Rebecca Cantrell: Reaching Into The Past and Present To Create Future Bestsellers

Rebecca CantrellRebecca Cantrell is the NY Times bestselling author of nine novels, including the highly-popular Joe Tesla series, the suspenseful Order of the Sanguines series, and the Hannah Vogel historical mysteries.

She is also the creator of the iMonster series; which includes the bestselling ebooks iDrakula and iFrankenstein.

Rebecca left a promising career a few years ago to write full time and has never looked back.

In this interview she talks about what inspires her, how she writes so prolifically, and offers excellent advice to authors who want to do what she has done, which is to become a prolific author with a huge fanbase in a very short time.

Rebecca Cantrell Interview

Scroll down for a complete transcript of the interview or click the Play button below to listen to the interview now. And don’t forget to leave a comment to let us know what you thought of this interview!

Books by Rebecca Cantrell


Rebecca Cantrell Transcript

Tim Knox: Welcome to another edition of Interviewing Authors. Rebecca Cantrell is my guest today. Rebecca is the award-winning and NY Times bestselling author of nine novels, including the highly popular Joe Tesla series, the historical suspense series, Order of the Sanguines and Hannah Vogel mysteries, and the iMonster series that includes iDrakula and iFrankenstein.

Rebecca actually quit her job a few years ago to move to Hawaii to write full time and has never looked back. She talks about what inspires her, how she writes so prolifically, and offers excellent advice to authors who want to do what she has done and that’s become a top author with a huge fanbase in a very short time.

Here then is my interview with Rebecca Cantrell, on this edition of Interviewing Authors.

Tim Knox: Rebecca, welcome to the program.

Rebecca Cantrell: Thanks for having me.

Tim Knox: We’re thrilled to have you here. I’ve been trying to get you on this program forever and the weather and other things have been against us but I think we’re actually going to be able to do it this morning. Before we get started, if you will, give the audience a little background on you.

Rebecca Cantrell: I can go to the deep background where I talk about how I always wanted to be a writer.

Tim Knox: Well give us your thumbnail and then I’m going to ask you all those good questions about wanting to be a writer.

Rebecca Cantrell: I guess let’s start with what I’m working on now. I’m currently working on three different things because writers are crazy and do more than they should. The first thing is the series with James Rollins and we’re just wrapping up the third book. That should come out in February 2015 and it’s called Blood Infernal.

The second thing I’m working on is called The Danger Below and that’s the second in the Joe Tesla series. The first one was The World Beneath and that one came out last year. The next one should come out by January of next year.

The third thing is a project I can’t really talk about but it’s with another author and it’s very exciting. I think it’s going to be funnier than what I’ve done before, which is great. I’ve done a lot of serious stuff and then some action stuff. I’d really like to do kind of a fun series for a while too.

Tim Knox: You want to just kind of lighten up for a little bit.

Rebecca Cantrell: Exactly.

Tim Knox: Do you enjoy working with other authors on projects like that?

Rebecca Cantrell: I do and I think it depends on the other authors but so far I’ve only had really good luck. I’ve only co-authored with James Rollins and this new author is somebody I’ve known for a long time as well so I think we’re going to have a good time.

Tim Knox: Very good. Okay now let’s delve into the deep background here. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Were you a writer when you were younger?

Rebecca Cantrell: I was in fact a writer when I was younger. I knew that when I was seven I wanted to be a writer and I had this plan on how I was going to get published when I was 19; S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was 19. I was really sure that was how it was going to work.

I wrote little tiny books when I was a kid and I wrote plays and I had my friends act them out. I think I wrote my first detective novel when I was seven and it was like 40 pages long. So yeah, I always knew.

Tim Knox: How does a seven year old know they want to be a writer?

Rebecca Cantrell: I think because I was a reader. Every writer starts out as a reader first and I was an absolute avid reader. I learned how to read before I went to school. I don’t remember ever not being able to read. I think my mom taught me when I was two or three. For me, books were always a huge part of my life.

Tim Knox: Do you remember the first thing you wrote that you showed someone?

Rebecca Cantrell: It probably would have been poetry when I was about seven. It was as good as you can imagine a seven year olds poetry being. It rhymed.

Tim Knox: That’s all that counts when you’re seven, and even today for some poets that’s all that matters.

Rebecca Cantrell: There’s nothing wrong with writing from your heart and having it rhyme.

Tim Knox: Exactly. When did you… I don’t want to say take it seriously because I’m sure you took it seriously as a seven year old but at what point did you start to think, hey, this is actually something I can do as a career?

Rebecca Cantrell: I think that’s a very good question because I thought I was taking it seriously for years before I actually was. So I majored in Creative Writing in college and German/American History and then I got out and was a technical writer for many years and I wrote in my spare time, in my down time.

I got some short stories done, a couple novels done that weren’t particularly good and when I moved to Hawaii – I just had my son a few years before so I hadn’t written for a couple years; I’d just been full on mom. When I moved to Hawaii I kind of realized I had to take it seriously and I started treating it like a job.

I read The Writer’s Journey and she talks about how if you had a job at 7-11 you’d show up and be there for all the hours and you’d work really hard. For some reason when people are doing writing they feel like they don’t really need to have a regular schedule. They don’t need to show up, they don’t need to take it seriously and so they end up taking a 7-11 job, which they don’t particularly care about. They take it much more seriously than their writing job.

As soon as I read that I was just so completely busted that I realized I had to change how I thought. The very next project I started on ended up being A Trace of Smoke, which is my first published novel.

Tim Knox: So it really was kind of an ‘aha’ moment for you.

Rebecca Cantrell: It really was. It was a moment where I realized I hadn’t been treating it like a job. I’d been treating it like a hobby or something I did for fun. As soon as I jumped in, everything changed.

Tim Knox: So you started writing every day. Did you write on a schedule? Did you have a word count goal? What did you change exactly to put you in that mode?

Rebecca Cantrell: I wrote every day and at the time I was working full-time for some Sun Microsystems so I’d get up at 3 in the morning and write from 3-6, read my email from 6-6:30 and then get my son up and take him to school.

Tim Knox: So you’d literally get up at 3 in the morning to write.

Rebecca Cantrell: I would literally get up at 3 in the morning. In my defense I was a parent so I hadn’t been sleeping through the night for years at that point.

Tim Knox: So you were somewhat conditioned to write in the middle of the night.

Rebecca Cantrell: Now that I can write during the day I like it a lot better.

Tim Knox: I bet. Let’s talk a little about that first book. What was that book?

Rebecca Cantrell: So that book was called The Trace of Smoke and it was published by McMillan in 2009 and it’s the story of a character named Hannah Vogel, who’s a crime reporter in 1930s Berlin and she’s investigating the murder of her brother Ernst, who’s a gay cabaret singer. It takes place during the end of the Weimar Republic so the Nazi’s are coming to power but they’re not in power yet and nobody really knows how things are going to develop over the next couple of years but everyone is afraid.

Tim Knox: What got you interested in writing Berlin in the 1930s?

Rebecca Cantrell: Well Berlin in the 1930s, there was so much going on. I lived in Berlin in the 1980s and at that point the wall was still up and it was all around the city and you couldn’t travel across to the other side or even look across to the other side, and you could see buildings that were marked with bullet holes that the Russians had left when they were bombing the city at the end of World War II. History was just so very present there and a lot of the conflict that happened in the 20th century had played out right here in this city.

I had a host brother who was gay and I went to Dachau during that time period and on the wall there was a pink triangle and I realized my host brother would have gone to a concentration camp and he would have worn one of those pink triangles because that’s what they put on people who were sent to jail for being gay.

For me at 16 that was just this huge moment and I started looking to see who those people had been who were sent to those concentration camps and what had happened to them. I had discovered this thriving gay life that had been in Berlin in 1930. There had been petitions for equality, gay magazines and gay bars. Then of course when the Nazi’s came to power it had come to an end and everybody who couldn’t hide was killed. So I started researching about that.

Tim Knox: That’s so interesting, to be standing there actually looking at bullet holes in a wall. That’s powerful stuff, and then to see the pink triangle and that was the impetus for this entire Hannah Vogel series. It’s a great inspiration story.

Rebecca Cantrell: Oh thanks.

Tim Knox: It really is. What is your love affair with Germany? You’ve lived there a couple of times. Did you say you also have a degree in German studies?

Rebecca Cantrell: I do, yeah. I was living in a little town called Talkeetna in Alaska. There was an opportunity to get a full scholarship to Germany and so I took it and I told them that I wanted to go to another small town, because I was coming from a small town. I said I’m sure I’d feel more comfortable if I was in a small German town. They immediately sent me to Berlin, population over 2 million people.

Tim Knox: That’s nice, small German town.

Rebecca Cantrell: Right in the middle of Communist Europe at the time. It was just such a wonderful experience that opened my eyes to the world and history and to all of the possibilities that I hadn’t really seen before.

Tim Knox: It had to be a little different from the little Alaska town.

