Synopsis: When 30-something Emily Collins inherits her recently murdered Aunt's house she moves to Heartshorne, Oklahoma, to claim it and confront her family's dark past. After her dead mother begins speaking to her in dreams, Emily stumbles upon a horrible community secret that leads to terrifying revelations about the supernatural pull of Echo Lake.
Author: Letitia Trent grew up in Vermont and Oklahoma and spent her teenage years traveling with her flea-marketing parents. She received her MFA in poetry from Ohio State University. Her work has appeared in journals such as The Denver Quarterly, Fence, Folio, The Journal, Blazevox, and The Black Warrior Review. Her poetry collections include One Perfect Bird (2012) and You aren't in this movie (2012). She was the 2010 winner of the Alumni Flash Writing Award from the Ohio State University's The Journal and has been awarded fellowships from The Vermont Studio Center and the MacDowell Colony.
Discussion will start November 1st.
I think this is a great novel to start reading in October. I've only ever read bits and pieces of Letitia's writing before, so I'm pretty excited to dive into something longer by her. And horror is my favorite genre.
Can't wait to see what you all think of this debut.
Purchase 'Echo Lake' Here!
Get to reading!
AND YES, we know about the editing mistakes, people. We apologize for that, and hope it doesn't detract from the reading. The wrong file was sent to the printer, shit happens. We have since fixed the eBooks, but can't pull back the printed copies. If anybody wants a replacement ePub or Mobi, let me know.
OTHERWISE, this is one hell of a great book. The atmosphere, the setting, the lyrical language, I'm a huge fan of Letitia's work. So much so that I took a story of hers for the Exigecies anthology out in 2015. Hope you enjoyed the book, too!
come on in, the water's fine.
"Trent’s years as a poet serve her well in this heavily atmospheric novel, which deftly conjures up both evil and the small town’s complicit reluctance to face its past."
— Kirkus Reviews
"Echo Lake is more than just a good debut novel. It is the coming-out party for Letitia Trent, the new poet-queen of neo-noir."
— Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk
“In Echo Lake, Letitia Trent, with deceptively simple, beautiful language, creates a small American town slowly self destructing under the weight of its secrets. Trent illuminates the mystery of family and community, the pain of loss, all the while spinning a tale of murder and suspense. It's at turns a lovely and bone chilling read.”
— Paula Bomer, author of Inside Madeleine
“In Echo Lake, Trent’s small town characters guard their secrets, and warn their children away from the mist-covered lake. Dark, ominous, and lyrical, Echo Lake is a beautiful exploration of loss, and the menace of deceptive surfaces.”
— Karen Brown, author of The Longings of Wayward Girls
“Trent’s debut novel combines a ripping good scare with prose as rich as dark verse. Her characters wear the imprint of the past like livid bruises, the bravest among them untangling their distorted histories to discover truths about the nature of community, family and self."
— Sophie Littlefield, author of House of Glass
"Echo Lake itself is perhaps the most memorable aspect of Echo Lake; Trent builds it up to be a truly eerie setting, a body of sickly water that is as haunting as it is haunted, where one cannot go swimming without risk of injury, thanks to the debris that lies just under the surface, and the fumes that pour out of it at night."
I'll start it off by tossing out a question for LT.
Letitia—where did this idea come from, and is it rooted in any truth, either your own history, or an actual crime?
Thanks for the question, Richard! So, I had the idea of the book after hearing about multiple missing-persons cases and unsolved murders in the area where I spent my teenage years (Latimer and Leflore county in Oklahoma). One particularly gruesome murdered involved the death of an elderly woman in her own home--this happened just down the road from my tiny high school. While every place has unsolved murders, the attitude in the area was that often, these cases were purposefully left unsolved or that the law enforcement couldn't be trusted. This idea intrigued me. Also, my husband grew up near a man-made lake with a little island graveyard, and I always found this lake to be extremely creepy. Our school bus would cross it and every time, I'd think about how terrifying it would be to jump in and get impaled on an old tree branch. Clearly, I was a fun kid.
I am also really interested in the idea of home--where we find a home when we aren't given one, how we create a home, and how we leave home. This novel was my first attempt to work through this issue. My next book continues the theme. Echo Lake is largely about an outsider trying to create a home in a place she does not understand.
Excellent, thanks, LT. Fascinating stuff.
Letitia, thanks for being here to answer questions about Echo Lake. I read the book this past summer and very much enjoyed it. I have my questions listed below, which you can feel free to answer how you like, or number the answers, whichever is easier for you.
1: There a quite a few scenes that are vignettes and not as related to the central plot. Did Echo Lake originally begin as a series of short stories revolving around this area, sort of like Knockemstiff or something? Or did you begin the book with the idea that it was going to be a novel with the occasional vignette to build that errieness? Overtime I found the town itself becoming a character of sorts and wondered if that was intentional or just an incidental thing.
