The Fountain

The Fountain

We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who wished for “a million bucks” and awakened the next morning to the sight of a squillion deer grazing on his front lawn. As someone who happily wished her own husband into existence at the magic pool in Bath in 1994, I’m a firm believer in the idea the granters of wishes are a pretty literal bunch; if you don’t frame your desire accurately and precisely, any smidge of ambiguity will be seized upon with gusto. It also goes without saying that teenagers—such as those who populate Suzy Vadori’s debut YA novel, The Fountain—aren’t likely to think through all the ramifications of a wish made hastily in the heat of anger, frustration or disappointment.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Once upon a long ago time, young adults (previously known as teenagers) could be found with their noses stuck in Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, The Hobbit, Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart. Today they’re more likely to be immersed in the darker fare of vampires, zombies and dystopian societies. What’s your personal take on this shift in themes and will the pendulum ever swing back?

A: Well, there’s a huge gap in reading level between books like Nancy Drew and The Hobbit – and I read both as a youth. This gap leaves young readers in the lurch that are looking for reading that challenges their intellect, yet has age-appropriate content.

I think what the Young Adult (YA) books of the past ten years have done is introduced a whole new set of adult-sized challenges to teens in a way that they can relate to more easily than stories of the past. Today’s YA is written from a teen’s point of view, and allows readers to experience a broad range of emotions that they may or may not have already experienced in their short lives.

The YA genre is definitely here to stay, though I don’t think the theme of the novels is important and will change with the tides of teen whims. Vampires, zombies, dystopian, mermaids and trolls… the characters and settings will change to keep it fresh.

Today’s teens expect more sophistication than the formulaic stories that Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys afford, but they might not be ready for the beauty of The Hobbit’s prose.

Whatever the subject of today’s YA books, there are certain things present that appeal to teens. And what’s really cool is that a YA novel done well appeals to all ages. These are elements that we all find intriguing.

  • Pace: The pace of today’s YA never lets up. While this may say something about today’s teens and their attention spans, I think it’s exciting that the written word has found a way to compete with, and even mimic the other media that teens have available to them now.
  • Challenge: This is something that both Nancy Drew and The Hobbit got right. Teens need to face adult challenges to capture the imagination of youths, and help them explore challenges beyond their years in a safe setting.
  • Emotion: Books are a safe place to explore new emotions and consequences. This is what drives much of my writing. If you come away feeling something, I’ve succeeded.

Q: What attracted you to writing for the YA market and how does it differ from writing for adults?

A: I’ve been starting novels since I was around 10, and I always wanted to finish one. But writing isn’t just about the process for me. I wanted to write something that would get read – something that would affect people.

I wrote many outlines over the years. But everything I came up with that I thought people would want to read was either drawing on something way too personal, or was a little too racy to fit with my persona as an executive (my day job) and more importantly, my role as a mom.

It wasn’t until YA emerged as a genre on its own that I became inspired to finally pursue writing in a serious way. Young Adult books explore raw emotion at the root of how it’s experienced – in ‘firsts’. First love, first loss, first time for taking major risks. These themes will never go out of fashion, regardless of the setting.

Q: When you were the age of your target readership, what did you want to pursue as a career?

A: My dad offered to buy me the car of my choice if I became a doctor. I found out that orthodontists didn’t need to do residency, so I negotiated the same deal for that, to which he agreed. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep – I knew that I wouldn’t survive working night shifts in a hospital residency.

Later, I found out I could enter the business world with only a 4 year university degree, and that’s what I did, hitting the ground running when I graduated at 21. Even when I could afford the fancy car, I never bought it.

I never looked back, but I continued to write as a hobby. When I took maternity leave with my third child, I finally realized I had the time to make my dream a reality. The Fountain Series was born.

Q: Who or what had the most influence on the choices you made as you segued into adulthood?

A: Am I an adult yet? I suppose I am. There have been many influences in my life, so it’s hard to pick just one. I think the fact that I moved a lot as a kid was the biggest influence. I was often the new kid, and had to make my way in new situations. I know that it shaped me into who I am, and made me ready to face any challenge. It was fun to channel some of that experience into Ava in The Fountain. Ava is the new kid at St. Augustus and has to make new friends and new ways… which makes her vulnerable in ways I think all teens can relate to.

Q: Tell us the inspiration behind The Fountain.

A: The setting for The Fountain was defined when I was a tween. I’d always wanted to write a boarding school novel. I just love the parent-less setting, with dorms and kids being able to sneak around at night unsupervised (disclaimer: I never went to boarding school, but this is the magical setting I’ve always imagined)

The story for The Fountain invaded my imagination when I became a mom. I love my children more than I ever thought was possible, but parenting today is interesting, to say the least. We are raising a generation that has been given every privilege that we parents can afford.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d give anything I could to my kids, but I started to wonder whether that was smart. We think we’re doing the right thing, but are we? What kind of lesson is it to get what we want without having to work for it? And The Fountain was born. A well-intentioned school founder leaves behind a legacy of a fountain that grants students the desire that they wish the most. The Fountain has unlimited power, and has the power to alter anything. What would a world that is designed to help the students actually look like, and what are the consequences?

Q: Do you ever make wishes yourself by tossing a coin into a well or a pool? If so, what’s your best tip for “smart” wishing?

A: Of course. General ones, anyway – ones for well-being of those I love. I’d rather work for the harder things in life than have them happen overnight.

Q: What governed your choice to develop this book as a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: The series format is very popular in Young Adult. No sooner had I released The Fountain than readers were asking for the next installment. I can’t wait to give them more in this world with The West Woods.

Q: Congratulations on The Fountain being nominated for an Aurora Award in 2016. How did this come about and what was your reaction when you received the news?

A: I was actually travelling in China on business when it was announced that The Fountain had been short listed for Best Young Adult Novel with the Prix Auroras. I found out in the wee hours of the morning, and raced outside to the foggy streets to take a selfie with a copy of The Fountain to share with the world. I was amazed that The Fountain got such terrific support from the amazing readers and writers who form the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association – most of whom aren’t in my demographic, but loved it nonetheless. It was an honor to be shortlisted by such a prestigious group. I hope they love The West Woods just as much.

Q: You teach at schools about themes of friendship, rivalry and love. What is the intersection of these timeless topics with the plot of The Fountain?

A:  Oooo, it’s my favorite to talk about these things. Teens can sometimes experience all three in a short period of time with the same person, and that can be… well, confusing.  Part of what I love most about writing is making readers feel something. And I know I’ve done it right when I get feedback from readers.

I love going to classrooms and teaching kids how to apply the feelings that they experience every day to their stories. Teachers are always amazed at what the kids are able to share through their writing during a session.

Rivalry is the most misunderstood of the three themes, and I think the ones that youth struggle with the most. Some in the book industry will dismiss this as “mean girl” stories, but it’s so much more than that. The story is never about what happens to the characters – it’s about how the characters react to their situation and grow as a result. Resilience is an important theme in many young adult books, and mine are no exception. I love teaching about it because every single class I teach is completely different.

Q: Book 2—The West Woods—will be coming out in September (2017). How and where does it take the students of St. Augustus?

A: The number one question I got from readers of The Fountain was, what is with Courtney? (She’s the girl who makes life impossible for Ava and gets wished away.) And she’s truly awful. But… there’s a really good reason that she was the way she appeared – a magical reason – shaped by her own encounter with the fountain at St. Augustus.

So, I was compelled to write The West Woods – which takes place the year before The Fountain, and is Courtney’s story about how she went from being a regular girl to being, well… the terrible friend readers meet in The Fountain.

It was really fun to vindicate Courtney in The West Woods, presenting a side that readers didn’t get to see of her. With Courtney as the protagonist, it’s easy to see how she made the choices she made when she met Ava.

Of course, it’s also full of the mystery and romance that are the hallmarks of The Fountain Series.

Q: Is it imperative that readers read your books chronologically or is there enough in Book 2 for them to understand the characters and dynamics from Book 1?

A: Both books were written so that they could be read as stand-alone books, and because Book 2 is a prequel, they really could be read in either order. However, Book 3 will pick up where Ava and Ethan left off in Book 1, and bring the whole series together, so it will make more sense if it’s read last.

Q: There’s no question that the publishing industry—like any other industry—has changed to accommodate a fluctuating economy. What has it been like for you to work with a small press?

A: Working with Evil Alter Ego Press has been the best decision I’ve made. Because they are small, they’ve treated The Fountain Series as if it were their own. My editor (based in New York), has challenged me and made the series better than I could have ever done on my own. Because the press is small and growing, I get to be involved in adapting and shaping the press to the changing publishing environment. I also get the chance to use my business and marketing knowledge to full advantage. In a world where self-publish and traditional publishing are changing daily, working with a small press has been a really great experience and I am grateful that they believed in my vision for the series.

Q: What are you doing to market/promote your work, and which strategies have been the most effective for you?

A: Being out in my community has gained so much traction for The Fountain Series. It’s fun, too. I’ve had an amazing 18 months meeting new readers at conferences, young writer’s events, schools and signings. I am so thankful for all the readers who love The Fountain and are waiting for The West Woods to come out.

As The Fountain Series grows, we’re focusing more on growing online reach, in addition to continuing to be active in my community. The response from book bloggers to the series has been really positive, and they are excited to help spread the word about the upcoming launch of The West Woods. I am truly grateful for the work that bloggers and reviewers do. Thank you all so much.

Q: There’s suddenly a knock on the door from Hollywood. Would The Fountain lend itself to a movie or a television series?

A: The Fountain Series would make a terrific movie or TV series and I’m actively looking for a home for it.

The layers of St. Augustus’ magic and the generations of students who have used it to change the world around them provides endless material for an ongoing series. I look forward to see where this leads.

Q: Authors often “cast” their characters in their heads while they’re writing so they can picture them moving through the various scenes. Was this the case with you?

A: Each of my characters is such a blend of complex layers, they’d be impossible to cast to just one person. It definitely keeps me on my toes to keep track of everything that makes them up, but that’s part of the fun.

Q: As an executive, mother of three and a writer, how do you make the time for your craft?

A: I couldn’t do it without the support of my incredible husband and wonderful kids who have all made sacrifices to help me find the time I need to make this dream a reality. I mostly write evenings and early weekend mornings. I carry the stories around in my head while I go about my day to day, so that when I do get those moments to write, everything is fully formed and the words come quickly.

Q: Planner or pantser?

A: Quilter! I start with an outline, but then write in sections as they come to me, and depending on my mood – not necessarily together. Then I take the sections and quilt them back together, creating a wonderful mess that eventually sorts itself into a complex mystery. The operations professional in me knows that this isn’t efficient, but I’m always happy with the result.

Q: You also travel a lot for business and for leisure. How does travel impact your writing and your perspective?

A:  Writing fantasy is centered on building believable worlds. Exploring different countries gives me lots of ideas and inspiration that I draw on. I try to take note whenever I visit somewhere new about the kinds of things I notice first. Are the traffic lights different? Are there people around, or are the streets empty? What sounds are different from North America. Those are things I add to a character’s first experiences somewhere new.

Q: Any new trips on the horizon?

A: We’ve been talking about taking our kids to Europe. They all speak French as well as English, so they’ve been bugging us to take them to France.

Q: Dream destination on your “wish list?”

A: Africa.

Q: You’re on the board for When Words Collide—a festival for readers and writers. What do you think the role of conventions and festivals have for authors and aspiring authors?

A: Writing is largely a solitary profession, but the writing community plays a vital role in supporting and growing writers careers. The publishing industry is changing daily, and collectively, writers who share information and work together to stay ahead of the curve are the ones who are going to make it.

I am so grateful to all the writers I’ve met and everything they’ve shared with me about their own experiences and careers have helped me immeasurably with building my readership. Giving back to the author community in any way I can is an absolute pleasure for me. I particularly love helping new writers get started.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I think readers would be surprised to know that I love math. I’m an Operations professional in my day job, and while that is very different from writing, my love of math and puzzles helps build tricky, layered mystery within my books.

Q: Oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic thing in your closet?

A: Fuzzy onesie pajamas. Great for when it gets down to -40 degrees Celsius here in Canada, but otherwise way too hot.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I’m the only Suzy Vadori on the interweb, so Google away to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know.

Website: https://suzyvadori.wordpress.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/suzyvadori/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzyvadoriauthor/

Twitter: @vadoris

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27426598-the-fountain?from_search=true

Book Links:

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Fountain-Suzy-Vadori/dp/0994726643/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497887586&sr=8-1&keywords=vadori

B&N https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-fountain-suzy-vadori/1123014750?ean=9780994726643

iBooks https://itun.es/ca/UWor_.l

kobo https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-fountain-13

Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/594225

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love hearing from readers, so feel free to drop me a line.

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Sandra Hurst

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One of the ironies of childhood is that our first introduction to reading often comes in the form of fairy tales and myths in which magic, mysticism, fantastical creatures and mysterious realms appear with such frequency as to seem entirely plausible to impressionable young minds. Once we cross the threshold of adolescence, though, there’s no shortage of messaging from parentals and teachers that these make-believe worlds need to be summarily shelved in order to make room for the pursuit of fact-based realities.

Unless, of course, you were born with the imagination of a writer like Sandra Hurst and embrace the elements of YA fantasy—and infinite possibility—with full-fledged gusto. We’re delighted to welcome her to share insights on her new release, Y’Keta.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Given your childhood years in England and then Canada, would you say that you chose the genre of fantasy or that it, in fact, chose you?

A: What a good question, I’ve never really thought about it. I think I’d have to say that the fantasy genre is something I was drawn to, rather than something I chose because of my surroundings, since my brothers, who grew up in the same environment, have extremely logical minds and aren’t at all prone to what they call ‘fantastical fiction.’

Q: What are some of the favorite titles and authors we might have found on the nightstand of a very young Sandra Hurst?

A: Before Junior High, if you caught me reading at night, which my parents often did, I think that you would have found me huddled under the blankets with The Wind in the Willows, The House on Pooh Corner, or The Sword in the Stone.

Q: How about as a young adult (coincidentally, one of your chosen age groups for the Sky Road fantasy series)?

A: As a young adult, I read anything and everything, I still do. Some of the favourites that I remember from back then are The Mahogany Trinrose (Jacqueline Lichtenberg), Lord of the Rings, (J.R.R. Tolkein), and the Darkover series (Marion Zimmer Bradley).

Q: Like a lot of middle school students, you began your classroom writing career with poetry. How would you define that early style and what were some of the topics you liked to write about?

A: My first poems had lots of ‘Moon and June’ type rhyming patterns. The oldest one that I can remember was about snow coming down like a blanket on the town. Birthdays were always a big poem opportunity for me, I wrote poems in every birthday card!

Q: Is your passion for poetry still as vibrant as ever?

A: Poetry will always be important to me, it’s part of finding my creative space as a writer. There is a chapbook of my poetry in the works, although for right now, the prose has centre stage.

Q: What does writing verse teach you about writing books?

A: I think that poetry teaches prose writers to understand the rhythm and flow of language. One thing that I’ve learned from poetry and applied to my writing is to always read through my draft out loud. If I’m reading through a paragraph and consistently trip at the same place, I know that the rhythm there is off and I need to see if more explanation is needed for that thought, or if I’m overcomplicating the sentence.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Y’Keta?

A: The central question in Y’keta is about identity. Is Y’keta willing to give up his identity to please his father? Is he willing to risk being honest about himself, even though he may lose everything he has grown to love.

The inspiration for this came out of two unconnected events about four years ago, the first was a casual comment made by a relative on the reactions she dealt with when she came out as LGBTQ in the early 80s, the other was a long night sitting beside a campfire in Grande Cache, Alberta watching the Northern Lights dance over the horizon.

Q: One of the things that always fascinates me about fantasy novels and stories set in alternative realms/universes is how their authors come up with the unusual names for their characters, objects and settings. Can you let us in on your own approach to the name game?

A: The language I used for the People borrows liberally from several modern native languages which I have ‘aged’ in different directions to suit the Sky Road.  While I wanted to keep the feel of the original tongues, I tried to avoid having words that were too exact and would tie the story down to one tribe over another. So, for example, the Nehewak (Cree) word for Thunderbird (kitowak) becomes my race the Waki’tani and the Tlingit word for pig becomes a rude nickname that Siann calls her greedy little brother.

Q: What sort of myths are incorporated in the Y’Keta storyline?

A: Y’keta is based on several Indigenous myths from the Cree, Haida Gwaii, and Pacific Northwest areas. Each of these groups have legends about a people called by various names but all adding up to the Thunderbirds. It’s interesting to note that even now, the Nehewak don’t have a word for thunder. They say kâh-kitowak, “the Thunderbird’s call”. I’ve also incorporated parts of a several legends from the southern US to create my bad guys, the Utlaak, these legends feature scaly or serpentine bad guys who come from an underground world.

Q: Which scene was the easiest for you to write?

A: I think the easiest scene in Y’keta was the first one. The characters’ voices were so clear and I could visualize the ceremony where they all became a part of the village and started interacting with each other. The first draft, 15-20 pages, was written all in one shot in the course of an evening, while listening to Loon Echo Lake, on my headphones.

Q: And the hardest?

A: I hate killing people! The scene where one of my main characters is murdered in an Utlaak raid shattered me. I wrote it with tears pouring down my face, then re-wrote it, and re-wrote it, until I felt the hurt as much on the paper as it did inside me.

Q: On Amazon, the title is listed as Volume 1. How many volumes do you have in mind?

A: The Sky Road is planned as a trilogy.

In Book One, Y’keta, A young exile, searches for a place to belong, only to find his new home threatened by secrets from his past. If Y’keta reveals what he knows to the villagers, it will tear their history and traditions apart…but sharing his secrets may be their only hope for survival when the Village comes under attack.

Book two is at the necklace stage, that is the point in my writing process when I have ‘pearls’ written, but desperately need the thread of the story to tie them together. It will focus on the continuing war with the Utlaak and Y’keta’s unsettled relationship with his father.

In book three Siann struggles to accept the power that the Lightning Stones have given her. Power is not always a good thing, and she has some hard choices to make about using or abusing it.

Q: What governed your choice to develop a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: I don’t ever remember thinking ‘Hey! I’ll make a trilogy!’ The storyline just grew into one. I think it’s all D’vhan’s fault, he’s one of the lead male characters. He refused to stay in the background, and before I knew it I had an uprising of characters whose stories deserved to be told.

Q: More and more authors are seeking to control their intellectual property by going the self-publishing route. What have you learned about the challenges of this choice that you didn’t know before you started?

A: What didn’t I know? Is everything a fair answer? My decision to self publish was driven more by a need to put a physical copy of the book in my dad’s hands for his 90th birthday. I think that the learning curve for either type of publishing is terribly steep for someone like me, who knew nothing about the industry. Traditional publishing takes time, patience and a degree of luck to hit the right agent at the right time. Independent publishing takes all of that plus a substantial cash investment in editors, cover artists, printers etc. Social media is also crucial to an indie author, as word of mouth is often the only marketing tool we have access to.

Q: When and where do you feel you are at your most creative?

A: I’m most creative at night, when the whirlwind I call a mind has quieted down for the day. I put some music on and let my world go and step into Y’keta’s world. My family learned early that ‘I’ll be there soon’ really meant “I’ll see you in the morning.” At least 75 percent of the book was written between midnight and 5am. Other great creative places for me are restaurants like Denny’s, or Tim Horton’s. I often go to grab a coffee, plug in my tablet, hide behind my earphones and just blend into the crowds.

Q: Conversely, when does it feel the most challenging or frustrating to work at your craft?

A: Handling my own nature is the hardest part of writing for me. I tend to be very distractible and moderately obsessive. There is always that one more piece of research, a new book to read, and, Oh Look! I got a Facebook mention. My mind will bounce to anything new and shiny and sometimes when it lands on a topic I find it hard to let go and get back to the writing. There is a definite benefit to this type of mind though, once I start writing and the scenes are flying, I will keep going until someone pulls me out.

Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?

A: I like to shake things up when I’m in a slump or struggling for ideas. I will sometimes take a side character and re-write a scene from their point of view. It helps me see with new eyes and often gives me the next question that I need to ask or the next move I need to make. Another good trick is to pick the one thing that my character would really hate to have happen, and make it so.  Are they afraid of water? Then maybe the boat sinks.

Q: Tell us a little about your family and whether they’re allowed sneak peeks at your work or have to wait like the rest of us until it’s all finished?

A: I live in Calgary, Alberta with my husband and son, both of whom I love dearly, and have put up for sale on e-bay when their behaviour demanded it.  My day to day life is a balance between my outside life as a paralegal counsellor and my inner life as an author/poet. I do try out scenarios and words on my family now and again, especially on my son, who is around the target audience for my books.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing (i.e., day-job, hobbies, travel)?

A: When I’m not writing or doing double duty as a wife/mother, you can find me working as a paralegal in Calgary. On off days, or holidays we spend a lot of time out in the mountains camping, canoeing and just listening to the quiet. I also enjoy time with the other amazing writers in the Calgary and love going to the write-ins and open mic. events.

Q: What’s something quirky/unique/unusual about you that readers would be the most surprised to know?

A: Ooh, you really want to go there? I think that answer would depend on who you talk to. My son would cringe and point to ‘opera nights,’ evenings when I don’t speak and insist on singing my answers to any questions.  My husband might point to my fits of insomnia and my late-night Facebook addiction. But really! You meet the best people online at 3am.

If there is one thing I would say was unique or quirky about me it would be my breadth of interests, I’m a bit of a Hermione, a collector of odd facts and knowledge about anything from the Kaiju culture of manga Japan, to Shakespeare, to Opera, or the band Nightwish. There isnt much that I won’t listen to, read, learn about and find value in.

Q: Who is your hero and why?

A:I think the common thread in all my heroes, whether real or literary, is that they had the opportunity to quit, every reason to say I’m too old, too tired, it’s just easier to let it be someone else’s problem. This kind of hero, unwilling, often flawed, yet willing to step up, gets me every time. These heroes all have one thing in common. They are people very much like I am, broken and damaged people just trying to do their best with the time they are given.

As far as literary heroes, I love the authors who can make words dance and sentences mean things. This has led me to authors like Guy Gavriel Kay, and Don Dellilo. I would give my left ovary (not so dramatic a thing since at 54 those parts are hardly crucial) to sit down with either of these gentlemen, or even better their writing notes, for an afternoon.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in a book (other than your own)?

A: There is no fair way to give one answer to that question, but one of my favourites is Richard Lamb, from M.K. Wrenn’s sci-fi series The Phoenix Legacy. He is a young intellectual working to prevent the oncoming dark age.

Q: Have your own characters ever surprised you?

A: Constantly! No matter how well I think I know the characters, when I put two or three of them together the dynamics always amaze me.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Next up for me is When Words Collide in Calgary in mid August, then finishing up a romance novella which will be coming out in 2018, then back to Book 2 of the Sky Road.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:  You can find more about me, or follow me on social meda at all of the links here:

Website:         www.delusionsofliteracy.com

Facebook – @SandraHurst.Author

Twitter –  @_SandraHurst Website:

Amazon Link:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N9V4M8C

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Christina, Thank you so much for letting me talk to your readers and introducing them to the Sky Road. I’m really enjoying Y’keta’s journey through this ancient land and look forward to meeting your readers as they walk the Road with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Megan Edwards

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“Every wall is a door,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you swap out the word wall for obstacle, it’s as true to life as you get. Whether it’s the sensation of feeling boxed in, running up against impediments, banging your head repeatedly, or simply not knowing what’s on the other side, a wall can either curtail your journey or provide a chance to forge your own detour. For Megan Edwards, the fire that completely destroyed her home subsequently became the spark of imagination that led to the smokin’ hot keyboard she has today as a published author. Getting Off on Frank Sinatra is the launch book of her new mystery series.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: If we could time-travel and visit the bedroom of your 10-year-old self, what might its contents—and bedside reading material—have revealed about your career dreams of the future?

A: At ten, I was living in Berkeley, California. One book I read that year was Ishi: Last of his Tribe, the partly fictionalized story of the last Yahi Indian who lived in San Francisco until his death in 1916. I loved going to the anthropology museum at the university and thought I might one day become an anthropologist or archaeologist. I did later study classical archaeology, although I never worked in the field professionally. Also that year, I was confined to bed for a couple of months with an illness that was never diagnosed. While recuperating, I read a book about bookbinding. I wrote, illustrated, and bound my own book, a story about a rabbit that gave everyone else gifts but never received any. It wasn’t a great story, and the binding was far from professional, but I guess it was technically my first book!

Q: What advice would the adult you give now to that 10-year-old self?

A: Keep that inquiring mind! Don’t let anybody force or nudge you in directions you don’t want to go, just because they’re safe, respectable, or normal.

Q: Who would you say had the most influence on the person you grew up to be? A favorite memory to share?

A: My mother always got great books for me to read and encouraged me to pursue a wide range of interests. She gave me Ishi: Last of His Tribe when it was first released. “I think you’ll like this,” she said, and she was so right. I was enthralled. She also encouraged and provided for my artistic tendencies.

Q: In what way(s) did your study of Greek and Latin in school shape your outlook about the human condition … and the challenges of wordsmithing those views into something that would one day captivate readers?

A: I am grateful to have a familiarity with Greek and Latin literature and language, not so much because I agree with what those cultures valued and promoted, but because they have been so influential in shaping the world we live in today. I’ve always loved words, grammar, and etymology. A background in Latin and Greek has given me a sort of “operating system” I draw from all the time.

Q: Are there particular books that truly resonate with you and/or authors whose work you admire?

A: As a child, I loved C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I still admire his storytelling brilliance. Three books I admire right now are Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen, and The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The first is an amazing tour de force that is sadly underappreciated because the film version featuring Marilyn Monroe has completely overshadowed it. The second is the best memoir I’ve ever read. I admire the third because it’s an enthralling story about a horrible topic: the Black Death. In spite of the gloomy subject matter, the story conveys a message of hope and has the best ending of any novel I’ve ever read. While it’s difficult to choose just a few titles when there are so many fabulous books, these rise to the top of my list right now.

Q: What did you learn about yourself from the devastating experience of becoming “stuffless” when your home totally burned to the ground in 1993 and you had to start over?

A: I’m still learning from that experience! One realization that appeared rapidly is that “stuff” had been keeping me from doing things I longed to do. In the years since, “stuff” has once again accumulated, but my relationship with it is utterly different. In a nutshell, it was my boss before the fire. Now, I’m the boss. I now prize access over ownership. I’m not quite a true minimalist, but I admire the concept and lean toward it. We’re all only visitors on earth, and the platitude is correct: you can’t take it with you. I’ve learned that I like seeing myself as a traveler through life, and that I like to travel light. I will admit, however, that I’m a virtual hoarder. My digital attic never runs out of space!

Q: One of the positive outcomes of that tragedy was the development of your first book, a travel memoir called Roads from the Ashes. Were you actually writing notes the whole time on the road or did the concept for the book not come together until you finally settled into a home without wheels and a windshield?

A: I did keep a journal while traveling, but the idea of writing a book came after we’d been on a roll for a couple of years. When we first set out, we never dreamed our journey would last as long as it did, and it took a while for me to realize that the beginning stages of the Internet revolution were a fascinating time to be traveling the continent and possibly worth writing about. When we hit the road in 1994, email was just becoming ubiquitous. In 1996, my husband and I launched our first website, roadtripamerica.com. It’s older than Google, which may be the reason we did at times feel like pioneers. I wrote the book toward the end of our odyssey, and it was published just before we decided to make Las Vegas our home.

Q: Tell us about Marvin, the road dog.

A: Marvin was a white cockapoo. Or maybe he was a bichon. Because he was a rescue, we never knew for sure, but he was white and fluffy, and he didn’t shed. He was very friendly, and he loved our motorhome—when it was parked. He definitely preferred being settled to being in motion, but he was a good sport and wore his own special seatbelt without complaint when we were on a roll. He could be a scoundrel, of course, like the time he chased a mule deer through a campground in western Oregon or the time he disrupted an entire newsroom in Staten Island. Good thing he was cute!

When we finally settled in Las Vegas, we called our new house Marvin’s Resort. He loved it because 1. It didn’t move, and 2. It had a pool with a shallow beach area. Marvin wasn’t a swimmer, but he loved basking.

Q: Marriage is all about compromise, especially cohabiting a tiny place. I’m trying to fathom what it must have been like for you and your husband to share an RV (and miniscule closet space!) without driving each other crazy. How did you manage to make it work?

A: We had about 200 square feet of living space, so yes, some negotiation was required. Early on, I remember showing a visitor around and saying, “We don’t have much space, so we have to get along.” The man replied, “Honey, when you aren’t getting along, the whole world isn’t big enough.” He was so right, and there were times my husband and I did drive each other crazy. Thankfully, we worked it all out, and those negotiations still govern how we live together now. One thing about a motorhome that helps make up for the lack of interior space is that you can move it. Having a backyard the size of North America makes a big difference.

Q: You originally went to Las Vegas for a six-week stay. Seventeen years later, you’re still there. How did this come about, and what’s the principal attraction that happily keeps you there?

A: We were still living in our motorhome when I finished writing my travel memoir and decided to try my hand at fiction. The protagonist in the novel I began writing had to be a Las Vegas native. As I wrote, drawing from my limited, biased, and heavily stereotypical knowledge of southern Nevada, I realized I would never be able to craft an authentic character and backstory without spending some time in her hometown. So, off to Las Vegas we drove, thinking that a week or two—six at the most—would be more than enough time for me to learn everything I needed to know about a city I was sure I would dislike. We found a pretty nice RV park on Boulder Highway, I bought myself a bus pass, and I proceeded to learn what I could about Las Vegas beyond the neon.

Whenever you spend time getting to know a person or a place in depth, your opinion changes. In the case of me and Las Vegas, mine quickly changed for the better. As I rode every bus line to the end, wandered around neighborhoods I never knew existed, and took a hike or two in Red Rock Canyon, I got over being surprised and started wanting more. I was also discovering the city’s amazing libraries at the time and reading up on its unique history. I feel fortunate that my husband and I both felt like we’d found a home after we’d been here a month or so. But—if someone had told us nearly seven years before when we left Pasadena, California that we would drive all over the continent and then decide to live permanently in Las Vegas, I would have said, “Never!”

Q: A lot of people have impressions about Las Vegas based on what they’ve seen in movies—many of which involve glittering casinos, scantily attired showgirls and Bugsy-esque mobsters. What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Sin City once you actually became part of its population?

A: Las Vegas is the most conservative place I’ve ever lived. I shouldn’t have been surprised—Las Vegas was founded by Mormons and boasts the largest Mormon population outside of Salt Lake City. Although expanding population has changed things, the city used to have the highest number of churches per capita in the country. Another feature that surprised me is its large Hawaiian community. Hawaiians call Las Vegas “the ninth island.”

Q: Las Vegas is the setting for the debut book in your mystery series. Is it just because you live there and are familiar with it or was there another reason that influenced your choice?

A: I came to Las Vegas to do research for a novel and found way more fascinating material than I ever anticipated. I could write twenty more novels and still have ample subject matter for more. It’s a writer’s gold mine!

Q: Where did you get the idea for Getting Off on Frank Sinatra? Is it based on real events?

A: When I was first in Las Vegas, I taught for a year in a private prep school. While the story is not based on that school or actual events, I have drawn from my experiences to craft a story that is entirely fictional but also, I hope, authentic.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to make Getting Off on Frank Sinatra a mini-series, who would you like to see play Copper Black?

A: I’ll go with Abigail Breslin, but I’m sure there are a number of young actors who could do a great job. It’s important that Copper be the right age—twenty-something and still caught between family and true independence.

Q: What was the transition like for you going from nonfiction to fiction? For instance, is one easier/harder than the other?

A: After my travel memoir was published, I developed an itch for making things up. When I started working on a novel, it didn’t take me long to realize that fiction set in a real location requires just as much truth as nonfiction, even when the plot and characters are fabrications. When I chose to set a novel in Las Vegas, I had to be able to paint Las Vegas believably, because readers don’t like to be pulled out of the story by errors and inaccuracies. In addition, fictional characters must behave according to their constructed personalities, which is why authors often comment that their characters tell them what to do. So—I find fiction every bit as challenging as nonfiction. It must ring true to be successful, even though the stories may not be based on real events.

Q: What governed your decision to make this book the first in a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: The idea of creating a series grew while I was working on the first book. I’d had the idea in mind, but as I worked on the first project, I saw some longer arcs connected to Copper’s life that could be developed in subsequent stories. In addition, I saw the potential for some of the secondary characters to have larger roles in future novels.

Q: What are some of the benefits/challenges you envision in having a recurring character rather than writing a new protagonist each time?

A: When you create a recurring character, it’s a little like marriage—you’re committed to that character for better or worse. I tried to create one with enough depth and potential for growth to carry a story—and then another story. I also created secondary characters with their own backstories that can fuel events in new stories.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your chapters in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed “The End”?

A: My husband is my biggest fan and harshest critic. I run things by him all the time. I have a few other friends from whom I elicit impressions while working on a project, but I never give it to my editor until I’ve finished a complete draft. It’s important that the person in that role experience the whole work at one time. First impressions of the work as a whole are important.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

A: When I first completed a manuscript back in the early 2000s, I signed with an agent. While no fiction deal came of that relationship, I kept writing, querying, and submitting. It’s perhaps ironic that I landed my first fiction contract without an agent, but I know my earlier experiences all contributed to my securing that deal.

Q: What are some of the things you’re doing to promote your work and which ones are the most effective for you?

A: I am active on social media and blog once a week on my website. I speak at events and host signings in bookstores and other retail locations. I’m especially appreciative of media coverage (newspaper, TV, radio, and Web), because it reaches potential readers very efficiently.

Q: What would our readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m pretty boring, but I did attend fourteen different schools by the time I graduated from high school, including three in Costa Rica. My father was a career army officer until I was about twelve, which meant my family moved often. My four years at Scripps College, where I earned my bachelor’s degree, were the longest stretch I spent at any one school, and I spent one of those semesters in Rome.

Q: Any advice for aspiring authors?

A: Go for it! Find a way to make yourself write, whether it’s committing to a blog or a writing group. For most people, deadlines are essential. The only other advice I have is that you really do need to know the rules. You can break them later, but you must know them first.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: My website is meganedwards.com. I’m on Facebook at megan.edwards.author, Twitter @MeganEdwards, and Instragram @meganfedwards. I’m also on Goodreads.

 

 

A Chat with Konn Lavery

mental-damnation-reality-cover

Dark fantasy is a popular genre in today’s YA market, and Canadian author Konn Lavery taps into that enthusiasm with his second edition of Mental Damnation: Reality. The storyline follows a pair of friends—Krista and Darkwing—as they struggle to survive gang violence, a militarized dictatorship, and a fast-spreading disease that is infecting the population. Like many writers who are passionate about their craft, Lavery frequently burns the midnight oil coming up with page-turning plots. By day, he runs his own graphic design and website development business under the title Reveal Design. These skills have been transcribed into the formatting and artwork found within his publications and supporting his fascination for transmedia storytelling.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?

A: I initially wanted to go through traditional publishing when I was in high school. This would have been back in 2007. At the time I didn’t know anyone in the industry and had no idea how to begin. I had it in my head that if you land that one publishing contract you were set. The publisher would get you an editor, print the books, market it and tour you around the world. The industry doesn’t work that way. Self-publishing also did not seem like an option since I didn’t have any network or an editor to complete my manuscripts.

After some failed submissions I decided to hang up the writing and focus on my postsecondary education. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was teaching at a graphics college when a colleague and good friend of mine asked to read some of my writing (which at the time was unpublished). She happened to be the first person beyond my immediate family who read my work. I gave her a digital copy of the first manuscript of Mental Damnation. Her feedback was very encouraging and she believed I should seriously consider pursuing my writing.

I didn’t want to go through the process of finding a publisher again. Being in the graphic design industry, I now had the knowledge of design fundamentals, book layout, formatting and technicalities to work with a print shop. Self-publishing seemed like a much more plausible option than when I was in high school.

From there I began asking colleagues, friends and searching online about the pros and cons of self-publishing. I took down as many notes as I could and began the process of finding an editor and ultimately releasing my first novel in 2012.

Q: Your latest release is a second edition. Can you elaborate on why Mental Damnation: Reality has a new edition?

A: The first novel I released was Mental Damnation: Reality back in 2012. I had published three more novels after that, one being unrelated to the Mental Damnation series. In the fall of 2016 I returned to the series to finish the story. To do this, I had to brush up on the first novel and become absorbed in the fantasy world once again.

After reading the first edition of Reality, I identified clichés, narration and a stylistic approach that could be improved upon. It had been about five years since the initial release and you can learn a lot in-between that time. My writing has evolved and it read as if it were written by another author.

It had been two years since the release of the third book in the series and I realized that it was an opportunity to start from ground zero and improve the overall story. I compiled a list of feedback I had received over the years from readers who commented on ways to improve the book and applied it to the second edition of the novel.

Q: Will the rest of the series have second editions as well?

A: Yes, the other two novels currently in the series will have second editions. A lot has been adjusted in the new Mental Damnation: Reality and these changes will be seen in Dream and Fusion. Some of these include the lore, character and creature descriptions. I will also be adding new chapters into these novels much like with the new Reality to further expand on the storyline.

Q: How many books are planned for the series?

A: Now that I have re-visited the story, I have the endgame in mind. While I have been re-writing book one, two and three, I am including additional chapters that will help tie together the whole story together.

There will be a fourth and final book in the series that provides a conclusion to Krista’s storyline and a number of subplots that have been introduced to the readers.

Q: Where did the idea for the Mental Damnation series come from?

A: The original storyline for Mental Damnation was written in high school; the concept has evolved drastically over time. It has adapted creatures and characters from earlier manuscripts.

The premise came to me in 2007 while in math class. I was supposed to be doing my homework but instead, I was drawing. The sketch was of a reptilian girl – Krista – who was clutching her head and split between two worlds. On one side it was a forest and on the other was a hellish landscape with demons and fleshy monsters.

The sketch inspired me to come up with a name for the piece and a backstory. I had played with a number of titles such as “Mind’s Hell” or “Mental Fire” but settled on “Mental Damnation” for the biblical reference.

From there, I drafted the first manuscript which differs greatly from the novel you see today. A lot of it has been altered during the editing phases in 2011 and late 2016. This has been a crucial part of my growing process as a writer and am quite pleased to have gone through it.

Q: Will you be writing more books related to Mental Damnation?

A: In the future yes. I have always had the idea that every book I write is part of the same universe. Very similar to how Stephen King’s novels relate to the Dark Tower. As for spinoff novels or more dark fantasy pieces, I do plan to write more related to Mental Damnation.

Fantasy is a big interest of mine – I used to play a lot of role-playing games as a kid – and I do have story outlines for future novels related very closely to the timeline and characters of Mental Damnation.

Q: You also illustrate all of the artwork found in the book, what made you want to do this?

A: By trade I am a graphic designer and web developer and I have also been drawing for as long as I have been writing. After sketching the initial drawing of Krista split between two worlds, I felt that the visual portion of Mental Damnation played an important role to help set the tone of the story. It also provides extra content for fans to enjoy.

The visuals have also seen an evolution over the years. The drawings I did in high school were more detailed and more illustrative. Now they pull a lot more graphical influences with icons, glyphs and patterns. The abstract approach towards the illustrations helps keep the details in the imagination of the reader.

Surprising to me, the addition of illustrations has led to some fan art over the years. It has been very inspiring to see that my work has encouraged people to draw.

Q: You wrote another novel last year in the strange fiction genre. Tell us about it.

A: Back in 2014 I had released Dream and Fusion, two novels found in the Mental Damnation series. I had been engrossed in the dark fantasy world for a number of years and wanted to take a break from it. This opened the doors to explore a new writing style and genre. I was able to take everything I was familiar with and do the opposite of that and grow as a writer.

In 2015 I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote the first manuscript for the novel Seed Me. At the time it was called Amensalism but it didn’t fit the mood of the book. Writing Seed Me allowed me to explore a first-person, past-tense narration, something I had never done before.

It was a good experiment and helped broaden my writing ability. I was able to do a lot of research into the history of Alberta, Canada and study what makes a good horror. This research led me to H.P. Lovecraft’s theory of playing off of the unknown which became a major part of the novel.

Q: With Seed Me you introduced a score to accompany the book. Why?

A: I am a huge fan of transmedia storytelling. As seen in the Mental Damnation series, there are a lot of visual bonuses such as a glyph system, illustrations and a map. With Seed Me, I wanted to experiment with new writing and new bonus material.

The score accompanying a book has been done in the past and is a very good idea to create a mood for the readers. While writing Seed Me I listened to a lot of dark ambient, witch house and down tempo music. I also had been writing my own music and knew a number of musicians within these genres.

In the spirit of experimentation that I had for Seed Me, I thought I could take it one step further and include a musical component to the story compiled by various musicians.

Q: What else will you be writing in the near future?

A: I have several story outlines on the go. One being the fourth and final novel in the Mental Damnation series, one being a splatter punk novel and another is a thriller.

In the immediate future, the second edition of Mental Damnation: Dream will be out in the fall of 2017. The second edition of Mental Damnation: Fusion will be out early 2018. The thriller novel I am working on will also be out for 2018.

Q: Any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

A: If you are interested in writing or are writing, keep doing it. It is the only way to improve. As mentioned above, I’ve gone forwards and backwards with my writing to really improve on the storytelling and craft.

Don’t be afraid to try new things with your writing and push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is where you’ll really discover what you are capable of.

A Chat With Adam Dreece

Adam steampunked - Forest

Best-selling, multi-published author of some very cutting edge YA, steampunk, and fantasy novels, Adam Dreece is out to do more than just entertain readers. His public speaking engagements span the gamut of everything from how to give a good book signing, to stepping outside your comfort zone, to how to deal with dyslexia—something Adam knows a thing or two about. Read on to learn more about this talented writer and his work.

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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Q: What inspired you to hang up your software career and launch your indie author life, Adam?

A: My first two books were doing well and then my software contract ended as oil prices really started to take a dive. Living in Calgary, the heart of oil country in Canada, my phone didn’t ring with opportunities for the first time since the dot com bubble burst back in 1999. My wife, who was also a software architect but had been at home with our third kid, started looking for a job as well. As soon as she locked in a good contract, she turned to me and said she wanted me to focus on my books because they were achieving good momentum. We both knew that financially things could shift at any moment, requiring me to get a job as well. My author career was our start-up company and I wasn’t going to squander a second I had. Now I’ve got my 8th and 9th books coming out since I started in 2014.

Q: When you put out your first book, Along Came a Wolf, did you know this was going to be a series?

A: I wondered, I hoped, but I didn’t know. I’d never written a book before and I had no idea if anyone would like Along Came a Wolf, other than my daughter. I wondered if maybe the best thing to do would be to write something else completely. Then I started to get some ideas, and passionate feedback started to float in. Before I knew it, I was a third of the way through writing Breadcrumb Trail, the second book of The Yellow Hoods. That was when I knew this was going to be a series.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of fusing steampunk and fairy tales together?

A: When my first son (my middle child) was six months old, he was a really fussy sleeper. I’d walk around with him, as heavy as he was. One day, I started singing The Muffin Man to him. Because he would take a long time to fall asleep, I started adding to it. Every night since, and now with two sons, I sing The Muffin Man to them.

I started writing Along Came a Wolf when my daughter was nine and my elder son was two. I was inspired by the fairytale song Ring-Around-The-Rosie, and how that was a rhyme that spoke to the black plague (ignoring historical accuracy arguments for the keeners). Could I use the opposite idea for fairytales and nursery rhymes? Could I take the simple rhymes and stories we knew and create something substantial out of them, without making the books an official re-telling? Take Rub-a-dub-dub and deconstruct that to being about a secret society named the Tub, led of course by a butcher, baker, and a candlestick maker.

With the fairytale approach set, I really got into the story. Then I arrived at a fight scene where I had Tee, who was twelve, staring down the barrel of a full grown man. I needed her to win the fight, but I had a dilemma; how? Do I use magic? That felt like a cheat, and honestly I wanted to keep my distance from Harry Potter. Do I leave it as realistic? That would definitely be a hard sell. So then I mused about the idea of inventions, and thus steampunk became the vehicle of choice. I already had Nikolas Klaus, Tee’s grandfather, mentioned as a brilliant inventor in his twilight years, so I had an “in” I could use without reworking the story. It came out perfectly.

Q: Did you have the entire five book series planned out, or did that come about after the release of the first book?

A: As Book 2, Breadcrumb Trail, took shape, I saw how Book 3, 4 and possibly 5 would work. There was a story about change, power, and revolutionary times going on, and the main characters would be very much transformed by it. As I wrote book 4, I had an idea for books 6, 7, 8, and possibly up to 10, but it would be a different story arc and I wasn’t as convinced that those were needed. I’ll give a bit more detail on this a little later.

Q: When did you know where The Day the Sky Fell was going?

A: As soon as my editor sent it back to me. He he—no. When Book 2 ended, I knew the heart of what was going to happen at the end of the arc. It was during Book 4 that I saw I would definitely need one more book to finish the current story arc, but I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to land.

I’d written the first four books of The Yellow Hoods in the span of two years, with a novelette in that world during that time as well (called Snappy and Dashing). I’d pushed myself so far, and carried the responsibility of being a stay-at-home dad for my three kids, resulting in a depression. I knew if I tried to tackle Book 5 (which didn’t have a confirmed title) I was just playing around with The Day the Sky Fell as a possible title. I knew at that point I’d never be happy with the way the story out if I stopped then. Over the next year everything came together and I found my excitement again. I went back through the other four books and found all the hints I’d left for myself as to how I’d thought Book 5 could come together, and wow, did it ever come together. I think it’s hands down, the best of the series.

Q: Last year you branched out and became a multi-genre author, stepping into sci-fi with The Man of Cloud 9 and into science fantasy with The Wizard Killer. Why take that step before finishing The Yellow Hoods, and what were the dangers and benefits of doing so?

A: Getting Book 4 of The Yellow Hoods, Beauties of the Beast, took everything out of me. In all honesty, I fumbled the launch, but it was there and my fans got something to enjoy that was well regarded as a solid addition to the series.

I knew I couldn’t just stop writing until I felt better, because I don’t work that way. I was on a roll, I needed to keep going, I just had to change things up to allow myself to breath. That was when a friend of mine asked if I was interested in writing a short story for her anthology. I walked around with the idea for a couple of days, and connected it with a piece of a story I’d had in mind for years. I sat down and wrote it. It was about two thousand words too long, which would have been okay, but it felt very much like the real story was only beginning. I decided to change things up, abandon the idea of a short story, and really allow this sci-fi story to blossom.

As The Man of Cloud 9 came together, I felt restricted. There were no battle scenes. Instead, there were corporate board rooms. I felt out of balance, and so I started writing The Wizard Killer – Season One. When I was done with both of them, I felt that I had shared with the world the other two key sides of me as an author, and I felt a lot better. I’d also proven to myself that I wasn’t a “steampunk/fairytale only” author, but an author who was able to bring new and exciting worlds to life that were vivid and immersive.

There were several dangers in doing this, however. The first is; what happens to your existing fan base? Having delivered four and a half books in two years, they were giving me some grace. Putting out The Wizard Killer, a high action story with a world that’s been compared to Stephen King’s Gunslinger, and then following it with The Man of Cloud 9, which is a more cerebral, character driven, techno-thriller, was tactically questionable though. Some of my fans loved one and when they read the other, felt their brain broke. I got a lot of complements about having range, but some folks were jumping from my adrenaline junkie post-apocalyptic fantasy world into a totally different side of me.

At first I wasn’t sure this wasn’t the wisest thing to have done, but I came to see that I’d really opened myself up to a wider range of readers, and more importantly, my younger readers who were maturing made it really clear that they loved the new stuff and my range. It was like I was offering them something new and older, with a hint of what they’d discovered in The Yellow Hoods. As for the adults, this allowed me to draw in different audiences who had no real interest in my other works.

Q: Is The Day the Sky Fell the end of your Yellow Hoods world, and if so, why end it now?

A: Book 5 – The Day the Sky Fell is indeed the end of The Yellow Hoods series, however, it isn’t the end of the Yellow Hoods. I realized as I wrote Book 5 that the original story arc had run its course. I had ideas for a story arc to cover Books 6-7, and a few other ideas to bring it up to 10, but it felt forced.

The main characters had been through a lot in a relatively short period of time (about 2 years) from Book 1 to the end of Book 5. In my mind, they deserved a rest. Adding more on top would forfeit some of the realism and intensity that was at the heart of the entire series. I thought pushing it would make it almost comical in a bad way. Another aspect that I considered was that my character gallery had grown significantly, with fans requesting spin-off stories about Bakon and Egelina-Marie, about Christina and Mounira, and others.

The plan I came up with when I was writing Book 2 wasn’t just for a series for 4-5 books, but rather it was to have a sequel series that takes place five to ten years later, allowing us to see where Tee, Elly, Richy, and the others ended up. Actually, I’d love to one day have a third series that would see Tee being a mother, and thus the series would come full circle. We’ll see if I ever get there.

I’ve now given a name to that next series, The Mark of the Yellow Hoods. My hope is to start writing that series in 2019. Between now and then I have a few spin-off novellas and a spin-off series that I’m hoping to bring out. This approach will allow me to shake things up, change the pattern and cast that’s involved, as well as visit other parts of their world.

Q: Why did you opt to go the self-publishing route?

A: About six months before I started writing my first book I turned the radio on and found myself in the middle of an interview with ‘marketing guru’ Seth Godin. He said (paraphrased) “If I had a book ready today, there’s no way I would go with a traditional publisher if I was an entrepreneur and willing to learn from a few mistakes” That thought stuck in my head.

When I started looking into publishing, I was finding people waiting years before getting any reader/fan feedback. That was a purgatory that I didn’t want. Every day I had stabbing pain from my chronic abdominal scar tissue issues, and felt like I was carrying a lead-vest because of my severe asthma. I wasn’t going to wait years. I was willing to work hard enough, run fast enough, to outpace my mistakes.

Coming from the software side, I really did think of myself as a start-up. I had an idea; I was going to take it directly to market. I wasn’t going to ask permission or try to fit within someone else’s portfolio and align to their timing. Instead, I would start things off. If one day I got ‘acquired’, i.e. a big publisher wanted to take over one of my series, or wanted to offer me a deal, I would have experience and a following to bring to the table. Actually, a few weeks ago I started talking with a publisher about bringing out a spin-off series of The Yellow Hoods.

I refer to myself as an indie author, rather than as a self-published author. The reason being that I do everything that a publisher does, from having my works professionally edited and covered, to handling the marketing and getting out there to push it, as well as handling distribution and direct bookstore relationships. I have both an online and in-print strategy that I continue to build in. In every way I can, I’m emulating classic indie bands who went from unknown to hitting it big. Will I hit it big? I have no idea. Will I be “pure” indie the entire time? I doubt it. There are strategic advantages for the additional reach of traditional publishers, and possibly divesting myself of some responsibilities that take away from my writing.

So in brief? I went indie because there is no greater motivator than a stabbing pain in your abdomen. If I was going to fail, then it was going to be entirely on me. But I didn’t.

Q: You’ve said that giving back is important to you. How and why is this a part of your author career?

A: I believe strongly in becoming the mentor you wished you’d found. In my software career I kept hoping to find someone who would see me and go, “Ah, you remind me of me. Come on, I’ll give you a boost.” As time went by, I decided I wouldn’t waste my time always looking for them and instead I would become that type of mentor for others.

I brought that same thinking to my life as an author, except even more so. As I started to have some success, I shared what I knew with others. I’d make time to give feedback on stories, and so on. I carved out a portion of every week to do that. I find doing this keeps me grounded and connected with people, as well as appreciating what I’ve done rather than only focusing on what I haven’t done yet.

This past week, for example, I had coffee with two other authors. In one case, he’d gone down the traditional road, had an agent, and after years, found himself with a lot of compliments about his work but no one willing to take the plunge. He felt like he’d wasted so much time and wanted to know about being an indie. After two hours, he had several pages of notes and a plan of action. The second person I met with was about the same age (late 50s, early 60s) and had a book ready to go. They already had an established audience because of other work that they’d been doing, and wanted to know things from another side. I was happy to share with them.

Some authors I’ve met are very secretive and competitive. They want to know everything about what you are doing, how much you’re paying for your books, etc., but won’t share a single thing of value back. That’s a shame. We’re a community that’s far stronger together, and our real competition are video games and non-books, not each other (not really).

I believe if I’m able to share something that helps someone become the next J.K. Rowling, then fantastic, but do I want to succeed at someone’s expense? No. There are some people who are leeches, and you’ve always got to be careful of them. Those are the ones who will actively try to push you out of whatever limelight you share. I’ve had this happen to me a few times, and though it makes me wary of who I share stuff with, it doesn’t stop me.

Q: What have you learned about yourself since beginning this journey into writing and publishing?

A: More than anything else, I’ve learned to have faith in the storyteller that I am. There are real people out there who love what I write and how I write. There’s something magical about being at my table at a convention and within 15 minutes of the door opening, someone who has driven several hours to get there, runs right up to my booth wanting whatever new book I have available. That excitement, that joy, I had a part in that. It’s unbelievable.

Q: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the business of writing and publishing?

A: On the publishing front, it’s about the amount of lead time you need to give yourself and the capital (money) involved, particularly if you’re carrying inventory. Being prolific comes with a cost.

On the writing front, it’s about how much words that come out of my head can mean to someone else. I’ve had a cancer survivor tell me how it helped get them through chemo, a man tell me how it helped him as his mother passed, and more. Those experiences also bring with them a sense of responsibility to keep going, to add more good into the world.

Q: One of your challenges that you talk about openly is being dyslexic. How has this affected you, because having written nine books in three years, it’s clearly not slowing you down?

A: On the plus side of being dyslexic, my imagination is very visual, 3D. It’s like I’m walking around in a movie scene, able to rewind, replay, alter, and replay. Often I feel like my writing is just the transcribing of the movie I’m privileged to have in my head.

The downside is obvious, in terms of words tripping me up. I accepted that my writing was going to be very far from perfect, but I adapted my process for getting it ready for release. That means when I’m done my draft, I go through it from start to finish at least three times in order to clean it up. Then it goes to my beta readers, some of whom can’t help themselves and do some grammar and word-substitution corrections. After going through those proposed changes and incorporating them, it goes to my editor for the first round. She goes through it, sends it back to me, I incorporate her changes, and then send it back to her for another round. After that’s done, then I have one to three  proofreaders go through it to catch as many of the tiny errors that managed to sneak through as possible. THEN I declare it done.

As a software architect, I learned that my dyslexia was a net-advantage for me. At first, I thought everyone could take a concept and create a machine in their head that mapped to it, and then walk around the machine, identifying problems or weak points, and bring it up.

I used to cringe when I’d hear “You have to read tons to be a writer.” I can’t read quickly at all, and while I read a lot of news, I don’t read many books. I’ve come to believe that this is really the heart of what it means to be a writer; we need to be absorbing new experiences, moments, and thoughts. I get that from conversations, movies, TV, and other sources. Maybe that’s why my characters feel so real, I don’t know.

Q: When talking about being a dyslexic author, what is the message you want to convey?

A: The advantage I, and perhaps other dyslexics have is that my highly visual imagination greatly outweighs tripping on words. Be willing to make a mess, because a mess that’s written is better than perfection locked in the prison of your mind. Also, with that mess, clean it up as best you can, and then have others clean it up more.

Q: What’s next for you, Adam?

A: Less than three weeks after The Day the Sky Fell releases, The Wizard Killer – Season Two releases. I’ve just sent the first draft of a non-fiction book to a friend of mine, which I hope to bring out by August. This will then be followed by my first installment in a new fantasy, space opera series called Tilruna.

As an ambitious madman who believes in making use of every moment that isn’t invested in my family, I’m hoping to bring a Yellow Hoods world story out in April 2018, along with The Wizard Killer – Season Three, and that fall, Tilruna – Season Two. InApril 2019? Well, keep your eyes peeled, because you might see the first book in that Yellow Hoods spin-off series published by someone else, bringing together Dreece versions of tales like The Pied Piper and Little Match Girl.

Ambitious? Absolutely. Crazy? Yeah, especially when you consider there are a few short stories in there and growing the distribution side of my publishing business. Still, at the end of the day, I love what I do, and I’m spending far more time with my family that I ever did when working in software.

The Day The Sky Fell

Mini-blurb: The Day the Sky Fell brings a dramatic conclusion to the steampunk meets fairytale saga, with airship battles and betrayals at every level.

You can find/connect with Adam here:

Blog – AdamDreece.com

Facebook http://facebook.com/AdamDreeceAuthor

Instagram – http://instagram.com/AdamDreece

 

 

Ten Days in Summer

Calder-TenDaysInSummer[825]

In chatting with novelists over the years, it has always fascinated me how they go about choosing careers for their protagonists. Some of those professions are dream jobs the writers themselves would love to have pursued–provided, of course, they could gracefully pirouette across a stage without tripping, fearlessly jump out of a plane to pursue a villain in the alps, or design breathtaking architecture that truly takes everyone’s breath away. Others draw from personal experience and give us insider insights into career choices with which we may not be familiar The insurance industry, for instance. The latter was the case for author Susan Calder, who drew from her expertise as an insurance adjuster–and her remembrance of some of the more unusual claims–to create a most watchable series character, Paula Savard. In her new novel, Ten Days in Summer, we meet Paula as she is investigating a suspicious building fire that caused the death of a hoarder.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What (or who) first ignited your passion for writing?

A: As a child, I wrote a few plays for the kids on our street to perform for our mothers. I also enjoyed writing stories and poems for school, and got encouragement from my teachers. My sister and I spent countless hours making up stories with our paper dolls or simply with our voices talking out characters. I set that kind of storytelling aside for 27 years, until a personal crisis shook me up and landed me in a place where I felt I had things to say and wanted to create stories again.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and teen? If so, what are some of the titles we might have found on your bedroom nightstand?

A: I recall an uncle admonishing me for burying my nose in a book rather than appreciating the sunset, so I must have read a fair bit. My most memorable books on my teenage nightstand were Gone With The Wind, High Wind in Jamaica, The Catcher in the Rye and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. I also loved two novels we studied in class: Pride & Prejudice and Of Human Bondage. They led me to read other novels by Jane Austen and Somerset Maugham. Glad as I am that I read all of these books and more, I think my uncle was right about the sunset.

Q: What attracted you to the mystery genre?

A: My childhood reading included an abundance of mystery novels. Whenever I found a series I liked, I read every book I could get my hands on. It began with The Bobbsey Twins and continued to Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden and several British series. In my teens I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s romantic mysteries and later I got into Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. So, mystery novels were never far from my nightstand and we tend to write what we read, for good reasons. Several themes intrinsic to the mystery genre appeal to me. The search for the truth. Who can you trust? What’s really going on beneath the surface?

Q: Who are some of the mystery authors whose work you especially admire?

A: Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, for their complex characters and plots. I like Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series for its Venice setting and the dark story endings that rarely show justice completely served. And I still think my classic favourites, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier, stand up to the best of mystery writing.

Q: In your view, what governs the choice to make a mystery novel a standalone title or a series?

A: When I wrote my first novel, Deadly Fall, I intended it to be a standalone. Paula, my protagonist, functioned as an amateur sleuth and I wrote it as a story of personal growth within a mystery plot. It was only toward the end of the second draft that I thought I would like to continue with these characters, to see what happens to them next. This was partly because, with the attention needed for the mystery of the victim’s life, I didn’t have space to explore all I wanted about Paula. A standalone is probably a story where the protagonist primarily investigates her own life. It becomes her defining, life-altering experience and why would she need another one?

Q: One of the biggest advantages of series fiction is that one’s lead characters are already well known to readers. A challenge, though, is in ensuring that one’s readers actually read the books in the same order in which they were written. Is this the case with your own work or could a reader be introduced to your protagonist at any juncture in the line-up?

