I love reading suspenseful novels like J. Warren Weaver’s well-written new book To Kill a Ghost. Lately, I have been enthralled with the British author Lucy Foley and have read all of her published books. Weaver’s To Kill a Ghost captivated me the same way Foley’s books have kept me at the edge of my seat.
J. Warren Weaver is a native of Colorado. I am beyond happy to interview and support a local author. I hope you enjoy reading about this talented up-and-coming author.
What led you to start writing?
I got my start writing fiction in the third grade. Our assignment was to write a short story complete with hand-drawn pictures. I came up with a story about a boy who is abducted by basketball-headed aliens from Mars. They conscripted him to fight in their intergalactic war against their lizard-race nemesis.
I was first introduced to the idea of writing as a career in my sophomore year of high school when a teacher held me after class and asked me if I’d ever thought of writing professionally. So, I can credit two influential teachers for my start in writing.
To Kill a Ghost: From World War II Resistance to Criminal Conspiracy
Tell us a little about your story and the story world you’ve created.
To Kill a Ghost is a suspense thriller with a scavenger-hunt mystery at its center. This story takes place in big city USA and is set around 2014. It is a world that very much resembles our world. I’ve tried to take elements of history and spin them into my narrative.
The story kicks off with the murder of Erik Brown’s grandfather, Victor. Victor was a survivor of Nazi occupation in Norway during World War II where he worked in the Norwegian resistance. At the end of the war, he’s given an opportunity to emigrate to America. At least, that’s the gist of the story Erik knows. What Erik doesn’t know is that Victor had a sordid past that finally caught up to him.
With Victor’s death, Erik is thrust into the center of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy. After discovering a series of clues Victor left for him, Erik is sent down a dangerous path of drug dealing, kidnapping and violence. He must use a special set of skills that were unknowingly ingrained in him by Victor during his childhood to stay one step ahead of the villains that would like nothing more than to see Erik end up dead.
Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma, or something else?
This story came to be because of a screenwriting exercise I liked to do to jump-start my creative side. The exercise revolves around loglines and the concept that a good logline is an ironic one. [Editor’s note: A logline is a one- or two-sentence summary that conveys the essence of a story.] So, one day I was playing around and came up with “A tired old spy tries to relive his glory days by teaching his unsuspecting grandson spy craft. Years later, his grandson must use that training to solve his murder.” I fell in love with the concept and decided to see where the idea took me. I couldn’t be prouder of the result.
What special knowledge or research was required to write this book?
I spent countless hours doing research for this story. My search history probably got me on the FBI watchlist! I wanted my story to be as authentic as possible. That included researching the most basic details, like the street value of heroin, the favored handgun of Eastern European criminal organizations, and, of course, anything relating to spy craft.
The vast majority of my research, though, was in crafting Victor’s backstory in Nazi-occupied Norway. I’ve continued that research to this day in the hope that I’ll eventually get to write a series solely based on Victor’s World War II experiences.
How did you go about developing the setting(s) for this story?
I’m a Pantser, so no W plots, mind maps, etc. I like to go into the rough draft with just a vague idea of where I want to end up. I try to let the narrative dictate the rest.
Who are your main characters? Tell as a little about what makes them tick.
My main characters are Erik and Victor Brown. Victor has ice in his veins. Having grown up during the Nazi occupation of Norway, he learned how to control his body language and read other people like a book. He was a saboteur and a survivor. His story is why I wrote this book in the first place and I can’t wait to tell it.
Erik, on the other hand, is a medical student who was essentially raised by his grandparents. His dad is an emotional cripple, and his mother died shortly after his birth. Erik is a bit of a loner. Very introverted, but incredibly intelligent. After watching his grandmother die of cancer, he devoted his life to helping people. His pacifism is put to the test when Victor’s enemies start to chase him and a big part of this novel is his transformation, his internal struggle with what he’s forced to do.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
Kelsey, Erik’s accidental love interest, was the most difficult to write. I wanted to write a female character that reflected the strong women in my life. I knew what she should be like, but struggled with getting her there. I credit my editor with helping me to transform her into the character she ultimately became.
