Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Q&A: Heather Dowell, author of The Challenge

What inspired you to write a novel about human/animal hybrids and spliced DNA?

A.S. Oren and I wanted to do a series together. She actually called me on the 4th of July weekend. Anyway, we started talking about different things we might be interested in writing. There were quite a few ideas thrown around, but most we had already formulated plots for and had a bit of claim to them being our own ideas. We knew we needed to pick something neither of us had any ideas for yet. A few months before we were talking about stem cells and how they can help to cure some of the effects of CP. During this discussion, I brought up that if abortions were going to continue to take place, then the embryos should be used for stem cell research and other things that can lead to saving/improving lives. I’m taking a big risk by saying this, but I am 100% anti-abortion. (Note: I don’t consider removing the baby in life-threatening scenarios to be abortion. I’d also be fine with any woman having the baby removed from their body and put into a machine that finishes the gestation period. Therefore, I’m also 100% pro-choice, but only if the baby isn’t killed when being removed. Unfortunately, we don’t have that level of technology. Two hundred years into the future, I believe we will.) The whole abortion thing plays into the creation of splicers, but the reader won’t know exactly how until later in the series.

One of the reasons why I bring up the whole abortion thing is because A.S. Oren and I have completely different beliefs and opinions about tricky subjects. Somehow we’re still able to be best friends and have lively debates that others would murder over. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Anyway, for the original idea, we thought of having women donate aborted fetuses to their government. This suited her taste because it fits with pro-choice, and it suited mine because the babies got to live.

The whole splicing aspect came from an article she showed me about a goat being spliced with a spider. This splicing resulted in the goat having silk in its milk.

Pulling both of these old conversations together, we created The Splicing Project. Once we had the “creature” picked out, we developed all of the characters together, their government, and a bit of the general setting and concept for the first three episodes.



Did the subject require you to do any research?

There was a ton of research. Not as much as I did for The Newcomer, which involves mythological creatures, but there was still quite a bit. I researched all of the animals we wanted to splice our characters with. I found out their natural abilities and some of their unique features. From there, I shared my animal research with A.S. Oren, and we started figuring out how we would incorporate some of those features.

A.S. Oren is very interested in issues like global warming and pollution. She watch a documentary about what the world would be like one hundred years from now if everyone continues living the same way. She shared this video with me and that kind of served as our initial world building platform.

There’s also a lot of military concepts in the book. I draw from my Navy experience to write those.

You have both an adult and YA version of this novel. What made you decide to go that route?

In all honesty, I finished writing my portion of the first episode and it just didn’t feel right. We had both decided to write it as a reverse harem-erotic-paranormal-dystopian-futuristic-thriller with LGBT aspects—that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?—but overtime it made me sick. I thought if I published that under my real name my parents would disown me, or I wouldn’t feel comfortable being in the same room with them knowing that they knew I wrote it. They are BOTH ordained ministers though they weren’t when I was growing up. I wasn’t all that comfortable with writing it either. In the end, I made the choice to stay true to my beliefs. Lucky for me, A.S. Oren understood and we made the split on good terms. She actually noticed I was having doubts and assured me we’d still be best friends if I decide to break off and do my own version.

We were both very invested in our character and the story we had created, so we decided to both carry on with the project and write the stories as if they were taking place in alternate dimensions.



How do the two versions differ?

A.S. Oren’s steps into the realm of erotica, but that is not the only difference. Her female lead has a shy personality and is highly intelligent. All you have to do is think of a toned-down mute version of Velma off of Scooby-Doo and you’ve got Velma from The Splicing Project. Her world is also different. The first episode is very similar in that the splicers have a challenge to complete, but the buck stops there.

My series is YA Reverse Harem and my female lead is Daphne. Did you catch it yet? Yep, that’s right, another Scooby-Doo character. When we were developing characters, we didn’t have names for them, so we named them after stock characters that shared a similar personality. In the end we had gotten so used to calling our female leads Daphne and Velma that they became Daphne and Velma. I can’t imagine them being called anything else.


Was it difficult to write the same book in different versions?

More like time consuming. I had already written the first version, so I had to rewrite everything but the challenge. That doesn’t seem like much, but there were a lot of chapters that were removed. In the original, I only wrote in Daphne’s POV. I also had them return to the compound after the challenge. Daphne witnessed Octavius being whipped and then passed out, only to get kicked in the side by Richards. When she woke up, she was in a medical unit, where she used her blood to heal Octavius’ wounds. Then they got to pick their names outside. After that, she lifted a tile in the bathroom that led to a large air duct. Octavius led her to a secret room, where he would reward her for healing his wounds by having sex with her. (Daphne is part bonobo, a species in which women rule and settle disputes with sex.) He wound up tell her how he had been locked up in that room for years and had to kill a guard to escape. Then they had sex—twice! One time involved shackles. You do NOT see any of that in The Challenge. I wrote about three versions in different tenses until I decided to write the series in first person present with multiple POVs—something I have NEVER seen done before. I know there are books with two POVs, but I used eight in the first episode.

As far as keeping A.S. Oren’s version and my version different, well, that’s easy. I simply don’t tell her what I’m writing (**Cough Cough** I’m horrible about not spilling my whole dang outline.) and she doesn’t tell me what she’s writing. We have discussed a few things, and I will tell you that our sequence of events and the directions we take with certain characters are completely different.



You wrote this novel from the viewpoints of several characters.  What made you decide to do that rather than focusing on Daphne?

I had wrote it all as Daphne in the beginning, but that was when Velma was still in the book. Velma knows things that Daphne doesn’t because Daphne has not grown up with the other splicers. I need some information to be presented to the reader, and I can’t do that when Daphne doesn’t have a clue.

