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Review: Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater


Dead Spots
Author:  Rhiannon Frater
Publisher:  Tor Books, February 24, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages
List Price:  $16.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780765337153 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater
New horror from Rhiannon Frater: in the dead spots, dreams become reality, terror knows your name, and nightmares can kill

The stillbirth of Mackenzie's son destroyed her marriage. Grieving, Mac reluctantly heads for her childhood home to seek refuge with her mother, who constantly reminds her of life's dangers.

Driving across Texas, Mac swerves to avoid hitting a deer...and winds up in a dead spot, a frightening place that lies between the worlds of the living and the dead. If they can control their imaginations, people can literally bring their dreams to life--but most are besieged by fears and nightmares which pursue them relentlessly.

Mackenzie's mother and husband haunt her, driving her to the brink of madness. Then she hears a child call for help and her maternal instincts kick into overdrive. Grant, Mac's ally in the dead spots, insists Johnny is a phantom, but the boy seems so real, so alive....

As the true horrors of the dead spots are slowly revealed, Mackenzie realizes that time is running out. But exits from the dead spots are nearly impossible to find, and defended by things almost beyond imagination.


Deb's Review

Six months after the stillbirth of her son, Mackenzie Babin is grieving not only his death, but the loss of her job, her home, and her marriage. As a last resort, she decides to return to her mother's ranch in Texas until she can get back on her feet again. On her way home, a curious near-accident on an isolated road lands her in front of an abandoned diner. In an uncharacteristically bold moment, she steps inside the building to look around and finds herself trapped in a frightening limbo from which there may be no return. The diner is a dead spot - a place left behind by the real world that acts as a doorway to the ever-shifting world of dreams and nightmares. Mackenzie abruptly runs into Grant in the dead spot, and despairs when she she learns that he has been trapped inside this alternate reality for years. After the two survive a terrifying encounter with the diner's other-worldly staff and patrons, she comes to see Grant as her guide and protector in this dangerous, sentient place that knows your fears and sorrows, and uses them to hunt you down and drain you of your energy, your sanity, and your life.

Although Mackenzie is in her mid-twenties, Rhiannon Frater's Dead Spots feels very much like a coming of age story viewed through a dark lens. Raised by a rigid and critical mother, Mackenzie escapes her childhood home by eloping with a man who lacks the emotional maturity for a lasting relationship. She has had more than her share of pain and guilt heaped upon her, which makes her a delicacy for nightmare creatures that readily feed on those who have lost hope. In her travels, she must learn to rely on herself, trust her instincts, and use the steel spine she doesn't yet realize she possesses.

The primary characters in Dead Spots are multi-faceted and provoke specific emotions, whether positive or negative. Those emotions shifted for me as the story progressed, but I did respond to Mackenzie and company. Some of the choices she makes are ill-considered and frustrating, but Mackenzie is learning her way through an unfamiliar world while sorting out who she is and what she stands for. Perhaps the most exasperating thing for me was that even as she begins to develop insight, she remains emotionally attached to her ex-husband in spite of what transpired between them. Some of the story felt overlong, and some of the rules of the world turned upside down seemed arbitrary. Frater does take her time showing Mackenzie's growth, so there's purpose to the story length, but I did feel that the middle third dragged a bit. There are many villains: some predictable, some uniquely terrifying, and others with deceptively friendly faces. All we can do is watch Mackenzie and hope she can learn and adapt quickly enough, and that her hard luck streak breaks before she does.

Dead Spots conjures a complex and deadly world and populates it with interesting characters pitted against the things they fear the most. Be aware that there are scenes featuring gore and some sexual situations, and that people who have lost a child may find the story triggering, as Mackenzie's thoughts are never far from her lost son. One of the best things I can say about the book is that I was truly invested in the central characters as the story began careening to a close. Whether all key characters get their happy ending or not, an author has done his or her job when we care about their outcome. Frater succeeds with Dead Spots.

