When I was asked to host the cover reveal for Dwelling in Heaven and Earth, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. There wasn’t much small talk; a request for a date and a list of information I’d need, that was all. What was I meant to tell them? How on earth do you host a cover reveal?!
And then I remembered who the author was…
The woman, who had sent me words of encouragement throughout my first NaNoWriMo, sent me funny little gifs when I won and spread the word about Round the World Writers when my partners and I first launched it. This was someone who made your small successes fell like a Jane Austen masterpiece, someone who knew you without ever having met you.
I knew then there was only one way for me to launch the cover of her new book: by introducing you to the woman herself.
* * *
Oh, my! You're going to give me a big head! It makes my heart happy to know I've been an encouragement to you. My greatest goal in life is to be an encouragement to others.
You’re definitely doing that, Elizabeth! Right, let’s warm you up with some quick-fire questions to begin with:
- Name a book you wish you had written.
I would love to take credit for One Door Away From Heaven by Dean Koontz. I think it's the perfect book - it's exciting and charming, romantic and frightening, it makes the reader think and challenges their beliefs without ever taking them out of the entertaining story, and there's an awesome dog.
- If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?
If we're talking fiction authors, Anne Rice. I am constantly encouraged by her social media posts and her writing style fascinates me. Her process and mine are very different and I suspect I could learn a lot from her. Plus, I would love to know… when you're the brain behind the Sleeping Beauty series AND the Christ the King series, what kind of things do you chat about at the dinner table? Really, I'm dying to know!
Non-fiction, I'd have to say A.J. Jacobs. I adore his writing style and find he asks a lot of the same questions about life that I ask. He's funny and, since he's read the entire encyclopaedia, I imagine he never runs out of subject matter. Plus, his wife sounds like an amazing, strong, and extremely understanding woman and I assume she'd be there.
- What’s your favourite book to film adaptation?
The Stand by Stephen King. It's a massive book and (as always) better than the movie, but the movie is six hours long so they kept a lot of the best parts of the book. The casting couldn't have been any more perfect, and the soundtrack includes some of my favourite songs.
Like everyone else in the universe, I'm also in love with the Harry Potter movies, but I felt like Hollywood left too many important elements out. They toned down Hermione's strength, and Dobby's sacrifice, and where was Peeves? It just wasn't Hogwarts without Peeves.
- Where’s your favourite place to work?
I live in a tiny village in Michigan, USA. It's right out of a storybook. Our "downtown" is a single block of two story buildings that have been there since the pioneer days. Right in the middle of the block there is a fantastic little coffee shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain. It always smells like fresh-baked cake. There is a booth next to a picture window that looks out on the village and, if you sit there long enough, you can see the whole town go by. I love working there but, far more often, I find myself typing with my laptop propped against the steering wheel of my car while I wait for my kids to come out of one class or another.
- Name your favourite fairy tale.
I love fairy tales! I don't think I could choose a single favourite one, not with all the modern re-telling’s that have become popular in recent years. I have a least-favourite, though. When I was young someone gave me a book of Hans Christian Anderson's stories; the horrible, dark, scary, original versions. I read The Red Shoes and had nightmares for years about someone chopping of my feet and watching my feet run away without me. I still get a little shivery thinking about it. I've been told some of my stuff is dark but I can't begin compete with that level of twisted!
- What books are you currently reading?
I always have multiple books going. My twelve-year-old daughter and I have formed a tradition of reading together. Right now, we are reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in the afternoon and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in the evenings. At bedtime, I'm reading Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness. For the record, it's a terrible bedtime choice. I've had multiple dreams about being attacked by demons. My next bedtime book will be something happy. I also read something to push me toward my best version of myself every day. This week it's Visioneering by Andy Stanley. I read with my five-year-old, too. He picks three books every night. He owns about a thousand books. We've read Robert the Rose Horse, The Diggingest Dog, and The Very Naughty Bunny EVERY NIGHT since Christmas. If I forget everything else in old age, I'm sure the words to those three stories will be burned in my brain for eternity.
- Name your literary character crush.
