Author Interview: Paula Richey
We sit down with the author of the superhero story Penance.
Paula Richey is an author and artist who would rather write about superheroes, fantastic worlds, re-spun fairytales, and almost anything else that isn’t writing about herself in third person. Redemption, heroism and portals to other worlds feature in most of her stories.
Her tastes in reading lean toward hopeful, fun escapism, and her highest aspiration is to create and deliver more stories like that for all readers, as novels, comics, and if at all possible, an animated series someday.
(Copied from Amazon.)
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This April, in the spirit of encouraging the #indieapril trend of supporting independent creators, I am conducting interviews with a number of great authors. Today I get to share my conversation with Paula Richey, author of Penance!
If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out our positive, long-form review of Penance and be sure to check out the newly released illustrated edition!
Available Now on Amazon!
Penance Copper won’t be a tool for evil any longer!
For as long as Penance can remember, Acid has owned her. Day after day, year after year, he has exploited her electromagnetic superpower for his own gain, while she lives on the streets and scrounges for food and clothing. She copies RFIDs and credit cards, opens electronic locks, causes explosions and havoc, but at least she’s never had to kill anybody.
The superhero Justice is getting too close to finding out where Acid has been selling trafficked girls, and it’s Penance’s job to take him out.
She seizes this chance to escape Acid and join up with the good guys in a desperate attempt to gain protection and make a new life for herself. Unfortunately, this is the same day that aliens invade…
Soon, Penance is embroiled in an intergalactic encounter with an alien boy named Kail, who is perhaps as lonely and broken as she is. Even if he is infuriatingly arrogant.
The first young adult series in the Heroes Unleashed universe launches with the Teen Heroes Unleashed series. Readers will love hardworking, sassy Penance as she tries to learn to use her powers to save the world instead of to steal.
Can Penance and Kail find the missing girls and save the Earth from an alien invasion? Or will Acid find her again and punish her for running away?
After talking with Richey, I feel that her writing uniquely captures the indie zeitgeist. Penance has some wonderful themes, but her goal of providing entertainment over exhortation, adventure over lecture, is what will truly thrill readers.
I think you will enjoy hearing her responses to my questions!
How did you start writing Penance?
I’ve always had a habit of daydreaming, playing with what could happen if there was a new person in some of my favorite stories, and I’ve always loved Superman. He’s a strong man who is utterly safe and will always do the right thing – even apart from superpowers, that’s pretty dang awesome.
So when I was about 14, developing the empathy that a writer needs in order to write all kinds of characters, I started wondering what kind of person would really try Supes’ patience. Not Lois, not Supergirl, but somebody who genuinely had things to rebel against, plus a scary and versatile powerset and a near-feral cunning to survive – aimed at the wrong target.
So I started dreaming up this girl, and before long she was so much fun that I had a whole arc just of her life, and Superman wasn’t even in it – although if they ever met, the battle would be epic.
What do you enjoy about the superhero genre?
I love myths, legends, and big, wide open possibilities, so for me, superheroes are a continuation of the mythic tradition. They also have a unique American sensibility in their variety of origin stories and the emphasis on overcoming odds to become greater, not only for themselves, but also to be of service to others.
Are there any specific stories that made an impact on you as a writer? Any superheroes particularly?
Brain Wave by Poul Anderson – happened across it in an anthology in a neglected bookshelf in my sister’s house. No one had any idea how it got there, but she said I could have it. A bit old-fashioned in its character descriptions, but it opened up the possibilities of how to write from a perspective outside my own, which is very handy for writing an alien cultural mindset! So much just clicked into place for me after reading that story.
I will happily make the acquaintance of any and every superhero, but I’m not particularly tied to any of them. I like some iterations of Superman better than others, the animated Batman and Teen Titans series were excellent, Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman was exactly what I needed at the time I had the opportunity to watch it, I grew up on the animated X-Men and TMNT… I didn’t get into the comics so much, but as I’m learning to create comics and graphic novels, my appreciation for them is growing. It’s just difficult to find a starting place.
I’m just happy that there’s such a variety of heroes, especially when the origins, motivations, abilities, and personalities are so different and give so much room to explore within their stories. We can always use more heroes.
This story is part of the larger Heroes Unleashed universe. How was the experience of writing with another person (Thomas Plutarch) and bringing your vision into reality along with his?
So… there’s something interesting about Thomas Plutarch. I guess you could say that some editorial input and some inside info about where some of the other heroes from the Heroes Unleashed universe crossed paths with the ones I was writing about came from him. But for the most part, Thomas remains in that universe himself. We (the Heroes Unleashed authors) give him co-author credit as a way to help ensure that all our stories can be found by the readers who want the complete picture.
What were the challenges and highlights of writing Penance?
Originally, I didn’t think her story was long enough to make a full-length novel. But then in the process of actually spelling out everything that went on, I realized there were three novel-length parts to her story – especially since I realized that Kail needed some of his POV told as well.
Your story took a unique route with the main character’s conversion experience. Can you comment on why you made the choice to “head hop” at the moment many would consider essential for Christian fiction?
Rather than “head hop,” I prefer to think of that juncture as a “strategic executive decision to cut away.” I think I’ve gotten the most comments on that from readers who are used to the Christian fiction genre. At the time that I wrote it, I didn’t realize it was such a shocking departure from the norm. It just seemed like an obvious choice to me.
