Hi gang! Today we are graced with the effervescent talent of Allison Maruska, author of the runaway hit “The Fourth Descendant” http://geni.us/1Odz
Allison and I struck up a friendship a while back in a critique group, so now I can say I knew her when – as in, when she used to beat me up over dialog tags.
Welcome aboard, Allison!
Allison Maruska: Thanks, Dan! *waves*
DA: They’re all waving back, too. Tell us about yourself. Who IS Allison Maruska? And not typical the boring bio stuff. The dirt. Like, when was the last time you did laundry?
AM: Laundry? That’s what Febreze is for.
DA: I ask because we indie authors sometimes have to multitask, and I am tasked with doing laundry today. So, can you put blue clothes and black clothes together? I know you can’t do white and red.
AM: Blue and black together, yes. Cold water. This is a strange interview. LOL.
DA: COLD??? Hold on, be right back…
AM: Well you don’t have to use cold but your colors will fade faster if you don’t.
DA: We try to be educational here. Allison, your first published book is The Fourth Descendant. It’s doing great; where did the inspiration come from for it?
AM: I created four diverse characters and wanted to see if I could mash them into one story.
DA: Were they four different stories at first? Or were they always supposed to be part of the same bigger story?
AM: No. They were all to be in the same story.
DA: I read the story as two parts, maybe three… Getting to know the characters, the mystery in Richmond, and then the canoe trip.
AM: It’s a two-part story. The keys, the river.
DA: Can I change my answer? I was going to say that. I panicked. What was the hardest part to write?
AM: Hmmm…probably the shooting scenes, getting the technical and medical aspects of them right. Critters (critique partners) were a big help with those.
DA: Shooting? Like gunshots?
DA: Wow, I wouldn’t have thought that. Why was that hard?
AM: Because I don’t have experience with guns.
DA: You’ve seen TV though.
AM: Yeah, but that’s not always a reliable source. That’s probably what I started with and had to revise from there.
DA: Readers love the flow of the story, the fact that it has lots of twists and turns. Is that pure Allison Maruska? Is that what fans can expect from your other stories? Or do the other ones suck?
AM: Do the other stories suck? I hope not.
DA: They don’t – at least not the ones I’ve read.
AM: There are twists in everything I write. Even short stories.
DA: It shows. I saw that in a recent short story of yours.
AM: The trick is not falling into a predictable pattern with them.
DA: What an interesting observation. Like in comedy, they say things are funny when the pattern is established and then broken. I never thought about drama as having that same element.
AM: Yeah, if the twists are always in the same places in books or of the same nature they can become tired.
DA: What would you like fans to know about your other books? What’s in the works?
Check out Allison’s Amazon Author page for additional titles when they are released HERE:
AM: I love to write stories that include historical and scientific elements. Descendant was more historical in nature, and many of the facts in it are true – like the courthouse and the eugenics movement.
DA: I wasn’t aware of an actual movement per se until you told me about it.
AM: Yep. Pretty much how I describe in the book is how it happened.
My YA (young adult) mystery to be released by my publisher – if the stars align correctly – is about a brother and sister who learn they were genetically engineered to survive a global disaster.
DA: You have several YA books. Why is that? What appealed to you about that genre?
AM: I enjoy reading YA, but I can’t really say what inspired me to write it. I guess since my stories start with the characters, and the characters in Renovatio happened to be 16 and 20, YA was the natural place for it.
DA: Makes sense. The ending was especially good in Descendant, and also the YA stories of yours that I’ve read. Do you plan the whole story out in advance?
MA: Kind of. I outline the major points I know have to happen. The rest develops as I write. Michelle was Korean until I researched that and realized there were no Koreans in New York in 1912.
DA: What did you do when you found your character was historically misplaced? Readers and would-be writers might want to know what to do when that happens.
AM: I looked for a similar place of origin for her family that was historically accurate – China, in this case.
DA: And made her of Chinese descent?
DA: For me, she was the character I liked best.
AM: It’s funny to see which readers connect to which characters.
DA: Who is the most popular character in that story?
