Heather Killough-Walden is about to publish her first paperback book, Avenger’s Angel. I’m a fan not only of Heather’s work but of the extraordinary path she forged to get this book published. Several years ago, Heather began publishing for free on several Internet sites and was struck by how positively readers responded to her work. It occurred to her that perhaps she could get paid to do what she loved, so she began self publishing her eBooks on Amazon. When one of her books hit number one on Amazon in the vampire category, her career took off. An agent sought her out, signed her, and now she has just published her first non-eBook with Signet, Avenger’s Angel.
I’m excited to say that Heather is giving five lucky readers each an autographed copy of her new book, Avenger’s Angel. Want one? Just comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on Thursday, December 1st. And, although we’d love for you to comment many times, you will only be entered in the contest once. If you review for another Web site or blog, please abstain from entering. The winners will be notified by email on Friday morning and will have 24 hours to respond. Another winner will be selected on Saturday morning if the winner has not responded. Books will be mailed to the winner the following week.
Heather, thanks for taking the time to talk with AAR.
Thank you for having me!
So, you must be really excited to publish your first non-eBook, Avenger’s Angel. Can you tell us a little about it?
To begin with, the characters are epic. Does it get more larger-than-life than the four main archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Azrael? (btw, people often ask me why Raphael isn’t in the books and I have to be honest and say, “Well, my characters take over in their stories. They decide if they want to be in them or not and Raphael just didn’t show up for the audition.”) These aren’t your average run-of-the-mill angels. They’re not half-blood angels, they’re not the offspring of angels, and they’re not simply men who have angel-like abilities. No. These are the archangels. That, in and of itself, sets this series way apart from other angel books.
But add their personalities and the plot into the mix, and you have something truly unique. The Four Favored, as they’re called, have been on Earth for two-thousand years to find something that was promised to them and then, in the blink of an eye, lost to them. They knew its grandness just long enough to understand how much more important it was than anything else they had ever encountered or experienced. And hence, when given the chance to go after what they’d lost, they took it, despite the fact that it meant leaving their realm, giving up their positions, and losing a bit of the majestic power that makes them who and what they are.
Now imagine how different every human being is on Earth – and they’ve only been around a life time, if even that. One generation – forty years or so – and we all have different looks, tastes, customs, needs, desires. The archangels have been here for twenty centuries, so they’re as different as they come. And still, they are united in their brotherhood and their goal: to find their archesses. Despite their differences, their archesses seem perfectly matched to them, and you have to wonder… was this just fate? Or was there more to it than that?
The spark really hits the kindling when one of them finally does find his archess. She’s everything he’s ever dreamed of, but she’s an adult and her own human being. She’s lead her own life, one fraught with danger. No one ever sat her down and said, “Guess what? You’re an archess and you were originally designed to be the mate of an archangel.” Eleanore Granger is Uriel’s archess, and she is as independent as he is determined. They have major hurtles to jump in their relationship, and as the plot twists and turns and these hurtles become mountains, the pace becomes break-neck, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thrilling.
Fortunately, these two really were made for each other, and deep in their souls, they understand one another as no one else can. An example of this would be during their love scene…. I won’t divulge too much here, because I don’t want to spoil the good stuff, but suffice it to say, Eleanore is a woman who has had to maintain control all her life. She’s been running from someone; she’s had to be the epitome of careful. She’s tired of being careful. She’s tired of having control. She wants to be able to lose this control with someone, but it has to be someone she trusts. And in walks Uriel. Uriel knows his archess, and is able to tend to her particular needs with perfect execution. It’s a match made in – well – the archangel realm.
Now if they can just make it past the cunning, charismatic “bad guy,” the powerful group of other-worldly men out to capture Eleanore, and the twists of fate set out by a plan none of them can understand or anticipate, they’ll be okay.
I am a fan of your Big Bad Wolf series. One of the things I like most about it—besides the fact you write smoking love scenes—is how nuanced your characters are. Your heroines aren’t perfect and your heroes and villains are often morally ambiguous. How do your readers respond to the lack of pure evil and pure good in your novels?
