Monday, July 18, 2016

Interview with Deb E. Howell, author of Healer’s Touch

Today the Speculative Fiction Showcase has great pleasure in interviewing Deb E. Howell, author of Healer's Touch.

What inspired you to write your fantasy series that begins with Healer’s Touch?
It was a step-wise process.
I went from wanting to tackle boredom, to wanting to challenge myself, to wanting to satisfy the two friends who had taken up reading what I was writing (thanks, as always, T and Gav). They were extremely patient as I progressed through diving in to learning what needed to go in to writing a novel, and then on to semi-accidental publication. What I mean by that is, well, the dream is always there, right? I just wasn't expecting success so early. Hoped, but, yeah…
I've always enjoyed the feeling of shaping words with a pen on paper, so when boredom struck (I was temping, and my job was to answer the phone and put the call through to the person they wanted to talk to… and wait for the next call…) my natural response was to find pen and paper.

What made you choose a Wild West setting for the books? 

Again, this would be a multi-layered answer.
The first reason must be that I was re-living my joy of watching Western-based TV shows from the '90s at the time: The Young Riders, The Adventures of Brisco County Junior...
Next came the thought that many fantasy novels were set in medieval times usually in a European kind of setting and I figured why not do something outside of that.
And, finally, I thought that since I live in New Zealand, I should draw on New Zealand's history. In this case, I only drew on the very recent history, setting the story at an equivalent time to the 1860s which was well after colonisation began. There are definite similarities to the colonised Americas.

Your main characters have magical powers, which come at a price. Tell us more about this.
Llew's power, the power to heal but at the cost of draining life from the life around her, was one I'd come up with in high school. I'm not quite sure where it originally came from, but I was watching all the standard cartoons of the time: X-Men, Gargoyles, Dungeons and Dragons, so no doubt they influenced me in there somewhere!
It's her power that really drives the whole story.
And she hates me for it.
It's wonderful that she can help out her friends, closing cuts, or (yay!) bringing them back to life. But if she does this, she will either kill a wide area of micro wildlife like grass and insects, or something bigger like a cow, or a person. It means she can't just use her power without thought. But, if she dies, she will heal without thought and the consequences can be devastating.
When coming up with a potential romantic match for her, I didn't want a Mr-Fix-It-All (so no all-powerful wizard types), but I did want someone that could help when it came to preventing Llew from doing too much damage, and could be believable as a counter-“weapon” used by an opposing nation (my working title had been “Weapons of War”). And Jonas was “born” with his superior strength and speed, the good old standards.

Without too many spoilers, what is going to happen in the sequel?
In HT, Llew and Jonas became very close, although a little too fast for self-reliant Llew, so in Warrior's Touch their relationship will continue to develop while Llew works out how she really feels about it all.
Ha ha. Gosh. It's so hard to think what I can say without spoilers.
Basically, Jonas, who has spent his life doing what others tell him will learn to function without his support network. And Llew, who has learned to count on only herself, will begin to learn the value and joy of close friendships.

You say your book is a mixture of Fantasy, steampunk and Wild West adventure. How do they mix?
Well, Fantasy can be set in any time or place. It simply needs a fantastic element.
Steampunk is generally set in Victorian times. It naturally has a fantasy element because steam technology never took off to the extent it does within the Steampunk culture.
And as for Steampunk and Western… well, I always felt they gelled quite naturally. The most famous goings on in the Wild West occurred during the Victorian era, so there's definitely a tie-in there. There's corsets and gorgeous dresses, and guns. And, as with any time in history, there was developing technology, which could just as easily have followed a different development path under slightly different circumstances.
And, if you're interested in that kind of thing, I always considered The Adventures of Brisco County Junior as a little bit Steampunk. There was time travel, and otherworldly tech. There was a blimp, the invention of jeans, motorbikes in 1893, and a Wild Western Elvis.

How do you define steampunk? (This may not be how other people define it).
At the most basic level, Steampunk is Science Fiction set in Victorian times (1837-1901).
For me, it's all about the corsets, dresses, and jewellery (I've always liked clocks/watches). For others there are face masks, goggles, octopuses, and guns. Time travel often features. Personally, I struggle with the logic of time travel stories, so it's not something I'd have a play with. But I do like the idea of playing around with technological timelines.
The major steampunk element in my stories is Braph, the main antagonist. He has augmented himself with a device built into his arm that lets him perform magic.

