1. What’s your name? Where can we find you? Blog? Twitter? Facebook?
My Twitter handle is @beaks318. Everyone can find me on Facebook, which is where I spend more time. I post my short stories and review books at my blog, located at blog.chrisbeakey.com. I LOVE hearing from readers, who can email me through my Web site at http://www.chrisbeakey.com.
- Other than writing, what is your favorite hobby or thing you enjoy for fun?
I play a lot of tennis, spend time on the beach (swimming and reading there in the summers and walking it other times of the year) . . . I also enjoy spending time with my friends and neighbors in the small town by the ocean where I live.
- How long have you been writing? What genres have you written? They don’t have to be published.
I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil . . . I think I wrote my first story in third grade. It was a spellbinding masterpiece about a treasure chest in an attic, with a ghost, which no one else would have ever thought of ☺.
That’s actually partly true. I always wanted to tell stories, and was encouraged from my earliest years by teachers and my family. I didn’t foresee a clear path to success until my second year of college though. I was studying Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University, preparing for a career in public relations because it would give me the opportunity to write for the mass media. I’d been writing fiction for awhile – essentially learning how to do it by doing it.
In my junior year I won a short story competition. In my senior year I wrote a comedic novella, in the style of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, about campus life. It was published as a serial in the school paper. They were minor successes, but they showed I had the potential to shape a very small amount of talent and a very large amount of ambition into work that people would enjoy reading.
I decided then that I’d have a traditional career in media and would write fiction in my free time. For 20 years I woke up at 4:30 every morning so I could write for a couple of hours before heading out to the gym and then to my often-grueling day job. I wrote three novels that I couldn’t sell.
Something interesting happened shortly after I turned 40 though. I looked back at the failures in those books and admitted to myself that I’d been writing stories that I believed would be commercially marketable. Stories that were well-constructed, descriptively written, and safe from offending anyone in any way.
Since it hadn’t worked, I decided to try something different. I decided to write about my most visceral emotions and fears, without worrying about whether anyone would be bothered by what I wrote. I’d spent a lot of time as a mentor to at-risk kids, and had loved and worried about my sister’s kids as if they were my own. There had been countless moments when I’d imagined something happening to them – it was the kind of thing that would hit me in the middle of the night and keep me wide-eyed awake until the morning. I felt deep rage every time I read or watched a story about a child being abducted or abused, and actually thanked God often for the safety of the kids around me while questioning how God could allow any kid to suffer.
So I went there – to that dark, scary place in my mind. The result was Double Abduction, published in hardcover by J. Boylston & Company. It’s a thriller about Michael Bennett, a 25-year-old gay preschool teacher who becomes the lead suspect in the abduction of his beloved 5-year-old nephew – a case eerily similar to the abduction and murder of his other nephew 5 years before. The story takes place over 48 hours, which is how much time Michael has to rescue his nephew. That’s the “thriller” element. The deeper story is about redemption – as Michael descends into Hell for the second time to save his nephew’s life and restore his good name.
It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. It sold well, especially in libraries, despite being published by a small but earnest publisher that couldn’t really compete with the big houses. Half of my friends who are parents loved it because it was based on their worst fears. The other half of my friends who are parents couldn’t read it because it was based on their worst fears. In an ironic way I consider that a victory, because it made an impact.
- What has been the greatest influence to your writing? Other authors, life experiences, etc…
There’s a writer named John Farris who’s always been a mystery to me. He began writing slim crime paperbacks in the early 1960s, He evolved into a writer of paranormal/horror stories that literally pulsed on the page. He had his first hit with The Fury, about a psychic teenager who has to battle a secret government agency to save the life of her twin brother, an even more gifted psychic who’s been kidnapped so that he can be trained to be a government weapon. The book was made into a well-regarded movie by Brian DePalma. I’ve read it about four times . . . and if I live into my 70s I’ll probably read it at least three more times.
I’ve had similar reactions to John Farris’ other works. They’re stories about people who appear to live ordinary lives but who are challenged by their psychic sensitivities and abilities. His best stories are like the best stories by Stephen King and Richard Matheson – they’re far more “literary” than most snobs would admit. And completely real.
There are so many other writers who inspire me – including current greats such as Lisa Unger, Gillian Flynn, Joseph Finder, Harlan Coben, Jeffrey Stephens, Jordan Dane, John Lescroart, Peter Swanson, Norb Vonnegut, Neely Tucker, Greg Hurwitz and Lee Child (because there are days when I sorta’ wish I was Jack Reacher).
But when it comes to material I have to say it all does emanate from my own life experiences. Emotional triggers. Scary thoughts. Good people winning against more powerful bad people. And redemption – something that seems to be part of almost everything I write.
- Are you currently writing anything now? If so tell us about it? If not make something up…
I’m about two-thirds of the way through my next thriller: Double Death. It’s about a psychic in the witness protection program who keeps outsmarting the bad guys who keep finding her. She also has $15 million in a Swiss bank account and an epileptic teenage nephew who depends on an illegal drug to stay alive. The other main character is Washington, DC police officer Gloria Towson, who helped Michael Bennett rescue his nephew and clear his name in Double Abduction.
I also write short stories and post them at www.blog.chrisbeakey.com.
