Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Featured Author: Q&A with RJ Crayton

1-What genres do you enjoy?
I actually read a lot of different things, so I like thrillers, light romances, dystopia, young adult, some historical fiction and interesting nonfiction “pop-science” books (Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point or David Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us).

2-Are there genres that you never read?
There’s nothing I’ll count out for sure, but I don’t read a lot of horror.

3-Is there a book world that you would love to step into? A book hero you'd love to be?
The Harry Potter world is rather awesome. Any world where magic is real is pretty cool, but Rowling invented such a creative, outside-the-box world, that it would be fun to step into the post-Voldemort version of that world (I’d pass on the Voldemort laden-times of books 5,6 and 7).

4-What attracts you to buy/choose a book?
Depends on where I see the book. In a bookstore, I tend to see covers first, so an attractive cover and title will draw me over to open up the book. Online, I do see covers, but I subscribe to email lists and see books written about on blogs, so online it could be either the cover/title or the description, depending on how I come across the book. Ultimately, once I read about the book, it’s the description (traditionally back jacket copy) that draws me to it. Recommendations bring me a lot of books too. If someone I trust recommends a book, I won’t even read the description. I’ll just get it, as I enjoy being surprised by a book.

5-What do you enjoy seeing in a book?
A good story is ultimately what I want. Usually that involves memorable characters, a reasonable plot and a story that keeps the pages turning.

6-What puts you off a book?
Being misled. I hate it when a book purposely misleads you in a cop-out way. All good mysteries and thrillers are going to have a certain amount of subterfuge that makes you think one way, when the other way is what is really going on. But, when a book does it in a way where you feel misled or cheated, then the author has done something wrong. I hope never to be that author. I’m sure it’s unintentional, which is why it’s important to take reader feedback in the beta stage, seriously.

7-What current authors do you enjoy?
Oh, that’s an interesting question. I’ll just name a few whose books I’ve enjoyed recently: Harlan Coban, Jennifer Probst, Suzanne Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, Kathleen Grissom, SJ Watson.

8-Have you been influenced by any authors?
I think all writers are influenced by authors we read. It’s hard to say that one person is my big influence. From the stories I’ve loved reading, what I’ve taken is that I want my reader to be surprised by things in the book. I’ve read a couple of books recently, Dan Brown’s Inferno and SJ Watson’s Before I go to Sleep that use amnesia as a way to keep really important plot information hidden from the reader without it seeming forced or making the reader feel misled. I like getting these great revelations through the amnesia (because the thing I hate most is being able to predict what’s going to happen [with specificity, I mean; we generally feel pretty confident the main character isn’t going to bite the bullet]). However, very few people have amnesia, so I like to be able to create that feel--great, jaw dropping revelations--without amnesia. Elmore Leonard does a great job with this as well. Flashbacks, and telling a story out of time (similar to Audrey Niffeneger in The Time Traverler’s Wife) are great techniques that I’ve tried to incorporate from writers I enjoy.

9-What made you decide to write a novel?
I’ve always enjoyed writing fiction and always thought I’d write a book, even as a child. For a long time, I was a journalist, and the day-in, day-out of reporting and editing drained me enough that I wasn’t particularly creative in the evenings when I had free time. After my daughter was born in 2007 and I wasn’t working any more, I started feeling more creative. But, with a newborn infant as well as a toddler son to look after, I wasn’t energetic enough to write. When my daughter was around two, I had a creative burst and wrote some short stories. Life First started out as a short story, only I kept writing more. I’d written what turned out to be chapter one--where Kelsey is discussing impending surgery with her father--and planned to end the short story with the reveal of what surgery was actually for (as it’s not mentioned in the chapter). But, every time I got ready to end it, I kept wanting to know what happened after that, so I kept writing. Around the 20,000 word mark, I clued in that this was more than a short story. It took a long time to edit Life First because I had to kill some of the early stuff that worked well in a short story that ends with a reveal about a kidney operation, but not so well in the arc of a novel.

10-What are the most rewarding and frustrating things about being an author?
The most rewarding things is when someone loves the characters as much as you do. When I was in high school, I participated in a writing workshop. Everyone had to submit a short story, which was published in an anthology (I wish I knew what happened to mine). My story was called Love’s storm and was historical fiction (probably because we were studying the Pilgrims in school). I remember a girl asking me which story I wrote and me telling her, and her face melting into joy as she said, “I just LOOOOOOVVVVVED that story.” I haven’t had any in-person encounters like that since publishing Life First. But, I have had a couple of people write me saying they loved it. I think that’s the reward every author wants. You want someone to experience the joy of your story, to know you’ve made someone’s like a little richer through your story. The frustrating part of being an author is editing. It’s the time when you can make the most changes to your story, and for the better. But, it’s hard getting in there and doing it because you have to really take a hard look at it. Sometimes you have to cut the stuff you love, and sometimes you have to say goodbye to parts you enjoyed, but that just aren’t working.

11-How difficult is it to promote your book?
I think the most difficult thing about promoting the book is finding places to promote it. When people pay PR people, that’s really what they’re paying for: all the legwork that goes into finding places to promote your book. Once a gig is booked, the promotion part is the same for a big-time author as it is for a small time author. Talking about my book is easy because I love the characters and I love the story. The hard part is really all that legwork that goes into finding places to promote it, and earning an opportunity to promote your work there. Once you’ve got it set up, doing the interviews takes time, but that is a labor love. The difficulty also comes because the time you spend promoting is time you’re not writing your next project. Or time you’re not spending with your family. I think most writers would love their own PR department, because if they could just get rid of the scheduling/researching PR part of their day, it would free up a fair amount of time.