Guest Blog by Melissa F. Olson - What do Vampires Want? - November 26, 2012

Please welcome Melissa F. Olson to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard 1) was published on October 30, 2012.



Guest Blog by Melissa F. Olson - What do Vampires Want? - November 26, 2012




What do Vampires Want?

It’s easy, when writing about vampires, werewolves, and witches, to find yourself committing literary teleportation. As a culture we’ve been consuming entertainment about these creatures for hundreds of years: we’ve seen the movies, we’ve read the books, we’ve bought the delicious marshmallowy cereal. The rules of supernatural mythology are always going to be a bit flexible – some werewolves transform only at the full moon, for example, while others can do it whenever they want – but there is definitely a well-established archetype, an impression, that we all carry for each creature, and it’s so easy to just insert that guy into your work. Bam! Dracula Cullen is teleported into my new book. Easy peasy.

When I began writing my urban fantasy novel, Dead Spots, I realized that the real challenge isn’t just building a world – it’s escaping the archetype. It’s hard enough to write an original, believable, three-dimensional human character. How do you turn such well-known monsters into realistic people who became monsters? This has all been done so many times, in so many ways: how can I, as a twenty-first century writer, possibly turn out something that hasn’t been done a thousand times by people who are better and more experienced? It’s really very daunting.

The plan that I came up with was this: go back to basics. As I began writing Dead Spots, I sat down and asked myself what felt like a very silly question: If I were a 200-year-old vampire, what would I want? I know, I know – it sounds so rudimentary it’s stupid. But it’s actually a pretty tough question, because entertainment has been so saturated with vampires, that we’ve gotten pretty far away from a basic literary element like motivation.

So let’s stop and think. We all dream of doing things in our lifetimes, but we always consider what we can do within a human lifetime. If you don’t die or even age anymore, what happens when you’ve crossed off everything on your bucket list? You’ve learned languages, traveled (sunlight permitting), acquired riches, read books, secured a blood supply, etc. Then what? What exactly do you want to do with your eternity? Wait around for the next season of Dexter?

I have to tell you, that one simple question made me consider vampires differently. In other books and movies, the vampires seem to want power and blood. World domination, maybe. But when you really think about it, doesn’t world domination seem kind of…exhausting? Not to mention overexposed. Vampires are a parasitic species, after all. They’re predators who have evolved to hide in the shadows and take what they need. And for all their power, they’re also very, very vulnerable. It doesn’t matter how old or how many you are – you have to die, or at least sleep, during the day. There will always be that weakness, and it just doesn’t fit with a dictator/puppetmaster kind of lifestyle.

So I made the decision that my main vampire, Dashiell, wasn’t interested in ruling the world, or starting a human blood farm, or finding a cure, or any of that other nonsense. Like most vampires in my book, he has a great emptiness inside him, because when you’ve lost everyone and everything from your human life, you can’t help but lose some of your humanity, too. But in my world, that’s not the same thing as not having a soul—or a calling. Dashiell is the most powerful vampire in Los Angeles, and he has some old-fashioned ideas about power and responsibility. He makes it his mission to protect all of the weaker vampires in the city. That’s what he wants. But I didn’t figure that out until I sat down, held very still, and started asking stupid questions.

Once I had the vampire, it got easier. In my world, all three factions of the supernatural have a leader, and all three leaders are committed, above anything else, to taking care of their people. And I’d like to think that helps to –for lack of a better word – humanize them a little. Whenever I find myself picturing a shadowy, good-looking guy sneaking around in the dark with his fangs out, or a slobbering, uncontrollable wolf-monster, or a Disney-style wicked witch, I stop what I’m doing and think about the character’s actual, reality-based motivation.

After all…supernatural creatures are people, too.






About Dead Spots

Dead Spots
Scarlett Bernard 1
47North, October 30, 2012
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 293 pages

Guest Blog by Melissa F. Olson - What do Vampires Want? - November 26, 2012
Scarlett Bernard knows about personal space: step within ten feet of her, and any supernatural spells or demonic forces are instantly defused—vampires and werewolves become human again, and witches can’t get out so much as a “hocus pocus.” This special skill makes her a null and very valuable to Los Angeles’s three most powerful magical communities, who utilize her ability to scrub crime scenes clean of all traces of the paranormal to keep humanity, and the LAPD, in the dark.

