Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fatal Illusions

Today I'm introducing suspense novelist Adam Blumer, who just saw his debut work, Fatal Illusions, release from Kregel Publications. Adam works full-time as a freelance writer and editor. He lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

For a chance to win a copy of Fatal Illusions, please leave a comment about our conversation with Adam.

Mark, welcome to Forensics and Faith. First tell us about Fatal Illusions:

Pastor’s wife Gillian Thayer, a calligrapher, is mourning the loss of twins who died at birth when she makes a discovery that shatters her world. She finds a love letter written to her husband, Marc. Before she can confront him, someone shoots Marc. He recovers, but the situation involving the woman who shot him is so complex and the media so relentless that the Thayers decide to take a sabbatical at a historical lighthouse in Michigan’s U.P. But someone else has also moved to the area--a serial killer and amateur magician who dreams of being the next Houdini. He strangled several young women in Cincinnati, but to pursue his dream of being a great magician, he must put the murders and his past behind him. He thinks he just needs time and distance, but he soon spots his next victim and can’t help himself. When Marc, the last person to see the victim alive, is arrested, he and Gillian find themselves thrust into the heart of a murder investigation and into the sights of a ruthless killer.

You've said God called you to be a writer. How did that happen?

I loved writing imaginative tales when I was a kid, but I didn’t start taking my writing seriously until I won a state high school creative writing contest. That’s when I realized that my writing was better than average and that perhaps God wanted me to do something with it. Because I loved writing and got good grades in English, I decided to get a journalism degree in college; it seemed like a smart vocational decision fitted to my skills. By then, it was pretty much a given in my mind that God wanted me to write. Exactly what I was supposed to write I didn’t know yet. For fourteen years I served as a staff editor for two ministries, but I always preferred writing stories.

Inquiring minds always want to know about getting that first contract ...

It took me a long time. I spent about twenty years pursuing novel writing seriously (and experiencing some ups but mostly downs) before my book proposal for Fatal Illusions got some attention. I began Fatal Illusions in 2002 in conjunction with a Writer’s Digest correspondence course on novel writing. I finished the first draft in the fall of 2005 and began contacting literary agents.

In January 2006, agent Steve Laube, a well-known and respected voice in Christian fiction, asked to see the full manuscript. Though he ultimately declined to represent me, he sent me a two-page letter, pointing out how few manuscripts reach the stage that mine did, and gave me eight pointers on how to make the novel publishable. Energized, I followed his advice and got to work, but I still couldn’t find an agent or publisher.

A year later, I contacted Kregel Publications about opportunities to edit books from home (my day job is as a freelance editor). The managing editor noticed on my resume that I had written several unpublished novels and asked to see my latest project. Kregel liked what they saw in Fatal Illusions and accepted it for publication. God opened a door I never could have opened for myself!

Whoa, twenty years is a long time. What kept you going?

I’m not really sure other than that God gave me the drive to keep writing and not to give up on the idea of being a published novelist. For quite a while, though, writing a novel was more a hobby than something I seriously thought was going to lead to publication. I wanted to be a novelist, of course, but I had a wife and two daughters to support. So I did editing to support them, published some short stories and articles on the side, and kept writing novels when I had time, wondering (and often doubting) whether anything would ever come of it. Each time I wrote another novel I believe I grew and improved as a novelist, so the unpublished novels weren’t wasted effort.

Why did you write Fatal Illusions? What was your inspiration?

Frank Peretti’s earliest supernatural thrillers taught me that Christian novels can do more than entertain. I wanted to write something not only suspenseful but also meaningful. My prayer is that the message will resonate with readers and maybe even challenge their spiritual thinking.
The novels of Mary Higgins Clark also inspired me. I studied the organization and plot lines of her novels and wondered if I could write something as good. I also like her shifting points of view and her short, numerous chapters. (Readers might notice a resemblance.) Her novel You Belong to Me especially inspired me to try my own hand at a serial killer “female in jeopardy” suspense tale. Because most Christian readers are women, I decided to make my main protagonist female—in fact, a pastor’s wife, a protagonist you don’t read about very often. Add to that my love of true crime and forensic science, and I was on my way. Christian suspense novels by Brandilyn Collins and Terri Blackstock have also been a big influence.

A past experience also provided a creative springboard. A church voted to remove from membership a believer who was sincerely repentant of immorality. I began to play the “what if” game in my mind. What if the person who was disciplined got really ticked? What if he or she became mad enough to kill? I thought a church discipline scenario created an unusual motive for murder—hence one of the subplots in Fatal Illusions. I also read Ruth Brandon’s The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. This biography of the famous illusionist fascinated me and helped me develop the characterization of my serial killer. In fact, readers will discover an important plot clue connected to Houdini.

