“Don’t kid yourself about this being easy; if anything, you’ll need to hold yourself to higher standards than others have held you to previously in your writing life. There’s a very real and time-consuming business aspect to being indie and it’s not a money-machine.”
– Craig Hansen 20 August 2011
The Back Flap
Becky Howard is a teen under pressure. Pressure from her best friend not to breathe a word about the abuse she’s suffering by her mother. Pressure from her sister to understand her marital difficulties. Pressure from her boyfriend to get more physical than she’s ready for. And pressure from the rumors about her boyfriend that are eroding her trust in him. As she prepares for the biggest track meet of her life, Becky’s about to learn that sometimes growing up is about more than having sex, and that clinging to ideals might not be as helpful as learning to expect whatever is MOST LIKELY.
MOST LIKELY is approximately 63,000 words long and contains light Christian themes.
About the Book
What is the book about?
MOST LIKELY is a novel about handling an extraordinary amount of pressure at a time when one is least prepared for it. The novel focuses on high school junior Becky Howard, who’s about to run in the most important race of her high school track career. If she wins, she’ll reach the state tournament for the first time. But just as she needs to focus in more than ever before, her life and the lives of those closest to her start falling apart, testing her faith and everything she’s ever believed about how life is supposed to be and turn out.
When did you start writing the book?
MOST LIKELY is a project over twenty years in the making. I created an early version of the novel while in graduate school; it was my creative thesis for my master’s degree program in English. I tried marketing it then, to both publishers and agents, but it stalled. Then, back in March, I was downsized from my day job. I’d been working on a different novel but felt like it would take quite a bit of time to get that one finished and to market. So a friend of mine on Kindleboards.com asked me if there was any reason I couldn’t take my old novel from my college days, brush it up, update it, and bring that out a lot quicker. So that’s what I did, and that update and revision took just under three months.
How long did it take you to write it?
I worked on it for about eighteen months in college, and just under three months when I updated it this past spring. So about twenty-one months of effort, all put together.
Where did you get the idea from?
In college, I went through a phase were I was reading a lot of “coming of age” novels. However, most of those novels defined coming of age as having one’s first sexual experience. I felt that was a rather narrow view of what it means to enter adulthood. There’s quite a bit more to growing up than jumping in the sack with someone; any lusty teenager can do that and still be stuck in immaturity. So MOST LIKELY was written as a more holistic approach to the theme of growing up.”
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
In a way, the whole book was a challenge. Back in college, it was a challenge for me to put myself, narratively speaking, into the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl. That was a stretch for me, and one I chose because I read that Stephen King took on the same challenge writing CARRIE early in his writing career. So I put myself through a similar curriculum writing MOST LIKELY.
Then when I updated it, I had to re-enter the entire novel from scratch and resist revising it where I felt it needed, until the whole novel was re-entered in a modern word processor. There’s so much that’s changed culturally over the past twenty years that it took quite a bit of effort to get the novel to ring as modern.
Just as a casual example, back when I wrote this novel, cell phones were virtually nonexistent. So if one teen wanted to reach another, they’d call the home phone, wrestle with the parent who answered to talk to their friend or the person they were dating, and then maybe reach the person they were trying to connect with from the start.
Today, it’s much easier. You can send IMs from a cell phone or through Facebook, there’s email, and most kids have their own cell phone. So even though the importance of connecting with whoever hasn’t changed in the story, how they connect with each other had to be updated and revised to sound modern.
What came easily?
The bones of the story were still solid, even after twenty-some years. So I didn’t really need to change the plot structure when I updated the book. That was a relief.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
I don’t base entire characters off one person. There are certain ticks, or bits of dialog, or habits, that I’ve observed people do in real life, and given to characters. Sometimes I’ll honor an old friendship by giving a character the same last name or first name (never both!) as someone I used to know. But no, there is no one character I’m aware of that anyone could point to and say, “Oh, that character’s totally me in every respect.” Most of my characters are amalgamations of several different people.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
Stephen King is the most influential writer on me, overall. I’ve read more of his books than anyone else, and learned more about how to write effectively from his books than anyone else. Almost to the point where I sometimes have the same weaknesses he does, as well as similar strengths.
That might sound odd given that MOST LIKELY isn’t in the same genre as King usually dwells, but the other major influence on my, my college writing mentor, young adult novelist Terry Davis, taught me that one can be influenced by a writer without having to write the same sort of stories they write.