Oh, that's easy. It's Ranger, from Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. I have no idea what Stephanie sees in her whiny cop boyfriend. Every time she turns Ranger down I swear I will stop reading the books… even though I know I will never stop reading her books. They're far too much fun.
- What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
"Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits."
It's from Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. It's a perfect first line. It's an entire story, all by itself.
- Name an author you’ve recently discovered.
I read a debut from an indie author a few weeks ago that knocked my socks off. It's called The Celtic Curse: Banshee by D.J. Doyle. It was creepy and epic and beautifully written. I can't wait until she releases a new book!
- Describe yourself in three books.
This is a hard question! I suddenly had a lifetime of reading flash before my eyes.
The first thing that popped into my head was the book Pollyanna. I can't count the number of times someone responded to something I said with, "Oh, you're such a Pollyanna." I always take it as a compliment. Pollyanna had a core of steel. She faced some of life's very worst circumstances and she made a deliberate choice to see the best in every situation. As a result, because of her example, everyone around her became happier and healthier, kinder and more hopeful. I went through some very dark years. When I decided to be like Pollyanna, the world changed into a more beautiful place right before my eyes.
The second book, or series rather, that came to mind was Jan Karon's Mitford series. I have a lot in common with Father Tim. We're both introverts. We both love to read. We both have faith that God is always at work, but we both get sad (and sometimes angry) when we can't make sense of His plan. We both eat more junk we should.
I think, for number three, I have to go with Jitterbug Perfume. The quest that Alobar and Kudra go on to understand life and death and their place in the universe is something that strikes me as very relatable.
I must add all of those to my reading list, they sound brilliant. Now onto the more serious, very E. A Comiskey writer questions…
You’re huge on WattPad – it’s amazing to see how many people read your work on there. What difference has this made to your writing?
Oh, goodness! I feel like a little fish in the big WattPad ocean! WattPad is an interesting platform. It's allowed me to write some fairly experimental stuff and get feedback on it. I've dabbled in Science Fiction there and even romance. That dabbling created an interesting phenomenon for me. I had always considered myself a Christian who wrote fiction. At one point, I had an idea for a story that was very much Christian Fiction. I wasn't sure what kind of reception it would get, but it caught fire. I've gotten dozens of messages about that story - people who are Christian and were inspired, people who are Muslim and found that it touched a precious connection that is shared between the faiths, people who are atheist, but took hope in the ideas presented. The success of that little project made me realize that there is great power in writing honestly. Even when people don't share your views, they appreciate the purity of the work. Realizing that freed me and made me a better writer, all around.
Talking of WattPad, you have a warning on your introduction on there that anyone who speaks to you in the lead up to November to beware, as you will recruit them to NaNoWriMo. What is it about NaNoWriMo that is so wonderful?
NaNoWriMo is a brilliant, contagious bit of insanity. I believe people put energy into the world. You can create and destroy with your mind. NaNo brings together thousands and thousands of people from all over the world and pushes them to create together. It inspires those who never thought they could and fans the flame for those who are weary. Where else is there such an enormous, diverse community of artists working together, encouraging one another, and spurring one another on to greatness? Oh, that all the politicians of the world could take a lesson from the NaNo writers! I can never say enough about the magic that is National Novel Writing Month.
How did NaNoWriMo affect your own writing journey?
I've always dabbled in writing. I had a blog that had reached a moderate level of success, but my passion was always fiction. I had started countless novels, but never finished one. In 2013 I came across several references to NaNoWriMo. I had to work myself up to it. Fifty thousand words in thirty days? That's nuts! What if I tried, and I failed miserably? Finally, my handsome, wise, supportive husband looked me in the eye and said, "so what if you do?"
I realized he was right, so I jumped in with both feet. It was utter insanity. I was at my computer every single spare minute of the day. I learned two very important lessons:
1) It's more important to get any version of the story on paper than to keep the perfect version inside my head forever. When you write something that long in such a short time period you can't allow yourself to read and revise and over-think. You just have to pour the words onto the paper. Once they're there, THEN you have something to revise and turn into a readable novel.
