Thursday, August 15, 2013


Deb E. Howell, author of the Wild West fantasy Healer's Touch, talks about her novel's development and inspirations.
Deb E. Howell

Book Blurb:

For Llew to heal, something must die.

For Llew, a young pickpocket who lives as a boy on the streets of a Wild-West mining town, the real problems begin when she survives the gallows. Forced to run, she persuades a group of fighters escorting a young girl to her wedding to let her travel with them across the badlands. On the journey Llew faces hostile tribesmen, desperate bandits and, the enmity of her own companions should they find out who and what she is: a girl, a fugitive, and a feared Healer. One of the fighters, Jonas, possesses superhuman prowess as a warrior, and carries the knife able to ‘kill the unkillable’; the knife that can kill Llew. Despite being of races at war for centuries, they are drawn to one another.

During the journey, they encounter Braph the magician, Jonas’ half-brother and potential nemesis. He pursues them as they journey across the sea to the continent of Phyos and at the moment Llew finally feels safe, he abducts her. He begins to take what is most precious to him: her blood.

Healer’s Touch is a mesmerising mix of fantasy, steampunk and Wild West adventure – and even a dash of romance! 

Hi Deb! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us a bit about your book, "Healer's Touch"? What inspired the story?

Healer's Touch is about a girl with the ability to transfer life-energy, giving her the power to heal, but in order to do so she much hurt something/someone in the process. Usually she just uses plants to heal small nicks and cuts, but when she dies for the first time, things get real. It's also about a girl (the same one) whose experiences regarding men have left her distrustful... queue romantic sub-plot. The ultimate inspiration for this healing ability, I can't recall. Back in high school I created a (male) character with this power. I used to share his stories with some of my friends. I would have been influenced by many things at the time, no doubt. I think there were a few "super hero" type cartoons on in the after school time slot...

Why did you choose to set your novel in the Wild West?

Ultimately? I love horses; simple as that. I also love the grittiness that comes with the Wild West. It was wild, dusty, dirty, rough... but ultimately, it was where people's dreams were realised (or lost). There's a certain romance to that that I can't get enough of. I'm also from New Zealand, and our history of colonisation is still brief and I think shares many similarities with the pioneers of the USA's West. And then there's the fact that I've loved almost anything Wild West since I was a kid: Bonanza, The Young Riders, Brisco County Jr, Deadwood... I've watched them all. Some many, many times. Main reason? Horses. Then I got older and thought the men riding them were quite nice, too...

How did you go about developing the magic system in "Healer's Touch"?

Bit by bit. I was originally going to write a Fantasy novel without magic in it... Yeah, I know... but, now I've read Joe Abercrombie's stuff so I know it can, in fact, be done. Anyway, after a bit of pottering, I decided I needed something, so I stole the power from my old character and slapped Llew with it (and she will never, ever forgive me for that). Then I figured Jonas should have something (and as it turns out, Llew would have been stuffed if Jonas hadn't been magic, too). I went simple with him: he's super strong and fast. Basic, but essential to helping someone who has a ton of enemies. Over time, I realised what I'd done (actually, a friend pointed it out): Jonas' power, being about strength, is internally derived; while Llew's power, which basically turns her into a conduit, is externally driven. It's made for interesting thinking exercises into how these two powers can interact and what the outcomes might be.

Who was your favorite character to write? Can you tell us a bit about him/her?

Braph was quite fun. He looks down on everybody, which is not something we make a habit of in polite society... It had its uses, too - he spots weaknesses in my main characters that I may have missed originally.

Anya was also great, and she's become even more fun as I've been writing the sequel.

What's your favorite scene in "Healer's Touch"? Can you please describe it?

Really hard to pick one. The whole story was really written around the scene in which Llew asks Jonas about his knife and learns that it is the one thing in all the world with the power to kill her for good. Being one of my first scenes, I have a soft spot for that one. Jonas and Llew get a little bit tipsy, letting them get a little closer than they might have if they'd remained sober. But we also learn that Jonas is an incredibly dangerous person for Llew to be around, and that he's lost everyone he's ever loved. I guess that scene sets the tone for the rest of the story.

