“I ususally reread the previous day’s work, to get back into the flow. If I don’t get into the flow, I end up editing the previous day’s work. If all goes well, I take off that damn editor hat and get back into the story.
My writing routine: coffee, breakfast, coffee, write, a little social networking, research, coffee, write, stretch, write, lunch, long walk, tea, chocolate, write, social networking…veg out.”
Toni Dwiggins 16 September 2011
The Back Flap
Forensic geologists Cassie Oldfield and Walter Shaws embark on a perilous hunt—tracking a terrorist who has stolen radioactive material that is hotter than the desert in August. He threatens to release it in America’s most fragile national park, Death Valley.
But first he must stop the geologists who are closing in.
As the hunt turns dangerous, Cassie and Walter will need grit along with their field skills to survive this case. For they are up against more than pure malice. The unstable atom—in the hands of an unstable man—is governed by Murphy’s Law. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
And it does.
About the Book
What is the book about?
BADWATER is about two forensic geologists—a young woman and her father-figure mentor—whose job is to analyze earth evidence at crime scenes. In the Death Valley case, they must do more than solve the immediate crime, they must also prevent a radiological disaster and survive to tell the tale. The book is a bit of a hybrid, part mystery and part ecothriller.
BADWATER is meant to entertain, but also to get the reader thinking about a couple of things: where are we goping to put all this lethal-hot stuff coming from nuke plants, and what happens when humans make mistakes in an unforgiving line of work—the Oops Factor. But, firstly, the book is meant to entertain.
Where did you get the idea from?
I got interested in forensic geology, always loved Death Valley, and learned there used to be a radioactive waste facility on the perimeter of the National Park. I thought that would make a good story.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Yes, in weaving in the technical information. The book is aimed at a general mystery/thriller audience but I also wanted it to be accurate for a reader with knowledge of the subject matter. That created something of an awkward dance between overexplaining and having my characters lose credibility.
I went with the mantra, if in doubt, take it out. I have a lot of outtakes.
What came easily?
The action sequences. Every time the characters got into trouble, the scenes just took off. Also, most of the action takes place in the outdoors, in places I’d visited, so there was a certain natural movement to those sequences. There was one scene I’d actually lived, about a whirlwind in a slot canyon, although I did embellish it!
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
None are entirely fictitious, in that they all take on certain characteristics or word choices or actions that come from me or people I know (or have observed). It could be something quite trivial, such as an aversion to snakes. I used to have a snake phobia and in BADWATER I saddled two characters with it. Heh.
For my major nuke-worker character—since I knew nothing of that world—I lurked on a few websites and picked up some useful phrases and attitudes and personalities.
One of my protagonists—Walter—is very much a combination of my stepfather (named Wally) and a forensic geologist who taught me the basics.
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?
Nevada Barr, who writes mysteries about a ranger in various national parks: Reading her books, I believe I’ve learned something about making the setting a strong and unpredictable character.
James Lee Burke, who writes characters who are so deeply (and sometimes scarily) alive. I have a Burke-test for my characters—are they living the story, the way his characters do? If I get in the same neighborhood, I count that as a success.
Do you have a target reader?
Someone who likes mystery, suspense, and thrillers, and who can relate to a strong woman protagonist. Much of the action takes place in the outdoors, so a reader who likes adventure-type stories might enjoy the ride.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I ususally reread the previous day’s work, to get back into the flow. If I don’t get into the flow, I end up editing the previous day’s work. If all goes well, I take off that damn editor hat and get back into the story.
My writing routine: coffee, breakfast, coffee, write, a little social networking, research, coffee, write, stretch, write, lunch, long walk, tea, chocolate, write, social networking…veg out.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just Chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
Yes, in more or less this process: I’m writing a series so I already have the main characters set, and the framework of the story–the protags are forensic geologists. So there must be a crime or two, and there must be earth evidence for my characters to analyze.
Next I come up with a setting/theme. The stories concern environmental issues; for instance, the one I’m working on now is about an undersea experiment gone wrong, in a near-shore hypoxic zone.
Next I get to know my villain(s)–what motivates them, why they do what they do, what kind of havoc they wreak, how they threaten people and the environment.
The conflicting goals of the protags/antags lead to scenes. I usually sketch out the major scenes all the way through–kind of an in-depth outline. Invariably, I detour from the outline in the writing, as the characters come more alive and chart their own course. But I always refer to my outline, to be sure I don’t head off into la-la land.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I pretty much edit as I go, a habit I’d like to break. Although it results in a cleaner better first draft, it can also derail my progress. For example, I just finished a scene in which the characters argue over something, and I realized I hadn’t planted the “something” in the previous chapter, so I went back and redid it. Would have been better to just put a note to self inscene saying “hey author, motivation needed here!”
Did you hire a professional editor?
No. I have a literary agent who is a skilled editor, and she put me through several in-depth rewrites—all to the benefit of the book.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I don’t. If I did, it would likely be the 1812 Overture. With cannon.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Yes. I have a terrific agent.
What made you decide to go Indie? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
The book didn’t sell, although it came close several times. My agent suggested going Indie (although there were a couple more editors we could submit to) and I agreed. Partly, it was because the subject matter was suddenly timely (nuclear safety), partly because New York was eating my lunch, and partly because I’d begun to read some Indie books and was quite impressed. I was happy to join that club.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did it you do it yourself?
I’d seen several terrific Indie covers that authors had done themselves and thought I’d give it a try. I found stock photos, learned Gimp, and came up with a passable cover. I posted it on Kindleboards and got some great suggestions, and also attracted a cover designer who liked my concept. I made the smart choice and had him do it.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I’ve gotten blogger reviews and interviews, joined in discussions on both reader and writer boards, and shamelessly badgered friends and family to buy and recommend the book. I’m winging it with the hope there’s a direction involved.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Learn what is involved—through discussion boards, books on the subject, whatever. Really really learn. And if they decide to proceed, write the best book they can, have it professionally edited, get a quality cover, and learn to format correctly or pay someone to do it. In a nutshell, put out a book that is worth the reader’s while.
Where did you grow up?
Born in Burbank, California, grew up in North Hollywood. I’m a third-generation Californian.
Where do you live now?
Cupertino, in northern California. Home of Apple, which is the main claim to fame here.
What would you like readers to know about you?
That I absolutely love reading, and am thrilled and honored when someone is interested enough to read my book.
What are you working on now?
The next book in the forensic geology series. It takes place in my forensic geologists’ home town—Mammoth Lakes, in the Sierra Nevada range. A volcano is rumbling, and FEMA has sent a rather psychopathic emergency-ops guy to get the town ready to evacuate, and the mayor’s body has just been found in a glacier.
End of interview