A: I think a new reader to the series could pick up book 2, Ten Days in Summer, and quickly become acquainted with Paula, her family, friends and colleagues. They are where they are at this point in their lives and I make little reference to past cases and experiences. I plan to do the same for book three. Except, there are a couple of spoilers in Ten Days in Summer for those who read Deadly Fall afterward and there will probably be one more spoiler in my next book for people who read that one first.

Q: What aspects of your real-life career in the insurance industry influenced your approach to planning and writing works of fiction?

A: I wanted Paula to have a career and figured it would be easiest to give her one I know well—insurance adjuster. It didn’t occur to me until I was almost finished with the first draft of the novel that adjusters might stumble on insurance claims that conceal a murder, such as burglaries, fires and automobile accidents. Rather than continue with Paula as an amateur sleuth, a genre that’s hard to make believable, I wanted her next mysteries to come from her job. To start each novel off, I have to think of the kinds of insurance claims I encountered in my work.

Before Deadly Fall, my insurance career inspired a short story called “Adjusting the Ashes,” which in several ways is a forerunner to the Paula books. I chose a type of case we encountered periodically, which I found peculiar and humourous. Our company insured a brewery. Every so often someone would claim he swallowed a mouse in his bottle of beer. We settled these claims for nominal amounts to get rid of them. But I thought, what if one of these nuisance claims mushroomed into something huge? This story has been published so I can’t do the mouse swallowing again, but it would be fun to come up with an unusual claim for a future Paula story. Maybe for book four.

Q: Ten Days in Summer is set in Calgary. What elements of this city’s “personality” are infused in the storyline and make it as much a living, breathing character as the human players?

A: The Calgary Stampede wild west festival takes over the whole city of Calgary for 10 days each summer. People dress cowboy and cowgirl; banks and stores sport bales of hay and drawings of horses on their windows. I wanted the atmosphere to permeate the novel and I doubt there’s a chapter without some reference to the Stampede. Several scenes feature it prominently. Another aspect of Calgary is that it’s an oil town, subject to boom and bust. Ten Days in Summer is set when the price of oil and the city is near bottom, and that mood prevails in the book. But during the booms, Calgary’s a place where people come to try their fortune or escape their past. It’s also a city of entrepreneurs and individualists, reflecting the western spirit. I try to bring this out through the characters Paula meets in her investigation. Paula, herself, is a migrant from Montreal, who moved west to improve her life and found that everything didn’t work out as she’d hoped. Now she’s moving in new directions.

Q: What was your inspiration for this particular plot?

A: I was mainly inspired by the Stampede and Hoarding. Since Deadly Fall was set in the fall, I wanted the sequel to take place in another season and settled on summer. Among other things, summer in Calgary means the Stampede. I find two weeks or thereabouts a good time frame for a novel and realized I could set the whole story over the Stampede’s 10 days. My sister had once lived on the top floor of a building with a view of downtown Calgary and the Stampede grounds. I joined her one evening to watch the fireworks from her deck. I decided the novel would begin with Paula at the opening day parade and end the last night of the Stampede, with a group of characters watching the fireworks from the deck of the building damaged in the fire claim Paula was investigating.

At the time I was developing the idea, my siblings and I were engaged in assorted legalities regarding our late grandmother’s house. With our mother also gone, we had to deal with her only sibling, a hoarder who occupied the home’s second floor. He made things so difficult that I decided to fictionally kill him off. A hoarder’s home would be a high fire risk, which gave me the idea to have this character die in a suspicious building fire. Paula would come in to handle the property insurance claim and deal with his heirs, who gained financially from his death.

Certain things changed in the process of writing the book. I discovered it worked better to start the story the night before the parade. Technically, it’s still Stampede time, since the fair grounds are open for preview on this sneak-a-peek night. And the hoarder character inspired by my annoying uncle became the most sympathetic character in his fictional family.

Q: Which comes first for you – the characters or the storyline?

A: The characters. For Deadly Fall, I first thought of Paula, her associates and her family members. Then came the inciting plot incident—her best friend from childhood is murdered. Next more characters arrive: two detectives, people from her friend’s life. Their actions and agendas fuel the plot, which develops all the characters, including Paula.

For Ten Days in Summer, I already had Paula and the continuing characters in place. So the characters came first again. To start things off, I needed a plot point, the insurance-related incident, and decided on the fire. Through her work, Paula meets people involved with the victim and the claim. They create plot and are, in turn, affected by story developments.

Q: Do you work from an outline or allow the plot to unfold as you go along?

A: I start with a few elements – basic ideas for characters, a murder or suspected murder, and setting details. I also have some thoughts about what’s happening in Paula’s personal life. Paula spends the first quarter or so of the novel draft meeting with suspects, colleagues and family members, setting up the story problems. I try to write loosely, letting unexpected details and dialogue creep in, while keeping on top of the pacing, to make sure this beginning doesn’t get sidetracked or go on too long. From this setup, the plot unfolds. There should be enough to keep it rolling to the middle, when I need new wrinkles to raise the conflicts and tension until the end.

Q: You’ve won a number of contests for your short stories and poems. Are these two outlets easier or harder than writing a full-length novel?

A: Generally speaking, I find the more words in a piece of writing, the longer it takes to write and revise to make the best I can. In that sense, a full-length novel is harder than shorter works. The few short poems I’ve written have come to me almost fully formed. I can write them down in an afternoon. After that, I tweak and revise, but there are only so many words and punctuation marks to play with. I also feel I’m not experienced enough in poetry to know how to improve poems a lot. I haven’t won contests for poems, but have published four—vs. only two published novels that represent many more years of work.

While there are contests for unpublished novels, there are many more contests for unpublished poems and short stories. Usually these contests come with publication. I discovered I had better luck getting my short stories published through contests than through regular submissions. Perhaps this was a fluke, or perhaps there is less competition in contests due to the entry fee. To build a resume of published credits, I entered contests and sometimes won or placed. It’s nice to say now that my stories have won contests, but it doesn’t mean more than publication.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you over the course of writing their story? 

A: Since I develop my characters in the process of writing the story, they always surprise me, at least in small ways. A large surprise in Deadly Fall was realizing, in draft # 4, that a character I had not considered a suspect might be the killer. I seriously considered changing my plan about who did it. I figured, if I hadn’t had a clue, how many readers would? In the end, I stuck with my original vision, although this character’s new involvement in the case solved a plot glitch.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Paula Savard?

A: This is fun. Since no one came immediately to mind, I did a Google search for Hollywood actresses aged 50. I like Diane Lane. She’s not highly recognizable and I’ve admired her work in movies. I can also see that a number of others who are more familiar could suit the part and infuse themselves into Paula’s character. Choices might be Emma Thompson (if she’ll do a Canadian accent), Andie McDowell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Julianna Marguilies, who I enjoyed on the TV show ER when she was involved romantically George Clooney’s doctor character. I could handle George Clooney as my movie’s male romantic lead.

Q: How much was research was involved and what were your principal resources to ensure authenticity?

A: My insurance work experience was long ago and didn’t involve many property claims. At a literary reading, I happened to talk with a man who told me that he’d recently retired from insurance claims work. He gave me his email address and I contacted him with questions about insurance, to get those details right and up to date in the book. To learn about building fires, I called a friend’s son who is a fire fighter and met with him and his colleagues at a Calgary fire station.

When I was writing my first mystery, Deadly Fall, I belonged to a Calgary Mystery Writers group that featured monthly speakers on topics related to crime writing. Some of these were police officers or others with knowledge relevant to my book. I learned much about police procedure here and also took the free Calgary Citizens Police Academy course, a 12-week program with speakers from different branches of the police.

Any time I step outside my immediate experience, I have to look things up, even something simple like the location of a particular street. The Internet helps. I read a couple of books on hoarding to confirm and enhance my understanding of this psychological condition. It’s surprising how much research you need to do for a contemporary story set in your home town, but I want to make things as accurate as I possibly can.

Q:  Do you revise and edit scenes as you move along or wait until the very end? Why is your chosen method an effective one for you?

A: I write to the end before doing any editing. The rare times I might revise a scene would be when I can’t move forward without doing this. Since I don’t write from an outline, the first draft becomes my process of developing the story and discovering what it’s all about. Only when I reach the end do I fully know if the novel works and what I need to add, delete, change or enhance in the earlier chapters.

Q: Do you let anyone read your work in progress or do you make them wait until you have typed THE END?

A: Ideally, I wait until I’ve typed THE END. I believe the first draft should be only the writer’s vision. After that, you find out how the story and characters are coming across to others and modify them for readers. Now that I have more confidence in my writing, I will occasionally show people small pieces before I’ve finished the first draft. For someone newer to writing, I think if you show your work too early, you risk being swayed too much by their opinions and you might lose what’s strongest and most original about your story.

Q: When and where do you feel you do your best wordsmithing?

A: I mainly write at home, in my den at my computer and don’t feel the need for different locations to wordsmith better. I like writing best in the mornings, when I’m fresh, but other activities often get in the way of this.

Q: What, for you, is the hardest part of the writing life and what helps you to move past this hurdle?

A: Rejection. By this I mean rejection from publishers and losing out on contests and awards that I’d thought I had a chance with. It’s also criticism of my writing at any stage in the process, from showing an early piece of work to others or receiving a critical print review.

What helps me move past this, is forcing myself to sit down and write. Before long I’m into it, and realize that it’s the process of writing that I love and it’s not really about outside opinion.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I read The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell as a teenager? It surprises me to recall that I did, partly because today we don’t hear much about this philosopher, mathematician, political activist and 1950 Nobel prize recipient for Literature. ‘Bertie’ inspired me to take a math option at university because he declared that math was essential to the study of philosophy.

On the other side of the intellectual coin, for the past forty years, off and on, I’ve followed Coronation Street, the British TV soap opera about working classes residents in Manchester. I enjoy the tangled relationships between those everyday blokes. This was one thing I didn’t need to research for Ten Days in Summer, when I made Paula’s mother a Corrie fan.

Q: When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?

A: Travel. Over the past few years, my husband and I have been to Europe and Mexico several times each. We make regular shorter trips to eastern Canada to visit relatives and friends.

