Special Feature: Author Interview with Cory Dale
by Lesley L. Smith
Karen Duvall, writing under the pen name Cory Dale for her self-published work, is a multi-published author living in Bend, Oregon. Her Knight's Curse urban fantasy series was published by Harlequin Luna in 2011 and 2012, and her post-apocalyptic novella, Sunstorm, appeared in Luna's Til The World Ends anthology in 2013. Her self-published urban fantasy novel, Demon Fare, will be available in print and as an ebook on December 20, 2014.
Demon Fare is an utterly unique novel featuring demons: part steampunk, part alternate history, all urban fantasy. It also has romantic elements and a humorous tone! I really enjoyed the genre mash-up, but isn't this exactly the kind of thing writers aren't supposed to do? What in the world were you thinking when you envisioned this novel?
Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the book. No genre mash-up? Perish the thought. I can't write anything that doesn't combine genres, and fantasy sneaks into all my stories no matter what. As far as what I was thinking, I write what I like to read. I wanted to create something unique, something I'd never seen done before. I like to think of Demon Fare as genre fusion rather than a mash-up, and like cooking, the combined flavors work well together.
The world building in Demon Fare is amazing; you've created a rich, full world that is totally different from our own. How did you do this?
It was my goal to shape a unique story in a world that's somewhat familiar as far as history and geography go. Yet it also had to fit the plot and the characters. I allowed my imagination to go wherever needed in order to make this happen.
Demon Fare contains a lot of demons. Demons powering technology is a unique and fascinating idea. Most of your characters, including the protagonists, are demons of one stripe or another. Are you at all concerned you may offend some readers by having demon heroes?
That's a good question because the word "demon" denotes evil, and not all the demons in this story are bad. The species of beings in Demon Fare were labeled unfairly by humans just because their origins come from the center of the earth, which is where the proverbial "Hell" is supposedly located. If aliens from outer space arrived on Earth, would they be called angels? I doubt it. People tend to fear or distrust those who are different. Bigotry and racism is an underlying theme in this story because the Hellspawn, who are half demon and half human, can't help what they are. The Hellspawn are judged by humans based on the circumstances of their births and deformities. Some Hellspawn, like the villain, are indeed bad people with selfish agendas. But humans have equal potential to be just as bad. The quest for tolerance and acceptance is a long and treacherous road for the Hellspawn.
I think anyone who reads urban fantasy expects to find supernatural creatures within its pages. Demons are people too. At least the two-legged kind are.
A reader could see your alternate Earth characters as a metaphor for one or more cultural, ethnic, or religious groups on our Earth. Was this your intention? What do you think different paradigms bring to the human race as a whole?
This absolutely was my intention. I wanted to explore bigotry and push the differences between races to the extreme under unorthodox conditions, then watch how the characters react. The result was instant conflict. My fictional Great Earthquake of 1864, the one that nearly destroyed an entire planet, is what split reality into the alternate history where Demon Fare takes place. It was no accident that my made-up geological catastrophe occurred during the Civil War. That war is never mentioned in the story, but it will be in future books in the series.
One of the joys of fiction, particularly fantasy fiction, is that we can take accepted norms and turn them upside down. Does oil mix with water? Can we force it to? What happens when we try? This is what gets my attention and I hope it gets the attention of readers as well.
You've created a hero and heroine that are easy to empathize with. Tell us about them.
Henry Paine is a half-demon NYC taxi driver with a tortured past who has dedicated his life to protecting his human family. Henry looks like a man in his mid twenties, but he's over a hundred and fifty years old and has the power to control minds. Past generations of Paines despised him for his demon genes, and he hated them right back, but that changed fifty years ago when his niece sought him out to offer an olive branch of familial friendship. Henry will do anything in his power to keep her and his nephews safe, especially when an old enemy surfaces to threaten Henry's family if Henry interferes in his nefarious business dealings.
Wanda Snow is an exorcist who hails from the patch towns of Kentucky coalminers. She's no stranger to the eccentricities of Hellspawn, having had a great-grandmother who was Hellspawn herself. It's that small trace of demon blood that gives Wanda her unique ability to extinguish a Hellspawn's demon soul. It's not a power she takes lightly and only uses it in self-defense. Wanda's great-grandmother Lacey was clairvoyant and predicted the destruction of New York City by demons. Wanda has come to New York to join forces with one special Hellspawn, Henry Paine, who she believes can help foil the rogue demons' plan to take over the city and possibly the world.
There's a nice sweet romantic component in Demon Fare. Can you give us any hints about what the future holds for Henry and Wanda? Will they have more adventures?
The romantic connection between Henry and Wanda is subtle because I want to establish a special friendship between them, the type of friendship neither has ever experienced before. The bond they share confuses them because they're not used to it, and neither has ever been in love before. You can't put an exorcist and a demon together and not expect sparks to fly, but are they sparks of love or hate? Sometimes it's both. Their relationship will be pushed to the limit and constantly tested, I promise you that. Will they end up a couple? Possibly. Will they have more adventures? Definitely.
A major theme in Demon Fare is the battle between good and evil and the issue of responsibility. What would your hero and heroine think of Edmund Burke's quote "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
I think Henry and Wanda would track down Edmund Burke and buy him a drink.
Another major theme in Demon Fare is family, both biological and 'found,' and a sense of belonging. Why this theme? Why in this book?
Some aspect of family is in every book I write. I think family is at the core of every character ever written, that it forms our perceptions, molds our sense of morality. It's the most interesting thing about us as humans, and in Demon Fare's case, non-humans. Nature or nurture? I believe we're shaped by both. Anyone who denies a need for belonging still harbors a secret desire for acceptance and a yearning to know that someone cares. It's how cults recruit their followers (I've written a novel about this, too) and is the reason a gang has such a powerful hold on its members.
In Demon Fare, the characters are survivors. They need each other to survive, and since there's strength in numbers, in makes sense for them to bond together to protect themselves and each other. Families do that naturally.
What is it about urban fantasy that appeals to you? Why do you think readers enjoy urban fantasy so much?
I think it's the juxtaposition of the real and unreal that appeals to me. I love magic realism, too, and for the same reason. Readers enjoy the genre because it's a way to escape everyday life and experience a new world imagined in a different way. Fantasy readers appreciate being challenged.
What was the path to publication of Demon Fare like? What do you think the publishing landscape will look like in the future?
Originally, Demon Fare (once titled Mystic Taxi) travelled a traditional publishing path through my agent, Elizabeth Winick Rubenstein of McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency. She had sold my Knight's Curse series to Harlequin Luna, but my editor there prefers a female-centric protagonist in urban fantasy. Demon Fare features a male and female partnership with both protagonists having equal billing so the book didn't fit the Luna line.
After we were turned down, Liz submitted the manuscript to several other publishers, all of whom gave it a pass. The story was too different for any of them to take the risk. Mashing up genres is great for readers, but it scares the crap out of publishers.
I could have looked for a small press to take it on, but with the popularity of self-publishing on the rise, I decided to publish the book myself. There are a ton of resources available to DIY authors, and as a professional graphic designer for over thirty-years, I was more than happy to take on the task of designing Demon Fare's cover.
It's hard to say what the publishing landscape will look like in the future. I do think self-publishing will continue to gain in popularity, but I also think discriminating readers will raise the bar when it comes to quality. They demand good books. I believe author cooperative ventures will be the optimal choice for self-published authors so they can pool their talents, support each other, and create the kind of teams that successful publishers are known for. It really does take a village to produce a good book.
Do you have much experience writing short fiction like we publish in Electric Spec? How does it compare to writing novel-length fiction?
I've written, and had published, a number of short stories over the years. Short fiction is very different from novel-length and I think it's harder to write. Writing a short story can be like trying to stuff a houseful of furniture into one room, whereas a novel offers more space and more rooms as well as an opportunity to expand. We writers love our words.
What kind of writer are you? A plotter? A pantser? Or something in between?
I consider myself a combination plotter-pantser. I always start with a brief synopsis that covers the inciting incident, major turning points in the plot, the black moment, the story climax and the resolution. Plus I do a character worksheet for each major character to help me get some idea of who they are before they're further developed by the plot.
What's your opinion of writers groups? What about critique groups? Do they help or hurt writers?
Writers groups are great. The comradery of like-minded people can boost confidence and nurture talent. Critique groups can be helpful, but the wrong mix of personalities and writing styles can do more harm than good. I recommend writers who want feedback on their work (something that benefits all writers) should thoroughly research any critique group before joining. It must be a good fit for it to work.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write what you love to read. And read a lot.
What's your next project?
I've completed the first book in a new fantasy romance series my agent is shopping, and at the moment I'm working on the sequel to Demon Fare that I'm calling "Exploited" for now. Basically it's about how the aftermath of the debacle in the first book has given exorcists a lot of attention, and not in a good way. A runaway teenage exorcist is involved. Wanda and Henry will have their work cut out for them.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
Other than to ask everyone to please buy my book and tell all your friends about it? Actually, I would like to take this opportunity to say how important book reviews are to the authors you read. Reviews can make a huge difference to an author's career, so please support the authors you've read by writing reviews of their books and posting those reviews on Amazon, Good Reads, and anywhere else that accepts book reviews.
Thank you, Lesley, for asking such thoughtful questions. I enjoyed doing this interview.
Thank you! It's been fun! Good luck with the book!