Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kris Neri for Authors @ The Teague

My most recent holiday treat was the opportunity to host Kris Neri, author of Magical Alienation, for the last Authors @ The Teague program of 2011. Kris is the author of Magical mystery series, and the Tracy Eaton mysteries. She has published over sixty short stories, winning the Derringer Award twice. Neri is also co-owner of The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona.

Kris started out by telling the audience that her Magical series features psychic Samantha Brennan and Celtic goddess FBI agent Annabelle Haggerty. Samantha was a fake who wanted to be a psychic. In the first book in the series, High Crimes on the Magical Plane, she witnessed a kidnapping. Since she saw it happen, she thought if she told the police that she predicted it, and then it turned out the kidnapping had occurred, she would be credited as a psychic. When she finally started having visions, it scared the heck out of her. She was feeling emotions from other people. When Samantha met Annabelle, she thought she was just a stodgy FBI agent. But, the visions came from Annabelle. Annabelle Haggerty is a modern descendant of ancient gods. Each woman is the other’s polar opposite.

When Neri wrote this book, she wanted to address the subject of people in our lives. Are the people in our life there because we need them, or are they people we want? The goddess and the flake have something to teach each other. They make a good team.

In High Crimes on the Magical Plane, Samantha does meet and fall in love with Annabelle’s cousin, Angus. He’s the ancient Celtic god of youth and love and laughter. He’s immortal, and he’s hot, and he becomes her love slave.

Neri's latest book, Magical Alienation, takes place some months later. Samantha's relationship with Angus is on the rocks because he had a fling with a mermaid. But, her career is on the upswing, due to the publicity from her earlier experiences. She's now the personal psychic for an aging rocker, Rand Riker. She comes to Arizona with Rand.

There's a militia leader on trial in Phoenix for trying to kill a senator. Someone else was killed instead. Rand, who was a rebel, is holding a benefit concert for the man who tried to kill the senator. At first, Samantha and Annabelle find themselves on opposite sides of the issue. Annabelle is on the security detail for the senator. But, the judge sends everyone involved to Sedona, and while they're on their way, the defendant's militia pals takes the convoy hostage. At the same time, an army convoy is intercepted by the militia, and taken hostage as well. However that army convoy was transporting a prisoner the government has held for sixty years, the being that was caught in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. 
A magical twist and the captured convoys puts Samantha and Annabelle on the same side. A lot of craziness ensues. The rest of the story takes place is Sedona.

To summarize the book, Kris Neri read from the back cover of Magical Alienation. "A spaceship crash in Roswell...a rumored alien...the mysterious Area 51...a harmonic convergence in Sedona. No connection, right? With its rock stars and shape shifters, gods and haunting militia leaders - Magical Alienation will turn what you think you know upside down."

Neri said what she likes about writing magical mysteries is the opportunity to start out on an ordinary plane, such as domestic terrorism. Then she goes somewhere else, with twists and turns. She so loves writing these mysteries, and writing about the beings she gets to create. In the latest book, she added more gods and goddesses. Annabelle's mother, Fiona, appeared in the earlier book, but now she's seen as a woman, as a whole person. She proves that she's not as good a liar as a goddess should be.

Kris was able to create some other gods and goddesses. The Celts had an oral tradition. So, there is only a line or two describing the gods. Neri gave trickster gods shape shifting abilities. She took real happenings and assigned them a cause. They happened because of the tricksters.

Neri was able to create other beings. You can't live in Sedona or Arizona and not think of rocks. Kris created a harmonic convergence in the book, but she wanted to do more with rocks. Some native cultures believe everything on earth has consciousness, even rocks. So, Neri decided to make rocks into actual beings. What would they look like, and how would they function? The rock people are shape-shifters, and they're not really benevolent. Fiction is about conflict. So, the goals and desires of the rock people citizens and their leader, a monarch, conflict. It's great fun. The rock people are unpredictable, and have great powers. But, Kris is now afraid of rocks. She said there's a price to pay for everything.

Kris told us this is the most fun series she's ever written. It includes Roswell and an alien. That urban legend always interested her. Authors ask themselves the question, "What if?"

Neri's characters had new starting points in this book. She got to bring out more in each character. That's the advantage of a series. The characters can grow, and relationships grow. Samantha and Annabelle got closer in some ways, but they still irritate each other.

