The original concept and premise for Echoes of War (SparkPress, September 2019) came from one of my usual wee hours of the morning dreams. In this dream I was watching a movie with a young woman who had died. In death, she had to make the choice to either move on to the afterlife, or go back into her world to try and not make the same mistakes—except she couldn’t take her memories with her. She just had to try again and hope she got it right. Oh—and she’d already tried and failed the quest dozens of times.
I woke up before I learned what she’d decided, livid to not know the ending. If the dream/story hooked me that hard, I figured there was more to it and I should probably write it down. I dictated notes into my phone for an hour after that dream and spent the next several weeks thinking about how this kind of story could work.
I was in the process of wrapping up the fifth and last book in my fantasy series, Burnt Mountain (self-published), when this dream occurred. However, I forced myself to stay the course to finish the fifth book before launching into a new novel.
I didn’t want to go the route of reincarnating humans, so I wanted a non-human protagonist. I didn’t want the wonky-shaped head and bulbous eyes kind of alien though. Topics periodically crop up about aliens already being present on Earth, so I opted to capitalize on that. If we did have aliens already on this planet, they’d have to look like us to blend in, right? Aliens with flawless human mimicry—perfect.
Next, I needed to build a world and create a history for these aliens. Where were they from? Why were they on Earth? What did they want? How did they accomplish human mimicry? How did they hide on Earth for centuries? What ultimately revealed their presence on Earth? The questions were endless.
World building creates a massive rabbit hole, but it’s necessary to create believable characters and species. How can I write about a new species if I don’t understand everything about them? Only a fraction of the world building I did made it into Echoes of War. That is all that was needed. The story isn’t about the aliens’ lives pre-Earth. The story is about what a genocidal faction of those aliens is actively doing to destroy the humans and take over the planet, and what the protagonist needs to do to stop it. The aliens’ pre-Earth existence was mostly for me as their creator. Snippets of the historical elements bled into the story, but only when it was relevant to something else happening in the novel.
Part of world building includes social structure, status, economics, and even biology, so I needed to keep building on my aliens.
When I hear people say, “Well if I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I would . . . ” it makes me cringe. I know it’s something people consider at times—a re-do of the past with your current knowledge intact. That’s a huge advantage I wanted my aliens to have. Not only are they near-immortal, but when they have to do a repeat, they return to a younger age (typically their twenties ) and are perfectly healthy with the bonus of retaining all their memories. Their prior lives influence their current life, serving as a reverberation or an echo of who they were before and are now. Thus, the name of the aliens, Echoes, was born.
Next, I needed to sort out how these aliens gain the ability to repeat their lives. When they died, they needed a way to come back. I borrowed from Doctor Who and went with regeneration, but without the new body/new physical appearance. They keep the same appearance but come back in a younger version of themselves.
Dani, the protagonist in Echoes of War, wasn’t going to have it as easy as normal Echoes, though. I love torturing my characters and making them miserable, and Dani was no exception. At the start of the novel, she is a civilian and refugee of the war. She believes she is human, but she’s actually an anomaly. She’s an Echo that regens back to a much younger age (ten years old). Each time, she forgets everything but her name and survival skills. Her recovery from regeneration is sluggish, and her aging brother is the only reason she survives yet another childhood. She’s a walking disaster in many ways, but her biology and abnormal regens make her life even more complicated.
I wish I could say that creating a new species was an overnight event, but it wasn’t. It took me months of working out the details for what I thought could be a believable alien. World building is often overlooked as part of the process of writing fiction. It is critical, especially for a genre like fantasy or science fiction where new worlds and species may come into existence. When you create a solid world for your story, it provides room for it to grow and evolve as any world would.