With critic reviews like, “Superbly written, this novel took over my life until I finished it” (review from GoodReads reviewer), this up incoming book is sure to catch your attention. I had the opportunity to chat with R.S. Dabney about her book, The Soul Mender, and ask her a few questions about her book and being a writer.
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.
Tell us about your book and why you wrote it?
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 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.
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.
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.
Beside your book, are there any other books you would recommend reading this summer?
If you enjoy The Soul Mender, then my first recommendation is to read The Peace Keeper, book two in the trilogy, and if you still can’t get enough, the third and final book will be available at the beginning of 2018.
Shameless plugs aside, I just finished reading Dan Simmons’ The Terror, and if you love a well-written mythological thriller, I can’t recommend this story enough. Yes, I know it has been out for ten years, but AMC is releasing the TV series version sometime this year, so if you are one who likes to read the books before you see the story unfold on screen, check it out. Also, reading about men freezing in the arctic can help cool you down on a hellacious summer day.
Another book I couldn’t put down was Julia Joseph’s YA Urban Fantasy novel, The Broken, the first book in a trilogy about a young girl born powerless into a family of gifted demon fighters. This is a perfect summer read, for teens and adults alike, and the sequel is supposed to drop next year so you won’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next to Rose and her friends.
Published: March 23, 2016
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Synopsis: In a wild escape to avoid becoming the sixth victim of the elusive Rocky Mountain Murderer, twenty-two-year-old Riley Dale finds herself flung into a universe parallel to her own, where Las Vegas is known for its churches, terrorist attacks are initiated by the United States, and peace can be found in the darkest corners of the globe.
As the deadly visions that have haunted her since childhood become real, Riley is confronted with the implausible story of a world split in two and the stark contrast between good and evil in people she thought she knew.
Racing deeper into the mystery of the new world, Riley discovers the explosive truth about her ancestors who have been hunted for thousands of years because of a single mistake made long ago.
And now it’s her turn to pay for that blunder.
Pursued by both the government and a clandestine sect of assassins, Riley must ally with the only people in the parallel universe willing to keep her safe—the drug-addicted, prostituting other half of her soul, and the counter soul of a man who tortured and killed five young women.
Grains of sand whipped across her face, burning her eyes. Riley took a step forward but found no relief. Oh, God, it’s happening again. The wind howled as she groped blindly ahead, trying to find something to grab onto. She glanced down and saw in horror that she was completely naked, the sand searing red marks into her soft flesh. Riley tried to cover herself but quickly realized that she needed her hands to shield her eyes.
Squinting into the tempest, she caught a glimpse of the figure she’d originally mistaken for Gabe. He was tall and muscled, with golden curls that flew in the wind like a nest of swarming yellow vipers.
The stranger stood in front of the most bizarre tree Riley had ever seen. Ghostly silver branches twisted and swirled around each other, creating an impossible maze that stretched forever into the sky and in both directions as far as she could see. The crown of the tree glittered with sterling leaves and sapphire fruits that hung still, unaffected by the violent storm.
The man took a step toward the tree, his armor creaking and moaning. A sword, forged of blinding steel that flickered with the flames of a thousand small fires, hung by his side. He clearly didn’t know she was there.
“Hello!” She ran toward the light of the blade. “Help me. I need help!” She had to go to the man. There was no one else. If he wanted her dead, she couldn’t hope to escape anyway.
The armored man turned, startled. “How did you find me?” His hand flew to the hilt of his sword, and there was a sound of scraping metal as he drew the weapon from its scabbard. “How did you find this place?”
“Please. I’m so scared. My eyes. Please.” She cradled her nude body with her arms, tucking her head low into her chest. It was humiliating to stand in front of this man, naked and begging.
“You cannot be here.” He took a step toward her, sword pointed at her hunched figure. “I would have seen this coming.”
What is he talking about? “I think I’m dreaming!” Riley shouted. “I fell asleep or passed out or something. I was in class and then here. I can’t control it. It just happens. Please, I have to get out of here. Wake me up. Do something!” She glanced up and met the piercing stare of the lone warrior. He had Gabe’s eyes. She took a step backward, away from the fiery blade pointed at her throat. “Please,” she whimpered again, shrinking further into herself.
The man continued to stare, a mixture of determination and confusion etched on his stone-like face. “I will send you back this one time, but you must forget what you have seen and never attempt to return.”
“Yes, okay, anything. Just please!”
The howling of the wind grew to a roar, and each blast of sand felt like razors tearing small pieces of flesh from her body. Riley collapsed onto the ground, writhing in pain. The man stepped closer until he stood towering over her crumpled figure. He hoisted his weapon high into the air.
