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Interview: Craig Hansen, Author of Most Likely

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I first came across Craig Hansen a couple of months ago in a popular writer’s forum. He is one of this new breed of Indie writers, honing their craft in a modern world. You can find Craig and his contemporaries hanging out in forums, swapping tips on how to market, critiquing each others blurbs, learning how to format their ebooks and getting an opinion what is the right cover. It’s not the coffee shops of Paris in the 1920’s but it might as well be.

With high Kindle sales and Amazon do-it-yourself publishing we have a lot of new authors trying to find an audience for their work. There has been much discussion about the quality of what is coming from these new kids on the block. So with that in mind, Craig and I sat down and had a chat, about his first book, his own reading habits and his views on this new world of self publishing.

Please tell us about your first book, Most Likely.

Most Likely is a story that sneaks up on you and really involves you in the lives of the characters. It focuses on the life and trials of Becky Howard, a high school junior who is preparing for the biggest track meet of her life, the regional meet that will qualify her to go to state. It’s a very important and critical time in her life, athletically speaking, and suddenly at the most inopportune moment, her life starts falling apart around her.

She has a best friend, Tammy Jo, with whom she has shared a secret for years. But suddenly things get dangerous for Tammy Jo, and Becky’s forced to choose between keeping her promise, or protecting her friend.

Becky’s part of a somewhat conservative, church-going family, so she’s dating her first boyfriend.  He’s starting to pressure her to go further than kissing, and she’s not sure she’s ready. Complicating matters is that there are rumors going around about him that are testing her trust in him.

And to top things off, her older sister is three years or so into a marriage and is confiding in her that things aren’t going well. Seeing an older sibling struggling in a marriage, at that age, is something that can really shake a young person’s trust in the stability of romantic relationships.

And all of this starts unravelling the week before she has to run this meet, so she’s about as stressed as any teen you’ve ever met, and the novel explores how she navigates her way through all these challenges. It’s a fun read, with more humor than you might expect, but it’s also a novel that asks a lot of important questions — questions that the vampire romances that dominate the young adult book scene these days, fun as they are, aren’t really asking.

Which book have you read and thought, I wish I had written that?

The Body by Stephen King. For those who don’t know, that became the movie Stand by Me. An awesome coming of age story, and like Most Likely, it’s a story that looks at the concept of growing up from a wide-spectrum perspective. So many coming of age tales are obsessed with sex, and as the tagline for my novel says, “Sometimes, growing up is about more than sex.”

Which fictional character would you most like to meet?

I wouldn’t mind flitting about space and time with Doctor Who. One of the fun ones, either Matt Smith’s Doctor or Tom Baker’s. If I were still in high school myself, I think it would have been fun to meet Jenny Morton from Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan, because I was kind of an outsider back then and so I think we’d have found some things in common. I think Emily Grant from Victorine Lieske’s novel Not What She Seems would also be a source of a good conversation. I like a lot of my own characters, too, but I spend enough time with them already.

Without conflict, there is no story. Do you ever feel sorry for your characters when you are creating conflict in their fictional lives?

One of the best compliments anyone’s paid me recently is when a fellow writer told me, “I love how mercilessly you seem to torture your characters.” Not that I’m a cruel guy, mind you, but I agree with the idea that conflict is the source of story. Someone — it may have been Robert McKee in his screenwriting book, Story, or it may have been someone else — once said that the key to good storytelling is figuring out what your characters want most, and then dreaming up interesting ways to keep them separated from that very thing. Another way of talking about it is, story is what happens while your characters are busy trying to do something else. The trick is to do this with enough skill, and enough signs of hope, that the characters — and readers along with them — think they might actually get what they want, or where they want to go, so that when it’s snatched away from them, there’s a genuine sense of loss. You must offer up small payoffs once in a while, but if you offer up a complete payoff, the story’s done.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve spent the last several months reading loads of my fellow indie authors’ work. I just finished Jenny Pox, Tommy Nightmare and The Haunted eBook, all by J.L. Bryan, as well as The Overtaking by Victorine Lieske. But I promised myself to catch up with some of my favourite traditionally-published authors over the first part of summer here, so currently I’m reading Cross Fire by James Patterson and Under the Dome by Stephen King.

Who is your favourite Indie Author?

