Dark Oak Press recently released Kathryn Hinds‘ latest young adult, fantasy novel, The Healer’s Choice. She was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview about her writing process and her works.
What genres do you enjoy writing? Fantasy (mainly epic fantasy and historical fantasy/alternate history), steampunk, poetry, and nonfiction
Tell us about your latest book: The Healer’s Choice is an epic fantasy novel that might be described as Game of Thrones meets The Mists of Avalon. It’s a very human-based fantasy (no elves, goblins, or dragons) with a naturalistic approach to magic—in fact, the characters who use magic don’t even think of it as such. The story centers on a healer and a warrior, both driven by ideals of honor and commitment to duty, whose countries are at war. Under other circumstances, these two might be friends, or more, but the war stands between them. Moreover, the war forces each of them into unfamiliar and uncomfortable roles. The healer in particular must confront aspects of herself that she has long buried, and she learns that unless she can reclaim these lost parts of her identity, she will never be able to achieve the one thing she desires above anything else: to save her people.
What inspired the story? Where did you get that first bit of “aha” inspiration? In a lot of ways, the original Star Wars movie was the initial inspiration. My favorite character was Obi-Wan Kenobi, but I really wanted him to be a woman! I felt much the same way about Merlin when I read Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave. My teenage musings over what if Obi-Wan or Merlin were female eventually joined with another what-if (a result of some of the Women’s Studies classes I took in college): What if there really was a functional matriarchal society; how might it run? Then there was a period in which I found myself copy-editing a lot of books on World War II and came to the realization that I was not, as I’d always thought of myself, a pacifist, and my ponderings on the limits of pacifism combined with the other threads to manifest my protagonist, the Kel Nira, and the situation in which she finds herself.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special? As chief of the Healers’ Order, the Kel Nira is a member of her country’s ruling council, but she’s not all that interested in ruling–her devotion is to her Order and its compassionate mission above all. She has defined herself completely in terms of this vocation for a long time, and it’s a shock when circumstances awaken her to a new understanding of herself. So not only does she have to contend with the invaders of her country and conflicts with other members of the ruling council, but she also finds herself facing some very uncomfortable personal truths.
Who is your favorite character from your book and why? Definitely the Kel Nira. She embodies a lot of the qualities I admire (but don’t actually possess, at least nowhere near as much as I’d like)–emotional and physical strength, grace under pressure, discipline and dedication–but she also has vulnerabilities and challenges ranging from dyslexia to workaholism to major identity issues.
How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you? My antagonist, Prince Dursten, has an extreme us-versus-them worldview (among other issues). If you’re part of his “us,” he is the soul of charm, generosity, and nobility. The problem is that his “us” is very small–and that, I think, is the reason for so many problems in the real world, too.
How much research did you have to do for this book? Any travel involved? I had already done a lot of research on pre-industrial cultures, since I’d written a number of nonfiction books about various ancient and medieval societies, and that research definitely fed into The Healer’s Choice. None of the peoples in the book are entirely analogous to any specific historical groups, but the Kel Nira’s people have some similarities to ancient Germanic and Celtic cultures, while Prince Dursten’s have elements drawn from the Roman Empire, ancient India, and a few other times and places. Most of these similarities, however, were not included deliberately; they just filtered through my subconscious as I was writing. The two areas I did have to deliberately research were medical procedures and military techniques, neither of which are areas in which I have any sort of expertise.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? Aside from just sticking with the whole process, I think the most challenging thing was the world building. Perhaps because of my background of researching and writing social history, I always thought of The Healer’s Choice as a historical novel in a way–and it really would have been one, if I had been able to find a historical time and place in which my characters could have played the roles they play and been in the situation they’re in. It would have been much easier for me to research a particular culture’s games, dances, funeral practices, and so on, than to have to make all of that up!
