The books shown on the left are by E. Detorres. Click on the cover to order.
This interview was conducted by Dianne Woodman on
Dianne Woodman: How did you come up with the idea for Araya?
March 9, 2021.
E. Detorres: The idea for Araya came from my experience teaching children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other additional needs. I found these unique people profoundly fascinating, and I have often wondered how they perceived the world. During my time as an ASD specialist teacher, I learned that people with communication and social interaction disorders may experience anxiety more acutely than other people. This was influential because when I created Hell's Heart, the forest where most of the action takes place in, the characters experience tremendous amounts of anxiety in the perilous and brutal environment. The strategies the characters use to combat their anxiety are actual techniques that we use in teaching to centre our children so that they can access learning. In addition, before writing Araya and becoming an ASD specialist teacher, I wrote a short story called Gundogs which is also set in Hell's Heart. Gundogs is about a boy surviving the madness spilling from the trees and taking revenge on a Glutton that killed his friends. In the short story, Hell's Heart was already a tumultuous environment which I created to reflect the low point in my life that I was experiencing at the time, and my apparent madness because I felt lost and without an idea of how to emancipate myself from my emotions. Essentially, I had to fight my way out of the emotions I was feeling. Therefore, I created Hell's Heart in Gundogs to reflect the emotions that I was experiencing and my determination to get out of my personal hell. Years after I created the setting of Hell's Heart and became an ASD specialist teacher, I found that I could relate to how children with autism perceived the world with their heightened sense of anxiety and thought that in those moments when my children were emotionally dysregulated, they were experiencing their own Hell's Heart, where every turn took them deeper into the trees and the voice of the maddening lullabies grew stronger. After leaving my Special Educational Needs (SEN) school, I worked in a mainstream primary school and dearly missed the children that I used to teach; I decided to write a story about my experiences in the specialist environment and turn Gundogs into a full-length novel. And that novel is Araya.
Dianne Woodman: Why are the hunters of Gluttons called Gundogs?
E. Detorres: I was reading a book, I believe it might have been Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, and I came across the word gundog. I looked the word up in a dictionary and learned that gundogs were hounds that hunters sent in to finish off or fetch their prey after they have shot them. This inspired the Gundog characters that delved into Hell's Heart to hunt Gluttons, and that was when I wrote Gundogs the short story, which later became Araya. In Araya, I explain that before Gundogs took a more active approach to hunt Gluttons, the creatures had been shot out of the sky by artillery cannons and human hunters--Gundogs--were dispatched to shred Glutton armour.
Dianne Woodman: How did you decide on the kind of creatures that would inhabit Hell's Heart? How did you come up with their names, and did you draw pictures of them to reference when writing the book?
E. Detorres: There are many creatures in Hell's Heart, but the main predators--Gluttons--were named so because I wanted the reader to envision them as creatures that would not stop until they have satisfied their hunger. However, Gluttons do not only hunt for nourishment because they enjoy the sport of hunting and testing their skills against other predators. Gluttons are depicted as inexorable beasts that will hunt you down no matter the cost. They are Gluttons and they will not stop even when their stomachs are glut with flesh.
Dianne Woodman: Araya includes stories about village women going into the Black Forest to copulate with the Gluttons. Did the women make it out of the forest alive, and, if so, are any of the non-Glutton creatures a result of this copulation?
E. Detorres: None of the women made it out alive. I included the folktale in the story to further elaborate the darkness of Hell's Heart and if an individual does not possess the techniques required to fight the madness of the forest, then they will perish. The folktale emphasises not only the horror of Hell's Heart, but it also accentuates the strength of the characters that venture into the forest to earn their living.
Dianne Woodman: The ingenious way the trees can invade a person's mind is very creative as are the techniques people use in the fight to stay sane. What was the reasoning behind imbuing the trees with music and lyrics to overwhelm people's minds, and how did you decide on the ways people fought to regain control over their thoughts?
