Midnight Burning by Karissa Laurel
Publisher’s Description: Solina Mundy lives a quiet life, running the family bakery in the foothills of North Carolina. But a nightmare of a vicious wolf devouring her twin brother changes everything. When Solina learns her dream was real, she journeys to her brother’s home in the Land of the Midnight Sun to search for answers.
Solina soon suspects her brother’s friends are more than they seem, and they know more than they’re willing to admit. As she delves into the secrets surrounding her brother’s death, she learns her own fate is tied to his friends, his murder, and a dark history of forgotten myths and legends.
Solina also discovers a powerful new ability. She must learn to control it she’s to keep everyone safe. If she fails, a long-lost dominion will rise, and everything she knows will fall into darkness.
This novel is fascinating, and not just because of the story. It’s also the way the story was crafted. Many Urban Fantasy novels read and flow similar to one another – quick to embrace the genre and root you in the world, and ultimately a pretty quick read. I often consume them as quickly as possible. While I easily lost myself in Midnight Burning, I realized that I was consciously taking my time with it. I wanted it to continue – I wasn’t ready to part ways with the mythology I was uncovering. It is Urban Fantasy, but with incredibly strong stylistic notes grounded in Mystery and flow more akin to Traditional Fiction. It doesn’t read the way I expected, and I state this as a compliment. Furthermore, the protagonist is not in law enforcement!
The Good: As previously stated, the way it flows was incredibly refreshing. Notes are dropped throughout as Solina digs into the death of her brother that the supernatural is going to come into play, but it builds up like a mystery novel first. It takes it’s time before revealing the supernatural. While that statement on its own could be positive or negative, it’s positive in this case – I was very pleased with the progression and introduction of each element.
The characters are great and clearly distinct individuals. Their names had me guessing early on at the supernatural events that would occur later, but I’m happy to say that I didn’t have it all right from the beginning. I’m not going to reveal anything here, but it is both rare and a real treat for me to be legitimately surprised by a twist or unveiling. For me the surprise wasn’t a particular moment, but more how the mythology developed throughout, compared to the direction I expected it to take.
The Bad: My only gripe throughout had to do with the way the two main men in the story were portrayed – specifically their attitudes toward Solina. This is mostly because I am a man, and while I acknowledge stereotypes, I was hoping for more disparity between the two. Furthermore, it seemed that no matter how many times Solina explained things to them, they never “got it”. The thing is, my issues went away after finding out more about them later in the novel. In the end there is nothing I found to be inherently bad about Midnight Burning, other than small observations that remedied themselves before I finished. The ending was purposefully abrupt and so I can’t even find fault with that, other than wanting the next book right now – which, ultimately, is a good thing.
The Conclusion: This is a truly great book and I wholeheartedly recommend it. An urban fantasy novel that flows like traditional fiction yet starts things off like a mystery before adding in the supernatural was a lot of fun. I’m not sure everybody could pull that off, which made it all the more exciting to see from a new author who I will now be following! I’m very much looking forward to more. Look below for an interview with the author, Karissa Laurel!
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Your Author Biography mentions that you are from North Carolina. Solina, Midnight Burning’s protagonist, is also from North Carolina. How much has your own life played into the character of Solina? Are any other characters in the book based on or inspired by real people?
Karissa: That question makes me think of Stephen King, who notoriously writes stories based in New England, and especially in Maine, where he lives. I also think of Carl Hiaasen, who was a newspaper journalist in Miami before he switched to novels. The majority of his books are set in Florida. One of the most common axioms a writer hears is, “Write what you know,” so it makes sense that some things such as place and setting come from what I know, which is North Carolina.
As far as similarities between myself and Solina, I think authors are often criticized for writing main characters who are basically just wish fulfillment. I don’t know why that’s a bad thing. I think a huge part of writing is to capture an author’s fantasy and reduce it to something concrete and permanent. If authors had no wishes, there would be no stories. I’m sure a little of me bleeds out into Solina, but I tried very hard to make her a standalone, independent person. I’m not as much of a homebody as she has been. But I also think I’d never have the courage to stand up to the beings and creatures she does.
The other characters are probably not so much based on real people as they are based on amalgams of characters I’ve read over the years. I have a tendency to empathize with fictional characters in my favorite books, and they often feel very real to me.
I’d like to congratulate you on the publication of Midnight Burning – that’s awesome! What was the singlemost difficult thing for you, when creating the story of Solina and her journey to Alaska and beyond?
Midnight Sun required a lot of research because I was intent on staying as true as possible to the mythology on which much of it is based. Creating rules and parameters for a story is usually a good thing, though, especially in a book that requires world building like this one did. You can’t have a world until you establish the rules on which it will be based. In some way the mythology was helpful. In some ways it was limiting. Staying true to the rules was often challenging, but it was worth it because I think consistency makes for a stronger, richer story that is ultimately more believable.
Like many of our readers, I have plenty of stories in my head – but getting them onto paper and then physically in front of people is another hurdle altogether. What was the most difficult aspect of actually getting your story published?
There are tons of hurdles, you’re right! For some people, it might be the submission/rejection process, but I’ve written for a long time and have gotten better at shrugging off rejections. They still hurt, but I don’t let them slow me down. Writing and submitting short stories is a great way to build up a thick skin for rejection, by the way. This is going to sound funny, but I think my greatest hurdle was a fear of success. Midnight Burning was the first novel I’ve written that I believed stood a fighting chance of getting published (I’ve written quite a few novels that went into a trunk that will never, never see the light of day). And I had to be utterly sure that this was the book I wanted to have as my public face.
