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Three Re-emerged Rock Gods, One Adventurous Author: The Making of Mr. Mojo Risin

At one point or another, rock music fans have asked themselves, “What if Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Elvis Presley had lived? Where would they have taken their vast musical talent? What would they have done with their lives? What would they be like today?”

Southern California author and musician Scott Tatum tackles those questions head-on in Mr. Mojo Risin, a satirical and oft-hilarious romp that pulls the equally mysterious worlds of the CIA, FBI, Mafia and Yakuza together — along with the White House, Pentagon, Las Vegas police, and a traveling club of retirees. Amidst these elements, set in the late 1990s, he drops in Jim, Jimi and Elvis by bringing them back to life in a conceivingly plausible way: by ghosting them in a secretive CIA program. This ends abruptly when an invisible Jimi walks away… only to soon find himself with Jim and Elvis on a cross-country trip.

From there, all hell breaks loose — often — as we follow the three resurrected legends, now somewhat ordinary people that the author masterfully presents in their most day-to-day human selves (besides Jimi, who remains invisible). He deftly overrides the images of the tortured rock gods whose songs we’ll forever listen to. The relationship between Morrison and Sparkle (Think The Doors’ classic song “Love Street” manifesting in the flesh), Elvis’ indifference to his own look-alike contests, and the various adventures feed an ever-building plot that culminates in the group’s attempt, along with the elite SEAL Team 13, to prevent a U.S. takeover of Jamaica.

Like all good novels with satirical streaks, Mr. Mojo Risin’ offers a quite serious undercurrent to this book: the government, run by a President well over his head, surrounded by corruption and self-serving politicians and military leaders.

Mr. Mojo Risin’ is a true send-up, the kind of sweeping novel into which we all love to escape. It is also the first of four planned novels by Tatum, who also is a songwriter, musical and short story author. As he sat down with us, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he broke down one of the more original novels to cross our desk in years. You can find more on the book, including entertaining back stories on characters — and a few select song lists — by going to http://www.mrmojorisinbook.com.

WORD JOURNEYS: Mr. Mojo Risin has more twists and turns than a Grand Prix course in a hall of mirrors — and each is equally farcical, hilarious, informative, and cautionary in its own way. Can you briefly take us through the story?

SCOTT TATUM: You can get a lot of mileage if you cast three back-from-the-dead rock icons as your protagonists, especially if one of them chats with God and another is invisible. But that will only take you so far. Conflict drives stories. In Mr. Mojo Risin, Morrison and company have many worthy adversaries: a bumbling President, his vainly incompetent Chief of Staff, a ruthlessly ambitious four-star General, a sleazy Mafia hitman and a seductive Yakuza assassin — and that’s before tossing the CIA, the FBI, homicide detectives, and a Navy SEAL team into the mix.

WJ: Jim, Jimi and Elvis are together again – in a way no one will expect. What gave you the idea to come up with a novel about the three as members of a ghost CIA program? 

ST: When I settled on Morrison, Elvis and Hendrix as my protagonists, I had to come up with a shared experience to account for their deaths. The CIA ruse worked because it gave an almost plausible way to account for their public disappearances and subsequent resurrections.

WJ: How did this story come together? What prompted you to write this book, and the eventual series? 

ST: Like all stories, this started with a couple questions. The first: If Jim Morrison (and eventually Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix) didn’t die, what really happened and what would they be up to now?

The second question reared its ugly head during a TV piece about the legalization of marijuana. Watching a demagogue wax poetically about the dangers of pot as a gateway drug, I wondered, ‘What if marijuana provided a strategically important advantage to the military?’

WJ: What were character aspects you embraced as you imagined Morrison, Hendrix and Presley still kicking around some 25-30 years after their demises? 

ST: In Mr. Mojo Risin, Elvis references his earlier “resurrection” (starting with his 1968 TV special) as a cautionary tale, warning Morrison that if he’d hung on any longer, he’d have wound up fat, fringed and strung out in Vegas doing two shows a night. Morrison, who makes several references to his extended adolescence, understands that being away from his old life as a rock god gave him the space to grow up. Morrison, Elvis and Jimi are painfully aware of where they came from and hopeful of where they’re headed.

