Great Indie Authors, Presents…
Kenneth L. Decroo – Author, Almost Human
Running Springs, CA and Playa de Estero, Baja, MX
A Short Bio:
Kenneth L. Decroo truly believes you must live a life worth writing about. Before he became an educator and consultant for universities and school districts, he worked in the world of research and wild animal training in the motion picture industry for many years.
He holds advanced degrees in anthropology, instructional technology and education.
He lives and writes in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California with his wife, Tammy.
When not writing and lecturing, he loves to ride his BMW adventure motorcycle down the Baja peninsula to beaches and bays without names. More about his adventures can be found on his blog, http://bajamotoquest.com.
Kev: What is your latest book about?
KLD: Almost Human is a thriller where creatures with the enormous strength and power of a chimpanzee and the intelligence and size of a human are sought out and discovered in a remote compound in equatorial Africa.
The special bond between trainers and their animals is central to the story.
Drs. Ken Turner and Fred Savage follow rumors of chimp-human hybrids. The scientists want to study the hybrids but government operatives want to exploit them. The resulting conflicts threaten Turner and Savage’s research and their lives, as well as the lives of many others.
The big question is can they stop the murderous onslaught in time?
Kev: Who or what influenced you to write it?
KLD: I was influenced by my experience working in the movies as a stuntman, wild animal trainer, technical adviser and producer.
I love Steinbeck’s vivid characters and descriptions. The Log From the Sea of Cortez especially his essay, “About Ed Ricketts,” is some of my favorite writing. It sent me off adventuring. Right after reading it in high school, I took an old Indian Motorcycle (didn’t have a boat at that time) and headed south into Baja with my girlfriend. You can imagine how that played out with our parents. We ended up on the mainland in Chiapas near the Guatemalan border before running out of money. I was sixteen.
When I finally got back home with my girlfriend and finished dealing with my parents and hers, I began writing. I still remember the feeling of sitting down with my mother’s Royal Typewriter and reliving the adventure as I wrote.
I named that old Indian “Scout” but unfortunately sold it for bus fare when we ran out of money. I really miss that old bike. I can’t remember much about the girl or, for that matter, her name but I sure do miss that bike. The adventure was just too big, I guess. I plan to weave all of this into a book someday.
Sorry, I’m digressing. I love the economy of language of Hemingway and certainly Michael Crichton’s technical side.
Also, I participated in a writers group led by the bestselling author, Kathryn Lynn Davis. Being part of her group made all the difference in perfecting my craft and voice.
Kev: Did you do any specialized research for your story?
KLD: As I said, I was influenced by my experience in the movies and the world of animal training. Living and working in that world was a kind of research, if you will. I think you have to write about what you know or it just won’t ring true.
I have great respect for my readers and feel they deserve true things and that they will know if something isn’t, even in fiction; or actually, especially if it’s fiction.
People ask me how I ended up working in the film business. It was by accident, ironically. A chimp had injured me while I was working on a research project. She bit my kneecap in half. So, I had temporarily left the project to recover.
I had done my research and dissertation at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside. It was a socio-linguistic study of American Sign Language (ASL). While visiting the Superintendent, a call came in from a film company doing a CBS movie of the week with Linda Gray (of the series Dallas fame).
They were looking for an expert who could teach some Hollywood animal trainers ASL. The Superintendent handed me the phone. I went to work for them for a few days and it turned into a career.
That adventure took me into the very special and secret world of working wild animals of all kinds in the movies. Many of the characters in Almost Human are drawn from that world—a world of movies, circuses, rodeos, carnivals and so on.
My work in education was the bases of chapter 2. I have taught at colleges and universities. Dr. Turner’s lecturer style is very much like mine, or is it the other way around? J
Also, I’ve spent a lot of time on the oceans of the world. Chapter 1 is based on a storm I experienced sailing off the coast of California many years ago. I greatly respect the power of the sea.
Also, I served in the US Army assigned to Military Intelligence (MI) during Vietnam War. Much of my experience in that world served as the foundation for some of the scenarios and characters in the later part of the book.
Kev: What challenges did you face while writing the story?
KLD: For me, it’s plot. I get so wrapped up in the scene and characters I have to remind myself that the story needs to move on!
Kathryn Lynn Davis gave me some quality advice when I was struggling to move this novel to an ending. WRITE THE ENDING FIRST. If I hadn’t done that, I think I might still be writing this book. At least this worked for me. I needed to have a destination to give my plotlines and character arcs direction.
