Being around dying patients caused Eckville nurse Deborah Leitch to frequently question the meaning of life, and wonder what happens to a person’s energy after death.
So much so, in fact, that she dedicated the entire plot of her recently published science fiction novel to the idea.
“As a nurse, I worked both in an adult neurosurgery unit earlier in my career, and also in pediatric intensive care, and it wasn’t infrequent to stay or be with a patient when they were dying,” said Leitch, a registered nurse who works at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
“There’s almost like an aura that leaves the body when you die, and I’ve often just sat there thinking, where does it go? Where does our energy go?”
In Leitch’s new 283-page novel, Heaven’s Gate, a young physicist explores the path of a person’s energy after death, while a physician tries to use that same energy to extend the lives of others.
“There’s lots of religious philosophies about where it goes,” said Leitch. “So just reflecting about that I kind of took it to the next step: What if it didn’t get there? What if somebody captured that energy and used it for another purpose?”
Leitch wrote the novel over a span of two years, and completed the majority of her work in the early hours of the morning each day before leaving for work.
Writing between 5 and 7:30 a.m. allowed her to make the most of the time during which she feels she is most creative.
“I’m an early morning riser, and that’s when I had my most creative moments,” she said. “I would sit there with my coffee and just gradually kind of work through.
“It might be a paragraph one day, it might be just a line, and the next day it might be three pages.”
Leitch is no stranger to writing, and has written for a variety of academic journals during her 33-year career in health care. Writing creatively, however, was a new experience for her, and one she hopes to pursue more often.
“This is my first stab at taking a creative approach to writing, so it was a bit of a switch,” she said. “It’s become like a hobby now, and I’ve already started on my next book.”
Leitch has taught nursing at Mount Royal University in Calgary, and said she made use of her knowledge of health care in creating the plot for Heaven’s Gate.
That knowledge, combined with her love of science fiction — and authors such as Dean Koontz and Stephen King — made writing the novel seem like an obvious idea.
“I love all the kind of traditional science fiction authors,” she said, adding that the inspiration from Heaven’s Gate could not be attributed to one particular author or work.
“I think just over history it’s come from a variety of different things I’ve read. I tend to follow similar kinds of ideas and writing styles, but I think that the idea that I chose — taking your energy and where it goes when you die — is kind of a new concept.
“I haven’t seen that in any other science fiction novel that I’ve explored, so hopefully I’ve taken a novel approach.”
Leitch said the hardest part of the novel writing process was getting the novel published.
“When you get into the publishing piece, it’s a different world. It’s a business world,” she said.
“Publishing is probably just as hard as the writing, and it’s going through that onerous process to make sure you’ve edited it correctly, and (deciding) are you going to self publish or are you going to try to go through a traditional publisher.”
Leitch published Heaven’s Gate herself, using CreateSpace – an online self publishing program. Through the program, her novel was made available in both print and as an e-book through online retailer Amazon.
Seeing her novel in print for the first time, Leitch had no doubt that her years of hard work and the occasional bout of writer’s block were well worth it.
“It’s quite an experience,” she said. “It’s a feeling of accomplishment: I created this and here it is. It’s really a book; it’s no longer just a manuscript on my computer.”
Leitch aims to eventually have her books distributed and read widely, but for the time being, is focusing on getting the word out about Heaven’s Gate.
“Now, of course, my next big goal is to get it read,” she said. “I’ve had people pre-editing and giving me feedback and comments all along, but I guess the real proof will be in whether or not it becomes a popular read.”
As well as being available for purchase through Amazon, Heaven’s Gate may be borrowed from Eckville Municipal Library. Additional copies of the novel, Leitch said, will soon be distributed to other Parkland Regional Libraries in Central Alberta.