Ken Stichter tells us about his new mystery-thriller Trail of Madness, featuring detective Van Vanarsdale.
Please briefly describe your book . . .
Trail of Madness is about a decades-old cold case murder and focuses on the unique talents of Investigator, Van Vanarsdale.
In 1972 Cindy Ashae and her date disappear after the school prom. The case remains unsolved for decades until Cindy’s remains are found in the school time capsule. A new investigation is launched, but soon grows cold again. Years later, Vanarsdale is handed the case.
I created Van to be atypical at his craft. He is a soft-spoken introvert known to employ unconventional, non-confrontational methods. He comes with a reputation of being methodical and intellectual. His reflective thinking and willingness to draw on unusual, sometimes eccentric, sources are critical to his work. The reader is exposed to Van’s literary interests, reliance on classical music, and unabashed willingness to seek the input of academics and experienced others with no background in homicide investigations.
I created a suspect with intelligence of the highest order. She has a photographic memory, was schooled by an eccentric mother, is a university graduate with a 4.0 GPA, and is well read to the extreme. She is an exceptionally fit individual whose backpacking prowess is unmatched. Allison is a loner with a pedigree of revenge driven murders along California’s John Muir Trail.
And can you tell us a little about yourself?
My undergraduate degree was in history and I later earned a doctorate in education. I spent years as a high school teacher and then administrator before becoming a college professor. I taught high school and university students how to research and write. Career demands channeled my writing into endeavors that included lesson plans, reports, data analysis, policy development, dissertations, and finally research publications. But I loved reading and found mystery novels especially therapeutic. As my career wound down I tried my hand at writing fiction.
The result has been three books:
- Death on the High Route (2007)
- The Water and Murder Flow South (2016)
- Trail of Madness (2018)
I have spent a lifetime backpacking in California’s Sierra Nevada and have experienced both the strange and the mundane in the backcountry. It seemed a natural setting for my novels. I read literary classics and works of history, philosophy, and behavioral psychology. I cannot imagine a world without the stimulation of classical music. Thus, it was necessary to equip my main characters with a strong belief in the value of reflective thinking that draws on these disciplines when solving problems.
Do you have any particular literary influences?
I always try to keep in mind Hemingway’s advice that I should confine writing to what I know.
I “go slow to go fast.” My ideas need time to percolate well before I put pen to paper. I accept the fact that good writing is good editing. One must be patient and willing to keep working the words. Everything is a draft.
Yes, closure is important. At some point the writer must find a conclusion. I am always struck by the reality that when writing each book takes on a life of its own. I may have some idea where the story should go, but I try to keep an open mind and not force the point of closure. I do not think any of my books really ended where I thought they would, and that was okay because I was willing to go slow and listen to what the drafts were telling me.
I keep reminding myself that writing is a process and I am along for the ride. My ideas, characters, and events, some that I do not see coming, will suggest, if not dictate, where I go. I think that is what I love about fiction writing. I spent a career in developing material where closure was often dictated by policy, politics, institutions, and other factors. Fiction provides the freedom to discover a new logic that is not confined by convention.
What is the one message you would like to convey to your readers?
I am a part of my stories. I have to know the territory and geography of the story as my characters do. I have to sense their personalities as I write about them. I have to see what they see.
Friends tell me that they see me in the stories. My thoughts, beliefs, and convictions surface in the thoughts and actions of the characters. I guess, in that sense, all that I am finds its way into my work. It’s the teacher in me. Kant would be happy with my admission that the experiences of my life are never hidden.
Are you working on a sequel to your book?
I have some ideas about my next book. However, I never worry about the process or production. My approach is to have a file where I toss in bits and pieces of the ideas, many that come to me unexpectedly and often without regard to any grand scheme or story design in mind. Some of these will prove useful; some must be ultimately discarded. But until I have what I call a “backbone idea” for the storyline, these pieces lack any attachment. I guess I am always searching.
Are there any events, marketing ideas or promotions planned for your book?
Even as I awaited the actual printing of Trail of Madness I promoted it at local book clubs that invited me to talk about my previous book. Also, among my network of friends and colleagues I have been working to promote interest in my third book. I give a lot of books away to people I know will read them and then talk to others.
I think the fact that Trail of Madness has been recognized as both an iUniverse Editors Choice and Rising Star selection will help in my promotional efforts.
What was your favorite part of your publishing experience, overall and with iUniverse?
Publishing Trail of Madness stretched my knowledge and skill at writing fiction. The editorial development and proofing processes forced me to see the work through the eyes of genre experts and standards. And, yes, I did not always agree with the input. In fact, there were instances where I was forced to develop a rational defending a decision to not change something. However, having said that, it is equally true that some input was very valuable and, when I spent the necessary time to edit accordingly, resulted in a more robust, if not leaner, manuscript.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Your writing must be a passion and it must reflect what you know. Passion allows you sit and compose because you are in love with the story, characters, setting, and events. Passion linked with writing what you know frees you to tell a story unfettered by a drive to write because you have to. Passion also makes it possible to see writing as editing and thus a process not given to drudgery but rather to a continuous icing of the cake.