We received an advance review copy of the novel, and really enjoyed this imaginative and well-written story. The book is an engaging Sci-Fi fantasy, centered on Carrie - who works at a diner in South Philadelphia, but who has been known as Khet and various other names in her existence through the ages. Carrie knows her eternal life is owed to the suffering of others, and she determines to redefine her contract with the devil to set things right.
Today is Day 1 of the Oracle of Philadelphia blog tour - follow the link for upcoming interviews, reviews, and prizes!
Check out the video trailer below, and then below that our conversation with Elizabeth Corrigan!
Oracle of Philadelphia is about an 8,000 year old woman with the ability to see into the hearts and minds of the people around her. She has many names, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to her has Khet here. The elders of her village sold their souls so that she could live an eternal life.
Now, she works in a diner in South Philadelphia, and one day a young man named Sebastian walks in. He sold his soul to the archdemon Azrael in exchange for his sister’s life, but Khet sees that he’s a good person who doesn’t deserve to go to Hell. In order to save him, she travels into Hell and tries to negotiate with the archdemons there, hoping to find something Azrael wants more than Sebastian’s soul.
Your novel has a fascinating premise. How did you come up with that?
I came up with the idea for Oracle by watching the television series Supernatural. At the end of season 2, one of the characters sells his soul to a demon, thus setting up the major conflict for season 3. Because I like to make up stories, in the long summer between seasons, I started to think about what I thought would happen next. I came up with this idea of an immortal Oracle who would want to save him. Then I got fixated on her as a character and started to think about what kind of people she would know and interact with. In its current incarnation, the story doesn’t look too much like Supernatural anymore. But if you want to know why it takes place in a crappy diner, it’s because in Supernatural the world’s all-powerful Oracle would definitely hang out in a crappy diner.
The scenes where Bedlam, the demon, is speaking conversationally with Khet, brought to mind some of the casual devil-talk of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. Can you describe for us what influenced that part of the story?
Among my beta readers, Bedlam is by far the favorite character. I find this interesting, because when I originally came up with the character, I wasn’t trying to be super original. I figured that Khet should have one angel friend and one demon friend, for balance. Then I made a demon who wasn’t too evil, similar to Crowley from Good Omens.
Yet somehow in the writing process, Bedlam became the character who felt most real to me. He is also one of my favorite characters to write, if only because he says whatever comes into his head without much filter. This makes him more difficult to edit, because removing any one line tends to disturb the entire flow of what’s coming out of his mouth.
Writing Bedlam and Khet together is also a lot of fun because they know each other so well. The best way I can think of to describe them is to say, “Imagine your best friend. Now imagine that you have known him/her for three thousand years.” And that’s what Khet and Bedlam are like. To them, the world is one big inside joke.
The book shifts repeatedly from ancient to modern times, and keeps the reader engaged in the story of Khet's experiences. Did that time-shifting present any challenges to you as an author?
Going in, I had no idea how complicated writing all those historical scenes was going to be. I thought I had a middle-school textbook concept of the times and that would be enough, but I realized I needed far more depth to write convincing scenes. I was pretty far along in my writing process when I discovered that when Khet was a priestess in ancient Egypt, she should have her head shaved. In ancient Rome, I first had to figure out whether a woman could have held a job as a waitress and then what she would be serving. (I also determined that if I had her wear a toga in that scene, it would imply she was a prostitute.)
But in some ways, I confess, I cheated a little bit. Rather than look up word usage and translations, I made the assumption that dialogue in ancient languages would have the same tone as conversations today. Consequently, I wrote all dialogue using today’s colloquialisms, regardless of apparent anachronisms.
How long did it take you to write the novel? Can you give us some insights into your approach?
I wrote the first draft of the novel while I was suffering from a bout of insomnia, and I needed to find something to do to fill the hours. This coincided with NaNoWriMo, so I spent a month or two on a mad writing spree where I was putting down over 2,000 words a day. Of course, before I did this, I spent 2 or 3 years working on the plot in my head, so writing that much in one day wasn’t difficult. There was a long span of time between when I wrote the novel and when it was accepted for publication. One that happened, I spent several months editing the book, which actually took longer than writing the book itself.
Did your academic background in English and Psychology play a role in your writing of the book?
When I chose what my majors back in college, I always considered psychology to be my primary major. I chose English as my second major because I found myself learning so much from my professors. Even though I spent a lot of time making up stories in my head, and occasionally trying to write a novel, I didn’t really plan to do anything with my English degree. Ten years and a Masters in psychology later, I find myself getting paid to do data analysis on behavioral health outcomes, but I spend my time at work wanting to get home and work on my writing. So it turns out that the English degree became more a part of my life than I ever expected.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
By far the hardest part of writing my book was editing it. My natural style flowed well and was grammatically correct, but lacked the kinds of descriptions and sensory details that make up good fiction. I had a lot of bad habits to break, and the process was rather arduous, but I think that I ended up with a good book and have become a better writer.
What advice would you give to other writers or would-be writers?
I think the most frequent advice that authors give is not to give up and to believe in your novel. I hate to be trite, but I think that they are right and that this is the most important thing that an aspiring author can do. Writing is hard, and the process is full of criticism and rejection. It’s easy to get discouraged, but the only way your book can even succeed is if you don’t get up.
In a similar vein, my more unique advice is not to be afraid to find out what is wrong with your book. When you’ve put hours and days and months into writing your book, the last thing you want to her is that it has potential if you massively change it. But chances are that if it’s your first time writing, you’ve got a mistake somewhere. And the willingness to learn and try to make things better can mean the difference between success and failure.
A lot of the story is advanced through dialogue, and we enjoyed the interactions between Khet, Bedlam, Lucifer, Gabriel, and Sebastian. Can you speak about your approach to creating realistic dialogue in your writing?
During my editing process, I found that one of the things I did well as a writer was dialogue. I think it’s because more than anything else with my characters, more than I worry about what they think or what they do, I worry about what they say. To me, the dialogue is the story.
What books do you enjoy reading? Who are some of your favorite authors?
I’ve been a fan of urban fantasy for a while, Kelley Armstrong and Charlaine Harris especially. But recently I’ve been reading a lot of young adult paranormal romance. I’m currently in the middle of The Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare.
Okay, let's get a bit more personal. Tell us five random things about you!
- I am pathologically afraid of bees. And wasps. Or anything in that general family.
- I’m a supertaster. This means I have more taste buds on my tongue than the average person, and flavors, especially bitter ones, are very strong to me.
- There is a small, secret part of me that, when it hears “Can’t Touch This” on the radio, still thinks that M.C. Hammer is the height of cool.
- I drive a purple Smart Car with the license plate BRAAINS. I named it the Purple People Eater.
- I once won 3rd prize in my apartment building’s karaoke contest.
Do you have another book in the works? Will we be seeing more of Khet and Bedlam?
The second book in the Earthbound Angels series features both Khet and Bedlam and has been accepted for publication by Red Adept Publishing. It doesn’t have a title yet, but it will hopefully be released sometime in the next year. Eventually I hope to have 7 books in the series, though that is subject to change.
Thanks for talking with us. We're pleased to feature your book on KBoards!
Oracle of Philadelphia is available now to download to your Kindle!