Following my review of Deb E Howell’s “Healer’s Touch” (see previous post), I’m very happy to welcome Deb to the blog today and subject her to some gentle probing. Take it away, Deb!
Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, I’m a mum to one human and four fur babies (one dog, two cats, and one mini horse). I love to grow things… in pots… less weeding. I love to write. And I love to dance.
I have a Bachelor of Science in Zoology, but so far haven’t used it directly. Instead, I use the research skills I learned to help make unreal things a little more real.
I’ve just reviewed your first novel, “Healer’s Touch”, which was an unusual combination of Steampunk / Western / Romance – a bit different! Could you tell us about the book (no spoilers!) What drew you to writing a steampunk / western combination?
What drew me to western (it came first) / steampunk was that when I started writing HT I had been watching (and re-watching) a bunch of western-based TV shows… The Young Riders, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr and Deadwood. It was the Brisco County that got me thinking along the lines of steampunk. It has a Professor character (played by John Asitn) who was inventive (he made a blimp, and all sorts). One of the things I really loved about that show was how they’re attribute inventions made later in the real world to Brisco and his friends: motorcycles, jeans, drive-thru. It was neat, and just helped me think outside the box a little bit, too.
Simple fact is, I love horses, always have. So that whole era of pioneering, where (wo)man and horse tamed the land… That’s my kind of time…
How have you developed your characters, and the unusual magic system in your world? It’s obvious you’ve put a lot of thought into the world-building – any worldbuilding tips you’d like to share?
What do they say? Steal from one source, it’s plagiarism, steal from many, it’s research?
Look around you. Notice the news items, the scientific discoveries, your favourite parts of your favourite books/movies/tv shows. Think about what you like, what catches your attention, what disgusts you. And think about why. And then use it…
The key to my world would probably be Llew’s power. I came up with that many, many years ago when I invented a comic book character at high school. I drew a couple of drawings, and wrote a couple of chapters of a story, and even shared it with a few friends. That was a male character, of course… because, you know, super heroes are boys. And I wanted an excuse to draw a topless man.
Anyway, skip several years down the track to me wanting to write something to entertain myself while the work was a bit thin-on-the-ground… I wanted to write fantasy, because, well, horses, but I didn’t want to put myself in the same category as all those greats like JRRT and the like, so I knew I didn’t want to write elves and dwarves, etc. I didn’t think I could add anything to the vampire realm. So, I dredged up this old idea…
Then I started writing… (bear in mind, this was my first novel, and I wasn’t even intending it to be a novel, so I had no plan).
Then, I would ask myself questions, and things just went from there.
Most things came from me asking “why?” and “how?”.
I have always loved studying genetics (and am so pleased to know I carry a rare mutation… more on that later, perhaps), so I know the genetics of the Karas and Aenuk lines pretty well, even if the characters don’t, because, well, limited science for them.
What is your favourite part of writing? Which parts do you find easy? Is there any particular aspect of writing that you struggle with, and how have you overcome it?
I guess my favourite part is when a flash of inspiration hits and I’m all “Yes! Yes! That’s it!” Thos tend to come just before bedtime… I just have to jot them down, because I can’t afford to stay up (even) late(r), because I have a three year old who doesn’t do sleep-ins…
Inspiration could be just the right combination of words, or it could be a whole scene playing out like a movie in my head (I like those).
I struggle with just about all of it these days.
When I was working, I’d walk to work and have lunch times and quiet times while I cooked dinner… I lived HT in those moments. Now I have a child, so the chance to daydream is pretty well zilch. So, yes, I struggle with it all.
On the other hand, it has given me a distance that let’s me get a sense for whether or not I’m on the right path as I’m writing. Only problem then is, I might have a sense I’m on the wrong path, but not know what the right path is… and it can take a while for that little nugget of info to spring from nowhere.
I don’t know that I’ve overcome anything, yet. Everyday, I write when I can. Everyday, I do what I can manage with what time and space I have. Sometimes, there is no space, it’s all noise and activity around me… on those days, I edit. Some days, I can’t even sit at my computer until 9pm. Those days… I do what I can depending on the state of my brain by that time of day.
I push myself to write something. Even if all it is is a page of notes about where things are and what might or should happen next and what would be a natural progression, or whatever… Or, I do a little run-down of each of my characters’ motivations in that moment. Or, I write 200 words of manuscript… or 600, or 1000.
I have no magic bullet, other than to be obsessive.
What made you want to be a writer? Was there anything that drew you to Fantasy in particular?
Heh… I think I answered the second part above… Horses, pretty much (how do you do a whistling ‘smiley’ with hands behind back, eyes looking up and to the side and mouth).
But, seriously… I’m a fantasy reader.