WJ: The story is a real send-up, and in many ways, parallel to some of the dysfunction we see in the White House today. Yet, you draw out something quite serious: what happens to a country when someone takes charge who is way over his head. Can you talk about that sub-theme? 

ST: Sadly, those lessons are either self-evident or they’re not. Most people understand there’s an astounding level of dysfunction in Washington in general and in the White House in particular. The rest appear pathologically incapable of figuring it out.

The Trump presidency has dramatically raised the bar on what’s out-of-bounds politically. In the book, the Hartley-Thibodeaux campaign platform had to be re-written because what I wrote in the original draft, though it seemed outrageous at the time, has become the new normal.

WJ: We’ve got corrupt politicians, resurrected rock legends, old girlfriends, renegade warriors, Mafia and Yakuza interests … How did these character choices factor into the way you wrote the book?

ST: Michelangelo said every block of stone had a statue inside, and the task of a sculptor was to uncover it. I try to create intense, wacky characters then get out of their way and let them tell their story. It probably contributes to the wild ride that I tend not to write linearly.

WJ: As you wrote the story, what surprised you most about how Jimi, Jim and/or Elvis changed?

ST: Actually, what surprised me most what was not how they changed but why. The book wrote itself. The story took some unexpected twists and turns that forced the characters to react and adapt.

WJ: You have a real talent for spotting the farcical in people, their lives and their situations. In what ways did that help you with the hilarious scenes and conversations that pepper this book? 

ST: I think that springs from a mix of my personal experiences and how I look at the world. When people asked, I used to answer, “I was a righter”. Along the way, part of my process was learning I can’t fix the world. We live in nonsensical times. All I’m doing is going with the flow and creating a read from my perspective.

WJ: Since Jim Morrison is one of the characters, you do something to show the heartful side of him – putting him with Sparkle. He was like this before, too, at times. Tell us about your love of The Doors, and why you chose to bring out the soft side of Morrison in the book. 

ST: Like I said, hopefully, eventually we all grow up. When I first met my wife, I realized she was too smart for me to fool very long. I had to become the person I pretended to be. For a guy set in his ways, that’s hard. Like Morrison when he meets Sparkle, I was so in love with her, I was willing to go through the process. I think it’s something most men can relate to. If you’re a man and can’t, either God bless you ‘cause you got it right the first time, or you’ve got a lot of work to do.

WJ: Another highlight is the fast-paced, tough-talking, colorful dialogue between the characters. That must’ve been a blast to hear all these colorful, crazy characters talking through your head while writing.

ST: One of the experiences I share with Jim Morrison, is as the son of acareer military officer, I moved around a lot as a kid. In the second grade, I went to four different schools. I was in the eighth grade before I went to the same school two years in a row. Learning how to fit in became an emotional survival skill. One of the chameleon-like abilities I unconsciously acquired was mimicking speech. Take the Mafia hitman in Mr. Mojo Risin, Many of the details of his life – Saint Rose’s of Lima in Flatbush, Newkirk Ave, the Cadillac dealership on Long Island – are familiar to me. His voice in my head rings distinctively Brooklyn. I hope it reads that way as well.

I always work dialogue out loud and standing up. I act out each scene as I edit. Several characters have catch phrases that help identify and define them, like Gladys Little’s “landsakes” or her husband Elmo’s “we better skidaddle before the blubbering starts.”

One quirk I didn’t catch until later, is that Morrison, Sparkle and Moby always say “going to” while the rest of the characters say “gonna”. Morrison and Sparkle were both English majors. Moby, as we find out in Agnew on Mt Rushmore, has his Ph.D. from Cambridge. I did that without realizing it just by keeping everyone in character.

When I first met my wife, I warned her anything she says or does is fair game for a book and she strongly influenced Sparkle. I frequently take notes whenever I hear or say something I think I can use. Sometimes I try out dialogue on her to see how she reacts. Little tricks like that keep each character’s speech authentic.

WJ: Tell us about the mother-daughter dynamic of Sparkle and Honey, and how that plays into both Morrison’s opening and the story itself. 

