Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Deb E. Howell. 38 for a little bit longer.
Fiona: Where are you from?
Waitati, New Zealand.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I completed up to post-graduate study in Zoology. I now live with my husband and two sons on a little farm that we hope to develop into a fun park over the next five to twenty years or so. We currently have three ponies, a dog, two cats, two chickens, four peafowl (peahen and peacock and their two babies from last year who need new homes…).
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
As a mum of an under-3 year old (and a school-aged kid), who also needs to work to help keep the roof over our heads before I can indulge in the luxury of writing, I’m not sure the news that excites me would seem exciting to others. Heck, I get excited over saving a KWh of our household’s electricity use!
I did, however, manage to write over 1000 words in a single day recently. That’s pretty exciting to me.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I guess I always enjoyed writing. I always had trouble keeping my short story exercises for school short. And I used to sit down with a tape deck to work out song lyrics as much for an excuse to shape words in handwritten form as to discover what was being said or the meaning behind the poetry.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In 2009. I found myself in a boring job. To entertain myself between answering and redirecting phone calls, I began a story. Before long, just writing it wasn’t enough, and I found myself studying how to write it better. Then came the voices in my head and a compulsion not just to write for writing’s sake but to write *this* story. And suddenly, every spare moment was filled with writing. And then I was creating time to write where there didn’t used to be… and then I had an empty feeling when writing wasn’t happening…
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Healer’s Touch was very much inspired by the entertainment I was enjoying at the time. We were enjoying Deadwood, and re-watching The Young Riders and Brisco County Jr. back then, hence the Western flavour. We were also into True Blood and Serenity/Firefly type shows, so I imagine they’ve all played their roles, if less overt.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I asked friends! (Thanks, Sonya) What I particularly liked about the suggestion was the fact that a Healer’s touch sounds like a good thing, but once you delve into my world you quickly realise there is a downside to it. Also, by then I could sense a series developing, and I had these three predominant characters that could each be labelled a Healer, a Warrior, and a Magician, and each of the conjure a different feeling when you consider their Touch, especially if you toy with a light and a dark side. And, just maybe, it may hint at a little sexiness, which I like, too.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I have developed a preference for 3rd-person close perspective. It’s just what tends to give me what I want from a story, and may very well change one day if I ever shift my goal posts.
My favourite books have been the ones where I develop an attachment to at least one of the characters and that take me on an emotional journey. This is my goal when I write. Whether it works is up to the Reader’s judgement.
Probably the biggest challenge is to avoid melodrama. I love a little emotional rollercoaster, but it can be a real matter of balance.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I set my books in a fantasy world because I like the broader possibilities offered by the speculative genres (fantasy and scifi), so there is a good deal that simply couldn’t happen in our world. That being said, as mentioned above, I’m trying to create an emotional journey, and to do so I have to tap into the “human condition”, so certainly I aim for realistic reactions to events. I’m by no means perfect, but luckily neither are people in general, so hopefully I get away with my imperfections most of the time (o:
Hopefully without giving too much away, I did draw on my experience of being pregnant and of having a c-section over the course of my first two books.
Mostly, I guess, I try to fill my cup by reading as much as possible (fiction and non-fiction), and watching the occasional movie or TV show (though time hasn’t allowed for that in recent months).
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I don’t, thankfully, as I am quite tied up with commitments to family and farm. However, I certainly benefit from any journey I do take. For instance, we had a short family camping trip earlier this year which was another source of cup-filling, just with opportunities to people-watch, breathe different air, and be in different surroundings.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
It’s a group effort. I’m lucky to have a collaborative small publisher (Grimbold Books) on my side. We work together to select an illustrator, and bounce ideas around the team. I get a lot of say in what my initial idea is and usually get to comment on progress as well. A chap I found via Deviant Art, Matt Donnici (very, very talented artist) did the illustration for Healer’s Touch. He was unavailable when we initially began looking for artists for the Warrior’s Touch cover, but quite some time has passed since we began that process, so I’m not sure if we will get him or someone else for the final cover of WT.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I didn’t intend there to be anything overt in Healer’s Touch (HT). My goal was to introduce my characters and put them through the wringer. However, according to one review, there are a few topics/metaphors up for discussion:
“The suppression of women
Controlling Monarchs/Powers that Be
The Caste System
The suppression of the poor and disenfranchised
The two class American society (poor vs. the rich)
Gender roles and identity
Violence against the powerless, namely women and children
Kindness and generosity of strangers
Love in a hopeless place
The audacity of hope (to quote someone famous)
The seeming randomness and purposefulness of death
Vampirism/draining others of life
and many more”
and I am as grateful to that reviewer for listing these as they were to me for writing the book. It’s heartening to know some readers really get something out of something I’ve produced.
