I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Steven Healt wrote Along the Perimeter, a book I quite enjoyed early in the contest. Check out my review.
Steven Healt Interview
How did you get into speculative fiction?
My interest in speculative fiction started with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I watched Empire Strikes Back countless times as a kid, especially the Hoth scenes. I saw the Lord of the Rings in the theater and read the Hobbit in middle school. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time was the thing that made me take my writing seriously and then eventually begin down the path of self-publishing.
Star Wars definitely started my own journey for science fiction, too! The first time I saw any of it was walking in on Return of the Jedi partway through at my uncle’s house, and seeing Jabba’s palace with Boba Fett. I was obsessed. It’s interesting you mention Wheel of Time. I thought your first book, “Along the Perimeter” has that kind of epic feel of “Eye of the World”–a lived-in universe with secrets all over.
“Along the Perimeter” has a kind of sneakily science fantasy feel to it. The world feels like this big epic fantasy world, but it’s almost all contained within the Perimeter, other than those who live out in the Haze. How did you come up with your worldbuilding ideas?
The foundational idea for the Amboy Series came to me while I was driving back to college after visiting my parents. There’s dozens of small, single stop light sort of towns along the way and one time I was thinking what if the area that this town took up was the only habitable place on the planet? From there I started asking the why’s, how’s and who’s of it all.
I love how small towns were the inspiration for what reads as a pretty expansive world! What made you decide to integrate that with science fiction elements like aliens and give it a fantasy feel?
The combination of aliens and fantasy actually came from pieces of another story idea I had floating around in my head. It was about this village who had to give natural resources as offerings to a shrine, which turns out to be a delivery system that provides for an advanced civilization that had used up all of their homeworld’s resources.
I took that idea of the power dynamic of a group of defied individuals ruling over a larger population, and combined it with the idea of the small habitable zone surrounded by a hostile environment. That’s how many of my stories come about: I have a few pieces of something floating around in my mind and eventually they coalesce into something greater.
The Amboy series is at 2 books currently, with a third on the way. How many books do you have planned in the series, and when can readers expect the next? Do you have any other projects planned?
I’ve actually just locked in time with my editor to look over the manuscript for the third installment of the series. I haven’t settled on a firm date yet, but I’m expecting to release book three later this year. I’ve got three more books outlined and unless I get carried away I see the series wrapping up with book six.
As for future projects, I’ve been working on a fantasy series for about a year or so. I’ll be focusing on once I’ve finished the Amboy Series. I’m really looking forward to getting that out to readers.
I know I am looking forward to book three! For our readers, where can you be found/what links do you want to share/etc.?
I’m working on finalizing an author website where readers will be able to stay up to date with my works in progress and book related things. For the time being you can follow me on my Instagram page, I post fairly often about writing and what I’ve been up to in general. I can also be found on Twitter.
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Specifically, I’ll have interviews from my team’s semifinalists. Without further adieu, to the interview!
First off, tell us a bit about your background. What got you into science fiction?
It’s a combination of my own interests and my parents during my childhood. My parents used to read to me as a kid, so I grew up with a love of books. I read things on my own and then as a family, we were definitely into science fiction movies and TV shows. There are the standard things we watched as kids like the DC Animated Universe written and/or directed by Bruce Timm (i.e. Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Static Shock), and then the Marvel animated shows like the 90s Spider-Man and X-Men, and then things like Transformers: Beast Wars and pretty much anything on WB Kids or Toonami at the time.
I also loved anime as a kid and into my teens, so pretty much most of the 2000s Toonami anime lineup, I grew up watching every day. I am a huge Batman fan, first and foremost. I’ve met Kevin Conroy and gotten a photo op and autograph from him and I have the Bat signal tattooed on my right shoulder in his honor. All those different things are what got me into science fiction and I still enjoy it very much to this very day.
It’s incredible to see how you got into science fiction and how much of that journey we share. Batman: The Animated Series is one of my all-time favorites, and I recently bought the whole series to re-watch it all. Toonami was my jam and got me into anime and certainly some flavors of sci-fi I didn’t know existed. Thanks for that trip down memory lane!
