Special Feature: Author Interview with Bernita Harris
"I was standing there naked when my dead husband walked into my bathroom."
This line launches DARK AND DISORDERLY, a new urban fantasy by Bernita Harris.
Lillie St. Claire is a Talent, one of the rare few who can permanently dispatch the spirits of the dead that walk the earth. Her skills are in demand in a haunted country, where a plague of ghosts is fast becoming a civic nuisance. Those skills also bring her into conflict with frightened citizens who view Talents as near-demons. Her husband has come to see her as a Freak; so when Nathan dies after a car crash, she is relieved to be free of his increasingly vicious presence. Lillie expects to be haunted by Nathan's ghost, but not to become Suspect #1 for her husband's murder and reanimation.
But most surprising is the growing attraction between her and psi-crime detective John Thresher. He suspects Lillie killed Nathan; and Nathan must agree, because his zombie is seeking revenge on her. Now she and Thresher must work together to solve her husband's murder before his corpse kills her.
Bernita also writes an interesting blog, that can be read at http://www.bernitaharris.blogspot.com/
Hi Bernita, thanks for talking to us. What inspired DARK AND DISORDERLY?
Thank you, Betsy, for having me.
It's difficult to say exactly what inspired the novel. Inspiration can spring from so many things - a photo, a line of poetry, a song, a quote - even an acute comment by a blogger - and ideas cascade and coalesce into scenes and characters. I do know I built the entire novel around that opening line.
Tell us about one of your favorite scenes in the book and why you like it.
One of my favorite scenes occurs early, the morning after the scene from the opening line. A sleepless Lillie is met in a coffee shop by Ric, another, lesser Talent. He is fond of wearing as a protective oil a scent known as devil's drek. He greets Lillie with the comment, "You look like shit," and she answers, "Thanks. You smell like it." Also, their ensuing shop talk serves to illustrate some of the challenges and conflicts that Talents in general, and Lillie in particular, constantly face.
What urban fantasy authors would you compare your work to?
I could say the early Laurel K. Hamilton, but I really don't like to go there. I think it presumptuous of a debut author to blithely declare their novel is comparable to - insert famous name - and truly, I think comparisons are for others to decide.
A writer is usually too close to their work and often delude themselves.
I understand you're an avid researcher, collector of encyclopedic facts, and thinker extraordinaire. How did this help you tell Lillie's story?
Writers need to research for depth and understanding, even though little of it may appear on the surface of the prose. One finds all sorts of fascinating detail that might be massaged to fit a story. Out of my research into myths and legends and ghostly encounters emerged Dumbarton ( Dummie, for short) the Black Dog who is Lillie's watch dog--when he isn't off chasing spectral squirrels and ghostly groundhogs. And I learned that the bean sidhe--which we usually render phonetically as banshee--is not always an ugly crone but often a beautiful woman. In the novel she also appears in her aspect of a Woman of the Fords who washes the bloody clothes of those fated to die--so she approves of the machines in the local laundromat. And those are only two...I investigated draugar and dullahans and read a lot of ghost stories.
You have a distinctive voice, especially in your non-fiction blog writing. I expected to hear that same voice when I picked up DARK AND DISORDERLY, but Lillie sounds like, well, Lillie. How much did you work on her voice, especially since it was first person?
Betsy, I'm really, really glad to hear you say that you hear Lillie's voice. I suspect one's voice subtly alters to suit the subject matter. I didn't make any effort to create a special voice for Lillie.
Oddly enough, another friend, after she read Stone Child (a short story about one of Lillie's adventures with trolls, found in Weirdly: A Collection of Strange Stories anthology, published by Wild Child Publishing) claimed she could hear my voice. So go figure!
Let's talk more about Lillie. How would you describe her? What are her dreams and flaws? Is she anything like you?
Lillie is tough yet vulnerable, sometimes she's impetuous and sometimes overly cautious, and she is often afraid but hides it. She is suspicious of Johnny Thresher's motives and his claims of attraction, yet she yearns to not go down into the dark unloved. Her contract as exorcist brings her into regular conflict with both pro-spirit and anti-specter factions, but Lillie understands and accepts these opposing hostilities. She just want to do her job. It's the only thing she feel she's good at - her only value.
As Nathan Bransford pointed out on his blog, every character contains bits and pieces of the author. I gave Lillie my habit of staying calm in a crisis--though there have been times when it would be so satisfying to have hysterics--and, I hope, my sense of humor--which has been described by some as "wickedly dark and dry." Possibly Lillie acquired some of my likes and dislikes and no doubt some of my insecurities, but she is definitely and decidedly not me.
Speaking of you, tell us a little about your writing journey. How did this book come about? How long did it take you to write? How many drafts?
As for how this book originated, I'm going to paraphrase a best-selling author, Laurens van der Post. He's likely dead now and won't mind. He spoke about an entirely different subject, the bushmen of South Africa, but his explanation applies: "I am compelled toward (things paranormal) like one who walks in his sleep obedient to a dream of finding in the dark what the day has denied him."
How long? Probably about a year, then the MS sat on my hard drive gathering electronic dust for another year. As you know I was absent from the Net during that year. I don't do drafts per se, I twiddle and revise and tinker as I go along.
Do you like to write every day or in fits and bursts?
Most of DARK AND DISORDERLY was written with my wee behind set firmly in my office chair every morning. It's a method I recommend. In fact, I feel most like a writer when I'm grimly wrestling with a difficult scene. However, with all the excitement surrounding publication and some personal issues, my writing at the moment is reduced to fits and starts.
DARK AND DISORDERLY is an early book from Carina Press, a new subsidiary of Harlequin. How have you found the process of publication?
Wonderfully well-organized. From the beginning Carina was clear and forthright about their plans and intentions, and have kept authors appraised at each stage by both information on the Carina blog and by Live Meetings. And I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a wonderful editor, the internet guru and historian, Michael A. Banks.
We're obviously proponents of ePublishing here at Electric Spec, but some folks still have reservations. What made you chose to submit to Carina? Do you have any concerns particular to ePubbing instead of print?
Carina is open to a broad range of genres and I found their openness reassuring. Further, since Carina is an ePub, my ePubbed writing credits would not be automatically dismissed. And then there was Angela James, their Executive Editor, whom I have long admired for her ability and acumen. I believed that any venture with her in charge would be successful.
My only concern about ePubbing is a long and deep failure of the North American power grid.
Are there any special promotional plans for the book our readers should know about?
Each day during the countdown to launch, the Carina blog is featuring a series of posts introducing Carina authors--who blog about their titles, with blurbs and excerpts and personal anecdotes about their novels. I think it's a wonderful way of introducing the novels and their authors to interested readers.
What's up next? Are you working on a Lillie St. Claire sequel or do you have something else in the works?
Definitely a Lillie St. Claire sequel, she has issues to be resolved - especially with Johnny Thresher - more ghosts to exorcise, and more enemies to defeat. I also have in the works another paranormal based on bits of flash I've named The Minor Annals.
Thanks so much for talking with us! Good luck with the book.
Bless you, Betsy, you are always a pleasure. Thank you.
Interested readers will be able to find DARK AND DISORDERLY at http://carinapress.com in June.