E. Detorres: I have always been fascinated when I see people enrapt in their passions, like a musician or method actor. I love watching people losing themselves in music and expressing themselves in dance. Now, I am by no means a good dancer, but I love the experience of hearing a song that sends my imagination into overdrive and takes me to a place that doesn't exist anywhere else save my mind. It would be accurate to say that I wrote the whole of Araya listening to Orion by Metallica which is one of my favourite songs. I love the rhythm of the drums that brutally pound and then the blissful pause when the drums cease, and the guitars create dreamlike melodies. Orion is the soundtrack of Araya and people familiar with the song will be able to appreciate the influence it has had on the story. The Song of the forest is constantly likened to a beating drum and when the characters hear it, they slowly lose themselves to The Song. Regarding how I decided how people fought to regain control over their thoughts, I used my training as an ASD specialist teacher, as well as my training as a Mental Health First Aider, and my knowledge from completing my Master's in Psychology. In the story, the characters allocate all their attention to a limited stimulus field in which they block out all stimuli that is external to the activity they are completing; this is a phenomenon that is known as Flow Experience, and I explored this in my psychology thesis, which was titled 'Flow in Teaching,' and investigated the mental and emotional well-being of teachers. My thesis was awarded a distinction and it discusses how focusing our attention and applying our skills to overcome challenges can provide an individual with happiness. The characters in Araya use their understanding of Flow to combat The Song of the forest and regain control of their minds. They are blocking out the external world and allowing only certain aspects of their environment to enter their consciousness, and that is how they can overcome the lullabies of Hell's Heart.
Dianne Woodman: Of the different techniques that people could utilize to help reduce the deleterious effects on their minds, what is the correlation between self-inflected pain and negative emotions?
E. Detorres: One of the hardest aspects of working with children with complex needs was witnessing them self-harm. It is something that I will never get used to and it will always frighten me whenever I recall those moments. I won't go into details of what I have witnessed, but I have always felt sad whenever I have had to deal with such a situation. In brief, people can experience high levels of anxiety due to their lack of perceived control. The more control an individual has over their environment or activity, the less anxious they feel. Self-harm could be due to the individual falling so deep into their anxiety that they use the pain caused by self-harm to recentre themselves and ground themselves in reality. This is because when individuals experience anxiety so profoundly, they get lost in their thoughts and the pain they inflict on themselves can draw them out of their minds, like a bucket of ice water hurled over their heads. I believe understanding mental health is incredibly important for society, and that many people are afraid of talking about the subject, let alone taking the necessary steps to support themselves in obtaining positive mental health. In my current role at my school as Assistant Headteacher and Inclusion Manager, I support children with their mental and emotional well-being as well as supporting teachers in raising awareness of mental health and helping children develop strategies to lean into and manage unpleasant emotions. Too many times have I seen people make poor decisions because they were emotionally compromised and then could not separate themselves from the behaviour which could later be internalized and lead the individual to believe that they are a bad person due to a bad decision.
Dianne Woodman: Why did you make the asset intellectually gifted but socially handicapped to an extreme degree?
E. Detorres: I studied Creative Writing with English Literature at the University of Roehampton, and during one of the modules we had to write stories based on real life events. Therefore, I decided to 'write about what I know' and because I have had the pleasure of working with unique individuals with skills that have and will always amaze me, I decided to write about working in special educational needs. During my teaching career, I have facilitated learning for children and those moments are among my happiest memories, and I have also experienced situations that have profoundly negatively impacted my emotions. Araya is my love song to the teaching profession and a celebration of my victories when helping children access learning. I believe that a disability does not have to be a disadvantage, and there have been many times when I have envied my pupils with additional needs. In many ways, we could see them trapped in their minds, but when I see them play, smile, and laugh when rain falls on their faces--it reminds me of how precious life and our time in this world is. Working with children that have complex needs helps me to put my problems in perspective. If I can be of service to push my pupils closer to independence or facilitate their laughter, then I will do it, and do it again, and do it until I can do it no longer. Moreover, I have worked with children with communication and learning difficulties, but I have seen them do incredible things, like memorise bus routes after glancing at a timetable, and complete puzzles in minutes where it would take me hours. We all have a role to play in society, and like Henry Thoreau stated: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." We are all useful and we all should be valued.
Dianne Woodman: Why did you choose to write a story that intermixes special needs children, an evil forest, loathsome creatures, and psychologically assaulted adults?