I was given this exact same question in another recent interview. I find it very interesting that others find this so interesting, LOL. But you’re absolutely right. I do write in shades of gray. There is no definitive up or down or right or wrong or black or white in my books.
As I told my other interviewer when she asked this question, my readers love this about my characters. I hear it over and over again: “You’ve done it to me again, Heather! Another delicious twist I wasn’t expecting! And now I’ve fallen for the bad guy!!!” People like to be surprised. True character dimension is not a simple thing, so if your characters are fully developed, they will therefore not be simple. They will possess aspects that are not-so-good and not-so-horrible. They may do something you don’t agree with – but then present a perfectly reasonable explanation for their action and make you go, “Wow. I hadn’t thought of that.” Or they may do something really fantastic, but have a selfish motive. This is what depth is all about.
As far as the good and evil in real life are concerned…. I have mixed stay-awake-at-night feelings. When I think of how a person’s upbringing or past can mold what they become, the way religious disputes cause genocide and rape, the way a person’s need for food for their family can see them killing the last of the elephants or whales – well, it becomes damn complicated, this idea of right and wrong. I really do write in shades of gray. But although this definitely resonates with my audience, I’m not so sure that I originally began doing it because I thought it would touch the readers – so much as because we, as writers, must write what we know.
Your latest series is about archangels and in it you explore some of life’s greatest questions. You take extraordinary creatures dealing with profound issues and you place them in our ordinary world. Why?
I see no point to writing, to reaching people and touching their minds, unless I am touching those minds with something useful. Something meaningful. Life is so filled with questions. It is ripe with profound mystery. There is so little we understand, and if I can illuminate any of these issues and imbue my reader with even the slightest sense that there is “more in heaven and earth,” than what may be “dreamt of in their philosophy,” then, hell – I’ve succeeded in doing what I set out to do. Sales or no sales, good reviews or bad, it’s a difference I strive to make when I set pen to paper. In the end, that’s what really, truly matters.
Your books have lots of gore and conflict in them. The stories you tell seem to me to be written for everyone, not just the traditional female romance reader. Do you have lots of male fans? What do they tell you they love about your work?
This is a really, really good question, and I’m glad you asked it.
Romance sells like hot cakes, and I can write a love scene that will knock your proverbial socks off and leave you breathless. In fact, one of the love scenes in the Lost Angels series (I won’t tell you which book) was described to me by one of my editors as being “the best they’ve read in any romance series so far.” So, make no mistake – I can write to please the masses.
That said, I’ve found that when men are brave enough to make it past the covers of my books and the fact that those books are written by a woman, they tend to be pleasantly surprised. They love the same aspects of the books that I do. They love the action, the mystery, the fantasy or science-fiction aspects. They love the thrill of the plot, the twists and turns, the depth to the characters and their conflicts.
I write romance, yes. But I also write thrillers (Hell Bent and Redeemer), I write young adult fantasy (Forever Neverland), I write science fiction (The Game), I write fantasy (The ChosenSoul), I write contemporary romantic young adult fiction (The October Trilogy), and let’s face it – even my straight-up romance is anything but mainstream. My Big Bad Wolf series is filled with real issues, eye-popping dangers, and some graphic violence. Why? Because you can’t write fiction that makes a difference, as I mentioned before, or that is memorable if you write safely between the lines. The Big Bad Wolf series earned all sorts of criticism (a lot of it downright and ridiculously hateful), but it also won tremendous acclaim, landed me on the USA Today and New York Times bestsellers lists, and is even being made into audio books with the fantastic voice talent of Gildart Jackson.
Why do men appreciate these kinds of things? I honestly think that in most cases, both women and men actually do. But we unfortunately stick to the expected desires of our genders. And when it comes down to it, men aren’t afraid to admit that they love the violence, and women aren’t afraid to admit that they love the sex scenes.
I am fascinated by the path you’ve taken to get where you are today. You first began publishing your work on Literotica.com several years ago, right? How did you end up with an agent and a print publisher?
