TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Deborah: This is not so much a quirk or (I'm afraid) all that interesting, but if it were possible I would probably do better if I could plan the entire book in my head before I wrote anything down. I can't do that because given all the other things in my head there doesn't seem to enough room for an entire novel. Frankly, my subconscious is a better writer than my conscious mind.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Deborah: I always wanted, not to write what Jane Austen wrote, but to write the sort of novel that could be read in a number of different ways. Pride and Prejudice can be read (and I've probably read it all these ways at different times) as a romance, as a comedy of manners, as beautiful writing, as literature and of course as several of those things at once. I'd like to write that sort of book, something with multiple layers, that pulls in readers with different sorts of interests. So, while I don't want to write in the style of Jane Austen, she's definitely influenced what I think about when I write.
I also greatly admire good writing, good plotting and good characters, especially when they're all together in one book.
Current favorite writers or current writers of favorite books: Louise Penny, Justin Cronin, Ariana Franklin.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Deborah: I think I'm a pantser who wishes she were more of a plotter. I've coming around to the idea that I should write a really fast, really bad first draft and then figure things out from there. You COULD say that was my outline, but I'm not sure it's even good enough to be an outline. Some of my best ideas and some of my best plot problem-solving come from just sitting down and writing but I also often go seriously off the rails plot-wise and have to do some big, sweeping rewriting and rearranging. It's not efficient even if it all turns out fine in the end.
The thing is, as I said above, my subconscious really does the heavy creative lifting and sometimes I just need to let the story sit back there for awhile before the answers come forth, like it was easy all along.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Deborah: For a long time the most challenging thing for me has been to write every day and, particularly, to write a certain amount--500, 750, 1,000 words--every day. Because my subconscious does so much of the work I really do need time to let things simmer and sometimes I just don't have that time available. Walking dogs helps. And sometimes just writing helps--I figure things out as I go. These days, though, I think the most challenging thing is switching from writing to editing, which for me is a very different skill set and way of thinking.
TQ: Describe Wide Open in 140 characters or less.
Deborah: When Hallie returns to South Dakota to investigate her sister's death, she finds ghosts, magic and a deputy who knows more than he's telling.
TQ: What inspired you to write Wide Open?
Deborah: I figured if I was going to work on a novel, it should combine as many things I'm interested in as possible. I like strong characters, I like contemporary fantasy and particularly stories that are heavily grounded in everyday details, with a strong sense of place and time. I like interesting fantasy elements and that juxtaposition of fantasy and everyday living. I like writing about prairies and farms and small towns. In general, my stories start with the characters and the place and grow from there.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Wide Open?
Deborah: There were two major areas that I researched for Wide Open--women soldiers in Afghanistan and western South Dakota. It turns out--or at least this was true when I was actually writing Wide Open--that there's much less written about the war in Afghanistan than the war in Iraq. There was a brief time when I considered changing Hallie's deployment, but the thing is Afghanistan is more the right place for Hallie to be returning from than Iraq. It's clearly a liminal space. It's the place that historically groups have gone through on their way to somewhere else and it's sometimes the place they get bogged down or even buried.
Hallie is in a liminal space in more ways than one throughout the story--she's come back to South Dakota, a place she once thought she'd left for good. South Dakota sits in a space that's not quite West or Midwest. Hallie herself didn't quite die and is not quite in the world the same way she was before.
My second main research area was South Dakota. I have been to western South Dakota and I grew up on a farm, though in a different part of the country. One thing I was concerned about was how different rural South Dakota might be from other rural places I've lived. What I learned was that some of it is quite different--the openness, the weather, the things people raise and grow--and some of it is exactly the same.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Deborah: Hallie was by far the easiest to write. She opts for action when there's action to take and for a writer--as long as I can figure out what kind of action Hallie would be likely to take--that makes her pretty easy to write. I just let her go. Having said that, though, I did have to work to show more than one side of her. It's easy to make her anger and grief the only facets to her--because they are really important in the story. Hallie IS angry and she's grieving, but she's capable of other feelings too.
Hallie's father was hard for me to get right. I liked writing him and I like how he turned out, but people kept reading him in ways that weren't as I intended him. He can be sarcastic and cranky, but he's got good qualities too and, in a way, like writing Hallie--or maybe any characters--I had to find ways to show those other qualities. It was harder with him because he's not on the page nearly as much as Hallie is.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Wide Open?
Deborah: You know, I'm actually kind of fond of the scene where Hallie and Boyd meet for the first time. Hallie is probably at her very worst--she hasn't slept in twenty-four hours, she's still trying to absorb the fact of her sister's death, she's just been greeted by her sister's ghost at the airport, she's got a car with a flat tire and no lug wrench. Boyd arrives and he's calm and courteous and helpful and it really pisses her off. It all goes forward from there, I think, for the two of them.
TQ: What's next?
Deborah: There are two sequels to WIDE OPEN. The second book is with my editor and I'm expecting to get feedback from her very soon. I have a draft of the third one that I've set aside for a bit, though I hope to get back to work on that soon as well. There will be more South Dakota, more Hallie, more Boyd and more magic.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Deborah: Thank you for having me! It was a pleasure.
About Wide Open
Wide OpenTor Books (March 13, 2012)
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days' compassionate leave, her sister Dell's ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.
The sheriff says that Dell's death was suicide, but Hallie doesn't believe it. Something happened or Dell's ghost wouldn't still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell's loss, think Hallie's letting her grief interfere with her judgment.
The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn't have to.
As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace. Soon, someone's trying to beat her up, burn down her father's ranch, and stop her investigation.
Hallie's going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.
About Deborah Coates
Deborah Coates lives in central Iowa and works at Iowa State University. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov's and Strange Horizons, as well as Year's Best Fantasy 6, Best Paranormal Romance, and Best American Fantasy 2. She's been a farmhand, a factory worker, a statistician, a researcher, and an IT professional. You can find her at http://www.deborah-coates.com and on Twitter as debcoates.