I’d like to introduce you to the fortieth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Debbie Howell (Deb E. Howell).
Hi, Debbie! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
I can. The funny thing I find about answering this kind of question is that each time I do, I realise I’ve been writing much longer than I ever thought.
I rediscovered creative writing in 2009 when I took it up as a way to pass the time between phone calls while working an unstimulating temp job. I didn’t immediately consider myself a writer, I was simply someone finding a way to break boredom. Before then, I had never considered myself a writer, either… but I was. When I was little, I used to love playing with my mum’s old typewriter… I didn’t write anything in particular, I just loved the way the “machine” worked. Sometimes I wrote stories. Never kept any, though. Later, I went on to writing the song lyrics to my favourite songs. I had a huge folder of them. Why? Because I love music and I love singing along to my favourites, but also because I love the action of writing… handwriting.
At school, my main problem with the creative writing part of the syllabus was that I didn’t know how to write short… my pieces remained, almost invariably, unfinished.
In high school, I started writing stories that I would read to my friends at lunch time… I still never considered myself a writer.
Recently, I was telling a writer friend how I used to imagine re-typing my favourite books as a teenager, simply so I could read them error-free (I’d found a couple of typos and they bothered me… I’m much more lenient now!). Anyway, my friend said “You had it bad.”
But I never realised. Here I was, a girl living in New Zealand. Writers were old (often dead, even) men from “over there”…
But since rediscovering writing… well, I can’t stop now. Whether it’s for myself or an audience, I suspect I will be writing till the end of my days.
Your fantasy novel, ‘Healer’s Touch’, was released in January, 2013, by Kristell Ink Publishing. Can you tell us a bit about your book? What inspired you to write it?
Inspired… inspired… I wasn’t really. As mentioned above, I found myself with a need to fill in time (I can’t sit doing nothing), and I filled that need with writing. When I read a book, I look to make friends with the characters… I want to put the book down and miss those characters (the way I felt the first time I finished David Eddings’ The Belgariad). So, when I started writing, that was my only goal – create characters I would miss. From that starting point, the story grew in layers until it became what it is. It went from being a (by a loose definition) western, to a fantasy with no magic, to some magic, to having a proper antagonist…
And so, Healer’s Touch was shaped and moulded.
It’s the story of a girl, Llew, with a magical power to heal (or, more precisely, transfer life) who’s had it rough and, to date, she’s never had a reason to rely on or trust anyone but herself. But if she wants to make a better life for herself, she needs to get out of her small town and make her way to a place with more opportunities. In order to do so safely, she must travel with a group of foreigners, one of whom turns out to be trained to kill her kind. Lucky for her, she’s kind of cute and he hesitates when he learns what she is.
As the story progresses we learn more about Llew’s power – the dangers it poses to those caught up when she needs to draw in life, and that there are those out there who would wish to use it for their own, not particularly nice, purposes.
Is ‘Healer’s Touch’ part of a series? Are you working on another book, related or not?
Yes, and yes. I realised about half-way through writing Healer’s Touch that the world was more complex than I could ever have planned, and that people might want to learn some back-story that I couldn’t fit into HT without the dreaded info-dump. And so I focused the HT storyline on developing the character relationships that need to be in place in order for other events to play out. In fact, while HT hints at deeper world-building, I really didn’t delve into it. I wanted this to be a fairly light-weight tale that might offer a gateway into the Fantasy genre to those who may not normally read it. If people trust me, hopefully they’ll let me guide them a little further…
So now I am working on what I’m calling Warrior’s Touch. You see, Llew is a “healer”, hence Healer’s Touch. While this next book still closely follows Llew, the story shifts focus to her soldier companion, Jonas, who has a tragic past and will now face his biggest challenge. I’m really excited about it. As much as I loved HT, WT is going to be better!
‘Healer’s Touch’ is described as ‘an entertaining mix of fantasy, western, steampunk, romance, and even a bit of horror’. Did you start out with the idea of combining all of those, or did it evolve?
A fully evolved process. I started out with Western influences – based on my favourite TV shows at the time. Of course I wanted a little romance – who doesn’t? The fantasy came about because I just didn’t feel like setting it in my home town, and I haven’t really been anywhere else. The steampunk came from my love of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. I don’t know if anyone recalls that show (Bruce Campbell!!), but it had a recurring of “the next big thing” turning up each episode – Levi jeans, motorbikes, a blimp… all these things appearing before their time – and their invention generally being attributed to Brisco County or one of his friends… I loved the idea of a tinkerer, an inventor… and so, my antagonist, Braph, came about. It was his development that really set the story going. As for the horror… that was purely accidental. I didn’t realise those scenes were quite so horrific until I started getting readers…
You were born and raised in New Zealand. Did you use New Zealand’s landscape or history when you created the setting and plot for your book?
Absolutely. I refer to a range of native fauna and flora. Llew is eyed up by a swamp hawk the second or third time she dies… actually, I think it is the second and third time she dies… These are a common carrion feeder in New Zealand, often seen smeared across our highways, unfortunately, because they eat road-kill… There are are matagouri bushes along the journey (I had to put this in. My first dog’s pedigree name was “Flaxwood Matagouri”… it’s my tribute to him). And later I mention manuka and kanuka trees. I also mention kowhai, but not by name… Just little mentions here and there…
How much research do you do for your books?
