Interview: January 15, 2010
Erin Healy --- the bestselling co-author of 2009’s KISS and
the newly released thriller BURN --- recently spoke with
Bookreporter.com's Marcia Ford about her latest venture with
collaborator Ted Dekker. In this interview, Healy explains what
made the writing process easier this second time around and
discusses the research they performed, as well as the creative
license they used, to center the novel on a little-known community
in the New Mexican desert. She also delves into some of the
spiritual aspects explored in the book and discusses her solo
projects in the works, including NEVER LET YOU GO, due out in
Bookreporter.com: BURN marks your second collaboration with
Ted Dekker. How did the team writing effort on this book differ
from the first one (KISS, which released in 2009)?
Erin Healy: The practical
process was largely the same, but the creative effort was much
easier. We'd worked out most of the first-time kinks that plagued
KISS and seemed to find our stride more quickly.
BRC: The initial setting for BURN is an unusual one --- a
Gypsy community in the New Mexico desert. Given the Gypsies'
traditional code of secrecy, what obstacles did you face in
researching their lifestyle and in particular their way of
EH: The primary obstacle
was that there simply isn't much written about the North American
Romany tribes, which are more rare in the United States than in
other parts of the world. We relied heavily on the research of Anne
Sutherland in her book GYPSIES: The Hidden Americans. Of
course, because our book is not only fiction but highly imaginative
fiction, we took some liberties as well.
BRC: Unlike KISS and many of Ted's solo books, BURN reads
like a straightforward suspense novel --- for several hundred pages
and then some --- before the reader encounters the major
mind-bending plot twist that changes everything. How did that
structure evolve? Was it intentional from the start, or a product
of the writing process?
EH: In the original draft,
we withheld the plot twist until the very end, presenting it as a
major reveal. But as we weighed the effect of this, we decided the
device was so outrageous that we needed to introduce it as soon as
possible, to allow readers to live with the magnitude of it for a
while. Actually, the story begins to hint at the plot twist as
early as page 95, and then the characters themselves begin to
wrestle with the truth around page 150. It's subtle, but our hope
was that by the time things become obvious, readers will have
already put two and two together, thus making them more likely to
buy into the crazy scenario.
BRC: Shortly after KISS released, readers began "casting"
the book --- suggesting which actors they would cast in the book's
leading roles should it ever go to film. So…who would you
cast as Janeal Mikkado, the lead female character in BURN? How
about Robert Lukin, her long-lost boyfriend? Salazar Sanso, the
ultimate bad guy?
EH: I love this stuff. I'd
cast Mila Kunis as Janeal and Antonio Banderas as Sanso.
Robert…hmm. I'll take suggestions. Someone olive-skinned and
beautifully dark. Maaaaaaybe Taylor Lautner. With a tan. Ten years
BRC: How much of you is in the character
of Janeal --- or her best friend, Katie? How much of Ted is in
Robert --- or Salazar?
EH: Janeal and Katie are
portraits of extremes, which serves the story but doesn't make a
good mirror for me. I can't say there's much of me in either woman.
Katie is everything I wish I could be; Janeal is everything I hope
I'm not. I could have fun with the question about Ted! But I'll
just say that Ted has all of Robert's drive and all of Sanso's
bad-boy leanings, except he's never done anything illegal. That I
BRC: BURN is replete with theological concepts, primarily
the battle between good and evil that is waged within the human
heart. Please tell us about some of the other spiritual aspects of
the book. How did they emerge in the course of the
EH: Above all else, BURN
is a story about the complexity of dying to self, and that was an
idea present in our minds from day one. Ted and I were working
independently on story concepts about characters who had
opportunities to make alternative life choices, or to confront the
courses their lives took after critical moments of decision. When
we discovered this was happening, merging the ideas seemed like a
natural thing to do. We met in Austin one day to plot the
overarching storyline, and as that emerged, "dying to self" became
the thematic title scrawled across the top of our notes. I'm
hopeful the story suggests that this death is not a one-time event,
but a lifelong, difficult process --- as the complementary decision
to live for Christ is also a journey. Both actions are accompanied
by high costs and great rewards.
BRC: At one time, you and Ted had concrete plans to
collaborate on a future book. Is that still in the works? If not,
why not, and if so, will it be in the same vein as KISS and
EH: We did have plans, but
they've been tabled for the time being. Ted and I both had some
exciting developments with our solo books that eclipsed our third
project together, and all parties involved felt that the best
opportunities for everyone involved pursuing those wholeheartedly.
It was a matter of timing, simple as that.
BRC: What's one of the most important writing lessons
you've learned from Ted? What’s one of the most important
lessons you think he's learned from you --- either when you were
his editor or now as his co-author?
EH: I have an index card
on a tack strip near my desk with a whole list of things I've
learned from Ted as a writer and as an editor. It would take a
while to explain them all. But as far as "most important" goes, I
would say I have an amazing model in Ted of an author who
understands what it means to love his readers. Serving them with
stories that will speak most pointedly to them is his highest goal,
as it is for most authors I know. But Ted actually does
it, and exceptionally well. As for what he's learned from me, I
really couldn't say, but he uses words like "desperate," "insane"
and "perfect sense" more sparingly now, because I've threatened
BRC: Your first solo novel, NEVER LET YOU GO, releases in
May. What can you tell us about the plot and about writing alone
for the first time?
EH: My solo debut is a
supernatural thriller about a young single mother, Lexi, who is
paid an unwelcome visit by an old friend. He demands she testify on
behalf of the killer who murdered Lexi’s sister. If she
refuses, he’ll harm Lexi’s daughter. Within hours, she
also learns that her estranged husband, gone seven years, is
attempting to reconnect with their little girl. The strangely timed
reappearance of the friend, the killer, and the husband sabotages
Lexi's efforts to love and protect her daughter. NEVER LET YOU GO
is a novel about the high price of bitterness and forgiveness,
neither of which it seems Lexi can afford to pay.
The authors I've edited will be amused to know that I was subjected
to everything I've ever said is normal about the writing life ---
the fears, the insecurities, the highs and lows, the blind spots,
the sense of accomplishment. Writing is a fabulous, lonely
experience. My editorial life and my broad tastes in reading (which
spans many genres) have helped and hurt. On the one hand, the
creative process doesn't frighten me. On the other hand, I have a
very difficult time making firm creative decisions. There are so
many options to pick from! In the co-authored books, Ted made most
of those decisions. He makes them swiftly and with seeming ease.
I'll need a few more novels under my belt before I work that out
BRC: The last we heard, you also had two more novels in the
works. What are they about?
EH: I'll let you know just
as soon as I'm sure. I keep changing my mind. (Like I said.) But at
this moment, I can say confidently that I'll continue to write
supernatural thrillers that explore the intersections between the
spiritual and physical realities of our lives. These are the themes
that occupy my mind and heart even when I'm not writing.
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