Interview with R. S. Dabney

What's the story behind your latest book?
The Soul Mender tells the story of Riley Dale, a young woman who is cast into a parallel universe where good and evil seem to have switched places, and everyone, including those she loves most, have an opposite. As her list of enemies grows, Riley must ally with the only people willing to keeper her safe—her lowlife countersoul, and the opposite soul of a serial killer in her world.

What inspired me to write The Soul Mender Trilogy (I was still in college at the time—the same age as the main character, Riley Dale.), and what I hope comes across in a non-didactic way, are my own frustrations with the world and how xenophobic and intolerant many of us have become or have always been.

I grew up in a small, predominantly white town in Southern Utah, but color, religion, politics, etc. never caused me to hate or dislike anybody. I was raised to see everyone simply as people on different journeys in different places, but all with the same core human DNA. When I entered the real world and suddenly heard people using the "N word" and talking about killing Muslims for fun, I felt horrified. I couldn't figure out where that kind of hate came from. So naturally as a writer, I decided to make up an origin for that hate, in the deepest sense of origin, as well as a possible solution.

Overall, this story is about tolerance, empathy, and the world being a solid shade of gray vs. black and white. I put my characters through a lot of hell over the course of three books because the struggle of empathy and love for self and others is often a steep mountain to climb. I hope this doesn’t make it sound like I’m a pessimist. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I like to think I’m a realistic optimist who understands that a glorious happy ending and real change can only come about through deep hardship and pain.

Plus, as a reader, I’m drawn in much more to struggle and hardship than I am to an easy slide through life. Who isn’t?

And like most authors, I write what I like to read.
What author and/or what book has had the greatest impact on your life?
I am inspired by anyone who has the gumption to put themselves through the grueling and emotional process of writing a book, and then sharing it with the world to be judged. If you have ever written a book then you inspire me.

More specifically though, I will narrow it down to four authors.

At the top of my list is Stephen King. Not just because of his book On Writing, which provided guidance and motivation to me throughout my entire writing process, but also because of the amazingly terrifying yet beautifully written tales he has shared with us. I am awed by his flawless dialogue and creative descriptions and find myself reading his books as study guides just as much as for pleasure. I’ve always thought that if Stephen King read my book and liked it, I’d officially have made it.

Next on the list is J.R.R. Tolkien. When I was young my dad read The Hobbit to my sister and I, and never in my life had I been so taken away to a world of magic, dragons, and unlikely heroes. I used to write spin-off books with Bilbo and his wife Bilaboa (What I named her. I’ve gotten more creative, thank goodness!), and would send them on journeys to vanquish new forms of evil. In college I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy and again found inspiration in Tolkien’s grand telling of good conquering evil and the unlikely heroes who saved the day.

The insanely creative brain of Roald Dahl taught me it’s okay to let your feet leave the ground—to suspend reality to create unique stories that really stretch a reader’s imagination. I was fascinated as a child by an immense peach filled with talking insects; by a giant that blew dreams into children’s rooms. And by an anthropomorphic fox who cleverly outwits some not-so-nice farmers. If anyone taught me that there are zero limits to your imagination, it was Dahl.

And finally, J.K. Rowling. I was eleven when Harry Potter came out. And I spent the next few years attending Hogwarts with my new best friends. I think I read each book at least seven times. Never before and never since have I read a book with such well developed characters who you not only cared for, but really felt like you knew.

These four authors have set the bar high in different areas and provided me with a place in the literary world to aspire to. King with his descriptions and dialogue. Tolkien with his world building, plots, magic, and heroes. Dahl with his infinite imagination. And Rowling, with her exceptional character development and ability to create emotion in her readers.
When did you know first discover you wanted to be a writer and why writing?
When I was seven years old I was placed in the lowest reading level that second grade offered. While my friends were reading the Boxcar Children and Charlotte’s Web, I was forced to improve my comprehension and phonetic skills reading Bob books and other remedial literature. As a competitive and energetic child, I hated being at the bottom. So I spent the next few weeks devouring every book in the lowest level, every book in the middle level, and topping it off with a blast through Little Women. Within the month, I was reading in the highest group. But more importantly, what started out as a competitive drive to better myself turned into a lifelong love of books. First with reading, then with writing.

Thinking back, I’ve been creating stories and poetry since that fateful year. I have a vivid memory of writing and illustrating a bunch of books during that time period. A couple of months ago my mom found a few, including my prized copy of The Crystal, one of the first stories that left my mind and bled onto the page. I was eight years old when I wrote and illustrated The Crystal. The writing is poor, the use of clichés sickening, and the ending definitely leaves something to be desired. (Maybe it’s good for an eight-year-old? I’d have to consult my teacher friends.) Despite all of that I’m still proud of that book because I’d like to think I was motivated twenty years ago, while holding a finished product in my hands, to do it again someday. Maybe if I hadn’t had that special moment as a child connecting with a story I’d written, The Soul Mender Trilogy would never have come to fruition.
What message or lasting thought do you hope your readers will take away from your book?
What I hope comes across in an underlying message, is my own frustrations with how intolerant we as a society are, both to people who look different from us, and even those who look the same, but money, family and life have dealt them a different hand. My message is one of acceptance, both personal and external. I think it’s important for people to learn to love and forgive themselves, and I also think it’s important to reconnect with an empathy I think is increasingly disappearing from our society. By turning things inside out and having each character be both good and bad, it forces us to take a new look at good and evil, right and wrong, and humanity at its most basic.
Can you offer any advice for beginning writers or those trying to get published?
If you aren’t one of the lucky (and yes talented) authors who gets picked up by a major publishing house, I can’t stress enough the importance of having other people read your work, and by other people I mean quite a few, and more than just family members. Many times I’ll pick up a self-published book that could have been great if it had just been edited a little bit more. Sometimes it’s the grammar, sometimes it’s the continuity. My biggest piece of advice to new authors: don’t go it alone. It is so much more fulfilling with a strong support team. And I promise you, we are out here looking to help!

One other bit of advice I have to offer:

To those thinking of writing a book, or to those in their first, second, eighth, or tenth year, I want to pass on the most important thing I have learned thus far. Without being a New York Time’s Bestselling author, or when someone gives you two stars and says you aren’t worth a damn, it can sometimes feel like you are failing, or not living up to your vision of success. That is why it is important to stop and take inventory of your accomplishments any time you begin to feel less than your expectations—to pause and say “Wow, I’ve made it this far.”

Because this far, whether it be a few chapters on paper, a completed first draft, a self-published book, or a movie deal on your series, is impressive, and you should be proud.
Published 2017-09-11.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The World Binder
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 93,490. Language: English. Published: January 19, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Urban, Fiction » Fantasy » Paranormal
Riley’s allies are scattered, broken, or dead. In one universe, an army stands ready to destroy the East. In the other, a biological weapon threatens to wipe out the West. Despite the looming devastation, she is no closer to restoring balance to humanity.
The Peace Keeper
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 83,760. Language: English. Published: September 25, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Urban, Fiction » Fantasy » Paranormal
To rescue her friends, Riley ventures back into the parallel world she had tried so hard to escape from. As each version of the world and her opponents grow more volatile, Riley must cast aside her own weakness and accept the mantle of Electa if she can ever hope to save humanity from a devastating end.
The Soul Mender
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 90,280. Language: English. Published: September 11, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Urban, Fiction » Fantasy » Paranormal
A young woman trapped in a parallel universe must ally with the only people willing to protect her: the debased other half of her soul, and the opposite soul of a serial killer in her world.