I have written the ending for my sequel, More Than Human, and it has made all the difference in not getting bogged down and blocked. I hope to complete the rough in a few more months.
Kev: Who is the protagonist?
KLD: There are actually several but if I have to choose one, it would be Dr. Ken Turner. There is some of me in that character though amplified. J
Kev: What would you say is the protagonist’s greatest weakness or obstacle and why?
KLD: Ken is very disorganized when it comes to day-to-day life. He often comes to lectures with mismatched shoes. But in his research, he is detailed and organized making him a complete contradiction.
He’s a brilliant scientist and expert in primate communication. He has great courage derived from working large and powerful chimpanzees. He is a true Renaissance man. He has great mental and physical strength. He’s clever.
He is an ethical man and will not compromise doing what is right. He is highly devoted to the animals under his charge and will do anything to protect them.
However, he is naive and clueless when it comes to the politics of the University and grants. Because of this, he completely under estimates his adversaries.
Kev: What would you say is the main antagonist’s greatest strength?
KLD: Deter Vanduesen is a chameleon. He is comfortable in both the worlds of the international intelligence community and the criminal underworld. He lacks all scruples. He is ruthless and will stop at nothing to follow his orders but is always alert to how he can personally profit from being in the middle.
He is a master at getting others to do his dirty work. Simply, he is used to getting his own way by using intimidation and force.
Kev: Could you provide a short passage from your book to give us a taster?
KLD: Sure. Here’s the beginning of Almost Human.
Chapter 1 – Somewhere off the coast of Equatorial Africa, 1938
Malice brewed far out in the Southern Atlantic, where two winds met from different quarters of the world. At first, they stalked each other, blowing blasts between calms as they circled. But in the dying embers of sunset in the empty spaces of the Equator, they combined with a force that turned the calm tropical seas of summer into a caldron of froth and fury. A storm was gathering. It brooded alone for a while, gathering its force until it sent out the first signals of doom at dawn with steep running swells that raced out from the eye. They grew in force with each mile, forming giant walls of death that caught the shipping lanes asleep.
The captain and crew of the small Soviet cargo ship, Orion, labored up huge, frothing walls. A dark sky poured thundering falls rendering chaos upon her wooden decks in what seemed an attempt to clean her of all life. Her once sanded and swabbed decks were now strewn with knotted and tangled wreckage…..
Kev: Do you use some kind of formula when you write?
KLD: For me it is really pretty simple, writers write, no matter what. Write every day. Write at least three pages a day. Many days that will be a struggle, then there will be those golden days when it just flows and three pages can grow into twenty or more.
Get the story down. Don’t let the attempt to get it perfect interrupt your flow. Expand and fill it in later.
Writing is magical. You start with an idea and begin the process of getting it on paper and at one point it takes on a life of its own. It has been my experience that on good days, a story will write itself.
So more specifically, when I get an idea, I go into a kind of gathering stage. I pull from what I know and have lived, mostly.
I block out a rough outline on paper, and then, I think about the idea and storyline on two wheels. Mainly, I do this on long tours on my bicycle. I mean riding from San Francisco to LA type tours. I get into a rhythm of riding, camping and riding, and let the story unfold.
Later, when I’ve created the world and its characters, I fill it in while riding my motorcycle. My wife, Tammy, and I camp while touring on both our bicycles and motos, so we talk about the characters and stories during our travels especially around the campfire and/or at rest stops. Tammy keeps me grounded and on track with my work and life in general. She is that reader you write to while you’re working.
Fortunately, Tammy rides her own moto and bicycle so I’m left on my own as we travel to let the characters act out what they have to tell me.
When I begin writing, I do that in my office at home in the mountains or on my patio at our place in Mexico. Most of Almost Human was written in Mexico.
When it comes to pacing, my formula is to write longer, establishing chapters and, then, shorter ones as the action picks up. I believe this accentuates the pace.
Kev: Preference for writing: Day or Night?
KLD: When I’m at our place in Mexico, I get up early and have breakfast then ride my bicycle for about an hour along the malecón taking in the beauty of the Pacific and breathing in the sea air. After a good ride, I come back to write.
At our place in the mountains, I write in the evening, when most of our community is asleep. I like the quiet of the wee hours. There are less distractions to interrupt the story when the characters come to visit.
A little of my homemade moonshine and homebrew lubricates my creativity. Actually, I keep it on hand in both places. J
Kev: What is your editing process?
KLD: Before you do serious editing, let your work rest for a while before revisiting it. Like good whiskey, it needs to age to give up its subtleties.
Have at least one trusted colleague read your work for content and meaning and another to proofread. The two processes are very different.
It’s rare that would be the same person, as I believe it takes dominance in two different domains of the brain to be good at one or the other. Definitely, I’m NOT a proof reader!
I made the mistake of not understanding this difference on the first edition of this book. It came out with errors. It was as though my baby had been born with defects, defects I could have prevented. The second edition is corrected. I love my baby now!
Make a list of your spelling and grammatical weaknesses and slowly proof read for those and other errors, separate from content and storyline, before you hand the work off.
Kev: Who creates your book covers?
Casey Whitesell, period! Casey is amazing. After turning down several cover proofs from my publisher, I was very frustrated. I shared this with my friend Casey. She reminded me that she was a graphic artist and offered to give it a go.
I showed her a photograph of a chimp I had trained years ago, Oliver, who had been the inspiration of this book. I described how I wanted the cover dark and sinister that the eyes were especially important. She created the perfect cover with little drama or fanfare. The publisher loved the cover and recommended it over their in house art department.
Many readers have told me that Casey’s cover was what intrigued them enough to take the plunge and try my book.
Kev: How do you promote your work?
KLD: I would say book signings and social media are my main promotions. I had no idea what you were supposed to do at a book signing and stressed over my first one. I had never attended one in my life!
My first one was at a winery, Del Rio, in Gold Hill, Oregon. It was a beautiful setting. Fortunately, I was asked what inspired me to write the book. So I gave the backstory of the book. That went on for a while and then I opened it to Q/A. Questions ranged from details of the book, to training wild animals in the movies, to the craft of writing. We were there a good three hours. So this has become my formula now. Oh, I got a lot of free glasses of a very good Merlot as well! J
Book Signings are very important, not so much to sell books directly, but to make a personal connection with your readers and build a buzz; a word of mouth to capture new readers. Your readers bring friends and tell friends about your work. You know a signing is going well when people begin twitting their friends to come join them.
Now that my book has been selling for a while, I plan to go with an e-book/Kindle edition. I have been advised that it is an excellent format to attract new readers who are willing to try a new novelist when the financial risk it less.
Kev: What advice would you offer to new authors?
KLD: A few things are important I think. Live life by being open to as many different experiences and people as possible. That is your fodder for storytelling and writing. Oh, and tell lots of stories, orally. That will perfect your narrative. Plus, it’s just fun.
A professor of mine in graduate school, Dr. John F. Goins, gave me some insightful advice for preparing for my orals in anthropology. Try to answer the question of why there is the concept of a real and unreal world in all cultures throughout time. And, way do cultures feel compelled to tell stories about those worlds. While I may not have answered this yet, I tell stories and write them down.
Write. Don’t write for the “rich and famous” contract. Write to understand who you are and to make sense of things. Tell stories and write them down. Writers, write.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Surround yourself with interesting people especially other writers who are writing, not talking about writing, but writing.
And finally, read. Read widely across many genres. Read for the writer’s voice, the strengths and weakness of narration, character development, plot, etc. In my opinion, good writers are hungry readers. That said, one caution is to be careful about reading something too close to what you’re writing at the time as it can hijack your voice.
Kev: Which two social media platforms do you use the most and why?
KLD: While I use several, Facebook and my blog, Baja MotoQuest!, are my anchors. I use these two mostly because of the number of established followers I have developed over the years. I plan to reach out to others like Google soon.
Kev: Do you have a website?
KLD: Yes. It is my blog. Lately, my book has hijacked my discussions of adventuring in Baja and given me the opportunity to write about this book and the craft of writing in general. As I mentioned, it is called http://bajamotoquest.com
Kev: Is there anything else you would like to add?
KLD: Thanks so much for this thoughtful interview, Kev. I enjoy you blog and am honored that you have included me with so many illustrious authors including yourself.
If any of your followers would like to get to know me, and my work better, I invite them to visit my blog, Baja MotoQuest!
Oh, and for anyone out there considering if they should take the plunge and start writing a novel. I would say it is time to start. Forget your doubts, turn the TV off and tell a story and write it down. Writers write!