Cara Brookins is the author of bestselling books Doris Free, a historical fiction set in Wisconsin during America’s great depression, a contemporary robot mystery Gadget Geeks, Treasure Quest, and TimeShifters trilogy for young adults. Little Boy Blu is her latest release. Visit her here.
NAW- Tell us about your forthcoming book, Little Boy Blu. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
Little Boy Blu is a psychological thriller set in a remote area of the remote Appalachian Mountains. Blu Stacy discovers that his mom intentionally had children with a genetic abnormality in order to secure a reality television show. Blu is the only child in the family without the disorder, and as he uncovers secrets, someone in the family begins trying to kill him.
The idea came after I read two news articles. The first was about the real genetic abnormality called methemoglobinemia that I use in the novel. The disorder causes blue skin. While it is treatable, a person can survive untreated with blue skin. I was fascinated by the idea that we could have an entire group of blue people on the planet and what life might be like for them. I tucked this idea in a folder and about a week later I read an article about Octomom, who had eight babies in order to pursue reality television fame. I immediately knew that I had to write a novel marrying these two ideas. What makes this so much fun is that it is 100% possible but sounds really far out there.
NAW- In Little Boy Blue, you write about methemoglobinemia. Tell us about the research you carried out for the novel? How difficult is it to write a thriller in a child’s voice?
I read a great deal about not only methemoglobinemia but a number of genetic disorders. It was important to get the medical science correct but to keep it as a minor element of the novel. I didn’t want the science to overtake the human element. This is a tale about how far people will go for fame, and with the introduction of a new skin colour it also becomes a story about prejudice.
For the setting, I drove to Kentucky to visit the Appalachian Mountains and get a feel for the remote areas that I use as the isolated setting for Blu and his family. Hands-on research is always a vital part of my writing process. Every location has a unique feeling as well as dialog and food, so I try to capture that as well as I can.
Through the writing and re-writing of Little Boy Blu, I played with several ages for Blu and his siblings. It’s a challenge to include adult content if the protagonist is very young because young readers may not be ready for the content and older readers may not read the book with the assumption it is for a younger audience. Ultimately, Blu became eighteen, which is a perfect compromise to include new-adult readers as well as adult readers. Writing the younger siblings—particularly Henry who is only five in the beginning—was a challenge with so many adult scenes unfolding around him. I felt compelled to protect him at times but had to let go and allow him to be an honest part of the story in order for it to feel authentic.
NAW-Tell us about your other works.
In 2006, Mondo publishing in New York published my first middle grade novel, Doris Free, a historical fiction set in Wisconsin during America’s great depression. My contemporary robot mystery Gadget Geeks is also for middle grade students and came out in 2008. Buzz Books USA published Treasure Quest, and my Timeshifters trilogy for young adults, Mark of the Centipede, Mark of the Serpent, and Mark of the Spider in 2013-2014. Little Boy Bu is with the Crimson Rose Imprint of Wild Rose Press.
I am currently editing the first novel in my women’s comedy series about divorce and voodoo, and it will be out by the end of the year. I’m also finishing a psychological thriller based on my real life experiences of surviving domestic violence and building a 3500 square foot home from the ground up with my four kids.
NAW- How difficult (or easy) was it getting published? Tell us about your publishing journey.
I was very fortunate to have the first novel I wrote published immediately after I finished it. That gave me the confidence to push forward and keep writing. I’ve had hundreds of rejections since then, but I am very stubborn and learned early on that the key was to keep writing more books while I’m submitting the completed novels. Mark of the Centipede was published nine years after I wrote the first draft. Persistence pays off!
The most important part of the process for me are my rejections. I feel like a book is the best I could possibly write the first time I submit it. But after it is rejected I look deeper and re-write. After twenty to fifty rejections, I’ve re-written and edited it many times. And by the time it is finally accepted, the finished work is one hundred times better than what I originally thought was my best work. Rejection makes me dig deeper.
Five of my novels and one novella were sold directly to publishers after pitching them at conferences. Naturally I’m a huge supporter of attending writers’ conferences, not only for book sales but for the networking opportunities and support of other writers.
NAW- How do you decide the names for your characters? Is it a random process or a well thought one?
Names are extremely important to me. I spend a lot of time looking through baby name books when starting a novel. The name has to fit the character’s personality, time period, and location, but I also review name meanings and repeat them aloud with other character’s names in various combinations. Occasionally I go back and change a character’s name late in the story, but never a major character.
I also have fun with some names. In the Timeshifters trilogy, the villain Namor was named by reversing my youngest son’s name, Roman. To keep that theme, I scrambled his middle name, Isaac to make Namor’s mom’s name, Casia, and his father’s name is made with Roman’s initials, Rip. The protagonist’s sister in Timeshifters is named Jada, which is my youngest daughter’s name. This was a great way to include my children in the process, particularly in my early works.
Ironically, the novel I’m writing now which is based on real life events with my kids, does not use their names. Because the events were traumatic, I found it difficult to get enough distance to have a writer’s perspective when I tried to write with their real names.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
My day job (until I write enough novels to write full time) is a sr. computer programmer/systems analyst. In short, I develop new computer software systems from scratch. I also spend a lot of time gardening and doing outdoor activities with my kids. My youngest daughter and I hula hoop (sometimes with fire!) and we all enjoy traveling, hiking, and a variety of art projects.
NAW- Who are your favourite writers?
My all-time favourite writer is E.B. White. I love his essays and letters. He creates a natural, conversational flow that is really brilliant. I read just about everything though and across all genres. I love Stephen King’s characterization, Janet Evanovich’s humour, and R.J Ellory’s sentence composition. I could fill pages with authors and novels I love! It’s essential for all writers to read a lot. I am also a huge fan of audiobooks and podcasts. Whenever possible, I listen to them in double or time-and-a-half speed in order to fit more in. My kids think I’m nuts.
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
I add new ideas to a folder called ‘idea dump’ where each idea gets its own dedicated folder. Then for at least a week I add research, ideas, and voice notes made while driving to the folder, usually longer. When I feel like I have a good idea of the plot and the protagonist, I write what I call a voice sample to see if I want to hang out with this character for six months to a year. That sample rests for another week while I gather more information. If I’m still committed to the idea after all of this, then I begin writing. I have a solid idea of the overall plot when I begin, but the details are all filled in along the way. I don’t make detailed outlines before I write. I do keep a cheat sheet filled with important details as I write so I can look back at it to quickly see ages, locations, timelines, etc. It saves a lot of time over searching back through the manuscript for details.
I have at least fifty novels in my idea dump folder that I hope to write someday. Whenever I run across a news article or bit of info that reminds me of one of them, I drop it in the folder through Evernotes. I’m appalled when I have a new idea for a novel because I don’t know how I’ll ever have time to write them all.
Every new novel should allow me to research new things and explore new ideas, that’s an important part of my criteria. I hope each novel I write works to make me a better person.If this is true of me, then hopefully the reader will find the same benefits.