16 December 2007

Release Party: The Empath

Empath by Bonnie Vanak
This week we welcome one of our regular contributors, Bonnie Vanak, best known for her Egyptian historical series published through Dorchester. December marks the release of her first Silhouette Nocturne, THE EMPATH:

Nicolas was the strongest and fiercest of the Draicon, until he was banished for a trumped-up crime. Now the werewolf has only one path to redemption: find the Draicon's long-lost empath, the woman who will save the pack--and Nicolas himself--from terrible danger.

Maggie Sinclair is a veterinarian, dedicated to healing. She has no idea of her true nature, the magic waiting in her soul--or the man coming to claim her. The survival of their pack depends on them finding each other, on their ability to become one. But their enemies have also found Maggie, and will kill to stop her awakening to an all-consuming passion...
You've published five Egyptian historicals, including your last, THE SWORD & THE SHEATH, but THE EMPATH is your first paranormal. Why paranormal?

The Falcon and the Dove by Bonnie VanakActually my first book, THE FALCON & THE DOVE, was a paranormal historical. FALCON has a reincarnation element, with the heroine wondering if she's the reincarnation of Queen Kiya, Pharoah Akhetaten's minor wife. It had a much stronger paranormal element in it until my editor requested that I tone it down. Since then I've always wanted to write a straight paranormal. And THE SWORD & THE SHEATH, which tells the stories of the children from the first two Egyptian historicals, also has a paranormal element. Fatima, the heroine, is psychic.

How was writing THE EMPATH different from writing historicals?

While writing EMPATH, I shapeshifted into a wolf--Made typing on the computer a little hard with the paws, but I adapted. :)

The Scorpion and the Seducer by Bonnie VanakThe elements are the basically the same: research, structure, and world-building. In my historicals, I try to recreate the setting and history as authentically as possible. In the paranormals, I am freer to use my imagination, but I still have to have rules for the world. In a way, historicals are easier because there's plenty of available material to use for research. For example, in my next Egyptian historical, THE SCORPION & THE SEDUCER, there's a scene where Lord Thomas and Jasmine travel up the Nile by boat and visit various archaeological sites. I had lots to draw from to paint the setting. But for EMPATH, I had to imagine a world of werewolf shapeshifters and the dangers they face from their enemies. It meant delving deep into my imagination and starting from scratch.

I wanted to create a race of werewolves who emigrated from ancient Ireland. For THE EMPATH, I researched Gaelic words. Draicon, my werewolves, came from the Irish word Draiocht, which means magic. The Draicon are ancient mages who split in half to lessen their powers and came to earth to learn of its ways, shapeshifting to wolves to live as one with nature. Draicara uses the Irish word cara, which means friend. A draicara is the male's missing soulmate who possesses half his magic.

What's the most unusual element in THE EMPATH?

I'd have to say it was the shapeshifting Morphs. I wanted to create these uber-nasty creatures who originated from the Draicon race. The Morphs in the Old Language are called the Fedoighlas. The word is a combination of the Irish words feoigh, which means decay, and olcas, which means evil. The Morphs, former werewolves who turned evil to gain power, shapeshift into bears, ants, bees, wolves, an alligator with razor-sharp teeth--even a fire-breathing dragon. Morphs need energy from dying victims, feeding off their terror to gain power. My hero and heroine must work together and learn to trust in each other and their powers to defeat them.

In one scene, army ants crawl over Nicolas and begin eating him alive. This was the kind of scene enabled me to add a horror element I've never had in the historicals. I wondered what would happen if animals and insects had intelligence and could clone themselves into a lethal force to fight humans. Pretty scary!

What challenges did you experience in writing THE EMPATH that you hadn't expected at the outset?

Finding the hero's inner secret. I always like giving my heroes a vulnerability and it was hard to imagine for Nicolas, a warrior werewolf who's courageous and strong and possesses powerful magic. When I finally nailed it, it was like a light bulb. Whoa, that's cool, I thought and proceeded to weave it into the story line. I try to have a little surprise at the ending of my stories, a small twist and I think I succeeded with EMPATH. The surprise endings stem from my love of O. Henry stories. I have a collection of antique O. Henry books I cherish. He's one of my favorite writers.

How did you conceive the idea for THE EMPATH?

Sad story. It evolved after my dog, Tia, was diagnosed with liver cancer. I was heartbroken. She was a wonderful friend, always resting her head on my laptop as I was writing, a very loyal, devoted dog.

I started writing this story about a woman trying to find a cure for her dying dog. It evolved into Maggie, a veterinarian who's unaware that she's a werewolf, and the pack's long-lost empath who can heal injury and disease. Nicolas, the hero, has to convince her of her true origins and teach her to accept her destiny as a werewolf and the pack's empath. As they race to cure the pack's leader of the disease that is slowly killing him, they're constantly attacked by the Morphs. The Morphs shift into various animal and insect forms to strike at them. Of course all ends well--it's a romance. Tia died a year ago this month, but I know she lives on in the pages of the book. I dedicated EMPATH to her.

What's next for you? Another historical? Another Nocturne?

Next up is THE SCORPION & THE SEDUCER, my sixth Egyptian historical from Dorchester. It's a May 2008 release. I just turned in my second Nocturne, tentatively titled ENEMY LOVER. It's Damian's story from THE EMPATH and is set in New Orleans. No release date yet.

What advice can you give for historical authors looking to expand into another genre?

The Tiger and the Tomb by Bonnie VanakGo for it. Research the genre as much as you can first. Pick a genre you like to read and remember what you enjoy and apply it. Don't be afraid to test your wings. You might find that you'll really stretch the boundaries of your imagination, and learn and grow as an author. That's my goal. I'm always striving to become a better writer with each successive book. And hopefully I achieve that goal!


Thanks so much, Bonnie! And as with most of our release parties, Bonnie is offering a copy of one of her books, THE TIGER & THE TOMB, for one of our lucky readers. Just leave a comment, ask a questions, etc. We'll draw a name and announce the winner next Sunday. Best of luck!