I have another installment in my author interview series to post today: say hi to Deb E Howell, author of The Healer's Touch (Kristell Ink Publishing, 2013). Deb E is a wonderful combination of science geek and fangirl, and has an inspiring sense of humor. I encourage you to check out her blog, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and of course, to buy her book.
Now, on to the interview!
I like the premise of your book: someone who can heal herself, but only at the expense of others. It takes the usual notion of a positive ability and makes it much darker. How did you come up with the idea?
I honestly can’t remember. I developed a character with this power (the giving and taking) some 15-16 years ago. I was at High School at the time, so I would have been watching a lot of super hero cartoons, which no doubt played a part. Because I was a teenage girl, of course my character back then was a strapping young man. Llew will never forgive me for sticking her with it...
Deb E's childhood nights were spent falling asleep to cover versions of Cliff Richard and the Shadows and other Rock ’n Roll classics played by her father’s band, and days were spent dancing to 45 LPs. Many of her first writing experiences were copying down song lyrics. She graduated to scientific reports when she studied a nematophagus fungus in the Zoology department of the University of Otago, trading all traces of popularity for usefulness… then traded both for fiction.
Well, I’ve always had an interest in the natural world, and particularly horses, so a world in which horse was the main form of transport was an easy choice. From there, I went with a Wild West flavour because, when I started writing, I had been going through a “phase”; watching “The Young Riders” then “The Adventures of Brisco County Junior”, then “Deadwood”, and I’d even count “Justified” in there... I was sensing a theme, and decided to go with it. The steampunk flavour came from the “Brisco County” watching – don’t know if you recall John Astin’s character; he was an inventor of sorts, coming up with the blimp and motorbikes and whatnot. And then there were the episodes where other characters came up with inventions “before their time”: the drive-thru, jeans, Elvis... So that opened my mind to the idea of not being 100% factual, and I just went with having fun.
But, of course, I still wanted a sense of realism. So, absolutely, I’ve researched here and there: how bullets are made, how long it takes to build a gun, various biological details...
My favourite reference is the Online Etymology Dictionary – a lifesaver when it comes to checking the legitimacy of a word within a given time.
Do you think genre-bending is something that most readers are comfortable with? Or, do they expect a certain consistency of “flavor,” and will resist being pulled into the story if it doesn’t have all the elements they’ve grown to expect?
You know, I didn’t think it would be a problem when I was writing the book, but I totally get the resistance to it when it comes to marketing. It has been hard to judge who will get the most enjoyment out of it and who will just tear it to shreds. I’ve just decided to mostly go for standard fantasy readers and some who like the modern Paranormal Romances. Many who like the more contemporary stories, though, may still not like it with all its new-world building – some people just don’t dig that kind of thing. But the more fantasy I read the more I realise my book fits pretty snuggly in there, even with the additions.
Are there going to be sequels?
I realised while writing Healer’s Touch that there were still some ideas and character histories to be explored, but felt that if I brought them into that book they would complicate things far too much, and I had enough of that going on! There were many times in my early drafts of HT when I had so many crises happening all at once that I had to go back and figure out how to present the issues one at a time – otherwise things just couldn’t be dealt with effectively. So HT is pretty much about the love story, the next book (currently titled Warrior’s Touch) will develop the world more and deal with a new foe, and the third book (currently planned to be Magician’s Touch) should tie up the story nicely.
Is this your first novel, or is the first one you’ll admit to? (My debut novel is actually novel #5.)
It is my first novel (honestly). And it does suffer from some first attempt tremors, I’ll admit, but my publisher liked it, and so have several readers. Perfect? No. Good fun? I hope so.
What do you like about working with a small press? What’s the biggest challenge?
I like that I work directly with my publisher, Kristell Ink. And I like that marketing wasn’t just a one month push and then I was on my own. We’ve continued to give little bumps to their whole catalogue of books over the past year. I’m part of a neat group of writers, and I feel very lucky for it.
Do you ever get tired of your own voice? What keeps you going as a writer?
When I’m on the ball, I’m pretty comfortable in my own voice. But sometimes I need to push through and write when things just aren’t flowing... then I get “clunky”. I keep going because, despite the huge challenge it presents, writing is the first thing I’ve done that I’ve ever thought, “I really want to do this for a living... I love it.” And writing is hard. There is so much fear. What if I strike it lucky and write an awesome book or two and can afford to write full time, and then the ideas dry up (unlikely, but...). What if I’m just not good enough and will forever have to work like crazy to keep money coming in while I also write? So, I suppose it’s the fear that keeps me going... I want to beat it. I want to do this.
Plus, it helps that with one book out there I have a few people rooting for me to get the next one done...
What advice would you give yourself if you could travel back in time five years?
Five years ago? Probably not much... I was pretty happy with the path I took over the last five years. A year ago, I might suggest I slow down when it came to seeking publication, to take the time to polish the story a just a little more... maybe. But it’s a tough call to make... You can tweak and tweak and tweak a story and it still won’t be perfect (no story is). There simply comes a point at which you must put it out there, or not... And I wanted to publish. And I’m glad I did, even if I plan to continue to be a better writer every day and I already cringe when I read over parts of HT (but there are also parts I still love).
Where can we get your book?
Oh, so many places...
Smashwords, Amazon US (Kindle and the associated paperback link, of course), Amazon UK (Kindle & paperback), Kobo, and Wizard’s Tower