That's a lot of inspiration! Talk to us about writing from the female POV. How hard was that for you?

It did create challenges in making Gillian a three-dimensional character who doesn’t think like me. Among several issues, she struggles with private grief and needs a godly female mentor in her life. Describing her struggles as a woman who has unique emotional needs and insecurities was often challenging. Thankfully, I had a few female first readers and editors to help me get her right.

Tell us about underlying themes in Fatal Illusions.

Mainly I probe the themes of secrets and deception (or “illusions” as my title suggests, though on a secondary level). As believers, how do we lie to ourselves and to others? Do we try to hide who we really are inside? What happens if we try to live a lie? Should spouses ever keep secrets from each other? What can happen if they do?

I also encourage readers to consider how they would protect their families if they faced the same type of evil the Thayer family must confront. (My serial killer cyber-stalks his victims weeks before he makes his move.) Many of the novel’s themes are areas I’ve had to work through in my own thinking. When life doesn’t make sense, how do I respond? Do I trust God, even when His ways are difficult to understand?

Sounds like you did quite a bit of research to make this book accurate.

Yes, more than I expected. Calligraphy didn’t require much research because I had dabbled in it in high school and won a few awards. Information about magicians wasn’t tough to find either because I had already been researching Houdini on the Internet after reading a biography about him. For serial killers, I watched a lot of Forensic Files and Body of Evidence on TV and read Mary Higgins Clark and other crime/suspense authors. One big area I had to research was police procedure, since a retired homicide detective helps the Thayers catch the Magician Murderer. I researched crime scene investigation, forensic science, computer crimes (since my villain is a cyber-stalker), and other related areas. But these have always been areas of interest, so I hardly thought of the research as work. Because Gillian is a professional calligrapher of famous quotations, Bible verses, and love poems, I also had to research her literary side, since that’s her lens for viewing the world.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Finding the time to write a suspense tale of this scope and complexity. (I’m a full-time freelance editor and write novels after my regular work.) I spent a lot of evenings and weekends on this project. Another problem was that I constantly questioned my abilities and doubted that my stuff was good enough to be published. These doubts fed procrastination. After all, if nobody’s going to want my novel, why push myself so hard? You can imagine my surprise when Kregel bought my novel. Today I write with a different attitude about my projects; I see them as God’s calling. God has opened doors I never could have opened for myself. I’d be a fool not to take advantage of every opportunity He gives. May He receive the glory!

A question just for fun. What's the quirkiest thing that's ever happened to you?

Has to be when I went on a trip to the Holy Land and met my wife. In the spring of 1995, still single and disillusioned with dating, I gave up on the idea of dating anyone ever again. I decided to go on a trip to the Holy Land as sort of a spiritual pilgrimage; I wanted to meditate on God and see what He wanted to show me about Himself. Wouldn’t you know it? What I least expected happened. At the Boston airport, I met Kim, a gorgeous brunette (her church group met mine) who’d brought the same novel to read on the airplane, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. No kidding. Then at London’s Heathrow Airport, the ticket person thought she and I were a couple and put us together on the all-night flight to Tel Aviv. Kim didn’t care for her sardines, so I ate them. The relationship appeared to be promising. To cut to the chase, we chatted in Jericho, conversed in Nazareth, and talked nonstop in Jerusalem. On the way home I sat beside her on the plane. A few weeks later, I visited her in Milwaukee and met her parents. By New Year’s, we were engaged. Pretty amazing, huh? I now tell singles not to look for a marriage partner. Seek God, and He’ll put you on a collision course if marriage is His plan for you.

We have quite a few aspiring novelists here at F&F. As your final remarks, what advice do you have for them?

Be patient and work hard, but keep in mind that doors will open for you only in the Lord’s timing. We can’t rush God. If He has prompted you to write, God gave you that desire for a reason. Explore what His will could be, but learn to wait on Him—perhaps even for a long time. When He’s ready, He’ll let you know. In the meantime, seek Him with your whole heart.

Thank you, Brandilyn, for the opportunity to introduce myself to your readers.
Reminder: If you'd like a chance at a free copy of Fatal Illusions, please leave a comment. I'll randomly draw a name and announce winner tomorrow.

Buy Fatal Illusions from Amazon.

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Jill said...

Sounds like a great book, and I enjoyed getting to know Adam a little. Thanks for the interview!

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

I must admit, I'm not usually a suspense reader (I'm one of those BHCs, you know), but I was tickled to find a fellow calligrapher! If perchance I win the book, my hubby will devour it, I'm sure. Thanks for the interview--neat to see how Adam persevered until His God-door opened.

Ralene said...

