Fifteen-year-old Munna lives with his Ma and sisters in a small town in India. Determined to end his family’s misfortunes, he is lured into a dream job in the Middle East, only to be sold. He must work at the Sheikh’s camel farm in the desert and train young boys as jockeys in camel races. The boys, smuggled from poor countries, have lost their families and homes. Munna must starve these boys so that they remain light on the camels’ backs, and he must win the Gold Sword race for the Sheikh. In despair, he realizes that he is trapped and there is no escape.
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H.A.L.F. tells the story of H.A.L.F 9, a Human-Alien Life Form that escapes from the military facility where he was created. What was your inspiration for this imaginative and thrilling novel?
The original idea and plot for this story came to me one day as I was driving in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, listening to a techno-rap song called “Cowboys and Aliens”. What can I say – it was a hot day in the desert! I’ve long been fascinated by the remote area in southern Arizona, the borderlands between Mexico and the U.S. There’s a military testing range out there and not much else. That song on that day got me thinking about how alien conspiracy theorists talk about a secret underground base. And I thought what if such a base is under the missile testing range? And what if there really are human-alien hybrids? And why would a shadow government want to create such a being? The series has been great fun for me, a huge X-Files, Twilight Zone and Star Trek fan. Fun to create my own alien worlds and adventures!
H.A.L.F. 9 forms a bond with other teens that he comes across and their relationships are dynamic and deep as well. What themes did you try to capture when you were creating the relationships the characters had?
When I write a first draft, I generally don’t think about themes. I also don’t spend time outlining relationships before I write. I try my best to let the characters “speak” and for the relationships to evolve organically.
But once the first draft is written, with the assistance of my content editor, I fine tune. In The Deep Beneath, I had not originally intended for H.A.L.F. 9 to become romantically interested in Erika. But he’s a 17 year old guy who’s never been around girls his own age! Of course he’s interested in her!
As for the three human teens, I spent a lot of pre-first draft planning time creating a relationship backstory for them. On the advice of an early editor, I decided to have Erika and Jack having problems in their boyfriend/girlfriend relationship right off the bat. That’s not a typical starting point in a YA book and I think it was good advice. Over the three books, readers get to see complex relationships play out. And I think that’s more like what life is really like. Even with people we love deeply, we don’t always get along. There are ups and downs. But will we stick with someone through thick and thin? Or bail on them when the going gets tough?
Ian and Erika are best friends. Like many best friends in coming of age stories, their relationship is tested by the difficult circumstances they’re thrust into. The circumstances of the story force them to journey beyond their small town and into the wider world. And oh what a world they step into! They each are confronted with moral dilemmas and the choices they make affects their relationship.
What emerges is a story that over the 3-book series is about loyalty, trust, and having each other’s backs. Not only do we see this in how the three older teens deal with each other, but also through how Erika is teaching H.A.L.F. 9 about living in the human world.
As I’m just finishing up revisions on the third and final book in the series, ORIGINS, I’m going to miss these characters! I’ve enjoyed writing their relationships and watching them grow.
H.A.L.F 9 has telekinetic and telepathic powers which make him a valuable asset to the government. These powers are used in unique and interesting ways. How did you handle the use of these powers in the novel where they were believable yet useful?
I was inspired to give H.A.L.F. 9 the powers that he has from my research into a real top secret military project called Project Stargate. It was started in the 1970’s and the purpose was to research the potential of “psychic warfare.” This was during the cold war and they were seeking to create a “remote viewing” spy network but there was also this idea that enemies could potentially be taken out from thousands of miles away using only the mind.
Of course they didn’t produce much in the way of results. The funding dried up and the program ended (allegedly ;-).
These sorts of top secret programs inspired the story. What if aliens had stronger psychic abilities than humans, and if a human-alien hybrid was engineered to have the stronger alien psychic abilities, what could it do? Media often portrays aliens as having much more developed psychic abilities than humans, so I thought it would be believable for a human-alien hybrid to have these sorts of powers.
Giving the hybrid being these abilities was like creating superpowers or a magic system. So I had to think of its limits. That led to a rather unique problem for the hybrid beings that acts as a limit on their “magic” and is, I think, one of the more unique aspects of the series.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
H.A.L.F.: ORIGINS (H.A.L.F. 3) will be available August 24, 2017! I’m so excited for it! It has been a super difficult book to write due to all the threads that spread out in book 2. But I think that readers will find the wrap up exciting and satisfying – and all questions will be answered!
H.A.L.F. 9 has taken his first breath of desert air and his first steps in the human world. Created to be a weapon, he proved too powerful for his makers and has lived a sedated life hidden from humans. But H.A.L.F. 9 has escaped the underground lab he called home, and the sedation has worn off. He has never been more alive. More powerful. Or more deadly.