So far, I’ve mostly relied on research I’ve previously done – I was a Zoology student, which is why the natural world interests me so much. Certain details that I can’t go into here for fear of spoilers come directly from my own experience. However, as I write things, I will look into the finer details – how long it takes for rigor mortis to set in, for instance… I often give myself a refresher in dialogue by watching TV shows or movies where people talk with a “western” accent. If I’m ever unsure of a detail, I’m not afraid to look it up. Not to say I won’t then decide to use artistic license anyway…
In the future, I plan to take a bit of a hiatus between writing projects just to give myself time to research a topic of interest – historical events, scientific discoveries, etc… Anything that will make my writing really pop for me.
What has your experience with your publisher been like? Is it everything you’d hoped for?
Generally positive. I’m a pretty laid back kind of person, so I’ve been really pleased with the path I’ve chosen. I have a publisher who lets me be involved in the process (cover design, promotional materials, etc), doesn’t dictate too heavily, and is really easy to communicate with – even from the other side of the globe.
Yes, I think it is. I was going to head down the road of self-publishing just prior to learning of Kristell Ink’s existence. However, self-publishing requires capital and time I simply don’t have (I have a toddler and a part time job). I had considered a Kickstarter project to raise capital, but I didn’t really have the confidence that I could deliver to my backers… self-doubt, fear… all the usual things. Having the backing of a publisher, someone else who believes in my book, has been an immense help – and confidence-booster.
How are you dealing with marketing and advertising? Do you do any book readings and signings?
I don’t do readings and signings as yet. One day, if people learn who I am and like what I write I’d be happy to. But at the moment, I am an unknown and I live in a relatively small city (population ~110,000 – when the university is in semester time… we shrink when the students leave). The value of doing signings would be insignificant. And I can’t afford the airfares to go anywhere, yet. Perhaps when people start buying my book…
I have considered reading children’s books at our local library… my son thinks I’m pretty good (o:
What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?
Least favourite: First drafts. Coming up with new stuff is hard! And they almost invariably suck…
Favourite: Reading something I’ve written and really enjoying it (as a reader)! That does feel awesome. I feel that way about the opening chapters of the current WIP – hence my excitement about it!
Do you have a writing routine, a special place where you go to do your writing, or a certain time of day? Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what kind of music?
I write where and when I can. It has always been thus.
When I first started, I was a working wife. I wrote at morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. In the winter, when I would catch a ride to work with my husband even though he started an hour earlier than me (I’d already stuffed my knee on black ice once), I would go to the library and write until it was time to go to work. I wrote while cooking dinner… yes, indeedy… hence some of the stains on my original notes. I wrote all the time – while doing other things (work leaves an amazing amount of brain-space free for other thoughts, so by the time I could sit down with pen/paper or computer, I’d have whole scenes just waiting to be written).
With a toddler… yeah, well… There is no such thing as free brain space when they’re talking (and they can talk a lot), so these days my writing time is strictly limited to toddler sleep times… and I’m clinging to the afternoon sleep as long as I can make him have them! Unfortunately, it’s early afternoon… also the brain’s natural sleep time… It means slow going. But I make myself do it.
I’m very lucky that since the release of my first book, I have a friend who wants me to finish the next one… so she takes the toddler for one hour a week during the morning! I work much better in the morning…
If I had things my way, I would write for an hour or two every morning.
Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I don’t. I need to when my husband is watching TV, as I don’t have my own office, so I use music to block out the sound – I struggle to write with talking in the background. Sometimes I choose to listen to music to get myself in the “mood” of a scene. Other times, I prefer quiet. Just depends.
I have a playlist I write to. Most of the music would probably be considered quite moody, I guess. Songs from The Crow’s soundtrack feature heavily, along with other music with a similar sound.
What books or authors have influenced your writing?
Lots. The first books in which I fell head over heels for the characters were the Belgariad and Malloreon (as mentioned above) by David Eddings. The first book that had me actively seeking to continue to be a Reader was The Crow Road by Iain M. Banks. The first romance that got me a little hot under the collar was Lisa Unger’s Beautiful Lies (technically a thriller, I guess, but it was the romance that popped). While writing Healer’s Touch I read Brent Weeks’ The Black Prism and found another character to fall in love with, so I went on to read his Night Angel trilogy. I also “discovered” Joe Abercrombie while writing HT. His gritty fiction may not be for everyone, but when I’m reading his stories, my own writing improves (in my eyes)… so I’m a fan.
Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!
Amazon US Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B7RYFDI/
Amazon UK Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Healers-Touch-ebook/dp/B00B7RYFDI/
Amazon US Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Healers-Touch-Deb-E-Howell/dp/1909374083/
Amazon UK Paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Healers-Touch-Deb-E-Howell/dp/1909374083/
Also available through Barnes & Noble, Kobo and various other outlets!