So while I’m writing this coming-of-age story with MOST LIKELY, which is young adult and has some mild Christian themes, Stephen King still plays a bit influence on how I write, how I build characters and construct a story.
Do you have a target reader?
I knew a lot less about target readers and writing to a very specific audience when I first wrote MOST LIKELY than I do now. In fact, I learned a lot more about it from John Locke’s recent eBook marketing title, HOW I SOLD 1 MILLION EBOOKS IN 5 MONTHS. So with MOST LIKELY, I’ve kind of approached this topic a little bit backwards.
What I’m finding is that the target reader for MOST LIKELY is predominantly female, and that it attracts as many moms and teachers and librarians as it does teenagers. The audience for this book doesn’t mind some religious content that fits in with Becky’s struggles, but doesn’t want to be preached at or taken through a salvation plan.
Those who reach MOST LIKELY generally like the first-romance feel of Tom and Becky’s relationship, but appreciate the growing maturity with which she handles that romance over the course of the book. Finally, the target audience for MOST LIKELY appreciates the steady, natural pace to the storytelling that focuses more on emotional conflict and growth than it does on action and physical conflict.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
When I start out on a new project, I usually begin with a college-ruled notebook and a pen. I scribble down whatever inspired me and I start building out around that. Usually I’ll focus on characters first. So it’s kind of like casting the novel. If I’m writing something with an element of mystery, I’ll usually have a page called, “What really happened,” and then my casting follows the pattern of building out some potential suspects, from the red herring ones all the way to the real suspect.
Anyway, once I have the equivalent of a handbook to the novel, a reference work, then I have to give the whole thing time to simmer. Once it’s ready, I start writing. I do first drafts in Focus Writer 1.3.3, because it’s bare bones and keeps me focused on writing, rather than formatting, editing or anything else. Just forward progress.
Once I have the first draft done, I move it all over to MS Word for formatting and revisions. I involve beta reader feedback at some point; then I add in an editor round of feedback toward the end, and that person usually shows me that the emperor has no clothes just yet. In other words, that there’s still more to fix than I thought. And then at some point, I let it go and move on to the next project. I have perfectionist tendencies, so that’s hard for me, but it’s good to do at some point.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just Chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I do not outline extensively, and any time I’ve tried, I usually don’t get very far before the outline becomes useless to me. Because the better ideas always occur to me as I’m writing.
That’s not to say I don’t have goalposts, or certain scenes I want to build toward. But anything more extensive than that, no. I keep things on a certain level of “vague idea” because any time I’ve attempted to be more detailed, more explicitly plotted ahead of time, as I said, in the process of writing something better always comes to me and I toss the original plot-point over in favor of the something better most of the time.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I have edited as I go in the past, but I’ve found that’s a great way never to finish anything. So I’ve intentionally instilled the habit in myself that I don’t change much until the first draft is complete.
Of course, at this level, I’m talking about craft-level-editing. If a story has gone off the rails or a motivation just seems off or maybe I lose faith in a big chunk of the plot making sense, then I will put the breaks on. That happened with one novel recently; I reached about thirty-thousand words and realized that I only liked the first ten thousand. So I dumped two thirds of my progress and started over. Sometimes you just have to.
But for the most part, I’ve found that if you get too involved in crafting each and every sentence perfectly, you can spend an endless amount of time just doing that. In my post-college years, I started maybe a dozen novels, got about five to ten thousand words in, and never got any further because I got into that kind of revise-revise-revise cycle. So I avoid that, these days, until the first draft is done.
Did you hire a professional editor?
Yes. No matter how good an editor you are, there’s no replacing that “second set of eyes.”
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
Sometimes. Not always. It depends on what I’m writing. And I’m afraid my playlist is a bit boring. I know some novelists love posting playlists for their novels, but really, most music I would find distracting to the creative process. So when I want some music, I own about five hundred tracks of Johnny Cash music, stuff from every phase of his career. I just start that playlist and keep it on low in the background and go from there. I don’t put on music that’s too rowdy, or that I’m going to want to stop and sing along with. Cash’s music is so timeless; I love it, it’s very sing-able, but I can also just listen to it and be happy with it on in the background.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Not anymore. Too many years of trying and getting form letter responses. Right now, I’m enjoying being indie. If I add an agent in the future, it will be for managing foreign rights, movie rights, stuff like that. As far as books are concerned, I’m quite happy being on eBook and in print through CreateSpace.