It’s strange. I never considered myself a reader when I was little, because others around me seemed to read more. My brother was the one with a book collection. I had toy horses and My Little Ponies. But I borrowed my brother’s books.
I “discovered” reading several times.
When I first picked up David Eddings’ Pawn of Prophesy and just had to read, and own, the whole series. And read it again. And again… gosh I loved those characters.
When I first picked up Iain Banks’ The Crow Road and read: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” and just had to read and own more of his books. And yet, I wasn’t a reader, as such. I spent more time drawing (horses).
And I certainly wasn’t a writer. Sure, I kept journals… and I enjoyed the creative writing part of English class at school despite not enjoying English class in general.
Writing came about because I had found myself jobless and took up temping. As a temp, I was often given the grunt work, so the people who knew the work could do the important stuff. In one particular job, I was the person who answered the phone and put the caller through to the person they wanted to talk to (you know, like those recordings can do automatically). It wasn’t a busy phone line. I was bored. I had a pen and some scrap paper. I began to write…
Healer’s Touch was one of the first books published by Kristell Ink. How did you come to be published by them? What’s it like working with a fledgling indie publisher?
I discovered KI through a forum post Sammy made on Authonomy. I knew HT still needed some work, but it was essentially finished and I wanted to see what would happen. With KI being new, they were willing to look at something not 100% polished, and, so I put my hook out there.
I was surprised and pleased that Sammy saw what I had hoped was there. We made a few tweaks, edited it, and that was that, really…
It’s exciting working with a new indie publisher. No one can say “These are the good guys” or “Ooh, no, they’ll sting you”. You just have to fly in faith.
Yes, we had a bit of a rocky road earlier last year when there was a bit of a disruption within the company, but since all that got sorted, it’s been good.
The real strength of KI would have to be the authors. We frequently chat (via Facebook or Twitter) about what’s going on in the world of fiction and share potential marketing strategies, and just generally are friends, really.
And I love the fact that it’s not a matter of “Well, your book was published over a month ago, it didn’t hit, we’re onto the next thing…”. There are recurring publicity boosts – giveaways, free promos, advertising when the budget allows.
I’ve been lucky. I know that.
Can you share some of your favourite books and movies of the last few years?
Sure. We don’t catch many movies these days. But, I did like Looper… that’s probably the main one that has stuck with me. I know there are heaps more, and lots of awesome ones… but I probably haven’t seen them, yet.
Books… books, books, books… Well, now.
A couple of years ago I picked up this fantasy novel with a yummy man on the front (unfortunately, the cover design for this book has been replaced by something much more traditionally Fantasy since)… it was called The Black Prism by a guy called Brent Weeks. LOVED IT! But, it was the first in an incomplete series… but, Mr Weeks had previously written a series, Night Angel. Also pretty awesome, but I’m loving the new series more.
Then someone told me about this Joe Abercrombie fellow and that I should read a book called Best Served Cold. Well, it was all out at our library, so I read The Heroes instead. I didn’t go mental over it, but I was still interested in reading more. So, I started buying ebooks… I got BSC and really enjoyed it. Then Red Country came out, and that was really good. So, I went back and read The First Law trilogy. Also a great read (for someone like me… obviously, not everyone loves that sort of stuff). Mr Abercrombie is funny on Twitter, too (@LordGrimdark), which has cemented him as among my favourites. I now own three signed hardbacks of his… they’re not cheap to get in New Zealand…
Several years ago, a friend put me onto Diana Gabaldon’s Cross Stitch (Outlander). That was a fun read, too… Definitely influenced parts of HT.
Those have been the turning points for me in recent years. There is a ton of great fantasy for me yet to read.
What are your plans for your next book?
To finish it!!
Seriously. It has been a tough road with starting it just as my son began to be awake more and more (and now he’s dropped his last day sleep, argh!). It’s meant little to no daydreaming… my daydreaming time is my writing time (and email and Facebook, etc). It’s meant pushing forward just to get words down… and deleting large chunks of those.
As for thematic/character plans for the book… Well, as I was writing HT, I knew there was a whole back story for both Jonas and Braph that, when I tried to bring them in to HT, just complicated the story. So, I made HT Llew’s story. Warrior’s Touch, while still exploring Llew and her power, shifts focus a little more to Jonas. He learns a few truths (as do the readers), and will have to grow somewhat. I then plan to call the last one Magician’s Touch. That would hint that I’ll focus more on Braph… it would also hint that he lives until that one… damn. All I can say is it will be epic. I hope.
Any links that you’d like to share with us?
Oh, well, you know, I suppose I’d like people to find me, and may buy my book (although it is free through the month of February, so buying it isn’t all that painful right now).
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DJE8NSK
Both link to the Kindle edition, but the paperback edition is linked to those…
Other Amazons: http://bookshow.me/B00DJE8NSK