ST: As a man, writing from a woman’s perspective is hard. I didn’t grow up with a sister. My grandfather was one of thirteen children and had two sons of his own. His only sister died before he was born. When my parents got married, he presented them a bottle of Napoleon brandy to toast the first female addition to the family line in over half a century. But my mom and dad had sons. My brother has two sons. Another half a century later, after I had three sons, my wife and I found out she was pregnant with a little girl.

Not surprisingly, I relied heavily on the relationship between my wife and our now teenage daughter in crafting Sparkle and Honey’s characters. Because Sparkle was a teenage mom herself, they grew up almost like sisters. It’s hard, particularly with a mother and daughter so close in age, to be friends and still set boundaries. That dynamic is a telling part of their story.

WJ: Mr. Mojo Risin’ is the first book in a series you are planning. Tell us briefly about the stories to follow.

ST: You can get a lot of mileage if you cast three back-from-the-dead rock icons as your protagonists, especially if one of them chats with God and another is invisible. But that will only take you so far. Conflict drives stories.

In the second book, Agnew on Mt. Rushmore, Morrison and company confront a thermonuclear weapons designer who rolls into Vegas with a trunk full of suitcase nukes and a plan to extort billions from Uncle Sam. Along with his co-conspirators, a deranged U.S. Senator from Mississippi and the Prince of Darkness (Satan’s spent the last two decades moonlighting as a Vegas lounge singer), he’s threatening to turn southern Nevada, including some very expensive casino real estate, into ground zero.

In the third book, The Boys From Pahrump, lingering questions surrounding JFK’s death are answered when our heroes match wits with the love child of Marilyn Monroe and Adolf Hitler. Neither the Cubans, Kremlin, Mafia nor CIA were involved in the assassination. There was no sinister conspiracy. In my story, JFK got caught up in a good, old-fashioned love triangle, cuckolding a sociopath with a silly moustache.  Meanwhile, Adolf and Marilyn’s son is poised to fulfill his father’s dream of world domination. He’s smuggled thousands of vials of frozen Fuhrer sperm from a super-secret CIA vault, the first step in his master plan to breed an army of baby Hitlers and create the Fourth Reich.

I’m thinking about writing the fourth book (working title Erebus ex Machina) from Gladys Little’s point-of-view. That way I can shamelessly steal Vonnegut’s opening line from Cat’s Cradle (that he shamelessly stole from Moby Dick):

Call me Mother. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me Gladys.

I’m only a hundred pages in, and the story’s still writing itself, but I will tell you it ends with a burning Viking ship sendoff in the Bellagio Fountains.

I hope readers enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them.

 

 

 

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The Sleuthsayers: Six Crime, Mystery & Action Thriller Novelists Discuss Their Work

CHECK OUT THE 366 WRITING BLOG:

40 GREAT BOOKS FOR EVERY WRITER

(First of a 2-blog series)

THEY PRESS ON WITH THEIR DAILY LIVES, watching everything. Stories percolate constantly in their minds. They sit for hours, days, weeks and months, cooking up good characters and bad, and plots with more twists and turns than a mountain switchback road.

Frank Ritter

Frank Ritter

Meet The Sleuthsayers. These crime fiction, mystery and action thriller authors specialize in compelling page-turner books that exemplify solid storytelling and characters that jump off the page. They kill people, injure others, fall in and out of love, and solve one tantalizing mystery after another. In many cases, they carry the same lead character from one book to another.

Recently, I put a few questions to authors Jenny Hilborne, Frank Ritter (also an award-winning playwright), Gayle Carline, William Thompson Ong, Claudia Whitsitt, and Wes Albers, who is also the director of the Southern California Writers Conference.

These people are very good writers. Their average collective ranking on Amazon.com? 4.8 (out of 5). And on Goodreads? 4.9 (out of 5).

Other interesting trivia tidbits: Remember the 1980s TV series Simon & Simon? The series was loosely (or not so loosely) based on Frank Ritter and his brother, private investigators at the time. Ritter’s expertise really shows in The Killing Games. Our other on-the-job expert is Wes Albers, a longtime member of the San Diego Police Department. Meanwhile, Tom Ong is one of the original Mad Men from the New York advertising scene of the early 1960s.

