In Ni’il: Waking Turtle, Police Chief Dan Connor returns to continue the fight with the monster ni’ilaquo begun in Ni’il: The Awakening and continued in Ni’il: The War Within. As he and his partner Stephanie are preparing and watching for the monster’s next move, they are given a cryptic warning. As they investigate the mythology of the local Sihketunnai Indians, trying to figure out what the warning was all about, they soon realize Ni’ilaquo may be the least of their problems. For this time the fate of the universe itself rides on them figuring out the puzzle in time.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
I’d had an extensive “what if” conversation with a friend several years ago that brought up many of the issues the characters deal with in the novel. When it came time to try and wrap up this trilogy, everything seemed to mesh.
How much of you is hidden in the characters?
Oh, quite a bit, I’d say. After all, as authors we try to empathize, or at least imagine, what even our most despicable characters are feeling in order to find their motivations and the rationalizations for what they do. We watch and study the people around us, but when it comes down to the basics all we have to draw on is our own experiences. So I’d say there’s a lot of me in every character.
The protagonists are Dan Connor, the forty-something Chief of Police of tiny Placerton, Oregon, who loves police work and hates small town politics. Up until recently, he was a single widower who devoted himself to his work. He’s recently found a new love in Stephanie Amis, the Department’s secretary/receptionist/office manager. They just recently learned that they have some interesting psychic powers of their own, which helps in their fight with the supernatural being Ni’ilaquo. My personal favorite is Harry, the ageless Indian shaman who guides and advises Dan and Stephanie. Though he takes the situation seriously, he can still play with his students’ heads. He is particularly fond of just appearing when and where Dan and Stephanie least expect him.
How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?
It varies from work to work but I generally have a pretty good idea of where I’m going when I begin. The story will often have a different idea than my original one, but I start with a general map. I usually tell people it’s 90% thinking about it and 10% writing it down.
Do you have specific technique you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
Not really. I start out with a very rough outline, with plots and subplots sketched out. I can usually tell I’m going down a wrong path when the ideas and inspiration begin to dry up. If I get stuck, it means I took a wrong turn somewhere. It isn’t terribly efficient, but it seems to work.
What was the most difficult part of writing the book?
For this particular novel, I knew about where I was beginning. (Since it’s a sequel, it basically begins shortly after the last one ends). I also knew how I wanted it to end. The hard part was getting from here to there. There were quite a few false starts and discarded subplots by the time I finished.
Has your background influenced your writing?
Absolutely. I was raised in a devout Catholic family; I even attended a seminary for a year before deciding it wasn’t for me. The spirituality is part of my way of looking at the universe though. Add in a little Zen, lots of Native spirituality, pagan-style mysticism and a little idealism and you’ve got the world view of the novel.
Do you prefer to write at a particular time of the day?
I’m a natural night owl. I can stare at a blank page for hours without accomplishing anything. Come 11:00pm though, the juices start to flow and I have to make myself stop at two or three in the morning.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished a short stage play (my first since college). I have a new novel plotted out and have begun visualizing the scenes, but haven’t actually written much yet. It will be something different, more of a detective story.
Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?
I write works that I would like to read. Subjects I find interesting, situations I find interesting. My rule of thumb has always been how can I expect a reader to enjoy it if I’m bored when I write it? So yes, I write for myself.
What is the most difficult part of the writing process?
Definitely getting started. I have more trouble finding a place to begin the story than anything else. In second place would have to be naming characters.
What is the easiest part of the writing process?
There comes a point after you’ve struggled for days and weeks, seemingly trying to wring words out of stone, when you finally hit your groove and the story simple flows out of you. It feels less like writing than channeling the story from some outside source. It is an amazing feeling when it happens.
What do you like to read?
Good, atmospheric horror. Detective and thriller fiction, with some fantasy and classic lit thrown in. Right now I’m re-reading Watership Down by Richard Adams. Next I have my eye on Dennis Lehane’s new novel.
Who gave you the best writing advice you ever received and what was it?
Ralph Salisbury, my writing professor at the University of Oregon. “Read. Read a lot. Read everything you can because even if you aren’t currently writing a particular project, you’re internalizing voice, style, pace and structure without even trying. So always be reading something.”
Thank you for answering my questions, James. Where can we learn more about your books?
From Amazon. Here are the links to the novel’s Amazon pages: