Saturday, January 28, 2017

An Interview with Tony Healey by E. B. Davis

Beyond the shores of Hope’s Peak, North Carolina, evil waits as his next victim approaches. He’ll make her a princess like the others…

Detective Jane Harper can’t shake the image of the young woman discovered in a field—eyes closed, a crown of woven vines on her head. She expects macabre murders like this in her native San Francisco, not here. Jane and her partner, Stu, vow to catch the killer, but in this town, that’s easier said than done. The police department is in the grips of a wide-reaching scandal that could topple the entire force, and Jane and Stu face a series of dead ends. Until they meet Ida Lane.

Ida knows too well the evil that lurks in the cornfields. Tortured by her mother’s murder years before, Ida is paralyzed by the fear that she could be next. As the killer grows bolder, Jane must persuade Ida to use her remarkable gifts to help in the investigation. It’s a decision that brings them closer to the killer…maybe too close.

In an attempt to find out about Kindle bestsellers, I ran into Tony Healey’s book Hope’s Peak, released in January by Thomas & Mercer Publishers. A week after it went live on Kindle, it listed as third on the Kindle bestseller list. As a Kindle Unlimited member, I read it for “free.” What intrigued me about the book was the blurb. It hinted of a sixth sense element, which pressed my finger on the download button. Healey writes in third-person multiple POVs. It’s a mystery, a police procedural, but turns into suspense when he presents the killer’s POV.

This book will repel many of our cozy readers. Amazon reviews are all over the place, but in a short time, there are pages of reviews. However readers feel, Healey’s book has stirred public emotions. Healey presents a rapist and serial killer attracted to young black women. That sort of reading doesn’t appeal to me, but Healey bestows the flawed main characters with interesting backstories, treats the victims with reverence, and shows violence in a non-titillating way, revealing his sensitivity and insight into the killer’s mind. Even with uncomfortable subject matter Hope’s Peak is a well-written page-turner.

Please welcome Tony Healey to WWK.                                                                        E. B. Davis

Many of the reviewers stated that Hope’s Peak was your first book. You’ve written about fifteen books in what I would have categorized as Sci Fi on Amazon, but I discovered a new subgenre dubbed Fringe Science in which your previous series was placed. Tell our readers about Fringe Science and why you decided to write a mystery assuming this is your first?

I've always wanted to write, but I've come to realize that wanting to write, and having the ability to write are two complete separate things. For the longest time, from my mid-teens to my mid-twenties, I wanted to write. I filled journals with hundreds of pages of notes, ideas, plots—you name it. But it wasn't until I was a couple of years in my marriage, two kids around my ankles, that I was finally ready to write. I'd lived a little bit, had some life experience under my belt, and something just clicked into place. I sat down at our dining table and slowly, sluggishly, typed out a short story called 'Frank'. I followed this up with another story, featuring the same character, for the charity anthology Resistance Front. It just so happened that two well-known scifi authors—Harlan Ellison and Alan Dean Foster—also had stories in Resistance Front.

I guess it went on from there. At that point, 10,000 words seemed an impossible figure to achieve, but I decided to push myself. I had an idea for a sci fi serial, about a ship that gets sucked into a black hole and flung far from home (See what I did there?). I decided I would do one a month, for twelve months, and write them as connected episodes. So twelve episodes, when combined, would make up a 'season', like a TV show.

It was tough going. It would take me a few weeks to write each episode, then I'd spend a couple of weeks editing and revising. But I stuck it out. All in all I wrote three 'seasons' worth, totaling about half a million words.

That was good practice. You learn by doing, and I made every mistake possible to begin with. But something fantastic happened—as I was releasing each episode, they were really taking off. They built me an audience, and a following eager for more from these characters I'd created. When the twelve episodes were done, I packaged them together into a collected edition, and it hit #1 in is category for over two months. So I not only learned how to write, but along the way I got paid for my efforts. I was soon raking in a second income.

With three 'seasons' worth under my belt, I fancied trying my hand at something new. I wrote a short, violent fantasy novel, The Bloody North, and a Young Adult horror, Past Dark. But there was one idea that wouldn't go away.

I have a passing interest in Fringe Science—hence my twitter handle, @Fringescientist. It's things like telepathy, clairvoyance, that kind of thing. The idea I had was for a woman who had known a great trauma, and had some kind of psychic ability 'awakened' by the event. But there was something about it, I couldn't quite it down on paper. I couldn't wrangle it into a short story, so I stopped trying and let the idea rest. Well, in 2015 I finally felt ready. I had an idea for a serial killer plot, but it was missing that all-important 'something' that makes it special. In 'Silence of the Lambs' it was the relationship between Lecter and Clarice that took the book to the next level. That's the kind of thing I was looking for. Inevitably, my thoughts returned to that story idea of a psychic with a troubled past. I put the two together, and had the concept for Hope's Peak.

I think there are two important things to take away from this:
1. It took me several years, and half a million words, to get to the point where I felt ready to write Hope's Peak.
2. The story came together in its own way. Over time, it came together, and that's not something that can be forced or manufactured.

How did the deal with Thomas & Mercer come about?

My friend (and frequent collaborator) Bernard Schaffer was publishing some things co-written with J A Konrath through the Dystel & Goderich agency. The lovely lady he was working with there was an agent called Sharon Pellettier. If I'm remembering correctly, Bernard introduced me to Sharon, and I mentioned that I was nearly finished with a novel. She was interested to read it so, when it was completed, I sent it Sharon's way.

Now, she's a very busy woman. Has a lot going at any one time, so it took a short while for her to get to Hope's Peak, but when she did . . . she wanted to represent it straight away. We sent it around to a few publishers, and Thomas & Mercer put an offer in for Hope's Peak and a sequel. I've been very lucky, really, in that I've had a pretty smooth ride—and both my agent, and my publisher, have treated me very, very well.

From your online biography, I discovered you live in Sussex, England. There’s racial tension in England, but you showcase American racial tension. Why did you set your book in North Carolina, not say, Hastings or Brighton?

I couldn't imagine the story working anywhere else. You know, one of the things you consider is how you open a novel. What's the reader's first sensory experience as they turn the page and start reading? I pictured a black girl, raped and strangled, left in a field of corn. Green stalks swaying in the breeze, rustling like paper. Straight away, you have a sense of place. You feel that weight in your heart for the victim. Not a woman. A girl—denied the chance to even begin having a life before it is taken away from her. In that first chapter I sought to establish a lot, and I remember rewriting it and rewriting it until I got it right. Until it clicked. I wanted the clinical detachment of the coroner. The strong-headed main character, seemingly facing the impossible. Her 'complicated' relationship with her partner, Stu. But at the center of that is the girl. Robbed of everything, and crowned. To me, it was totally about the killer, Lester, taking ownership of her. He was marking the girls as his property, his conquests, his creations almost. I thought that was very interesting and unsettling.

I truly didn't feel the story would work in the UK. I'd also been watching True Detective, and just fell in love with that kind of setting. Vast, open space. A sense of foreboding in every frame. I thought it would work perfectly with the story I wanted to tell.

When a young, black woman’s raped and murdered body is found in a field, detectives Stu Raley and Jane Harper are assigned the case. There are indications that the killer could be a fledgling serial killer, but then their boss, Captain Morelli hands Jane a file for a similar killing that happened decades ago, which Stu and Jane find is the first case of many that have been suppressed by the town’s governing families. What motivated Morelli to reveal this case, and why would town leaders suppress such a horror?

To answer that would be revealing far too much. All I can say is that readers will get their answers in Storm's Edge, the sequel to Hope's Peak, which picks up a few months later and deals with three things: What happens next for our characters Jane Harper and Ida Lane; who covered up the murders of those poor young girls? And lastly . . . why? Who is behind all of this?

I saw Hope's Peak as a story of two halves. One, a serial killer. Two, a conspiracy in a small coastal town. The first book dealt with the killer. The second . . . well, you'll see.

There’s only one character in the book that I think is totally innocent. You’ve even provided some of the victims’ histories showing them not to be pristine in character. Why?

Nobody is squeaky clean. Everyone has dark thoughts. Everyone has something in their past, in their history, that they're not too pleased about. That's just being human. If you're going to write about people, they can't be clean-cut angels who do nothing wrong. That's untruthful writing and, most important of all, it's very boring.

Does everyone have a vice?

Yes. And if you say you haven’t, you're full of shit (hahaha!).

Black detective Albert Goode fascinated me. How does he play the race card?

I don't think he does. He's young, black and gay. He's innocent and offers a different perspective to what's going on. Harper can get pretty cynical, sometimes. I thought it was interesting to have a character in there, a protégé type, who wasn't so beaten by life already. He's fresh-faced. You'll be happy to learn Albie is very prominent in Storm's Edge. He's a great character and I enjoy writing him.

By storytelling through the killer, you turned the police procedural mystery into suspense about three quarters through the book. Why?