Your work includes a lot of diverse main characters, both protagonists and antagonists, like Dr. Kamala Anjali, Kazuma Okegawa, Yagami Sugimoto, and Misaki Fujioka. Is their inclusion in the story related to being a BIPOC (Black Indigenous Person of Color) in the science fiction genre?
Yes, certainly. One of the first things I did before I even decided to write Of Cinder and Bone was survey the science fiction landscape. One thing that I think is distinctly lacking in American science fiction is people of color as the main leads instead of simply rounding out a mostly white cast cast or being the Token Minority. And those times you do have POC, it’s often only black characters in anything mainstream, and they’re often still in the minority (no pun intended) in the stories. I noted that Indian and Middle Eastern characters in particular don’t show up that much in American mainstream science fiction, so that motivated me very much with Dr. Kamala Anjali. I feel extremely passionate about writing her because the American lens of India and Pakistan (Kamala is biracial) is extremely skewed and I thought she would be an excellent main character. I also took great care to make sure Kamala was also not just The Love Interest. She is her own person with her own agency and her own important to both Jack and the story.
As for the Japanese characters, I noticed that from an American perspective, Japanese characters really only ever show up in American mainstream fiction in the context of martial arts films and sometimes in crime dramas. While it’s true I did lean a bit into the yakuza stereotypes for Kazuma Okegawa, overall, I wanted to dive into the richness of what Japan has to offer by setting half of the book in Tokyo and its surrounding areas. I especially find the Japanese language absolutely fascinating. It’s one of my favorite languages, hence why my pen name is Japanese, and I featured it heavily in the book to give it some more exposure in the science fiction genre, but in a way I hope is organic.
The end goal of having Kamala and the others as main leads is to avert some common stereotypes about people from those cultures and backgrounds and to show the world from another perspective.
I think that one of the biggest strengths of Of Cinder and Bone is its characters, and it’s wonderful to see your inspiration for them. What inspired you to write the book itself, and how did you think about the background for dragons?
Thank you! Famously, I’ve said in interviews before that the two biggest inspirations for the Of Cinder and Bone series are film-based: Jurassic Park (1993) and Reign of Fire (2002).
I’m sure the inspiration from the classic, amazing Jurassic Park is pretty apparent. I have seen that film so many times not only for the action-horror elements, incredible practical effects, and all around incredible atmosphere, but what I found over the years that I really liked was the conversations that they have about Man vs. Nature and Man vs. God. The lunch scene in particular is one of my favorite exchanges in the movie, even with there being more awesome, iconic moments in the rest of the film. I liked the argument that just because you have the ability to create life from something selected by nature to be eliminated doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it. Especially not for the sake of profit. I love the theme being discussed so well by the characters. I decided to play with that idea in another sense–exploring what happens if we instead tried to create life for an extinct creature that was unfairly hunted to extinction, not chosen by nature not to continue. As always, though, greed and disregard for life took over and there were horrible consequences, but the series also explores that there were some good things that come of Jack and Kamala’s resurrection project as well.
The other inspiration is from a rather ridiculous, over the top, largely forgotten movie called Reign of Fire. Few people remember it, but it always stuck out to me even 20 years ago as being one of the only times a Hollywood film explored dragons in the context of actual science fiction and not fantasy. We all know famous fantasy dragons like Draco from Dragonheart or Smaug from The Hobbit movies, but Reign of Fire took an actual scientific approach to their dragons and I was intrigued by the idea of what it would be like to have these enormous invasive species walking around in modern times. At first, I had planned to do a post-apocalyptic story like the one in Reign of Fire, but as I began writing the first book, I realized I actually didn’t want to do it. In Reign of Fire, the dragons are essentially monsters. They do not coexist with any other species on the planet, not even their own, as we see them later cannibalizing one another when food begins to run out after they scorched the Earth. The conversation I wanted to have in my series is summed up by a line from Jack later in the first book: “Just because something’s dangerous doesn’t mean it has no place in the world.” And so I scrapped the idea for a dragon apocalypse and wanted to write about the idea that dragons were indeed invasive, but not necessarily evil or deserving of being hunted to extinction. I thought approaching it from a conservationist angle would be a cool idea to explore.