There are so many good names working the indie scene today, it’s hard to choose just one. If pressed, I’d have to point to Victorine Lieske. When I reviewed her novel Not What She Seems a few months ago, I called it the best book I’ve read in at least a decade. And I stand by that. Her new young adult book, The Overtaking, is also good fun. But I’d feel pretty bad if I didn’t give an honourable mention to David McAfee, J.L. Bryan, and L.J. Sellers at the very minimum. They’re all doing very different, but very fine work, in their respective genres. And now, I’m sure there are at least a dozen others who will be upset I didn’t mention them as well, next time I check in at Kindleboards, so I’ll hush up now.

Who is your favourite Traditional Author?

You know, we’re all writers, no matter how we’re published. I always point to Stephen King, and sometimes James Patterson, as primary influences on me. But with a book like Most Likely, there are some other names I really want to mention. You see, currently the Young Adult market is going through a paranormal craze. It’s a lot of fun to read, but most of these books aren’t asking real questions about real life anymore. I mean, how many teen girls have to worry about a vampire boyfriend turning them into a creature of the night, in real life? Not many. So Most Likely is a return to some of the young adult novel trends that used to be at the top of readers’ minds. Some of them are still out there, but have been lost in this flood of supernatural material.

Terry Davis wrote some wonderful novels, like Vision Quest and Mysterious Ways, about teens growing up and facing real-life challenges. He was my thesis advisor when I wrote Most Likely back in college. Chris Crutcher, who wrote such YA books as The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Staying Fat for Sarah Burns and Whale Talk is another inspirational writer who has won many awards for his YA novels. And a former classmate of mine in college, A. LaFaye, has some wonderful historical YA novels out, including The Keening, Dad in Spirit and Year of the Sawdust Man. If it were not for authors like Davis, Crutcher and LaFaye, I’m not sure there’d be a Most Likely.

How do you feel to be a part of the new Indie eBook gold rush that we are experiencing?

It’s been very exciting for me personally, because even though I’ve won awards in journalism, I found it hard to break through as a novelist in the world of traditional publishing. With the advent of Kindle, Nook and the like, and the opportunity posed by Amazon KDP, Barnes and Noble PubIt, and Smashwords, there’s suddenly a huge opportunity for a lot of writers whose names don’t happen to be Stephen King, James Patterson, or Charlaine Harris… terrific writers, all, but none of those names are on my bank account. I’m not so sure the gold rush has found me, just yet, but as I publish more titles, I’m sure readers will find me, and that’s all I can ask. Of course, the risk many people worry about is that a lot of subpar writers will publish unworthy dreck. And while that happens, I contend it’s always happened, even when traditional publishers were the only game in town. Readers are ultimately the final jury. Those of us who are good at this, the readers will find us in time. We just have to discipline ourselves as writers not to squander this opportunity by rushing works to market, but hold ourselves accountable to really vet our work past other experienced eyes and not put it up for sale until it’s truly ready.

Being that this is the beginning of your career, my last question is; Where do you see your career in the next 10 years?

Hopefully, I’ll have a lot more novels under my belt by then. I have my own paranormal suspense series of YA novels I’m working on, because I really do enjoy the genre, even though I also enjoy more reality-based novels like Most Likely as well. I also believe I have a couple other series up my sleeve. One is a paranormal mystery comedy series that I hope will finally take shape. Another is a mystery series centered around a crime-solving Messianic rabbi. I should also have a few theologically-based nonfiction books out by then. And several standalone novels that are just good ideas that don’t fit into any of my series novels.

And of course, by then, readers will realize that nearly every novel I write is interconnected in one way or another, through my fictional setting of Hope, Wisconsin. Characters who show up in Most Likely or Ember will pop up other places, eventually, and if you follow all my novels, you’ll end up with this very satisfying sense that you’ve read the story of an entire place, an entire community. Stephen King did something like this with Castle Rock and Derry, in Maine. T.L. Haddix has done this, to an extent, with her fictional setting of Leroy, IN. For me, it’s Hope, Wisconsin. Most Likely is an important launching point, because it introduces that setting, and people we meet in this novel will turn up again in future novels. Maybe background characters will become main characters, or vice versa. But their lives will go on, and progress, and each novel will be a chance to check in on old friends. It’s an ambitious goal, but one I think, in the long run, readers will come to appreciate.

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