- How do you typically begin your projects? Do you create outlines and character profiles or jump in head first with the initial idea? And do you focus on just one at a time?
I write very, very detailed outlines, but I always begin with a 2-3 sentence description/understanding of what the story is about. Fatal Option, for example, was always about a good man who does a bad thing for the best possible reasons – and then has to defy the law to try to get away with it and keep his family together. Double Abduction was always about a good guy living as a suspect in a child abduction who can only clear his name by rescuing another child. Double Death is likewise about a woman who’s effectively held captive by the U.S. Marshals until she can destroy the evil people who made her a captive.
Once I come up with that concise idea of the story I spend months in a stream-of-consciousness plotting mode . . . thinking about characters and scenes and even bits of dialogue that will move the story forward. I learned long ago that the best way to defeat writer’s block is to begin with this stream-of-consciousness approach because it frees me to be creative without boundaries.
But then I get very serious . . . whittling down that stream-of-consciousness outline to something much closer to a blueprint.
Then I start writing. And keep about half of what’s in that blueprint. It’s frustrating when scenes that seemed to work on the blueprint don’t work once you write them – and exhilarating when a scene takes flight on a slightly different path than you forecasted.
- What aspect of your writing do you consider your strength? Your weakness?
I’ll describe my weakness first. I’m not very smart. Not very talented. Didn’t attend the Iowa Writer’s Workshop or obtain an MFA from American University or the University of Virginia or any of those other smart-people schools that field the writers who are selected by the literary journals. I’m too emotional, and too fixated on writing stories driven by people who are likewise emotional due to the terrifying situations they’re thrust into. And I’m simple. I don’t ever want my stories to be the kinds of works that have to be “analyzed” in order for people to determine what they’re about. You should always know what my story is about by the time you finished it. If not, I probably screwed up. I like stories with beginnings, middles and ends. And I’m especially happy when people tell me they came close to crying – or cheering as they read.
In terms of strengths, I’m always honest. I tell truths as I see them. And I always write about things that hit me in a visceral way . . . and always work to become better at this.
- After publishing, the next trouble facing writers is marketing. What do you typically do when marketing your novel? Do you have tips you’d like to share?
I love people but am pretty introverted – if I go to a party I’ll typically end up talking to a librarian or a bartender or anyone who engages me in an interesting one-on-one conversation for most of the night. I think I’m pretty good at describing my work but I am very uncomfortable promoting it. Fortunately I’m working with a team of AMAZING people at Smith Publicity. They all read Fatal Option before agreeing to promote it, and from there they mounted a campaign that I’m especially comfortable with, which is driven by getting the Advance Reading Copies into the hands of everyday thriller readers and book bloggers.
These are the people I want to relate to – because after spending so many years inside my head writing I now want to know how people react to this story. I love this strategy. It’s not flashy. But it connects me to the readers, who matter most to me.
One tip I have is to find other people who have done this well and try to learn from them. And don’t try to do it on your own. There are zillions of books published every year. There are some that are truly amazing that no one ever hears about . . . and some that aren’t amazing at all that get far more attention because they’re pushed big time by the big time publishers that acquired them. The book marketing landscape truly is a jungle, with bamboo spikes growing out of the ground and snakes dropping out of trees underneath beautiful sunsets that prod you onward. You probably won’t get through it without someone to guide you all the way.
- What advice would you give a writer who is starting out?
Here are a few recommendations:
- Try to figure out what makes you cry. Or laugh. Or lie wide-awake at night. Think about the most emotional moments of your life. Think about the most compelling people in your life. Draw from those experiences. If you do you’ll probably write better, and produce more.
- Once you figure out which genre you want to write in, read as much work as you can from that genre. Learn from the masters. Emulate what you feel they do best while sticking to your unique voice and style.
- Set aside time every day to write. This is so important – at least it is to me. I’ve met so many people who have told me “I always wanted to write a book” or “I have a great idea for a book” or “someday I’ll write a book.” Most of them don’t actually spend any time writing. I sympathize completely, because they’re typically people with demanding jobs, commutes back and forth to those jobs, and family responsibilities. But if writing is really important to you, you need to find a certain time of day when you can focus on it.
The best time of that day for writing is probably linked to your body clock. I’m a day person – I like to get up early, and am most creative in the first two hours after I’ve awakened. Other people are at the other end of the spectrum. They have to stay up late and can’t write until after 9 or 10 at night. You need to figure out where you are on that spectrum . . . and then you need to try and set aside at least an hour every day to devote to your writing. Consistency is important; I think we need these routines. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to write every day for decades before I sold my first novel. I then went to a demanding 10-hour a day job. I gave up a lot to do this. Stopped going out after work. Spent my evenings reading great books instead of watching TV. And spent lots of time going to writers conferences, interacting with agents and editors, and dealing with moments of validation and rejection. There were so many reasons to think I’d never succeed, but nothing could stop me. That’s the attitude shared by most successful writers.
The last thing I’ll say on this is to be easy on yourself. Editors, agents and readers can be harsh. New York City can be harsh. Librarians, though, are basically never harsh. They love writers and live their professional lives to create places for reading, introspection and creativity (so you really should get to know a librarian or two). Don’t dwell on the rejection letters. But do read the work of other writers – both published and aspiring – and engage in good dialogue with them. We’re all part of a community. We need to support each other.