Hiking. For the past 8 years, we’ve belonged to a hiking club that does weekly day trips to the nearby Rocky Mountains from May-Oct. Our club organizes an away trip each summer, this year to Revelstoke where I’ve never hiked before. The rest of the year, we do two hour walks in Calgary and region parks. Every couple of years, a member organizes a hiking holiday. This winter, about 25 of us spent a fabulous week in Mesa, Arizona.

I also enjoy my twice-weekly Zumba class and look forward to bicycling when the ice and winter grunge finally disappear from Calgary’s pathways and streets.

 

 

 

The Freedom Broker

The Freedom Broker

Thea Paris is one of twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators in the world, and she takes on her toughest case with a special client: her father. The pulse-pounding action unfolds In K.J. Howe’s new thriller, The Freedom Broker, and we’re delighted to put her in the spotlight this week at You Read It Here First.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q:  You’ve lead an international life with a wide variety of activities. Tell us about some of them.

A:  Growing up, I lived in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe because my father worked in telecommunications. Adventure and travel have been an important part of my life ever since. I’ve had the pleasure of racing camels in Jordan, ziplining in Costa Rica, diving with Great Whites in South Africa, and interacting with elephants in Botswana. I really enjoy immersing myself in other cultures and learning about them.

Q:  In what ways was that lifestyle influential in prompting the urge to become a writer?

A: I had an eclectic education because of all the travel. Stories were my sanctuary, a lovely escape from the pressures of always being the new kid. I enjoyed reading so much that I wanted to create my own books. I spent years as a medical writer as I worked on my craft and storytelling skills in fiction, and I’m most grateful to have The Freedom Broker out now.

Q:  If you had never left Toronto—or had grown up and stayed in a small community—would you still have started writing novels?

A:  I definitely feel that I would be writing whether or not I’d had my international upbringing, as I love books, stories, and the experience novels provide. I started reading at an early age, and I always wanted to be an author. That said, I believe my choice of international thrillers is firmly rooted in the experiences I’ve had abroad. I work hard to create verisimilitude by immersing myself in the locales I’m writing about, as I love to transport readers there, bringing them the smells, tastes, and sounds of a country. Maybe if I would have stayed in Toronto, I would have written different books—but most likely in the thriller genre.

Q:  What comes first for you—the characters or the plot?

A:  Thea Paris came first, but in thrilleresque fashion, the story raced to close the distance. I wanted to create a strong, talented woman with humanizing vulnerabilities, including Type 1 diabetes. I enjoy books that are character based, so I’m hoping Thea might resonate with people, and perhaps encourage anyone with an illness that they can still reach for their dreams.

Given my extensive research into kidnapping the last three years, I wanted Thea to be an elite kidnap negotiator—a freedom broker—who travels to the world’s hotspots to bring captives back home. The world of hostage retrieval fascinated me, as it lurks in the shadows of society, a heartbreaking and dangerous milieu. Thea Paris became a freedom broker after she witnessed her brother’s kidnapping as a child. While her brother returned home nine months later, he was never the same. As a result, she was determined to help other hostages. There are over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year, and the number continues to grow.

Q:  What attracted you to the thriller genre?

A:  Thrillers appealed to me because I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie, something that was fostered by my father. He introduced me to motorcycles, scuba diving, and other adventures. I also love whiplash pacing, and the most suitable genre for that is thrillers. And maybe writing suspense novels is my way of vicariously experiencing the life of an action hero!

Q: Who are some of the authors in this genre whose work you especially admire?

A:  David Morrell, also known as Rambo’s Daddy, is an exceptional writer. He has had such a rich and diverse career writing everything from spy novels to historical trilogies to papers on John Wayne. I respect David’s approach to writing as he delves deeply into whatever subject matter he is studying. He is also a guru on the craft of writing, a professor of literature. And creating a new word in the English language—Rambo—is pretty darn sensational.  I also have the deepest respect for Lee Child and his creation of Jack Reacher, Lee’s character is a throwback to a Western hero, a stranger who comes into town and solves a problem, then blows back out with the wind. I love that Reacher doesn’t do laundry, that he doesn’t own a credit card, that he lives by his own rules. It’s refreshing in today’s world to have a character who stands out in the crowd—and not just by his height. And Lee’s prose is tight, smooth—he’s a brilliant author.

Q:  Authors often infuse their fictional characters with aspects of their own personality. In what ways are you and your protagonist, Thea, very much alike? And in what ways are you very much different?

A: Most authors inject themselves into their characters because writing is a catharsis, a way of making sense of our world. I feel a strong collegiality with Thea Paris, as I never wanted the fact that I was a woman to stop me from pursuing any interests. Thea and I share a love for travel and adventure, but Thea is far braver than I am. I’m not big on being shot at, but she rushes into the fray. And Thea has Type 1 diabetes, which is a serious vulnerability for her, especially when she travels abroad, as insulin is her elixir—without it, she would die.

Q:  In Thea Paris’ bio, we learn that her brother’s kidnapping led her to become a negotiator for kidnap situations and an advocate for the families. What in your life prompted you to choose this particular career path for your main character?

A:  With over 40,000 reported kidnappings a year, this issue has become a global crisis. Kidnapping is a purgatory of sorts, as the hostage is alive, but not really living life. Every single item a hostage wants, whether it be food or privileges, he/she must obtain permission for it, a horrible existence.

I spent a lot of time in countries with high threat levels, so there was always a shadow hovering over me—and being abducted was a realistic fear. When I met former hostage Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq (for almost 1000 days), I had such respect for the courage he showed under enormous duress. Peter was taken hostage along with four British military gentlemen, and sadly, he was the only one to come home alive. What made Peter able to cope?  I explore issues like this in my book. I wanted to create a character who would help bring hostages home, a strong female who would do anything to assist others. And Thea is personally motivated to be a kidnap negotiator because of her brother’s experience. It’s more of a calling than a job.

Q:  The theme of The Freedom Broker had to have involved extensive research in the arena of covert operations. How did you go about identifying expert resources so that your suspenseful plot would ring true?

A:  I attended a kidnap and ransom conference, and I met some fabulous experts who were willing to share their knowledge. From there, I kept building relationships with a variety of people in the milieu, including kidnap negotiators, former hostages, K&R insurance executives, reintegration experts, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. I plan to continue my education on this compelling topic as I write the series.

Q: What was the most intriguing thing you learned from your body of research?

A: The kidnappers usually settle for around 10-15 percent of the original ransom demand—and haggling is an important part of the process to avoid the kidnappers thinking they have a cash cow on their hands. If the hostage’s family doesn’t stretch out the negotiations (which is hard to do when your loved one is in captivity), then the kidnappers might accept the ransom as a first payment and demand more. Also, it’s important to cry poor because if you pay too much, too quickly, then you are seen as a soft target, and the kidnappers might come after you or your family member again.

Q:  Did you envision Thea Paris’ journey to become a series when you started writing your debut novel?

A: Yes, I wanted to create a series character, and I felt a freedom broker had endless story potential. There are many facets of kidnapping, from kidnap for ransom to virtual kidnappings to tiger kidnappings. I could also explore extortion and piracy in the series because Thea works in those areas. And there are endless hotspots in the world, so there are countless settings for future novels.

Q:  Let’s talk about the advantages—and the challenges—in creating and sustaining a series with an overall story arc.

A:  The advantages are many in a series. Readers tend to connect with recurring characters, as they become real to them. It’s incredible to see the fan loyalty with some major fictional characters. I definitely considered the overall story arc, but I also left wiggle room for being impulsive. Like any seasoned operative, Thea left me egress routes all planned out.

Q:  Do you work from an outline or do you let your characters “talk” to you as you work from chapter to chapter? Why does this approach work well for you?

A:  When people ask if I’m a plotter or a pantser, I answer, “pants on fire.”  I’m definitely an organic writer. I do think about the story all the time, but I don’t plot out my novels. Instead, I feel that if I’m surprised, my readers will hopefully be as well. I don’t think there is one right way to write, it’s more a personal decision based on the way you work best. I love creating as I go.

Q:  If Hollywood came calling, who would comprise your dream cast?

A:  Charlize Theron or Mila Jovovich for Thea Paris—I’d like to see a strong, fit woman play her. Phillip Winchester for Rif Asker, as I loved him in Strike Back. And Thea’s brother Nikos, maybe Robert Downey Junior or Lieb Shreiver.

Q:  Do you allow anyone to read your work in progress or do you make them wait until THE END?

A:  I’m happy to have help along the way. It’s good to talk to trusted readers, get feedback.

Q:  When and where do you feel you do your best writing?

A:  I do my best writing on my laptop alone at home on a comfortable couch. Because I travel a lot, I write on planes and in hotel rooms, but my first choice would be home sweet home.

Q:  What do you think readers would be the most surprised to learn about you?

A:  That I’m an introvert at heart. Because I had to integrate into new environments, I’ve had to come out of my shell and become more extroverted, but I truly am introverted and a little shy.

Q:  What’s next on Thea’s (and your own) plate?

A:  I’m doing edits on the second book in the series now, Skyjack. Thea is shepherding two African orphans from Nairobi to London where they are being adopted when the plane they are on is hijacked. The adventures kick off from there. The CIA, the Vatican, secret stay-behind armies from WWII all collide when Thea has a huge challenge in the not-so-friendly skies.

Q:  When you’re not at your keyboard, what do you do for fun?

A: I love sports, especially tennis and swimming. Being out in nature is also very restorative. Travel, adventure, thrills. I love learning new things.

Q:  You’re the executive director of ThrillerFest. Can you tell us more about this conference for thriller enthusiasts?

A:  ThrillerFest is the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers held every July in NYC. It’s a wonderful gathering of over 1000 authors, and we celebrate the genre. We have something for everyone, whether you’re an aspiring author, a fan, or an industry professional. You can learn more via www.thrillerfest.com

Q:  Best advice for aspiring authors?

A:  Be passionate about your subject matter. You will spend so much time working on your books, take your time and choose the genre and topic carefully. And embrace constructive criticism. Writing is a journey of a thousand steps—or more like a million words—so enjoy the process of learning and be kind to yourself. Like any skill, you need practice.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  I love hearing from readers, so if you’re reading this, please drop me a line anytime at kj@kjhowe.com.

I’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview me. It has been a real pleasure.