After Kris read the opening of Magical Alienation, a section told by the alien, she fielded questions. Asked if she had tips for someone who wants to write, she told the young woman to keep writing. She quoted Ray Bradbury as saying you throw out the first million words. It takes longer to get good than people think. Write short stories. Write pages in a journal. Read. Absorb as much as you can. Writers read a lot. Take a class. Read a book on writing.

So, I followed up that question by asking how Kris got started. She said she waded into writing slowly. She wrote nonfiction first. Her husband asked her to write an article for a magazine. It was published, and she was paid (which is important!), but her name didn't appear on it. Kris wanted her name on future articles. Neri said is easier to write nonfiction articles, and get them published. Although there are fewer magazines, they still need to fill them monthly. She sold lots of nonfiction articles.

But, fiction lured her. Neri was used to a short length, so it was easy to go from the article process to short stories. There are lots of outlets for short stories, but not as much money in it as in writing nonfiction articles. 

Tracy Eaton, the daughter of a Hollywood star, first appeared in a short story in an anthology. That story won a Derringer for best short story. People told her she need to put that character in a novel. Tracy Eaton became the protagonist in Revenge of the Gypsy Queen, Neri's first book. It went on to receive three major award nominations. That was Kris' first published book. She does have an earlier one in that proverbial drawer that won't be published. She feels she becomes a better novelist with each novel. With that first book, she was primarily a short story writer learning to write a novel. Revenge is really in short story format. But, writing is a learning process. A novel is about a journey. Short stories are about the destination, and endings have more impact. A novel is really a satisfying journey for us and the characters. Twisted endings are more common in short stories.

Kris said she likes making up people, writing their stories and adventures. Asked about her
writing style, she said there are as many ways to write as people who write. If she comes up with an idea with a twisted ending, she thinks she has the idea for a short story.

Neri does always know the ending of her novels. She can see the last scene. She knows her characters and the set-up. She calls some of her scenes "Beacons in the darkness." She sees the scenes, but doesn't know how to connect them. She writes to those scenes. She doesn't outline.

Asked about the fact that she gave voice to the alien from Roswell, Kris said she imagined him, and could hear his voice. She could hear his language, more formal, a little antiquated. She wanted people to understand his playfulness.

How did she come up with the title? She wanted to use "magic" or "magical" in all of the titles. She likes long titles, and most of hers are lengthy. But Magical Alienation just popped into her head. She likes words with more than one meaning, and alienation has more than one meaning in the book. She knew the title of this one long before she knew the rest of the book. She doesn't always know the titles from the start of the book.

How much research does she do? Kris thinks doing research too much in advance is a mistake. She does what she thinks she needs. If she's writing and needs something short and quick, she'll look it up while she's writing. If she needs extensive research, she might put xxx, and then look it up later. The amount of research varies by book. Some take considerable research, but none of Neri's characters actually exist. She does need to know how the FBI functions, though, and how a trial functions. For this book, she had to know about the federal courthouse in Phoenix. And, if you've been writing long enough, you compile knowledge.

Kris just handed in the next book in the Tracy Eaton series, Revenge on Route 66. It includes real and fake places along Route 66 because she likes it. There are fake places, because some of the crimes occur there.

Another author in the audience, Chantelle Aimée Osman, mentioned that a recent episode of Brad Meltzer's Decoded was about Area 51. The team interviewed the son of Lear, of Lear jets, about his father's observations there. When Neri said she didn't want to research Area 51 much because there was something eerie about it, and no one knows much about it. Osman said a car did chase Brad Meltzer's team away from the area.

One question was about the secondary characters in Magical Alienation. Does Kris have favorites? She said Fiona, Annabelle's mother, is a favorite. She also likes Senator Campbell, but he has some growing up to do. Kris told us you can't spend a year with those people without having some feelings for them, even the bad ones.

Following the comment that Kris' dog is an excellent reader, she told us the story behind the comment. Her husband writes a newsletter for their bookstore that tells what they're reading. He started out assigning books to their dog and cat, saying what Annabelle and Philly are reading. He thought he'd see if people were actually reading the newsletter. (They are.) So, the cat and dog read a book a week.

The final question was an appropriate ending. What is the name of Kris Neri's bookstore in Sedona? The Well Red Coyote.

Magical Alienation by Kris Neri. Red Coyote Press. ©2011. ISBN 9780976673316 (paperback), 228p.

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