Interviews

Amber Benson on Writing the Echo Park Coven Novels

 

Cover detail from The End of Magic by Amber Benson/ Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Amber Benson is an author, actor, producer, and director. You may know her from her days as Tara Maclay on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but her career has spanned many more projects than that. As an author, she has written the Calliope-Reaper Jones novels and the Echo Park Coven novels, and co-written several others. While both series are urban fantasy, they each have a completely different tone. The Echo Park Coven novels tell the tale of a coven of witches fighting to save magic from total destruction. The last book in the series, The End of Magic, is out now! Read on as we discuss sisterhood, Nazis, and the magic of physical places.

Unbound Worlds: The witches of Echo Park, and in covens around the world in your books, feel very real. They don’t always get along, they have their interpersonal issues, but at the end of the day, they will always come together to support each other. Are they based off anyone in real life?

Amber Benson: The women in the Echo Park coven are actually based on my own personal friend group – each character is an amalgam of the many important friends in my life. I felt like the idea of intersectional sisterhood gets short shrift in storytelling…and I wanted to explore what it means to be part of a diverse group of women who are there for each other even if they don’t always agree about ideology.

UW: The simple act of sisterhood feels like an act of resistance in these books, especially with the seemingly male-dominant group of antagonists, The Flood. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

AB: Not conscious…but looking back, I guess there is a part of me that had always intuited how badly women need to find a way to come together and support each other – and that includes women from every walk of life. If we are going to survive as a democratic, egalitarian, and forward-thinking society, women have to stop putting each other down and start lifting each other up…because it’s gonna take a unified women and women-identifying front to stop the egregious abuse of power that is working to strip away women’s rights.

UW: The Flood is a terrifying sect that’s trying to bring about the end of magic and witches. They’re the epitome of intolerance — a horrific blend of Nazism and fantasy. Why did you choose them as the villains of the story?

AB: As a half-Jewish girl from Alabama, I’ve always been fascinated by the Third Reich and the idea that true evil can and has existed in the world…which is evidenced by the horror that the Nazis perpetrated during the holocaust.  I wanted to explore the idea of evil being a palpable thing that we, as human beings, have to fight against…and I also wanted to talk about the opposite perspective…the evil perspective, if you will, and the people on that side of the story who feel like their cause is a just one, too. I think All Quiet on The Western Front was an inspiration for me…the idea that everyone has a point of view and raison d’etre…a purpose that may be the polar-opposite of my own – and that I would term ‘evil’ – but is completely valid in their mind.

UW: Dealing with past trauma is a major theme in these books, and for some characters, that trauma is never fully resolved. Was that a theme you set out to discuss, and why did you decide to leave some issues relatively unresolved?

AB: Life is messy. Bad things happen to good people and there is no reason why…nothing we can point to and say: “Oh, it’s because of this or because of that.” This idea terrifies the crap out of us and forces us to deal with a really scary fact of life…that we have zero control over what happens to us. We can lead exemplary lives and be charitable and kind-hearted…but we might still get hit by a car the next time we step off a crosswalk. Trauma happens to everyone. It’s the price of doing business. Of being human. Trauma colors who we are and even when we deal with it, it leaves its scars. I love therapy. I think of it as the gift I give myself…but I’ve learned through the process that we are always growing and changing…always unpacking old hurts and looking at them…always trying to untangle the mystery of who we are and why we do what we do…there are no answers…just more questions…and that was one of the themes I was interested in exploring as I was writing this last book.

UW: Echo Park seems like such a magical place, and it is actually a real place in L.A.! Are there any other places you feel inspired by?

AB: Echo Park is most definitely a real and super magical place – Eleanora’s house, Echo Park Lake, the swing…all real places I’ve been to…I’m a big urban explorer and the stair streets of Echo Park are beyond magical…I would actually take walks that were based around the fruit trees in the neighborhood…I’d walk one set of stairs that had a fig tree at the top and then walk down a weird loopy set of stairs cause they had orange trees along the side of the hill…even now you can still walk down Sunset and get an espresso at a hipster coffee house then go next door and buy a spell at one of the many local Botanicas. As far as other places that inspire me…hmmm…I loved China…the Great Wall was one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited.

UW: Was there anything you found surprising while you were doing research for your novels? Or anything particularly odd or wonderful?

AB: I became obsessed with the Atlas Obscura website while I was doing my research…so much so that I made it my home page. It’s an Amber Benson highly recommended online destination for the weird, wonderful and odd! Plus, I know they do a walking tour of Echo Park every now and again…so the perfect way to get your Witches of Echo Park fix.

UW: You’ve taught some courses on writing–is there anything you can tell someone just starting out?

AB: Just write. Sounds so simple, right? But it’s all about getting words down on paper/screen…even if you don’t end up using them. The craft of writing is…just…writing.

UW: The End of Magic wraps up the Echo Park Coven series–can you tell us anything about what you might be writing next? Will we ever get to return to the world set up in the Echo Park Coven novels?

AB: I think I have put the blood sisters to bed for a while…I loved living in their world, but I’m ready for some new adventures. I’m co-writing (with Sarah Kuhn) the new CLUELESS comic from Boom Studios…and doing some film/television writing…so that’s keeping me busy. Haven’t figured out the next book I want to write yet, but I have some ideas percolating.