AM: Hmmm. That’s hard to say. Jonah gets a lot of favor, but so does Damien. But it depends on the reader. You connect with Michelle probably because of her name and that she’s a parent. A scientifically-oriented critter really liked Damien. The musician liked Jonah. Not a lot of love for Sharon. LOL.
DA: No, nobody’s gonna admit to liking the bad guy. Is that a spoiler?
AM: A soft one. Maybe.
DA: That could be a Rorscach test. Who do you identify with in this book? Sharon? Please stand over there. GUARDS!!!
AM: Right? LOL. One of my coworkers said she liked her, but she hadn’t gotten very far into it yet
DA: Stay away from that one. You’re too modest to say this, so I will: the book has done well for an indie first book. Sales are good and reviews are excellent. Why do people connect with the story? What’s your sense of it?
AM: I think people connect with the characters – like why they all have their favorite.
DA: Did you personally have a favorite in Descendant?
AM: It changed over time. Jonah was my favorite initially, because of his relationship with his brother. But Damien grew on me a lot as the book progressed.
DA: And depending on your viewpoint, Damien was the bad guy. When reading it in the critique group, I was actively rooting against him. And in real life, probably Michelle had the most similarities to you? Or someone else?
AM: Actually, I didn’t relate to Michelle very much. She’s similar to me in the fact that she’s a mother, but that’s about it. Each character has a little of “me” involved, I suppose. Michelle would be the cooped-up housewife (a flashback to when my kids were little), Jonah’s the carefree artistic type (more me now than Michelle), Damien’s the uptight type-A perfectionist (something I’ve been working to reduce in myself) and Sharon’s connected to her family.
DA: Now, would you consider having any of these characters extend into another book? Can fans expect any kind of a sequel or prequel?
AM: One makes an appearance in a later book, yes. Actually one of the main characters and one of the secondary characters.
DA: But no more details than that, huh?
AM: Well, I can’t give it all away. Where’s the fun in that?
DA: Descendant was your first book. You have another one, as you mentioned, that is with the publisher and is being worked on, but The Fourth Descendant was your first book that actually got published. What was the process like? Was it more than you expected? Less than you expected.
AM: I guess it wasn’t as scary as I expected. As long as someone who’s done it before is willing to lead you, the process is smooth.
DA: Now, you also do a blog. Readers might be readers of your books might be surprised to see that your blog often contains more humorous elements, whereas your books so far have not. Is that on purpose?
Check out Allison’s blog HERE: http://allisonmaruska.com/
AM: Well, I try to put bits of humor in my books.
DA: That reads as less inviting than I intended. I meant to play up that your blogs are really funny. Obviously a dramatic story doesn’t really lend itself to gut wrenching laughter.
AM: The blog started as a humor blog – 100% humor posts. That was a year before I figured out I would write novels. The blog has a more relaxed, humorous feel to it. And I like to maintain a conversational tone in my posts.
DA: You definitely do that. I love reading your blog. Then the blog evolved to being more writer oriented, more instructional and helpful for writers? How would you describe what it is now?
AM: That’s a good question.
DA: Finally! One good one.
AM: There are the writing posts, of course, but I also post about teaching and parenting, to a smaller degree. There are also posts specific to the books. Short stories go there. It’s my all-purpose place to post content I deem worthy to share. I don’t know what to call that. Ha.
DA: Like everyone’s blog, if they’re honest.
AM: Yeah, pretty much.
DA: Your engagement rate with its readers is pretty high. How do you find your blog topics? And what do you think makes an engaging blog post?
AM: The writing ones usually come to me in the critique group – like I’ll notice certain patterns in dialogue, for example, so I’ll write a post about that. I try to end the posts with a question to encourage comments.
DA: I do that. Except the question part. I need to do that.
AM: I try to keep them on the shorter side – around 500 words. Never more than 1,000 (unless it’s a short story).
DA: Right, you said that was kind of an axiom.
AM: Not everyone believes it. I think longer posts result in a higher bounce back rate.
DA: For readers that don’t know, and me, what is bounce back?
AM: They click on it, decide they aren’t interested, and leave. If the post looks like it’ll take work to read, they won’t stick around.
DA: I’m like that. But only because most blog posts suck.
AM: So shorter posts, more white space is a good rule.
DA: What is white space?
AM: Shorter paragraphs.
DA: What about pictures? Good? Bad? Thoughts? Rules on using them? (Readers should know I am baiting our interviewee here, and she knows it. I’m guilty of overusing pictures in a post.)
AM: Yeah, totally know it. Don’t get carried away with pictures, unless it’s a photo-oriented post (like the one I did on funny inspirational posters).
DA: Well, a blog post about funny posters isn’t funny unless you can see the posters.
AM: Right. I use one or two images in my posts. I look for a relevant quote usually.
DA: You read a lot. Who is your favorite author or authors and who are you reading right now? Books, then favorite blogs? Inquiring minds want to know. Oh, and if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
AM: actually the one I’m reading right now and one of my favorite bloggers is the same – Emily Russell. I’m reading her book “Aurian and Jin”. Fantastic characters. I’ve been reading a lot of indie books lately by authors I met and interact with on Twitter. As far as mainstream authors, I really like Hugh Howey. “Wool” blew my mind.
DA: What was enticing about Wool, to you? Sheep? Nice sweaters?
AM: The concept. It’s a dystopian story about humans living in huge underground silos because the outside world is toxic. You have to read it to understand the title. (Wink emoticon.)
DA: WTF? Is that a winking smiley face?
DA: I haven’t been paying attention to those. When I try to use emoticons, well, first of all I think guys look stupid using them in general, and I am absolutely the worst at it. I always select the wrong one and post it right after something else gets said, like “Oh, no, my uncle just died!” and I give a thumbs up or a smiley face. Horrid, those things.
AM: LOL. That’s would be a funny post. “Why I don’t use emoticons.”
DA: Damn straight. Screw ‘em. I don’t read, but what blew your mind about “Wool”? Give it away, nobody’s looking.
AM: Well, Howey is basically the king of indie authors. He broke literary rules that would never fly in traditional publishing (standards in Point Of View, for example) but he’s made it big. Huge. I think taking those risks made the story what it is. I’m trying not to post spoilers.
DA: Okay, and this is a question that might seem like a swerve, but who in God’s name would name a book “Wool”? Probably everyone we know would say that’s a crappy title because it doesn’t tell you anything about the story. As you implied, after you read it, it makes sense, but since shoppers aren’t yet readers/buyers, how do you decide on a good title for your book?
AM: How do I personally pick one?
DA: Well, Hugh Howey isn’t returning my calls at the moment, so yeah, you. I’ll make it easier: how’d you do it for Descendant? What made that name the right one?
AM: It depends on the story. Descendant was called “Four Keys” until Jonah was introducing Sharon to someone and referred to her as “the fourth descendant”. I knew that was the title the second I typed it.
DA: That’s cool! Pantser.
DA: Do you find that titles are particularly difficult?
DA: And BTW, you made the right call. “The Four Keys” is kind dull sounding. “The Fourth Descendant”- right away I’m asking questions.
AM: I like to make them part of the story (Descendant absolutely was) that the reader probably won’t “get” right away. It raises questions.
DA: And the cover helped. It looks mysterious, and the colors grab your eyes. So is Hugh Howey an inspiration? Anybody else? What about when you were little?
AM: I read all the Nancy Drew books as a kid. Outgrew those and moved onto Roots and Gone with the Wind by middle school. History and mystery have always been my happy places, I guess.
DA: What about blogs? Any favorites to recommend to our readers as we wrap this up?
AM: I’ll give you two – Emily Russell’s and Nat Russo’s but I read several. A Writer’s Path is good.
Folks, I definitely recommend you check out Allison’s book. It’s gotten terrific reviews, it’s doing great, and it’s a great story. I loved it, my wife loved it. It’s available as an eBook, paperback, and audio book.
Her book The Fourth Descendant is an AMAZING READ “The Fourth Descendant” http://geni.us/1Odz
follow Allison on Twitter @
and check out her Facebook author page HERE
Here’s Nat’s blog www.erindorpress.com/ A Writer’s Journey – Notes on the Craft of Writing
Right now you want to subscribe to this blog and not miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.
If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.