It’s my pleasure to welcome back Dani Collins to CABR 🙂
You may remember her talking about her debut novel with Mills & Boon, “No Longer Forbidden“.
Today Dani is shifting genres as she tells us all about her March 4th release, “The Healer“.
CABR: Dani, “The Healer” is a fantasy romance. Quite a departure from your debut category romance novel. Tell us about it≥?
DC: “The Healer” is different from my Harlequin/Mills & Boon novels.
I began writing The Healer at least ten years ago, when my kids were quite little. I was still trying to figure out exactly what kinds of stories I wanted to write (while knowing it had to be romance!) I scribbled in a notebook on my bedside table before I went to sleep.
I finished it at least five years ago, but by then had so many genres going: romantic comedy, mainstream romance, category and even a paranormal suspense. I knew one of the reasons I wasn’t publishing was because I was all over the map. I had to pick a destination. Harlequin Mills & Boon in London were showing some interest so I set aside everything else.
Last year, before I got The Call from M&B, I saw a small press in Canada, Champagne Books, was looking for submissions. I hadn’t really submitted “The Healer” anywhere, but had a feeling that its length meant it would do better electronically so I sent it in.
Five weeks after London called, Calgary emailed with a contract offer. It’s been nonstop roller coaster fun ever since.
CABR: That’s fantastic! 🙂
Did the characters demand you tell their story or were you inspired by something?
DC: Yes! I often say that Vaun, the hero, leapt of a cliff and into my imagination and that’s so true. That’s how I started scribbling in the notebook that first night. I had a very distinct image of him in mind.
I thought it was going to be a Scottish historical and he was a highlander – and the story does read that way a little bit – but then Athadia started healing people during the battle and I realized I had something else on my hands.
But the notebook and ‘flying into the mist’ of plotting didn’t get me very far. I knew I wanted to write a big story that a reader could really sink into, but I wasn’t sure how. I wound up doing the 30 Days Of Worldbuilding ( http://www.web-writer.net/fantasy/days/index.html ) exercises in preparation for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and that was more than inspirational. It gave me all the intrigue and politics behind the action and helped me develop my characters by figuring out their cultures and why they really, really shouldn’t fall in love.
CABR: Is “The Healer” bk 1 in a new paranormal series that you’re publishing with Champagne Books?
DC: Over the years since beginning “The Healer“, I’ve known I should have a follow up book. As a reader I don’t love trilogies, but I do love linked books, so I’ve considered which characters from The Healer I could follow into a future story and have some ideas.
I also have an idea for a completely different story with a woo-woo element that I may pitch to Champagne , but I have contracts with M&B that need fulfilling right now—which is an awesome problem to have.
Paperbacks or eBooks?
DC: Currently paperbacks, but that’s because I can’t be bothered fighting the kids for the iPad. Once I have my own, all will be eBooks!
Pantser or plotter?
Coffee or tea?
Beach getaway or winter ski trip?
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The following excerpt from “The Healer” takes places as the hero, Vaun, and his men are patrolling lands that should be theirs by rights of treaty with the Shotes, but he keeps finding Shote Traders. This particular group has a captive with them and she appears to have tattoos, which would make her Kerf, like him. He leads an attack to free her.
Excerpt from “The Healer“:
Vaun paced the broken camp, willing to wait for the food while he counted the dead and came to terms with the fact he’d made a terrible mistake. The woman wasn’t Kerf. She didn’t understand his language, didn’t wear tattoos, and didn’t seem grateful for her rescue. He’d killed all these Shotes, possibly started a war, for naught.
Vaun counted, then counted again. Nay, they hadn’t killed all the Shotes. Three had escaped. He’d definitely started a war. Pox.
Catching a darting motion out of the corner of his eye, he saw the woman aimed for the gap between the mountainside and the wall of tumbled boulders. She almost made it before he called out to Chador.
Chador dropped a sack and caught her. She screeched in frustrated denial then fought, but not properly, just squirmed for freedom like a tempered waddler.
Vaun let Chador deal with her while he said his prayers over Elden’s would-be Southern allies, now dead. As if this situation weren’t bad enough. The hope of repairing weak relations between the North and South Kingdoms disappeared as Gunar took the men’s armbands for their families, his acceptance of Vaun’s sympathies grim and wordless.
Vaun tamped down on the heated desire to place the blame on Gunar’s shoulders where it belonged. He could point fingers later, if they survived to see Elden.
First they would bury the men, even the Shotes. He hadn’t intended the raid to turn out this way. He wasn’t certain how it had. High emotion on the heels of a long march, he supposed. And he had thought they were freeing a Kerf.
But the woman wasn’t Kerf and didn’t respond to Shote words, so what was she?
He halted over the Shote he’d disemboweled and yet hadn’t. The entrails were there, but the gash gone. How—?
Chador’s shout of alarm sent Vaun’s hand to his sword, but Chador only struggled with the captive. He released her to stare at his forearm, bent to wipe it on his breeches.
