BookLife Talks with D.Z. Church
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Saving Calypso'
The BookLife review of Saving Calypso said that the characters’ “mutual need to reinvent themselves in order to survive will resonate with readers.” Can you elaborate on that?
To the others inhabiting his world, Grieg Washburn is a wild card who is willing to take unnecessary risks and is scorned for an involuntary manslaughter conviction. After her parents die in a car accident that Grieg caused, Calypso Swale flees her life as a debutante and Olympic-level equestrian to keep a secret safe. She learns the skills necessary to live off the grid and protect herself. But to survive, Grieg and Calypso must overcome perceptions and learn to forgive, trust, and rely on the strength of others.
You wrote several books before Saving Calypso; how has your writing process changed over time?
Each book in my Cooper Vietnam Era series begins with research, not only into the war but also into the period, especially since it takes place during what I call “near history.” People remember Vietnam, what they wore, what they thought and felt, who they lost, and the fear and anarchy of the times. This means the potential is there for readers to catch anachronisms and errors instantly. Plus, in a series, the characters must be true to themselves, grow, and reveal themselves over the arc of the series. With a standalone set in the now, these restrictions don’t apply. In either case, I begin with an idea and then a story line, create the characters and let them wander around in my mind, and then start the first draft. I’m not an outliner; telling the story as I progress keeps my interest up, sparks plot twists, and lets characters surprise me. So, my process hasn’t changed, though historical events provide a structural ladder for the series.
Saving Calypso is a stand-alone thriller, but you’re currently in the process of writing a thriller series set during the Vietnam era. How would you compare writing a series to writing a stand-alone?Writing a series requires an overarching plan. Each book tells a story that moves the series forward. Because this is a quartet of books, the series itself has a story arc that, I hope, readers will find satisfying and pertinent. A stand-alone is a world unto itself. There is much more freedom in the telling, especially if it takes place in today’s world. You can write a whopping good thriller about greed and power, try to make a moral point, or just tell a compelling story about people dealing with the bends in their lives.
Why do you think the market for thrillers is so large, and what can authors do to stand out?
Thrillers allow us to get outside ourselves. Sometimes they scare us, sometimes they move us, and sometimes they just take our minds off our troubles. The thriller market is brimming with subgenres, making it hard for a new writer to find a niche and shine. The challenge is that readers are comfortable returning to authors whose work they know. What can a new-to-thrillers author do? First and foremost, write stellar, readable books, with consistent quality in plot, editing, and style. Some claim that the more books you publish, the greater the possibility that you will be discovered. Maybe. Covers matter, but too many are indistinguishable—dark, foreboding, and populated by shadowy figures. Cover copy, website text, advertising, and self-promotion matter, but in the end, great reviews, word of mouth, and catching a shooting star may matter most of all.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing Pay Back, the third book in the Cooper Vietnam Era series, which continues the story of the Cooper family’s voyage through the Vietnam era. The first book in the quartet, Dead Legend, introduces estranged brothers, Navy Lt. Byron Cooper and Marine Sgt. Laury Cooper, who must face their pasts and mutual distrust to uncover a Navy conspiracy. Set in 1967, it plays out against the failing air war in Vietnam and rising dissent at home. The second book, Head First, takes place in 1972 during the Christmas carpet-bombing and the turmoil of withdrawal. Pay Back, due for release this fall, propels the Cooper saga through the Fall of Saigon (1975) and the changing world back home.