What was the most challenging part of writing "Healer's Touch"?

Decisions. That's the hardest thing about fiction in general. Writing non-fiction, you have to do your research, but how things are is, well, how things are. With Fiction, you can do as much or as little research as you like, but then you still have to decide what to show, how to show it and in what order... I played around with the timeline of the first half of this book so many times, and the map evolved (Rakun was originally on Aghacia... then I decided to move it across the sea onto Phyos). I still find it hard to know if I've started a book in the right place, if I'm following the right course for the first half or so of the book. Once you're past a certain point and you've set a few things in "stone", the writing gets easier: character decisions and reactions can only be influenced by what's gone before, not by all the other possibilities that were still open to them in those early chapters.

Can you tell us a bit about what the publishing process has been like for you?

On the whole, it's been good. I got lucky and found a publisher that was a good fit on my first attempt at submitting. It was a right time, right place kind of situation. Sammy's (of Kristell Ink) early enthusiasm for the book really spurred me on through those final edits. I think what I like best about being with a small publisher (and particularly KI) is that it's not a big push for release day and then nothing... I mean, here I am doing another push for the book and it was released back in January. Sure, maybe I'd have got huge sales in that first month, but as a debut author, that's unlikely. It's great to know KI are there to help keep a light on my book even after release day. I had also been tempted to self-publish, but I'm finding it hard enough to carve out the time needed to write my next book (between childcare and work and life), if I was all alone with the publishing too... phew! No, I definitely like having a partner in crime.

Are any of your characters borrowed from real life, or are they entirely fictitious?

I'd be lying if I tried to say I'd come up with my characters all by myself. I borrowed certain characteristics that I liked in my own favourite characters and put them to work for me. At this stage, I haven't put real people in the mix... that might come as I get more experience, i.e. brave. The only real "person" I have plans to base a character on in the future is my first dog, Griffin. People who were lucky enough to meet him will understand how that could work (I'm not meaning a dog character, either... I'm meaning a person with a shared attitude).

Are you an outliner, or do you write by the seat of your pants? Can you share a bit about your writing process?

I'm a loose-outliner. I tend to start writing by the seat of my pants to get a feel for the story/characters. Then at some stage I'll sit back and brainstorm and that usually leads to a few story "beats" and a few scenes to aim for. Then I get back to "just writing" until I hit trouble. The main thing that can slow me down is trying to keep on top of ALL the motivations in the story - some are obvious right the way through, while others are more subtle and I need to be careful not to ignore those ones, since often they can become relevant later in the story. My best writing tends to be handwritten, or at least comes from a writing session in which I started out handwriting (and then the floodgates opened and I had to ype the rest 'cause the words were flowing too fast), so I have notebooks full of scenes and general story notes. And if I'm trying to work through a problem I've struck, again handwriting is the best way for me to get my brain focused on the problem at hand and tease it out into something coherent. It can be quite entertaining going back over old notes and seeing how my story ideas have evolved over time... even things I thought I was pretty well settled on can change (sometimes dramatically) if the story needs it.

What got you into writing?

Well, I think I always have. I wrote diaries right through, particularly in my adolescence. I used to love creative writing in school. I can remember struggling to write "short stories" at Intermediate (middle school)... I always wanted to keep going. Then there were those stories I shared with my friends in high school... After school, my writing energies went into scientific reports for my university study. It was boredom that brought me back to fiction. I was temping between permanent jobs (or so I thought) and I happened to pick up this role that had me answering the phone, putting the caller through to who they really wanted to talk to, hanging up and twiddling my thumbs. And so, I wrote to entertain myself. Then I fell in love with it, so I stuck with temping because it left me more time to write. Now, I can't imagine not writing. So, if I could get it to pay for itself one day, that'ds be fab!

and many more... 


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