2. I found myself kind of frustrated by the narrator's reaction to learning who killed her aunt. From your perspective, why wasn't she furious?
3. You have a background in poetry but this is your first novel, and a dark/horror novel at that. Do you think you'll continue to write dark fiction or do you prefer poetry? Can you give us any ideas as to what your next novel will be about?
Thanks again for your presence here and I look forward to reading your answers.
Bill, thanks so much for the questions!
1. It was definitely always envisioned as a novel, but I had a lot of characters and stories that I knew I wanted to include. I've always been kind of fond of novels that have characters show up in a scene or two and then leave forever without another mention: there's something about this randomness that appeals to me. I also wanted these characters to show us something about the culture of the town and the pull of the lake and to get us out of Emily's point of view--she is such an outsider, and Heartshorne is so foreign to her, that I wanted more voices to show us the place in full.
2. I can understand feeling a bit frustrated by her reaction. I thought about this a lot and tried to figure out how this character, at this point in her life, would feel. I think she is emotionally exhausted at this point in the story--she has just been forced to look at her mother's life, to have empathy for a person who inadvertently hurt her, and is finally facing her own loneliness. She also has crossed allegiances here: should she feel more strongly about the death of a person she never knew at all or should she stick by a person who has been kind and helpful and who seems to be implicating some larger, less personal evil? I also think Emily is a character with generally muted emotional reactions (which is probably frustrating in general!) because she has been so alienated from other people by her family history. I see Emily as somewhat emotionally stunted. By the end of the book, I hope she is starting to come out of that and see a possibility for connection.
3. Man, I love all types of writing in almost every genre--poetry, dark fiction, literary fiction, nonfiction, culture essays, etc. Sometimes I wish that I could focus in on just one type of writing, but I just enjoy it all too much. Currently, I'm revising a werd little supernatural novel and working on a new novel that is sort of in the crime genre (I'm so bad at identifying genre--it has elements of a crime novel, at least). My next novel, Almost Dark, is also categorized as dark fiction and is kind of a sibling novel to Echo Lake: it is also about finding a home, but from a slightly different perspective. It's also interested in siblings, the meaning of work, and how particular places understand traumatic events that happen. It's also a little bloody, which is fun. It takes place in New England, another place I know pretty well, so I hope I evoke that place in a way that satisfies readers. It will be out in 2015, I believe, from Chizine Publications.
Thank you again for the questions!
I was finally able to start this yesterday, already over 1/4 through. Such a nice flow to the story. Easy writing style.
Letitia - have you gotten comparisons to Sara Gran or Gillian Flynn? I say that not because you're a woman, but because the style (so far) is very similar to me (which I love because it flows so easily).
Pete, thanks for the question!
Oh man, I would love to be compared to those two. I've read Come Closer by Sara Gran and really loved it and hope to catch up with her work. I read Gillian Flynn way back when Sharp Objects came out and knew her work was right up my alley--dark and funny and carefully written. I appreciate what you have to say about the easy, flowing style. I do want to write books that pay careful attention to language but are also readable. While I absolutely love "difficult" writing and writing that takes some time to parse, for my own purposes, I want to reach a wider audience.
I'm about half-way through and am really digging the story. Right now, however, I just want to "talk shop". When I started reading I got annoyed by the lack of quotation marks or a "-" to signify speech. Why did you decide to write the book that way? (It no longer annoys me, btw).
How long did Echo Lake take you to write and (biggest question of them all) how do you avoid the sweet sweet pull of internet distraction as you write?
Another thing... the book itself is beautiful.
First of all beautiful book. I loved how you were able to combine straight up horror with a lyrical feel. Not just going with straight up gore or "jump out of your seat" moments, but having this eerie but but beautiful back set to show the complex characters ( the town and lake being top characters as well)
That being said, what kind of research did you do to make so much of it seem so real? Such as the certain character by the lake who experienced... blood loss. (I don't want to give too of much away seeing that some in this forum haven't finished the book)
How did you come up with a way to present the child murderer (among other things) so that we knew just what a creep this guy was without making us sick in the process?
While I absolutely love "difficult" writing and writing that takes some time to parse, for my own purposes, I want to reach a wider audience.
While I absolutely love "difficult" writing and writing that takes some time to parse, for my own purposes, I want to reach a wider audience.
I read both "easier" writing and "difficult" writing. And I sometimes enjoy books where you have to read one page at a time, very slowly, mulling over every word. I mostly enjoy writing that just flows and begs you to read half the book in one sitting. And those are the books I recommend to my friends. So yeah, right up my alley.
