Worldcon 2015. A link to order her book will appear at the end of this blogpost.
Sarah: Hi, Betty. Welcome to my Speak Up Librarian blog. I enjoyed reading your book! Thanks for this opportunity to learn more about you and your writing and share that with my readers through this interview.
You introduced yourself to me by sending greetings from "one hard of hearing book lover to another". Did you experience hearing loss as a child or did you lose hearing as an adult like I did? What has your hearing loss experience been like?
Betty: Well, yes, actually. The best theory of my medical professionals is that the original hearing loss occurred when I was an infant and contracted an infection. However it wasn’t discovered until a routine grade school physical. Because my mother taught all of us sign-language from birth my language skill were not noticeably affected except for a slight slurring of the ends of my words which at-home speech therapy corrected. However I can probably look forward to the problem getting worse as I age and there is a decent chance I will eventually lose all hearing. The condition itself is called recruitment. Which basically means that I lost the function of my cochlea in the lower ranges. The rest of the organ tries to compensate and makes the perceived noise level jump painfully once I can hear it.
Due to the nature of my hearing loss, my experience can best be described as complex. My speech therapy caused me to unconsciously raise the pitch of my voice in order to hear what I was saying. Unfortunately, that put my voice right in the range where most older people begin to lose their hearing. So when I talk with anyone with a grey or silver head I am in the habit of dropping my pitch and raising my volume. Because I have a large vocabulary and can hear a part of every word spoken I can eventually figure out what is being said, but the delay in response time means people can get irate at me. The recruitment means I have a hard time understanding men (with their deeper voices) over the phone when I can’t read their physical cues. Perhaps the most obvious affect on my life is that I cannot go to the theater or listen to a sound system with the bass active. The pain that artificially amplified bass notes cause is something like getting punched in the gut and sends caffeine like jolts through my system.
Sarah: Thanks for your willingness to share that, Betty. As a self proclaimed book lover, what kind of books do you enjoy reading? Any recommended must reads?
Betty: I am a voracious book reader and will enjoy almost any clean, well written book. I tend to spend the most time with Science Fiction adventure stories and animal themed stories. One author I can wholeheartedly recommend is Brian Jacques and his Redwall series. Don’t let the theme of talking animals fool you, his are works for all ages.
Sarah: I have not read Brian Jacques before. I will have to check his books out. Thanks. Congratulations on Dying Embers, your first novel, coming out in August. What was your inspiration for the story?
Betty: When I was a teenager a very close friend of the family had a child with a terminal illness. A few years later my personal physician co-founded a humanitarian organization called Mamma Baby Haiti to improve pre and post natal care in the earthquake ravaged Haiti. The trauma of the first incident inspired the emotions; the courage and selflessness of the midwives and doctors of Mama Baby Haiti inspired many of the technical details.
Sarah: How long did it take to write Dying Embers?
Betty: To simply get the rough draft down on my hard drive was the work of only a few months. The editing and expanding took nearly three years.
Sarah: How did you get your book published?
Betty: With the two things that all authors need; persistence and luck. I submitted it again and again to different publishers before it was accepted by MQuills.
Sarah: In Dying Embers, the aliens have names that were given to them by their government in accordance with their role in society. They also have names bestowed upon them by the human children. Drake, one of the main human characters, has three names and I enjoyed the part where he chooses delightful names for the embers: Stormbreaker, Cometflare, and Skyfire. How are names important in your story?
Betty: The names are very critical to the story and were the one aspect where I fought with my editors, who would have preferred a more streamlined approach. The aliens have come out of a very socially restrictive culture where their very worth is determined and labeled from birth. Accepting the personal names from the humans was a big step for them psychologically.
For Drake Awiegwa McCarty his first and middle names represent the split in his personality that losing his parents caused. His scientist mother insisted on a common first name on the grounds that it was scientifically proven that it would make life easier for him, his more whimsical father insisted on a name that would give him a connection to his Native American roots. Since they both, but mainly his father, used Awiegwa (Cherokee for elk) informally it was the name he came to associate with love and comfort.
The name Drake he associated with formality and responsibility. After losing his parents and helping his sister raise their brother and cousin he began to identify more as Drake as a survival method, only identifying as Awiegwa when he could escape the responsibilities he had accepted. It thus became a guilty pleasure for him. Part of his character growth is learning to accept that it is okay to let someone else take care of him, to identify as a child again. When he chooses the more whimsical and delightful names for the embers that is his way of extending that care and fatherly love to them.
Sarah: Thanks for elaborating on that, Betty. My favorite aspect of your story was the caring relationships between the aliens and humans as they function as a family. I liked that both the tough warriors and the detached scientists had an unexpected tender side. Another character who exemplified this was Sal. I was unclear on what this character, described by another as a "mysterious talking truck thing", was exactly. Can you tell me more about Sal?
Betty: Sal is a mystery to everyone, including himself. Neither he nor any of his family know of any other living member of his species, or even if he is in fact a member of a species or simply one of a kind. He has some very dark secrets in the parts of his past that he does know which color his interactions with everyone he meets. They make him very unsure of his place in his family and those insecurities fuel his xenophobia. His only real loyalties are to his family, both the Franklins and the Clan that they belong to. Their moral code is something he clings to desperately in no small part because he doesn’t fully trust himself. He has a very quick temper but for most offenses forgives easily. However, he can be extremely vengeful when someone he loves has been wronged or his own pride has been wounded. Knowing this, he depends on his driver to draw the line between justice and revenge for him.
Sarah: Aha, so Sal is a mystery! Even though he was tough to pinpoint, I enjoyed reading the scenes that included him and was touched by the way he eased the pain of the embers. You've created a unique world in Dying Embers. It's similar to our own, perhaps in the near future. Will you have additional stories coming out that take place in this world? Will any of the characters from Dying Embers be appearing in other stories you have planned?
Betty: If all goes as planned there will be at least two direct prequels to Dying Embers and some short stories showing the world that Sal and Zech live and work in.
Sarah: That's excellent news. Please stay in touch and keep me up-to-date on how your writing career is going. I wish you success!