She made to run again but halted as Bezek stepped in front of her.
Chador looked to Vaun with an expression of baffled fright. “It’s gone.”
“Your armband? It’s on the other side, friend.” Battle fatigue, Vaun thought, relaxing his grip on his sword. “Drink something. Eat.”
“No, the cut,” Chador said, still panicked. “Look, the bloodstains are here, but…” He rubbed. “There’s not even a scar.”
The statement silenced all the men. They looked from Chador, to the woman, to Vaun. Apprehension crackled on the air.
“Is she one of those Alvian soul-stealers?” Chador asked in a whisper.
She was terrified was what she was, but Vaun sensed eerie fear in his men, too. He felt it as a contagion in himself as he recollected his history lessons—bloody tales of the First Settlement Wars. Battles against primitives who healed with touch but also banded together to slaughter indiscriminately.
“Those are legends,” Vaun said, not as filled with certainty as he wanted to be. “Stories exaggerated by time.” He looked to the ridge of the vulnerable bowl in which they stood.
The woman attempted to sidle past Bezek. Another of Vaun’s men moved to block her and she paused, her gaze growing more anxious as the rest encircled her.
Could she be one of those unnatural Alvian creatures, Vaun wondered?
Behind the woman, one of Vaun’s soldiers made an abrupt move.
With a small cry, she whirled. As the fabric of her swirling robe settled, Vaun saw his man held a hunting knife. The point gleamed red.
~ * ~
Athadia dodged the next blade that jabbed at her thigh and blocked a third with her forearm, feeling the cut streak deep. If she hadn’t been so taxed, she might have found her center and accompanying discipline, but the men closed in, stealing her concentration. She tripped over the hem of her oversized robe trying to escape another swipe and curled as she fell, protecting herself. A stab nipped into her side anyway.
A male bellow sounded and the sickening thud of a blow followed. She cringed, waiting for boots and pain, but nothing struck her. The sounds of fighting continued though, with cries of protest.
Working up the nerve to peek past her bent elbow, she saw the leader of these Kerfs using his fists to break up the mob, forcing the men back from her. One man babbled hysterically and pointed his sword tip at her, as though he wanted to skewer her to the ground. The big Kerf cuffed him.
Distantly, Athadia heard his fury in his sharp words, but turned herself inward, not bothering to attempt translation as she searched within herself, found shreds of calm and balance, mentally spoke her vows and repaired herself. When she became aware of silence, thick with hostility, she tentatively uncurled. Most of the men looked abashed. Some glared with mistrust. The leader wore an expression of angry remorse.
If she begged for freedom, he might grant it. Longing washed over her for The Circle, the closest thing to a haven her people had left. If she could rest and heal, consult with the Elders, she might try again to fulfill her purpose. If only it hadn’t been so long since she’d spoken. She wasn’t sure she could make herself understood. Perhaps if she just walked away. Surely the Kerf would comprehend that.
He reached to help her rise.
Hesitantly, she let him close his hand around her arm.
Alvian energy burst in her cells, buckling her knees as she tried to stand. She used both hands to catch at him and he steadied her while his own feet staggered, his expression shocked.
Like weak sunlight expanding through a break in the clouds, his gift washed over her, pale and lacking intensity because he was only a Latent, not a full-blooded Alvian. He emanated signals of exhaustion and taxed muscles and seeping battle wounds—a deep need for healing, but he was a glimmer of everything she longed for.
Her energy reached insistently for greater contact, craving Alvian healing. He’s Kerf, her mind insisted, but vows and a fundamental recognition prevailed. She let her body tip forward until she collapsed against him.
~ * ~
Lightheadedness struck Vaun as he absorbed her slight weight, nearly knocked off balance by this feather of woman. His blood heated in one mighty, restorative pulse. At the same time, melancholy homesickness rippled through him. He thought of his mother for the first time in years and experienced a sudden longing to hold his youngest son before Mekel grew too big to be lifted willingly like the older boys.
The strange, out of place thoughts were disconcerting. He dismissed them. Of course he wanted to see his sons and his brother. He wanted to ensure his village, nay his entire Kingdom, was safe. He wanted to report and devise a strategy to keep their corner of Kerf territory protected. He wanted to be home.
“You’re claiming her?” Gunar asked with shock.
Vaun realized his arms had closed around her. He hadn’t held a woman outside a bed since his wife had died, but he tightened his hold as he surveyed the frightened, hostile faces of his men.
“She could have knowledge of Shote armies,” he said, searching for logic behind his purely instinctive compulsion to draw her tight against him. “Information on their weaponry and intentions. And look at her. She’s just a harmless woman.” Near unconscious judging by the limp weight of her. Badly injured, perhaps? A slit in her sleeve showed a wet line of blood on her upper arm. Vaun smeared it, leaving an outline where the welled blood had been but the injury was gone. The hair on the back of his neck lifted.
Harmless, yet unable to be harmed.