Chat With an Author

Chat With An Author: An Interview with Karen Healey

Today we bring you debut author extraordinaire, Karen Healey. Karen has written one darn impressive debut novel (possibly one of our joint favorite reads of 2010 so far!) with her supernatural, young adult title Guardian of the Dead. Blending M?ori and Greek mythologies, featuring a truly awesome heroine, Guardian of the Dead totally rocks. And it is our pleasure to give you our “chat” with kiwi author Karen Healey!

Ladies and gents, please give it up for the wonderful, wicked smart Karen Healey!

The Book Smugglers: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Karen! It is great to have you here, especially considering how much we loved your book. Guardian of the Dead is your first book and it hit shelves yesterday in the US and in Australia. How was your debut day? Did you do anything special to celebrate?

Karen: At the time I write this, I plan to take a day off and maybe have some cake and a few quiet drinks with friends. I shall be pausing every ten minutes to squeal with joy.

My actual launch party’s a couple of weeks after, and that’s going to be great. My mum’s flying over from New Zealand to join me!

The Book Smugglers: Guardian of the Dead is set in New Zealand, featuring lore and creatures from M?ori mythology, which strikes us as fascinating, incredibly fresh and original (especially in the context of current YA novels). Were you always interested in M?ori mythology? How much research did you have to do to write your book?

Karen: Well, I’m far from the first to make use of M?ori mythology in a contemporary story, but I’m glad you enjoyed that element of the book! I’ve always had an interest in mythology in general, and since M?ori mythology form the origin stories of my homeland (though not of my cultural background) that’s of special interest to me. I did do a lot of research, and asked for cultural consultants to advise on my use of the myths. I’m enormously indebted to my consultants, and also to those who passed these stories on and maintained them, often in the face of determined efforts to reduce the value of M?ori cultural heritage.

The Book Smugglers: One of the things we love the most about your book is Ellie, your heroine. We love how she is not the prettiest girl in the world – she is overweight and pimply – and yet she is self-confident enough to be ok with it (well, most of the time). She encapsulates a mixture of strength and vulnerability, not to mention she’s totally kick-ass with her Tae-Kwon-Do black belt. One of the things she is not is the “blank page heroine” (as coined by Sarah Rees Brennan). What was your inspiration to write a character like this? What do you think of the so-called blank page heroine, as a female author?

Karen: I don’t think I had any particular inspiration – maybe anti-inspiration! I wanted to write a girl who was strong and physically capable, but not the kind of tiny, pretty action girl we often see on TV. There’s nothing wrong with tiny, pretty action girls, but I’m concerned that that seems to be the predominant depiction. Overweight, non-attractive girls are also capable of heroism, worthy of love and respect, and get bonus power to add to punches.

I am not a big fan of the blank page heroine – I think that when she appears she’s emblematic not only of a poor depiction of fictional women as complex people, but of bad characterisation. Real people have hobbies and interests and passions outside of their prospective love interests, and it weirds me out when the character guiding me through a story doesn’t. I’m such a character-driven reader that a blank page heroine can turn me off a book altogether.

The Book Smugglers: We also like how you don’t shy away from difficult subjects. For example, one of your characters is asexual; another, a potential rapist. Both were beautifully dealt with (the former with respect, the latter with the disdain it deserves). You also bring treason, death and loss to your characters. Was it very difficult to in include these darker, heftier themes in your novel, inflicting these wounds on your characters, from a writing point of view?

Karen: Not really; I’m pretty okay with doing nasty things to characters when the story requires it. I don’t like gratuitous mayhem (although my line on that may be different from some readers!) but one of the themes of the book is that choices and actions have consequences, and many of those consequences can be horribly destructive. In a way, I’m sort of advocating for empathy and honesty by showing what happens if you don’t employ them.

But while I don’t feel bad for the things I do to my characters myself, I sure hope readers do. I know too much about the construction and endless revisions of my characters for them to feel truly real to me, but I want them to be real to my readers.

The Book Smugglers: Let’s talk covers, as it is a subject that is dear to our Smuggler hearts. The Australian cover of your book is beautiful, but features a thin, red-haired woman who certainly is not the heroine of your book. How did you react to the cover – did you have any say at all as a debut author?

Karen: I did get some say, actually, especially about the original cover (which was, er, problematic), because my publishers are very cool. A lot of debut authors, or even seasoned authors, get no say whatsoever.

I wrote a post about the cover process at my blog which pretty much says everything I wanted to say about it. Basically, the cover isn’t what either my editors or myself really wanted, but we’re all reasonably satisfied with what it is.