In WT, I have gone in with more of a plan to touch on certain topics. When I was drafting it, rape culture (as opposed to the act itself) was a big topic for discussion, so I wanted to look into that. In particular, I wanted to try some healthy forms of consent seeking, and to show that clearly asked for and enthusiastically given consent can be (is) sexy. I’ve continued this theme into book 3, Magician’s Touch, which I am still drafting around family duties.
Also in WT (although, I would argue I began the theme in HT, just less obviously), I’m testing the unquestioned “It’s how it’s always been done” mentality. This mentality, in fact, would arguably be the root of all the wrongs in my books’ world. Once they start to question, things start to change. And making change is hard, and people will get hurt, and even die, but for the world in general, for the oppressed… the future looks much brighter.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I guess it depends how you define new. Someone who is new to me is Lindsay Buroker. I discovered her work in December last year (21017) and devoured nothing but her books for the next several months, after reading her seven-book-plus Emperor’s Edge series rather quickly (probably too quick for a busy mother… I gave up a lot of sleep, and “supervision” at the trampoline was often accompanied by my Kobo). The slow-burn sexual tension in EE is… pleasant.
Oh, and for another newbie, I liked Kellie Hailes Little Coffee Shop of Promises for a cosy romance, which I sometimes really enjoy snuggling up with. It was super cute, and yes, cosy.
My favourite living writer would probably by Brent Weeks, though. I absolutely love his current series, Lightbringer. I probably would have liked his older Night Angel series, too (well, I did), but it was a disappointment after reading The Black Prism (first book of Lightbringer) first. What this tells me is that he is improving as a writer… he is striving to be better and achieving.
And, probably favourite writer overall would be Iain Banks, may he rest in peace. What an absolute talent. He wrote compelling characters. He wrote technically brilliant fiction. And he could write different genres and styles seemingly effortlessly. I will forever be in awe of his works, and can only dream of glancing that talent.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Writer Sonya Lano (probably should have mentioned her above, because I rather like her work, too). I “met” Sonya (on the other side of the world) via writing websites and we pretty instantly developed a mutual liking for each others’ writing. She has written much more than me and is technically more skilled also, so I’ve learnt a lot from her. She helped motivate me to finish HT, helped me with editing, and supported me in my efforts to submit it.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Other than developing and running our little “family farm fun park”, it is the only thing I want to do… so I really hope I can make it so (I can hear Picard…)
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
WT hasn’t been published, yet, so I guess that makes HT still my latest book, and, yes, I would. There is one scene in particular that I would go back in and tweak to make it slightly less cringe-worthy. Hey, it was my debut, I made mistakes. There’s a lot in there that I do actually still like (I surprise myself with that), but, yeah, I’d tweak one of the first “romantic” scenes to make it a bit more believable. At the moment, I now feel like it develops in an uncharacteristic way for one character. Oh, and there are a couple of other scenes that I let the editor at the time have a little too much say over. If I hadn’t been a first-time author, I think I would have disagreed at the time. But, in the moment, I was differring to apparent wisdom… Now, there’s one scene that feels cringe-worthy to me because it has a different “voice” for a couple of sentences, and another scene where a little bit of a sense of the character was lost.
As for WT… I guess we shall see when I start receiving critical reviews. For the moment, I’m pretty chuffed with it.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
For one, outlining is good, but don’t get too committed to it. I wrote 40,000 words I had to toss most of and go back after I tried too hard to stick to my original outline, even after one of my characters pointed out that it wasn’t a good plan…
No doubt other things through various researching endeavours, but I can’t think of anything else specific.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
That’s a tough one. Probably the only character I have a strong sense of an actor who looks like him is my male MC’s best friend, Hisham. He’s semi modelled on Rick Gonzales in his “Reaper” TV-show days. Jonas could be played by anyone who could pull off the lean muscular look, isn’t too tall, and has mid-tone skin. And someone once suggested Ellen Page for Llew, which I could see. But, my guess is that by the time anyone had any interest in making my books into movies, the acting playing field will have changed quite a bit! So, I try not to get too attached.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Set your target. Aim for it. Adjust as needed.
