Author: Terri Blackstock
Cyberspace predators have become parents’ latest nightmare as technology breaks down the walls of privacy for unsuspecting youth. Predator—New York Times bestselling author Terri Blackstock’s latest novel—takes us into this cyber world where a vicious hunter poses as a friend to potential victims. The stalker uses a social network to hunt his next prey.
Terri Blackstock fans will not have long to wait to get their hands on her latest novel. Predator has just been released.
Terri is the award-winning author of Intervention and Double Minds, and has sold six million books worldwide. Terri’s other works include the following series of novels—Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, the SunCoast Chronicles, and the Restoration Series.
This author has been the recipient of many awards recognizing her gift for writing and her every-growing popularity among readers, including the announcement several weeks ago that she is a 2010 Christy Awards finalist for her novel, Intervention. Some of these awards include the 2007 winner of the Christian Retailer’s Award for General Fiction for Nightlight; 2006 Christy Awards finalist for Last Light in the suspense category; 2005 Christy Awards finalist for River’s Edge in the suspense category; 2003 Christy finalist for Covenant Child in the category of allegory. Her 2008 novel, True Light, topped the Top 50 charts for all Christian books the first month of its release. (Visit Terri’s website for more information about her other books and her writing journey).
MARK: Terri, thank you for joining us today. Your latest novel is not for the faint hearted. Tell us a little about the story of Predator and its main character, Krista Carmichael.
TERRI: Thanks for this opportunity to tell everyone about my new book, Mark. I’m really excited about the book, because it’s about the dangers of being careless with our information on the internet. In Predator, Krista Carmichael’s fourteen year old sister is found murdered, and it quickly becomes clear how easy she made it for her killer to stalk her until he had the opportunity to abduct her. Krista decides to use GrapeVyne, my fictitious social network, to create a fake profile. She makes herself bait for the killer, hoping to find him and bring him to justice. But when she manages to get his attention, Krista finds it impossible to control the outcome.
MARK: In this novel, a gap widens between what Krista says she believes about God and her innermost doubts about His love for us. She begins to question why the Almighty would allow pain and suffering to fall upon the innocent. This is a very common question in today’s troubled world, even among those who have put their faith in God. How would you answer this question without giving away Krista’s struggle or her final moment of truth?
TERRI: Krista works in a ministry that helps teen girls in a low income/high crime area. When her sister is murdered, she sort of puts on a mask so the girls will see her as this strong, unwavering Christian. She doesn’t want them to know that she has these questions, and that she’s angry at God for allowing her sister to be murdered. So she has this internal struggle between what she really feels and what she wants people to think she feels. She begins to question whether she belongs in ministry at all. But the fact is, her suffering and her honest questions qualify her even more for ministry, because she can now relate to the girls on a level she couldn’t have imagined before.
I think sometimes I have my characters ask questions that I ask in my own struggles, and I don’t feel like I have to tie up the answers in a nice little package. What I try to show my readers is that God is very complex, and His purposes are complex, and there’s so much that we don’t know about Him. He’s not a three-dimensional God who fits nicely into any human formula. He’s five-, six-, ten-dimensional, and He sees the end from the beginning, and plans the ends and the beginnings. This life is a rehearsal for something that we can’t even fathom. I just want them to explore those questions and challenge what they’ve always expected from God.
MARK: Many readers and writers are avid users of the social networking system—Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and many other sites. And we’ve seen where parents have allowed their children to use this technology to reach out to their friends and to make new friends. Did you come across any surprises about this technology as you researched the subject? Any advice for parents trying to protect their children against the perils of social networking and online invasion of privacy?
TERRI: When I was researching the book, I was stunned at all the articles I came across about people who were dead or missing, or women who’d been stalked and raped, because of relationships they forged online. Or they gave too much information, and predators put those puzzle pieces together to find out things about them that they never would have given out under ordinary circumstances. We teach our children not to talk to strangers, yet we haven’t educated them enough about the strangers they choose as their “friends” on social networks. And the reason the parents aren’t educating them is that they’re doing it themselves. I saw a statistic that 75% of grown women who use the internet are involved in social networking. And they’re as careless as the kids are.
I think a great exercise is to get a friend to write down everything they can figure out about you from your profiles. Predators can learn things from your pictures, the groups you belong to, your status updates, tweets and moods, and most of all, your friends. You may be very careful with your information, but stalkers can usually see your friends’ pages, too. And a friend may be much less careful with information about you. Once you’ve had a friend write down all those things, then take them off. And make sure you tell your friends to remove personal things about you. There are good uses for social networks, so it’s unrealistic to tell everyone to close their accounts. But we shouldn’t post anything that we wouldn’t tell a total stranger face-to-face.
MARK: Can you share with us what prompted you to write about this subject? Was it one of those “what if” moments, or was there something specific that caused you to start pulling this story together?
A couple of years ago when my publisher encouraged me to join some social networks to help promote my books, I was stunned at some of the things people would post openly. They would post personal things to me, as if they thought I was the only one who saw them, when in reality there were 2500 people reading it. I realized that people just don’t understand how vulnerable they are, so I decided to write a book that would scare them to death. I really hope it will make them examine their web sites so they’ll take down the information that could lead predators right to their door.
MARK: You have not always written for the Christian publishing market. Please share with us how you became one of the best known mystery writers in the CBA today?