But one night Scarlett’s late arrival to a grisly murder scene reveals her agenda and ends with LAPD’s Jesse Cruz tracking her down to strike a deal: he’ll keep quiet about the undead underworld if she helps solve the case. Their pact doesn’t sit well with Dash, the city’s chief bloodsucker, who fears his whole vampire empire is at stake. And when clues start to point to Scarlett, it’ll take more than her unique powers to catch the real killer and clear her name.





About Melissa

Guest Blog by Melissa F. Olson - What do Vampires Want? - November 26, 2012
Melissa Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. So…culture shock. Never one for beer or cheese, anyway, Melissa came to love her new city, especially the climate, the movie-watching opportunities, and the food, pretty much in that order. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood Studio System, Melissa proved too broke for LA and moved to glorious Madison, WI, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, two kids, and two comically oversized dogs, not at all in that order. She loves Madison and it’s proximity to her family, but still dreams of the food in LA. Literally. There are dreams.

Her work has been published in the Daily Trojan, the Chippewa Falls Herald Telegram, The International Journal of Comic Art, The La Crosse Tribune, U-Wire, Women on Writing.com, and the upcoming compilation The Universal Vampire. She has also presented or been on panels at the Midwest Popular Culture/American Culture Conference, the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts Conference, and OdysseyCon 2012.

Website : Blog : Facebook : Twitter


Interview with Melissa F. Olson, author of Dead Spots - October 23, 2012

Please welcome Melissa F. Olson to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard 1) will be published on October 30, 2012.



Interview with Melissa F. Olson, author of Dead Spots - October 23, 2012



TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Melissa:  This is true - I often wear hats when I write. It’s not a writerly affectation, I promise, but I’m prone to migraines, and the lighting in my house, combined with the screen glow from my laptop, can start giving me headaches when I work for a few hours straight. So I’ll put on a hat to cut the glare from the room lights. Of course, it’s always my most ridiculous or hideous hats, because then I won’t accidentally wear them out of the house and lose them.


TQ:   Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

Melissa:  Rob Thurman was the first Urban Fantasy author I ever read, so in a way you can blame everything on her. Then there’s Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris for worldbuilding, Carrie Vaughn and Patricia Briggs for how to craft a long series, early Laurel K. Hamilton for attitude and girl power. And, of course, Joss Whedon, who despite being a man is sort of the patron saint of strong female characters.


TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Melissa:  In order to truly enjoy the writing, I’ve found I have to be about 30%-70%. I start with a premise, the main characters, a first chapter, a very vague idea of the main arc, and maybe an idea of what the ending looks like. Then I think of it as writing into a fog.


TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Melissa:  Honest answer? Being a mom at the same time. I have a 3 ½ year old at home who’s just the perfect age to prevent me from getting anything done while she’s awake. And I really can’t recommend being 35 weeks into a tough pregnancy when your book comes out. It’ll all settle down in a few years, but for now, balancing being a full-time parent and a professional writer is the hardest thing I do.


TQ:  Describe Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard 1) in 140 characters or less.

Melissa:  “A rare human who can nullify supernatural powers, Scarlett Bernard must help a young cop solve a series of supernatural murders in LA.” With five to spare!


TQ:  What inspired you to write Dead Spots?

Melissa:  It was actually a scene from the movie Hellboy 2. The characters put on these goggles that help them see through magic spells. I started with the premise of someone who can see through spells, but I couldn’t make it work the way I wanted. Then I came up with someone who can neutralize spells, and as soon as I had that, Scarlett was born.


TQ:  Why did you set the novel in Los Angeles?

