Christopher Kokoski – Past Lives

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent work is Past Lives, the first book in a series about a man who discovers under hypnosis that he is a reincarnated serial killer.

Tell us something about yourself.

Born in Kansas the son of an army ranger and Black Hawk pilot, I had the wonderful opportunity to grow up in both Kentucky and Germany. I started writing early with short stories for middle school like “The Candy Cane Man” and one gloriously unfinished fantasy novel cryptically titled “The Tower of Gold.” Fast-forward a few years and I graduated from Murray State University with a degree in Communication, which I used most recently as a national trainer and speaker. I have presented at the local, state and national level on writing, marketing, relationships, culture, body language, and influence. My work has been published in various newspapers, newsletters, and The Writer’s Journal. I am the author of the nonfiction book, 101 Ways to Pray Better and Get Faster Results, and the Past Lives novel series.

What inspired you to write this book?

Believe it or not, the story is inspired by true events. In the early 1900’s, a man named Edgar Cayce discovered an uncanny ability to put himself into a deep state of hypnosis. In trance, he delivered diagnosis and other health advice that cured the sick even though he had no medical training. He also demonstrated physic abilities, and even spoke of reincarnation. From the seed of this true-life story, the idea for Past Lives germinated and blossomed over time.

Also, most people who believe in reincarnation claim previous lives as celebrities and royalty. Although as a Christian I don’t ascribe to reincarnation, I do find it a fascinating idea. I wondered what would happen if someone found out that they were something terrible, even horrific in a past life. How would that affect a person? How would someone handle that truth? The novel is my answer to those questions.

How did you choose the title?

The title fell into my lap form the story premise. All those previous lives discovered and explored screamed for the title to be Past Lives. Past Lives is also the catalyst for the major story conflict and question. When it first came to me, it seemed like the only title that fit.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

I started writing the novel eight years ago. It was my first, and I struggled through three years of slow writing and rewriting. The novel must have gone through at least 20 versions, if not more. Like many writers, I sent out dozens upon dozens of query letters. Rejections filtered in as I kept revising, tweaking, and fiddling with the story. As I continued to seek publication, I wrote a second novel (which, coincidently, might be published in 2012). In 2010, through the leadership and public speaking organization, Toastmasters, I met my publisher, Dave Mattingly, who runs Blackwyrm publishing. He requested to see my first novel, accepted it, and published it in July 2011.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Yes, I write almost exclusively in the morning, when my focus and creativity are at their peak. With a wife and young child, this usually means getting up at 4 am. I start by reading what I wrote the day before to get myself back into the characters, the story, and whatever particular scene that I’m currently writing. I keep thesaurus.com open and use it regularly as I write. My current process is to write slowly, revising as I go.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

I try to pick names that “fit” the characters, both in personality and meaning. Eric Shooter just sounds cool to me. It’s simple, and I hope memorable. James Wolfe is actually a famous British general, which goes along nicely with my Detective’s love for everything war. The guy has two pit bulls named Napoleon and Caesar, after all.

How did you decide to write a series?

Past Lives begun as a standalone novel that included an extra character and ended very differently than it does now. Over the years, the story has remained the same, but characters have been deleted, scenes added and the end rewritten. Truthfully, I resisted the idea for a series at first because of my chronically low attention span. I thought I’d never want to stay with one idea, or one set of characters for very long. I decided to write a series for Past Lives because I think there are still unanswered questions at the end of the novel, and I still get excited about the characters and the story lines.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned that I am able to write a novel-length story. I learned about characterization, conflict, voice, the joys and challenges of plotting and revising. I’ve learned how much effort it takes and how long it can take to go from finished novel to published novel. I continue to learn more about writing and marketing every day.

Your novel addresses many controversial topics like hypnosis, reincarnation and harm to innocent victims (i.e., a pregnant woman is attacked in the prologue!) Were you nervous about including all these elements?

Yes, I knew the risk of writing a novel grounded in so much controversy. Personally, I hope those elements make the story more interesting to readers. They are different, unique. To the point about innocents, I wanted to show the brutal ugliness of evil, the vile nature of it. I certainly do not mean to offend, while firmly believing (and wanting to show) that evil is often offensive.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

My writing style has changed over the years, so I would probably rewrite the story with my current, more descriptive style. I still really like short, punchy chapters. I might delve into Eric’s character a bit more, but the good thing about a series is that I have future books to explore his past and personality.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I love to read thrillers and suspense novels. I read the spectrum of authors and am constantly on the look out for new authors to read. In my humble opinion, it is hard to find a writer that is both a great storyteller and a great writer. I think Dean Koontz is one of those rare writers, although his endings sometimes leave me wanting more. He writes with a poetic description that I greatly admire. I also like Dan Brown, the Jason Bourne Series, some books by Stephen King, and a wide and diverse assortment of other writers. Most recently, I finished the Frankenstein series by Dean Koontz and thoroughly enjoyed it. I just started reading The Language of Flowers. So far, the story is engrossing.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

My second book, Dark Halo, will likely be out in 2012. It is a standalone thriller about a father trying to reconnect with his estranged wife and daughter in a town that has lost its guardian angel.

I am also half way through writing the sequel to Past Lives.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

About writing: I heard it for years and never really got it, but in my opinion nothing beats lots of reading and writing. Creative writing is a talent honed by practice, practice, practice. Don’t get overly discouraged. Keep at it. You will get better, and you will get your break.

About publishing: start your marketing six months to a year in advance. Create a list of media (i.e. newspapers, blogs, radio stations). Create a list of bookstores and other venues to do readings and signings, and start contacting them now. Build relationships. Create flyers and other promotional material like poster-sized images of your book cover. Get a nice poster easel and smaller book easels, maybe a tablecloth for signings. Join Toastmasters and brush up your public speaking skills. Make friends, network, help other writers, be a good person, set your priorities and don’t neglect your family. Keep first things first.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

I’d say someone over 17 years of age that likes thrillers and suspense novels, particularly with paranormal elements. There is no profanity or sexual content in the novel, but there is a healthy dose of violence. Someone who likes the short chapters of James Patterson might really enjoy the writing style.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Read the first chapter of Past Lives at Amazon.com. The novel is also available at blackwyrm.com, most other online booksellers and by order virtually anywhere books are sold. Keep up with the series at http://www.facebook.com/Ckauthor