TERRI: I sold my first book to Silhouette over twenty-five years ago, and went on to write 32 romance novels. I was a Christian when I went into that market, and told myself I would only write clean love stories. But when my books didn’t sell well, I added a little more sensuality, and then a little more, until finally my books were as steamy as any others. It really took its toll on my spiritual life, and I drifted way off-track. Often, during that time, I was convicted that God wasn’t pleased with how I was using the gift He’d given me. Finally, I repented and told God that I didn’t want to write another book that didn’t glorify Him. I bought back my outstanding contract, and looked for a job while I tried to write something with a Christian theme, not knowing if there was even a market for it. Because I was reading mostly suspense, I decided to start over fresh and write suspense novels. At the time, you really couldn’t find Christian suspense novels on the shelves. But it happened that most of the CBA publishers were interested in it. I was able to sell a four-book series to Zondervan pretty quickly, and I’ve been writing mostly for them ever since.
MARK: As a writer, what areas of the craft do you struggle with the most? How do you overcome it?
TERRI: My style is definitely more commercial than literary, which is both a weakness and a strength. I write in layers—up to fifteen drafts, sometimes. Each draft has more texture and is more creative. By about the fifth draft I’m focusing more on my descriptions and characters, and the things that make a book memorable.
MARK: What have been some of the strongest influences on your writing?
TERRI: About twenty years ago I attended a Michael Hauge screenwriting seminar. I never sold a screenplay, but I learned things about structuring story that I use to this day. I think that was the single greatest thing I ever did to make my novels better. Last year I had the opportunity to attend another of his seminars, and learned even more.
MARK: What are some of the things that have helped you the most in your writing career?
TERRI: Years ago, before I was published, I would work on a book for a while and lose interest, then start something else. I never finished anything. I would polish the first three chapters over and over and never move forward. One day I heard the quote, “Don’t get it right; get it written.” A light bulb went on for me at that moment, and from then on, I wrote my first draft all the way through without judgment, then went back and rewrote. That worked well for me. If I can get the story down without interrupting my momentum, then I can get creative later. It’s not so daunting when I know the story is already written.
MARK: There are several themes in Predator. For example, God’s love in a fallen world is a theme that several characters grapple with in this novel. As a writer, is it challenging to stay aloof from certain themes you feel strongly about? Or, do you immerse yourself in these themes and allow the characters to emerge with their own story? Their own perspectives? How do you prevent your personal feelings from influencing your character’s journey?
TERRI: My personal feelings and the themes in my own life always find their way into my novels. I can’t spend nine months working on something if I don’t feel passionately about it. So the themes that emerge in my books always have something to do with what God is doing in my life at that time. Yes, the characters do have their own stories, and sometimes I’m surprised by themes that come out of the lives I’ve created for them, but usually it intersects with real-life feelings that I have.
On the other hand, writing is great therapy, and when there’s someone in my life who bugs me or causes me stress or grief, writing in their point of view often helps me to work through that relationship in my mind, and understand it better. So I may have a character who feels completely opposite what I feel, but they spur growth in the protagonist. (And sometimes, understanding them spurs growth in me.)
MARK: How do you approach a new novel? Do you have a general idea of the plot and characters? Do you write the first chapter to see if your passion will carry through to the end? Do you start with a detailed plot, a partial plot, or do you let the characters emerge and direct your path?
TERRI: I usually start with an idea, and then try to flesh it out by What-Iffing. What if a girl whose sister was murdered made herself bait to catch the killer? (Predator) What if a mother hired an interventionist to take her drug-addicted daughter to treatment, and the interventionist was murdered? (Intervention) What ifs always get my story underway. Then I plot it out as carefully as I can before I begin writing. As I write, things change, and I adjust my plot as I go. I really need that map to follow each day.
MARK: Who is your first reader? And at what point does this first reader get to look at your work?
TERRI: My first reader is my editor. I’m usually working right up until deadline, and I don’t have time for anyone else to read it. After he reads it, I’ll get a long revision letter, and I’ll do another rewrite. I’m big on rewriting. There have been times when I’ve hired a freelance editor to read through it before I turn it in, if I have enough time. And occasionally I’ve asked an expert in the field I’m writing about to read it and make sure my facts are right.
MARK: What does your writing day look like? Some writers—Angela Hunt and Dean Koontz come to mind—share their office space with canine friends. Do you have a pet that accompanies you during your writing?
TERRI: I have a very old, crotchety cat who complains and whines for attention all her waking hours. She’s sitting beside me right now.
I used to write only during school hours, but now that my children are grown and out of the house, I start writing a bit later in the morning—around ten, usually—and I’ll often work into the night. I don’t like to work on weekends, but when I’m on a tight deadline, I do.
MARK: What advice would you give to aspiring novelist trying to break into the publishing industry today?
TERRI: Focus on your craft most of all. You’ll have agents and other writers (and maybe even some editors) telling you to blog and build a platform and get endorsements and all that, but it doesn’t matter how much of a presence you have in the blogosphere if you can’t write a good novel. The Help is a great example of this. That was a first novel, and Kathryn Stockett has been on the New York Times best-seller list for months and months, much of that time at number one. I doubt she had a platform first, or did any of those things that are supposed to get you published. What she did do was write an exceptional book that people couldn’t put down. I don’t think her editors went scrambling around the internet to see if she had a pre-fabricated following. They were probably too busy passing the manuscript around the office and cheering about what they’d found.
May 31,June 14 and 28: Greg Snider, recently retired FBI agent, just returned from war-torn Iraqi where he was embedded with military units for the past year and half. His job--to assist military commanders in their investigations into the manufacture and detonation of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In a three-part interview, Greg will share his experiences about how he and others searched to identify and arrest terrorists responsible for these acts.