Interview: D. H. Nevins

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D. H. Nevins, author of Wormwood
D. H. Nevins is a teacher and fan of a wide-range of fiction. She has just published her debut novel, Wormwood, and is already busily working on its sequel. She lives in a rural area outside of Ottawa with her husband and Grendel, her motorcycle. A self-confessed perfectionist, Danielle enjoys a wide range of hobbies. Despite being naturally shy, she relishes acting in small theatre productions, and likes to get out and travel the world, soaking up different cultures, not to mention taking part in a number of outdoor pursuits.

D. H. Nevins’s first novel, Wormwood, is a post-apocalyptic thriller, inspired by religious mythology and held together by the feisty central character, Kali – a strong female lead if ever there was one.

You can read my review here: Wormwood by D. H. Nevins

You've taught youngsters to write for years, what finally inspired you to sit down and write a novel?

In many ways, I have to thank my students for inspiring me to write my first book. A few years ago, I was teaching narrative writing to my grade 4/5 class and we were throwing around ideas that they could use in their stories. Some of my students expressed an interest in writing a book some day and I remember spouting off advice to them about following their dreams. I was touched when I saw that they took my advice to heart and started making plans about how they should go about sharing their stories with a wider audience. These kids were only 10! I had a heart-to-heart with myself that night and resolved it was high time I followed my own advice for once. How could I preach to these kids about following their dreams if I didn’t have the guts to follow my own? So the very next night, I sat down with a thick notebook and started writing out ideas. I stopped scribbling two months later, and had fully plotted out a series of three books as well as a prequel.

When I started out, I only had the notion that I wanted my story to be dark, somewhat realistic, but with paranormal elements or characters. My first decision was that it would be post-apocalyptic, so I went on the internet to research different myths about the end of the world. There were plenty of intriguing ones and I was completely sucked in. I ended up basing my story on a fusion of old religious and mythological beliefs about how our world would end. A few of my characters’ names are nods to that: Kali (from the Hindu religion), Tiamat and Merodach (from ancient Babylonian mythology), and Wormwood (from The Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible).

Wormwood’s main character, Kali Michaels, is a tough female protagonist with great survival instincts. In her late twenties, she's also a little more mature than some YA heroines. Do you feel she represents a better role model for young girls than some other, less independent, characters popular in the market?

That’s a tough question. I hesitate to put down some of these characters that other authors have created. Characters that are in their teens are generally going to be less mature and I imagine a number of authors wrote in protagonists with immature tendencies because they wanted their characters to be authentic. Also, characters with weaknesses often seem more human and are frequently more interesting to read. So that’s the part where I stick up for these other authors. But now I have to say that weak female protagonists, especially ones that are idolized by young girls, really irk me. Not only are they poor role models, I find them to be just plain annoying. So I guess what I’m saying is that although I understand why authors might decide to create such characters; I simply don’t agree with that choice. Currently, teens are inundated by poor role models. I think it’s important to provide them with a strong one every once in a while. Hopefully, Kali helps to fill this need.

How much of yourself did you put into Kali?

I found the idea of writing in the first person to be a daunting task, and I hoped I would have an easier time pulling it off if the protagonist was intimately familiar to me. It turned out that this was a good starting point and the character Kali developed from there. When I first created her, Kali actually WAS me. For example, not only am I an outdoor enthusiast who is shy around others, I also kick box to keep fit and am stubborn to a fault. But again, that was just a starting point. From there, Kali has morphed into something else and has really taken on her own identity. If Kali were to exist, I wonder if we would even get along!

Parallels have already been drawn between the fraught and repressed dynamic between Kali and Tiamat in your book, and that of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen in the Twilight series. Is this a fair comparison?

Yes and no. I would have to say that one of the strongest things going for the Twilight series is the relationship between Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, so in a way, I take the comparison as quite a compliment. On the other hand, the development of the relationship between the two pairs of protagonists is incredibly different. In Wormwood, it’s significantly darker, grittier and less neatly packaged. Additionally, Bella’s entire motivation in the Twilight series is to pursue her relationship with Edward. She loves him from beginning to end. Kali’s motivation is survival. She’s conflicted about her feelings for Tiamat and is as likely to shoot him as kiss him. This makes for a very different dynamic.

