Debbie Cowens is a writer and English teacher who lives on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand with her husband and son. She writes mostly crime, horror and other speculative fiction. In 2012 she co-authored the collection of adapted Katherine Mansfield stories, Mansfield with Monsters (published by Steam Press), which won the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best Collected Work and was listed in the Listener's best books of 2012. She also won the 2012 SJV award for Best New Talent. Her short stories have been published in a number of anthologies and magazines, and her short story Caterpillars (published in the Baby Teeth anthology) won the 2014 Australian Horror Writers Association Shadow Award for Best Short Story.
Her novel Murders and Matching is to be published by Paper Road Press in 2015. She is currently working on a horror fantasy-adventure novel for children, The Land beneath the Shadows, and eating too many gingerbread cookies.
Mansfield with Monsters - available from Steam Press (http://www.steampress.co.nz/
At the bay of Cthulhu - a Lovecraftian adaptation of Katherine Mansfield's novella http://www.amazon.com/At-Bay-
Steam Pressed Shorts - an anthology of short stories by Debbie and Matt Cowens http://www.amazon.com/Steam-
Baby Teeth - a horror anthology http://paperroadpress.co.nz/
Information about the upcoming Murders and Matchmaking - to be published by Paper Road Press http://paperroadpress.co.nz/
Debbie Cowens blog: http://debbiecowens.blogspot.
Facebook: Debbie Cowens
Sneak-peek into a book by Debbie Cowens
Guest post by Debbie Cowens
• How does a typical book get written in your world - what do you start with?
Every story is different for me. Sometimes I’ll have a just a small seed of an idea and it’ll just lurk in the back of my mind for days or weeks, slowly germinating and growing into a proper storyline with characters and plotlines. Other times the idea is close to fully formed as soon as I think of it. A lot of times novels come out of short story ideas that expanded and became more complex than I anticipated. I usually don’t write up a complete plot summary before I get started; I just know where to start and where it’s going to end up but the middle is a bit of a mystery.
A few years ago I did Nanowrimo and for that I made a detailed plot outline for every chapter in advance but I didn’t find it made writing any easier and it didn’t really suit my style. I enjoy pondering plot issues and toying with how characters might react depending on how things go in my non-writing hours of the days. I like it when my characters do things I haven’t anticipated and create curly problems for me; trying to untangle those surprising encounters or plot twists is a lot of fun, sort of like solving a cryptic crossword only you can do when you’re unloading the dishwasher, taking a shower or going for a run.
• How would you compare the protagonists of your books with yourself?
I’m rather dull and boring in comparison to any book character. Generally my protagonists are much more assertive than me and are far more likely to get involved in mysteries, adventures or conflict. I’m non-confrontation and try to avoid anything that might involve danger, awkward social situations, spiders or heavy-lifting. Little bits and pieces of my own experiences will end up in things that I write and some of my characters have been loosely inspired by people I know.
• How would you typically choose the names of your characters?
It’s different every time. Sometimes characters spring into existence with their names and personalities already formed. Other times I’ve spend a long time deliberating over what name to give a certain character. It can be tough. It’s easier to know that’s a name is wrong and doesn’t fit a character than it is to put your finger on the right one.
With Murders and Matchmaking the characters are all inspired from Jane Austen works and Sherlock Holmes stories so the genesis of the names like Mr Sherlock Darcy are rather obvious.
• What's that one Classic work that you wish had been written by you?
Frankenstein, Bleak House, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Jane Eyre… so many to choose from!
I suppose Pride and Prejudice does stand out for me as it’s probably the classic I’ve re-read the most times and I think the characterisation in it is perfection. Elizabeth Bennet has to be my favourite heroine – she’s smart, witty, kind, active, observant, and yet still flawed and makes mistakes. The unpleasant characters like the nasty, snobbish Caroline Bingley and the superior control-freak Lady Catherine de Bourgh are both thoroughly believable and yet humorously awful in the terrible things they say. I don’t think I’ve read a character has me more cringe more than Mr Collins and his proposal to Elizabeth is hideous.
The other classic I would have loved to have written is The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde, although it’s more a novella than novel. I love Oscar Wilde’s writing; the beauty of his use of language and his clever humour. The set-up of this story is perfect to show off his talents – the gothic macabre meets satirical wit. Canterville Chase is a haunted country house in England is bought by a wealthy American family and the traditional ghost Sir Simon de Canterville has to contend with their modern ways. I really like how Wilde expresses the ghost’s perspective:
With the enthusiastic egotism of the true artist he went over his most celebrated performances, and smiled bitterly to himself as he recalled to mind his last appearance as Red Reuben, or the Strangled Babe, his début as Gaunt Gibeon, the Blood-sucker of Bexley Moor, and the furore he had excited one lovely June evening by merely playing ninepins with his own bones upon the lawn-tennis ground. And after all this, some wretched modern Americans were to come and offer him the Rising Sun Lubricator, and throw pillows at his head! It was quite unbearable. Besides, no ghost in history had ever been treated in this manner. Accordingly, he determined to have vengeance, and remained till daylight in an attitude of deep thought.
One of things I love about the story is how much I ended up sympathising with the ghost despite him being a murderer hell-bent on terrorising people who is also rather pompous. The ending of the story is actually quite sweet and moving.
• How would you deal with reviews?
There are so many great books and stories around that anyone choosing to read your book and taking the time to review is paying you a huge compliment in that alone. Getting a good review is certainly something to celebrate with much glee and merriment. I wish I could say I was the type of person who wouldn’t mind getting a bad review but I tend to get a little wounded by criticism. I think as a writer you just have to write the stories you want to read and hope that there’s other readers out there who will like it too and focus on the people who say they enjoy your writing more than those who don’t. Having said that, I can see that maybe a slightly negative review might offer some insights into what to do better next time which is valuable information for the writer – once they’ve recovered from their weeping and bitter objections.
• What's your favourite writing location?
I write in the dining room on the table – not during meals usually. I wouldn’t trust myself not to spill my food on my laptop. I usually write first thing in the morning before my son gets up so it’s a nice quiet space at the far end of the house from the bedrooms. It also gets the morning light so it’s a nice to be there at that time of day.
• What awesome books and projects are you working in at the moment?
I’m currently finishing the final edits of Murders and Matchmaking which will be published in 2015 and then I will spend the Christmas holidays working on finishing a kids book The Land beneath the Shadows which is a sort of horror/fantasy adventure novel about a young girl whose little sister gets kidnapped by a closet monster on Christmas Eve and she has to venture into the Shadow world to rescue her sister. I also have a few short stories ideas swirling around at the moment so I’m hoping to get a chance to write those as well.