IndieView with RJ Crayton, author of Life First

Life First - High Resolution - 2

Let’s see. We’ve already established that I won’t use you for target practice. I think above all, I want you to remember that. What else?

RJ Crayton – 10 November 2013

The Back Flap

About the book

What is the book about?

The book is about a woman trying to flee a mandated kidney removal operation. The book is set a hundred years in the future, where pandemics have wiped out much of the population and the rebuilding society has adopted this “Life First” philosophy. This belief requires every person do their part to help others survive, including donating a kidney to a total stranger. Kelsey is bucking society by trying to flee, but she has her reasons, which trickle out over the course of the novel.

When did you start writing the book?

Truthfully, I don’t recall when I started writing the book, but my best guess is 2011. I actually had the idea for this story while I was working on a different novel. I stopped the other project to get the beginning of this story down, and ended up coming back to Life First later, so that’s why the date is fuzzy in my mind.

How long did it take you to write it?

The first draft didn’t actually take that long, about 2 months once I decided I wanted it to be a novel. It originally started as a short story, but as I got 17,000 words in, I realized it was going to be much more. I went back and did several revisions between when I started and published.

Where did you get the idea from?

I saw a news story about a woman who refused to have a cesarean section birth, and her baby died. The woman had said she didn’t want to be sliced open and gutted like a pig.  While a very sad case, I found myself wondering about human rights and at what point do we say someone has to sacrifice their body integrity to help another person survive. Here you had a woman saying, “not gonna slice me open.” And you had doctors saying, “this other person is going to die if you don’t.” Pregnancy is unique because the mother and baby’s health are intricately connected. However, that news story planted the concept of having surgery on your body solely for the benefit of saving another person’s life. I wondered what a society that professed that kind of sacrifice would look like.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

I struggled in deciding how to pull the story together. It is a thriller and my goal was to keep a pretty good pace throughout, so I struggled with how to achieve that, especially when the plot turned in a direction that required a slightly slower pace. Overall, I think it’s well-paced and information revealed in such a way to keep the reader interested.

What came easily?

The main character’s interactions with her boyfriend Luke as they tried this escape came easily. I liked writing that and revealing what had been going on with them prior to the book’s opening. Also, the revelation of how Kelsey knows Dr. Grant, the shady doctor who helps her escape. That came very easily.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

The characters themselves are completely fictitious. They really don’t have anything to do with people I know. However, I derived some of the names from people I know. I remember trying to figure out a name for Kelsey’s father. I knew I wanted him to be someone strong, self-assured and full of integrity. I thought Lewis would be a good name, because a Lewis I know is like that. I almost used a version of the last name of the Lewis I know. My real life Lewis’s last name is pronounced “do good” and I liked that literal visual of that as a last name. Here’s this guy that literally does good. But, it seemed a little too hokey and didn’t necessarily fit Kelsey, who would also have to have the last name. I ended up giving them the last name Reed, and I just sort of pulled that from thin air

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?

Overall, I’ve looked for writers who tell a story that keeps the pages turning, regardless of genre. Successful writers I’ve enjoyed include Harlan Coben, James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, and S.J. Watson. I think they all show how to tell a tight story with wonderful twists and turns that leave the reader dying to know what happens next.

Do you have a target reader?

Frankly, I abhor gun violence (and bow-and-arrow and knife violence, too; I’m OK with fisticuffs), so I would never condone using readers as targets. Oh wait, that’s not what you meant? Ah, I see.

My target reader is someone who likes a good book, a fan of dystopias and thrillers. If someone liked the Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) or Divergent (Veronica Roth), they’d probably like my book. If someone likes a good thriller like Before I go to Sleep (S.J. Watson), they’d probably like my book.  People interested in ethical issues surrounding organ donation would like my book. Those are the kinds of readers I’d like to target.

About Writing

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

I sit down at my computer and write. That’s pretty much the process. It’s fairly simple. When I finish the first draft, I tend to go back and do extensive editing.  I usually write while my children are at school, however, I am easily distracted by Facebook, blog posts and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon clips.

