With Echoes Of Darkness (paperback, Kindle), writer Cheryl Campbell is continuing the post-apocalyptic military sci-fi trilogy Echoes that she started last year with Echoes Of War. In the following email interview, Campbell discusses what inspired and influenced this middle book of three.
Photo Credit: Irvin Serrano
For people who haven’t read the first book, Echoes Of War, what is the Echoes trilogy about, and when and where do they take place?
The nearly-immortal alien race of Echoes have been present on Earth and blending in with humans for centuries. In 2069, a splinter group of Echoes, called Wardens, starts a war to take the planet as their own and eliminate all humans. The war doesn’t end quickly, though, and drags on for decades. The entirety of Earth has been impacted by the war, but Echoes Of War takes place in the United States in Maine in 2113. Dani is an Echo that lives her life on the fringes of society, scavenging enough food and supplies to live another day. She avoids humans, other scavenger Echoes, and especially the Wardens, but her life in the shadows is over when she risks her well-being to save a human boy from a violent kidnapping. This act forces her to revisit events and people from her past lives that she can’t remember and leads her to try to create an alliance between the war’s displaced civilians and the local military in an effort to end the Wardens and their genocide.
And then for people who have read Echoes Of War, what is Echoes Of Darkness about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to Echoes Of War?
Darkness picks up four or five months after Echoes Of War leaves off. The Commonwealth-Brigand army has their next target picked, but the planning of that attack falters. Dani’s personal life becomes more complex as she both grows closer to her new family and fears losing them. Her relationship with Commonwealth leadership is increasingly strained with rogue Warden attacks, unreliable intelligence reports, and the high casualty counts that will come when they move on the enemy stronghold in Boston.
Rowan has never forgotten the humiliation of failing to capture Dani and is obsessed with finding her. His unwavering ambition to eliminate all humans from Earth, rise again within Warden ranks, and capture Dani drives him to commit treason. When Dani learns that Rowan is behind an assault on Maine that wounds and kills several people on the Commonwealth base, her well-orchestrated plan against Boston is replaced with one focused only on rescue and revenge.
When in relation to writing Echoes Of War did you come up with the idea for Echoes Of Darkness and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this second novel?
I knew from the beginning that Echoes would be a trilogy. For a war to rage on for decades, it seemed unrealistic to just wrap that up in one novel. I drafted a very high-level idea for everything that I wanted to happen to Dani, and I needed three books to do it.
I didn’t have the exact plan for how Echoes Of Darkness would evolve from Echoes Of War until I started really diving into Darkness, but I always knew I would continue to drag Dani down into the muck of war and despair with the second book. I’m constantly asking the question of what event or events would have to occur for me or one of my characters to commit a certain act. Like, what has to happen for me to kill? What could possibly drive me to murder? Or commit suicide? Yeah, it’s some dark shit, but I have Dani and her friends in a war that continues to not really go in their favor. She has no blood relatives anymore. They’re all dead due to the war. She’s losing other friends to the war now too. Everyone she loves is slowly, and violently, being taken away from her. What is the tipping point for her? I think I find that opening in Dani’s armor in the second book, and I poke it with a sharp stick. Sometimes I even surprise myself how mean I can be to my characters.
In the previous interview we did about Echoes Of War [which you can read by clicking here], you said that book was a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story. Is that how you’d classify Echoes Of Darkness, too?
I think militaristic and thriller fit too since both novels have almost, if not all of the elements of both genres. It’s really quite the mash up of genres, but Echoes Of Darkness delves more into the militaristic genre than Echoes Of War did. The cover design for Darkness was done to convey that more militaristic slant to the series.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Echoes Of Darkness but not on Echoes Of War?
N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy was a definite influence that I read early on when writing Echoes Of Darkness. Broken Earth is a fantasy trilogy, but the world building in it is unlike anything I’d seen before. For Darkness, I worked to hone the world building more than I did for Echoes Of War. I don’t think the world building for War was crap, but I definitely learned from reading Jemisin and tried to apply that new knowledge to Darkness. I’m always learning. If I’m doing my job as a creative, I’ll never stop trying to learn or improve my craft.
What about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big impact on Echoes Of Darkness?
Music always has an influence on my writing. The song that became somewhat of a theme song for Echoes Of Darkness is “White Flag” by Bishop Briggs [from her album Church Of Scars]. I was neck deep writing Darkness when I first heard that song, and it stopped me in my tracks. The song is more of a battle cry like “no surrender.” But in one of the scenes in Darkness with Dani and Houston, they’re arguing about tactics for the attack. Dani reminds Houston that there is no white flag for them, meaning once the attack starts, there is no retreat. So instead of a battle cry, Dani and the others won’t surrender or retreat because if they do one or the other, they will still die. The mention of a white flag in Darkness was a direct result of the song.
The other influences on Darkness came from Boston’s history and current-day landscape. I did a one on one guided tour of the city for a few hours one day. I did explain to the guide what I was writing and to not be alarmed with some of my questions. Thankfully, he took everything in stride, and we had a great time roaming the city and talking about its history. I also did a lot of independent research on the city while deciding how and where the story would play out.
As I mentioned earlier, Echoes Of War and Echoes Of Darkness are the first two books in a trilogy. Do you know yet when the third book will be out and what it will be called?
The third book is slated for late 2021. I have a couple of names in mind for it, but I’m not sold on either one yet. I didn’t have the title for Echoes Of Darkness nailed down until after it went through its copyedit, so the third one may not have a name for a while.
And is your plan still for it to be a trilogy, or are you thinking of expanding this story, or maybe doing a sequel series or some side stories as well?
This will definitely be a trilogy, but I have also started writing some prequel chapters for fun. Those prequel chapters aren’t focused on Dani. I have a handful of chapters written right now for Mary and ideas for Aunt Hattie and Miles. I don’t think Mary’s chapters or any of the prequel chapters I end up writing will become their own novel, but I have been kicking around the idea of doing something with Patreon. If I do Patreon, those prequel chapters would be a good fit for that platform.
In the Echoes Of War interview we did, you said there hadn’t been any interest yet in adapting it into a movie, TV show, or video game. Is that still the case?
Still no interest in an adaptation at this point. I’ve thought about converting the novels into a screenplay, but I have to pick my battles. I need to get the third book done before I start branching out into other things. Once the third novel is done, I plan to take a break from publishing — not from writing, just from publishing. The publicity and publishing activities around a book release are so time consuming. I’ll be ready for a break from those things once the trilogy is done.
Finally, if someone enjoys Echoes Of War and Echoes Of Darkness, what post-apocalyptic sci-fi trilogy of someone else’s would you suggest they read and why that?
The Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler. Her work sucks me right in and doesn’t let me go. I loved the first book and adored Lilith. I enjoyed the second and third books in the trilogy for where the story went and how they developed, but my favorite of the three was book one, Dawn. I just didn’t want that one to end.