Erika Holt longs to ride her motorcycle east until pavement meets shore. She bides her time until graduation when she’ll say adios to the trailer she shares with her alcoholic mother and memories of her dead father. But a typical night in the desert with friends thrusts Erika into a situation more dangerous than she ever imagined.
Circumstances push the two together, and each must make a fateful choice. Will Erika help H.A.L.F. 9 despite her “don’t get involved” rule? And will H.A.L.F. 9 let Erika live even though he was trained to kill?
The two may need to forget their rules and training and if either is to survive the dangers of the deep beneath them.
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In Book II of the Lisen of Solsta series, Tainted takes readers back to the land of Garla and introduces us to the dangerous land of Thristas. What was the inspiration for these fantastically imagined worlds?
Truthfully, I based them on my home of Southern California with the cooler areas to the west of the mountains and the desert to the east. My picture was more of Rome or Greece at the height of their power than of some middle European medieval land, and the white-marble and columned Avaret Keep exemplifies the architectural feel I was looking for. When it came to Thristas, I love the desert. Lisen’s response of awe as she and Korin come through the Pass and she sees Thristas for the first time expresses my feelings about the deserts of California. Most people see deserts as dry, sterile places, but they teem with life–both animal and plant life. My inspiration was to show the breadth and depth of this life and its influence on a people who had lived there for many generations, establishing a culture separate from Garla’s and giving their lives a meaning dependent on no one save themselves.
Lisen develops as a dynamic, heroic character, constantly fighting her surroundings and learning more about herself. How did you tackle character development in this story that is different from book 1?
Lisen is, of course, a work in progress. It is absolutely essential that she struggle to find who she is in this mess that she sees as her life. All bets are off for her. It’s do or die, and as she begins to realize that she cannot win without cheating and that she must win in order to fulfill her mother’s hope for her, she also recognizes that she must find a way to become a person who she isn’t quite yet. I loved exploring her hidden spaces and corners, seeking out the fortitude within her to make it possible for her to do what she does at the end of the book. And when the degree of her ferocity came to me one day driving home from the grocery store in the guise of that moment when she cuts off her braids and then tells Nalin she never was a hermit, I knew I’d found the Lisen she needed to find on her journey.
There is a holiday in this story called Evenday/Evennight. How did you come up with this idea and develop it in your story?
You will note that in Garla, they call it Evenday because they live and work under the light of the sun. On the other hand, the Thristans call it Evennight because the center of their lives, the time conducive to productivity, is in the dark, away from the searing heat of that very light the Garlans worship. This day on earth is called the vernal equinox, and I saw the Thristans as being closer to nature and therefore more likely to attach a more spiritual importance to it than the Garlans. Hence their centering of an entire ritual around it, while the Garlans celebrate it more casually. A lot of the Thristan culture revolves around something akin to the nature-centered cultures of our own world, including Wicca.
Where does the third book in the Lisen of Solsta series take readers?
Two major questions remain. What happens to Korin and the special “package” he carries away from Lisen and Avaret at the end of Tainted? And what the heck are they going to do about the unstoppable Lorain? Lisen has seen Thristas for herself and is apparently the first Empir to have done so, and that alone puts her in a unique position in her dealings with Thristas as their “Protector.” I think, however, that the most fascinating aspect that opened itself up to me for inquiry was how the miracle of child-bearing might affect a man. I explored and hopefully resolved the questions and conflicts raised by the events in the first two books by digging deeper into both Garlan and Thristan culture and by opening up the possibilities for redemption for Lisen but only if she can accept the fact that as Empir she has responsibilities that sometimes require desperate and even cruel measures to fulfill them.
“In Fractured, Lisen Holt, Valley girl, beach lover, learned she doesn’t belong on Earth. Re-adapting to Garla, the place of her birth, proved difficult, but the greater challenge was learning that she is the Heir-Empir and must confront her brother for the throne. Witnessing her only friend’s murder, defending her own life with forbidden power, and succumbing to possession by her friend’s soul left Lisen fractured, with little hope she’d ever recover.
The story grows darker in Tainted with Lisen and her guardian companion, Korin, traveling to the great desert of Thristas. They hope to find safety in the anonymity of the barren wilderness, out of the range of Garlan spies. There, Lisen learns the ways of Thristas and its fierce people who view Garla’s Empir as a tyrant. In an effort to prove their sincerity, Lisen and Korin participate in the Farii, the spring fertility ritual which changes everything for Lisen. She returns to Garla with a brilliant but damning plan that she believes will ensure her victory against her brother.”
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