Welcome to the one hundred and sixty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with fantasy, mystery and suspense / thriller author DV Berkom. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, DV.
DV: Hi Morgen, thanks so much for inviting me on your blog!
Morgen: You’re so welcome, we’ve had a fair amount of contact via Twitter etc. so it’s lovely to finally have a proper chat. 🙂 Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
DV: Currently, I live in the Pacific Northwest in the US (think RAIN and BIG TREES) with my sweetheart, Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and write whenever I can carve out the time. I’ve been writing short stories for years, but actually started taking my writing seriously in 2006, when I completed my first novel. Wow- what a rush that was! Now, I can’t seem to stop…
Morgen: Me too; http://NaNoWriMo.org in a few days. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
DV: I attempted fantasy first (love dragons and faeries), then mystery, and finally found my “voice” in the suspense / thriller genre. A natural progression, since I enjoy giving my characters a lot of insurmountable obstacles to overcome. Well, that and I love to blow things up.
Morgen: I think I’m still finding my niche although my writing group tell me my voice is there. Dark and humour is pretty much my home I think. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
DV: Currently, I have four novellas e-pubbed in the Kate Jones Thriller Series: Bad Spirits, Books 1-5 (originally 5 shorts combined into one), Dead of Winter, Death Rites and Touring for Death. All are available on Amazon.co.uk, BarnesandNoble.com, XinXii.com and Smashwords.com.
Morgen: I see what you mean about not stopping. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
DV: As a self-pubbed writer, I do all of my own marketing. It’s fun, but a bit overwhelming! I have a web site, www.dvberkom.com, and guest blog whenever I can. There are so many great people and places to work with, including fab blogs like yours, that the sky’s the limit. If only there were 36 hours in a day…
Morgen: Ah thank you. 🙂 My blog is what it is really because of all the authors involved – and I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to one of them but it would just be me and my ramblings otherwise. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
DV: D.V. Berkom is a semi-pseudonym. It’s very close to my given name. It helps to keep things separate, financially and otherwise. It was a little confusing at first, though. I’d be at an event and someone would have to repeat “DV” a couple of times before I realized they were speaking to me. 🙂
Morgen: That’s funny. You mentioned e-publishing, are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
DV: All of my books are offered as eBooks. It’s absolutely the best way for me to go, since I have always been a do-it-yourselfer and am very independent. I read eBooks as well as print – I just love reading! This is an exciting time to be an author. Yes, things are up in the air in the publishing world, but that’s when the biggest strides and innovations are going to happen.
Morgen: I think it’s a great time to be a writer and am so glad I’ve come into the eRevolution now. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
DV: At the moment, I’m writing a stand-alone novel tentatively titled Pieces of April. It’s a total departure from Kate Jones but is still in the suspense / thriller genre and involves a strong female protagonist (who may or may not have been a paid assassin…) I’m hoping to have it available by the end of the year.
Morgen: Ooh sounds interesting. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
DV: I try, but can’t always manage it every day. I think the most I’ve ever written was somewhere around 5,000 words.
Morgen: A tenth of a NaNo novel. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
DV: I don’t think of it as ‘writer’s block’. It’s more that my subconscious is telling me I’ve made a wrong turn somewhere in the story and I’d better figure it out, or I won’t be able to continue. I’ve found that if I let the manuscript alone for a bit and do something else, it allows the story to percolate. Then I’m usually hit with the remedy while I’m doing the most innocuous things, like cleaning my shower.
Morgen: There are some advantages to procrastination. 🙂 A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
DV: Ideas come from everywhere! The news, a snippet of a conversation, dreams, the internet, you name it! I wrote Bad Spirits after reading about the escalating drug violence in Mexico. I’d lived there for a time and fell in love with the people and the country, and was just so sad that these horrendous events were happening there.
Morgen: I have a friend in Mexico and she’s given me mixed views on the country. I think she’s pretty safe where she is and is very patriotic. We’ve just mentioned ideas, do you plot your stories or do you just get the idea and run with it?
DV: I begin with an idea, run with it for a few chapters and then start writing myself notes directly in the manuscript on where I want to take the story. I try to remember to make the font a different color so I can see at a glance what needs to be removed during editing. 🙂
Morgen: Hopefully less colour than black and white. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
DV: My characters come mainly from my imagination, and are sometimes composites of people I’ve met throughout my life. Their names usually just come to me, but I make sure that they don’t all begin with the same letter. 🙂
Morgen: Yes, very important. I read a story a while back with male and female characters will too similar names and got very confused. I mentioned in today’s podcast red pen session that any time the reader stops because something baffles them or makes them re-read is a step towards them putting the book down. In the excerpt I read there was a paragraph mentioning two female characters and where the author was talking about one she then went on to say ‘her right shoulder’ … so it’s not clear (although we can work it out) whether it’s the grandmother’s or leading character’s shoulder. It’s obviously easy with two genders but needs to be clearer when the same.
DV: I remember one instance my critique partner pointed out that all the male character names in a story I was working on began with an ‘A’. It’s weird the things you don’t catch in your own writing.
Morgen: I went to a talk given by crime reader Stephen Booth a few days ago and he said he has two rows of A-Z by his desk and when he uses a new characters name he crosses off one letter for the first name and one for the surname. I have an A-Z above my desk for some of the games we do during Litopia’s Open House on a Sunday evening but that’s another great use.
DV: I think what makes a character believable are their flaws. Reading about the perfect alpha male and / or female bores me to death. Give me a messed up human being any day.
Morgen: Absolutely. None of us are perfect so why write about someone who is? Someone who thinks he or she is maybe but then part of the story would be finding out they’re not and why (and perhaps by whom). Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
DV: My critique partners. All of them write in different genres and have different strengths, and will kick my butt into next Tuesday if I don’t bring my best. I’m very lucky to have found a group of talented writers with which to develop the craft. And, of course I let Mark (my partner) read the first draft. I love having a male point of view for the stories. He’s honest and is great with technical things.
Morgen: That’s great. Sadly I can’t say the same for housemate (my dog). 😦 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
DV: I edit as I go. I’ll write one day, then the next go over that and continue on. Once I’ve gotten it back from my critique group, I make changes they suggest and put it away for a bit. Then, I go over it once or twice more and send it out to several beta readers. When I get those suggestions back, I’ll tighten it all up and then read it out loud to myself. It’s amazing what you can catch when you do that. Then I’ll more than likely tweak it until I upload. It has gotten easier to catch things, the more I write.
Morgen: Too true, practice makes… much improved. 🙂 And yes, reading it out loud makes all the difference. I read the podcast red pen pieces in my head first then writing the critique and it’s surprising how much more I can find to mention when I then read it out for the recording. I should just read it aloud first but then maybe I wouldn’t find the things I found on the first read. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
DV: I try to research as much as possible. I love to travel, so it’s not a hardship, certainly. 🙂 The internet is a wonderful thing and I use it extensively, but actually experiencing the place I’m writing about or doing the things I’m describing is the best way, at least for me. As for feedback, yes! I love to get emails from readers – that way I know what’s working and what isn’t. Apparently, one of the male characters (Sam) in Dead of Winter really struck a chord with readers – I’ve received several requests to do another story with both Sam and Kate. I’ve already got a rough idea in mind.
Morgen: Oh great. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
DV: Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. I also have an insatiable need to clean the kitchen. Don’t ask me why. I hate housework.
Morgen: But we always find plenty of it to do before we right. Get the clutter free from our houses and it’ll de-clutter our minds? Not sure but it helps. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
DV: Definitely computer.
Morgen: Me too, although I prefer to edit on paper. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
DV: In the beginning I get distracted when there’s anything on, so silence to start. Once I get into the scene, though, the house could explode around me and I wouldn’t notice.
Morgen: 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
DV: The Kate Jones books are all in first person, and Pieces of April is in third. I like them both for different reasons. It all depends on the story. I haven’t tried second yet. I once wrote a short story in first-person / present tense and found it fascinating.
Morgen: Oh do try second person. It’s my favourite tense, certainly for shorter pieces. I have a few second pov on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writing-group-exercises/sentence-starts if you’d like to try some of those. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
DV: Favourite: Getting lost in a scene and the characters. Least favourite: Not enough time for writing!
Morgen: Snap, although I’m hoping that giving up my day job at Christmas will help. 🙂 If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
DV: How your subconscious is always working on the story and will spring surprises on you. I’ve learned to let it have its way – it always ends up being better than what I originally intended.
