Author Toni Andrews’ Urban Fantasy SettingMay 20, 2008
Toni Andrews, author of the Mercy Hollings series of urban fantasy books (available now from MIRA), shares her real-life inspiration for the setting of her two Mercy Hollings novels, Beg For Mercy and Angel of Mercy…
Real Balboa Tales and Fantasy Intertwine in the Mercy Hollings Series
This morning, while listening to public radio, I heard a discussion with three very famous novelists about revealing private stories to the public, and whether or not that’s a good or a bad thing. I listened, fascinated, because it’s a topic near and dear to my heart!
I write “Urban Fantasy,” which is generally defined as supernatural things happening to regular people living in an everyday environment. It goes without saying that the supernatural occurrences need to be extraordinary. But I have always loved novels that really convey a sense of place, like James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, set in Southern Louisiana. So I wanted the setting to be at least as special as the paranormal elements.
For my current series, I chose a place where I once lived: Balboa, California. This is the older, funkier section of Newport Beach, and has little in common with the glittering environs portrayed on shows like The O.C.
The second novel in my series, Angel of Mercy, was released May 1st, and I had a launch party at the Newport Landing, a very real restaurant that appears often in the series. I got to town a few days early and spent a lot of time walking around, investigating my old watering holes and haunts, and inviting everyone I ran into from the old days to come to the launch event.
At the party, a couple of things happened that were very relevant to the topic of private stories being revealed in public. First, almost everyone who had read the first book in the series (Beg For Mercy , Mira, September 2007) started to speculate on which character was based on them. In some cases, they weren’t that far off, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. I tried to be vague and mysterious. A few others were annoyed that, so far, they couldn’t find themselves in the series, and they demanded that I put them in!
The second thing that happened was that people started to recount old stories that are simply too good not to include in the books, and I found myself jotting down notes. In some cases, I’m going to have to tread a fine line to avoid liability. But I don’t think I can leave out the local bartender who was a nudist, and often hosted large barbecues at his place, during which he was known for standing way too close to the hot grill with nothing to protect his…well, you get the picture. Or the older lady who owned the diner where she was famous for loudly and profanely insulting her customers, a behavior that did not do a thing to shorten the line to get in on most mornings.
Most of the stories are fairly light anecdotes and, in some cases, the recognizable characters have passed away in the intervening years. But there are some more serious tales, too. I probably will use them because these real stories add so much authenticity. I think it’s often the authentic frame that makes the fantasy believable.
And, I love Balboa. I get fan mail from readers who say that, after reading the Mercy Hollings books, they plan to visit this unique and eclectic hamlet. I hope they’ll think of me while they ride the Balboa Island Ferry, munch on a frozen banana, and try to figure out which of the local “dives” most resembles Jimbo’s Bar!