Which writers inspire you? The big three for me are Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare; after that, in no particular order (except that I’m listing novelists first, then poets), are Charlotte Bronte, Tolkien, Patrick O’Brian, Elizabeth Peters, Lois McMaster Bujold, Isabel Allende, Philip Pullman, Marian Zimmer Bradley and Diana Paxson, Marie de France, Sir Philip Sidney, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, and A.E. Stallings.
What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser? If I’m writing nonfiction, I do quite a bit of planning and formal outlining. My fiction, though, generally starts with some situation with a character or two and then grows from there. It’s a kind of organic cinema: after the initial idea grabs me, I see various scenes playing like a movie in my head, and I do my best to transcribe the dialogue and describe the action. I often have an idea of the direction the characters are going, but I frequently have to run to keep up with them, and they sometimes head off in directions that completely surprise me.
Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)? I drink a lot of coffee while I’m working, which is not so strange for a writer, except that I stick with mostly decaf. Also, I tend not to visualize the physical appearance of my characters in detail, but I do “voice-cast” most of them–for example, I hear the Kel Nira’s voice as Cate Blanchett’s in the Lord of the Rings movies or as Mira Furlan’s in Babylon 5.
What are you working on at the moment? My main project is a follow-up to The Healer’s Choice, currently titled The Healer’s Curse. I’ve also got a few steampunk stories in the works.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend? I have always loved names–their meanings, their history, their connotations, their sounds. As a grade-schooler and teenager I checked baby-name books out of the library all the time, just because I was so fascinated by names, and I was always envious of the girls in my class who had unusual ones (Zane, Darcy, Chloe, and Eleni are some I remember). It’s not surprising, then, that I take a lot of care with naming my characters. In my epic fantasy, part of the world building I do is setting up language parameters and naming conventions. Within those guidelines, I then create names that I like the sound of. For example, one of the cultures in The Healer’s Choice has an important legendary figure named Vallar, and so “Val,” from his name, turns up as an element in the names of my secondary protagonist, Corvalen, and his heir, Torval. Names are also significant in The Healer’s Choice by their absence: the leaders of Sharhaya, the country at the center of the novel, relinquish their names and go by title alone, similar to the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama in our world.
When did you decide to become a writer? I started writing poems and stories when I was seven because I just couldn’t help myself, and I’ve never stopped. As with most writers, I think, there are stories and characters in my heart and head that I’ve just got to get onto paper (or into pixels), or I feel I’ll burst. At some point, though, I suppose we do make a more or less conscious decision to publish our work in some form. With me it started by passing out stories to my friends in junior high and then submitting to magazines in high school. In college I had an interdisciplinary arts major with a dual concentration in music and writing, so I suppose that’s when I really decided that writing would form a major component of my professional life.
Where do your ideas come from? I get ideas from all over the place: history, folklore and mythology, dreams, random encounters with strangers, odd situations with friends, interesting quotations, overheard conversations, works of art, and all manner of musings on what-ifs.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? I generally have some sense of where the plot is going to go, or at least I have certain “marks” that I think I want to hit as the plot progresses. Mainly, though, I focus on developing the characters and their relationships, and let the plot take shape as a result.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why? I really wish I had been able to meet Terry Pratchett. His Discworld novels have meant so much to me, in so many ways, and I would have liked to thank him in person.
Tell the readers something about yourself that has nothing to do with writing. My favorite desserts are creme brulee, tiramisu, and key lime pie. If a dessert menu has all three, I will never make up my mind.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Keep reading, both inside and outside of the genre you’re writing in. And while the only way to get a book written is to sit down and write it, you do need to get up out of the chair and go out into the world, too. Pay attention: to nature, to landscapes and cityscapes, to current events, to weather, to words, to history, and, above all, to people and what makes them tick.
Do you have any tips for readers or advice for other writers trying to get published? Write the stories you need to tell; don’t worry about labeling or selling them until later. Get the story down, get it polished (revise, revise, revise!), and then you can deal with the rest of the process.
How can readers discover more about you and you work? Visit my website (kathrynhinds.com) and follow me on social media–I’m currently on Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest, and maybe one of these days I’ll finally start Tweeting, too.