We can’t all be JK Rowling, or Joe Abercrombie. We can only be ourselves, so write to discover just who that is, and keep doing it. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll earn a pay cheque for it. But don’t be disheartened if you don’t. Most don’t.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Please be patient with me! My youngest son will grow up, and my writing time will become more plentiful. I have made a commitment to complete the Touch series, so that is my foremost goal. However, I do have another book/series simmering beneath the surface, so there will be more to come.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Currently reading Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan on recommendation from a friend.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Can’t say I can… likely it was one of those Learn to Read books in school… I remember I was terrible at remembering to return the ones I took home back to school. Used to end up with a bag full of them by the end of term. No reason… just forgot.
I remember reading the Brothers Grimm tales at my grandma’s house.
And remember falling in LOVE with the cast of The Belgariad by David (and Leigh, I would argue) Eddings.
And I remember falling in love with reading when I picked up The Crow Road by Iain Banks. It was that book that cemented me as a Reader (a person who is never not reading something).
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My kids are pretty good at making me laugh.
I like quirky things, and cultural references for a giggle. I love a bit of good ol’ Kiwi humour. Plenty of that in the likes of the Thor: Ragnarök movie. Or, The Almighty Johnsons TV-show (NZ) about Norse gods from Norsewood, NZ…
Injustice/tragedy makes me cry. I can’t watch the end of Once Were Warrior’s (NZ film) without threatening tears… I’m sure people who have seen it know the bit I mean. Broken hearts. Examples of mammoth generosity.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Probably Josh Brolin. Not trying to sound creepy, but I just love watching him. He has such an expressive face, and mannerisms… so much non-verbal communication going on that I love to try and read.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Yes and no.
I like to dance, but only really do it while washing dishes or cooking a meal.
Writing is a hobby and a (hopeful) career choice.
I like to read, but also do that for research (o:
I like horses, and now keep ponies who are central to my fun park plans.
I love to create things. Our peacock drops his feathers each year, and I have been know to make hair clips/fascinators with them.
Actually, I think I am most happy with papier macheing, but that’s exactly why I can’t let myself do it at the moment, because I would get lost in it for hours if I could.
I’ve dabbled in learning guitar and bass, and piano, and hope to return to those (bass and piano in particular) when time allows.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Recently, it was the likes of iZombie, Blacklist, Arrow, Vikings… but we’ve run out of time these days (I do my bill-paying work after I get the kids to bed at night, and hubby works long hours, too).
Luckily the kids get the best movies these days (imo, often better constructed than adult films), because that’s pretty much all I’ve seen for the last four or so years (except Deadpool, I guess). I love the How to Train Your Dragon movies (love, love, love!). I enjoy all the recent Marvel films.
My favourite romantic comedy is Mrs. Winterbourne.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Butter chicken, Kara’age chicken, salmon, fish & chips, a cream doughnut… ohhh, stop now.
Purple! (esp paired with yellow, or a bright green)
Moody, sexy music, like Garbage’s Milk, or Portishead’s Glory Box. Great dance tunes. Songs with a great story, like String of Pearls by Soul Asylum. Puscifer, Our Lady Peace, Chevelle, Deftones, The Crow (1994) soundtrack, A Perfect Circle, Dead Flowers, Candlebox, Ed Sheeran, Extreme, Faith No More, Frou Frou, Infectious Grooves, Live, Supergroove, Tiki Taane, Missy Elliot, Cracker, Billy Joel…
I really could go on all day, but everyone is different so probably no one out there would love everything I do.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Farm, I guess. Biological science of some sort? I like studying, seeking patterns, playing with numbers… So, hopefully I could find a job in some sort of research field.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
I think I would have to spend it with family and friends.
As much as I’d like to say I’d write as hard as I could, there’s no way I’d finish things in 24 hours… I guess I’d try to gather as many notes as I could so maybe someone could finish the Touch series for me? Or, release my notes so my “fans” (I have some?) could fill in the blanks themselves and find some satisfaction/closure. I do hate the idea of leaving it unfinished.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
She did her best and created a couple of nice things.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
I do. It is: http://deberelene.com
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00B8OBHLI/