Johann, I'm glad it got less annoying as you went :)
I never use quotation marks anymore. I started to feel irritated by them, these big, clunky pieces of punctuation that were just everywhere on the page, telling me something I thought I could have figured out anyway. So I ditched them. I also like that little moment of ambiguity as you are reading, until you reach the dialog attribution. Something about that slight slip between speech and not-speech felt right for a book that is so much about dreams and ambiguity. But it did take me some time to figure out how to go without them without making it confusing to the reader and that is something I am still working to get exactly right. I will probably never use quotation marks for speech again in prose, I've just lost all ability to deal with all that punctuation.
edit: forgot to address your other question! It took me about two years, total, and I am terrible at avoiding the internet, so I have zero advice there!
The design is great, right? So pleased with it.
Speaking of the stand-alone chapters. Sometimes things like that bother me. A whole chapter that doesn't have any of the main characters in it... But I actually really liked those chapters. I'd kind of get more involved to see what crazy thing was going to happen to these people. I feel like they helped drive the story forward.
I had no problem with the missing quotation marks. I find them annoying myself. The page looks so much cleaner without them.
I loved the book for the most part. And if I were to complain about anything, I would say it maybe ended up bit abruptly. But the whole book felt like this build-up. Where do you go from there? Everything was exposed. I don't think there was anything left to say. So it was probably the best way that the story / book could have ended. Maybe I just wanted more, which is a good thing.
Cyndi, thanks so much!
So, for the...bloody part, I did some research on effects of blood loss, but not much else. I think my research was just my gory imagination and many horror movies and books. I have a troubling ability to visualize awful things happening to bodies. Thanks, anxiety. So helpful, ha.
The child murderer part was very difficult. I wanted to make it clear what had happened and how that thread fit the whole, but also had no desire to make that explicit. Those sections came later in the writing process, as I knew I needed to tread lightly there but didn't quite know how. It took me a long time to write those parts. I also wanted to both resist the idea of making that character a "monster" or a "victim"--both answers seem too easy to me. I hope I succeeded somewhat there.
My next question is less about Echo Lake and more about you as a writer generally speaking. We are both featured in Exigencies and my fiancee asked me recently if I felt that college changed me as a writer or contributed to my style now. Do you feel like you significantly benefitted from your MFA/college or do you feel like in all likelyhood you would've written Echo Lake in its current form regardless of education? Which is to say, how much do you think your own life experience contributed to your writing vs what academia contributed? I'm sure alot of people here would be interested to hear the value of both seeing how this is a writers workshop. My personal feeling is that both contribute, though I'm starting to feel more and more than life experience and writing alone has lended more to my current work than college did. I think college gave me that aspiration to do something more "serious" or "literary" whereas grinding out pages every day pushed me to find my voice and eventually led me to the kind of work I do now. The results have been a hybrid of sorts that I think you'd appreaciate seeing how your own work has elements of genre but is also written in a way that more closely resembles contemporary literature.
Also when do you think your next novel will be out? Is it still up in the air at this point in time?
Oh man, that's is a great question.
I loved my MFA experience, but I was very, very young--fresh out of undergrad, 22. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. And I mostly wrote poetry and didn't start writing prose until my second year. I think my MFA was useful in pointing me to authors to read and getting me familiar with simply the elements of good writing (not that I think there is any particular formula, but some structured guidance helped) and in figuring out what I didn't want to write as much as what I did want to write. The MFA helped me to be intentional about my choices. I very much relate to what you say about how college made you want to write something more "literary" and then you later found your voice--I was kind of stuck in that mindset when I was in school. I was writing a lot of realist stuff about poverty and social issues...which is amazing, when you do it well, but I couldn't really figure out how to do it well. I'd say it wasn't until I wrote a story called "Wilderness," which will be in the Exigencies anthology out by Dark House Press next year, that I figured out what I wanted to do as a writer.
My MFA did really give me confidence and the ability to take criticism. I remember one particularly painful experience when a semi-famous visiting author of a controversial memoir (more famous at the time) held a workshop in fiction and I managed to get in (I was the only poet there!). I had written the story a week before and was well aware that it wasn't polished. It didn't occur to me that I was supposed to impress her, which I think was the point of the whole exercise to most people. Everybody else turned in very polished work. At any rate, she savaged my story and seemed personally annoyed at my existence. And while that stung, it was also great practice, because I now feel somewhat immune to random internet criticism and feel able to both hear what somebody has to say from an editorial standpoint and also to hold my own. Lots of workshops with people who may or may not like your work and brushing up against prickly writers is helpful. In other ways, I think I'm still that kid reading Wuthering Heights and Stephen King novels while living out of a travel trailer parked at a gas station just off the highway. I think I probably would have gotten where I am somehow, but my MFA experience sped up the process a bit and gave me a safe place to try things and fail.
Next novel will be out in the summer of 2015 I think!
Thanks for the question!