I hope you enjoy what they have to say – and buy their books, either for yourself or for a favorite crime & mystery fiction lover on your Holiday shopping list. Now, let’s get the roundtable started …

Jenny Hilborne

Jenny Hilborne

Q: First of all, give us a snapshot of your most recent books.

Jenny Hilborne: The Jackson Mystery Series, which can be read as standalones. They include Hide and Seek and Madness and Murder.

Frank Ritter: The Killing Games, an adult thriller (now available), and The Devil’s Crib, another adult thriller, which will be out in Spring 2014.

Gayle Carline: I write the Peri Minneopa Mystery Series. A couple of titles include Hit or Missus and Hot Mess.

William Thompson Ong: I call mine the Kate Conway Series – The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders.

Claudia Whitsitt: The Samantha Series: Identity Issues (Book 1) and Intimacy Issues (Book 2).

Wes Albers: Black & White is my first published novel. It’s a look into the life of a street cop, told through the eyes of veteran San Diego Police Patrolman John Hatch.

Q: Do you set up your plot twists before you begin writing, or do you let characters and situations take you there?

Albers: I do a little of both. For Black & White, I didn’t start out with anything. I simply sat down one day and started writing. I let the story take me where it wanted to go, until I hit a point where I needed to get to a logical conclusion. It became necessary to start doing some plotting and outlining as I went along, but mostly so that I could drive the story where I needed it to go rather than any creative plot twist.

Gayle Carline

Gayle Carline

One challenge in writing about street cops is that their job doesn’t necessarily flow like a typical story. The thought of having something fall along the lines of Act I, Act II, and Act III is kind of contrary to how the job works. Not every story in a cop’s life resolves. Instead, a street cop’s life is often more a series of scenes.

Whitsitt: Plot twists–what I live for! I do some pre-plotting. It’s best to know where I want the story to wind up, but I’m always willing to let the characters take over. I find a mix of planning/free-form works best for me. The story sometimes stays on track but often the twists are created along the way as a result of my character’s personalities and the ways in which they handle situations. The story evolves through the writing as I continually play “what if”. And my characters have minds of their own—feisty crew that they are!

Ong: I set up a basic plot with plenty of twists and turns in every chapter. But once I begin writing, those unexpected plot twists and turns will come flying at me from every angle and provide the spice for my story. While writing my first novel, I learned two very big lessons: 1) the best way to create plot twists is to ask your characters what’s the worst thing that can happen to them; and 2) believe in your characters and they will help you steer the plot, taking you to places you never thought possible.

Carline: It depends upon the book. Sometimes I just know how everything’s going to work and sometimes I get the idea as I’m writing. I try to do a very general outline. For my first mystery, I was so frightened of having any loose ends or conflicting clues, I stuck to my outline like duct tape. I thought writing to an outline would be my system. Then in the second mystery, I got bored with a scene, so I hit Peri over the head with a golf club and abandoned the outline. The third mystery was a hybrid of outlining, then ditching the outline, then re-outlining. I’m now writing a fourth book, and there is no outline.

William Thompson Ong

William Thompson Ong

Ritter: I story board not only my books but also my plays. All plot twists, locations and even some character traits are worked out on my story boards. I also do a personal profile of each major character and their traits.

Hilborne: I write whatever comes into my head at the time. My characters drive the story.

Q:  How much pre-planning do you put into your characters’ spoken voices, so that their dialogue is distinctive and forward-moving?

Hilborne: I’m not a planner. I hear their voices as I write the dialogue.

Ritter: I work very hard at making my dialogue match each character’s background and speech patterns so that each has his/her own voice. I study slang usage, speech patterns for an American locale I may need, and the speech patterns of those for whom English is a second language, if needed.

Carline: Of all the pre-planning, my characters are my biggest focus. I write up a study of each one, what they look like, their occupation, likes and dislikes, even astrological signs. Then I write a journal for each one. I let them tell me what’s important to them. By the time I start writing the book, I know who they are and how they sound.

