Thursday, September 20, 2012

Interview with Heather Leighton Dickson author of Tails from the Upper Kingdom

Thanks for stopping by the blog to let us know about you and your work Heather, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for taking the time to interview me. I’m excited to be talking about my books – they’re doing very well on Kindle. It’s an exciting time to be an Indie author, isn’t it? Full of promise and potential. I’m a zoologist by training, actually. I specialized in the carnivores – wolves, big cats, predatory birds, etc, so I suppose it’s no accident that Tails from the Upper Kingdom are heavy with zoological speculation. I am married, have three kids, three dogs, two cats and a horse, and live in Northwestern Ontario, Canada.

Has being a zoologist had an impact on your writing?

Oh yes, I think zoology plays a huge role in my books. I understand animals, how they think, what motivates them (usually food, shelter, mates, etc). I have always been the neighbourhood ‘animal whisperer’, even to the point of having wild foxes eat from my hand. The cats of ‘Tiger’ and ‘Lion’ are people, but still cats, and I tried to bring into their characters aspects of their species. For example, tigers do love water, so it’s natural that Fallon would as well. Snow Leopards are extremely solitary, so that is core to Ursa’s character. In ‘Lion’, when we meet the Dogs of the Lower Kingdom, I tried to give them different characteristics than the Cats of the Upper Kingdom and tried to blend early Mongolian society with life in a wolf pack. Also, the horses in the books are predators. They have evolved to be essentially omnivores, and while they can survive on grass and hay, the way a cat can survive on vegetables, it is really the meat that they crave. I enjoyed describing how a herd of horses might hunt down and kill a gazelle like a pride of lions, a wolf pack or a vorely of velociraptors. (Also, in the Steampunk book I have written, the Mad Lord has six dogs and breeds Dutch Warmblood horses! I’m never too far from animals in my life!)

What is your favorite mythozoological creature? 

Ooh, that’s a good question. Since I am a rider, I would have to say a Pegasus. I loved the Pegasus from the new Clash of the Titans (the only thing good about that movie!) It was a black Friesian, totally reversing the notion that all Pegasi must be white! I love Hippogryphs as well. Since I worked with predatory birds, I love the combination of horse and eagle/falcon. (Although I have been to Loch Ness and you can’t help but look for Nessie! I think she must be everyone’s fave!)

I understand that you have a series called Tails from the Upper Kingdom available right now on Amazon, what is that about?

Tails from the Upper Kingdom is a fantasy series based on a sci-fi premise – that the fall of human society is not necessarily so bad for the fate of the planet. It’s a bit like the concept behind Planet of the Apes – genetic engineering not going wrong, but actually taking off, with human/cat hybrids becoming one of the dominant civilizations on the planet. It is a very Asian-based culture, weaving Dynastic China, Feudal Japan and Ancient India together for a fascinating and complex blend, which was a ball to write. The rules, regulations, castes etc of the society, and the Empire itself, are almost characters and they serve to take the story from ‘outside threat’ to ‘inner turmoil’. It is the story of six characters that must travel to the edges of their Empire, and then, go Beyond and for people from such a society, that is a very scary thing.

Do you have any other work coming out soon and when can we expect it?

As I mentioned earlier, I have a Steampunk mystery called Cold Stone and Ivy that is being agented right now. Steampunk is another genre that has always been close to my heart, as I grew up reading Verne, Wells, Doyle, etc. I’m a Science geek but in love with all things Victorian, and actually have dozens of clocks and large gears in my house! It’s a natural fit.

How many books are you planning on in the Tails from the Upper Kingdom series?

I have two other books planned for the Upper Kingdom Series, both prequels, with characters, plot and storyline all worked out. I have also been kicking around the idea of following up with the original characters from “Tiger” and “Lion”, as the ending leaves HUGE room to continue!

Are there any authors that have inspired you to write anthropomorphic characters?

Funny you should ask! I’m going to be dating myself with the answer to this, but as I said, I have always been a Science geek, even as a little girl, and a huge fan of Star Trek. When they aired the animated series (yes, first run. Sigh…) they had an episode written by Larry Niven called the Slaver Weapon and it featured cat people. I was young, and it stuck, so when I was a teen and reading Niven’s Known Space series, I realized that the cats in that Star Trek episode were base on Niven’s Kzinti! So I suppose, deep down in my subconscious, I owe my Upper Kingdom to Larry Niven! Also, on another note, I don’t think I’ve ever read really well-written anthropomorphic characters: at least, not ones that actively functioned as their species would dictate (for example, I’ve yet to read or see a convincing werewolf!) so I think it was something I really wanted to do right.

Do you have any advice for other people looking to publish independently?

I think Independent Publishing is a bold move. Sure, it may be ‘easy’ compared to traditional publishing, but this is a free market. The good stuff will rise to the top, the bad stuff with languish. It’s like movies, right? It’s taken decades for Sundance and the Toronto Film Festival to be the new Cannes. Soon, Kindle will be giving the traditional publishing houses a run for their money. My Steampunk book is making the rounds of agents right now, but I know it will go crazy on Kindle so I’m really debating on putting it up on Kindle to see what happens. My advice? Read lots, write well and honestly, pay an editor. They are your best friends!

Well thanks for taking the time to stop by and share some things about yourself Heather. I'm looking forward to reading your books soon.

Thanks Scott! I hope I answered the questions! I look forward to seeing what you do with this!

Be sure to check out Heather's two books To Journey in the Year of the Tiger and To Walk in the Way of Lions


  1. Awesome interview! Sounds like a very cool person to talk to! And the books look pretty interesting too. Thanks for introducing me to both! :)

    Konstanz Silverbow

  2. Yeah the zoology aspect really adds a cool element to the stories. I have purchased the first book and am looking forward to it myself. I'm working with Heather right now for a potential giveaway on some paperback copies as well so keep an eye out.

  3. Hey Scott and Indie Book Gang, Just wanted to let you know that "To Walk in the Way of Lions" will be available on a Kindle Free Promotion this weekend (October 5 - 6) so if people need to finish the story, now's the time! Here's the link and don't forget to Review! Cheers All! Heather