Today’s author spotlight found the amazing C.C. Yager, also known as Gina Hunter. She is a suspense author extraordinaire who is quite used to the spotlight! Why she knows how to conduct her way around political intrigue and even the occasional orchestra pit, without ever missing a beat! without further ado, here’s…Gina!
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! I’m C. C. Yager. I live and write in Minnesota, USA, and have a BA in Music. I try to incorporate music into my writing as much as I can. I love classical music, live orchestra concerts, reading spy thrillers, movies, reading science fiction, theater, reading mysteries, cats (but I’m allergic to all furry animals), reading memoirs and biographies, tea, walking, bodies of water, laughing, the German language, Russian literature, the Big Questions, cosmology, Buddhism, and Falun gong. I’ve lived in Vienna, Austria, and travelled to Russia and New Zealand. I detest domestic chores and cooking. I am a medical geek by necessity, and love medical shows on TV, British mysteries, thought-provoking dramas from any country, puns, clean jokes, and funny cat videos.
How did you get started on your writing journey?
I blame Beatrix Potter. My father read Peter Rabbit to me and that’s the first time I remember thinking that I wanted to tell a story, too, in a book. I began writing a journal after reading The Diary of Anne Frank. In 6th grade, I wrote science fiction short stories that my teacher read aloud to the class, and one-act plays that were produced by my class and Girl Scout troop. I feel fortunate that my teachers encouraged me early on because my family, especially my parents, did not.
Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
I don’t know how much they influence me but I can identify some of the writers I return to over and over to read their work. P.D. James for her literate literary mysteries and character development. John le Carré for his amazing point of view writing and his intimate understanding of the effects of espionage on the human soul. Alan Furst for his attention to historical detail. Virginia Woolf for her amazing language and intelligence about dysfunctional people and relationships. Science fiction writers in general because they take me out of this world and encourage my imagination to play. I love to read and try to read widely. Not wild about westerns, zombies or werewolves, vampires, horror, or romances. In poetry I return to Homer, Robert Frost, Russian poets, and I read a lot of contemporary poetry.
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
Perceval’s Secret is about orchestra conductor Evan Quinn’s escape from an economic totalitarian America in June 2048 and his new life as a musician and conductor in Vienna, Austria – the people he meets, the music, the spies, the political intrigue of pre-World War III Europe, and Evan’s discovery that he could be his own worst enemy in dealing with people, especially the Americans, and the world. He thinks he can leave America and the past behind, but they are inside of him. He is also much more than what he seems. Like everyone, he has his secrets, and some of them he doesn’t even know he has.
How is the title significant?
If I tell you truly, I’d be giving away too much! Suffice it to say that Perceval is a character in the story and he has a dangerous secret. I took “Perceval” from the Holy Grail story – he was a Knight of the Round Table and one of only three knights who saw the Holy Grail, and the only one who didn’t go mad.
Where did inspiration for this come from?
I was sitting in Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis listening to Maxim Shostakovich conducting his father’s music with the Minnesota Orchestra. In my mind, a young black-haired conductor appeared on stage at the Grosser Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria, conducting a bare, empty stage. His voice whispered insistently through my mind with the music. This image and what he said raised a lot of questions and my intense curiosity. After that concert, I rushed home and wrote it all down. Shostakovich’s music fueled my imagination, and I also knew some Russian immigrants, and how they were dealing with American life also became an ingredient.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
As I said, Evan appeared to me during an orchestra concert. He was adamant about being a conductor, and I also knew he was a runner, he’d grown up in a dysfunctional, abusive family, and he was very naïve about a lot of life. He has dedicated his life to music. He understands that he doesn’t want to live in America anymore because they put too many restrictions on music and music performance. He meets Chief Inspector Klaus Leiner of the Viennese police unit that deals with situations involving foreigners. Leiner believes Evan is a spy. He’s good at his job, a family man, native Viennese, with integrity and a deep sense of fairness. Evan is followed and harassed by Bernie Brown, Deputy Cultural Attaché at the American Embassy in Vienna, in other words, CIA Deputy Station Chief. Bernie is not all that he seems, either, with kind of snarky sense of humor. Then there are the people Evan meets who become his friends: pianist Vassily Bartyakov, actress Sofia Karalis, his landlady Freda Kirsch, Bartyakov’s girlfriend Greta Fasching and composer Owen te Kumara. And Woody Lewis, proprietor of an American café in the heart of Vienna, who will have a significant effect on his life.