Ong: Dialogue is not something that can be wasted. It must either establish character or further the plot. Before writing I make sure each character is

Claudia Whitsitt

Claudia Whitsitt

fixed in my mind—from what makes them tick right down to those quirky little details that are so important—and voice here is key. Then, before each scene, I write a brief outline that describes the action along with snippets of highlighted dialogue. Then I write the scene. I rewrite again and again. When I think I am finished with a novel I go over it carefully, looking for places where sharp dialogue can replace those author descriptions that are too long.

Whitsitt: I wrote a L.O.O.S.E. character sketch before I began writing the series, but I mostly hear my characters’ voices; it’s quite instinctive on my part. I simply step into their shoes and voila! Dialogue! (Don’t tell anyone I hear voices. Please!)

Albers: Dialogue thus far has been a pretty natural process for me. Often it is the easiest part of storytelling. I have an image of the character in my head and any distinct voice for a character just seems to develop as I work.  When I’m not writing but simply daydreaming about the story and where I want it to go, sometimes I’ll get a flash of something unique that I want to attribute specifically to a character.  The sergeant in Black & White is a good example. When I started writing him I had lots of examples of bad managers, or supervisors, from my past so I simply had him strike an elitist, condescending tone and the words just came naturally, his voice developed organically. I must have struck some chord because readers have consistently reacted to him as an accurate reflection of a bad boss that everyone has had at some point.

Q: Out of all the books you’ve written, what are two of the most surprising in-story developments that you did not know would happen when you started writing?

Wes Albers

Wes Albers

Albers: The first was in another unpublished story. I had a bad guy tied to a tree who was about to be executed. Hope was lost, from his perspective. When I originally started writing the chapter, I intended it to be more about the events that would ultimately lead to his surprise release, but as I wrote, it developed into an internal dialogue where this vicious and foul person started reflecting on the tragic path that led him to that tree. Suddenly, he became human and relatable.

The other was the start of Black & White. I didn’t set out to write police stories. In fact, I actively resisted them but someone encouraged me, and then repeatedly pestered me until I made an attempt. I never expected the first line of Black & White would ever survive to print, but in an instant, I found the voice of veteran of the streets, a voice that spoke with the authority of experience.

Whitsitt: My main character, Samantha, has experienced deep moments of profound sorrow. I was surprised how moved I was by those events and the lingering effects her grief had on me—losing loved ones I hadn’t intended to “kill” before I began penning the book. Writing those scenes is exhausting!

The other in-story surprise that has occurred is how much I enjoy writing male characters, (I guess my five brothers are worth something after all!), so much so that I’m considering a new series focused on one of those men.

Ong: At the end of The Mounting Storm, I originally had one ex-wife fire all six bullets from a Colt revolver into the body of the villain. At the very last minute, I switched the revolver into the hands of the other ex-wife. That gave the ending the unexpected wallop it needed.

In The Deadly Buddha, I changed the outcome of the scene where Kate survives the shooting in Central Park after Zack throws his body across hers and Zookie’s and nearly dies in the process. It then became a scene where a very  confused Kate realizes how much she loves the guy—and decides to marry him instead of keeping him waiting another 50 pages.

Carline: The first one came with the first book, Freezer Burn. I had imagined one character, Benny, as an immoral lout (this was before I started all the character development techniques). After the first scene, I saw him for what he was: an obsessive-compulsive man who was confused by the world around him and needed help.

The second one that truly surprised me didn’t happen when I was writing the book, but it happened when I was journaling one of the characters of my current work. I had thought of the crime, figured out the who/what/where, but while one of my characters was telling me about his life, I discovered the motive for the murder. It was completely different than what I was planning.

Ritter: After I story board, I then begin my plot and location research. In the case of The Killing Games, although my research had developed the needed information to make the climatic explosion at the LA Coliseum really happen, I altered this information so as to not be giving out factual instructions to any idiots or truly bad guys. Other than that, because I story board, the only in-story developments while putting pen (computer) to paper have been characters that I grew to truly like and had to either hurt badly or even kill them off. Honestly, when that happens, it really hurts. In The Killing Games, the bad guy rapes a woman and later he rapes her 12-year-old boy. Those scenes were very hard for me to write realistically, but they needed to be there to set up later actions and character developments.