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

I tend to have in mind where I want the novel to go when I start, but I don’t do outlines. Usually, when I finish a writing session, I’ll write a sentence about what I want to work on the next day. If I have ideas for scenes way down the line, I’ll jot down those ideas, too. So, at some point I’ll have a bare-bones outline, but I don’t do extensive. I prefer to write and see what develops. However, I know outlining can be beneficial, and is probably very helpful if you have several projects and deadlines going on.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

I do my editing when I’m finished. When I write, I read over the stuff I wrote the previous day, so I might make one or two minor changes then, but I don’t do any heavy editing until the whole thing is pretty much finished. While writing, I’ll even make notes like, “this scene sucks” or “add in better segue,” but I won’t do it until I’ve finished the first draft. I feel like I get a better sense of the novel when I read it as a whole. It’s easier for me to make edits after reading the whole thing, than trying to do it while I’m in the writing phase. Sometimes, I think the brain knows there’s a problem, but needs time to come up with a solution. For me, if I backburner those issues until the editing phase, it seems to work better. My brain has worked out a solution by then and I’m able to edit more efficiently.

Did you hire a professional editor?

I did not hire a professional editor. My husband has a very good grasp of grammar and used to work for a boss who would come and tirade at employees for 20 to 30 minutes if he found a grammatical or formatting error in their work, so I worked on the cheap and had him do the final edit. I think he did a pretty decent job. I had an editor friend do a read of parts of it and got some good structural advice. I think editors are good, but I did not hire one for this book.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

Absolutely not. That is such a bizarre idea to me. It is so completely foreign to how I write that while I recognize that lots of people do it, I can’t understand how. I would find it distracting and bothersome. I need to really be in my own head when I write. I love music and get into the music when I listen to it. So, if I were listening to music, I wouldn’t be in my own head, I’d be in this “enjoy music” mode and I wouldn’t be able to write a thing. I find music incredibly inspiring (I actually wrote a few blog posts about it), but I can’t listen to music and write.

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?


What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?

I got some decent feedback from agents, but no offers. I decided the story was worth being published and decided to do it.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?

I am graphically challenged and had no illusions about my ability to design a cover. Well, actually, I did have some illusions about that ability. After I tried designing a cover, it became very apparent that the idea that I could do it successfully was a delusion. I purchased a pre-made cover from a professional designer. I love the cover, as it looks professional and a hundred times better than anything I could have come up with. Maybe I’ll post the awful covers I tried on a blog.

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

I didn’t have a marketing plan. I’d never published a book before, so I thought I’d just do it and see what happens. Having published a book now, I think I have a better sense of what is helpful. I have a more defined marketing plan for book two. That includes lining up some advanced reviewers, setting up pre-orders, sending out information to my mailing list, adding chapter previews of book two to the end of book one. The best thing for marketing, though, is word of mouth, and it’s hard to generate that.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

Just do it. Credit to Nike on that one! I think the best advice I can give is to write the best book you can, get it vetted through beta readers and editors and publish it. There is a learning curve, and you can go in and read books and get ideas about things to avoid and things to do, but ultimately, the best thing you can do is jump in. Experience is the best teacher, and what worked for another author may not work for you or vice versa. There were a couple of pieces of advice that I took and it didn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean it didn’t work for the people who gave it or it won’t work for someone else. I’m glad I tried everything I did because it was a learning experience, and now I’m that much wiser.

About You

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in an All-American city (seriously, we were an All-America City contest winner four  times): Peoria, IL.

Where do you live now?

I live in Maryland in one of the Washington, DC, suburbs.

What would you like readers to know about you?

Let’s see. We’ve already established that I won’t use you for target practice. I think above all, I want you to remember that. What else? I’m a mother of two, wife of one (more than one husband is just asking for trouble, IMHO). I have a severe cupcake addiction (seriously, I don’t think I could get a government security clearance because they’d  be like, “she’ll hand over all our secrets in exchange for a box full of Georgetown Cupcake confections”). I used to be a reporter who covered solid waste (draw whatever conclusions you want from that sentence); once, an Amish man jimmied open my car door; and I hate winding bobbins.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing the first draft of the third novel in the Life First series (I’m 60,000 words in with between 5,000-10,000 words left to write). The second novel in the series, Second Life, is due out Dec. 4, so I’m doing some preparatory stuff for its release at this point. A while back, I started an intriguing young adult novel.  I’m anxious to write the rest of this YA novel because it keeps interrupting my thoughts on this final Life First series book.

End of Interview:

For more from RJ visit her website and her Goodreads page, follow her on twitter and like her facebook page.

Get your copy of Life First from Amazon US (paper or ebook), Amazon UK (paper or ebook), Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

One response to “IndieView with RJ Crayton, author of Life First

  1. I mentioned I might create a blog post of the covers I tried to create on my own. Well, I did. Here it is, if anyone is interested: