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Interview: January 9, 2009

January 9, 2009

Bestselling author Ted Dekker teamed up with his longtime editor, Erin Healy, to co-write the recently released suspense novel KISS. In this interview with's Marcia Ford, Healy describes some of the challenges she faced in the transition from editor to author, while Dekker speculates on his broad readership, despite the fact that he is usually classified as a Christian writer. They also discuss what made their collaboration work, give insight into their writing process, and share details about their next publication, BURN. Ted, Erin Healy has been your fiction editor for six years. What made you decide to bring her on as your co-author?

Ted Dekker: I’ve worked with a number of editors in my career, but not many have shown me the unique combination of story insight and crafting that Erin has. Most editors are good at pointing out flaws in writing, but original storytelling is an entirely different animal. Erin has rarely blinked on my numerous explorations of our market’s edges, in fact lending me confidence when I needed it most. Over the years we’ve developed a unique trust for each other’s skills, offering balance and challenge at every turn.

BRC: Ted, your novels have an audience with secular and Christian readers. Why do you think that so many readers of various faiths --- or no faith --- are drawn to your books?

TD: For many reasons, I think, but two that are most obvious. One, I write pure escapism with little reservation in big “what if” stories. Frankly, I get bored with stories that don’t move either my pulse or my heart, and I write for readers who share this illness :-) Two, Christianity is running headlong into the behemoth challenge of inauthenticity. In the eyes of a rapidly growing majority, being a “Christian” means that you are fake, naïve and toxic about it. Like an odorous, toxic plastic. A growing audience is seeking stories that shy from plastic fiction, particularly among the under-40 crowd. The key is writing about faith in a way that doesn’t wreak of toxic plastic. I do that more effectively now than I used to, as do a number of my peers.

BRC: Ted, please bring us up to date on your next solo effort --- rather, efforts. You usually have several books in the works at one time.

TD: BONEMAN'S DAUGHTERS, a story about a father who will stop at nothing to rescue his only daughter from a killer called BoneMan, comes out in April. It's packed with more heart than any novel I’ve written in some time. I also have two young adults out in June to complete the Lost Books Series. Then a big event in September with the release of GREEN, Book Zero in the Circle Series. It is both the beginning and the ending of Thomas Hunter’s circular story, a prequel to BLACK, and a sequel to WHITE.

BRC: Erin, KISS is your first book as an author, and your co-author is nothing less than a New York Times bestselling novelist with a huge fan following. What was your biggest challenge in making the shift from editor to author? Did you feel pressure to continue Ted Dekker's pattern of success --- and if so, how did you handle it?

Erin Healy: I sure uttered my share of “please don’t let me blow this!” prayers, especially at the outset, when the learning curve was so steep. Writing and editing skill sets don’t exactly overlap. But I had complete trust in Ted’s abilities, and because he was the guiding light on this project, I drew confidence from him. He’d make a great editor, no matter what he says about that! My biggest challenge came in learning how to write without thinking like an editor. Ted had to work hard to get me to loosen up and learn a new set of guiding principles.

BRC: Erin, will you continue to work as an editor, or has your KISS experience turned your heart more toward writing?

EH: Writing and editing seem to be my complementary halves. Ideally, writing more will improve my editorial skills, and editing more will improve my writing skills. I’ll have to take a lighter editorial workload for practical reasons, but I don’t plan to quit. I’m indebted to all the authors who have taught me so much by allowing me to work with them. They’ve set a high bar for me.

BRC: What can you tell us about the next Dekker/Healy project, BURN --- and is there a possible third co-authored novel?

TD and EH: BURN ups the ante. It’s an intense, brain-bending story about a woman forced into making a critical, life-changing decision...and what MIGHT have happened if she’d made a different decision. It’s a novel about the dramatic stakes involved in dying to self, and what life on the other side of that action looks like, for better and worse. We hope BURN will be the second of many Dekker/Healy novels.

BRC: How did you divide the writing responsibilities? Please describe the logistics of working with each other in an effort to create a seamless work of fiction.

TD and EH: We’ve worked together long enough now to know each other’s likes, dislikes and tendencies when it comes to storytelling. We’ve done a lot of give-and-take over the years and managed to establish trust in each other. Having that professional relationship long established was probably the most significant factor in making KISS “seamless.” As for the storytelling, most of that took place over the phone in hours-long conversations. We beat story questions and scenes and options nearly to death audibly long before a word was ever typed. Then Erin laid down the first rough draft and a new process began with both of us, writing, tearing apart, rewriting, more rewriting, editing, etc. The book is roughly 100,000 words, but at least 200,000 words were written to get there. Gotta love it.

BRC: KISS delves into the mysterious inner workings of the human brain. What kind of research was involved in making the story both imaginative and believable?

TD and EH: Just enough to make us dangerous reporters! We didn’t want the story to bog down with scientific details that might distract readers from the theme. Most of our research focused on treatments being developed for war veterans who are coming home with devastating post-traumatic stress disorders. Drugs are being developed to help these men and women cope with the emotional effects of their memories. In a particularly interesting trial, researchers were successful in causing rats to forget their fear of a sound within a day of associating the sound with an electric shock. In other studies, scientists claim to have erased the actual memories from rats. That’s a ripe “what if” scenario for a novelist.

BRC: KISS also explores the potentially terrifying possibility of having memories erased, filtered or otherwise tampered with. How did that exploration affect your attitude toward your own memories and their value to you?

TD: All we really have are memories and hopes. I have to re-engage even my worst memories to fashion a meaningful story, and I do it frequently. My first three books were written on the heels of and fueled by my brother’s death. Recounting such memories has a cleansing appeal. It tends to rid us of our toxic plastic odors. :-)

EH: The bulk of my memories are overwhelmingly happy ones, and I’d be grieved to lose them! Even so, I’ve often thought that if given the opportunity to relive any part of my life --- to be younger, or to get a “do over,” or to fix a regret --- I probably wouldn’t take it. I just don’t want to relive the pain that is a part of life. Certain memories make me feel physically sick when they come to mind, and yet I associate these experiences with hard-won maturity that might not be achievable any other way. So I choose to look back on these experiences as valuable rather than destructive. If I didn’t, I think they’d be a roadblock to maturity.

BRC: The use of experimental drugs --- in KISS, without the patient's consent --- is a related and equally terrifying possibility that figures into the plot. Why the decision to use pharmaceuticals instead of other forms of mind manipulation? Do you see the potential for the misuse of experimental drugs?

TD and EH: This decision was a pragmatic one, and nothing more. Pharmaceutical giants are money makers, and putting Landon McAllister at the helm of such a giant gave him the cash we needed him to have. The experimental-drugs angle provided the story’s antagonists with an opportunity to carry out their sinister plans. Any kind of experimentation can of course be abused, but we never intended KISS to be a commentary on today’s drug makers.

BRC: Some people are uncomfortable with paranormal activity as it conflicts with their own feelings about spirituality. Did you work to handle the paranormal in a way that both reveals spiritual reality and yet tries not to offend?

TD: Smells a bit like plastic to me :-) Paranormal is simply... well, para-normal. According to the Encarta World Dictionary, paranormal means “scientifically unexplainable.” As such, spirituality is mostly paranormal. There are many things science can’t explain, some that have spiritual explanations, some that are simply yet not understood, like how a savant can glance at a jar of toothpicks and know there are 104 toothpicks in the jar without counting them. The brain, like the heart, is a wonderful, mysterious gift from God.

EH: Having said that, in KISS, the “paranormal” has a loose physical explanation. Shauna’s abilities are the result of drugs she received. I hope anyone who might be offended by the causes of Shauna’s situation can still feel free to explore the core questions of the effects: What is the true value of our memories, and what will happen to us --- or to the people we love --- if we forget or ignore these experiences?

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