Before I have any of you thinking I'm more off than usual or have you rushing to employ the Heimlich maneuver, I want to assure you I'm fine. But I am smiling because I've just finished Agatha-nominee Kaye George's debut novel, CHOKE. Kaye, who's known mainly for her award-winning short stories, joins us today to talk about her full-length novel and May release from Mainly Murder Press. Please welcome my fellow Sisters in Crime and Guppy member, Kaye George to the Five Scribes. ~ Donnell
About the book:
Twenty-two year old Imogene Duckworthy is waiting tables at Huey's Hash in tiny Saltlick, TX, itching to jump out of her rut and become a detective. When Uncle Huey is found murdered in the diner, a half-frozen package of mesquite-smoked sausage stuffed down his throat, Immy gets her chance. Immy's mother, Hortense is hauled in for the crime. Unclear of the exact duties of a PI, Immy starts a fire in the bathroom wastebasket to bust Mother out of jail. On the run from the law with her mother and her toddler daughter, Nancy Drew Duckworthy, Immy wonders, now what?
D.B.: Hi, Kaye! Now what, indeed! Congratulations on CHOKE, and thanks for the laughter. I think my first question is what inspired this story? Two, what's with the unusual names? (I picture a person named Kaye taking her average-name revenge out on her characters). And three, was CHOKE as much fun to write as it was to read?
K.G.: My first answer) My husband and I lived in the Wichita Falls area for a few years recently, and with my penchant for writing about places I used to live, it's a natural. It's a place that felt foreign to me while I was there, filled with colorful people and hardship. I guess I couldn't get it out of my mind until I wrote about that area. As for the people, I never know where they come from.
Two) I make it a practice to collect names and have a list of them to choose from. But, oddly, I usually don't consult my lists. My characters come with their names. By that, I mean, when I get the right name, the character pops for me. I always keep an alphabetical list so everyone won't have names that begin with M (my all time favorite). That's how Xenia got her name. I didn't have an X name. I had a college professor named Xenia, so that was back there somewhere.
And (three) yes, CHOKE was lots of fun to write!
D.B.: I will be smiling for days after reading this book. From a vicious dark Brahma hen--mistaken at birth for a male--named Larry Bird, SHE steals Immy's flip flops, to Immy's dumpster diving, to her floppy hats, birthmarks and fat suits, you have some laugh out loud moments. I can't imagine being funny throughout an entire book. Does humor come naturally to you?
K.G.: I'm so glad to have entertained you! And you know, I guess writing humor does come naturally. I never used to write humor because I thought that would be cheating--it's so easy. The few times I did, I was told I did it well. Eventually, I found out that it's not easy for everyone. But I think so many things are ridiculous. I guess that's why it's easy for me.
There's a line I try not to cross. It's seductive to slip into ridicule and meanness. And oh, so easy. But I truly like all my characters, so, while I can see what's funny about them, I never try to make fun of them or make them the butt of an easy joke. I hope I accomplish this!
D.B.: I was under the impression that some of your writing was dark. True? False? How difficult is it to alter your voice for each project?
K.G.: Oh, yes, that's true, some of my short fiction is dark. It seems to work out this way--the shorter the darker, for me. It might get boring, I think to be unrelentingly noir for a long piece, although I enjoy reading that from others. It's easier to sustain humor over a book-length project.
I have a few different voices I use for different purposes, and I'll probably develop new ones in the future. A couple of my short stories were written in dialect (which I could never do full-length), and those were dictated to me by a voice in my head. I sat and took dictation and did hardly any rewrites on those two. I'd love for that to happen again, but that's not something I can force.
One voice I worked and worked and worked on, was the one for a Neanderthal mystery series. I think I finally succeeded. That voice is unique to that series and I could never use it anywhere else.
D.B.: I was immediately engaged in CHOKE, particularly in Immy's and Hortense's family dynamics. Immy, petite and small, is an unwed mother who longs to follow in her murdered police officer father's footsteps. There's only one problem. Immy's mother Hortense is the domineering personality in the relationship and forbids it. The fact that Hortense is Immy's and her daughter Drew's chief support and they live with Hortense, you establish conflict from page one. One thing I did see. A daughter doesn't come to her mother's aid in such a manner if she doesn't love her. Immy is a fantastic protagonist. Talk about the conflict between these two. How difficult was it to keep the tension escalating between Immy and Hortense?
K.G.: That's my job, isn't it? At least that's what I've been told. Sometimes it's hard to think how you can put more obstacles in the way, and sometimes they just fall into place.
When I'm stuck, a walk, or time away from the keyboard can shed illumination. But escalating conflict is, always, what I'm trying to do.
It finally clicked one day, after hearing the above over and over for years. A person reading a book wants to read about something other than real life. Otherwise she'd read a biography or history. I realized that it would be truly difficult for a fiction writer to make a novel too much over the top. That's what the reader wants. When I realized that, it opened doors for me to let it flow. My characters, my settings, my situations all should be larger than life more colorful, and much more interesting.
D.B.: You write that Hortense, a librarian, is a large woman with multiple chins. As I read, though, I discovered she has an amazing heart and an even bigger vocabulary. She's such a great character, using lines like, "My daughter does not prevaricate (lie); "Use your cranium," ( Most would say head,); "My abdomen is communicating with me, " (Meaning, she's hungry).
Drew is a precocious Barbie-loving three-year-old who I visualized and adored instantly. Loved that she calls her grandmother "Geemaw." I also saw that you use Drew to build tension between Immy and Hortense. Part of Immy's growing up, I suspect, will be when Immy acknowledges that she is the parent, and deals with her mother who constantly calls Imogene, "Little Missy." Was this deliberate on your part to make these two so very different?