Each of these characters seemed to introduce themselves to me in different ways. I could see each of them in my mind before they began speaking. Bartyakov burst in much as he does into the story. Bernie watched from the wings for a while before swaggering in. Freda actually started out much older, and like Benjamin Button, became younger and younger with each revision. She is a practical, down to earth counter to Bartyakov’s impulsiveness, and a teacher for Evan. I see Sofia through Evan’s eyes, and because of this, she is mysterious but a warm, human influence on him. There are some minor characters that I’ve also grown to really enjoy, also.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
When I wrote the story, I wasn’t thinking about a readership. I was thinking only about whether I loved the story or not. Now that I need to think about an audience, I think people who love classical music, who enjoy thrillers in foreign lands or who like espionage or assassin stories, or who like speculative fiction about the near future, geopolitics, and maybe dystopians, although I don’t consider it a dystopian fiction.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
I’m not really a “message” writer, as such. After I’d finished the first draft, I realized that the theme could be about the abuse of power and the effects of that abuse on someone, that anyone can be affected at any time. One of those effects is PTSD, and I wanted to explore how someone would live with untreated PTSD as well as its causes beyond combat experience. Looking back, I realize that my thinking about power began when I got to know a family of Russian immigrants in the early 1980’s. They had just arrived and were full of questions about how to adjust to American life. It was fascinating the kinds of problems they had because of the society they were coming from. What has stayed with me is the question: Could Americans survive that kind of oppression (like in the USSR) and how would exile affect them? The more I researched and wrote, the more I realized that abuse of power affects different people in radically different ways.
What is your writing process like?
I prefer to have huge chunks of time to write, especially in the mornings. What usually happens is I write in the mornings, research and read in the afternoons, and then when I’m relaxing in the evenings and when I sleep, my imagination mulls over everything and has answers for me the next day. When I’m working at an office job, it makes me crazy because I can’t focus my writing as well as when I have more time. Then I write whenever I can, an hour here, an hour there. But I’m always working on one writing project or another in my mind no matter what else I’m doing.
How do you go about editing your story?
The first step happens as I’m writing the first draft: I read what I’d written the day before and make any obvious changes. But then I don’t do anything until the first draft is done. I put it away for a while. When I return to it, I do a major revision for structure and plot. The second revision is for character development. The third revision is for cutting, usually subplots, extraneous scenes that don’t move the story forward or characters that have no purpose. The next one is for grammar and style. This one takes a lot of time because I’m examining every sentence, each word, for relevance and muscle. If it’s fat, it gets trimmed. I remember line editing “Perceval’s Secret” and cutting almost a hundred pages in just that one edit. This is when I cut out repetitious words, clean up grammar, etc. At this point, I’ll put the manuscript away again; when I return to it, I like to have some readers go through it. From their feedback, I’ll do another revision and close edit. Then it’s ready for me to hire a professional editor.
Actually, this is the first time I’ve thought about what I do for each revision. I usually just do it, like following my intuition.
Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
A writer friend I’ve known for years recommended a local cover artist he’d used when he’d converted his list to e-books. He gave me the artist’s contact info and I sent him an e-mail. From there, we talked on the phone and he asked me for examples of covers that I really liked, and for a synopsis. We went back and forth a couple of times on different ideas that he had, and I provided feedback. I think I gave him a difficult task, really. But he did well, and I’d definitely return to him for his expertise in book covers.
How did you go about getting published?
Traditional publishing was not very welcoming to my novel. I pitched over a hundred different agents over the years, got some nibbles but no one bit. It was especially difficult to figure out the marketing niche my novel belonged to because it’s a blending of genres. I was thinking of trying again with agents and also research publishers/editors when I realized that e-publishing had progressed to the point that it would not be too expensive and a lot faster than traditional publishing. So I chose to self-publish my novel as an e-book. I’d love for an agent or publisher to come knocking on my door after reading the e-book.
What was your self-publishing experience like?
Nerve-wracking in spite of all the research and reading I did about it. I expected it to be difficult and frustrating. It wasn’t. But I really didn’t know what I was doing and felt adrift and lost most of the time. I was lucky to find Book Nook (recommended by the same writer friend who steered me to the cover artist). They were extremely supportive, helpful, and patient. I made a lot of mistakes. But I also made a list to follow of things I knew had to be done. So I began with professional editing, and talked with the cover artist while the editor had the book. The cover artist worked while I was polishing the manuscript. Then I sent the manuscript to Book Nook for conversion to e-formats. I knew I needed ISBN’s and where to get them; knew I should register my copyright; and I began looking into marketing options. I was amazed how much of all this work I could complete online. For marketing, I contracted with Author Buzz, and that was the most expensive part of the whole process. And I would say now that the entire process was much easier than I had expected.
