At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve loved reading stories and writing my own since I was a little kid. I think I still have my first self-published story book called Chocolate Snowflakes. I created a little cover for it out of cardboard and a piece of blue cloth. Don’t look for it anytime on Amazon – I think the characters were kind of flat and the plot needed work.
I know you have written articles in magazines and ghost written for professionals, did you always have the desire to write novels as well?
Writing novels was always my dream job, but I took a lot of detours into public relations, speechwriting, ghostwriting and non-fiction because I knew it was so hard to break into fiction writing and to make a living at it. A few years ago, I decided to make a real go at it, quitting my fulltime job and giving fiction my full attention for six months. My second novel, God of the Internet, was created during that time.
Who are your favorite Authors?
It’s so hard to choose favorites when there are so many great writers out there. I love Laura Restrepo. She’s a Colombian writer, journalist and activist who also pens extraordinary fiction. Her book Delirium (Alfaguara, 2004) is a knock-out psychological mystery. Elizabeth George and her Inspector Lynley series feeds my love of British police procedural mysteries. Harlan Coben makes my list of top authors. That man can really write a page-turner. I also love Johnny Shaw. He writes these gritty mysteries set in the Southern California desert that brilliantly evoke a sense of place and character. And yes, I love J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series.
What is your favorite book?
I love the originality of Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House, 2013). She creates such an incredible backstory, including videos and photos, for her characters that I believe they are real.
Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?
I’m a big fan of writing first thing in the morning, before the day starts. Even if it is just writing down nonsense, I like to write “morning pages.” Doing this makes me feel like the day is getting off to the right start. I got the idea from Julia Cameron’s classic book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (TarcherPerigree, 1992). The idea is that you write three pages as quickly as you can, not letting your pen leave paper until you’re done. It’s a great way to clear the mind and get words on the page, some of which wind up being useful to current projects.
How much research did you have to do for your latest book, God of the Internet? Did you find you had to do more research for that book as compared to your previous book Bloodlines?
Both books required research, but that is part of writing that I love. I’m very curious so I love to find out how things work, whether it’s cybersecurity or zoos or hospitals. For God of the Internet, I did a lot of research to understand how some hacks worked. I was also lucky enough to know a lot of cybersecurity experts from my job at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is a global non-profit that coordinates the root zone of the domain name system, which some people call the telephone book of the Internet. I would hear our security team talk about how easy it was to hack anything connected to the internet, and I’d think, what if? I’m not a cybersecurity expert but I learned enough to be able to write about some of their worst case scenarios coming true.
How long did it take you to write each of your books?
My first book, Bloodlines, took about 12 years to write, if you can believe it. I wrote it while working full time in pretty demanding jobs, so I would go for long periods without writing or editing. The second one, God of the Internet, came together as a basic draft in two months. Then another year of editing and refining before it was ready to go out into the world.
When you begin writing a book, do you know how your book is going to end?
For instance, I have read where some Authors like to begin a story and see where the writing process takes them. Other Authors know how their book is going to end and need to figure out how to get to that point. What is your approach to telling your/your character’s story?
I’m definitely one of those writers who writes by the seat of her pants. I have a general idea where the story is going but I’m willing to throw my plans out the window should a character inspire me to do something different. The endings of both my books emerged organically, even though I had outlines for both.
Do you think being an Author makes you more critical of other Authors books? Or, are you more supported of their books because you know what goes into the process of writing?
That’s a great question! I’m far more supportive of other authors now that I know the kind of blood, sweat and tears that go into creating original stories. Even if I don’t connect to another author’s characters or enjoy their plotlines, I’m still in awe of their efforts to get words on the page, and I try very hard to understand the story they are trying to tell, and to glean insights about other points of view.
I know you are currently promoting your latest book. Does that leave you any time to write and if so, are you working on your next book?
I’ve started my third novel but it has been slow going. I recently started working on a larger non-fiction project as a ghostwriter, and that’s been consuming most of my creative energy. I need to get back to my own writing!
Where do you get your inspiration for your story-lines?
Everywhere! News headlines, work, from friends’ stories, and even sometimes from other books.
Are your story-lines (or characters) ever based on people and/or situations in your life? If so, how do people react to that? If not, have you ever named your characters after people in your personal life?
I think it’s really common among writers to draw inspiration about characters from real life, whether it is ourselves, our friends, or acquaintances. But rather than basing characters on one person, usually I compose characters with a hodge podge of traits and mannerisms from a bunch of different sources. I’d never want to embarrass anyone or make him or her feel self-conscious by identifying any character too closely with a real person. And also, probably no one would speak to me again if they thought I was going to put them in books!
In God of the Internet, my heroine Juliana struggles to care for her son who has a health condition called hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. A friend of mine has a daughter with this condition, and I did draw on her experiences to write the portions of the book that deal with that issue. She is a huge inspiration to me and I wanted to share her story. But of course I did so with her permission.
You write a particular genre, what draws you to this genre?
I’ve always loved mysteries and thrillers as a reader, so that was all I wanted to write as an author.
I read Bloodlines through NetGalley. I know this helps with getting reviews for your books. Do you find that making your books available for free helps with marketing them as well?
Customer reviews on Amazon and other book-buying sites are an important driver of sales, and NetGalley is a great way to connect with avid readers and reviewers. Plus, publishing has a long history of providing advance reader copies of books in order to drive interest and sales. I worked as a bookstore clerk during college, and I remember fighting with other employees over who would get each one. I still have two of these ARCs from back then on my bookshelf: The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Vintage, 2004) and American Pastoral by Phillip Roth (Vintage, 1998). I love that most ARCs are ebooks now. It’s a sign of the times.
How do you feel about good reviews and/or bad reviews?
One really does have to develop a thick skin for reviews, and this also means remaining as neutral as you can when they are good or bad. You have to keep in mind that sometimes whether or not someone likes a book is just a matter of taste. A thoughtful bad review can be helpful, if you read through it looking for constructive criticism for future projects. But reviews like “this sucked” don’t really give you specific feedback to work with. I was over the moon when I received the starred review from Kirkus Reviews for God of the Internet though, because that rating carries a lot of weight with book buyers and librarians and I hoped that it would help my book rise above some of the competition – there are so many good books out there it can be hard to get noticed!
Reading is an escape for me. I love to relax and read. What do you do to relax?
I love to read too, and like a lot of people, I’ll binge watch good shows. I just finished watching the Amazon Prime series Transparent. Such a great and empathetic series about a family thrown into crisis by a father who has come out as transgender. I love that the characters aren’t even that likeable as well, yet you’re still pulling for them to succeed or become better people. I also spoil a neurotic dachshund named Chloe in my spare time. I also like to knit and crochet.