As for the background of the dragons themselves, oh boy. I did a mountain of research before I began the first draft and I’ve done several more mountains of research as the books continue. Hell, just for the fifth book coming out April 22nd, the research document is a whopping eighteen pages long. Single spaced. The dragons in the books are all put within the context of reptiles, so I studied alligators, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, komodo dragons, chameleons, you name it. For the later books (mild spoiler alert), feathered dragons with more avian traits are introduced, so then I had to do research for birds of prey. I studied to see the different physical traits they’d have if they were real, the types of foods they’d eat, their mating habits, and then I added in some environmental science to study the most likely place each type of dragon would inhabit. That’s how some of the dragons ended up with endemic names like the Nordic sea serpent or the Japanese viper dragon. It is a lot of hard work, but I honestly love it. I’ve learned so many cool things about reptiles and birds of prey and I truly hope it comes through in the books. Especially with Of Claws and Inferno. My sister-in-law, who reads the advanced copies before my books come out, joked that this book is the most National Geographic of the series. I really went hardcore on the animal and environmental science with this book, trust me.
You can definitely see all the research and inspirations you cite throughout the first book. At this point, I’m sure readers are eager to sink their teeth into it! How many books do you have planned for the Of Cinder & Bone series, and do you have an end in mind? And, for our readers, what are the best ways to follow you and find out about your works?
It’s very unlike me, but I actually don’t know when the series is going to end? Of Claws and Inferno ends in a sort of open-ended way for that very same reason. I have a three book deal with Falstaff Books with the first book tentatively scheduled for February 2023, so I know I’ll be working on those until 2025. With my debut urban fantasy series, I knew for certain it would be a trilogy and then the short story anthology and the novella were added on later as bonus content. I’m going to take some time as I write the new science fiction novels for Falstaff Books to decide if the series will end with Of Claws and Inferno or if it will continue. My early hunch is that it will continue, but it might be after a time jump of a substantial amount. The first two books in the series occur back to back, but then Books 3-5 take place close to a year apart each. If I write another one, I think it would be with a larger time skip of multiple years to catch up with the gang to see what’s changed, but we’ll see. All I can say is stay tuned for now. Once I figure it out, I’ll definitely be forthcoming about my plans.
-The Black Parade series: The Black Parade is my debut urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel. It tells the tale of Jordan Amador–a cranky waitress with a drinking problem who lives in Albany, New York–who happens to be a Seer, or someone who can see and hear ghosts, angels, and demons. She accidentally killed a Seer and has to help 100 souls crossover into the afterlife in two years or she’s going to Hell. Her hundredth soul comes in the form of a handsome but annoying poltergeist named Michael. His peculiar ability to touch things and interact with his environment tips her off that there’s something special about him, and as she starts solving his case, she stumbles across a much bigger plot by the archdemon, Belial, to take over the free will of innocent people.
There are five books in that series: The Black Parade, The Deadly Seven: Stories from the Black Parade series, She Who Fights Monsters, Back to Black, and The Holy Dark. All of them can be found here and on all other sales platforms as well. The first book has been positively reviewed by Publishers Weekly and by New York Times and USA Today bestselling urban fantasy author, Ilona Andrews. It is also permanently free to download on all sales channels.
-Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda anthology: This is a 2021 release by Marvel Comics and Titans Books featuring yours truly and 17 other incredibly talented black and African/African-American authors writing about the world of Wakanda. My story is called “Ukubamba” and it’s about Okoye searching for a kidnapped girl. Go here to get a copy in ebook or hardcover: https://titanbooks.com/70432-black-panther-tales-of-wakanda/
-Terminus and Terminus II anthologies: There are both anthologies with science fiction and fantasy stories based in Atlanta, Georgia published by MV Media LLC. My stories are “My Dinner with Vlad” and “Hunted,” both about a werewolf named Cassandra Moody, who is the original Wolfman’s daughter. In the first story, she’s taking Dracula, known to her simply as Vlad, out into Midtown Atlanta for a night on the town and they both run headlong into trouble. The second story, “Hunted,” is Cassandra about five years later out for a midnight stroll through the woods and she realizes she’s being stalked. Grab copies here: https://www.mvmediaatl.com/all-products