I tried writing it in third person. I really, really tried, but it felt so bland to me. I was having a hard time editing it. It was boring me. I even tried writing in third person present, which is odd sounding in most cases. Nothing seemed natural.

I finally settled on using multiple POVs. This story goes in several directions. There will be a kidnaping, a betrayal, and a possible separation of the group. I don’t want to establish any one character as the MAIN character because they all have an important role in what happens in the story. I like to have rounded characters and give them all backstories. Their history makes them seem more realistic.

I’m sure people had a bit of trouble with the first episode. I jumped right in and none of the characters knew each other except for Griffin and Quillon, but you saw how that turned out. They also had really SHORT chapters with only bits and pieces of physical description or insights. They are there if you look, I promise.

People also had trouble with the lack of dialogue tags. I used as few as possible on purpose. If this weren’t the first episode, I don’t think anyone (skim readers) would have had any trouble. The person speaking is always indicated, I just don’t use “he said” every time. I had a reason. A whole bunch of “he said”/”she said” slows down the action, and I wanted to make the reader slightly uncomfortable and nerve-racked. That is how the characters were feeling, and I wanted the reader to experience that. I think the shorter chapters also made it harder to put down. So, if anyone was wondering if that was done deliberately, it was.

I will not be using every character’s POV in each and every episode. Some you may go three episodes without having their POV. I will not let certain characters be the POV for certain scenes, because I don’t want to reveal too much too soon. For instance, if a character flat-out decides he’s in love with Daphne, I won’t use his POV until I want the reader to know that. I’m restricting in order to build suspense. I bet I sound cruel, don’t I? I also do that because romance is not the center focus. If anything, the government is, and this series is a bit of a satire of what this world could be like two hundred years from now.

Also, the chapters will be much longer in the coming episodes, and the number of POVs used per episode will dwindle down (maybe even to one character if it’s feasible).



When reading the novel, I felt like, despite the multiple viewpoints, Daphne was the main character. Do you agree?

I will agree that Daphne was the “SUN” for this episode and all the other characters were “PLANETS”. It just kind of happened that way. I knew she would be in the group whose challenge I showed, so it made sense to introduce her early and have her throughout the whole episode. If you noticed, most of the things that happened in this episode were either witnessed by her for the first time (the shooting) or were done to her. She was the recipient of most of the action.

This will be true for The Selection as well. You will have four consecutive chapters with Daphne, followed by one chapter each for the boys. Then you get another chapter with Daphne and that dreaded cliffhanger. Everything in the second episode will be resolved, but the cliffhanger will make you want the second. You’ll find out more about Red’s and Blacky’s plan for Daphne, and it will keep you on your toes.

OH MY GOSH, y’all are going to be on the edge of your seat for episode three. It’ll start off calm and slow and then BAM BAM BAM!

I will release a collection of the first three episodes in April. It’ll be called The Escape. I plan on it being a full length novel, which I will release in print. The first episode is by far the shortest in length. The next two may have as much as two hundred pages each—plenty of time to get to know the characters who don’t seem all that important just yet.




You have these young people facing deadly obstacles in order to survive. Was this idea inspired by other works with similar themes?

Subconsciously, maybe. I will admit to loving The Hunger Game, Divergent, and X-men. There are correlations, but I wouldn’t say mine is a copycat. I wanted to have Daphne thrown into this life or death challenge. Compared to the other splicers, she has been pampered all of her life. She didn’t know the splicers were treated like soldiers and lived with structure. She didn’t know that the guards were corrupt or that the government didn’t care for their safety. She had no idea that they would want to weed out the weak.

I laughed so hard when I read the blurb for the book Taken by Erin Bowman. Basically, all the males get taken on their 18th birthday and no one knows where they go. I was like “I did that!”, but mine’s a bit different. They don’t get taken on their 18th birthday. All of the eighteen year olds get taken one day a year. I guess you could say it’s like The Reaping in Hunger Games, but instead of two tributes, everyone is a tribute. Luckily, more than one person can survive The Challenge.

I’m afraid The Selection may seem like Divergent. There is a tunnel involved along with a selection process. By the time you make it to episode three, The Mission, the similarities should stop. Everything that happens during The Challenge and The Selection is a lead in to The Mission.


What made you decide to write each character's POV in first person?

They all have a unique backstory, some which I have yet to deeply explore, that contributes to the overall plot. I feel detached when I write in third person. I prefer to get into the character’s head and see what drives them.



Can you give us a little hint about what's in store for these young characters in future installments?

There will be a lot of character development, especially in Quillon. He was kind of a woman hater in the beginning of episode one and slowly came around to respect Daphne. Like people say, old habits die hard, so don’t expect them to be all lovey dovey just because he had a moment of understanding. I think a few people thought they were detecting a bit of instalove in episode one. Sorry, guys.

There will be a budding romance (a few) over time. Lots of fighting, mostly about leadership. There are some very strong personalities namely Arrow, Daphne, Quillon, and Octavius in the group. If you put a whole bunch of type A’s in a room they tend to try to outdo one another and fight for dominance. You’ll get to see that here and will probably want to slap a few of them.

There will be some challenges to come. Some are physical and some are psychological. The psychological ones will mold the characters.

AND three new characters, but I don’t plan on using their POVs. When we get to episode four, I’ll try to drop down to one, but there will be a different character every episode.

Is that a little hint? Or do you want some oneworders?

Braided whip


Parrott Fur





 Thank you Heather Dowell for that insight into the world of the Splicers. If any of my readers are interested in checking out the first installment in this interesting and unique series, you can pick up Episode One: The Challenge, for .99 cents on Amazon.




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