Welcome back to another edition of The Sinister Reader! This is the one spot where I indulge myself of my greatest obsession and the thing in my life that I love only second to the cat. That would be my books. I have many and I’m excited to talk about the ones I love, share what I enjoyed and, hopefully, give people something to read that they can enjoy for some time to come. All that said, this month is a bit on the weird side for me because while I admit that I do love this story, I probably ought to considering who wrote it. And with that awkward intro as my set up, I hope you’re ready for me to be thoroughly uncomfortable because this month, I’m cheating and using my own book to review! I do have a reason for this that I’ll get into in a few seconds here but I do hope you’ll take a dive with me into my first novel, Downtown.
Now for starters, I hope you’ll forgive that I’m not going to go into detail about the quality of my own prose because to be completely fair, I genuinely can’t tell how it is anymore. That’s not me fishing for compliments either. I’ve often joked that you aren’t finished with a novel for real until you hate it and never want to read it again. While I am not at the hating it stage any more, I have read this story so many times, I am the least objective person about how well written it is. It’s gone from an idea to a passion project to a pain in the ass and now it’s just a thing I live with and even if it were the most beautifully written thing in the world (it’s not, Shadow of the Wind is), I really couldn’t tell. It has changed and grown and been edited down and all the things that have happened to that prose over the course of years has made it into a mash that is the story that is out there now. That said, I’m not here to tell you that I’m brilliant or that I’m horrible either. A part of me debated about putting my own book up for review but to be honest, I rarely get a chance to talk about my story that I wrote and am still writing for the series without it feeling kind of like I’m trying to inject it into a conversation it doesn’t belong in. I’m also usually put on the spot about my own work half the time so giving an accurate description on what the book is about tends to get boiled down to the oh so helpful “it’s about vampires” or the even more helpful “it’s kinda complicated”.
So what was my big justification for including this book to review for this month? Simply put, because for me, I can’t think of the month of May without thinking of this story. Downtown starts off on May first and in lieu of chapters, follows events for four characters every day until June fifteenth. Each day is from a different perspective and sometimes they overlap but mostly, you’re getting the picture of four people moving through the fictional city of Braeside as they prepare for the start of summer. Being from Canada-land, I am generally affected by the weather (a lot) and it reflects a lot in my storytelling. Unlike a lot of fiction from this country that deals with the horrors of winter (and this includes some of my own fiction), this is a story where I wanted to capture that part of the year where summer hasn’t started quite yet but there’s all the promise of it on the horizon. The winter is definitely over now and the weather is just warm enough that you can start thinking about all those plans you want to make and you haven’t got anything really holding you back yet. For me, as someone who isn’t really a summer person, this might seem like a weird place to want to start this story but a lot of this is based on some pretty awesome memories and it kind of relates back to where this tale started.
When I was still in University, May was the first breath of fresh air that we got in the year. Any university student can tell you that after months of spreading yourself thin and trying your best to keep your head above water for all your classes, when the end of the semester hits, it’s almost like a cold shower as you look around, wondering what’s due and when and where you are. This used to happen to me well after my finals were done and I would find myself lost and worrying at random intervals about papers being due and missing reading assignments or getting weirded out about the idea of reading for pleasure because I should be doing something else. This weird stretch of time before the summer started for real is where Downtown was born.
I don’t want to spend the entire review just recounting where I was and what was going on with me when I wrote the book but if you are interested in knowing more about it, contributors to my Patreon will be getting a behind the scenes update on that. That said, one thing I do want to cover is the place that inspired me the most in writing this book, especially the scenes of the nightclub in the novel. When I was but a wee gothy thing and just barely come of age, I discovered the bar where the creatures of the night tended to go for a drink, pretty much by accident. A friend of mine who usually liked bringing me out to the gay bar ended up taking me out to this nightclub for a friend’s birthday party and I was hooked. For the next few years, until a drastic change in my personal life changed everything, I went out to this bar almost religiously.
It was called New City Suburbs and every Saturday night, whenever we could though specifically in the summer, me and all my darkly inclined friends would come out to dance, drink, watch yet another dramatic take unfold, find out about some new song or band and usually walk out after the last song played, sore and ready for food that was so greasy I would still have to be twenty one to be able to stomach it now. To this day, I am still friends with almost everyone I met in this club and considering how easily friendships slide away or move along, I feel like this was something rare and something I still miss about this place. That club is long gone now, as tends to be the way with nightclubs. Despite still being connected to the people I knew through social media, I rarely get to see them anymore and I also moved provinces which makes that even more difficult. This is just basically growing up but as the years went on, I found that I missed those days and those people and that old club a lot. In a sense, I wanted more than anything to really capture what it felt like to be at that old goth night and how it felt even now to see a message from someone from back in the day. Despite the fact that this is a series about vampires and it’s got some violent bits and an overarching story that I’ll get to in a minute here, this first book and a lot of the series is my love letter to those old days and what it was to me to be a part of something that went by so quickly.