Are any of your characters based on real people you know?
The best way to answer this is to say, Yes and No. All of my characters have elements of real people written into them, but none of them are solely based on real people.
Which chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
I really enjoy the chapter when Erik goes to the used car dealership. I feel like the reader can finally see the toll the conspiracy is taking on Erik. He’s in the process of taking the fight to his enemies, but still stuck in the in-between of who he was and who he is becoming. At one point he just snaps, and he scares himself, and I felt like I could really relate to that feeling of self-discovery.
Which chapter was most difficult to write? Why?
The most difficult scene to write was the painting scene with Kelsey. I suffer from great anxiety when it comes to perceived judgment from others and writing a romantic scene is about as far out of my comfort zone as I could get. My family is going to read this!!
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I hope that my readers will see beyond the simple suspense-thriller narrative. I’ve put a lot of social commentary into this story. I touch a whole lot on the effects of grief, trauma, and intergenerational trauma. I really tried to develop a family and show how they’re broken, why they’re broken. I hope my readers can connect with the Browns as much as I did in writing them.
The Birth of a Novelist
What book from your childhood has shaped you most as a writer?
Catcher In the Rye. I think it was one of the first books I read that took place in the real world, with real-world problems. Before then I think I was reading mostly Goosebumps, Animorphs, Harry Potter, etc.
What life experiences have shaped your writing most?
I’d definitely say my interactions within the writing community have shaped my writing the most. I did a story seminar with Robert McKee and it completely changed how I envision my character and story arcs. I’ve learned so much from the masters of storytelling.
What is your writing process like?
As I previously mentioned, I’m a Pantser, so my process is pretty loose for the first draft, but once I hit the second draft, I keep track of every little detail. I like to watch where my plots and subplots go. I try to make sure every little detail is well researched and accurate. I try to answer every question within the pages of my book.
What special support people (critique partners, writing group, beta readers, editor, agent, author’s assistant) do you rely on? How do they help you?
I definitely rely on my beta readers to make sure my story is in the right neighborhood, but the majority of my revisions happen with my editor. I think it’s important to have an outside perspective that’s grounded within the genre you’re writing in. So many opportunities were saved for this book because my editor spotted them and made sure I realized they were there.
How do you balance the demands of writing with other responsibilities?
I’m still trying to figure that out.
What attracted you to the genre you write in?
I chose thriller suspense as my genre because I love drama. I love making people stay up late to finish my book. I love when something is revealed, and the reader is transported back through the book up until that point as they experience that “Aha!” moment. I love the breadcrumb trails, the “I didn’t see that coming” reveals, etc.
What aspects of your creative process do you enjoy most? Which are most challenging?
Typically, I really enjoy that first draft where your mind can wander and the story just takes shape before you, but that can also be the most challenging part as you discover the areas you didn’t know needed research. With To Kill a Ghost, it was set in a fictitious big city, so I could just roll with whatever my mind wanted, but in my follow-up novel, A Killer of Spies, the narrative takes place within a real city, with real history and culture, so, I felt like I needed to understand all of that to do the setting justice. It ended up being a ridiculous amount of research I wasn’t ready for and the rough draft writing process suffered because of it.
Do you prefer writing in silence or to music?
When writing the rough draft, I’ll usually have music, but when it comes to revisions, silence is golden.
Do you believe in the concept of a muse? What is yours like?
I absolutely believe in the concept of a muse. My wife is my muse. I constantly bombard her with all sorts of questions and she really helps me work through writer’s block and develop my narratives. She’s my every draft reader, and she knows not to sugarcoat her opinions.
Thank you for granting me this interview.
To find out more about J. Warren Weaver please visit his website.