Nice to meet you, Adam! The book sounds fascinating. I'm a big fan of Mary Higgins Clark as well, so I'm sure I'd enjoy this one. :)

Author Sue Dent said...

Congratulations Adam on finally getting a publisher for your work. The market you write for is a tough one for a newcomer to get into. And there are so few alternatives since most general market publishers shy away from authors who write for the specific audience you write for.

You should do well with Kregal though. :)

Susanne Lakin said...

Adam's story sounds so fascinating and I applaud him for his twenty-year-didn't-give-up journey. I just got my first contract (Zondervan) this year after over twenty years, too. So, it's great seeing how persistence does pay off, especialoly when tethered to God and his spirit. Looking so forward to reading your book, Adam!

PatriciaW said...

I love the honesty of "...I constantly questioned my abilities and doubted that my stuff was good enough to be published. These doubts fed procrastination. After all, if nobody’s going to want my novel, why push myself so hard?"

I know what you mean. That kind of characterized my last two years, but I'm glad to say I'm over that.

Jenni James said...

Wow! Your story is so inspiring Adam! Congrats! And your book sounds incredible!

Great interview!

Karen Eve said...

Sounds like a great book, I look forward to reading it. You've got a great testimony Adam and a very unusual how I met my wife/husband story (although I used to work with a man who met his wife on safari in Africa). Thanks for sharing with us.

Sandra Foster said...

What a great interview, and an encouragement to be reminded that we can never give up on the call that God has put on us to write. What if Adam would have said, "This is too hard. I can't do it." We wouldn't have been able to join in the applause for him now. It sounds like a great book and I can't wait to read it. Kuddos and blessing to you, and much success on this project and others you have. I plan to read portions of the interview to encourage the people in my writers workshop tomorrow at the GLASS/CMTA Convention held at the Pasadena, CA Convention Center. Thank you for your honesty and openness ... we'll all benefit from it in one way or the other. Hearty congratulations!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love Adam's advice: "I now tell singles not to look for a marriage partner. Seek God, and He’ll put you on a collision course if marriage is His plan for you." It is so applicable to my life right now. Great interview - thanks!

Bill Giovannetti said...

Congratulations on your book and your marriage! I love the interview and look forward to winning/reading your book.

Bill Giovannetti

Stephen Dean said...

I enjoyed the interview and am now looking forward to this novel.

Judy Vandiver said...

Great interview. Loved the encouragement to keep going when we know what God has called us to do. (Me thinks I won't give up just yet.) I've marked the book on my list of those I want to read. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The book sounds as fascinating as his personal journey to publication. I relate to him very well, because that's about as long as my own journey was. But I believed Phil. 2:13 -- God gave me the desire and ability to be a writer, and I couldn't quit. Congratulations to Adam and to all those who persevere!

Sherry Kyle said...

What a great interview! Adam was so open and forthright with his path to publication. Yes, God's timing is what matters. Something I need to cling to everyday. I'd love to read Adam's book. Sounds interesting. Thank you!

Adam Blumer said...

Thank you for all your kind responses to the interview. The importance of not giving up on the path to publication seems to have resonated with a lot of you. The best advice anyone ever gave me was "Never, ever give up." I would add to that: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Thanks for the encouragement!

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

Congrats Adam.

The cover looks great.

Jennifer AlLee said...

The book sounds fascinating, and what a story Adam has to tell. Just goes to show that God will work His plan as long as we don't give up. Thanks for sharing with us, Adam!

Sheila Deeth said...

Sounds a fascinating, and well-researched book. And it was great to meet Adam here. His story of getting published is certainly an encouragement to keep trying and trusting God. Thank you.

Debbie said...

Sounds like a great book. Congratulations to Adam for getting published.

Lisa Faye Harman said...

Sounds like some unique twists. I love MI as a setting. Great interview.

Sheri said...

This was an enjoyable interview to read and I admire the fact that Adam continued to pursue his dream. I love a good suspense novel and I thought it was interesting how Adam likes the style of Mary Higgins Clark. I love Christian fiction the best, but I also enjoy reading the suspense of Clark. This sounds like a great read!

LMcCain said...

This sounds like a good book Adam. I am a big fan of suspense, Mary Higgins Clark, Forensic Files, and Houdini (seriously!). It also sounds like you have done a lot of research which makes me want to check out your book. Thanks for all your perseverance to get it into print.

Jenny said...

Great interview - encouraging to know that God's Plan is always accomplished in His timing!

Becca Dowling said...

Adam and Brandilyn,
As a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed Adam's story on writing "Fatal Illusions" and his journey to publication. As a reader, I'm intrigued by the unusual and complex plot. Whether or not I win the book, it's on my TBR list now.