This week I’m delighted to welcome young adult and thriller author CR Hiatt. The daughter of a military veteran, CR grew up in a small town where she was an All-American athlete before she ventured out into the real world. CR knew early on that she wasn't cut out for the nine to five type of job, her tendency to day dream about adventures often got in the way, which inevitably led her to writing where she could live out those escapades. So far she has four titles under her belt.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I didn’t start writing books until much later in life, mainly because I wasn’t sure I could make a good enough living from writing. In fact, I dabbled with screenplays before ever attempting to sit down and write a full book. It was after having a little bit of success with one of my scripts where a producer recommended I adapt it into a book so I finally took the plunge.
Before actually sitting down to write, however, I spent several months with local and big-city police departments, and fire departments, where I engaged in one-on-one interviews with undercover detectives to make sure I was not only accurate, but also to garner more information if I wound up writing a series. I was also fortunate enough to spend time with victims of some of the crimes discussed in my series.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
There were actually three things that surprised me when I started this journey. One was the ever-changing landscape of the publishing world, and the way readers started to view traditional and self-published authors. Not only are they more accepting of the Indie author, but quite a few have topped the financial charts and paved the way for others.
The second thing was information I learned during my research with law enforcement. Even though my stories are fiction, they are all based on real-life situations, one of which is the crime of human trafficking. I was horrified to learn the truth about some of the perpetrators who were involved in the multi-million-dollar trafficking rings all across the U.S. and abroad. They weren’t all members of gangs or thugs from poor parts of the city who were trying to score some big money, like I envisioned. Some of them were CEO’s, doctors, judges, lawyers, police officers, and even worse, some of the more lucrative rings were started by teenagers still in high school.
And finally, I was stunned to know that there are some who don’t believe that eighteen-year-olds, which is the age of the two heroes in my McSwain & Beck series, could handle some of the situations which they were thrown into, as reflected in some of my readers’ emails and Facebook messages. That baffled me, because my father had been in the military and so are many of my friends, most of who joined when they were eighteen. I also have other friends who are police officers and firefighters. They also joined at young ages. I’m not sure of the world in which the commenters live, but in the world of my friends, the antics pulled off by McSwain & Beck are tame in comparison.
Do you prefer to create books for teens or adults?
That’s a tough one. Since I write mainly action-thrillers, I would say it is easier to write from the perspective of an adult, only because I feel freer to put the character into situations, or have them say something that I don’t feel like I will be judged or it will have some kind of life-altering impact on a young adult who happens to read the story. I’ve seen some reviewers and critics attack authors just for using the F-bomb in a story, and the main characters were mobsters. There are some stories where certain language is necessary to make the story seem real. Can you see Tony of the Sopranos altering his language to appeal to the sensitive PC crowd? It may be fiction, but the writer of that series remained true to the real Italian mobsters back in the day. Same goes for a cop, military figure, or spy who found himself in a violent or horrific situation. If a soldier steps on a landmine and blows one of his legs off, he’s not going to think about who he might be offending when he utters an expletive as he drops to the ground. Authors are trying to do the same when writing the character in similar situations. We are trying to remain authentic.
Having said the above, I have been fortunate enough to get teens, young adult, and adult readers for my young adult series. In fact, I was actually surprised that the majority of readers of the series turned out to be adult males. But I am blown away when I get feedback from teens and young adults who read the books, and tell me how much they love Sydney and Cody. There was nothing more humbling than to receive emails from readers who did their high school book reports from Gone at Zero Hundred 00:00 and Fireworks on the 4th.
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
Read. Read. Read. Nothing motivates me more than to sit down and read action thrillers by other authors. Sometimes, for me at least, I get stumped because I’m not sure I can pull off an action sequence the way I want, or if the reader will buy it as legit for my story. If that happens, I have a few authors who write the kind of action/thrillers I would LOVE to write, (such as the owner of this blog, Alan McDermott), so I open one of their books and start reading. It might take a few chapters or the entire book to get me out of my funk, or I might have to read a few others.
Another trick that has worked for me is to write a few chapters the way I do a screenplay, which means I would write out the action and fill in the dialogue and description later. I have a huge supply of DVDs, most of which are action oriented, so I spend a lot of time watching them when I need inspiration; 24 hours of James Bond can do wonders.
Do you find it easier to write a series or standalones?
I have outlines of several stories, but so far I have only published the ones that were written as a series. Since McSwain & Beck are private investigators it was easier to write them as a series, because the ideas were already there from my research with law enforcement. Kyra Ray was created when I adapted an earlier screenplay originally titled Retribution, but is now Sanctioned Kill. When I wrote the screenplay, it was created with the hope that a filmmaker would see the potential for a sequel, or a possible TV series. The ending makes it inevitable that there would be more to come.
I do have a standalone book that I look forward to publishing sometime in the near future which is based on members of the fire service. I was fortunate to spend time at small-town and big city fire departments, virtually residing at one firehouse to get the feel of what it was like to be a member of the fire service, and witnessed some incredible and scary things. Like all my stories, the plot is based on real life, only written as fiction with additional characters added in.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
For a while, I spent a lot of time trying to study and navigate social media, and joined Facebook groups that focused on marketing. I studied some of the top authors and tried to emulate their successes. I learned a lot, and spent a good amount of money in the process. What I came away with though, marketing doesn’t need to be a full-time effort. Writing does. It used to be that an author put out a book a year, and did marketing in between. That doesn’t work as well for us indie authors. My new goal is to put out a few books a year. The more books you have, the more the readers will find you. I have been putting all my ducks in a row where real life is concerned so that I can put that plan into action.
Where would you like to be in 5 years’ time?
I want to be the female version of Russell Blake, only without the Tequila. No more renovating houses (which is what I do when not writing), but instead I would be sitting on the beach near my waterfront home. I’d have several books already published, and the uncanny ability to keep churning out more, with the ease that Mr. Blake has.
Oh, and no clowns.
What are you working on at the moment?
Spy Games, the third novel in the McSwain & Beck series is set to be published for pre-orders soon. It was delayed due to an unfortunate situation by Mother Nature at one of the properties I rent out. I’m also working on the sequel to Sanctioned Kill, and should have that ready to go shortly after.
Where can we find your books?