Monday, June 29, 2009

A Few Questions for Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong is a best selling author of several series including Nadia Stafford, a hitman (hitwoman? hitperson?) with a conscience. I want to thank Kelley for dropping by to answer a few question about her latest book, Made To Be Broken, in her thriller series and some off topic stuff as well. Kelley’s readers and any writers who drop by are in for a treat.

Leave a comment for your chance to win a paperback copy of Made To Be Broken signed by Kelley and a signed copy of my book, Endo. Both will arrive in an evidence bag with a toe tag, fingerprint cards and a few ‘Crime Scene’ bandages. Check for details at the end of the interview.

Q. Aside from all of the writing you do, you have a family and with that comes demands. Are you also a professional juggler? How do you manage to be a mom, wife and bestselling author whose touring schedule has dramatically increased over the last few years?

A. I think, in some ways, I was lucky to have my first book published when I had three kids already, two under the age of two at the time, because I quickly learned how to make the most of what little free time I had. As the younger two hit school age, the extra time gave me a chance to do more. I’m finding now that I overdid it a bit, so I’m easing back!

Q. Where do you write most often? And, do you ever break from your location and go out to a coffee shop or park to write?

A. I write most often in my basement office. It’s quiet and distraction-free. I’ve learned, though, to write in other locations—on the road, it’s a must. I do enjoy the clich├ęd coffee-shop writing thing now and then. I’ve discovered that as long as no one is talking directly to me (or likely to), I can tune it out.

Q. Please give your thoughts on outlining. Do you stick hard and fast to your outline or do you massage as you write?

A. I definitely massage as I go. The first act usually matches my outline, and the second has most of the main points, but the third almost always changes a lot. These days I don’t even bother to do more than jot down the basic idea for the resolution during the outlining phase.

Q. How much and what kind of research went into writing Made to be Broken?

A. A lot more went into the first novel, Exit Strategy. For this one, it was only things specific to the plot, like adoption law in Michigan.

Q. Did you bend any writing ‘rules’ in the Nadia Stafford series?

A. I bend them so often I don’t even notice anymore! I can’t remember any specific ones for this series, though.

Q. Made To Be Broken had no prologue which was a bit of a surprise to me. However you did start this book with a (silenced) bang. How important is the first scene?

A. I went back and forth a few times on the opening to this one. The natural prologue would have been the murder of a previous victim, but that would have given away too much of the mystery. I initially started with the hitman job Nadia does with Quinn. Then I worried because that wasn’t the main plot, so I changed it, starting with Nadia and her assistant, Sammi. I had her leave for the job with Quinn, then return to find Sammi had disappeared. But that meant a very slow start, one that didn’t properly introduce Nadia as a hitman. So I reverted to the original version.

Q. You handled what could easily have turned into blatant exposition gracefully in the book. What is the trick to making necessary information seamless and non-expository?

A. If it’s necessary (and it shouldn’t be included if it isn’t) then it needs to be broken up into the smallest chunks possible and woven into the narrative. Writing pages of exposition is begging modern readers to skip pages, meaning they’ll miss something the author thought was important to the story.

Q. You write complicated female protagonists and Nadia Stafford is definitely one of them. Do you ever feel a responsibility to represent woman in fiction?

A. No. My focus is on strong and complex characters, male and female. Writing them from the female POV means that those traits are more obvious in my women, but I’ve tried to work them into the men as well.

Q. I’m always happy when a piece of information jumps out at me in a fiction novel. One of those nuggets from Made To Be Broken was that a cougar sounds like the scream of a woman. Is this information you filed away for use some time never knowing if you’d ever need it? As an author, do you feel you look at things around you differently?

A. I do file away trivia like that, and I suppose it makes me look at the world differently. I’m always hearing things that I think would make a good tidbit or twist for a book, then holding onto them until I find the right place.

Q. You made purely Canadian references in this book: Canadian Tire and Lotto 6/49 to name two. Is there a risk of alienating U.S. readers?

A. There is if it’s overdone. I make sure that the meaning is clear—Canadian Tire is identified as a store, Lotto 6/49 is obviously a lottery etc. If it comes naturally to me, as a Canadian, to use a certain reference, then I do, but I don’t go out of my way to add it for flavour.

Q. You also use brand names like Maglite instead of flashlight. Any worry that readers will see this as ‘product placement’?

A. Again, it’s a matter of quantity. If every item is identified by brand name. then it smacks of product placement. I use them only when the character would, so with Nadia, it’s for things like her equipment.

Q. How difficult is it to keep a balance between character plots and the main plot or do they rely on each other to such a degree that the equal balance is automatic?

A. They do rely on each other. That wasn’t always the case with my books, but I’ve learned to consider character development more when coming up with the plot, so the two can progress in tandem.

Q. Are the involved, intricate relationships in Nadia’s life there to help balance out her anti-heroine archetype?

A. They are. When working with an anti-hero, a writer needs to balance that "anti" part with other things. Readers want to identify with the main character, which is tougher in this type of book, so backstory and outside relationships are important. Readers don’t need to like the character, but understanding her is important.

Q. Do you ever make a personal statement in your fiction writing? Take Nadia’s feelings about Tim Hortons or how she feels about non-unionized workforces – is that her opinion only or is it tinged with Kelley Armstrong?

A. It’s Nadia, which readers sometimes have difficulty understanding. I’ve had more than my share of e-mailed complaints because of a statement a character makes. I explain that I write first-person narrative, which means it’s the character talking, not me. An author hasn’t done her job with character development if she doesn’t know what a character’s opinions would be…or if they all match her own!

Q. What is the most important thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry?

A. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m not sure what’s most important, but one bit of new knowledge that I think is important to pass on is that it’s not a closed industry. Unpublished writers like to tell themselves that they aren’t getting picked up because publishers don’t want new writers or new material. The truth is that editors are always looking for new work. They want to find new authors. The problem is getting your work to the person who falls in love with what you’ve written.

Q. What’s more difficult, getting published or continuing to be published?

A. Getting published was harder, but staying that way is tougher than I imagined. Before I was published, like most writers, my entire focus was on getting my foot in the door. I didn’t really think about what would happen after that. The next step, though, is staying published, and it’s far from a given.

Q. Was there a time when you were first published that things weren’t as you expected? Did you struggle even though you’d been published?

A. That’s always a tough question to answer because when writers complain about the hardships and stresses of the business, it sounds like whining, particularly to all the would-be authors who would love to be in our shoes. I wouldn’t trade this job for anything. I love it. Of course there are things that are tougher than I expected. Staying published, for one thing. I’m at the point where I’m not in danger of losing my career if the next book fails, but there’s still that constant pressure to do better and fear of starting to slide backward.

Q. With so many books being published all battling for diminishing shelf space, it’s easy for those starting out as writers to get discouraged. What advice can you give aspiring writers dreaming of getting published?
A. I’ll give very simple advice this time. If you want it, go for it. If you really want to write, really need to write, then no amount of rejection will stop you, and that’s exactly the tenacity that will get you published.

I want to thank Kelley for taking time to answer my questions and hope you will drop by to thank her as well.

To be eligible to win a signed copy of Kelley’s Made To Be Broken and a signed copy of my book, Endo, all you have to do is leave a comment. Come back to the blog on July 18th to see if you are the winner. This is a worldwide contest and the shipping is on me. Simple right? Remember, regardless of how many comments you leave, you can only have your name (blogger ID) entered in the contest once. Good luck.

In the meantime, swing over to Amazon and pick up a copy of Made To Be Broken and Endo.
Thanks for dropping by.