How does being a mother of small children affect your writing?
It. Makes. The. Process. Very. Slow.
Personally, I have found pregnancy a very difficult time to write creatively, as my brain has a tendency to run on a single track (baby, baby, baby, baby…), so both of my pregnancies have resulted in very sluggish years for writing. And then the first year after pregnancy, when you're waking one or more times a night, at the beck-and-call of someone all day, your time alone (baby's nap time when you yourself don't need sleep) is very short and unpredictable at times (young babies lack much of a schedule, then they start to develop a schedule which gets updated just as you get used to it, or it gets thrown out the window for a few days because they are teething, or about to crawl, or are sick…).
I was very lucky with my first son in that he settled into 2 decent naps a day pretty smoothly around the 6-month mark. So I had a good 2-3 hours a day to sit down and write (in two sessions). And they both came after my morning walk pushing the pram… when I would think about my story (because babies don't talk, so they don't interrupt mummy's thoughts… and they listen when mummy feels like sounding out an idea). I'm still waiting for my now 7.5month old to settle into the two-decent-naps-a-day routine. But whatever he gives me, I use for writing/editing. He can watch me do the housework when he is awake.
Prior to having children, I wrote before work, at morning tea and lunch breaks, after work, while cooking dinner, on my walk to work, on the bus home… and if I couldn't be physically writing, I would be thinking about the story, or hearing my characters talk.
Since my eldest began talking, my characters don't talk in front of me so much any more. If I'm lucky, I might catch a snippet of a conversation while I shower. I love my kids, of course, but I do miss my imaginary friends.

Tell us something about your interest in horses and your new project with ponies.
My interest in horses could be considered an obsession. Oh sure, many little girls like horses, even love them. But how many maintained a scrap book with cut outs from the racing pages in the newspaper? And why? No reason. They were simply pretty and I couldn't have one. I spent my childhood drawing horses, dreaming about them, reading about them, writing about them.
Well, kids. Dreams can come true. Sometimes you just have to wait until you're old enough to make them come true yourself. As of this year, I now have 5 horses, ranging in height from 16hh to 8hh, and my plan is to not keep them all to myself. That's right. I want to share.
We recently moved to a property with a little bit of land, and I've set about living my dream. The goal is to be able to offer birthday parties and pony rides to horse-lovers of all ages. It's a work-in-progress, at this stage, so very much a “watch this space”.

Has your experience in the real world influenced your writing and if so, how?
I would tend to consider myself pretty naive as far as the world goes. Writing is one way in which I can stretch myself, I think.
But, sure. I think every author's life experiences colours their writing. That's why there are so many stories!
I guess the most obvious experience that I have drawn on would be my first pregnancy and the c-section and recovery that followed a difficult labour. It was a resource available to me, so I figured I should use it.

Do you have any pets? Do they influence your writing?
Yes. Lots (yay!). Dogs (Lucy and Alexia), cat (Pixie), horses (Syd, Chino, Diego, Felicity aka Flick, and Fern), chickens (Jane, Limpy), rooster (Casanova), peafowl (Mister and Missus).
And, they sure do! Jonas's horse Chino is, in fact, modelled on my own horse called Chino, albeit he is taller in the books! The real Chino is a miniature. Chino was the only horse I owned while writing Healer's Touch, so he's the only one who features. Llew's horse, Amico, is modelled on another miniature horse I fell in love with once, but he wasn't for sale, so he's not mine :o(
My first dog, Griffin, passed away in 2010, but I still have a note in my writing folder on my computer to develop a character similar to him. He was a very human-like dog.

Would you rather see your stories on the big screen or the little screen?
I think my current series would suit the big screen better. That just happens to be the story structure I've followed. But I do think it would be cool to develop a sweeping saga with the kinds of characters to whom people would like to become attached over several seasons. I shall have to see if such a thing appears in my future.

What is your favourite Science Fiction (or Fantasy) film?
Hmm. That's a tough one. Probably The Princess Bride wins out on Fantasy. But Labyrinth is pretty awesome, too. And in recent years I've been catching up on some recent kids' movies, and I have to say those are pretty good! I've loved the How To Train Your Dragon movies and TV show, and Rise of the Guardians… I can even appreciate Frozen. We're getting spoilt for choice.

Are you--or have you ever been--a gamer?
I guess I'll have to say “yes”, although I don't know if “real gamers” would agree with me. I certainly like to unwind with a game, though. In recent years it's just been a bit of Candy Crush or Sim City. In the past, I've loved the old Creatures games (genetics), I was on Evony for a while, and I've been a big fan of EA Games over the years, enjoying The Sims and Spore.
As a teenager, I loved Lotus Esprit III and Cannon Fodder (“War! Never been so much fun...”) on the Amiga 500.
I have a history of dabbling, as far as games go.

Do you cook? What is your best/favourite/most popular recipe?
Sure do. I make all sorts, including my own yoghurt and bread (breadmaker, yay). I make a wicked Afghan (biscuit/cookie), which is a modification of the recipe in the Edmond's Cookbook (every New Zealander will know the one I'm talking about). I use Wheat Biscuits (Weet Bix) instead of corn flakes and I use melted dark chocolate instead of chocolate icing… honestly. If you know the recipe I mean, try it. Only problem is, they disappear so fast and I can't be bothered being in the kitchen ALL the time.
My favourite things to cook at the moment is anything that can be done on top of the fire, so stews and roasts. On these cold winter days (southern hemisphere represent!) when we've got the fire going anyway, I love to get the extra economy out of cooking on it.
Otherwise, I do love a good curry. Butter Chicken or Chicken Sagwaala are my favourites to throw together.

Do you have a garden? Have you ever grown your own food?
We haven't established one at our new place yet because we moved in at the end of summer and missed out on all those wonderful growing months. But I have been known to grow my own food. At our old place, I established a greenhouse on the balcony at the back door where I grew lettuces, herbs, and tomatoes. It was fab. But the wind took exception to it and knocked it over four times in its efforts to destroy it, which it eventually succeeded at. Our new place has a couple of areas that will be ideal for re-establishing vege patches and growing a few fruit trees/bushes. It already has mature apple and pear trees. Yum.

Who do you consider are your major influences in writing?
I admit, my major influences largely fall under the Older White Male umbrella, which is one reason I didn't take up writing until I was much older. I never even considered that a young female from New Zealand could put out a book. But we learn eventually.
The first book series in which I absolutely fell in love with the characters was The Belgariad by David (& Leigh) Eddings. I happened to read it in my early teens, and I just remember being really sad when I finished The Belgariad because I was going to miss the characters. I was super happy to find The Malloreon. It's now my goal every time I pick up a book to read to find that connection. To fall in love. And it's my goal any time I write.
My next reading addiction came in the form of Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks' novels, although I don't know if I can claim he is an influence. If so, I am a poor student. He had a talent I'll never match.
Other favourites have been Terry Pratchett, Diana Gabaldon, Marian Keyes, J. K. Rowling, Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie, Jacqueline Carey… and no doubt more, and more to come. Any time I find a book or character that really draws me in, I'm learning and I hope to bring some of that to my own writing.

If you could have any director to shoot the film of your book(s), who would you choose?
I don't know much about directors… Someone who could show me that they “got” my story. Just so long as we were on the same wavelength, I'm sure I'd be super pleased. I mean, a movie!

How would you define Speculative Fiction?
Well, I suppose any fiction is speculative in nature. However, what makes Speculative Fiction what it is in it's unreal elements. Anything that features something that just doesn't exist in our world (as far as we know for sure): time travel, ghosts, fae, other worlds, two suns, futuristic technologies… I think if a story is based on a real historical event, then it is Historical, not speculative. But, once you add a “what if” that is out of this world, you've got Fantasy. Science Fiction is speculative by nature, because all you can do as far as the future goes—ours, or an alternative—is speculate. 

About Deb E. Howell:

Deb E Howell was born in New Zealand’s North Island, but her parents corrected that within months, moving south to Dunedin and staying there. 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 fungus in the Zoology department of the University of Otago, trading all traces of popularity for usefulness... then traded both for fiction.

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