I think all characters in fiction are built up from bits and pieces of real people that we’ve collected along the way.
Steph Post – 4 January 2015
The Back Flap
James Hart, with a tough-as-nails exterior and an aching emptiness inside, does not want to go home.
Yet when James receives a postcard from his mother, Birdie Mae, informing him of his father’s death, he bites the bullet and returns to the rural and stagnant town of Crystal Springs, Florida, a place where dreams are born to die. James is too late for Orville’s funeral, but just in time to become ensnared in the deadly repercussions of his younger brother Rabbit’s life of petty crime.
When Rabbit is double crossed by his cousin in a robbery-turned-murder, James and a local bartender, the unsettling and alluring Marlena Bell, must come up with a plan to save Rabbit’s skin. A whirlwind road trip across the desolate Florida panhandle ensues as James tries to stay one step ahead of the vengeful Alligator Mafia and keep his brother alive. With bullets in the air and the ghosts of heartache, betrayal and unspeakable rage haunting him at every turn, James must decide just how much he is willing to risk to protect his family and find a way home.
About the book
What is the book about?
Thirty-six year old James Hart, with a tough-as-nails exterior and an aching emptiness inside, does not want to go home. Upon hearing of the death of his father, however, James decides to bite the bullet and return to Crystal Springs, Florida, a collapsed rural town running on the fumes of the occasional interstate tourists passing through. It is a place where dreams are born to die. Here, James discovers that he is too late for Orville’s funeral, but just in time to rescue his younger brother, Rabbit, from the deadly consequences of his petty crime life and, in the process, discover that he can’t escape the grips of his family, and might not even want to.
When did you start writing the book?
I started writing A Tree Born Crooked in the spring of 2012.
How long did it take you to write it?
It took me three months to do the first draft. I set it aside for the summer to simmer (and to get married) and then began working on the subsequent drafts throughout the fall. All in all, from conception to final copy, the process took almost exactly a year.
Where did you get the idea from?
The characters most certainly came first. I knew that I wanted to write about characters living in rural Florida, doing their best to make it in the world around them. Once I had the characters and the town of Crystal Springs mapped out, I let them play. Plot construction for me is very organic and I’m often only one step ahead in the story. I created the characters and then they inspired the story.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Writing action scenes is challenging for me. It’s difficult to write enough description without the scene becoming too clunky. The action scenes took the most revising as I struggled to find the sweet spot between over describing the action and putting the reader in the moment of the scene.
What came easily?
I find writing dialogue to be the easiest and most enjoyable part of working on a novel. Once I really know a characters, it’s all a matter of crafting the scene and then listening.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
I think all characters in fiction are built up from bits and pieces of real people that we’ve collected along the way. Many of my characters have traits and voices that most certainly come from the people I grew up with. That being said, no character is based on any one real person.
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?
Authors such as Jim Harrison, Daniel Woodrell and Cormac McCarthy have definitely influenced my style. In their work, they give such amazing literary treatment to characters, situations and stories that could otherwise be considered mundane. This is exactly what I hope to do as an author.
Do you have a target reader?
I think most of my readers have a down-to-earth sensibility. I believe that my readers are the ones who always root for the underdogs. When I’m actually in the process of writing, revising and editing my husband is The Reader. He’s not afraid to call it like it is, which is really helpful when I’m pushing myself with revisions.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I go through several stages. I spend a lot of time researching and character sketching before I ever start writing. Then I go through at least three drafts, each of which can take months, as I revise and revise the story. Finally, there’s a pretty hardcore editing stage. I want a novel to be rock solid before sending it out.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I do outline, but I don’t like to draft too far out. One of the best parts of writing is discovering what happens next and I love to be surprised by where the story goes. In an outline, I usually start with a short piece of dialogue or description and then makes notes for building the scene around it.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I never read any of a novel in progress until the last word has been written. Then, I go back and read the entire book for the first time. After that, the revision and editing stages kick in.
Did you hire a professional editor?
I did not hire a professional editor. While I’m far from perfect, being a substantive editor myself and a writing teacher, I’m pretty hard on myself when it comes to editing. I try to edit as objectively as possible and push myself to create a clean, solid version before sending it out.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I do, but it has to be instrumental only. For some reason, I tend to write to film scores. A lot of A Tree Born Crooked was written with film scores by Phillip Glass and Atticus Ross playing in the background.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
I did. Several agents almost picked up A Tree Born Crooked, but in the end I decided to forgo an agent and try the indie press scene.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
It was a gradual process. I got tired of agents reading full versions of the manuscript and then telling me that it was a great story, but wouldn’t sell. I also really wanted to be a part of the process of creating and marketing A Tree Born Crooked. Going with an indie publisher gave me a chance to really be a part of the publishing process and have a lot of say in what happened to the book.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
My publisher, Pandamoon Publishing, has in-house artists, but I asked if they would accept outside work and they agreed. The cover was designed by my brother, Marc Sokolay, which was really special for me.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
Can I say both? My publisher has a long-term marketing plan, but I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities to spread the word about A Tree Born Crooked.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Be aware that you will be doing a lot of work on your own. For me, this was a positive thing, because I like to have control over my writing, image, etc. However, this can be very daunting and very exhausting at times. You have to have a tough skin. Of course, I believe any authors, no matter whom they publish with, would say the same thing.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in St. Augustine, Florida. Well, technically I grew up in the middle of nowhere, but the closest town was St. Augustine.
Where do you live now?
Now I live on the other coast of Florida, in St. Petersburg.
What would you like readers to know about you?
Stay tuned. There are many more books to come.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on the first draft of my third novel. I’m at the very beginning of the actual writing phase, which is both exciting and terrifying. It’s actually a complete re-write of a novel that I self-published years ago. I’m stepping slightly away from the grit-lit genre with it and going straight Southern gothic. It’s going to be a wild ride and I’m looking forward to the next year of writing.
End of Interview: