Today, I’d like to welcome fellow Tor Books debut author Deborah Coates to the blog. Deb’s new urban fantasy, Wide Open, comes out today. We love release days! Deb lives in central Iowa and works at Iowa State University, but she grew up on a dairy farm in western New York state. You can learn more about her at http://www.deborah-coates.com.
ABOUT WIDE OPEN: When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her. The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Something happened or Dell’s ghost wouldn’t still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell’s loss, think Hallie’s letting her grief interfere with her judgment. The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn’t have to. As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace. Soon, someone’s trying to beat her up, burn down her father’s ranch, and stop her investigation. Hallie’s going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command
Now, let’s hear from Deb!
Give us the “elevator pitch” for Wide Open:
Hallie Michaels who, following a near-death experience in Afghanistan now sees ghosts, returns to her hometown for her sister’s funeral. The sheriff has said that her sister’s death is a suicide, but Hallie can’t accept that. As she delves into what happened and why, she uncovers blood sacrifice and ancient magics. She ends up getting help not only from the ghosts that keep following her but from a young deputy sheriff who seems to know more about what’s going on than he’s telling.
What was your inspiration for the book?
Hallie was probably my inspiration. Because I almost always have a character first. Then, the setting. Then, the story. So, yes, Hallie first. Then Boyd. I had a scene in my head of the two of them standing next to Boyd’s patrol car having a painfully candid conversation (what that conversation was I didn’t know yet, but it would be painful. And candid). In a way, though, that’s not at all accurate, because a lot of important parts of the story came all at the same time–the sense of place, the ghosts, the magic inherent in the story (though what form that magic would take probably came later).
I want to write novels that take place outside cities and in places that are unfamiliar though we often think that we know them, places we take for granted or consider boring, or consider the people boring or simple or dismissible in some way. I want to write adventures and fantasies about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. And I want to write about the rural U.S. and about working farms and ranches and about grain elevators and pickup trucks and old Case tractors. So, Hallie and Boyd were the specific inspirations for Wide Open, but all sorts of other bits and pieces came together to make the story what it finally is.
My favorite scenes in Wide Open almost always involve Hallie and Boyd talking. There’s a sort of mutual confession scene that is probably one of my very favorites where Boyd spends his moment trying to get everything lined up and honest and ‘right’ and Hallie just says what she has to say straight out. I like it not only for the conversation they have, but for the place they’re in and what it says to me about where they live and what people do there.
Hardest scene to write:
There’s a scene late in the book when Hallie and Boyd are confronting the villains. I don’t know that it was the hardest scene to write, but I can tell you it’s one that’s memorable to me because I learned something important writing that scene that I’ve used in all my writing since. The bits and pieces of the scene were all there, but something wasn’t working. I passed it along to a friend and sharp critiquer who agreed and said basically that the action was too distant. What I’ve realized from that is that when I’m drafting I have a lot of ‘was running’ and ‘began to run.’ Extra words that are like throat clearing–getting ready to get ready. What editing that scene taught me was to look for those words and get rid of them.
What’s on your nightstand or top of your TBR pile:
I have a horrible to-be-read pile right now, because I can’t stop buying books. I’m currently reading Chime by Frannie Billingsley, Introvert Powerby Laurie Helgoe, and listening to Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost when I walk the dogs. Next on my list are Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi and for audio Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I think A Wrinkle in Time probably would come out as a top favorite. There was also a book, whose title I can’t remember, about a toy horse that managed to become real that I loved so much that when they were phasing it out of the library collection at a book sale I bought it for a dime. But then, all horse books all the time would have counted as my favorites when I was between ten and fourteen.
Your five favorite authors:
This is a bit ever-shifting, but currently I’d say Louise Penny, Justin Cronin, Georgette Heyer (some of her books are my favorite re-reads), Lois McMaster Bujold (I’m terribly late to reading Bujold, but I’ve loved everything I’ve read so far), and a very recent favorite for her mystery series that starts with Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin. If you listen to audio books at all, these–the Mistress of the Art of Death series–are great audio books.
Book you’ve faked reading:
Okay, don’t tell anyone, but Jane Eyre. And by ‘faked reading’ I mean I’ve never even tried. I have no idea why. I’d probably like it. [Uh…okay, we won’t tell 🙂 ]
Book you’re an evangelist for:
The Passage by Justin Cronin, which doesn’t need me to evangelize for it, but I loved it. I loved the writing, the characters, the worldbuilding. That said, I don’t think it’s a book everyone will like, but for my part, I can’t wait for The Twelve (which I just heard will be out in October). Cronin got a huge advance and the sort of publicity and reviews we all dream of so I was terribly skeptical of all the hype and early promotion and didn’t want to like it, but I did. Not without flaws, but a great read in spite of them.
Book you’ve bought for the cover:
It’s easier for me to tell you the books I DIDN’T buy for the cover. I mentioned above that I only recently discovered Lois McMaster Bujold. I missed out on reading her Miles Vorkosigan books for years–years!–because of the covers. They didn’t look at all like books that would appeal to me. Then, at the urging of two good friends I decided to give the first ones a try and–wow!–I’d really been missing out. I still have a bunch of Miles books to go, but I’m looking forward to eventually reading them all.
Favorite book about books or writing:
One of the books that’s been really useful to me as I’ve been writing novels (as opposed to short stories) is John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. The thing I work on hardest in my novels is the plotting. I have bits and pieces and scenes and I know generally where those pieces go, but the connective tissue is sometimes difficult for me to figure out. So, books that help me with structure are tremendously valuable to me. The Anatomy of Story looks at what works effectively to tell a story, what elements are important, when they’re important, and ways to develop them. I know some writers find structure advice restricting, but I find it liberating. It lets me concentrate on the story elements I want to include and still have a coherent structure and story.
Thanks, Deb! Want to get a copy of Wide Open? Leave a comment and just say so. You know the rest of the drill. One entry for comment, another for blog follow, a third for a Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and a fourth for a Tweet or Retweet. Be sure to include your email. Now…Go forth and comment!