IndieView with Sarah K. Stephens, author of A Flash of Red

The initial idea came from preparatory reading I was doing for a new course on children’s development in an online world. I started reading research on the effects of pornography exposure on children and adolescents, which primarily indicates that children’s ideas of sexual behavior and relationships are negatively affected by the themes presented in porn. In a world where high-speed internet is so accessible, and where so many families do not use internet filters for their children’s devices, pornography exposure is incredibly common in even young children (keeping in mind that a big chunk of early porn exposure is unintentional as children search the Web).

Sarah K. Stephens – 8 April 2017

The Back Flap

What happens when you can’t tell the difference between desire, obsession, and reality? Thanks to her husband, Anna is about to find out.

Psychology professor Anna Kline and her architect husband, Sean, are a young couple in a fractured marriage, each struggling with their own misperceptions of reality. Sean seeks solace from his perfect wife in the cold intimacy of love and sex offered online, while Anna copes by offering her own oppressive version of devotion. Becoming an ever more tangible presence in their weakening marriage is the question of Anna’s mental state and whether she will follow the same path as her now institutionalized mother. When Bard, a student of Anna’s with a family history of schizophrenia, discovers Sean’s addiction, Bard’s admiration for Anna morphs into a delusion of special intimacy. Guilt-ridden with his own past failure to protect his older sister, Bard’s skewed mind begins to see Anna as another woman in need of rescue.

As Sean and Anna’s marriage becomes a battleground of manipulation, Bard privately crafts a strategy to save Anna from her husband, sending their three worlds spinning out of control with irrevocable and deadly consequences. A Flash of Red’s driving plot and multi-faceted characters detail the destruction that ensues when mental illness attacks our most intimate relationships.

About the book

What is the book about?

A Flash of Red details the chaos that ensues when mental illness invades our most intimate relationships. Professor Anna Klein and her husband, Sean, are a young couple each struggling with their own misperceptions of reality.  While Anna’s daily anxieties turn on the axis of her mother’s path into psychosis, Sean escapes to the alternate reality of love and sex offered online. When Bard, a student of Anna’s, develops his own obsession with the couple, their already unsteady world collapses with irrevocable consequences. A Flash of Red ultimately asks the question: What happens when we can no longer tell the difference between what we want and what is real?

When did you start writing the book?

I first began A Flash of Red in the Spring of 2014.

How long did it take you to write it?

It took approximately 1 year to get the bones of the novel onto paper, and another full year of editing before I started querying it.

Where did you get the idea from?

The initial idea came from preparatory reading I was doing for a new course on children’s development in an online world. I started reading research on the effects of pornography exposure on children and adolescents, which primarily indicates that children’s ideas of sexual behavior and relationships are negatively affected by the themes presented in porn. In a world where high-speed internet is so accessible, and where so many families do not use internet filters for their children’s devices, pornography exposure is incredibly common in even young children (keeping in mind that a big chunk of early porn exposure is unintentional as children search the Web). When that is mixed with a lack of open discussion about sexual intimacy in children’s other developmental relationships (which is still the norm in much of American culture), children and adolescents develop very skewed views of sexual intimacy.

As I read through this literature, it occurred to me that our culture might be facing an upcoming generation where the very definition of intimacy has shifted. I had to ask the question: Can emotional intimacy remain when porn is the main educational tool for that ‘intimacy’? And then I began to wonder what a marriage might look like if one partner was deeply dependent on this form of stimulation—how would that create cracks in their union? From there, the story began to take on a life of its own.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

Although the completion of the first draft went rather smoothly, I continue to find the editing process a challenge, mainly because we as writers need to be highly critical of our writing when we take on the role of editor rather than creator. It’s incredibly important to scrutinize your writing, but it doesn’t make it any easier.  

What came easily?

Writing Bard, in particular, was a fluid experience. He was fully realized in my head before he ever appeared on the page.

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

To paraphrase P.D. James, my characters represent everyone in my life and no one in my life. What I mean is that my characters each have facets of themselves that echo real people I know, but as a whole my characters are entirely their own unique selves.

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?

Where do I begin? Jane Austen and Edith Wharton continue to teach me about the subtleties of character development. P.D. James schooled me in plot construction. A.X. Ahmad provides clear examples of how action can be used to further your reader’s connection to your characters.

Do you have a target reader?

Anyone who loves a good story.

About Writing

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

I prefer to write in the mornings, when my mind is fresh and my house is quiet. I typically set a word count goal for the day—for me, it makes the process of knitting together characters and scenes less daunting.

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

My outlining is mostly mental—I’ve found I enjoy the process of seeing where my story will take me. For any novel, I typically have a clear idea of beginning and ending before I start, but the middle is entirely flexible and open to inspiration.

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

I typically edit the previous day’s writing, just for typos and to reacquaint myself with where I left off. I wait to do significant editing until after I’ve completed an initial draft.

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

I can’t listen to music with words when I write, so it’s mostly Mozart, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff. Sometimes I’ll throw in some movie soundtracks to mix it up—Pride and Prejudice always seems fitting!

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

I submitted to both agents and small presses.

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 was very impressed with Pandamoon Publishing’s program for training their authors in the publishing and marketing of their books. As a Pandamoon author, I’m highly involved in every aspect of my book’s publication, from the design of the cover to the marketing blurbs used, and I definitely value the level of input I’m able to provide.

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

Pandamoon provides comprehensive marketing for their authors—since we are trained in marketing techniques before our books are published, I felt very comfortable with promoting my book in partnership with Pandamoon’s own marketing process.

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

The best way to promote yourself as a writer is to promote other writers. The writing community is very supportive and paying it forward is much more effective than self-promotion.

About You

Where did you grow up?

In a rural suburb of Youngstown, OH.

Where do you live now?

Central Pennsylvania.

What would you like readers to know about you?

When I’m not writing or teaching, I’m likely to be playing Scrabble with my family, walking our snuggly Pit-Bull, Jasper, or trying to make the perfect croissant (I’ll get there one day).

End of Interview:

For more from Sarah, visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like her Facebook page.

Get your copy of A Flash of Red from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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