The novel's opening throws the reader right into the middle of an exciting action scene which is almost cinematic in scope and style. Was this technique a conscious effort on your part, or your natural style?

It wasn’t exactly a conscious effort. I believe it turned out this way because I could visualize the scene so clearly. Before I began writing, I would put on music, close my eyes and picture the apocalypse happening. I imagined the sights, the sounds and the panic of running while the world shattered around me. I did it again and again until it was real for me. Then I simply wrote what I saw.

Wormwood is a biblical reference, do you want to explain the connection and how it influenced your work?

Yes, I’d love to share this connection. I used a number of religious stories and myths as starting points for Wormwood, and one of the most recognizable was from the Bible. In the Book of Revelation, there’s reference to “Star Wormwood”, which falls from the heavens and triggers the start of the apocalypse. Some scholars have argued that the word “Star” actually refers to a celestial being, or an angel. There were many other theories, but that is the one that piqued my interest and led to the creation of the character Tiamat. What was interesting about the word wormwood is that it doesn’t only appear in the Bible. In the Jewish Torah, wormwood (a shrub) is identified with the scriptural לַעֲנָה (la'anah). It indicates evil, as does the drinking of the liquid extracted from it. I also used these ideas to help shape my character. When Tiamat first meets Kali, for example, he introduces himself as Tiamat La’anah. I wouldn’t exactly say that Tiamat is evil, but I did make his blood rather toxic to anyone around him.

Wormwood is full of religious imagery and names. In light of the apocalyptic storyline and the way you've shaped Wormwood's mythology, it is likely that the book won't appeal to those with strong religious beliefs. Is religion and spirituality an important part of the book for you, and did you think about readers' reactions to your writing when working on the book?

I think a person would have to be quite orthodox to take offence. Most readers, I find, are fairly open-minded and should see that Wormwood is just a story. Nothing more. I’ve heard some people argue that it’s a religious book and others argue that it’s anti-religion. It isn’t either. It isn’t meant to be deep and it isn’t meant to be a statement. I wanted to write something to which people could make a connection, simply because the story can then become a little more real to them, and perhaps a little more frightening. For example, if you look at The Di Vinci Code by Dan Brown or the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s apparent that the use of religious mythology adds another layer to each of the stories. In both cases, it makes their quarry that much more mysterious, dangerous and believable. That’s all that I was going for with Wormwood. I wanted people to read Wormwood and have sparks of recognition here and there, hopefully adding to the realism of the book and thereby drawing the readers further in.

Now that you've finished your first novel, do you plan to go on and write more about Kali and Tiamat?

Absolutely. I’m already working on book two of the sequel, though I have yet to give it a title. The third book will finish the series, and will wrap things up with Kali. Additionally, Wormwood originally had a prologue that told of Tiamat’s unusual birth. I loved the scene, but pulled it from the book because I wanted to use it for a prequel instead. So once I’m done the three books for the Wormwood series, I’ll write the prequel about Tiamat’s very strange childhood. I’m planning to call it Monster.

How long did it take you to write Wormwood?

I spent months researching, scribbling notes on plot and fleshing out the characters before I began typing out the first chapter. Then it took me about a year and a half to write Wormwood, and another full year to edit, revise and publish the manuscript. All told, we’re looking at three years from start to finish.

Describe your life during the writing process.

When I’m not working, I’m either writing, thinking about my book or jotting down notes. For three years, that has been my life and for the most part, I love the escape that writing provides. For the most part. There are some days I really have to push myself to continue, and many others where I either can’t find the time to write at all or I only start writing at 10 or 11 at night. But I make due. I’ve made my peace with the fact that even if my stories must develop slowly, at least I’m writing. Every chapter—every sentence—brings me closer to my goal, and in my eyes, is an accomplishment. It might take some time, but the stories will come.

What first inspired you to start writing?