2) I need deadlines in my life. I'm a natural-born procrastinator and, as long as I think I can do it tomorrow I will never be motivated to do it today. Put a deadline in front of me and I'll move mountains to get my task done on time. NaNo is an arbitrary, self-imposed deadline, but it was enough to spur me into motion.
That first NaNo ended up being the first half of my first published novel. Once I knew I could do it, it was a cake-walk to do it again. I've written four and a half novels since finishing that one.
You also take part in #1linewed – for those of us who don’t already know, can you explain a little about what it is and why you like to take part in it?
#1linewed is a Twitter event. Each week, writers are encouraged to share one line from their work in progress that matches that week's given theme. It's a fun way to share a sneak peek into what you're creating and to get a little glimpse into the worlds being created by other writers. I love that there are so many genres represented. A theme like "chaos" or "falling" can produce very different results in fantasy, romance, literary fiction, and horror.
What made you want to become a writer?
The first thing I remember writing was a fifth-grade school project that had to do with the westward migration in the nineteenth century. I was enthralled with the process of putting myself in someone else's shoes and telling a story from their perspective. From that point on there weren't many times when I didn't have a story in the works. It wasn't until 2011, though, that I had a moment where I realized people made a living by writing. After that, there was no looking back.
Have you got any pre-writing rituals you like to do?
I wouldn't say I have a ritual. I do have a process when I start a new project. I start out writing long-hand. I'll write a few paragraphs or "interview" my characters to get to know them. Then, when I feel like I'm falling into a rhythm with the story, I will switch over to my computer. I'm a fast typist, so it's nice to have my fingers be able to keep up with my thoughts.
A lot of writers have a period of procrastination. Is this something you experience and if so, what does this time consist of?
If procrastination were an Olympic sport Michael Phelps' record would pale in comparison to mine. I am terrible about sitting down to write and then spending an hour on Facebook reading click bait articles about celebrities that have been dead since before I was born. The only time my house is ever clean is when I'm getting ready to start a new project, but I haven't quite disciplined myself enough to sit down and put words on paper yet.
Then, when I finish a first draft, before I edit, I will step away from writing for a few weeks. I chalk art or work in the garden. When I finished More Things in Heaven and Earth I covered my entire dining room with Sharpie drawings. After NaNoWriMo 2016 I learned to crochet and made two blankets and half a sweater before I edited. I don't know if that's procrastination, or just a healthy break for my brain. Creating worlds is exhausting business. Even God rested on the seventh day.
You’re very open about the fact you home-school your children. Most mums I know use the time their children are at school to write. What’s your writing schedule like? How did you fit your career around schooling your children?
By the time the kids are in bed I'm too tired to think straight, so I try to get up a few hours before the rest of the family and write in the morning. I have other breaks throughout the week when they are at music lessons or sports practice. My husband is incredibly supportive and almost always willing to give me an hour or two of quiet time if I need it. Somehow, we just make it work.
Did you have any odd jobs before you started your writing career or did you dedicate your life to the written word from the outset?
I have done ALL the jobs. I've been the janitor in a diesel engine repair place. I've worked retail. I was a cook in a restaurant, a hotel manager, a librarian, a waitress, a 411 operator, a pre-school teacher, a life guard, a camp counsellor, and the photographer at one of those old-time portrait places. I still work part time as a secretary and my husband and I run a small business out of our home, so I look at authors who get to write full time as the ones living the dream. One of these days, maybe.
I draw a lot of inspiration from the people I encounter every day so maybe I'd be a little lost without all that busy-ness!
To those who will be just discovering your writing, is there anything they need to know?
My work is usually categorized as "fantasy" because no one is sure where to put it, but it's not fantasy the way Tolkien's or Martin's works are fantasy. There's always one foot firmly planted in the world we know. My stuff contains elements of horror, but not Stephen King style horror. Most of my books contain romance, but never Danielle Steele style romance. I often write about faith, but I doubt a Christian book store would ever carry my work. I write real world stories with fantastical, horrific, spiritual, and romantic elements that, hopefully, work their way subtly into the prose the way salt works into a meal. Readers should always go in expecting the unexpected. For me, writing is a form of exploration, so not much is off limits.
