Release Date: 10-04-2016
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndieBound
Release Date: 10-04-2016
Buy It: B&N/Amazon/Kobo/IndieBound
Giveaway is for One Print copy US ONLY
A Kind of Justice
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A Conversation with Renee James
Provided by Oceanview Publishing
Q: I really need to get this off my chest, so I'm going to start this interview with a question that's been on my mind since I read A Kind of Justice. What inspired John Strand?
A: Men who beat transgender and transsexual women—including men who beat them to death—generally regard transwomen as a lower life form, yet seek them out for sex. I don't know all the reasons why this happens, but I'm sure for some men, it's because they've reached a point in life where they have difficulty getting aroused by genetic women, but transwomen have a kinky appeal. Most men who date transwomen aren't like this, but there's definitely a creepy element out there.
I drew the Strand character as just such a man—a sociopath who didn't like women, wasn't sure about his own sexuality, and who sought out pre-op transwomen (ie, transgender women who still have male genitalia) because he got a kinky rush from the sex, because he could find vulnerable transwomen who were easy to dominate, and because in the early 2000s, it wasn't hard to get away with murdering a dispossessed transwoman making her living on the streets. The latter point was important to Strand because his violence against women sometimes resulted in murder.
Q: Wilkin's character growth throughout the book was amazing, was writing him tough?
A: It was a lot of work, but it was fascinating. I started out with the thought that he'd be a one-dimensional opponent—honest, but highly bigoted. The idea was that he'd scare Bobbi on several levels—his investigative acumen, his transphobic disgust for her, and his race. Physically, I saw him as that stereotypical black man who looks powerful and has a scowling countenance that scares the bejeesus out of nice middle class white people. I wanted him to stimulate Bobbi's own bigotry with her fear of what he looked like. I loved the idea of have two lead characters who were the victims of bigotry but also filled with their own bigotries.
Wilkins became more nuanced as I wrote him because he was a rational man of principles and what happens to people like that is, when they meet people from the subgroup they profess to dislike, they discover that we all have a lot in common. You find people and qualities in people to admire, whether they're trans or black or even Republican.
Wilkins was there so we could see how Bobbi reacted to horrible stresses in her life, but in several ways, he stole the scene. He changed more than anyone and his story has more moral equity than even Bobbi's.
Q: Did you plan the book to end the way it did? Did you plan to make Wilkins send all the evidence and information he had gathered to Bobbi? (Can we cut the second sentence so as not to give away too much?)
A: No. I didn't know where it was going to end. One of the reasons it takes me so long to turn a manuscript into a book is that I don't use a hard outline for the first draft. I write it with a few vague plot points in mind so I can make it up as I go along and entertaining myself. If I already knew how it was going to end, it would be work, not entertainment.
I tried several different endings after the first draft, but I have a hard time giving Bobbi a sad ending and I really liked that Wilkins faced a moral dilemma with no right answer, so I went with the ending you read.
Q: So... Ever thought about murdering people like John Strand (I swear I don't have a mic on me XD)?
A: Absolutely! I'm a Vietnam veteran. I never killed anyone, but you don't spend 18 months in a war zone without finding violence in your soul, not unless you're a very special kind of conscientious objector (which I was not). In fact, in the first Bobbi Logan book, Coming Out Can Be Murder, I had her perform the coup de grace on Strand. I thought it was really well written and well-conceived, but most people who read the book were really bothered by that. So, when I republished it as Transition to Murder, we changed her role.
Q: What character was the most difficult to write and which was the easiest?
A: There were several, starting with Bobbi and Betsy. I needed to give them both a wide range of emotions, but the first time through I made them way too overwrought, especially Betsy. One of my ace beta readers started her notes on the manuscript saying, "I'd only read this for a friend..."
It took two more drafts and lots of edits and cutting upwards of 20,000 words to get them as they now appear.
The hardest character was Jalela, the young African-American transsexual woman trying to get off the streets by hiring on as an assistant in Bobbi's salon. I had envisioned a much larger role for her, with scenes depicting her initial interview and others showing her progress as an employee and the growth of her relationship with Bobbi. I ended up having to cut a lot of it because I couldn't get her voice to sound right—I just didn't have enough experience with young black transwomen. I tried to connect with some, but inquiries like mine are regarded with great suspicion (for good reasons) and I failed.
The easiest character to write was Cecelia, who's drawn on several women I've known in the Chicago trans community. It's fun to do her because she's imperious and uninhibited and funny. She's the kind of mentor who helps Bobbi diffuse the nightmarish stresses in her life by fixing her up with a male prostitute. Has there ever been a better release for tension than a good orgasm? And could there be a more fun character that Cecelia?
Q: What chapter did you have a hard time writing, A.KA. What chapter made you look at the manuscript and say 'Nope, Nope Nope, I'm not dealing with this right now'?
A: The scenes dealing with Betsy's trauma after her husband dies were really hard to get right. The first draft had her too over-wrought, and getting them more balanced was stressful, I guess because I was so aware of how far off I was the first time. The kind of doubts that plague me during those sessions are somewhere between waterboarding and fingernails on a blackboard.
Q: What was the weirdest thing you googled while writing A Kind Of Justice?
A: The acceptable expression for gender surgery has evolved quite a bit in this century, so I Googled the variations like "sex change", "gender reassignment surgery" and "gender confirmation surgery" trying to get a timeline. I was going to use whatever expression was vogue in 2008, which is the setting for the book, but then I didn't want to offend people who had worked so hard to make the wording what it is in 2016. I finally decided not to use a formal reference, opting instead for "gender surgery."
Q: What was the toughest part of getting A Kind of Justice out there?
A: I think the hardest was the marketing process. It took as long to get from finished manuscript to publishing contract as it did to write, re-write and edit and re-edit the manuscript. And the path to publication is filled with a lot of rejection, which is hard on the ego. Most of the agents I queried didn't even bother to respond and none of them requested the full manuscript. I met my agent at a writer's event; she was doing first-chapter critiques and got interested in the book from that experience. We faced the editor rejections together; most were professional, but there was one especially snotty one that left us both with a three-day emotional burn.
Fortunately, we connected with Oceanview Publishing shortly after that. They are one of the hottest publishers in mystery/suspense and the perfect fit for me, so everything ended well.
Q: I still want to murder John Strand, any chance you could bring him back to life so I can serve my version of 'Justice' on him?
A: From what I've seen of your writing, that would be a treat. I have a counter-offer: read the first book (Coming Out Can Be Murder) and rewrite the scene where Strand gets it. I would love to see how another author, especially one who "gets" victimization, would handle that scene.
Q: What has changed in terms of your mindset pre and post publishing your books?
A: I feel like I've learned so much, and yet I'm even more aware of how little I know about writing long fiction. I think I'm getting better at plot structure, and using conflict to make each scene more interesting, but I don't think John Grisham has to worry about being overshadowed by me any time soon.
What hasn't changed, and surely won't ever change, is the feeling of humility and vulnerability that comes with putting the work out there. I'm emotionally invested in my characters and my craft, and putting the book up for judgement is a lot like sending your innocent six-year-old off to her first day of school—you have to do it to grow, but you know there will be lots of pain and scars to come.
MEET Renee:Renee James is the pen name of a Chicago-area transgender writer. She is a Vietnam veteran, licensed hairdresser, and wilderness adventurer. Before becoming an award-winning novelist, she was a decorated magazine editor and writer, and a successful entrepreneur.
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