IndieView with Taya Okerlund, author of Hurricane Coltrane

I find this also to be true: if an author is too cavalier—too carelessly daring with the truth —I find myself feeling insulted. I’ve lived life too—not only read it. I know honesty when I see it.

Taya Okerlund – 6 February 2017

The Back Flap

Merrill Hinton is a lightning rod in a town named for bad weather. He’s an ace in math, but not smart enough to put together the pieces of his puzzling life, especially where finding his unknown father is concerned.

Musical genius Robbie Stubbs was born in nearby polygamist compound Colorado City. He has the chops to become another John Coltrane, but that will take running away from home, and into a firestorm of controversy–the kind his friend Merrill knows best.

Merrill sets Robbie onto a course that could rocket them both onto center stage, but being the focus of wide public attention will create serious issues. Robbie’s mother is not well, and the shock of her son breaking the family rules like this may put her over the edge.

And Merrill Hinton? His precarious future would be compromised in ways he doesn’t yet realize.

About the book

What is the book about?

Hurricane Coltrane is a modern (and Mormon) take on Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. It’s about Merrill and Robbie’s unlikely friendship. Both boys live on the social fringes of mutually hostile cultures, and they each confront a lot of internal and external hardship. In the end, both boys learn to embrace differences and turn disadvantages into something truly great.

We all think we’re in the mainstream, but usually the mainstream is not very free thinking—and incapable of fulfilling anyone’s dreams.

When did you start writing the book?

I began writing in November 2013.

How long did it take you to write it?

Roughly one year.

Where did you get the idea from?

I borrowed themes from Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and also Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter. The religious culture of southern Utah lends itself to those ideas, but to my knowledge no author has ever written them out for Mormon culture.

I love Potok, but I can’t imitate his genius. And so the voice in Hurricane Coltrane is very distinct from everything he wrote, but the parallels can still be detected.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

What came easily?

I suffered over the ending. I plumbed my emotional depths. And after everything, I’m still not perfectly satisfied with it.

Merrill’s voice came easily. That was amazing for me as a writer. I tapped into a rich creative vein when I began to write him. And it was incredible how rich it was. I never sat down to write that I couldn’t reach Merrill. I’ve not found it to be that way either before or since—not after years of effort.

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

I would have flatly denied using real people only two years ago. But I realize now what a trickster my subconscious mind is.

Merrill is a composite of myself and my husband. Now I can see my narrator has all of the contemptuousness nonconformity of my teenaged self combined with my husband’s intellectual genius.

Also. Though fictitious, Mindy was inspired by Bridget from Pat O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Morrigan. I didn’t realize that right away either, but she’s full of the same spit and vinegar.

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?

I’ve already named Potok and even Pat O’Shea. (Pat wrote only one book by the way. But it was SO fun.)

Certainly there are more authors and writing traditions that influence me. I have so many favorites. Chinese myths and fairytales long ago taught me to depart from the very American “perfect” endings.

I love a truly sad story that really grips emotionally. And though I still like an emotionally satisfying ending, I don’t think a writer should pull punches. If literature doesn’t offer some grist for my emotions, I will never remember I read it.

I find this also to be true: if an author is too cavalier—too carelessly daring with the truth —I find myself feeling insulted. I’ve lived life too—not only read it. I know honesty when I see it. I’ve been a lot of places, both globally and inside my own soul. If you haven’t done your time too, don’t insult me by writing a fabrication, but I digress…

Do you have a target reader?

I write YA, which just means I’m writing for anyone 13 or above. I’ve been surprised to find most of my most enthusiastic readers are middle-aged men.

About Writing

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

I try to spend time when waiting in line, or whenever I’m not mentally engaged, working on problems in my next story. I wrote much of Hurricane Coltrane while pushing on a baby stroller. It takes a little practice, but I’ve found it’s the only way I can get it done.

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

I do outline. But I’ve learned to do it in my head. I do a lot of story and scene imagination in my head because I’ve a lot of demands upon my time during the day and I haven’t much time to sit down at the computer.

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

I edit as I go. I know they say not to, but I do. The rewriting is my favorite part right now.

Did you hire a professional editor?

I had several rounds with two professional editors.

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

I never listen to music. I would end up just listening to music.

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

I went with a small press. It was my first book and I did have a number of agents read the full manuscript. I was impatient though and took an early offer from a press.

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

Impatience. My health was very bad. Literally, I didn’t know if I would survive to see my work in print. I did live, though. And now I will have to abide my choice.

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

It was professional, but I’ll be honest: I don’t like it very much.

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

If possible, I’m doing worse than winging it. I held a top-secret security clearance before resigning from my prior career with the federal government around the time I signed with my publisher. My former colleagues and I weren’t exactly encouraged to engage in social media ala the proverbial online honey-pot operation…if you see what I mean.

Until fairly recently, I had NO social media presence at all online. Nobody knew I existed. In some ways, even my employer didn’t know me, because I used a pseudonym in all my government correspondence. We all did.

So, yes, worse than winging it.

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

Do your best work. Write honestly and with your heart. And then just murder it all with revisions. I do believe everyone has a creative self, and it’s just a matter of time and work until the gold shines through.

About You

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Taiwan…sort of. I spent my senior year of high school there and I think I went from a figurative twelve to thirty-years-old in the space of twelve months. I loved that adventure. Someday I would love to write about it.

Where do you live now?

I live in northern Utah with my husband and daughter.

What would you like readers to know about you?

I want my readers/authors/and myself to internalize something that’s becoming pretty real to me. The creative act is the point. The success of a project is icing. That’s great. I welcome success. There is certainly nothing wrong with it. But the real riches are still in the creative process. I hope I can keep that alive.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a time travel novel involving Butch Cassidy—also southern Utah based. I think of myself as a western continental writer. Geography is very important. That said, this novel is quite a departure for me because of the speculative quality of time travel. It’s also got a romantic angle, which is difficult for me.

End of Interview:

Get your copy of Hurricane Coltrane from Amazon US or Amazon UK.