Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?
Two of my favorite things growing up were comic books and scary stories. I read Stephen King starting around the time I was thirteen or fourteen, back in 1979 or 1980. Maybe a little earlier. And I'd thrived on comic books before that. My father kind of introduced me to them when I was sick in the hospital with pneumonia. I needed reading material, and the place he went to get cigarettes also sold comic books, a book and tobacco store in Austin, MN, that closed down a few years ago, called Nemitz's.
I had two bad bouts of pneumonia when I was a kid. One was in 1977, when the original Star Wars was released. I remember that because one of the comic books he bought me was the adaptation of the movie.
And then the first time was at least a couple years before that. I know because I was already reading comics regularly when Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man came out in 1976. Both times, it was winter and I missed like two weeks of school. Comic books helped me get through all those inhaler sessions where you end up coughing a lot to clear your lungs of the bad stuff.
Anyway, comic books and scary stories were two passions of mine from a very young age, and SHADA is the starting point of a series of novels that will contain elements of both those interests.
What is it about the paranormal, in particular ghosts, that fascinates you so much?
I find the concept of ghosts fascinating because of the hint it drops of a life that follows this one. I won't go into matters of personal faith, but the idea that this life isn't the end is one thing you can take away from any ghost story. It affirms that hope for life after death.
Not to say sitting around for eternity, unable for the most part to communicate with the living is anyone's idea of a good time. But as those Ghost Hunters t-shirts say, Ghosts were people, too!
Plus, of all the paranormal creatures there are out there, ghosts just seem like the most plausible, the easiest suspension of disbelief. After all, who doesn't get a little freaked out in a place where someone died, or walking through a graveyard at night? Most of us are too freaked out to even attempt a nighttime graveyard walk. And for good reason; it is freaky.
What inspired you to write this book?
I'm actually drawing on a lot of personal experiences, though I change a lot of details to make it Ember's story and not my own.
For example, I had an elderly relative who would come to visit when I was young, who could wiggle his ears. Very few people can do that, and at the right age, it seems like the coolest thing in the world.
Also, my grandmother had a boyfriend who we sometimes called grandpa at a young age, and he died in a car accident after a visit to her, also.
Third, my grandmother had both Alzheimer's and dementia when I was younger, so I know something about that. My father, who lives with my wife and me, has both of those things, too, now.
And finally, when I was close to the age of Ember and Shada, I also experimented around with séances. I have a great blog about that up on Craig-Hansen.com, actually, so I won't recount that again here, but those are four elements from the book that are drawn from similar events in my own life. The details are very different, but the inspiration was drawn from those experiences.
Please tell us about your latest release.
SHADA is a paranormal suspense novel and, basically, a bit of a ghost story. It's a fun read but has some depth to it as well because of some of the themes I brush on. On one level, it's a very serious tale about dealing with loss. On another, it’s a summer adventure tale about four girls going on a spooky camping trip in the woods. And on yet another level, it's a novel with a sense of humor and fun; the opening chapter, for example, has some witty dialog, while other chapters have some nice situational humor.
So there's something for everyone, and while it may not be brimming with vampires and werewolves and witches, it is a haunted and, also, a haunting, story.
Finally, it's the lead entry in a paranormal suspense series featuring Ember Cole, who we are first introduced to in SHADA. So while some fans of hardcore paranormal fiction might consider this entry tame, the supernatural elements will ramp up in future installments.
Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?
I do a little of all that, and more. Ember Cole, for example, was originally conceived as a comic book character with fire-based powers. So her name is believable but directly ties into her ultimate identity. The whole Cole clan was fun to name, actually. You have the maternal grandmother, Char. There's her mom, Bernice, who is usually called Bernie. And if I ever introduce her father into the storyline, his name will probably be Blake, but his nickname will be Blackie. So, yeah, a lot of fun playing off fire-based powers and the family names.
SHADA refers to a supporting cast member, but our narrator for this book, Shada Emery. Shada, pronounced shay-dah, is a name I found while looking through a list of names that were Native American. It might have even been a list of Lakota names. I loved it on first sight, too, because I'm a long-time Doctor Who fan, and "Shada" was the name of an unfinished six-part Tom Baker WHO story that was never finished due to a writer's strike or something. The writer behind the episodes was Douglas Adams, who went on to write all the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books. So the chance to not only give this character a genuine Native American name, but also pay tribute to Douglas Adams at the same time, was irresistible. Emery is just a surname I know from my time up in northwestern Wisconsin. It fit well with Shada as a first name, so I used it.
I could go on and on, but yeah, for important characters, each name has a bit of a story behind it.
Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?
Well, I'm a male writer in his mid-forties, writing about young teenage girls. So it's all challenging, to one degree or another. I think the hardest character to nail down was Willow. She's the brainiac outcast of the group, not many friends, a bit withdrawn, but quite smart if you can get to know her … but she might not let you.
In a way, she's a female version of me in middle school; I can relate to Willow's struggles to relate to and get along with kids her own age, because she's operating on a level way above her peers intellectually, but she often just doesn't have social skills, so in some ways she can seem stupid or unsophisticated. That's fun, but it's hard to get right.
Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?
Ember is always fun. She'd have to be, since I'm going to be writing several novels featuring her.
But beyond Ember, I guess I'd have to say Shada was the most interesting. Her main task as narrator is to show us Ember, Jeni and Willow, so in early drafts her own life didn't really emerge because I was using her more as a plot device to show readers everyone else.
However, as the novel progressed, I added more about who she was, more of her life and what makes her tick, and I think I ended up with a good balance by the time I let SHADA out into the world.
I quite like Shada Emery, and I have big plans for her to return at some point in the future, in a very different capacity. So I had to be careful to only reveal enough to make people care about her, but not so much that I ruin any of the stuff that's coming a few novels down the line.
Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?
For me, there are a lot of steps in getting to know my characters, and it's a never-ending process. I begin when I get the novel idea; I start casting my novel by coming up with characters, ideas for characters, names for them. Naming is a big thing for me, it helps me form an idea of their personality.
For example, if I name someone Peter or Richard, I automatically know they had to endure a ton of penile jokes in their early years, and I start to wonder how that affected them. Not just anyone in general, but how they responded to it. Were they the type to confront their bullies, or run away, or avoid entirely?
Sometimes I'll have a great concept for a character and he or she will come together quickly. Other times I'll have to let a character sit on the sidelines for years before I feel I know them well enough to tell their story.
Ember, for example, was born out of an idea for a comic book or graphic novel, as I've said. As I was developing that, I laid out a lot of the structure for her and her world. That's when I invented the setting of Hope, Wisconsin and started filling it up with people, places, local lore, and other stuff. Most of my cast for SHADA and EMBER were created then.
But two weren't!
For example, Willow has a very brief role in EMBER, but when I developed SHADA, I took the chance to spend more time with her. And Shada Emery I invented specifically for SHADA, and I had not even conceived of her prior to 2011. Now she's a part of my long-term plans for the Ember Cole series.
What is your favorite scene from the book? Could you share a little bit of it, without spoilers of course?
I can honestly say I have several favorite scenes in the book. One that keeps coming to mind for me, though, is the dinner table scene between Shada and her parents. It's roughly the first time we get to see Shada outside of how she relates to Ember, Jeni, and Willow, and I enjoy the time we spend around their dinner table.
I especially enjoy how her parents handle the news about what the girls are actually up to: a séance in the woods. That's a scene I keep coming back to as one I'm happy with, as it reads.
Did you find anything really interesting while researching this book?
I had to do a lot more research for a brief tome like SHADA than I've had to do for EMBER, and I've been working on that novel for over a year already, minus some interruptions.
I researched both the Lakota and Shoshoni dialects and was able to spice the novel up with some genuine Lakota and Shoshoni dialog, which is all explained so that readers don't get confused or feel left out.
I also had to find someone Willow would look up to, and found William Kirby, the father of the scientific study of insects. It was a nice bit of self-education, but I tried to make it fun for readers at the same time.
So both of those elements were fun research bits I had to do during the writing process for SHADA.
Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in the book/series? How does this world differ from our normal world?
I know this might be disappointing for fans of hardcore paranormal novels, but I'm going for something a little different with SHADA and EMBER and the books that will follow those.
The world of Ember Cole is very much like our own reality, except the paranormal is just a tiny bit more common. In fact, the paranormal is pretty rare and when it does show up, it doesn't show itself to anyone and everyone.
One way I like to get this across is, there are a lot more normal characters in the world of Ember Cole than there are paranormal ones. I think that's where I'm doing something a little bit different with the genre. I'm going for more of a Stephen King approach. The paranormal is mostly hidden from view. And those who witness it are seldom believed.
The Emery family kitchen table scene is a good example of that feel. This is a light-touch paranormal world. There are not vampire boyfriends lurking in every hallway, in other words.
With the book being part of a series, are there any character or story arcs, that readers jumping in somewhere other than the first book, need to be aware of? Can these books be read as stand alones?
SHADA is the first book in the series, so nothing comes before it. Also, I really believe that any book in a series should be open to being read as a standalone novel and fully enjoyed. I want hooks to sink into readers so they're ready for the next installment, but I don't want any of these novels to feel like, "Gee, maybe I'd understand this better if I'd read another installment first."
I fully believe that even when you're writing a series, a good story, well-told, has a beginning, a middle, and a resolution of at least the main conflict or issue driving that novel.
I have long character arcs planned for Ember, Jeni, even Shada and maybe some others, sure. In fact, I have characters who will be the main stars of future novels in other series or stories, who are popping up in minor roles here in SHADA, or will in EMBER. So, long-term readers will get those kinds of Easter eggs to enjoy.
But it won't be at a level that will confuse those who haven't read my other titles yet. At least, it won't be like that if I do my job of writing these things well.
Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?
Does preferring to write during graveyard shift hours count as a quirk?
Do you write in different genres?
I have some straightforward suspense stories for an older audience coming up. I may get to those standalones next year. Further down the line, I'd like to write some mysteries. But the Ember Cole series is going to be a major home base for me as a writer. It's not some tiny trilogy I'll do and then never revisit. I have a lot of stories I can tell with this character.
Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?
Believe it or not, I've been a Messianic rabbi in training for about four years now. I'm still studying, and I don't have a congregation yet, but I'm building toward that day, when I'm not writing. So I love reading the Torah and the New Covenant writings. And I dig History Channel, Discovery Channel, magazines like Biblical Archaeology Review, stuff like that.
Also, I enjoy singing and sometimes I find a restaurant that offers karaoke, which I used to do a lot. You wouldn't guess it to look at me right now, but I can do very well with Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, U2 and such.
What was the last amazing book you read?
It's been NOT WHAT SHE SEEMS by Victorine Lieske for over a year now, ever since I finished it. Amazing book. Fun read.
But I'm about ten percent through UNDER THE DOME right now, so King is giving Ms. Lieske a run for her money, as King's books are a lifelong obsession of mine.
Where is your favorite place to read? Do you have a cozy corner or special reading spot?
In bed, on my Kindle, lights off, with a Mighty Brite illuminating the Kindle but not shining in my eyes. I read until I start drifting off, then stow it away till morning.
What can readers expect next from you?
EMBER is definitely my next project. SHADA is a prequel of sorts, but EMBER is the main event where I get a lot of my pieces on the table and see what I have to play with. It's where Ember Cole's life really starts getting complicated.
Where can readers find you on the web?
I have a blog/website at Craig-Hansen.com. I can be found on Twitter @craigahansen. I have a Facebook fan page, as well. And while it hasn't taken off quite yet, I have an ID on FormSpring, too. Plus I hang out a lot at Kindleboards.
Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?
Sure. Here's something funny from the first chapter….
"IF YOU COULD TALK TO A DEAD PERSON, ANYONE AT ALL, who would it be?"
* snip *
…Once we were all together, Jeni spoke up again. "Okay, so Willow wants to talk with creepy bug dude."
"William Kirby," the youngest girl corrected.
"Fine, whatever," Jeni said. "What about the rest of you? Shada?"
I was silent for a moment, pondering my options. I must have taken too long, because Jeni called my name again.
"I'm thinking!" I protested.
"Well, think faster," Jeni sniped, and then laughed.
"Probably some cool musician type guy," I said. "Mick Jagger, maybe?"
"Pick someone dead," Jeni said.
"Mick Jagger's dead, isn't he?"
The others girls laughed and Ember replied, "Mick Jagger is definitely not dead. Unless it's something you read on the Web before coming here today."
"How's Mick Jagger still alive?" I asked. "He's gotta be, like, older than my grandma, and she died two years ago."
"So, your grandma's dead," Jeni said. "Why not talk to her instead?"
"I didn't like talking to her when she was alive," I said. "She was always grouchy and smelled like stale prunes."
"That's not nice," Ember said.
"It's the truth," I replied. I noticed I was veering close to shore and kicked a few times, using my arms like oars to steer myself back closer to the center of the river. "Anyway, I don't want to talk to her. I'd rather talk to someone famous."
"What about Michael Jackson?" Willow offered. "He'd dead."
"Michael Jackson was gross," I replied. "My dad loves Johnny Cash music. So maybe him."
"That'll work," Jeni agreed. "So we've got Willow down for that bug guy, Kirby, and Shada wants to talk to dead singers. What about you, Embie?"
"Who do you want to talk to?" Ember replied. "It's your question."
"I'll tell you soon enough," Jeni said. "I asked you first."
"Then I pass."
"You can't pass."
"I can if I want to." Ember's voice sounded firm, resolute. "You go."
"God, okay!" Jeni huffed in frustration. "I know who I'd choose anyway. Sacagawea."
"The girl who guided Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean?" I asked.
"That's the one," Jeni said. "She was only like seventeen and pregnant when she did that, and she died when she was, like, only twenty-four or twenty-five."
"Was she Lakota, like you?" Willow asked.
"No," Jeni said. "She was Lemhi Shoshone, but that doesn't matter. She's just someone I admire. So now we know who everyone would like to talk to except you, Embie. Time's up."
Ember stopped floating then and began treading water. "Hey, I can barely see the bridge. We've drifted a long way downstream. We should probably start swimming back."
"Yeah, I'm hungry anyway," Willow said, "and our lunches are back there under the bridge."
"Fine," Jeni conceded. "But you're not off the hook, Ember. I still want your answer."
We all swam hard against the mild current, doing front strokes, and for a few minutes we couldn't talk. But even though she hadn't said anything out loud, all of us knew Ember well enough to know who she'd want to talk to if she could.
He died one year ago.
By Craig Hansen
Book 1 of the Ember Cole series.
Genre: young adult paranormal suspense
Word Count: approximately 32,500 words.
SHADA Book Blurb:
"If you could talk to a dead person, anyone at all, who would it be?"
A year ago, Ember Cole witnessed the death of her grandfather. Now, with her grandmother slipping away into dementia, she seeks answers from the only person who loved her grandmother more than her, even if he is dead: Grandpa Normie.
Joined by three of her closest friends, Ember treks deep into the woods of northwestern Wisconsin, seeking the advice of a dead man on how to save the living. But sometimes, the dead have their own agenda.
Craig Hansen wrote stories from an early age, but when his SF short story, "The S.S. Nova," was published in the Minnesota Writers In the School COMPAS program's 1981 anthology of student writing, When It Grows Up, You Say Goodbye To It, he decided to dedicate himself to writing. Several unpublished novels and short stories followed.
Hansen earned two degrees at Minnesota State University at Mankato under the mentorship of young adult novelist Terry Davis. In the years that followed, Hansen worked a variety of jobs related to writing, including editorial work at a small publishing house, holding a position as a Web site editor, and five years in journalism in northwestern Wisconsin, where he earned several state awards for his writing and editing.
His work has appeared in the Meadowbrook Press anthology, Girls to the Rescue, Book 1, as well as the true crime journal, Ripper Notes, in volume 28.
His first novel, Most Likely, was released in May. Shada is the first installment of the Ember Cole series of young adult paranormal suspense books. Hansen is hard at work on the next installment in the series, the novel-length book, Ember.
Hansen recently moved to Oregon with his wife, a dog, a cat, and his 89-year-old father, a World War II veteran.
Craig's interests include the music of Johnny Cash, reading the novels of other independent authors, blogging, and the study of Messianic theology. On his Web site, you can sign up to receive a periodic email newsletter that will notify you when he releases new novels.
Connect With Craig Online At:
Blog and Web site: www.craig-hansen.com