Well…. Like many of my readers know, I tried for a long time to get published the traditional route. I sent out query letters for about ten years. There is an enormous pile of rejection letters in my closet.
A writer needs to be read. We are unfulfilled if our words sit silent between the closed covers of a book or on the still, spotlight white of an unviewed computer screen. After a while, all I wanted was to skirt around the bottle-neck of agents and print publishers that were keeping my stories from the eyes of the public – so I posted online on free literature sites such as Literotica and Erotica Republic. My work wasn’t erotica, but that was okay. Readers just want to read something good, and I received rave reviews anyway. These reviews, these plentiful votes of immense confidence, frankly blew my mind. Readers inundated me with requests for next chapters or sequels. My stories hit favorite lists left and right. I stood there and read through these, shaking my head in confounded bewilderment. How could I be so popular and yet rejected so often? My husband would pull me to the side and say, “The world loves your work, Heather. You’re really talented. It’s just the agents and publishers who can’t see this. So screw them. You write for your readers anyway – and you’re reaching them just fine. Word gets around.”
A short while later, Amazon’s Kindle came along. When it did, I realized that this was the opportunity writers like myself had been waiting for. I took a manuscript I had just recently finished, tried to make a decent cover for it, did the only editing I knew how to do – and put it up on Amazon for a dollar. People probably gave it an initial chance because of the price. But they continued to come back for more and they spread the word because it was good.
That book hit the #1 slot in Vampire Romance on Amazon – and Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media gave me a call. He took over from there and before long, I had a print publishing deal with a major publishing house, Penguin.
At the same time, I continued to do the Indie publishing that I love so much because, well, why not? I love reaching my readers, I love sharing my thoughts and words. The Big Bad Wolf romance series became a bestseller, and as I mentioned before, landed me on those bestsellers lists that every author dreams of landing on. And hopefully…. Well, hopefully this is just the beginning.
When you look back on the path you’ve taken to publishing, what strikes you as the best choices you’ve made? Do you have any choices you now regret?
I guess you could go back to the previous question for the answer to what I feel my best choices are. I’m super glad that I posted to Amazon. I’m also glad that I trusted the positive feedback of my readers from the online free literature sites I posted to. I’m glad I never gave up.
As far as regrets are concerned, I have only one true regret. I regret ever allowing anything negative or hurtful that anyone has ever said about my writing to get to me. They’re obviously wrong. And paying these naysayers and haters any heed at all whatsoever can do no one any good – especially me.
What do you think you do best as a writer?
I believe my talents in writing lie heaviest with character development. There are a million people in my head pushing and shoving and trying to fight their way to the front of my brain, desperately vying for any chance to become a character in one of my books – and be born to life. I know that sounds like I need to see a psychiatrist. LOL. But if I am absolutely bonkers, then let me just quote Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie: “All the best people are.”
Your books are strongly grounded in modern times. You reference pop culture and clearly have a weakness for rock and roll. What are your cultural inspirations?
I love music, I love movies, I love books. I love the arts – they are the spice in the food of life. And I like life spicy! But think about it. The characters in books are people like you and me (unless they’re trolls or mermaids), and you and I have likes and dislikes. We prefer certain kinds of music and soft drinks and candy, right? Part of giving a book’s character dimension is incorporating their likes and dislikes into their descriptions. They need personality. Without it, the reader sees them as new-born entities without pasts and without depth. And no reader can get into a character without depth.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the edits for Death’s Angel at the moment. I’m having a blast working on it because I love the characters so much, love the plot, and love what I have in store for everyone involved.
I’m also working on Drake of Tanith, the sequel to The Chosen Soul. On the sidelines are a few works-in-progress such as The Kings series’ first novel, Offspring, and the sequels to Hell Bent (Mean Business) and Forever Neverland (Beyond Neverland).
No rest for the wicked. Especially the wicked writers.
Any last words, so to speak?
Sure! Thank you. xoxo
- Dabney Grinnan