Suburban readers of Chloe Neill's "Chicagoland Vampires" books may have experienced a bit of déjà vu while reading about Loring Park, a fictional suburb that's a key location in the series.
That's because Loring Park is loosely based on Barrington.
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Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (C2E2)When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, April 25; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 26; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 27
Where: McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Tickets: $35 on Friday, $45 on Saturday, $40 on Sunday
Info: Go to c2e2.com
"I wanted the town to convey a sense of being away, a place of relative wealth where people could have a lot of room to live," Neill said in a phone interview. "I also wanted it to be close enough to the city that you could go there on a moment's notice. Barrington had pretty much what I wanted."
Neill's best-selling series, which is at nine books and counting, makes vivid use of a variety of suburban locales, along with the city itself. The series' main character, 28-year-old Merit, is a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and the action of the books moves from various city spots to farther-out locations like Oak Park and Schaumburg.
Neill will be discussing the series (and her other works) at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, or C2E2, which is taking place this weekend at McCormick Place. Though primarily centered around comics books and their creators, C2E2 has featured a growing number of prose authors in recent years.
Neill will be joined at this year's show by other science fiction and urban fantasy writers, including C. Robert Cargill ("Queen of the Dark Things"), Steve Bein (the "Fated Blades" series) and Patrick Rothfuss (the Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy), among others. For a full list of guests, go to c2e2.com.
Some of the authors appearing this year were recruited with the help of Anderson's Bookshop, a well-known independent bookseller with stores in Naperville and Downers Grove.
Anderson's has attended C2E2 in the past as a vendor. This year, the store became active in the programming, bringing in authors for panel discussions, signings, etc.
"It's a great crowd for us, so it made sense," said Larry Law, a staffer at the Naperville store. "They're comic-book fans, yes, but they're also readers. There's quite a bit of crossover between comics and, to name just one example, dystopian young adult fiction. And participating in the show is a good way to raise awareness of who we are as a store."
Neill, who grew up in the South and now lives in Nebraska, said appearances she's made at the Anderson's store in Naperville helped her get a handle on the suburban area that surrounds Chicago.
"I live about a day's drive away, so it's not too hard for me to spend some time there. I like to see as much as I can, taking note of interesting towns or restaurants or whatever that I might be able to use in the books. Of course, Google Street View also helps. What a great resource that is for writers!"
Neill became fascinated with Chicago when she attended the 1996 Democratic National Convention there. She said the city seemed "magical" to her.
"I think the lake gives it a very special kind of lightness, or hopefulness," she said. "Plus, Chicago was underused in fantasy literature up till that time. I thought it would be fun to make the Chicago area its own character."
Neill's first "Chicagoland Vampires" book came out in 2009. The ninth and most recent, "Wild Things," came out in February.
The books chart an elaborate supernatural subculture of vampires, shape-shifters, sorcerers and other creatures, all of whom mingle with "regular" people in contemporary Chicago. The series contains many of the hallmarks of current urban fantasy -- action, personal drama, beautiful young people and plenty of romance.
An obvious reference point when discussing the series is Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" franchise, which exploded just as Neill was starting to write fiction seriously.
"I think 'Twilight' helped me," Neill said. "My experience has been that when people find things they like, they look for other things they'll like. I'm sure some readers discovered my books because of 'Twilight.'"
At C2E2, Neill will sign copies of her books, participate in a panel discussion of supernatural cityscapes and moderate a panel on the art of world-building. She'll be at the show on Saturday and Sunday.
"I'm really looking forward to it," she said. "I have so much fun at those types of conventions. And I'll be back in Merit's hometown!"