So with that, enough of the back story and let’s get to the actual book. Downtown is a story about four different people making their way through the fictional city of Braeside. Each day is seen through the eyes of a different character, starting with Lucy, an aspiring designer who has spent the last few years struggling to find a job after graduating from her college courses. Next we meet Christian, a very shy goth boy who lives down the hall from Lucy. He’s spent the last couple of years trapped in a miserable routine of going to a job he absolutely hates and returning every weekend to an underground club where he pines over the affections of a mysterious, beautiful boy who goes by the name Messiah. He’s not the only one with his eye on the boy that no one seems to be able to catch, however. Desperate to get Messiah’s attention is a selfish, cruel teenager named Jenni. She is so immersed in her own fantasy world of the underground club that she has become obsessed with being the perfect participant in it. She hates herself and everyone else with equal measure and believes that only when she is absolutely perfect will she finally make Messiah fall in love with her. Other than the obvious, the trouble with this is that Messiah is nothing like what he seems.
The underground club, you see, is not really a club but a front for criminal activity that has just happened to let a whole bunch of young people in who dress in dark clothing. Whether it’s through the booze or the drugs in their system or just the sheer want to be popular, everyone there wants something from the club darling, Messiah. The catch is that he only wants to kill you. A vicious predator, Messiah works the crowd of the club, playing the kids against each other for his amusement and tormenting his personal slave, Micah, but ultimately, he’s grown horribly bored of his situation. He knows he can have anyone he wants there and doesn’t really care about it anymore. That is, until Christian convinces Lucy to come to the club with him. For Lucy, despite the fact that she’s not entirely on board with what this club is about, she’s looking to figure out why one of his friends just kind of disappeared from her life for a while. For Christian, it’s a a way to help him confirm that this club is nothing and he should just give up and leave it behind already. For Messiah, it’s a sudden and very exciting challenge to meet someone who immediately and intensely hates his guts.
All the while, something else is stirring in Braeside. There’s something lurking in the shadows, watching our four characters as they try to go about their daily routines. This something is hungry and with each day that passes, it grows more feral and more vicious. The city itself is bracing for a phenomenon that happens every year called the Dark Week. During the summer solstice every year, city grows darker and the shadows swallow all the light throughout Braeside, steeping it in a strange false night. It stirs the instincts in Messiah but he discovers that he isn’t the only predator in town and soon even he is put on guard as Braeside itself begins to take an interest in the other three characters as they get closer to each other.
So what can I say about the book? Well why don’t we start off with a little bit about the background of the whole thing, for me at least. As I said before, this book was really born out of my experiences and memories of what it was like to be younger and going to the goth club every weekend. My homage to my old club is represented here, not in the underground one but in the one that Lucy attends called Manifestos. I used the subculture as a kind of centre piece to put the characters in their places and let them start to do what they needed to. For Christian and Lucy, it was a good place to find common ground. He was isolated and unhappy in his world and she was feeling cut off from hers. The two of them bonded by realizing that they could just enjoy things together and the pageantry wasn’t really necessary. It also gave a very easy foil to Jenni’s character who, for lack of a more direct word, is a poseur. Her entire personality is all about appearances and how she looks perfect to everyone around her. Her whole world revolves around getting the right look, believing that this is going to be the thing that’s going to cement her place in this world that she really doesn’t understand or, if she were being honest, care about.
As I already alluded to, it’s kind of hard for me to go into how utterly perfectly I captured the essence of the characters (I probably didn’t) but I can go into what it was like to see them evolve and become who they ended up being. I always knew Lucy was going to be kind of sarcastic but as I developed the character, I saw her become more jaded and she definitely developed a very bitter tongue. Along side, I got a chance to really develop her relationship with her roommate. Initially, the first drafts of it were quite cringeworthy as I was basing it off a lot of things I heard other people say about their own roommates. When I grew up a little more and ended up moving in with a roommate of my own, I was lucky enough to have the chance to live with someone whom I really enjoyed hanging out with and respected. Our home life wasn’t quite as dramatic as Lucy and Bethany’s but a lot of what developed between them as friends was something that I took a lot of inspiration from in my own experiences. One of the things that I really wanted to bring to the story was a little more complexity to the characters. I figured that it was one thing to have the “sarcastic” character with smart remarks to hide how she feels but eventually any smartass gets boring and annoying if their point of view or even their attitude doesn’t get challenged. In making Bethany a bit more mothering and less of just the “annoying roommate” trope, I tried to create a better platform for their friendship that carries throughout the series.
