My guest for Twenty Questions this week is Elizabeth Russell, whose debut novel, Halfbreeds, was released last month. Here is the cover blurb for her new novel, which may be purchased at Amazon.
In a village wrapped about with strange monsters and superstition, a new kind of child is born. Half-man half-monster, the villagers fear their own children and, turning against them, burn them at the stake. But a small band of resilient Halfbreeds escape their executioners and take up their home in the wild. In a desperate attempt to find their place in the world, these children question what it really means to be human.
Let's hear from Elizabeth about her novel and her interest in writing.
1. How did you get interested in writing?
Since I was a little girl I've wanted to be writer, to follow in the footsteps of my heroes L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott. My imagination was very active and I loved inventing stories in my own head. I wanted to write well enough to share my stories with the world.
2. What inspired you to come up with this story?
In college, I struggled with the questions of what formed a good society. I learned about Utopias and Distopias, communism, democracy, monarchy, and always came back to the same fundamental understanding of government. I realized it is not the type of government that ensures happiness and peace, but the goodness of those who govern. I wanted to explore this theme through my characters and setting, as well as the question of what does it mean to be good?
3. Tell me about the main character and what inspired the character’s creation.
There are many characters in the story, but the central figure is Bobakin. He is the leader of the band of children. He develops over the course of the story from an untamed, impetuous, dynamic young man into a firm, reliable, and strong leader. I asked the question, through him, of what a good leader looks like who always chooses the good of his people.
4. Who were some of the other characters you found enjoyable to write as you progressed with the book?
Each child holds a special place in my heart, as do the two pivotal adults, Morgan and Serence. But I will tell you about Denmin, who is the first character the reader encounters, and who plays a vital role in the end of the novel. Denmin is a fighter, fundamentally. He sets the pace for all the other children in their fight for goodness by proposing, at the beginning, that they could be good if they fight hard enough inside themselves. Later on, he likes to prove his arguments by taking action: hunting a Schump, marrying his beloved, and carrying on the war between Humans and Halfbreeds. At the end of the story, without giving too much away, I will tell you he chooses an action which alters the whole course of the Halfbreeds’ lives, and saves his own soul in the process. He is my hero, and I always cry for him at the end.
5. What are some of the themes you explored in writing the novel?
Answered in Q. 2, but more succinctly:
- What does it mean to be good?
- What is the right kind of society?
- What does it mean to be civilized?
- How should we relate to something we do not understand?
6. What things did you learn along the way as you wrote and edited the book?
I had no idea where this novel was going to go when I started it, and many things I thought were going to happen, did not happen as I imagined. It was as much a journey for me as I hope it will be for all my readers.
I would say that most of the themes and questions I explored in the story do not have any direct answers, but I learned the most about the last one: How should we relate to something we do not understand? We see many characters grapple with this question, and while the villain Carl Drax certainly offers an extreme of how not to react, there are several good characters who show us different options. Fr. Serence taught me a lot about how to understand and love something that is foreign to our experience. He is confused about how to understand the Halfbreeds and their wild ways, but he loves them, and this love gives him a lens for accepting them unconditionally.
7. This is your debut novel – are there short stories, poetry or other written items that you have had published or attempted to publish?
Yes, I have many short stories, poems, novels, and fairy tales written, but this is the first to be published anywhere except my blog. You can read my fairy tales at www.thefairytaleblog.com.
8. Did you go in with the idea of writing a dystopian novel from the start?
Not necessarily. It was all about the characters when I started and the setting and time period sort of developed around them. It is not dystopian in the sense that it is any worse than our own society, but only different in the way it shows its problems and prejudices. I truly believe it is a reflection of human nature.
9. What is it about science fiction and fantasy that appeals to you?
Sci-fi and Fantasy offer us a free realm in which to explore questions and concepts. We can do whatever we want in this realm, create whatever we want, unrestricted by rules or laws of nature. This allows the reader and creator to concentrate on what they want to really explore: questions, themes, characters, love, death, friendship…the list goes on. What makes Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy so fascinating, for example, is not his idea of mapping and predicting the future, but his exploration of mankind’s reaction to this idea. His idea, set in a futuristic time frame, allows for an interesting look at society, unrestrained by current technology and school of thought. Ultimately, fantasy and sci-fi always come back to the real world, because they are actually offering us a lens by which to see it more clearly.
10. What do you find is the right environment for you to write?
I love to write in my apartment, curled up on my couch, with calming music on the speakers and a mug of hot tea.
11. Are there specific programs or tools you find useful to help you with the writing process?
Sometimes I write on my computer, and sometimes on a notebook. It really depends on my mood, and sometimes, even the story that I’m writing.
12. What have you found to be useful methods for promoting your writing?
Honestly, this is all so new that I don’t have an answer for that yet.
13. What are some of the famous books or authors you have enjoyed or inspired you?
I devoured the classics my whole life: Charles Dickens, J.R. R. Tolkien, Ray Bradley, Issac Asimov, G. K. Chesterton, Louisa May Alcott, and L. M. Montgomery. There’s so many more, but I’ll stop there. They all went into forming my writing techniques and imagination.
14. Any aspiring or independent authors whose books you’ve read that you liked and want to mention to others to check out?
15. What advice would you give to those who want to write a novel before they actually get started?
Make sure you’re passionate about it, and dedicated to making it the best product it could possibly be. Writing a book is not for the faint of heart - your entire soul goes into it. But if you truly love it, then be brave and forge ahead, no matter how little experience you might have. If you pursue it with passion, you will find help along the way when and where you need it.
16. Tell me about what you do for a living/career.
I write for a local community magazine and teach writing through online classes, local writing classes, and tutoring. I like the experience of writing for a living, and love passing on my writing knowledge to my students. Reading their stories is the best part of my job!
17. Tell me about your family and their support for your writing.
My family has been very supportive! Both my parents like to marvel at my imagination and writing ability, wondering aloud where I got my talent. But I was homeschooled and owe all my ability to their teaching, so whether it was nurture or nature, I definitely inherited my writing passion from them.
I am the oldest of 9 children, and all my siblings have active imaginations. I often find inspiration by telling stories to my younger siblings, especially my three-year-old brother.
The biggest tribute, however, goes to my oldest brother Tim. He listened to me read my story chapter by chapter, egging me on to keep writing and tell him where the story was going to go. If you read the dedication page, you will see his name there. He loves it all, but was always disappointed by Bahia’s fate.
18. What are some of your hobbies and interests?
All types of stories: writing (obviously), reading, movies and TV shows. I also love artwork: chalk pastels, oil painting. Swimming. Hanging out with friends at bars and playing board games.
19. Are you a dog person or a cat person? (Or some other animal?)
I’m in no way an animal person. Sometimes I think it’s cool if I see a coyote or deer on the side of the road. J The only pet we ever owned that I liked was a turtle. He’s pretty cute to watch swimming in his tank.
20. Who would win a battle of superhero skills: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?
It’s not about superior skills, it’s about who is the better man. Superman, when he’s the heroic man of virtue that I love, will always win the war, even if he loses an occasional battle.
Batman has so much darkness in him, that he will not win until he relinquishes his hold on his depression and anger.
Wonder Woman’s pretty great, but I only know her from the recent film. (I didn’t see Batmen vs. Superman) Judging by that, she could hold her own against Superman, and it would depend on who went dark first for who loses.