with M. Evonne Dobson
We are delighted to welcome author M. Evonne Dobson to Omnimystery News today.
Meg's debut novel is the young adult mystery Chaos Theory (The Poisoned Pencil; February 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with her to talk more about it.
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Omnimystery News: Chaos Theory is your first book and the first of a series. Why did you choose to create a recurring character?
Photo provided courtesy of
M. Evonne Dobson
M. Evonne Dobson: I love Jim Butcher's paranormal crime fiction series "The Dresden Files". He's on — what book 15 of a planned 20, plus a three epic-epic-epic trilogy conclusion? I like Ian Rankin's Rebus crime fiction and he's on 20 and counting. Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch series, recently made into a television series for Amazon is on book 21. And to spice up my genres, right now I love Craig Johnson's modern Wyoming sheriff of Absaroka County entitled Longmire, on its third season on Netflix. He's the baby in the group with only 13 in number. Add on Baldacci too — most recently King and Maxwell. So yes, I have a preference for crime fiction and thriller series. I enjoy the protagonist's private life as much as the crime fiction. I like that the crime will be solved but the protagonist is still struggling to make real life work out! I look forward to entering their worlds over and over, and meeting old friends in new situations.
OMG, I hate lists. Better add on Michael Crichton, Lee Childs, Ken Follett, Conan Doyle, Len Deighton, Mary Stewart, HG Wells, Patricia Briggs, JR Ward, CS Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, Sarah Allen, GRR Martin, Dick Francis, Walter Farley … and I think you get my drift.
OMN: How do you expect Kami to develop over the course of a series?
MED: It is a "known rule of writing" that main characters need to change, but people rarely change in real life. In my case though? My characters can grow. They are seventeen. Who knows what and who they will become? And I've been told the most you can logically change a character is around 5% if you stay real to life. In a series, that 5% needs to be spread over a lot of books!
I'm going to be honest. I love The Hunger Games. I even tried my hand at a similar type book, and failed miserably. Why? Because in The Hunger Games, Katniss never changes! My character needs to change, but for Collins this works because the protagonist's entire world is changing around her, collapsing, and we cling to her for that very reason.
Remember that when you write, you should follow the rules, but rules are also meant to be broken. The question is whether the author has the skill and knowledge to break those rules so it works. At this point, and by preference? All my characters will grow into something more over the series life.
OMN: How difficult was it to find the right voice for the teenaged cast of characters?
MED: My sample pages of Chaos Theory won a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators of IA year-long mentorship from author Jill Blazanin. I won it because of my "multiple distinctive and age appropriate voices of my ensemble cast of five characters." I'm proud of that. It helps that my own author voice fell in line approximately the same time my character voices did. Happy circumstance? No, I've been developing it for years, and it finally clicked. I love that Publisher's Weekly's review says of my main protagonist, "Kami has an energetic voice that's heavy on quirk."
I'll take quirk any day over normal. Of course, I like snark too. I'm a big fan of snark!
OMN: Do you think it matters to readers if your lead character is of the opposite gender than you?
MED: I'm comfortable with writing a male, female, or — as an author who believes in diversity — any mix in between, because that's what life is about right? The trick is to have your characters nailed down so they are logical, real, flawed, and always interesting. And what too many authors forget to fully flesh out? Your villains need the same attention as your protagonists.
OMN: Into which genre would you place this series?
MED: Edgy young adult crime fiction.
OMN: Do you find any advantage by categorizing it as such?
MED: Yes, but if you follow my age brackets, then it's fair. The problem is most marketers use a young adult typical age of 14+. When you add "edgy" to young adult you move into a tricky category. I define my readers as 17+, or mature advanced readers of 15+. Chaos Theory is crime fiction with 17-year-old protagonist team, but the topics that the series pursues will be mature young adult. For example, Chaos Theory is about teen police confidential informants. Young adults have died helping the police. Yes, the alcohol selling sting is typical, but they have also put their lives on the line to help with far more serious situations. Sometimes this is even forced on the young adult. That isn't your typical young adult theme.
OMN: Tell us something about Chaos Theory that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.
MED: There are Easter eggs in my book which are little surprises that an astute reader will find. For example, right now I have a Facebook poll where you can enter for a drawing of an autographed copy of Chaos Theory if you find the Easter egg on my cover! Hint: take a look at the locker number to find something hidden there.
