Thursday, January 5, 2012

An interview with Christopher Kokoski, Author of Past Lives

Format: Print
ISBN: 978-1-61318-109-6
Size: 272 pages
Price: $15.95

Secrets: Plunged into the center of a high-profile murder investigation, Eric Shooter discovers under hypnosis that he is a reincarnated serial killer. The only way to clear his name is to track down the most elusive and cunning predator in history, a methodical assassin with whom he shares a shocking connection.

Mystery: If he fails, he is doomed to repeat the endless cycle of death and rebirth, placing thousands of innocent lives in danger. As the mounting darkness within him threatens to destroy everything and everyone he loves, as the real killer closes in, Eric is forced to confront an ageless and unimaginable evil. As past and present lives collide, Eric must catch the serial killer to prove his innocence, and alter his destiny to save it.

Who is Christopher Kokoski?

Christopher was born in Kansas, the son of an Army Ranger and Black Hawk pilot. He grew up in Kentucky and Germany, and graduated from Murray State University in 2002 with a degree in Organizational Communication. He spent the next three years laboring over his first book, Past Lives, while marrying his college sweetheart, having a beautiful daughter, and more or less finding his stride in life.

He currently lives in Southern Indiana and works in Louisville, Kentucky as a national trainer. He has presented at local and national conferences on a wide spectrum of topics including communication, body language, cultural sensitivity and influence. Other notable activities include writing articles, short stories, novels and training materials for national and international audiences.

On with the interview!

What inspired you to write Past Lives?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a vivid and active imagination. Strangely, when I was growing up, I hated to read. 'Loathed' is probably a better word to describe my almost clinical aversion of reading. Then came my 8th grade year in middle school and the dark summer that followed. Like most people, I’ve experienced my share of trouble in my life, but that year of school and those few months in the summer were by far the worst times of my life to date. I credit God for getting me through it alive. It was during that summer that I started to write a story, “The Temple of Gold,” I think I called it. It was about the leader of a band of travelers who had to choose between sacrificing untold universes of people or his closest, most loyal friends. I only made it to about page 100 and I never finished the story. I still like the premise, but I’m sure the writing was horrendous. Still, the therapeutic nature of creative writing healed something in me that summer. I guess I discovered the power of stories, and so I wrote my first novel with the hope of healing both myself and others.

Of course, I also love to write, create, and shape words and ideas on the page. I get a kick out of a scene coming together or a fresh new metaphor.  

As for my first finished novel, Past Lives, which is now also the first book in a series, the inspiration came from several sources. The novel (and the series) is about a man who discovers under hypnosis that he is a reincarnated serial killer. I have always been fascinated with hypnosis. There are so many wonderful applications of it. There are also dark and troubling ways it can and is used to manipulate individuals and groups of people.  

One of the uses of hypnosis is past life regressions, or mentally uncovering someone’s past lives. This application of hypnosis, quite understandably, is shrouded in controversy. Personally, I don’t believe in it, but I do find the idea interesting. Most people (in the U.S.) who undergo past life regressions discover that they were famous, beautiful, or someone heroic in the past. I wondered what might happen if a person found out they were something terrible, even something as horrible as a serial killer. How would that affect their lives and relationships? What would they do about it? What could they do about it? It has always been questions like these that have lead me to write my stories, questions that baffle and intrigue me. I hope that makes my stories more thrilling to read.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

The story takes place in and around the Louisville, KY and Southern Indiana area where I live, so the setting is based on my personal experience. The characters are all made up, but I 'borrow' traits from real people. I think we all struggle with darkness in our pasts (or our present), so the struggle to overcome the past is real for me, as I hope it will be for readers.

What books have most influenced your life most?

There are so many. I’m a big fan of Dean Koontz, and his poetic use of language surely has influenced my own style. I read voraciously now, therefore, I’m always trying to learn and hone my craft.  
Probably one of the most influential books has been the classic story, To Kill a Mockingbird. Forced to read it for school, I credit the book for my discovery that stories could be fun and entertaining. I think that one discovery opened the door for more reading, and eventually blossomed into my near-addiction to stories today.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Dean Koontz. Although I have found several other writers since who tell great stories and write with beautiful language, he was the first one I discovered. I don’t like all of his books and there are elements of some of his stories that I don’t prefer, but I still think he is a great writer. I have learned much from reading and analyzing his descriptions, dialogue, character arc, etc.

What book are you reading now?

I’m reading Agent X the follow up to The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd. It is a good read, but I enjoyed the first book more than this one. The last book I read was Knowledge of Good and Evil by Glenn Kleier. He is a local, Louisville bestselling author and I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the writing. I highly recommend you get a copy!

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

I really liked Noah Boyd’s first novel, The Bricklayer. Glenn Kleier is not a new author, but he was new to me! I also think Selina Fugate’s YA novel, The Veil is a good read.

What are your current projects?

My second novel, Dark Halo, which unrelated to the Past Lives series, should be coming out sometime in 2012. I’m currently finishing up the sequel to Past Lives. After that, I plan to get back to a standalone novel that I’m very excited about since it centers on a former Army Ranger and Black Hawk pilot ( not so coincidentally, my Dad is also former Ranger and Black Hawk pilot).

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Ted Strader, who is the Executive Director of an agency called COPES in Louisville, KY. Along with family and friends, he thoroughly edited the story and gave me good feedback which I think made the book a better read. He has been both a great friend and supporter of my writing.

Do you see writing as a career?

Yes, as both career and calling. It is hard work, but I love the process (Okay, most of it!). Like most other careers, I think writing takes dedication, craft, time, effort, motivation, love, sweat, support, and more.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

My writing style has changed overtime, so I might insert a bit more description here and there, hopefully embellishing and not interrupting the storyline.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, my writing originated from an overactive imagination and a very human desire to find light and healing in a dark period of my life.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Currently, I’m writing the sequel to Past Lives, which continues the story about Eric Shooter trying to deal with and overcome the reality of his past life as one of history’s worst serial killer. He also has some friends to help (and hurt) him along the way, but I don’t want to give away too much! I will say that it takes place a year after the end of the last novel, and the technology is more updated than the first book. Really, who uses a tape recorder anymore!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Yes. Keeping track of all the details, like time of day in different scenes, eye color, and other little things that have a way of destroying story credibility. I find most elements of writing difficult in one way or the other, and only by sheer determination do I revise, revise, revise until I’m satisfied.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Probably Dean Koontz, although I really enjoy several others. What is most striking to me is his poetic and wonderful use of language. His descriptions sometimes blow me away. I also love how he tends to focus on emotions and noble character.

Do you have to travel much concerning your book?

Only to promote it! 

Who designed the cover?

My wife, Kristi, and I spent hours and hours scouring the Internet for a good cover image. She is and has always been my biggest fan and supporter. My publisher, Dave Mattingly of BlackWyrm, took the image and made it into the cover of the book.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

It was my first novel, so everything was hard: the description, dialogue, characters, action, story arc…Probably the hardest parts were writing the violent scenes where 'innocent' victims were hurt or killed.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

The most important thing I learned was that I could actually write a novel-length book. That kind of confidence is indispensable for a writer.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read as many “how to" writing books you can get your hands on. Read and read and read. Write and write and write. The advice to read and write a lot sounded trite to me when I first starting writing seriously about 10 years ago. After actually doing it all these years, I now realize the power and subtle magic of how the process works. Do whatever else you want as a write, but do this first. It takes time, patience, and love of storytelling. Everything else will come in time.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you and God bless you! Please keep reading.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?  

I’ve studied hypnosis for years, so I was ahead of the learning curve research-wise. The biggest challenge for me was persisting to the end, especially draft after draft after draft of revisions. From start to finish, this first book took me over 8 years.

What genre do you consider your book?

I’d say paranormal suspense. So far, all my book include elements of both genres, maybe with a little mystery and action-adventure thrown in for good measure.

Do you ever experience writer's block?

I haven’t in years. My problem is writer’s deluge! I have too many ideas fighting for focus and attention, too much too write and not enough time to get everything down. I probably have about six to eight story ideas germinating and waiting for their turn on the page.

Do you write an outline before every book you write?

First book – Yes
Second book – No
Third book – Yes, but it was a pretty loose outline with lots of room for my imagination to run wild. I like structure with options.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Yes. Many times. By the time I’ve finished most projects, I’ve loved it, hated it, thought it a bestseller and complete rubbish worthy of only the trash heap. Only blind faith keeps me from chucking most stories out the window at some point in the process. I stick with it and the urge passes. Eventually.

What is your favorite theme/genre to write about? 

Just thinking about my four novels (two finished and two in progress), a common theme seems to revolve around broken families finding wholeness. I believe in hope and second chances and faith and family. I want my stories to relay this sense of wonder and magic and optimism about the world.

If you would like to read more from Christopher's interview, click here.

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