12-What are your strengths as author? Anything you want to improve on?
That’s a tough question, as it’s hard not to come off like you’re extolling your own virtues. I think my best strength is being able to accept criticism. A lot of people want to immediately dismiss it, but I value it in that I try to see if what people are saying resonates. I do well with specific criticism. This scene didn’t work because it ended too soon without real resolution is good criticism. To say, “I just didn’t feel it”--while valid to the person writing it--doesn’t help me as the author. So, I get most irritated by those kinds of things. I guess I should improve on accepting the fact that not all criticism is logical and sometimes people aren’t able to express the reason behind why they don’t like something, just that they don’t. (As an aside, Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink is a great book discussing how people are able to make split second analyses based on all these complex things, but not understand why. Great book, if you’re looking for something to read.)

13-What do you like to see in a reader review?
It’s interesting that you ask that, because a person in one of the author forums I participate in was complaining that certain book reviews reflect poorly on the author. She referenced an obscenity-laced, slang-filled positive review. The group consensus, and my opinion as well, was that you can’t get mad when readers review your work positively. Even if that isn’t who you are, that’s who that reader is, and that’s what they chose to write about it. As authors, we’d all love, articulate, well-thought out reviews (which reminds me, yours was great!). However, if it’s positive in nature, I’m happy with whatever I get. What I’d like to see is someone who states the positive things they liked about the book, the characters, the pacing and writing. They can also reveal any flaws that might put off readers. But that would be an ideal review. If the person liked the book and they expressed it in the fashion that suits them, it suits me, too.

14-What do you prefer not to see in reader reviews?
Spoilers. I hate when people reveal spoilers in a book review. You can say what you liked about a book, up to a point, but not if it reveals critical plot points. My book is laid out in such a way that it reveals certain information in flashback as you go through the book. So, it’s going to lend itself to shorter reviews just because of that

15-Why did you use the title Life First?
I picked the title because that is the mantra of the society in which the novel is set. I thought that was most reflective of what the book is about. The mantra is Life First because the society has survived a plague that nearly wipe out society, so, for them, everything is about preserving and furthering life, hence Life First.

16-What made you choose such an emotive subject for your novel?
The novel started off as a short story, so I wanted it to be a thought-provoking piece about body rights. It was supposed to be short and simple and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. Only, it got longer and longer and didn’t seem ready to end where I had planned to leave it. Usually, with short stories, I tend to theme them with whatever issue is on my mind at the moment. If I go into something with a novel in mind, I tend to have a more fully formed plot. So, writing Life First was interesting, because it came to me in pieces, rather than as a whole entity.

17-How did the idea for the plot develop?
It was as simple as asking myself, so what happens next and waiting for my brain to come up with an answer. Once I decided I wanted to go from a short story to s full-length novel, I came up with an endpoint, but needed to know what happened in between. And that just came to me as I wrote.

18-Do your readers have a positive or negative opinion of Kelsey's choice? How do you feel about their reactions?
Most have had a positive view, but a few--that I know of--have viewed it negatively. I think it depends on the person. I’d hope they’d view her choice to leave, once they learn of what else has happened in her life, as a good choice. But, people are who they are fundamentally. Some people are always going to hate her choice, because it goes against their own belief.

19-What would you like your readers to take from your book?
I think I’d like them to walk away from it saying it was a great read and they enjoyed how the story unfolded. Beyond that, not a whole lot. I think it would be nice if the book made them think more fully about the issues of personal body rights, but that’s just gravy. I’m an author, and I enjoy telling stories. If someone enjoys the story I’ve told, that’s all I want.

20-Who are your favourite characters and why?
Favorite characters. From my book, I like the three main characters--Kelsey, Susan and Luke. We don’t see a ton of Susan in Life First, but she plays a very prominent role in the second book, and I like her even more, now that I’ve finished that part of the story. Favorite characters in general, not in my own work: (1) The little red hen from the book of the same name -- it’s one of my favorites from childhood and I totally love the fact that she worked so hard to make her bread (or cake, depending on which version of the story you have) even though she couldn’t get help from her so-called friends. Working hard despite adversity is awesome. (2) The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Pryn. I read this for school and the book and Hester made such an impression on me at the time due to the fact that she was outcast for sleeping with this guy and she paid the price without saying a word, even though he got away scott-free. And the reveal of who it was at the end was just so shocking to me. There was so much going on with her, with that society, with that story, it was just unforgettable. That’s probably why it’s required reading after more than a century. (3) Harry Potter. There are characters who have lots of books written about them, in a series, but this book goes beyond that. It’s seven books, but collectively they tell us one story, one unforgettable story of Harry Potter. And I think he’s a fabulous character, who I will forever adore.

21-What are your plans for your next book?
Life First is the first of a three-book series, so my plans are to finish out this series. It seems like everyone does three book series these days, but this story needs three books to be told. After finishing Life First, I’d originally planned to do only a second book, but as I was starting what I wanted to be book 2, I realized it started too far in the future (in relation to where book 1 ended). So I asked myself, what happened immediately after the end of Book 1. Once I started developing that story, I fleshed out book 2. So, book 2 is presently out with beta readers (people I trust who read it tell me any parts that fell flat/didn’t work), and I am about 50,000 words into the third and final book. I’ve gone through and written a single paragraph description of the remaining 12 chapters of book 3. I hope to finish writing the first draft of that book by the end of September. Then I plan to work on final editing for the second book, so I can get that published before the year ends. I’ve also started a young adult novel whose kinks I have to work out. However, I’m going to finish the Life First series before I get too heavily into that book.

Thanks RJ! 

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