Please welcome Evan to my blog today. He talks about his latest book and hands out some great advice for aspiring writers.
What is your name and where do you live now?
My name is Evan Kilgore, and I hail from Los Angeles, California. I've lived here for the last 10 years since coming down from rainy Washington State, where I grew up, to go to college, although I was born here originally, so I like to consider myself one of the relatively rare native Angelinos (with just a brief northward diversion for about fifteen years of my life).
First off, how has your week been?
My week has been absolutely insane. My third book, MADE IN CHINA, just came out last week, and I have been scrambling to keep up with everything leading up to and attached to that – approving final edits and proofs of the galleys and the cover, managing interviews, media engagements, etc., and juggling my other commitments as a story editor and consultant for the Hollywood talent agency where I also work. Suffice it to say, there have been a lot of early mornings and late nights in the last seven days. But I am certainly not complaining!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I am presently 29, and I think it is fair to say I've been writing for my entire life. My mother still has, packed away in an attic or garage somewhere, sheaves of old stories that I would write as a toddler before I had even learned the alphabet. I would use x’s to fill in for letters I did not yet know, and add scribbled drawings to try to make it all make sense (it didn’t work).
I continued to write and draw picture book/stories about adventurers in jungles throughout my early youth, and finished the first thing I at the time considered a novel when I was 12. [No, nobody gets to see it – even I don't want to look at it. Trust me ]. Ever since then, I have been writing more or less every day of my life. I started (probably ill-advisedly) submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers when I was 13, and basically continued to do so until I badgered someone into saying yes.
My first published book, Who Is Shayla Hacker, was accepted by a small mystery/thriller publisher during my senior year at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television, where I was studying screenwriting. Because of their catalogue and scheduling queue, I had to wait almost two years for it to be released, during which time I graduated from college and wrote what would become my second published book, The Children of Black Valley.
After that, I worked on a variety of film projects, and even (somehow) got a couple of scripts produced and made, before returning to my roots to collaborate with a long-time friend and colleague on the book that just came out last week, Made in China.
And I thought my life was hectic...! Please tell us about your current release.
Made in China is a fast-paced, character-driven thriller story that I would like to think is reminiscent of a blend of book/movies like Patriot Games (Tom Clancy) and The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton). The main character, John Grant, is a regular guy just trying to get by and raise his young son, Connor, while his marriage with his wife, Lynn, comes apart at the seams. Lynn is an executive at a major toy company, and John can hardly compete with all of the pre-release next-gen toys she is constantly giving to Connor.
After Connor brings one of them to a friend’s birthday party, all of the children fall ill. At first, everyone suspects some kind of viral outbreak, but with the doctors at a loss as to how to explain or treat Connor’s rapidly deteriorating health, John alone embarks on a search for answers. What he discovers propels him on a journey across the world to China, and right into the middle of what might become the deadliest terrorist attack against America’s children in history – unless he can stop it.
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I could certainly see another book featuring Made in China’s John Grant. John definitely undergoes an arc in terms of his outlook, his priorities, and his abilities over the course of this first story, but I think there is a good deal more to explore with him.
I like John because he is a regular guy. He is no brilliant, bulletproof CIA agent or assassin. He is a dad trying to save his son and get his marriage back together. He is a blue-collar everyman with bills to pay, maxed-out credit cards, insecurities, flaws, and yet, at his heart, a dedication to his son and to his family that cannot be broken by anything in the world. John makes many mistakes in his life, but he would throw himself in front of a bus if it would save his son, and that is the sort of person that I want to spend more time with.
And what about future projects. Do you have plans for a new book?
I am always working on another book. I cannot subsist without some manuscript in progress in the background. Right now, I am about two thirds of the way through a new project that is slightly more of a straight fiction/character piece than some of my previous work, but I have plans for another dark mystery/thriller, and the beginnings of several other projects, to come afterward. I am also at various stages of development and/or preproduction on a couple of different screenplay projects, so hopefully I will have some news to share on that front sometime soon, too (fingers crossed!).
What genre would you place your books into?
This is an interesting question for me, because it's an area that I've talked about with my publishers at different times. My current book, Made in China, is very much a straight mainstream thriller. My previous two books, though (and a few of my future ones), are something somewhat more ambiguous. My first book, Who is Shayla Hacker, was called “Twin Peaks meets The Da Vinci Code,” by Kirkus Reviews, while the Chicago Tribune said of my second, The Children of Black Valley, “This novel [has] a uniqueness that will keep readers guessing until literally the very last pages.”
I tend to gravitate toward starting with something fairly grounded, and introducing a certain strangeness – a darkness, a sense of uncertainty – that begins to unravel or at least hint at something far more bizarre or surreal going on beneath the surface. I would certainly not presume to compare myself to such authors, but let’s just say I admire, in this vein, the likes of Thomas Pynchon and Haruki Murakami, both of whom I consider more or less literary heroes.
Everyone is always fascinated by the life of a writer and how we keep our writing going. Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
I am a very-habit driven person by nature. I keep more or less the same writing schedule every single day of the week, including weekends and holidays. I always get up at the same time in the morning, start the coffee, and go for a brief walk to clear my head and get the story I am working on in focus before coming back, inhaling a healthy quantity of caffeine along with breakfast, e-mail, and daily news, and then plunging in.
I write for between 1 to 2 hours every morning, before my screenplay and story consulting work consumes the middle of my day. I like absolute silence while I work. Although I can certainly respect it, I have no idea how people write in coffee shops – I get far too easily distracted. In the afternoon, though, rain or shine, I insist on a longer walk – at least an hour and at least around 3 miles in length – to again clear my thoughts, get some fresh air and sunshine, and put into perspective my plans for what to write the next day. To me, this mechanism and this repetition supply an invaluable framework through which to structure free ideas and creativity. Missing a day of writing is like missing all three meals – it leaves me hungry, slightly cranky, and vaguely dissatisfied until I can plunge back in again.
What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
Along these lines, I think my biggest advice to any writer is, above all, to write. I talk to a lot of people, especially in Hollywood, who have this idea of the writer/director they want to be, the car they want to drive, and the house in the hills where they want to live, but when it comes down to it, they hate the process of actually writing. To me, this makes no sense. Sure, it is absolutely thrilling to have strangers reading and enjoying your work, but if you are not first and foremost doing it for the passion of doing it – if it is not something that you simply cannot not do - then I feel like it is going to show in the stories you wind up creating.
Write every day. Do not make excuses, and do not take time off. If you cannot think of anything to write, write something terrible. Write about someone who hates writing and cannot think of anything to write about, but write it. I have always found, when I become stuck, that the act of just cranking something out more often than not restarts the creative engine.
Also, I would say read and travel as much as possible. I have learned more from reading other books and screenplays – good ones but also especially terrible ones – than I have in any classroom or from any how-to book. Seeing how someone else did it right or, again, especially, did it wrong is an invaluable experience, while getting outside of, in my case, Los Angeles, and exposing myself to as much of the rest of the world as I have the time and money to see is more deeply restorative to me than any vacation spent lounging by a pool or on the beach. But that’s just my take on it. I guess the first rule of writing has always been that there are no real rules of writing.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to take part in this interview. These are fantastic questions, and I quite enjoyed answering them.
Thanks so much for joining me today, Evan. I wish you the very best with Made in China!
Evan Kilgore graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts with a fine arts degree in Writing for the Screen and Television. Who is Shayla Hacker, his debut novel, was first published by Bleak House Books in the following year. His second novel, The Children of Black Valley, was released one year later, followed by his third, Made in China, in 2013.
Evan has also written or co-written a variety of motion picture screenplays, including shorts such as MJMW and feature films including The Butterflies of Bill Baker. In 2011, he was honored as a Semifinalist in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Nicholl Fellowship. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
Visit evankilgore.com to stay up-to-date on Evan's latest work.Purchase Made in China in paperback and ebook.