Saturday, April 6, 2013

#AuthorInterview Rachelle Ayala on writing mystery, naming characters, and SF Bay Area setting

My January 18, 2013 interview disappeared on Nancy's blog, so here it is:

Hi, I used to be a software engineer writing code in Java. Now I’m an author telling stories. I’ve written three novels: Michal’s Window, Broken Build, and Hidden Under Her Heart. They are of different genres, but the common theme deals with being a woman, whether as a princess in ancient Israel, a female engineer, or a nurse caught between pro-life and pro-choice ideologies. Thank you, Nancy, for having me on your website and meeting your readers.

Why did you decide to write a mystery/thriller? I’ve always loved mysteries since I was a little girl. I think we all grew up to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys before graduating to Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and P.D. James.

What genre does your book fall into - cozy, mystery/thriller, suspense, police procedural, etc? My book, Broken Build, is a mystery/thriller with a technological taste. It features, of all things, a female build engineer (software release engineer) as the main character. It also involves a romance between Jen, the engineer, and the man whose life she ruined, her CEO, Dave Jewell.
What prompted you to write this book or series? This book grew out of a question I often ask myself about the limits of forgiveness. Is it possible for a man to love a woman who ruined his life without meaning to?

Do you consider your book character-driven or plot-driven? Both. The reason is the characters dictate how the plot evolves, and the plot tests the characters and forces them to change.

What makes your book unique? All my books are unique because they cross genres and culture. Michal’s Window, my first book, is an edgy (some say steamy) Bible story mixing history and fantasy.  Broken Build is a technologically driven romantic mystery with Christian themes and cuss words, and my latest book, Hidden Under Her Heart, tackles the thorny issues of abortion and rape, but combines it with a multicultural romance touching on race issues.

Do you plot ahead of time, or let the plot emerge as you write? Again, I’m “bi” here. I do both. I have a general structure, 5-7 plot points or energy markers as taught by Martha Alderson in The Plot Whisperer:  Hook, Inciting Incident, No Return, Midpoint, Crisis, Climax, Resolution.

How did you develop the names for your characters? Haphazard. Truthfully, well, other than the Bible story where the names were fixed. I try to use fairly common names. My author friends suggest names and sometimes I use variations of their first names. It is amazing the serendipity of the name turning out to matter to the story plotline. For example, Emily in Broken Build was a suggestion from an author friend. Later when I was working the last revision, I found that I could use it in the plot point where Emily means “emulation.” If you know the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, this worked out to be the “image” Orpheus was granted. My latest book has a strange coincidence. One friend suggested Maryanne to be my protag in Hidden Under Her Heart. Another friend suggested Lucas as a good name for the male protag. Maryanne is short, 5’1” and Lucas is tall, 6’1”. Halfway through the second revision, I realized that I had unintentionally parodied the two senior VP’s at my former company. These were ALWAYS together, going from company to company. It’s too horrible if someone were to recognize it, but their names are Mario and Luca.

Do your characters swear? Why or why not? Oh, they do swear, but the degree depends on the character. Jen Jones of Broken Build positively has a potty mouth. She’s an engineer, a build engineer! It’s a stressful job. Maryanne Torres, a compassionate nurse, does not swear. I have to check, but I don’t think she ever does. She’s much more introverted than Jen Jones and internalizes things rather than bursting out.

How did you decide on the setting? I live in Silicon Valley. It is such a vibrant area with a melting pot of cultures, high technology and gorgeous natural scenery. I love visiting the places I write about and hence it is the obvious place for me to set my contemporaries.

Do you have a writing mentor? I’ve taken classes from Margie Lawson and P. June Diehl. They’ve helped me develop my voice and characters. My favorite writing books are by Martha Alderson, Donald Maas and James Scott Bell.

What's your writing schedule? Do you have a favorite place to write? I’m not a very organized person in terms of schedule. My favorite place is on the couch with the laptop on my lap.

What’s the first mystery you read? Definitely Nancy Drew, The Secret of the Old Clock. I was introduced to it by Mr. Content, the teacher for Gifted and Creative at Fries Avenue Elementary School in Wilmington California. He used to take 4 or 5 of us out of class to the attic of the school for our enrichment classes. We played brain teasers, read books, and did puzzles. He’d have us whisper our conjectures to the mystery in his ear. My friend, Nancy, whispered too loudly. But I always got the mystery. Too bad I couldn’t figure out all the Agatha Christie mysteries. I’d say my hit rate was 50%. In any case, I love complex mysteries with lots of red herrings and twists. I don’t think today’s mystery writers write them hard enough. Maybe it has to do with shortened attention span or the Internet. I seriously used to take notes while reading a mystery and note down the clues. In any case, I’ve gotten reviews that Broken Build was too convoluted and hard to figure out. The only person who wrote me saying she figured it out was a great grandmother. Go figure.
What’s next? I just published Hidden Under Her Heart January 13, so I’m taking a break and doing some brainstorming. If I write another mystery, I would likely make it more suspenseful and less mysterious. I’ll let the reader have more glimpses of the villain so they would not have a hard time figuring it out.

Anything else you'd like to add? A message to readers: I value your opinions and welcome
reviews from one to five stars. My writing is a starting point for you to create your own characters, emotions and reality. I’m privileged to give you a framework and hope you enjoyed the trip you took. Feel free to contact me on my blog or twitter and let me know what you think.

Broken Build:
Hidden Under Her Heart:
Michal’s Window:

Books also available at Amazon US UK CAN I Barnes & Noble I Kobo I Apple iBookStore I Smashwords I Google I Sony I Diesel I Ganxy

No comments:

Post a Comment