Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guest Post: Vermont Thriller Author J.P. Choquette

We're pleased today to welcome J.P. Choquette, whose second book, DARK CIRCLE, was released on Valentine's Day -- a creepy confluence of calendar, and yet ... there's something in this suspense mystery that also touches on being surprised by how love and friendship hold on, even when the neighborhood is weird to the point of dangerous, and the woods behind the house are haunted. When you get to know J.P. a bit, indulge yourself in expanding your Vermont book collection by picking up a copy of her latest thriller, as well as Epidemic, her first one. You'll never look at the Green Mountains communities in the same way afterward (smile; shiver!).

1. Hurrah for your second mystery, published this month: DARK CIRCLE. This is a suspense novel featuring Sarah Solomon, and set "today" in St. Albans and Swanton, Vermont -- so it has some things in common with your earlier book, Epidemic. But that was a medical thriller, and this one has threads of the "paranormal." What made you switch directions like this?
Thank you very much for reading my books, first of all, and for the interview today. I appreciate it and enjoyed your book, COLD MIDNIGHT immensely.
I’d love to answer your question regarding the change in direction between the two books but honestly? I’m not sure what the answer is! Most of the time I don’t look too hard behind the “why” of an idea—if I’m excited about it, I run with it. So, this wasn’t an intentional switch but it was fun delving into both areas.
2. Sarah Solomon moves to Vermont, early in your book, in part because she's been the victim of a terrible crime. So she can see her neighborhood through fresh eyes. Has that happened to you? The moving part, I mean -- I hope you haven't been a crime victim!
I grew up in Vermont and when I hit my teen years I was DONE with living here. I hated the long winters, the quietness, the lack of excitement and drama. At eighteen, I moved to Tennessee. And you know what? It looked just like Vermont! I was so disappointed. But it was a great experience for me, living in Knoxville and Chattanooga and experiencing more of what “city life” had to offer for three years. It didn’t take me long to realize that the things I used to hate about Vermont, I now missed. I still love to travel and see things through “fresh eyes,” but now I love coming home, too.
3. I can see that you did plenty of research on northwestern Vermont's people of Abenaki (Native American) heritage for this book; did your research discoveries shape the plot, or did the plot push you to the research?
Learning more about the Abenaki people through my research was helpful in fine-tuning the manuscript. There are certain descriptions about the type of traditional dress an Abenaki woman would have worn, for example, and the wampum beads, etc., that I learned about during the research. While I love learning new things, I have to be careful not to get carried away in my research. It’s easy to spend more time reading than writing.
4. Sarah Solomon's interaction with her husband Cole and her part of Vermont are strongly colored by her sense of being an artist. How did you choose that path for her? Are you also an artist? If not, how did you figure this out?
I’m a dabbling artist. I have no formal training, save a few college art classes, but I love making  mixed media and doodling in my art journal and making art from “treasures” I find while out walking. And as writers I think we’re all artists, too.
5. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I have to ask ... Have you ever seen a ghost or spirit? Do you expect to see one in the future?
That’s a good question. A few years ago I went to an author discussion by Joe Citro. He is my husband’s favorite fiction author and I really enjoyed his books, too. Joe said during the talk when someone asked him a similar question that he believes in spirits, but not ghosts. I share that philosophy. And no, I’ve never seen a spirit. At least, none that I know of.
6. The frightening things that happen to Sarah -- after that first terrible crime that brings her in recovery to Vermont -- are sometimes a little less awful than what Sarah herself may be expecting! What are your personal rules for violence and depiction of violence in your writing?
Hmm, another good question. For me as a reader there is little worse than getting completely caught up in a great book and having the plot take a depraved turn, something so disturbing that the entire book is ruined because I can’t stop thinking about how HORRIBLE that scene was! I screen the fiction that I read—I don’t want to read about anything horrendous happening to children or animals and stay away from really explicit torture/rape/etc. scenes involving adults.
That being said, there are some books in which these awful scenes are foundational to the book. Think about John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill.” The scene at the beginning involving the little girl was brutal to read, but everything in the story hinged on this horrific event. Other times though, it feels that authors add a lot of really disturbing stuff just to sensationalize the story. In my opinion this often ends up detracting from it instead.
7. Have you had any strange or even creepy experiences of material from either of your books seeming to appear afterward in real life?
Not afterward, but yes, in real life. Some of what inspired me to write this book was moving into a new-to-us house in 2011. While I don’t think our house was haunted, it had a feeling, an aura of sadness and anger which I believe was leftover from the previous owners. We also really did find what looked like a sack of hair hanging in the attic—I didn’t get a very good look because I was running to the trash can outside screeching! And I also found a creepy phrase etched into the wall of my office/art room which gave me goose bumps. Then, when my husband mentioned one day that we rarely saw any of our neighbors outside, my little mental wheels started spinning with that “what if” question.
8. When you craft your suspense novels, what comes first for you -- the character or the plot? And are you a "pantser" or a "plotter"?
So far it’s always been the plot. Maybe that will change in the future. And while I tend to be a pantser, I’m seeing more and more the benefit of plotting out at least a rough outline with a few major events early on. This helps in the re-writing process, in that there is less to re-write. Always a good thing!
9. You completed this book with a "critique partner," as you mention at the start. What does that mean, and how did it add to the experience of writing DARK CIRCLE?
Yes, Cori Lynn Arnold is a fellow Sisters in Crime member and we critiqued each other’s manuscripts last fall. It was wonderful. She had some interesting insights and a few questions about why this person was feeling this way or why this happened HERE when it was obvious that it already happened THERE. You know, the old, “She left the gun on the shelf,” but then later the character is holding the gun and the reader is like, “How the heck did it get off the shelf and into her hand?” Right now I’m part of a critique group (again with Sisters in Crime members) for the third novel I’m working on. It’s great and helps keep me on my toes. Plus, I love reading other writer’s work for free! (Smile!)