Because I think you can only keep the boogeyman element going for so long, before you get fatigued. Yes, it's cool showing a killer slaughtering people. Kidnapping them, doing things to them. We've seen all of that a million times. But what's even more interesting is getting inside their head. Establishing them as a villain and then, at a certain point in the book, rounding them out. Making them a character in their own right. Yes, Lester is an evil, sick, deranged murderer. But he's also a human. As hideous as that notion is, you can't deny that that's how it is in real life. Also, by telling things from his perspective, we got a glimpse of what made him that way. Nobody is born a killer. They evolve into that. Why wouldn't you want to show some of that? Otherwise, what you're writing is a cookie-cutter-killer.

You provide the reader with a glimpse into the killer’s history and sexual depravity. Having four daughters, was it hard to write? Was it important to tell his story?

It was very hard, very uncomfortable. But you know what? You write what makes you squeamish. The secret fears you harbour inside yourself, your phobias, your nightmares . . . you funnel all of that into your fiction, somehow. It just happens.

I have seen a lot of reviews mention the killer's sex scenes in the book. Some are grossed out by them.

That's the point.

What I wanted to do was show our heroes, Jane Harper, Stu Raley, as having 'loving' sex. I don't go into detail, I gloss over it. Love making, as in real life, is best when it's a private, secret act between two people. It's an exclusive connection between two lovers. I didn't want to sensationalize that, or make it pornographic.

Lester having sex, however, was a different thing altogether. I wanted to make it graphic, and sort of gross to read. I wanted it to turn your stomach. This is a perverse man, who kills young women for kicks. He thinks he knows how to love, but he doesn't. So I wanted to differentiate the two in the book, and I think I succeeded in doing that. It's not to everybody's taste, of course, but I can't help that. You write what you've gotta write. But what I didn't want to do, was have what our heroes experience lumped into the same category as what Lester, the killer, gets up to. One is love. The other—what he does—is, as you say, depravity.

Ida Lane was my favorite character. She smokes, drinks, swears, and she’s also a survivor with a courageous heart. Have you met anyone like her upon whom you based the character?

I think she's an amalgam of a lot of people I've encountered in my life. I think she's also a part of me, too. It's interesting, when you write a book filled with characters because you start to realize that all of these people you're populating your story with are you.

Okay, maybe not Lester!

But all the others, there's something of yourself in them. Even if it’s just in the way they conduct themselves. Their attitudes to life. Hopes and dreams. Somehow, all that stuff gets into your book and your characters. I think Ida's perspective on the afterlife, in particular, is pretty close to my own.

Are you hooked on writing mystery?

Yes, but I'm hooked on writing in general. It can be sci fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, you name it. It's the story that grabs me first and foremost. The rest—the category that that story falls into when you've written—is secondary.

Do you write full time or do you have a day job?

I have a day job. I work until midday, and then I write in the afternoons. This sometimes rolls into the evenings too, but mostly I like to read, or Netflix and chill J

On vacation, do you want to go to the mountains or to the beach?

Both? Can I have both? 



  1. Tony, Thanks for sharing on WWK. Your book sounds like a winner.

  2. Powerful stuff, Tony. Your book sounds both disturbing and intriguing at the same time. I admit you've given me a heads up that there will be parts I'll gloss over. What draws me is discovering how you handle the character development of Lester. Too often, the villain's character development is an afterthought. As a reader, that offends me, as a writer, I believe the villain is a main character and his/her development is essential to the story. Looking forward to an interesting read.

  3. Just want to say a big thank you, having me here on the site. It was a blast!

  4. Warren: it's my pleasure - and it's certainly had a positive reception from readers so far

  5. Kait: I tried to flesh him out enough so you have a sense of who he is - and why he is the way he is - whilst keeping him something of a mystery

  6. I read Hope's Peak and then immediately downloaded "The Call," Tony's short story using the same characters/setting as in Hope's Peak. I enjoyed reading both. Liking to read a variety of subgenres gives me the advantage of having lots of books to read. Although I love cozies, if I never read anything but them, I'd go insane. Variety is the spice of life and by providing contrast enhances the other subgenres I read. The main character and one of the victim's daughters are good people. Tony--your writing is exceptional. Keep up the good work and those stories coming. I'm looking forward to your next in this series!

  7. Thanks for sharing so much with us, Tony. I enjoyed reading the interview, and I think I'll enjoy reading the book.

  8. E. B: You're very kind! I certainly plan on keeping them coming - I'm just getting started...

  9. KM: I hope you do, and that it's not too gruesome for your liking!

  10. Welcome to WWK. I've already written down the titles to your books to order. I write in 3rd person, too, with more than one POV. I think it makes the story more interesting, although I don't write the murder's POV, I do let them tell why they did what they did after they're caught.