He’s going to kill me!
She raised her arms to shield her head and caught a glimpse of the strange tree, still unscarred by the surrounding gale. Firelight from the sword danced off the tree’s gilded leaves. It would have been a beautiful sight under different circumstances.
“You are a danger to us all,” the man declared. “Your presence here threatens what’s left of the balance of humanity.” He plunged the sword downward, and Riley’s world went still and black.
Someone screamed. The harsh noise reverberated through her aching skull. Make it stop. It stopped. Light broke through the darkness, and fuzzy shapes moved around the perimeter of her vision. Riley felt her chest rise and fall with labored breaths. Her entire body ached and quivered as if someone had scrubbed her clean with glass shards. She struggled to sit up and felt hands gently push her to the floor.
“Miss Dale?” The voice was soft and gentle. “Can you hear me?”
Riley felt herself nod. Her vision cleared. Faceless forms suddenly had features. She was lying on her back in the History of the World Wars classroom. The voice she’d heard was her professor’s.
“Oh, thank God,” Dr. Reitz said with a sigh. “Riley, we’ve called for an ambulance. You’re going to be okay.”
She winced. “No. I—I’m fine. I just need air.”
“But you fainted. You’ve been out for a good five minutes.”
That’s all? The vision, if that’s what you called it, was coming back to her—the sand, the tree, the strange man with a sword. “Forget and never attempt to return.” It was an odd request, as she’d never meant to go there in the first place. But where was there, anyway? And who was he? This was the first time someone had spoken directly to her in a dream, and it added an entirely new level of terror.
“Please, I don’t need an ambulance. I need rest. It’s just stress from finals.” Riley looked up at Dr. Reitz, feigning confidence.
He studied her for a moment, obviously wanting to argue, but he held back. “I strongly disagree. However, the decision is yours. Please get someone to drive you home, and be ready to take your final tomorrow.” He stood and cleared his throat. “Everyone put your things away. We’re pressed for time and need to get started.”
Riley didn’t want to stick around to wait for him to change his mind. “I’ll be here tomorrow. Thank you, Dr. Reitz.”
She hurried from the room and burst through the doors of the building into open air. Rain pelted her face as she turned it skyward. Cool water soaked through her clothes within minutes, and she groped gratefully at the sodden garments. At least I have my pants.
It had been years since these dreams had haunted her. Sure, she had dreamed since then, but not like this—not the dreams where she smelled an assailant’s breath or woke up soaking wet, gasping for air. These dreams exhausted her, terrified her, even made her sick. When she was younger, she’d gone to a doctor, who excused them as night terrors triggered by anxiety. He told her she needed to find ways to “create stillness within each day” so her anxieties would not terrorize her at night.
The last nightmare had happened at fourteen. In that instance she’d found herself on an airplane plummeting from the sky, filled with doomed passengers. As the lights flickered, the cabin, reeking of urine, grew smaller with each shriek and helpless sob. Riley awoke from that dream with a black eye, singed hair, and news that a plane heading from Atlanta to Los Angeles had crashed in the desert, leaving no survivors. After that the dreams had ceased. Until now. And this time he’d known she was there.
She found a bench and sat, taking deep breaths, trying to calm down. I had a nightmare, or a daydream. It doesn’t mean anything. It can’t mean anything. It’s one thing for a plane to crash, but a man with a flaming sword and a tree made of precious gems and metals? That’s not real. It doesn’t exist. I’ve got too much going on. That’s all.
Still, something was off. A danger to the balance of humanity? What does that even mean? Her mind flashed back to the men on the cliff and the bruises on her body. Eight years ago she had dreamed of the chaos on the doomed flight, but she’d woken in her own bed with only traces of the experience on her body. This was different. She was no longer just a bystander but the protagonist of the story—a story she wanted no part of.
R. S. Dabney’s passion for reading, writing, and exploring thrilling stories about unlikely heroes conquering evil started at a young age, culminating in the completion of her first novel, The Soul Mender. Her favorite books span every genre, and she likes to describe her work as having something for everyone: a sprinkle of suspense, a dash of adventure, and a whole lot of good versus evil.
R. S. grew up running around the red rocks and ravines in the deserts of southern Utah—building forts, fighting battles, and living the lives of all the characters she and her friends created. Now she lives in a different desert with her husband and pets, and when she isn’t lost in another dimension wrecking havoc on her characters, she enjoys mountain biking, exploring the desert, and eating way too much Mexican food.
The second book in the trilogy, The Peace Keeper, is also available online. The third and final installment will release in early 2018.
Hope you were able to check out her book and Happy Reading 🙂