Behind The Scenes With: Fellow YA Indie Author Debbie BennettOctober 3, 2011
Q. So you’ve got a YA fantasy hitting the bookshelves… Can you tell me more about Edge of Dreams?
Edge of Dreams came from the tagline: What happens when you realise that the bad guys care more about you than the good ones? It’s something that has always fascinated me – the blurring of lines between good and evil. I’ve blogged about this recently here.
Edge started out way, way back and has been through dozens of rewrites, both minor and major. It was almost picked up twice by big publishers, but fell at the acquisitions meeting hurdle when for whatever reason, the marketing people weren’t prepared to put money behind it. It was then accepted by an e-publisher but we’re still 5 years back, before e-books came of age in the last 12 months. I
got the e-rights back recently (I decided not to go with their POD option and so never gave up print rights) and decided to edit yet again, sort my own cover and publish on kindle. It’s aimed at the upper end of the YA market and since my two main characters are male, I’m hoping to pull in readers of Scott Westerfeld and Antony Horowitz. But there’s a love-interest in there too, so
I’m hoping it won’t alienate female readers.
Q. Is it a stand-alone novel, or the first in a series?
Originally a stand-alone, there is now a sequel Flashpoint in the pipeline which is much darker than Edge of Dreams and hence why I’m aiming for the upper end of the YA market. I’m still not entirely sure I can have a main character commit murder in a YA novel, no matter what the provocation or circumstance – and yet it has to go somewhere or the whole thing becomes meaningless. There may well be a third in the series if the first two do well enough.
Q. You guaranteed that Edge of Dreams is 100% free of vampires, werewolves, dragons, wizards, elves and faeries. And zombies, too. What’s wrong with zombies?
Well, they’re dead for one thing…. Don’t get me wrong – I like Twilight, really I do. I didn’t think I would with all its implausibilities (*sparkly* vampires?), but it’s curiously readable. But I can’t write stuff that is patently impossible. Zombies and vampires are dead creatures. How are they going to move about? How do their brains work with no blood supply? I’m not beyond imagination – my own characters have psychic abilities – but I like a thread of credibility in my fiction. Werewolves I can relate to: shapeshifting is fine if it’s done properly, but I’m not sure I could write about the undead with any conviction.
Dragons and wizards are practically clichés these days, although I do admire the few authors who can still put a fresh spin on them. Elves – well nothing compares to Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, does it? And as for faeries, I don’t think anyone can do them better than Melissa Marr and Tom Deitz, so I wouldn’t even try to compete.
Q. You’re a fellow indie author, with one title – Hamelin’s Child – already released (February 2011). Can you tell us more about your decision to self-publish? What has been your experience so far?
I could wallpaper a room with rejection letters – lovely personalised rejection letters, true, but still “thanks, but no thanks”. Now I have some industry contacts from over 20 years in running the British Fantasy Society and fantasy conventions. I’ve met a lot of writers, editors and agents and have been lucky enough to get some “real” feedback on my work. And the feedback I was getting was that I could write and I could write well. Hamelin’s Child was publishable. But – and it’s a big but – it wasn’t commercial. At the end of the day, publishing is a business and none of the big 6 is going to take
on a new author unless there is serious money to be made, especially in the current economic climate.
And then my dad bought me a kindle for my birthday in January this year and it was an epiphany. Suddenly I didn’t need to be commercial. With some last-minute feedback from writer friends (thank you, Jake and Lallie), I thought I’d go it alone. I have nothing to lose. So far I’ve sold well. Not breaking records, but it’s still early days and real people are reading my book – not friends who might feel obliged to be nice, but strangers who are leaving me 5* reviews. Readers enjoy it. How cool is that?
Q. Are you involved in any indie writers’ groups?
I lurk in the usual online forums. And I’m a member of Alchemy Writers. We’re a group of writer friends who’ve known each other for many years and get together every couple of months to eat, put the world to rights and occasionally talk about writing. They keep me sane. I’m also involved with Authors Electric which is another group of mostly traditionally-published authors who are independently e-publishing their backlists and or new works.
Q. Do your family and friends read your work? What has their reaction been to the fact that you’re a published author?
Well it’s not real, is it? Mum’s just sat on her backside at the computer. Of course if my books were in shops and I was making enough money from them to give up the day job, they might take me seriously, but somehow I doubt it. And if my parents ever read my thriller, I think I’d die of embarrassment.