What made you decide to go Indie? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
Mostly it was the advent of the eBook market and eReaders. And specifically, the Kindle. I had heard a bit about the indie book scene but it had a bad rep. But a year ago I downloaded the Kindle for PC app and tried out a mystery by L.J. Selllers, The Sex Club, and found it to be as good or better than anything I’d read that was traditionally published. That changed my perspective. And when I realized there were plenty of well-written books in the indie market, and that eBooks and POD took away the big out-of-pocket investment from being self-published, I knew it was the direction I wanted to go.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?
The cover for MOST LIKELY was very professionally done by Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics. I’m thrilled with it.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
With MOST LIKELY, I’m in a genre that’s more of a challenge to market, so I’ve been trying everything just to see what works. I’ll be able to be far more effective, as a result, with my next few releases. It’s a learning process and I’ve been learning a lot.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Don’t kid yourself about this being easy; if anything, you’ll need to hold yourself to higher standards than others have held you to previously in your writing life. There’s a very real and time-consuming business aspect to being indie and it’s not a money-machine. Not every great writer is also a great marketer. Not every great marketer is a great writer. But if you can score relatively well in both categories, you can do well as an indie.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in southern Minnesota, near Austin, Minnesota, in a town of about three hundred and fifty people, known as Rose Creek. It was all flat plains, farmland, that kind of thing. It wasn’t the vacationland sort of setting that MOST LIKELY takes place in. My fictional setting, Hope, Wisconsin, has a small-town feel to it, but for various reasons I modeled it more after a small college town type of setting. That way I can still have the setting be big enough for interesting things to happen, but small enough that I can draw on my experiences growing up to lend the atmosphere and feel of a small town to the setting.
Where do you live now?
As if mid-to-late August, we’re moving to suburban Portland, in Oregon. My wife is from the Pacific Northwest originally and during the first five years of marriage, we stayed here in the Midwest, but she was eager to get back to where there are mountains and the ocean is a reasonable drive away. And my understanding is that Oregon has milder weather, both in the summer and the winter, and so I think it’ll be better health-wise, as well.
What would you like readers to know about you?
Mainly, that I appreciate each and every one of them for giving one of my books a chance. I’m in a stage in my career where I’m just starting to build an audience for my work, so right now that’s a modest number of folks, but I appreciate each and every one of them, and if I’m ever fortunate enough to become widely read, I hope to carry forward the same attitude. I can write a book and think it’s a very good read, but without any readers, all I have is that book. The readers are what turn a writer into an author. So, thank you.
What are you working on now?
MOST LIKELY is a whole lot of fun as an antidote to what’s popular in young adult fiction today; it’s a novel that addresses real-life problems that kids face day-in and day-out, like the courage to resist peer pressure and follow your own conscience.
That being said, I quite enjoy the paranormal suspense genre that is so popular right now, and I have my own take and sensibilities to bring to the table in that arena, as well. In so many examples of that genre, it seems like around every corner lurks a vampire boyfriend or a lycan-wiccan war. My next novel is the beginning of what will become a series focusing on a new main character, Ember Cole.
The first novel in that series is due in September, and will be called SHADA. It’s the tale of four friends who go camping in the last summer where they are all together and friends. I like to describe it as being my version of “The Body” by Stephen King (which became the movie STAND BY ME), only with an all-female cast, rather than an all-male cast.
That will be followed by a longer novel called EMBER, which I hope to release before the year is out. Both SHADA and EMBER are part of the EMBER COLE series of young adult paranormal suspense novels, and fit into a category that I call “light-touch paranormal” because although there are some paranormal elements, the novel is not overwhelmed by them and the characters are still by and large recognizably ordinary people. I add in just enough paranormal elements to keep things fun and suspenseful, but I don’t want the series to become Take 3,542 of a vampire-lycan war or anything remotely that broad. These are tight, tense, isolated little tales that occur in the beautiful but vast and spooky north woods of Hope, Wisconsin.
So look for SHADA in September, and EMBER before the year is out. Those interested can visit my Web site and sign up through the Contact Me tab to receive a very brief, infrequent newsletter whenever I’m about to release something new.
End of Interview
You can find Craig Hansen here.
You can buy his book here.