Hilborne: All of my books have surprised me. The endings are never how I might imagine them. The most surprising element for me is the themes readers pick up in my stories. I never intend a message, but readers have pointed them out.

Read Part 2

 

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Where Truth and Fiction Collide: The Sleuthing and Writing Life of Claudia Whitsitt

(PART ONE OF A TWO-PART INTERVIEW)

Most novelists weave fragments of their own stories, experiences, friends (or enemies) into every book they write. For instance, in my novel Voice Lessons, I have nearly 100 fragments in there – but you’ll never know. The book is fiction. A fewer number write novels based on actual experiences, fictionalizing just enough to muddy the waters of the actual truth.

Rare is the author who bases novels on actual events, twisting timelines and events while keeping the essential truth intact – and pulls it off.

Claudia Whitsitt copyClaudia Whitsitt is that rare author. Her mystery thrillers draw directly from events in her life, which she unabashedly admits and promotes. When you write as well as Claudia, with a taut narrative style and compelling, unforgettable characters that keep the pages turning, you can say and do whatever you want. Her books are damned good.

Claudia is the author of Intimacy IssuesIdentity Issues, The Wrong Guy, and the forthcoming Two of Me. Without having to blast the spoiler alert, I will give you this: Intimacy Issues deals with a very pissed-off mother whose kids and dog are seriously messed with. Identity Issues is loosely based on the real-life stolen identity crisis involving her husband, Don, and the hell it put them through for years. She writes through the character of Samantha Stitsill, a mother and teacher who tracks down hilarious moments as well as she chases leads. The Wrong Guy is derived from the Michigan Murders, the horrifying co-ed murders that took place on the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan campuses in the late 1960s. A college freshman, Katie, is the protagonist – a girl loosely based on Claudia, who enrolled at Eastern Michigan just after they caught the serial killer.

READ THE PR WEB RELEASE ON CLAUDIA WHITSITT

In all three books, Claudia lets it fly with a combination of tragedy, drama, some of the ever-engaging sassy, tough-chick persona, emotional roller-coaster rides, great characterization and dialogue, and a trademark of every great mystery writer – humor. Damn, she’s funny! (More on that in part 2 of this conversation). And an obsessed amateur sleuth, drawn from her childhood fascination with Nancy Drew mysteries. Every mother with a beating heart would laugh their tails off at the first 10 pages of Identity Issues – and frequently thereafter, even though this is a dead-serious novel that speaks to an epidemic affecting up to 2 million people per year.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Claudia for almost four years; we met at the Southern California Writers Conference, where we both are presenters. Now, it’s your turn. Enjoy this conversation with the fabulous, recently retired Special Education teacher from Saline, Michigan – and then treat yourself to her books for some truly entertaining summer reading.

intimacy issuesWord Journeys: You sure seem to find, or fall into, real-life situations that activate your mystery instincts! 

Claudia Whitsitt: I love to play “what if?” with real-life scenarios. My brain seems to be wired to tap into situations that I’ve heard about and ask myself how I’d handle myself in the same situation, or imagine the ways in which things could have gone differently. I never have trouble thinking of ideas for my novels.

True stories fuel my fiction. I often say, “I write my life as fiction.” There’s always a jumping off point from the actual story to fiction though. Once I reach that point, which is often before I even begin to write, I feel the magic begin!

Word Journeys: What are the advantages — and pitfalls — of IDENTITY ISSUES COVER copywriting fiction so close to real life?

Claudia Whitsitt: Because the early parts of Identity Issues are based on my own experience, it was easy to write the beginning of the book. The funniest part though, was that initial readers didn’t believe that anything like what I’d experienced could ever really happen. I ended up making several changes to make the story more plausible. Truth is stranger than fiction! In all honesty, I got much more of a rush fictionalizing the back end of the story. It was liberating, in fact.  Sam is a much braver woman than me, and it was a delight to have her say the things I wish I had the nerve to say, and do the things I wish I had the guts to do. She’s a force to be reckoned with. Of course, my husband would probably say the same about me!

the wrong guyWJ: What about your husband? He was the loosely depicted “model” for the Jon Stitsill, the husband in Identity Issues … which must have been interesting on the home front! 