K.G.: Yes, it absolutely was. And you're right about the arc of Immy's maturity. She despairs that Hortense is more Drew's mother than her grandmother, that Immy herself is not a good parent. She is a good mother, of course, but she doesn't think she is, and there's an ongoing competition between Immy and Hortense for Drew. Not for her affection, since Drew loves them both, but for the role of parent. And Immy hates Barbie dolls! One more place to put conflict.
D.B.: In addition to mystery and humor, there's a good amount of growth in this book. Perhaps the most fun for me was to watch Immy take charge. After her uncle's murder, in which her mother becomes a suspect, Immy purchases THE MORON'S COMPLEAT GUIDEBOOK FOR PRIVATE DETECTIVES, believing that everything about becoming a detective can be found in a book--asking herself questions like, "What would a detective do?" each time she goes in search of a clue.
You do quirky well. Every character in this book-- from Hortense's love interests, Clem to Saltlick's chief of police; Ralph, who has a crush on Immy and just wants to date her; Xenia's boyfriend who smokes Virginia Slims; to Baxter, the alleged meth dealer--these folks are very well drawn. How do you get to know your characters? Got any secrets you'd like to share?
K.G.: I wish I had magic secrets. All I know is that once I put them firmly onto the page, they speak to me. While I'm writing a first draft, they're my best friends, my constant companions. My last thought at night and my first thought when I wake up. Things creep out of my subconscious onto the page. Weird things, too. I'm glad I can't see inside my head.
D.B.: Tell us about Mainly Murder Press, www.mainlymurderpress.com/ and your experience with them. I believe CHOKE is the first in a series. How many more Imogene Duckworthy books can we expect?
K.G.: I love working with MMP. Mainly Murder Press only offers one-book contracts at a time. If Choke does well, Smoke is available to them for consideration.
D.B.: Let's get down to the writing portion of the interview. How long have you been writing? Tell us about your schedule and the research you had to do to complete this book. Offhand, I don't think you got it from THE MORON'S COMPLEAT GUIDE TO RESEARCH. From law enforcement to your private detective scenes, CHOKE is a success.
K.G.: As I always say, I drew stories in crayon before I could read or write. Since age four or five, I guess. I devote every day to my writing business. I rarely take a day off, even though I probably should. That's not to say I actually write fiction every day. Some days are taken up with blogs, interviews; there are always endless e-mails, and I critique with several groups both in novel and short-story length.
When I'm doing a first draft I like to spend a good solid three to four hours writing. I can't sustain it much longer than that before I need a break. And I don't think I have enough ideas at a time to go at it much longer than that. By the next day, thoughts have gathered and I can continue.
Research? My life and the lives of everyone I know. Plus, the city of Austin offers a Citizens Police Academy, which I took a couple of years ago. I know a couple of cops socially who I can go to for specific questions. I would highly recommend Citizens Police Academies for mystery writers if they live near a town big enough to offer one. Even smaller towns have a ride-alongs, where you're in a patrol car for the entire shift.
I'm one of those people who will try to strike up a conversation if you're in line. If the line is long enough, I can get your whole life's story out of you. And I'll use it. And there's the Internet, of course.
D.B.: You mentioned critique partners. Did they clue you in that you had something special with CHOKE or did you just know?
K.G.: My face-to-face group in Austin is invaluable, as was the online group I sent this through. I've been with Austin Mystery Writers for a few years, and we've been through multiple projects with each other. We're very supportive of each other, and to tell the truth, we always think the others are working on a special project.
D.B.: In addition to CHOKE, you have a Neanderthal book-length series that I hope we'll see sometime in the near future. Then there's your short story collection. You even self-published, THE ROAD TO SELF-PUBLISHING. Do you plan to self-publish any of your fiction?
K.G.: I did self-publish a short story collection, which is what led to the nonfiction booklet. I'm proud of each and every story I've had accepted and published, but some of the magazines, both online and print, are now out of business. So partly to have them all in one place and available, and partly to see how hard it would be to self-publish something, I put out A PATCHWORK OF STORIES last year.
My publisher doesn't want the e-rights to CHOKE, so I'll put that out at some point in digital format.
D.B.: Thanks for the explanations. Finally, Kaye, I always ask on Five Scribes: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
K.G.: Don't quit now! Even if it's been years, it can still happen. Especially now, with the world of publishing bursting wide open and changing like quicksand. Explore the options you think will work for you, and keep at it. Don't quit. Also, you must read. Read, read, read.
Excellent advice. Thank you for being here today. Readers, if you like feisty heroines in small Texas towns, I hope you'll visit Saltlick, Texas (which borders Wymee Falls) and Imogene Duckworthy soon. From busting her mother out of jail, to foiling a bank robbery with the use of her letter opener, to uncovering a dope ring, Imogene will keep you laughingly entertained and cheering for her success.
A couple more things about Kaye. She was one of the talented authors whose story, "The Truck Contest," made it into FISH TALES: THE GUPPY ANTHOLOGY. She reviews for "Suspense Magazine," and writes for several newsletters and blogs. She, her husband, and a cat named Agamemnon live together in Texas, near Austin. Check her out at http://www.KayeGeorge.com
or her blogs, http://travelswithkaye.blogspot.com/, her solo blog, and http://allthingswriting.blogspot.com/.
Kaye's book doesn't release until May 1st. But a question or comment will gain you admittance in a drawing to receive CHOKE, upon its release. We'll draw a name on Friday night April 22nd. Be sure to leave your e-mail address so we can contact you. Questions/Comments?
Congratulations to Liz Lipperman who was the winner of Kaye George's debut novel CHOKE.
~ Happy Reading & Writing!