Morgen: I love that. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
DV: Write! Join a critique group. In the beginning, the hardest thing in the world for me was to let other people read my work and critique it. Now, I relish other people’s perspectives on the stories. I know it makes my writing so much richer. Then revise, revise, revise. Take classes. Learn the craft. Shore up your weaknesses (we all have them :)) It ain’t easy, but is ultimately rewarding in the extreme.
Morgen: Is it. My non-writing friends (less of them than writing friends!) read some of my stuff and say “oh, I couldn’t do that” but I say “try” because you really never know what’s going to come out… that’s my favourite bit. What do you like to read?
DV: I read tons of different genres, literary fiction, non-fiction, you name it. The novelists I tend to come back to time and again tell a great story. I also love me some humor.
Morgen: That’s me too; dark and funny. What do you do when you’re not writing?
DV: Besides working full-time, I love photography, traveling, hiking, camping, gardening, anything outdoors. I’m also a certified feng shui practitioner, so occasionally do consultations. My main interest is writing, though.
Morgen: Me too, live and breathe. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
DV: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and reading, reading, reading other authors. Dissect their work. Once you start writing, you’ll never look at a novel the same way…sometimes good, sometimes not.
Morgen: 🙂 I know you’re on some forums and networking sites because that’s how we ‘met’ but how invaluable do you find them?
DV: Too many! But they can be invaluable – I do have to limit myself, or I wouldn’t write. For example, because of being a member of a crime writer’s listserv I was lucky enough to exchange emails with a retired Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) supervisor out of Dallas and received some great advice regarding Bad Spirits. Facebook is fun and I’ve ‘met’ so many lovely people on Twitter.
Morgen: Isn’t it great, I’m having the time of my life. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
DV: You can visit my website: www.dvberkom.com and I have an author page on Amazon.com.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
DV: It’s so exciting to be a writer now. Things are changing fast! The main thing I’ve noticed is that the playing field has now opened up to anyone with the drive and determination to get their work out there. The eBook revolution has just begun – there has been and will be some fantastic changes in how we read and understand the novel. I love the printed page and don’t believe it’s going away, but more and more choices are available to the reader as well as the writer and I think ultimately that’s a good thing.
Morgen: Absolutely. There’s talk on LinkedIn (as there is everywhere else) about the book dying but I do believe that eBooks are getting more people reading, and they serve different purposes; whilst you won’t need to take a suitcase of books on holiday, books look lovely on a shelf and there’s nothing quite like snuggling up in a comfy chair or in bed and holding paper. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
DV: I wanted to thank you again, Morgen, for this interview and your time. I appreciate all that you do and look forward to reading more author interviews!
Morgen: Ah, thank you for taking part. As for the interviews, they’ll be one a day for as long as the authors want to talk to me… or until I’ve spoken to every one there is. 🙂 Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
DV: I loved Deep Pan Payback. Do you write a lot of micro fiction? It strikes me as quite challenging!
Morgen: Oh wow, thank you. 🙂 It was the first thing I ever had published so I’m very fond of it. I used to write quite a few and found the more I wrote the more they came out around the 60 word length. I tend to write longer pieces these days but I still love them and will be writing more, perhaps releasing them as a flash fiction eBook.
I then invited DV to provide an extract of her writing and this is the opening from ‘Bad Spirits’:
Something didn’t feel right.
My left side ached, and I could barely swallow. I sat with my eyes closed and tried to recall what happened. The events from the previous night came crashing back into the present, and the fear of discovery threatened to overwhelm me again.
I peeked around the corner of the corrugated steel building. A lone goat munched on some dried grass near a split-rail fence. A few yards away a rooster pecked at the hard, dry earth. An older woman with salt and pepper colored hair and skin like a walnut, scattered seed in front of him. She clutched a brown and white serape around her against the early morning chill.
Everything appeared calm, bucolic, even. I leaned back against the metal wall and took stock of my position.
Salazar ruled this little section of Sonora with an iron hand. The woman outside would not help me, for fear of payback. In fact, no one who knew him would be fool enough to assist Salazar’s crazy American woman.
I love that, thank you again DV!
DV Berkom grew up in the Midwest, received her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota, and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and at least a dozen moves later, she now resides outside of Seattle, Washington with her sweetheart Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and writes whenever she gets a chance. You’re welcome to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her on Facebook or Twitter – she loves to hear from readers as well as other writers.
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