The Book Smugglers: Oh, l’amour! Your heroine’s love interest is a vulnerable guy who is physically weaker than her, and whose motivations are rather shady to start with. You recently wrote an interesting article about how YA Fantasy is full of miscreants and how bad boys are really popular in Fantasy! (*gasp*) Do you not like bad boys? Who are your favorite heroes and/or romantic couples in YA?

Karen: Oh, I like fictional bad boys fine; I just wouldn’t date them. I certainly wouldn’t date Mark! The boy is fond of lying and of doing things to people he has determined will be good for them without consulting them on the process, neither of which are romantic qualities.

I don’t think anyone can deny that YA fantasy has a bunch of boys you’d warn your friends about if they turned up in real life. Fortunately, in fantasy, we get to engage with them in a much safer way. My favourite couples? Jacob and Terra from NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL. Annabel and Owen from JUST LISTEN. Ravus and Val from VALIANT (even though I’m convinced they can’t be forever.) Miranda and Zachary from ETERNAL (where it’s the girl who’s bad news!)

The Book Smugglers: The YA is a category that has been experiencing a pretty crazy boom in popularity and crossover appeal over the past few years. Why did you choose to write a young adult novel? Do you have any favorite YA authors or books you admire?

Karen: Well, I guess that if you’re writing a contemporary fantasy where your first person protagonist is a teenager, that’s pretty much always going to be a YA novel! Really, I didn’t consider writing anything else. I adore YA, it forms the bulk of my pleasure reading, and I love a lot of writers: Margaret Mahy, Holly Black, Justina Chen Headley, Cynthia Kadohata, and Sarah Dessen are just a few of my favourites!

The Book Smugglers: So, your first book is out and about. What comes next? Will you go back to the same world and characters at some point or are you moving away entirely?

Karen: My second book, currently called SUMMERTON, is coming out some time in 2011. It’s not connected to GUARDIAN, other than being a paranormal YA set in New Zealand. I’d really love to go back to the GUARDIAN world and characters, and I have a few plans for sequels, but whether you get to read them pretty much depends on how much demand there is for GUARDIAN’s world.

The Book Smugglers: The world is about to end, and you can save ONE book, ONE movie, and ONE TV show. QUICK! What are they?

Karen: Oh no! Must clutch face! Okay. THE CHANGEOVER, by Margaret Mahy. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY. And AVATAR; THE LAST AIRBENDER.

The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ’smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?

Karen: Nope! I have never shared my finances with anyone in my adult life, and am thus responsible (or irresponsible) to no one but myself in my book purchases. I do not smuggle! I sail boldly through the front door, laden with bookish treasure! Then I eat rice and curried lentils for a week.

I used to read when I should have been doing other things at school, but I think that is perhaps less “smuggling” and more “slacking”.

Karen’s Bio (the short version): I was born in 1981. I am not dead yet.

Karen’s Bio (a bit longer): Karen Healey is a young adult author living in Australia. This one time? She ate three mangoes.

You can read Karen’s full length bio at her website HERE.

Thank you, Karen! And make sure to stick around as later today we review Guardian of the Dead!


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    April 2, 2010 at 11:22 am

    […] Karen Healey, author of Guardian of the Dead, by The Book Smugglers […]

  • Mijeong
    April 5, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I love that you chose Avatar, such an awesome series!

  • Karen Healey
    April 8, 2010 at 5:47 am


    It is SO GREAT. I am re-watching it right now (for the third or fourth time) and I have to keep stopping to explain to my long-suffering friends why Sokka is secretly the most awesome of all.

  • The Haps, My Friends | Karen Healey
    April 8, 2010 at 6:02 am

    […] The fabulous Book Smugglers interviewed me about Guardian of the Dead and then gave it one of their awesome and entertaining joint reviews. […]

  • kamalloy
    April 8, 2010 at 7:35 am

    So why is Sokka secretly the most awesome of all? I am not disagreeing with you – I think he became my favorite character somewhere in Season 3 – but I’d love to hear your reasons!

  • Karen Healey
    April 8, 2010 at 7:43 am

    I almost always feel most sympathy for the person who doesn’t have power as a birthright, but manages on wit and skill and determination. I love the people who say, “Okay, I can’t bend/use the Force/make lightning come out of my eyes, but I am still USEFUL. I am going to do what I can to fight for the things that I love!” And I love stories where that kind of determination is rewarded; where there are different ways to fight and different methods of being effective and strong, and those methods are perhaps less powerful, but still valuable.

    I think that were I in those fictional worlds, I would have to be that person (because I do not see me with the mighty powers!) and I think that those characters have the most relevance to the world in which we actually live, where elemental kung fu does not exist, but wit and skill and determination do.


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