There's another one on the inside that takes a magnifying glass to see! Good luck on that one! Hint: Chaos theory is a mathematical theory on how a little tiny bit of data like a butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings causes major changes in a complex system like a tornado in Texas. So I've included a tiny butterfly AND a tornado.
I asked The Poisoned Pencil, an imprint of Poisoned Pen Press, if they could include a black/white line drawing sequence page-to-page in the margin area. If you riffled the pages fast a marble would fall for example like in a moving cartoon. I was hoping for a reining horse in a full slide or doing a spin. We got close, really close, but no bananas on this edition!
OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the book?
MED: Authors pull from multiple life experiences for subject matter, but, like our characters, they are a combination of many situations and people.
However, I will confess that I made a decision to choose a location for Chaos Theory where I was extremely familiar with it. I took my hometown and flip-flopped it. I change the details and exaggerate the locations, but basically someone from Ames will figure it out pretty fast. So in that sense, like Jim Butcher uses Chicago and Ian Rankin uses Edinburgh and Michael Connolly uses LA, I use a small college Midwest town.
OMN: Where do you usually find yourself writing?
MED: I'm fortunate. I use a laptop and can write anywhere, anytime, noise around me or not. I enjoy mixing it up, but from six to eight a.m., my butt is in the chair. I do night write. By that I mean that I set a problem or a scene to solve while I sleep. Through the night it percolates and draws from a full mind of floating free association ideas. In the morning, I will have the scene charted and then I can get it down onto my pages.
OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?
MED: A true font of my crime fiction knowledge comes from the Writer's Police Academy. I've gone twice and have been fortunate to hear lectures from computer forensic experts, a top level sniper, scientists who work with DNA, fire arson professionals, secret service agents, police and prison officials, explosives experts, and even an undercover cop. This September I'll be going for the third time and can't wait. I hope to be in full SWAT gear in an armed (paint ball type) house assault! There will also be a class on controlling out of control passengers or terrorists on a Boeing 727!
A professional organization, Sisters in Crime, sponsors the WPA. The Desert Sleuth chapter in Scottsdale, AZ has excellent guest monthly speakers as well. I visit every chance I get.
OMN: You mentioned that you took a place you are familiar with and used that as the setting for the story. How true are you to this setting?
MED: I've twisted a real place and part of the fun is exaggerating it. I find that setting accuracy is crucial in some fiction, but in my main protagonist's world I can make it whatever I wish. If you've got a real place and are being true to it? You'd better be spot on. Jim Butcher put a big freaking parking lot near Wrigley Field. Dah …! So he proved he lived in Kansas City and never visited Wrigley, or he didn't remember it. Ha!
OMN: And what about the action in the story?
MED: My young adult writing comfort level was in science fiction and paranormal because I love the veil between the real world and that of the created. The joy of young adult is being free to explore some complex and terrifying situations while keeping that make believe veil for the young reader. My Midwest upbringing and the location of The Kami Files, with Chaos Theory being book 1, it isn't a surprise that, although I pursue adult themes, I still have a line that I won't cross.
My investigation protagonists will brush against, but not walk in the filth of scary real world crime. I simply am incapable of getting that gritty. You won't find the names of drugs or methods of suicide for example. You won't find extreme dysfunctional family relationships for the main protagonists. They aren't orphans on a hero's journey. The police and professionals will not be incompetent. The protagonists have school and social issues like every young adult. Money is a problem, not an unlimited supply from unknown fantasy sources. And, no matter what they manage to accomplish on their investigations, their butts will be in the classroom for the Merit Scholarship tests like every other student.
OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, to research the setting for a story, where would it be?
MED: I have a wonderful, but unpublished, paranormal middle grade based in Rome. I would go back in a heartbeat if I got an advance check for it. I've written a massive (think Ken Follett's Cathedral series; my series is even based in Salisbury but I was writing at the same time he was!) It's historical based on an extended family connected to England/Normandy's Henry and Eleanor. I'd go back there in a heartbeat. It came about while I sat in London's St Paul's cathedral for evensong. I swear a ghost was sitting next to me in my peripheral vision through the whole service. He said, "Tell my story." So I did. So my bottom line is, have story will travel and the more exotic the better! Only I'm not going Edna Ferber or Jack London frozen north.
OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these made their way into your series?
MED: If you've read Chaos Theory, you'll know that I've included horses. They've been a part of my life since I was ten, and they will never go away. There will be horses and horse riders and trainers in every book of the Kami Files. You learn so much from being around the big beasts — patience, being calm under pressure, taking the jump that terrifies you, learning to trust and communicate with an alien being, and how to pick horse apples (as in manure). Please visit my Facebook page or my website to see photos of my current horse, DC (for Dark Chocolate) but I've shortened it even further to Dee. There's a couple videos too.
OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?
MED: From Jim Butcher: You don't have to win the race, you just need to run longer than the guy next to you.
I've been running and writing ever since he said that!
OMN: And what about the harshest criticism?
MED: I've found readers and editors and fellow authors to be amazingly supportive, but I'm thick skinned. I far prefer excellent and hard critiques to easy soft ones. I can't learn or grow from comments like, "I really liked your book." On the other hand, I don't take it too seriously unless I hear it from at least three separate sources. But I don't ignore the crit that rings true in my heart. I fail my craft and my passion if I don't listen well. And that's the trick. Listen well. Apply what you learn.
One author was asked why her book sold. Shame faced she told the truth. "I went back to the critiques that were hard to "hear" and I listened for the first time. I fixed the problems. If only I'd done that the first time! It would have saved years! Her book sold. Not bad advice.
OMN: What might you say to aspiring writers?
MED: There was a study that said proficiency comes after 10,000 serious practice sessions. I believe that. Learn. Write. Listen. Leave your ego behind and give it over to your characters. Be true to them.
OMN: How did Chaos Theory come to be titled?
MED: I envy authors who have a terrific title before they start to write the book. That's not me. I even use place names for characters until I find the right name to fit the personality that develops. Chaos Theory was initially Two Caskets and a Locker. I still like it, but The Poisoned Pencil editor liked another name I suggested — Chaos Theory. The series will have "Chaos" in the titles.
OMN: What kinds of feedback have you received from readers?
MED: One reviewer on Goodreads actually caught a clue for one character that won't be revealed for three books or more. I was so happy that I sent her/him a note. I'd love to hear from more young adults. I would love to hear what real life crime situations most concern them, and any insight they might have on that.
OMN: Suppose Chaos Theory were to be adapted for television or film and you're the casting director. Whose agents are you calling?
MED: What a great question! I'm stumped though. Kami is ¼ First Nation (or Native American) so it would be hard to find the right young actress, but I'd love to try! BTW that isn't mentioned in Book I, so I'm one of the authors that likes to leave things kind of vague. Sandy is a third generation Laos boat refugee. Maybe your subscribers could give me some suggestions of actress names? I'll toss their names into the same Book Giveaway that I'm doing on Facebook on my website in exchange for ideas!
OMN: What's next for you?
MED: Book 2 of "The Kami Files", tentatively called Chaos Dreams, is in the submission queue at The Poisoned Pencil.
A short story entitled "Chaos Politics" will probably be included in the Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths 2015 Anthology, and I'm editing some other author's short stories for the same book.
I'll be in New York City after the 4th of July for the International Thriller Writer's convention where I'll be attending a pre-session class full day class at the FBI. I can't wait! I'll be at the Tucson Festival of Books March 14th and 15th at the Sisters in Crime booth giving away chances to win a couple $25 gift certificates. I might be in San Francisco for the American Library Association convention. And I'll definitely be at the Writer's Police Academy in August in Wisconsin. Domestic Malice and Boucheron might be on my wish list as well. Next February, I'm sure to be at Desert Nights Rising Stars writing conference on the Arizona State University campus. Normally, I'm at the University of Iowa's Summer Writing Festival, but this year that timing didn't work out.
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About M. Evonne Dobson: The day after my hero Madeleine L'Engle died, I reassessed my writing-for-myself habits. It was time to up my game. I attended incredible writing conferences where I found amazing instructors. I joined supportive organizations, including the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI), Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. I live in Iowa's prairie land with two horses, a ghost cat, and a blue merle Sheltie.
For more information about the author, please visit her website at MEvonneDobson.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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M. Evonne Dobson
The Kami Files