Tonight I am delighted to present an interview with fellow blogger and debut author Ken Decroo, of Baja MotoQuest.
- What is your book about?
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. Doctors 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. Can they stop the murderous onslaught in time?
- How did you come up with it?
I was working as the technical adviser and chimp trainer on a movie that starred Karen Allen and Armand Assante. One evening we were out relaxing after a long day of filming on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After a few drinks Armand commented on how human-like my chimp, Mike seemed. I put on my university professor hat and began pontificating on all the traits we humans shared with chimps including my work as a linguistic research assistant on a project in Reno that had successfully taught chimps to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL) as used by the deaf.
That evening after the bar closed I went home and wrote the second chapter where Dr. Turner is lecturing about the similarities and differences of chimpanzees in a University lecture hall at the University of Nevada, Reno. I had worked there on the signing chimp project. I wrote that chapter in about 1984 or so, on an old Royal typewriter. Just before dawn, as I finished writing, Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” played on the radio. I put another page in and wrote the first chapter before going to work.
- How much experience have you had with the subject area?
My dissertation investigated the socio-linguistic aspects of American Sign Language (ASL) as used by the deaf. After I finished my advanced studies at the University, I worked on the Washoe Project at the University of Nevada, Reno where we taught ASL to chimpanzees. I was a linguistic research assistant on that project. When I left that project, I worked as a technical advisor, stuntman and wild animal trainer in the motion picture industry for many years. I later opened the Wild Animal Training Center (WATC). We had over 500 wild animals that we provided to the motion picture industry. We were one of the largest for many years. Our motto was “From ants to elephants.” I specialized in great apes, chimps and orang-u-tans, big cats, reptiles.
- How long did it take to write?
I started the book way back in 1984 on the movie I mentioned. I wrote off and on for years. Finally, about six years ago I decided to get serious and took a university writers’ workshop. At the end of that workshop, I was invited to a special writers’ group lead by a bestselling author. Many of the participants were published writers and pulled no punches. You had to have thick skin in that group but I grew as writer and my book became a novel.
- What genre would you say it is?
Almost Human is an action, adventure – thriller in a Michael Crichton sort of way.
- How hard was it to get writing?
Writing a novel takes discipline and a belief that you can go the distance. It’s a lonely and arduous endeavor that you just don’t do in a committee. The rub is that it’s something you just have to do but often procrastinate because it is really difficult to do correctly.
- What advice would you give unpublished and/or aspiring writers?
I was at my home in Baja recently and met a reader who told me he was writing a book. He paused and continued by lamenting that he had been writing it for many years and it was not anywhere near completed. I’ve met many writers who are in this same predicament. They’re writing or “gathering” but not any closer to finishing their book–their dream. Believe me I sympathize. I was in the same situation from many years.
Here are a few strategies I’ve learned from writing Almost Human.
Write the ending. I had been writing this book for years and my novel just kept growing. My editor and teacher, Kathryn Lynn Davis, after reading several chapters asked me, “How does the novel end?” When I couldn’t answer, she gave me the single most important piece of advice that helped me finish my book! “Don’t send me another chapter until you’ve written the ending.” Now, it took me several attempts and chapters to accomplish this but once I did, I had a road map to line up my plot development and character arcs. So, after many years of writing on and off, I finished the novel in the next six months! While this may not work for every novelist, it worked for me.
I set myself a goal to write three pages a day no matter what. Very often, on a particularly productive day, those three pages flowed and grew to twenty or more. But most importantly, I wrote every day because that’s what we do, writers-write!
I did very little editing as I wrote. I didn’t try to get my narrative perfect at the expense of the flow. I wrote with the idea of filling it in later, sometimes as a warm up before my three pages.
As I mentioned before, I was fortunate to be invited to join a writers’ group that included several published authors led by a creative and insightful author-leader. The feedback and advice on how to improve as a writer and navigate the publishing world was priceless. Just make sure it is a good group that truly critiques your work–no matter how painful. The goal is to become a better writer not participate in a mutual admiration support group. These writers were honest, skilled and sometimes brutally blunt. I am very grateful.
And finally, I’m dedicated to live a life worth writing about. This can be referred to as “gathering” or “research,” I guess. But I call it just having fun living life’s adventure. I feel drawing from our experiences makes our work ring true and gives it credibility.
I know that while this worked for me and certainly is not exhaustive, it may not work for every writer.
Oh, it helps to have a world class, New York Times Bestselling author as your editor. Thank you Kathryn Lynn Davis!
- What did you learn most/surprised by in the process?
It is an amazing experience to have your work out there being read by people all over the world. When I get emails or meet people at book signings who have read and enjoyed Almost Human, I have the feeling of a proud parent, which was unexpected. Sometimes, it is a feeling so intense that I’m at a loss for words, which is very rare for me.
- What would surprise readers about you?
I’m not sure…. Maybe, that I’m 68 years old and still ride my big, BMW R1200 GSA, adventure motorcycle down dusty trails in Baja searching for beaches without names. I’ve never done that mature, growing up thing well.
- What have you got planned next?
The sequel, More Than Human, will be out in early Fall 2015 if all goes well. I’m well into it and certain that it will not take as long as Almost Human did!
- Anything I’ve missed out that you want to mention
Yes. If I’ve learned anything, it is to live life’s adventure with gusto and write about it because at the end of the day that what we do. Writers – write.
Ken Decroo is a blogger, biker and author. Ken blogs about the writing experience, anecdotes from Baja, recipes, and much more at his brilliant and fascinating blog, Baja MotoQuest. His first novel, Almost Human can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and autographed copies are available on request from his blog, along with information on readings and appearances.