10. What did you discover in writing DARK CIRCLE that you wish you'd already known when you were writing Epidemic?

Definitely as I mentioned earlier, the importance of an outline, even a rough one. That helped the process flow more smoothly for DARK CIRCLE and also made the editing process a lot easier. Another thing that is an absolute live saver for me is my 15-Minute Rule. It’s been transformational in my writing career and keeping me passionate about writing. It’s simply this: Write fiction for 15-minutes, most days of the week. Some days I’ll keep going, surfacing an hour later and wondering where the time went, other days I’m literally sitting there and thinking, “I have nothing! I have nothing!” but I have to sit there in front of my screen for 15-minutes so I might as well write something. Just like exercise, there are plenty of days we don’t feel like going for the walk or run or getting out the yoga mat or weights. But usually if we get ourselves past that first 15-minutes, it’s great and we feel so much better afterward. And if it’s not? Well, you only have to do it for that very short amount of time—you can do anything for 15-minutes.

One thing I wished I had known early on about the publishing and then releasing process was what a good reception EPIDEMIC would have. It’s not a masterpiece by any means but so many people have told me that they’ve enjoyed reading it. And really, as a writer, there’s nothing nicer to hear. I literally almost had a panic attack just before EPIDEMIC was published and during my meltdown reached out to a writing friend. She thankfully talked me down from the I-just-want-to-throw-this-manuscript-in-the-trash ledge and reminded me that my fear in putting this novel out there was totally normal. And it was. This time the releasing part was easier. Not cake walk-easy, but easier.

11. For the second time, you've chosen to self-publish, and your books are easily ordered (would-be readers could start at your website, http://www.scaredEcat.com). You're a skilled writer of suspense. What are the advantages for you of taking your books to print this way?
Thank God for whoever dreamed up Print on Demand (POD)! I chose CreateSpace, a publisher which is an affiliate of Amazon and love the freedom that self-publishing gives me. There are different packages you can buy via most of these POD platforms, but so far I’ve chosen to do everything myself, from cover art to formatting the manuscript, to marketing the finished product. The only piece I don’t tackle is formatting the manuscript for e-book distribution. I hired someone to do that for me and it saved me lots of hair pulling and angst. At some point I may hire other pieces out (copyediting for example and perhaps a professional to take care of the cover art) but for now I’m happy to wear all the hats. Who else is going to love my book as much as me? And in that regard, who else wants to see it succeed as much?
12. Can you tell us something about what's ahead in your third book, the one we know you're already writing?

Sure, I’d love to. The book I’m working on now (just passed the 1/3 mark!) is again set in northwestern Vermont, this time in a fictional town outside of St. Albans. It follows a twenty-something year-old bounty hunter named Tatum “Tayt” Waters. While Tayt is trying hard to get her bounty hunting business off the ground, her estranged father is accused of the rape and murder of a young local woman. Tatum begins working with her previous mentor who is also a PI, to try to clear her father’s name.
Another idea I’m toying with is a series of novellas, likely set in post e-fallout New England. This series would be different in that while still suspense, it would include some futuristic/sci-fi aspects. If I go ahead with the series, I will likely release each as an e-book and then compile them into one long print book at the end. I’ve got a few other ideas I’m toying with as well, but there are only so many writing hours in the day!
Beth, thank you so much for your great questions and for the opportunity to talk about my writing here. I really appreciate it and all the hard work you do help writers and inform readers.  -- My pleasure! - BK

BIO: J.P. Choquette is a Vermont-based suspense author who maintains a website, Scared E Cat: For Readers and Writers of Great Suspense. Find sample chapters, book descriptions, more information about current projects and sign up for a FREE newsletter (with chances to win a copy of J.P.’s books) at the website (www.scaredEcat.com).

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