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
Pro: the author retains complete control over all aspects of the process, from editing to publicity/marketing. With this control comes many choices and great responsibility, as well as the need to commit to the time necessary to get it done.
Con: all the work of publishing takes time away from writing. And then there’s the work of marketing and publicity, keeping track of sales and royalty payments, and becoming a promoter. Unless, of course, one has the money to hire people to do it. I can honestly say that I had to put other writing on hold until I’d finished the initial marketing push for the launch.
What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
Bad surprise: Microsoft Word has formatting issues incompatible with e-publishing formats, and I spent a LOT of time correcting “galleys” because of them.
Good surprise: the interest and support of complete strangers, either at the publishing businesses I was working with or potential readers.
Uncomfortable surprise: learning that even though I’d worked in marketing and advertising, and I knew basically what I needed to do, I was really not very good at it!
How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
As I mentioned, I contracted with Author Buzz for the launch and targeted book clubs. Then I created a postcard that I mailed to the musicians in 11 major American orchestras. I also had a Kickstarter page that I used to promote the book. I have sought reviews from book reviewers, both print and online. I write frequently about the novel at my Anatomy of Perceval blog. My plans to ratchet up the online marketing efforts in 2015 fell by the wayside because I fell seriously ill – nothing got done last year. This year, I’ve picked up the marketing and promotion work again. My focus is on whatever I can do that’s free – Tweeting about it on Twitter, asking for book reviews, writing at the Facebook page, joining a speculative fiction group whose sole purpose is to promote speculative fiction, and so on. I’ve also done a couple of interviews locally. I’m always looking for new and creative ways to generate buzz.
Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
I found it really annoying that I kept seeing such unrealistic descriptions of self-publishing and selling books through various outlets. To me, it was terribly misleading. I knew that I was an unknown writer despite having an online presence with my two blogs, but I wish someone had told me not to expect a lot in sales unless I was willing to pay for a publicist and/or marketer/promoter. There are thousands upon thousands of books being published annually, and fiction is really very difficult to sell when the writer is an unknown. So I really wish someone had told me how to turn all that to my (and my book’s) advantage.
Do you have any advice for writers who want to self-publish?
Not in any particular order, really:
Understand that it is a serious time commitment and be ready to commit your time to the process.
Set your standards high and communicate your standards at the beginning of each business relationship: editor, cover artist, e-formatter, printer, etc. Be as demanding of yourself as of others.
Know what you’re getting yourself into before you start. Talk with other authors who’ve self-published and do your research.
Understand that when you decide to be a self-publisher, you will be the one in control and the one fully responsible for the result and for selling the finished product.
It’s a job, not a hobby. And remember that it’s a long-term project like raising a child.
Be professional, respectful, and open to ideas.
What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
Right now I’m focused on paid writing gigs, so I’ve been writing a lot of essays for online publication. I have one psychological suspense short story and one science fiction story in the works. For me, short stories are difficult to write, so I work much longer on them than most people. I’d love to publish Perceval’s Secret in print form, but not until I’ve paid off the production debt I have from the e-publication. I’m working on a crowdsource funding project to raise money to pay off that debt. The first draft of Novel 2 in the Perceval series is done and I plan to do a major revision this year (I hope!), and to finish the third novel in the series’ first draft which is half done right now. I’m also working on a memoir about having multiple chronic illnesses and working with the medical community, medical insurance companies, and dealing with ignorant people who think chronic illness is no big deal.
What are your social accounts if people want to connect with you?
I write two blogs: Anatomy of Perceval (http://ccyager.wordpress.com) about writing and classical music, and Eyes on Life (as Gina Hunter, http://eyesonlife-ginahunter.blogspot.com) about my take on health issues and life on this planet.
I’m on Twitter @eyesonlife_gina.
On Facebook, I have a public page for each of my blogs:
https://www.facebook.com/percevalnovels/ and https://www.facebook.com/Eyes-on-Life-by-Gina-Hunter-133306250119946/. The best way for readers to contact me is either by leaving a message at one of the Facebook pages or sending me an e-mail from one of the blogs.