Erin Healy is owner of WordWright Editorial Services, a Colorado-based consulting firm specializing in fiction book critique, manuscript development, and editing for publishers. Kiss, co-authored with Ted Dekker, is her first novel. Erin is the director of the Academy of Christian Editors and former editor of Christian Parenting Today magazine. She and her husband, Tim, are the proud parents of two children.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Kiss is about the redemptive power of painful memories. It examines the contradiction between the benefits and the tragic consequences of trying to wipe the slate clean. When the personal cost of remembering is greater than the cost of forgetting, which would you choose? What if your most difficult memories could save lives? These are some of the questions that haunt the main character, Shauna, who awakens from a coma missing six months’ worth of memories. She discovers on awakening that her family accuses her of having irrevocably harmed her beloved brother, with the intention of destroying her father’s political career. Shauna can’t imagine she’d do such a thing, but she just can’t remember …
You co-authored this book. Can you explain the process for co-authoring a novel?
The process probably looks different for each co-author team. Ted and I have worked together for several years as an author-editor team, and we have similar ways of thinking about what makes a strong story. So the foundations for the teamwork—trust and vision—had been long established. The majority of the process involved us talking on the phone for hours while he filled the story with great ideas and I tried to keep my cordless adequately charged. We verbally beat story questions and scenes and options nearly to death long before a word was ever typed. Then I laid down the first rough draft and a new process began with both of us, writing, tearing apart, rewriting, more rewriting, editing, etc. The book is roughly 100,000 words, but at least 200,000 words were written to get there. Gotta love it.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?
The Kiss that exists today is the sixth or seventh generation of the idea Ted and I started with. I came up with a concept for a story about a woman who can relieve people of their most painful memories, a mercy “angel” whose good intentions go all wrong. Maybe this story will find its footing one day in a sequel about Shauna. Who knows?
Ted loved the idea of memory stealing and transplanted that device into a story concept that had bigger political and relational stakes, and Kiss grew from there.
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed her.
Shauna is a young woman who’s in danger and doesn’t know it, because she’s lost her memory. Ted and I tried a few approaches with Shauna: Was she overall an angry person? Contrite? Fearful? Aggressive? Focusing on the emotional terror of Shauna’s situation gave us the direction we needed.
What would it be like to be blamed for devastating the life of a loved one—and not remember what you’d done? Answers to that question were not hard to imagine. We isolated Shauna from her family and friends; we separated her from the truth of her past and forced her to make a choice: Would she rather live safely in the dark or at great risk in the light? Shauna answered that question for us: her love for her brother and her hope for relationship with her father pushed her toward risk, and her driving need to know the truth propelled her straight into danger.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
Most: the rewriting. Maybe it’s the editor in me, but that part came pretty naturally. Manipulating a manuscript is like playing with Play-Doh.
Least: the rewriting. After revision number six (or was it seven?), all I really wanted was a glass of wine and a twelve-hour sleep. Is it just me, or do others also find the creative process riddled with such love-hate tensions?
What made you start writing?
I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I have a hunch it’s rooted in my propensity to talk too much, and as a child I needed to find an outlet that gave my parents and sister some relief.
What does your writing space look like?
I do most of my writing in my garden-level home office, which has a view of garden mulch and a tree trunk. The walls are an unfortunate shade of baby-poop mustard (I think the prior home owners were going for gold) that I have not had time to repaint. So I’ve covered this up for the most part with bookcases and my favorite book-lover’s framed prints, illustrated by Nishan Akgulian.
What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?
“Free time?” asked the working mother of a ten-year-old and a five-month-old. “What’s that?”
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
Making it a priority discipline. I have a business, a husband, kids, a dirty house, and a million interests. Writing gets squeezed to the margins, especially if it’s not attached to a contract.
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
Into my books, yes. They contain my curiosity, my love of a good puzzle, and a little of my hope-tinged cynicism. As for characters, I have no idea. I might not be able to answer that question for a few years, when hindsight might be more revealing to me. Either that or I’ll need to ask a psychologist for a professional assessment.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
I hope readers might begin to see their most painful personal memories in a new light. I hope they can discover grace in pain and see these experiences as formative events that God can redeem and transform into meaningful parts of their history.
When God told the Israelites to commemorate their suffering (such as with altars and feast days), He wasn’t telling them to wallow in it, but to remember Who delivered them from it. If our whole history—good, bad, and ugly—keeps us focused on Him, our future will make more sense. I really believe that.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
Take a long, hot shower. Flip through the mental file for ideas while the water heater runs cold. Repeat daily for up to three months. When The One presents itself, spend more days (and showers) writing a synopsis and erecting a skeleton outline of the main characters and acts.
Spend a lot of time online distracting self with irrelevant research such as whether characters’ first and last names are true to ethnic origins. Write the first ten pages. Shower. Rewrite these ten pages every day for two weeks, and do the bulk of it mentally while under hot water in the shower.
Calculate the minimum number of words that must be written daily to meet the deadline. Recalculate and consider whether thinking of this number in terms of pages is less intimidating. Decide the deadline for beginning has come and gone. Shower. Write. Shower. Revise. Shower.
Rewrite the story outline based on new ideas and revelations and characters who will not behave themselves. Rinse and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Spend at least a week believing that the novel will have to be destroyed before the editor sees it and destroys the contract afterward. Realize it’s too late to prevent that.
Write the last twenty pages in one day without rereading them. Send the rough draft to at least two people who love you and would never say a negative thing about your work, and to at least two (different) people who have permission to tear the thing apart without apologizing. Await their replies in the shower. After receiving replies, cry in the shower. Then do the work. Fix it. Fall in love with the results. Send it off. Shower. Moisturize desiccated skin. Go to bed. Repeat.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. The themes of belonging and integrity in the context of faith resonate with me as a Christian who doesn’t alwaysfeel like she fits within the traditional norms.
The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. What amazing studies of the pursuit of excellence taken to extremes. I’ve come to see Rand’s works as instructive portraits of a hope for perfection—beautiful and God-given, though hers was misguided.
Silence by Shusaku Endo, one of Japan’s leading novelists.
In the mid-1600s, a fellow Christian betrays a missionary priest to authorities. He is captured, tortured, and eventually he apostatizes. I was captivated by the question of what strengthens and weakens faith in the face of unimaginable opposition and physical suffering. In what do we place our certainties of faith?
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
I wish I’d acknowledged sooner that fiction readers care less about technical perfection than they do about emotional brilliance. Good storytelling starts with craft but must end with the human heart. Ted and other talented authors have taught me this again and again by example in the years I’ve worked with them.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
As Kiss is my first book, and it’s being marketed as a Ted Dekker book, my answers at this point will be limited: I don’t do any marketing; right now I’m riding coattails of Ted’s marketing. And anything that works for Ted works REALLY well for me!
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
I’m excited about Burn, which the next book from Ted and me. Burn is an intense, brain-bending story about a woman forced into making a critical, life-changing decision … and what might have happened if she’d made a different decision. It’s a novel about the dramatic stakes involved in dying to self, and what life on the other side of that action looks like, for better and worse.
After that, I’ll have a solo novel before (we hope) another venture with Ted. It’s the story of a hard-working, loving single mom who is haunted—and hunted—by an offense that she can’t forgive. Readers can expect my stories to be page-turning thrillers with sharp spiritual edges. Like Ted’s, but different. They’ll have more romance than Kiss or Burn. And they might also have more than one word in the titles.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Learn the craft. Learn how to respect it before you attempt to do anything subversive. Learn what moves your audience. Learn how to expose yourself and your work to the honest opinion of others, especially people who don’t like what you’ve written. Learn, learn, learn. “Your job,” write the authors of Art and Fear, “is to learn to work on your work.”