How many books will be in the Heaven and Earth series?
Each book is one woman's story, told in first person. Each woman finds the story of the one before her and is influenced by it in some way, so the characters overlap but every volume is a whole new tale unto itself. I suppose it could go on indefinitely, but when I originally dreamed up the idea it was outlined in eleven separate stories that worked toward a sort-of grand finale that would tie everything together. I guess only time will tell if it works out according to plan.
Readers should know, since each story is told from a different person's point of view, each one has an entirely different voice. Simone (More Things) was very traditional and conservative. She was middle aged and focused on her children and that comes through in the way she views what's happening around her. Shifrah (Dwelling) is young and adventurous. She's got all the wild appetites and raging emotions of a teenager. Shifrah is more tactile and adventurous whereas Simone was philosophical and introverted. That comes through in the pacing of the story.
Can you give an outline of what Dwelling in Heaven and Earth is about?
The first book, More Things, is the story of a woman living in the modern world as we know it. Her faith and strength of will are challenged when she realizes that all the legends and stories of old are true. The "coming out" of all the creatures of myth leads to battle lines being drawn. During all that conflict, her pre-teen son, Donovan, is captured by vampires who turn him into one of them.
Dwelling picks up five hundred years later. It's sort of post-post-apocalyptic story. The big battle already happened. Humanity went through their struggles and the survivors found their new "normal." All that is far behind them. Dwelling opens with a young woman living in a beautiful, prosperous city. She knows nothing of the world outside the city, but she's curious about it. One evening, as she's walking home, she spies Donovan. He stands out as new and different and she is determined to get to know him and learn what he knows about what's beyond the boundaries. The two quickly realize that they are kindred spirits, but her father has no interest in his daughter being matched up with a non-human.
It's the story of a people who have become prideful and forgotten their own history. The powerful faith of their ancestors has become religious routine for them and, because of that, they've made terrible compromises to ensure the status quo.
Within that city, lives a family that risks alienation because they fail to accept one another for who they truly are. Their insistence on conformity is destroying those who are different.
Most of all it's the story of people who are fighting a constant battle in their hearts between what they think is right, and what they want.
These books have such a religious backbone and are also very philosophical. I’m curious whether religion and philosophy play a significant role in your personal life.
My faith is at the centre of who I am.
I took a long time to figure out exactly what I believed and why I believed it, and a lot of that journey is reflected in the thoughts and actions of the characters I create.
I grew up in a little town where the overwhelming majority of the population were white, protestant, middle class, farmers of German and/or Polish descent. When I went away to college, I went to a school that looked a lot like my town, but for all those years, I could see that the world around me was far more diverse than what I had been exposed to. There were certain things I thought "everyone" believed or "everyone" did. When I saw that wasn't the case, and I questioned those things, I was met with a hostile resistance. As a result, I left the church for several years. I read the Bible, cover-to-cover for the first time and saw, rather than a list of rules, a saviour who offered hope for the hopeless and love to the lonely. I read the Koran, the Book of Mormon, The Vedas... whatever I could get my hands on. I saw so many similarities and so few differences. I read about seeking peace with our neighbours, offering love to our enemies, and giving the best of ourselves always.
Eventually, God led me back to church. I think there is great power in praying and worshipping together, and in working as a community to share God's love with our neighbours. And I understand that I don't have to agree with 100% of the beliefs of the person sitting next to me on Sunday morning but if we both love God and we both love our neighbour, the rest is just details.
What compelled you to write a fictional bible story with vampires, werewolves, fairies and angels all entering the human world?
The Heaven and Earth series has been brewing in my heart since those days of growing up questioning everything. People think of the Bible as a boring list of shall and shall nots, but there are wild stories in there. Sampson was so powerful that he fought and killed a thousand men… with a jaw bone! Job feared the leviathan. The witch of Endor could speak with ghosts. Lazarus (and several others) rose from the grave. And there's that one little verse in Genesis when "the sons of God laid with the daughters of women and their children were the men of the legends of old." Only in our very recent past have humans stopped believing in things that defy "reasonable" explanation. I've always wondered, what if it's all real and we don't see it because we choose not to? That question was the seed these stories sprouted from.