Q. Okay, now give me the deets on the real Debbie Bennett… Do you have day job? If so, do you like it?
I work for the police in IT. It’s not a bad job – close to home, so no commuting anymore. It also has the advantage that I have lots of resources on hand for crime writing!
Q. What was “teen Debbie” like? Were you a social butterfly or more of a wall flower?
Ag. I was a wallflower. My teenage years were not the best of my life. At 11, I was quite bright and managed to win a “free” place at a private secondary school – the education authority paid all my school fees. Naively, I thought this was a Good Thing and it took me a few years to realise that most of my school friends belonged to a different social class than me. It didn’t help that I lived a long distance away so could never socialise outside of school. And all my local friends who had gone to the local school made their social arrangements in school and simply forgot to invite me as I wasn’t there. I’m sure it wasn’t anything intentional on their part – I just fell through the gaps and spent many evenings alone at home, desperately wanting to “fit in” and be part of a group. It wasn’t really until university that I somehow found my niche with the right group of people and felt like I was actually being me for the first time.
But those years shaped my life. I started writing at 14, when I was bored in the evenings and there were no teenage books to read (there was no real YA fiction in the late 1970s). And I dug into a lot of those feelings in Edge of Dreams with Calith, who has only ever wanted to be accepted somewhere for who he is.
Q. Can you tell us anything about your family?
Here’s something few people know: my dad is half Chinese, which makes me one quarter foreign. My grandfather came from a high-born very wealthy cantonese family – we’re going back to the early 1900s here when the caste system was still very much evident in China. He joined the Chinese navy and came to Liverpool at the start of the 20th century where he met and married my Liverpudlian grandmother. He was disinherited by his family for marrying “beneath him” and yet he tried to appease his own parents by sending his two eldest sons back to China around 1910 – to be educated as befitted their “station” in life. My grandmother was devastated and never spoke of the matter again (but went on to have 8 more children!). My grandfather never spoke a word of English so I never knew him (he died when I was 16) and as far as I am aware I still have relations out there – the records were lost in the revolution and so nobody has known anything for a long time. I have a millionaire cousin who has tried to find our relatives but had no success, so I don’t hold out much hope. I’m sure there’s a novel in there somewhere!
Q. I read somewhere that you once asked Stephen King to dance… Please dish – we want all the details!
It’s true. I did. The man himself. Way back in the mid-90s, Mr King did a UK tour to promote Bag of Bones. One of the senior editors at Hodder is a lovely lady called Carolyn who I’ve known for many years since she tutored a group of us at a writing conference, and she kindly sent me a ticket to the UK publishers’ party. There was an awful lot of free alcohol and live music and so a couple of us decided that Mr King should be dancing too…. Unfortunately his minder wouldn’t let him, but I did get to see him play guitar with his band.
Q. What three things would always be found in your refrigerator?
Little individually-wrapped portions of cheddar cheese. I had my gall-bladder removed last year and I can’t each much cheese anymore, so I buy the individual ones and just have one very occasionally for a treat…
Q. You and I met on Authonomy, the HarperCollins community for writers, where your psychological thriller Hamelin’s Child made the editor’s desk. Tell us about your
Autho was/is a place of opposites and I think you make of it what you will. I was lucky enough to be part of the beta group in early 2008 when there were only 100 of us. Yes, there was less competition to get to the Editor’s Desk, but there were also less people to vote for you! My HarperCollins review was pretty much what I expected – great writing but not commercial. I don’t necessarily agree (there are lots of crime and thriller books selling well out there), but I can understand what they are saying. I think we all had higher expectations back then. The benefits for me were the number of friends I
made who have helped me so much in my writing.
Q. Pen and paper or keyboard?
Oh keyboard definitely. My brain doesn’t think in the right order for pen and paper anymore!
Q. At what age did you start writing? Did you always want to be a writer?
About 9. When everybody else gave in a page of story and I’d regularly write 10 at a time. But I started writing seriously at 14 when I finished my first novel. It’s truly awful (I still have it), but at least I
Thanks, Debbie, for taking the time to tell us more about you and your work! If you’d like to buy Edge of Dreams, it can be purchased at Amazon UK, Amazon US and Smashwords. For more information on Debbie Bennett, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.