Melissa:  At first, LA sort of won by default – it’s the biggest place I’ve ever lived in, and the only major city I know well. Later I realized that it’s also a great fit for Scarlett: LA is a city without a center. Some would even say it lacks a heart and soul. I love LA, and I know it’s full of good things – but it’s also full of lost people. At the beginning of Dead Spots, Scarlett has no drive, no center – and she is definitely lost.


TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Dead Spots?

Melissa:  I did a lot of research in magical folklore – the various myths about werewolves, vampires, witches – so I could decide how I wanted my mythology to work. I found myself researching evolution, because in my world magic is a natural offshoot of science. I also have a big LA city map hanging in my office with pushpins in it to represent the various locations in the novel. When people write about LA they often stick to the well-known areas – Hollywood, downtown, the beach. I try to visit a lot more of the city.


TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?

Melissa:  Once I understood her backstory and her attitude, Scarlett came naturally to me, which I suppose is what you want from your main character. Dashiell the vampire was probably the hardest, because there are so many vampire stories out there that it’s important to me to try not to just fall into existing stereotypes. It would be easy to say “Okay, Dashiell is Lestat from Interview With the Vampire, dropped into this other story.” That’s the last thing in the world I want to do. On the other hand, it isn’t easy to imagine what it’s like to be nearly 200 years old, rich out of your mind, and immortal.


TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Dead Spots?

Melissa:  Nobody’s ever asked me that! I loved writing the scene where Jesse and Scarlett first meet – these two people are just shoved into this completely messed up situation, and immediately everything they’ve been working for is turned on its head.


TQ:  What's next?

Melissa:  The sequel to Dead Spots, Trail of Dead, will be published sometime this spring or early summer – I don’t have an exact date yet. I just finished editing it, and I’m really excited about where Scarlett’s story takes her. I’m also looking into doing some stories for Scarlett’s world for Christmas.


TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Melissa:  Thank you!




About Dead Spots

Dead Spots
Scarlett Bernard 1
47North, October 30, 2012
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 293 pages

Interview with Melissa F. Olson, author of Dead Spots - October 23, 2012
Scarlett Bernard knows about personal space: step within ten feet of her, and any supernatural spells or demonic forces are instantly defused—vampires and werewolves become human again, and witches can’t get out so much as a “hocus pocus.” This special skill makes her a null and very valuable to Los Angeles’s three most powerful magical communities, who utilize her ability to scrub crime scenes clean of all traces of the paranormal to keep humanity, and the LAPD, in the dark.

But one night Scarlett’s late arrival to a grisly murder scene reveals her agenda and ends with LAPD’s Jesse Cruz tracking her down to strike a deal: he’ll keep quiet about the undead underworld if she helps solve the case. Their pact doesn’t sit well with Dash, the city’s chief bloodsucker, who fears his whole vampire empire is at stake. And when clues start to point to Scarlett, it’ll take more than her unique powers to catch the real killer and clear her name.





About Melissa

Interview with Melissa F. Olson, author of Dead Spots - October 23, 2012
Melissa Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. So…culture shock. Never one for beer or cheese, anyway, Melissa came to love her new city, especially the climate, the movie-watching opportunities, and the food, pretty much in that order. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood Studio System, Melissa proved too broke for LA and moved to glorious Madison, WI, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, two kids, and two comically oversized dogs, not at all in that order. She loves Madison and it’s proximity to her family, but still dreams of the food in LA. Literally. There are dreams.

Her work has been published in the Daily Trojan, the Chippewa Falls Herald Telegram, The International Journal of Comic Art, The La Crosse Tribune, U-Wire, Women on Writing.com, and the upcoming compilation The Universal Vampire. She has also presented or been on panels at the Midwest Popular Culture/American Culture Conference, the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts Conference, and OdysseyCon 2012.

Website : Blog : Facebook : Twitter
Review: Dead Spots by Rhiannon FraterGuest Blog by Melissa F. Olson - What do Vampires Want? - November 26, 2012Interview with Melissa F. Olson, author of Dead Spots - October 23, 2012

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