E. Detorres: Studies have shown that children with additional needs are more likely to experience mental health issues. There is a range of factors that contribute to this, such as difficulties in communication which impedes their ability to express themselves and request support, as well as challenges in socialising and making friends which could negatively impact their self-esteem and make them more vulnerable to mental health disorders. In Araya, it would be fair to state that Hell's Heart represents the extreme levels of anxiety people can experience. Therefore, I used a fantasy setting to explore anxiety and the strategies we could use to reduce anxiety. Araya provided me with the chance to explore my experiences and tell my story of working with children with complex needs. I have often been told by people that have read Araya that despite it being a speculative fiction novel, it reads more like a psychological thriller and that perhaps 'psychological thriller' would be a more accurate genre to place it. However, after the reader completes the first few pages of Araya, they will be fully aware that this is a fantasy novel. And writing in the fantasy genre has allowed me to talk about subjects that are sensitive and very close to my heart.
Dianne Woodman: Why were MACHINE and Spectre Alliance at war with each other?
E. Detorres: In the original drafts of Araya, I went into the backstory of the war, however, upon reflection I realised that this information would be surplus to the main story and might even distract the reader from the plot. In the end, I decided to cut it out from the final draft because all the reader needed to know was that there was a war going on and that the military needs Glutton armour to protect their war machines. The ecosystem I created in Araya was designed around Glutton armour being a precious commodity and the only people that could retrieve it were Gundogs, and that is why they risk their sanity and lives when they venture into Hell's Heart. Furthermore, I believe that our emotions, like life, comes in seasons. Therefore, we will experience a whole range of powerful emotions while we scrape an existence on earth. We must learn how to endure the winters because there is no escaping them. I believe that we must learn the skills to overcome the unforgiving winters so that we can further develop our character and more effectively serve our loved ones and community.
Dianne Woodman: Are you going to write a sequel to Araya and, if so, can you shed any light on the storyline?
E. Detorres: I am writing a follow-up book to Araya, but it is not quite a sequel. It is set in the same universe, but it does not take place in Hell's Heart and none of the main protagonists return. My second novel is called Castle Immolation which is a fortress that is mentioned in Araya and those that have read my debut novel will already know the significance of the place. In Castle Immolation, I expand the Gundogs universe and answer questions that arise in Araya, including why the two warring factions are at each other's throats and what it means to be a RAIN soldier. A lot of my readers have asked me about my new novel, and I have replied that if they liked Araya then they're going to love this next journey into the universe. I have taken everything that I have learned from publishing my debut novel and applied it to this new project. In Araya, the characters are complex and compelling. In Castle Immolation, the characters are just as complex, but they have more confidence in expressing the dark parts of their souls. If Araya is my love song to the teaching profession told from the perspective of a teacher, then Castle Immolation is a child wandering into the haunting light of the world and experiencing the beauty and brutality of life. Araya was born from cannibalising different short stories that I wrote as an adult and I combined them with my experiences as a teacher. It is the reason why Araya has such palpable themes that drive the story. On the other hand, the idea for Castle Immolation came to me before I was in my twenties, and it was my very first idea for a full-length novel. I tried writing the story when I was a young adult, but I didn’t have the skill to pull it off. But because I have learned so much from composing and releasing Araya, I can finally write Castle Immolation and do it justice. I could compare it to computer game designers that have a brilliant idea but because the current generation of hardware isn't sophisticated enough, they cannot faithfully turn their idea into a product. I find writing my second novel remarkably similar, as I have had the idea for a long time, but I wasn't developed enough as a writer to complete it. Now that I have released Araya, I feel as though the technological advancements in my brain have finally made it possible to turn my dream into reality. I am already half-way through writing my new novel and I can say that it is an absolute monster. If you like the themes, characters, and rhythm of Araya, then Castle Immolation is going to blow you away. Araya is a broad sword; Castle Immolation is a nuclear weapon. In terms of the storyline, I will say this: the themes in Araya are special education needs and emotional resilience; in Castle Immolation, the themes are loyalty, sacrifice, and transformation. I know that is not much in terms of providing my readers with a plot, but if they have read Araya and enjoyed the themes that I explore, then I am sure that the themes of my new novel will suck the reader into my world, and they will experience such conflicting emotions that they will fall in love with my characters and tear out their hair if anything should happen to them. I plan to release Castle Immolation at the end of 2021.
Dianne Woodman: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview for Bestsellersworld.com.
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