And speaking of friendships, Christian had a little bit a long journey from draft to book. He was always gay and always very private about it but it took a while to really get him to the point where I felt like he was who I felt he should be. I knew in drafting him, I wanted to make sure he didn’t end up coming off like a stereotype where his sexuality became his only personality trait. In the beginning, it was almost too hard to tell that he was gay at all. He had almost no interaction with anyone but Lucy and his entire character arch didn’t really go anywhere. In creating more of an arch for Christian, it helped to develop the world and the background on the club beyond just “club = bad place”.
Funny enough, one of the characters that changed the least in all the time that I’ve been working on this story was Jenni. I think this is partly because everyone remembers what it was like to be that kid who knew everything. If not, you’ve definitely come across this kind of teenager before. The kid who has attitude for days and can’t figure out why no one likes them despite the fact that they’ve been a jerk to everyone who’s even minorly inconvenienced them in any way. It would have been easy to keep her this way because, again, we’ve all had some kind of encounter with someone who was full of attitude and lashed out at anyone just because they could. (If you haven’t, have a nice long chat with someone who works in food service and you’ll hear some horror stories that will disgust you.) The thing is, I did know more than one person who was like this in high school, who just seemed to get a lot out of ripping into me and other people. What I would realize after getting some distance from them and what I even saw as I was growing up with other people were how often these people would focus on things that just didn’t matter. Someone’s clothes that might not have fit very well or someone’s shoes that weren’t quite perfect or some song they happened to like were all things that would set these people off into a stream of utterly banal complaints and nitpickings. It sounds like a cliche but having known these people and getting a chance to really see what it was that got under their skin, it was always just their way of exposing how they saw themselves. They didn’t really care about the girl who had acne as much as they cared about how they would look if it were them and I assure you, you’ve never met anyone who says these things that didn’t fear getting ridiculed the same way they would dish it out. I wanted to really bring that into what Jenni was all about and how oblivious she was to everything that was going on with Messiah and the world around her because of how much she wanted to create a version of herself that she might actually like.
And I guess that brings us to Messiah. You might be wondering a bit about the name and to be honest, I had a very very different beginning for this character and he has grown a lot from what he once was. I’m not sure why I originally thought of him as being one of those weird brooding romantic types but it seemed that even Messiah himself was pretty not all about that life because that version of the book was so bad that I am impressed that I even finished it. It’s entirely possible that my love of all things Anne Rice might have once pulled me to try to create something similar but the truth was that the ultimate beginning of this project was me asking myself what would happen if you had a vampire in a city setting and how would that work if no one really believed it. Over the next few drafts, I would start to work on him more, bringing out elements of what would become his major character traits as I worked on an arch for him. Initially, he just kind of brooded, found himself wondering if he loved Christian or Lucy and eventually settled on Christian. His slave, Micah, had been around since the first draft but his relationship with him took on more sinister tones as I brought him to life. I had always seen Messiah as a smart character and wanted to make sure that he didn’t fall prey to the typical tropes of the overconfident villain but in doing so, I had a lot more fun creating his other flaws.
Messiah is a lost soul that isn’t really all that keen to be found. He is selfish and impulsive, relying on his background and his survival instinct to navigate a world that he just kind of exists in. As I worked with this version of him, I was able to draw out his cruel nature and how it fit into the club scenario. I was also able to really play with his backstory that has plagued him throughout the story. As far as the name goes, well, if I’m permitted a small concession, possibly one of my favorite parts of the book is where Christian tells Lucy who his secret crush is. Her reaction one of my favorite things I’ve written in this series so far and I’m sure it will echo a few other people who might be wondering what the deal is with someone who would name themselves Messiah. And yes it does have an explanation but it comes later on, possibly in the sequel which, hopefully, will be out in 2020 if all goes to plan.
So that pretty much does it for my sort of review of the book Downtown, despite it not being a review. If you are looking for a vampire book set in modern times that has some dose of humor, some decent enough gore behind it, has some interesting female characters with a real friendship dynamic and a book that will give you a small taste of what it was like to be going to a goth club back when I was younger, Downtown is one I think you might enjoy. If you are interested in getting a copy, you can purchase it through Amazon HERE and for contributors to my Patreon, I will be posting audio of the full chapters coming up soon.
Thank you so much for indulging my need to share my book for the month of May. For next month, we’re moving into some summer reads and I’ve got a creepy one on the horizon for that one. Until next month, may your nightlights shine brightly on another sinister read and here’s hoping it’s a good one!