Interview With Debra Killeen, Author of “An Unlikely Duke”

Debra Killeen graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1985 and spent 15 years working as a pharmacist in numerous settings-hospital, ekszer-elek retail, and home infusion. She never found the right fit. Then, having reached her limit with managed “care,” she transitioned careers into clinical research and writing novels. “An Unlikely Duke” is her first novel, but she has plans for many more. Debra lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with her sister Diane and five exceptional cats-Mandy, Scott, Finn, Isis and Osiris.

Tyler: Thank you, Debra, for joining me today. To begin, will you tell us what “An Unlikely Duke” is about?

Debra: Thank you, Tyler. It’s my pleasure to speak with you. gudu

“An Unlikely Duke” is about several things-it has a few themes, including loyalty and friendship, with the latter being found in some unexpected places, and the importance of not judging a person by his/her appearance. The basic premise is this-I take two characters from our world, aka “the real world” and place them into a world that resembles our European Middle Ages, where Magic works, and is under strict control of the Church. This Church control will play a role in future novels in this series, and another series in this same world that I plan to write. hobbijaim

Tyler: Why did you decide to have the story take place in another world?

Debra: While I loved reading some historical fiction when I was in my teens and 20’s, I’d gotten away from it. However, I have yet to lose my love of history itself. I almost studied history in college-my two favorite subjects in high school were history and chemistry. (I’m not sure what that says about me!)

Anyway, developing another world, kind of an alternate reality to our own, is a challenge, but it also gives me the freedom to change things. Think of it from a “Well, what if the Norman Conquest hadn’t happened?” or “What if the result had been different?” While I need to be relatively faithful to a general time period-for example, I wouldn’t put cars or telephones into a medieval society-I can allow my imagination to roam. Especially in regard to Magic-although my Magical system does have rules. receptek

I loved fantasy during childhood, adolescence, and college – I started with fairy tales and mythology, then moved on to Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Ursula LeGuin, Tolkien, and Katherine Kurtz, to name a few writers. I still have a copy of “The Phantom Tollbooth” on my shelf, so when Elijah takes his to Myrridia, that’s me. So inventing a new world opens up a lot of possibilities for the stories.

Tyler: That’s fascinating, Debra. I’m intrigued both by having to create an entire different world and having to create rules for it. Will you tell us a little bit about the difficulties of such a creation? For example, I loved L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels when I was a child, but every once in a while, I would find places where he contradicted himself regarding whether people could die in Oz or whether they used money in Oz. How do you keep everything in your magical world straight-did you have to create a timeline or an entire history for events prior to the start of the novel as a reference for yourself? olcsobbszerviz

Debra: Creating a new world definitely has its challenges. You have to have an idea of the place’s geography, climate, level of technology, political systems, social systems, level of health care, and many other things. I do have a partial timeline for this world, both in the form of notes, as well as a piece of poster board with a timeline showing major events. I am always adding to this timeline. Inevitably, inconsistencies will turn up, though, because we’re all human. So far, I think I’ve managed not to have someone’s eyes or hair change color, but it’s early yet!

Plus, I make every effort to give major characters different names, except in cases when giving them the same names works, such as kings naming their firstborn sons after themselves, or in the case of Christian, who named his son Reginald for his king. That often happened, at least if the monarch or lord were popular. Not so much if he weren’t! Or taking different forms of the same names-Helen’s daughter is named Eleanor, for example. Robert’s middle name is the same as his grandfather’s.

In all, I find world creation challenging and fun at the same time. Another thing about names-I try to keep most of the medieval names close to accurate. I’m not going to name a child Tyler or Britney, unless I find a historical source with it. However, Biblical names are definitely fair game, as well as the saints. I will write down interesting names if I run across them doing research, and some characters have personal importance, and may be a clue for my closest friends-ah, this character will be evil, or that one will be good, just from the name.

Now, having said all that, by having two modern-day characters in the mix, I do get to throw in things that would be considered anachronistic. Their speech patterns are different from those of the other characters-speaking in contractions, for instance. Plus modern phrasing. Often in my early drafts, the Myrridian characters may slip out with a modern word, but my early readers often catch them. I try to put in some old-fashioned words as well, but not overdo it. I don’t go so far as to have the characters speak in “thee” and “thou”-I think it would be very annoying for the reader. But the occasional “mayhap” or “methinks” helps add to the setting.

Tyler: Debra, what about having Christopher, from our world, switch places with Christian, the Duke of Myrridia, intrigue you?

Debra: My original idea for the book began with this scene: an important political figure is under threat of assassination. This death would have serious ramifications and would need to be prevented. However, it would take someone from a different world to stop the death. As the story later developed, it turned out that this figure, Christian, would actually be killed, and rather than having to face the immediate consequences, his “replacement” would take over, and try to find the murderer. Of course, part of the fun for me, as the writer, was that Christopher is nothing like Christian, and he’s not exactly prepared to take on all of the responsibilities of a duke, at least not at first. And as things develop in the story, the people Chris befriends are not exactly the bosom buddies Christian had.

Tyler: There have been many classic stories of confused identity or people who resemble one another trading places such as “The Prince and the Pauper.” Did you have any of these stories in mind when you wrote “The Unlikely Duke”?

Debra: Yes, I’ve always been a sucker for these kinds of stories, actually. I love “The Prince and the Pauper” (Twain is one of the greatest American authors, in my opinion), as well as several other stories using that same theme. There was a novel written by Mary Stewart some time back, called “The Ivy Tree” and Shakespeare’s “A Comedy of Errors” utilizes twins to hilarious effect. In “Duke” I especially enjoyed taking the approach of having two people with an identical appearance, but they’re completely different under the skin. Plus there’s the fun of having other characters deal with unexpected behavior.


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