I’m inherently a private person who spends a lot of time in my head. Getting published means having to come out of your shell and behave as though you have tons of confidence and belief in what you’re doing. It’s having to become a salesperson, willing to promote yourself. It’s means subjecting yourself to scrutiny and critique from strangers. That state of mind is very contrary for me. I originally wrote stories to make myself happy. Attempting to get published means having to attempt to make others happy, and that is extremely daunting.
Did you enter into Midnight Burning with the idea of writing an Urban Fantasy novel specifically, or did you simply set out to write fiction? Moreover, did you know the twists and ending upfront or did the story evolve from your original intent as you explored the characters and their own motivations?
Urban Fantasy is one of my favorite genres to read, and at the time I got the idea for this book, I was reading a lot of UF such as the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and the Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews. I knew I wanted it set in the current era in the “real” world, and that, by definition, is usually Urban Fantasy. So, the genre was mostly on purpose.
I am not much of a plotter, so I started out with a vague idea and not much else, other than, as I mentioned before, an intent to stick to the academic mythology as much as possible. The story definitely evolved through the course of writing. As I ran into my own walls and self-imposed limitations, I would have to go back to the research and see if something existed that could help me get over whatever hurdle my characters faced. The twists and turns it took were fairly organic, in the sense that the story evolved mostly from the characters interacting with this world I had created, and not so much from my authorly machinations. The only time I really plot and plan is when I do reach a place where I’ve written the character in a hole that they can’t easily get out of. I plan only so far as it takes to get them out of that hole, then they get to take over and drive again for a while.
However, I will say that I have a definite idea about where this book and future books (and this series) is going to end. All the streams of the river eventually have to come together to flow in the direction of that planned ending.
I imagine creating believable, distinct characters with their own moods and patterns of speech for written dialog is daunting. How did you get to know these characters, and understand their motivations?
I am an only child, which means I spent a lot of time in my own imagination. My dolls and toys often had complex conversations with each other, and in my head they all had distinct voices and characterizations. I think that was early training for writing, though I didn’t know it at the time. I can’t put my finger on a concrete example or practice I use to establish differences in multiple characters. They take on a life inside my head, and I just let them have their way.
Solina and Val were harder characters than the rest. Skyla, Thorin and the others were always pretty clear to me. Editing helped me define Solina and Val’s motivations. Thank god for my great editor. She was quick to tell me anytime she thought Solina or Val’s motivations were unclear or inconsistent. Sometimes you have to rely on someone else to help you see these things. People say writing is a solitary venture, but it’s not completely true. A writer always needs a second pair of eyes.
Cover art is a big deal to many consumers. Your cover makes a great first impression, and there is more to recognize after you’ve read the story. How much input did you have over the cover, and were there multiple options or iterations before this cover was finalized?
I chose to submit to Red Adept for many reasons, but one of the big selling points was that the majority of books in its catalogue had awesome covers. And you are completely right, covers are a big deal. People say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we all do it anyway. Getting a professional cover was important to me. Red Adept uses a company called Streetlight Graphics to create its covers and they are amazing digital magicians.
I filled out a questionnaire about what I’d like to see and what I didn’t want to see and submitted it to Red Adept’s design representative, who then worked with Streetlight Graphics. They really honored most of my requests, but the final product was still a huge surprise. I was delighted with it from the start. The only changes I asked for were changes to the color of the eyes in the flames to more accurately represent Solina. I also asked for a snowy mountain scene to be added behind the city skyline so it looked more like an Anchorage skyline. They must have felt my requests were reasonable because they waved their magical digital wands and made it happen.
And there are little details that come out in the cover after you read the story, you’re right. I love those little details and those came (as a complete surprise) from the genius of Red Adept’s cover design person. She really understood the book.
Have you traveled to the locations present in Midnight Burning? What techniques did you incorporate to make those locations you haven’t visited or those you created yourself feel real?
The fictional town of Siqniq, Alaska is based on a real harbor-side fishing town in Alaska that I did, in fact, travel to years ago with my Dad. And, by the way, Signiq is the Inuit word for the sun or sunshine. I picked Alaska, not only because I had been there and have been fascinated with it for a long time, but it’s one of the last real “frontier” type places left in the US. If I was an ancient being looking for a place to kind of hide out and not draw too much attention to myself, Alaska would be my first choice. Also, in my mind, it has a lot in common with the Nordic countries were these guys were once worshipped. They’re used to the snow and the cold, right?
I have not been to Las Vegas, however, or the northern California coastline, so for those settings I had do a lot of research (thank goodness for the Internet) and rely a lot on friends who have been there to tell me if I got anything wrong. Las Vegas was an easy choice as a setting for my protagonist. To me, that city inherently symbolizes her and all she stands for. Not to pick on Las Vegas, though. It’s on my bucket list of places to visit before I die.
I picked the California coastline for the Valkyries because I wanted it to be like an eagle Aerie, somewhere high up and not easy to attack. They are military minded women and they would chose a place that was easy to defend. I also wanted it to be reasonably close to Las Vegas for logistical purposes. The Valkyrie’s home also needed to be distinctive because what fun would it be if it was generic and common?
I admit my last question is selfish: Is there more to come from Solina and friends?
Oh, yes! I’m working on book three right now. Book two is with beta readers, and then I’ll submit to my publisher sometime very soon, I hope. I have a pretty definite idea about where Solina’s story will go and how it will end, and it will take a few books to get there.
You can read more about Karissa and Midnight Burning at www.karissalaurel.com.