CW: My best friend reads all of my work. When she first read Identity Issues, she was furious with my husband. She could barely look at him after she read what his fictional character had done to put his family and marriage in jeopardy. Family and other friends also have had trouble distinguishing fact from fiction. I think I’ve conjured up all kinds of questions for them about my “real life”. Because the book is based on our own life experience, the lines sometimes become blurred between fact and fiction.

WJ: While Identity Issues is disturbing in the way identity theft can compromise and even devastate its victims and their families, The Wrong Guy is downright disturbing – a serial killer, a rapist, young co-eds scared to death. Could you describe this time of the Michigan Murders, and how you drew from your experience at Eastern Michigan to develop Katie?

CW: My college experience paralleled Katie’s in several ways. I entered college on the heels of (convicted murderer John Norman) Collins’ arrest. I experienced firsthand the fears of negotiating a campus where coeds lived with the constant worry of a predator’s existence. I attended countless meetings about safety. We were warned at every turn that there was no assurance we were safe just because a suspect was behind bars. We carried mace on our key rings, were taught to weave our keys between our fingers (in order to be ready to defend ourselves), and advised never to travel alone on campus. It was a tense time, and not the “typical” college experience.

I also had the most unlikely roommate, my complete opposite, just as Katie did. Katie’s roommate sits on closet shelves, tosses around profanity like loose change, and teaches Katie that there is more than one way to view the world. Katie learns to respect differences and forms a lasting bond with Janie. (My roomie and I are still best friends to this day!)

WJ: Your books have great plot twists. How did the necessity of switching gears as a parent, teacher, and in life shape your narrative style?

CW: As a reader, I love it when I’m comfortable with the plot and ease into predicting the next course of events. Then, wham! I’m blindsided. To me, that’s what creates the mystery and suspense. It’s my goal to create that same suspense in my own novels. Just when the reader settles back, I dish out something completely new and unexpected. It also mirrors what I went through after Don’s identity was stolen and I received late night phone calls in which the caller tried to convince me I didn’t know my husband. Much like Samantha, I had to be quick, smart, and savvy. Even when I’d only had a few hours of sleep.

WJ: Thirty-seven years of dealing with schoolkids made your flexible, I’d guess.

CW: Switching gears has been my M.O. for years. Life tosses me surprises on a daily basis. In my teaching of Special Education students, there was always some behavioral crisis looming. In raising my family, a sibling squabble, a last minute trip to the ER, or a broken heart to mend.

WJ: How did the theft of Don’s identity directly affect you?

CW: When my husband’s identity was stolen, I learned that thinking on my feet, flexibility, and multi-tasking were my friends. The identity theft occurred when my four older kids were in elementary school and my youngest was an infant. I held a full-time teaching position, and my husband traveled the world for business. I had an astounding amount to manage. Attitude was everything. I adopted a survival approach. Every day was a new and unexpected adventure. I learned to appreciate the surprises, and challenged myself to act rather than react. It became a game of sorts. I approached each day wondering what new wrench would be tossed into my day. The ordinary days became few and far between. Great writing fodder!

WJ: When we write fiction, we all have unanticipated surprises that just “fly out of us” during the writing process – and they become invaluable to the work. What were a couple of those surprises for you?

CW: When I become one with Samantha, she leads me through her innermost thoughts and feelings. They are sometimes deep. And dark. And way more personal than I anticipated. Being with her in her darkest hours takes me to surprising places. I feel privileged that she allows me to accompany her on her journey. The depth of emotion, or her internal timeline, as I like to call it, taps something in my soul that I didn’t know existed. There are times I walk away from a writing session completely spent. Sam faces her inner demons. When she does, I’m at my best as a writer. She’s opened my soul. I thank her for that.

(PART 2 will appear on Tuesday, July 2)

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