Well, I mentioned earlier about my students and how they were really a catalyst for it all. They gave me that final push I needed to actually start writing. Not long before that, I was looking for a very particular kind of book to read. I wanted something fast paced, with a strong female protagonist who drives the action. I also wanted it to be dark, dystopian, have paranormal aspects and possibly be either apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic. This was four years ago, and at the time, I had quite a lot of trouble finding a book with all these elements (now it seems the market has much to choose from). I toyed with the idea of writing something myself, but dismissed it when I thought about the amount of time that would be involved. I didn’t think I could do it. A few weeks later, after a little push from my students, all my excuses went out the window. I haven’t looked back since.

What do you hope your books deliver for readers?

An escape. A full-out immersion into an alternate reality. I hope Wormwood will have readers turning pages late into the night as the story races to its conclusion. I want my readers to be dragged along by the emotional undercurrents in the book, surprised by the plot twists, and thinking about what really happened in Wormwood long after they’ve put the book down.

Which authors, if any, do you compare yourself to, or aspire to emulate?

I would never presume to compare myself to any accomplished author, though there are definitely some that have influenced me over the years. The ones that have held the most sway are Stephen King, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Rice, James Clavell and most recently, Cassandra Clare.

What aspects of writing do you find most challenging?

Finding the time to write. That’s the biggest challenge, I think. Aside from that, what really drives me nuts is clunky, awkward wording. I can’t stand it. Everything must flow, so that the reader can inhale the story effortlessly. The problem is that it doesn’t come easily to me. It takes a lot of time and effort to ensure that everything I write builds perfectly from one word to the next. I then must continue the flow through every sentence, paragraph and chapter. I’m obsessed with it, and can easily rewrite a single chapter ten, twelve, or even twenty times just for the sake of maintaining flow.

What are your long term writing ambitions?

I don’t know for certain. I enjoy writing so you can be sure I’ll be doing something after I’ve wrapped up the Wormwood series. I have quite a few short story ideas, so maybe that’ll be my next focus. Time will tell.

Wormwood sits somewhere between the traditional YA and Fantasy markets – what makes a successful YA Fantasy for you?

For me personally, I look for pacing, interesting characters and a unique plot line. Additionally, I’m turned off by cold, distant writing. I want to be immersed—to imagine that I either have become those characters or that I am with them—so I look for a style of writing that draws me fully into their world.

What sort of books do you enjoy?

I’m all over the place, actually. My favourite book of all time is probably Shōgun by James Clavell, and I enjoy all kinds of historical fiction. I also love fantasy (I’ve been savoring an extensive love/hate relationship with the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin), horror, urban fantasy, some steampunk, dystopian, paranormal romance, young adult, and occasionally the classics too (The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is, by far, the most quotable book I’ve ever read). Sometimes I’ll go on kicks where there has to be a love story in the book I’m reading, and sometimes I’m only looking for gritty action or suspense. The book I pick up just depends upon my mood, I guess.

Are there any new writers you’ve read recently who you are particularly excited about?

I finished Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare not too long ago and I was very impressed by these books in her YA series. Cassandra Clare’s writing is intelligent; she doesn’t speak down to her readers or give them protagonists with petty or self-absorbed ‘teen’ problems. Though her characters are young, they grapple with real problems and behave admirably. Additionally, the world she’s created is well-researched and cleverly constructed. These two stories were exciting to read and I know for a fact that I’ll be picking up some more of her books (hopefully the next in the series).

Favourite word, and why?

Awesome.

It helps to keep me happy and optimistic. If you say it, you feel it.

D. H. Nevins debut novel, Wormwood, is available now in paperback and e- editions at Amazon. To find out more about Danielle and her book visit her website.

Useful Links
Wormwood on Amazon (UK)
Wormwood on Amazon (US)
D. H. Nevin's Website

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Review: Wormwood by D. H. Nevins
Wormwood (2011) by D. H. Nevins is an apocalyptic tale, which sees hordes of angels bent on the destruction of Earth. Kali Michaels is one of the few humans to survive – a gift that comes with considerable consequences. Standing in the ruins... [Read More]

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