This all started as a WattPad story. Have things changed from that medium and if so, how have they changed?
Actually, I was introduced to WattPad after I finished the first draft of More Things. It was a place to get reader feedback and refine the story before publication. It's fun, because people can react with in-line comments so you get a real-time feel of what the readers are thinking. Now, most of my work goes up on that site before publication elsewhere. It's become a part of the process for me, but the WattPad versions tend to be a little rawer than the final manuscripts. They haven't had the powerful wand of my editor waved over them yet.
Is there any piece of advice you were given or wish you had been given when you first started writing?
A fellow NaNo participant sent me a message that first year. She said, "Just write. Write it all and don't stop writing. If your plot takes on a new element, if your main character's name needs to change, if you switch from first person to third, don't go back and start over. Keep writing until you get to the end."
That was huge for me. I was a master of writing a chapter or two, editing those for a year, and giving up because I knew I'd never get them right. Once I had permission to make a mess, I was set free. I came to learn that, for me, a first draft is just digging clay out of the riverbank. Once I'm done with that, THEN I have something to work with. My books are created in revision.
What advice would you give to writers attempting to publish their own work?
Keep your heart wide open, but develop the hide of an elephant.
Rejection is part of the process. Not everyone will like your work. It's true no matter how talented you are, and the truth is, in the beginning, you probably aren't as talented as you think you are. BUT the rejection is a refining fire that will leave only the best of you at the end. If you are trying to traditionally publish your manuscript, you need to face hundreds of rejections before you hit your stride. The ones who are successful in this business aren't always the best writers out there, but they are the most fiercely determined.
Second to that, but related, I would say new writers need to seek criticism from established writers. Your friends and family love you too much to tell you the truth and, in most cases, they don't understand how to read the way an agent or publisher will read. Join a group of writers in person or online. Make sure some of them are experienced enough to know what they are talking about. When they give you feedback, consider it with an open mind. AFTER you've done that, decide whether to follow their advice or not (sometimes your gut will tell you you shouldn't, and that's OK) and revise accordingly.
For every success, there is always an amount of rejection, how do you deal with this and still stay motivated and passionate about writing?
OK, despite what I just said, it still knocks me down when I get those, "thanks but no thanks" letters. Bad reviews are even harder. When I'm feeling like a kicked puppy, I will force my husband, kids, or best friend (a fellow writer who totally gets it) to listen to me talk about my success. I'll start with the biggest and work down to the little stuff. "I'm a published author. That's a big deal! I'm a top twenty Amazon best-selling author! I've written five books and dozens of short stories. I crafted a truly beautiful sentence this morning!" By intentionally putting my focus on my success it becomes easier to let my setbacks fall into the background.
Also, when I have a work in progress, I write every day. If I can only manage one sentence, so be it, but that's one sentence more than I had yesterday. I have no control over the opinions of others, but I am the master of my own progress and the only way I will continue to become a better, more successful author is to keep writing. That constant forward motion helps me stay excited about my work.
Lastly, what are you currently working on? When we last spoke it was the Grim Reaper being forced to reap his own son…
That was an interesting story to write! It's all done… or at least done for now, and available on WattPad. My new project is Grumpy Old Men meets Supernatural. I'm having a blast exploring the adventures of Stanley and Richard as they battle their way across the country, walkers and all.
And now, THE COVER REVEAL!
Introducing the world to: Dwelling in Heaven and Earth by E. A. Comiskey
E.A. Comiskey is an award-winning writer and nationally syndicated blogger. Her debut novel, More Things in Heaven and Earth has been a best-seller within its category on Amazon and the sequel, Dwelling in Heaven and Earth is due to be released in summer, 2017. Her work is broadly described as "speculative fiction" and often includes elements of mythology, fantasy, horror, and even romance.
She lives in Michigan with her husband, children, and a veritable zoo of creatures. She is currently working on her fourth novel. If there’s a festival in the area, you can bet she’s there. After all, when you live in Michigan, you go outside whenever you get the chance.