female driven shows. I think there’s a lack of it… It’s very “The Same.” And I would like some more female driven stuff.
I remember there were a lot of talk while Buffy was on the air about “Oh, Amber Benson, she’s a big girl!!” and, no! you’re small!! And do you have any thoughts on that, especially with everything being so glossy?
Oh yeah!! I mean, I know, I got castigated online for having breasts and hips! It’s insane!
[Editor] You mean cause Sarah Michelle Gellar is shorter then you?
They’re all shorter than me! They’re all petite girls! And I’m 5’4 ½, and back then I was, 120lb, and I was super curvy and looked like a girl and I’m not going to change who I look and I’m not going to be anorexic. I just felt it entirely too much. I do feel it’s gotten better. I don’t know if you got to see My Mad Fat Diary, a BBC show? HIGHLY recommend. You wanna talk about … just watch it. The protagonist, she’s amazing! I feel like it’s gotten to that extreme where you have to look anorexic to be on a television show, and I feel that it’s sad!
[Editor] Or you get praised for being normal!
It’s like Lena Dunham!! She gets praised for being so brave, she’s a normal girl!
So, as a female writer, writing about women, have you encountered any difficulties in promoting?
I’m very lucky. The urban fantasy world is very female driven. There are plenty of women writers and women protagonist and on that part its wonderful to be out there with a whole bunch of ladies, shilling their wares. But, in the mainstream, there is definitely, a lack of female stuff. But we’re working on it, and it’s getting better. And I feel that’s happening with the LGBTQ stuff. That’s sort of on the forefront of things now, and I’m teaching writing classes and 70% of my students are young queer women who are tired of not having something out there for themselves and are wanting to write it! I think I should start the Amber Benson LGBTQ imprint! You bring me your tired, your unwashed and your awesome stories, and I will put them out for you!!!
Amber Benson is what we call ‘a maker of things’. A prolific writer, she is the author of the five-book Calliope Reaper-Jones urban fantasy series for Penguin and the middle grade book Among The Ghosts for Simon and Schuster. Behind the camera, she co-directed the Slamdance feature film Drones and (co-wrote) and directed the BBC animated series The Ghosts of Albion. In her previous incarnation as an actor, she spent three years as ‘Tara Maclay’ on the cult television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and later this year she will appear as head vamp ‘Amelie’ in Morganville: The Series for Geek & Sundry. Her new book The Witches of Echo Park comes out in early January 2015. Amber does not own a television.
Photos, bio, and synopsis used with permission by M4PR.