I didn’t want the story to get bogged down at the crucial conversion point. Conversion is an experience that’s unique and tailored to the individual who is experiencing it. So it’s incredibly meaningful for that person in that moment, but all the external, quantifiable things that made that moment are so mundane that a play-by-play is meaningless. Penance has her thought process and emotions leading up to it and also afterward, but what really happened right then is between her and God. Readers know it happened and that Pen isn’t making it up or forcing herself to feel a certain way, and that’s enough.
Would you share a bit about your values and how they influence your stories?
As a young teen, I was an avid reader and fascinated by sci-fi and fantasy. Unfortunately, at the time, sci-fi and fantasy were going through a subversive phase in which God was dead, and the local Christian culture simultaneously went into pearl-clutching histrionics over sci-fi and fantasy elements, stridently disowning Tolkien, Lewis, and several holidays in the process.
It was around this time that I decided it was stupid to roll over and agree with neo-pagan wannabes wanting to claim any aspect of culture for themselves alone. They can’t make dirty what Christ has cleansed, and acting like they can is believing in their superstitions more than in Christ’s power. This belief did not make me popular in certain circles, and I figured that I’d never be welcome in Christian publishing, but if I wanted to be traditionally published, I couldn’t include my own religious beliefs in my work either.
Ultimately, all I ever wanted to do was write something I wanted to read. Not stilted, preachy, plunky by-the-numbers allegories, and not stories wrapped around questionable ethics, communistic values, and odd bits that went over my head but left me feeling a little squicky.
When I write, I want to be objective and fair to all the characters I write, and I want to weave the events together with each other and with the people driving them as well as possible. I’m not required to write anything more morally valid than a solid, tight story that rings clearly when I knock on it. I trust that my values are already in the mix, and I don’t need to add more than is called for, lest I ruin the flavor.
Penance is a likable teen girl. You mention on your LinkedIn profile that you seek to write stories that feature “truly strong female characters.” What went into developing Penance’s character?
I don’t ever want to get stuck writing self-inserts and wishful power fantasies, although I will admit that way back when I first started dreaming up Pen that she did start that way. Probably, holding off on writing down her story until I grew up myself benefited her character development the most. Mostly, she has retained her age while I grew up and learned to look at myself and other people with a greater understanding. She’s still learning, so she does occasionally have flashes of intuition and a grasp of how to relate to people, but much more frequently, she has her blind spots, her weaknesses, her vulnerabilities both physical and emotional, and I think she’s endearing in her sometimes prickly and cynical, and still sometimes childlike way. As she experiments with both relationships and her own abilities, she fails and gets her butt kicked more often than not. The important thing is that she picks herself up and tries again. Her greatest power is probably her inexhaustible energy – the mental and emotional energy to keep going after defeat.
How does Penance compare with the other stories you’ve written, for example your graphic novel series SoulBound?
In SoulBound, Becca Albright has just lost her dad and her grief makes her vulnerable to curses – which leads to her getting thrown into a world of magic, myths, and monsters, under constant threat of her condition worsening. Unlike some protagonists who arrive in a new dimension with cool powers and are capable of being smug and snarky, Becca doesn’t have any of that. She’s an ordinary college student dealing with extraordinary circumstances while at a near-crippling disadvantage. She’s groggy and concussed and needs help, and yet, her first impulse is to help others.
Penance has complicated relationships with people who are not good, and are not good for her, but she can’t simply cut ties. She begins the book on the lookout for her own self-interest: what can she get, what can she learn, how can she survive, how can she get out. But, as her character develops, she also develops better relationships and begins to care about others. Instead of remaining a person who looks the other way, she becomes someone who won’t stand by and do nothing.
So I think that Becca has a mostly flat character arc, aside from healing and growing through her grief, and Penance has a drastic character arc that’s built on her new faith and growth in relating to others.
What can readers look forward to in the rerelease version of Penance?
I did make a few edits – tightened up some word choices, corrected what typos I could find, cleaned up the language a little further – even though it started out as a pretty clean book – but the chief feature of the re-release is the illustrations. I created over thirty black and white, digitally painted illustrations for Penance, with at least one in every chapter. Art makes a story more accessible, and taking on the publishing myself gave me the opportunity to add illustrations to every chapter, as well as a second epilogue from Kail’s perspective.
Can you share with us anything we can anticipate for Book 2?
We’ll get to see a lot more of the alien planet Hylinek, and exactly what it is that the Justice and his sidekick are expected to do on the job, and several loose ends and natural consequences of Pen’s past catching up to her as well. Things do not suddenly go smoothly just because she’s trying to clean up her life and do the right thing…
Also, I plan on continuing to publish this series in the new illustrated style, with my own art featured for the cover and interior. Since, y’know, there’s no one to stop me from taking shameless advantage of Future Paula and her continuing improvement as an artist.
What do you hope readers take away from your stories and from Penance in particular?
I hope readers close the book feeling like they’ve been on a thrilling adventure with people they loved spending time with. For Penance in particular, I hope that if they need it, they can borrow some of her energy and optimism to get up one more time, face another day, and tackle whatever’s thrown at them, however crazy it may be.
Did you enjoy this author interview with Paula Richey?
I also did a video interview with Richey. We had a great time talking a bit more conversationally about her work. I think you will enjoy it!