Rebecca Cantrell: It definitely was not at all like Talkeetna. I think it was like nowhere else in the world at the time. At the time there was the wall and to get in you had to go through double checkpoints and they would take your passport and you’d be standing there in no man’s land in East Germany and they could do anything to you at that moment and they did.

When I was living there, there were people who tried to escape over the wall and were shot and killed, people my age. They just wanted to live in a non-Communist country and they were killed not far from where I was going to school, walking around. So that really made me appreciate history and big world events that you don’t necessarily notice if you’re insulated from it.

Tim Knox: Are you ever tempted to write the great spy novel?

Rebecca Cantrell: I thought about it. I have so much stuff on my plate right now that it would be a while but I’ve certainly thought about it absolutely.

Tim Knox: You need a larger plate, Rebecca.

Rebecca Cantrell: I do. But the Hannah Vogel books right now are set in 1931, 1934, 1936 and 1938. I thought about setting another series, another set of Hannah Vogel books in the ‘50s and Hannah could be involved in being a spy.

Tim Knox: Tell us a little about Hannah. She’s a reporter, right?

Rebecca Cantrell: Yes, Hannah’s a reporter. She was brought up by a father who was a soldier and a mother who was the wife of a soldier. She has an older sister who’s just awful and a younger brother who was born when she was about 14 and so she took care of him when he was little and was kind of like a surrogate mother to him because the parents were very, very disapproving because he was a kid who was very clearly different very early on.

She’s been supporting herself initially writing poetry and then writing these articles about crimes that took place in Berlin. So she was a crime reporter and she took over a pseudonym of another journalist who was working for the newspaper.

Then as the series develops she loses her job of course and has to flee Germany and then comes back and tries to bring information out to the British intelligence about what’s going on in Germany with the Nazis.

Tim Knox: Are you living vicariously through her? It sounds like something you would do.

Rebecca Cantrell: I wouldn’t want to have to have Hannah’s life at all, having to worry all the time and everybody dies. I would hope that if I were ever placed in the same situation as Hannah that I would be able to respond with her strength, her honesty and integrity.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about that first book. The audience for this show primarily are writers who would like to get published and like to get discovered and all that sort of thing. How did you got about getting it published?

Rebecca Cantrell: Well this was quite a while ago. I started querying agents in 2006 and I went to the Maui Writers Conference because at that time I was living in Hawaii and they had this program where you could submit your manuscript and pay a certain fee and they’d guarantee that agents would read it. You submitted I believe the first 5 or 10 pages and filled out forms.

Two agents from that program contacted me and I signed with one, who was my first agent and sold the book. A lot of writers are mad because I never had to write a query letter.

Tim Knox: How dare you.

Rebecca Cantrell: I didn’t have to be rejected by agents for the novel. So my agent worked very hard for me. Her name was Elizabeth Evans and she worked at Kimberley Cameron & Associates. She sent it out and it was rejected 32 times before McMillan accepted it and then it two years to publish it because they had a long editorial schedule. Then it came out and was nominated for a lot of awards and won a couple, which is kind of vindication after all that rejection.

Tim Knox: How did you handle the waiting? I talk to so many authors and they think if they get an agent today, the book will be published tomorrow. Talk a little about that time span because there was two years between the time you signed with your agent and the time the book came out. How did you handle the waiting? Did you just keep writing during that period?

Rebecca Cantrell: I kept writing more books. A, I figured I was going to need them because it had been sold as a two book deal. They would only buy the first book if I promised to write another one in the series, which I hadn’t originally intended to do. I always say if I had known it was going to be a series I would have killed completely different people in that first book.

Tim Knox: I love that.

Rebecca Cantrell: But I didn’t and so the editor called me, “We’d love to acquire it but we know it’s a series so what’s the next book?” I was like, “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

Tim Knox: I’ve never had an author say if I’d known it was going to be a series I would have killed off characters. That’s classic.

Rebecca Cantrell: Some people would have lived but yeah, I just kept working. I knew I was going to have a second book that was going to come out so I just kept working.

The thing is, as a writer, I’m kind of an obsessive writer so even before I was published, unless I was writing I wasn’t ever happy. If I don’t write for a long period of time I get very antsy. Stopping and waiting wasn’t an option. I just had to keep going and keep writing.

Tim Knox: Right, now when the book came out it was well received. It won a number of awards and I think you said that was validation for everything you had done, and authors need that validation, don’t they?

Rebecca Cantrell: Well I think authors in particular do. Most of the authors I know are not that so confident about their writing. You go through this period where you’re like, “Oh my God, this sucks,” and then you read it the next morning and you’re like, “Oh it’s not that bad but it’s still not very good,” and then you might read it later and think, “Oh this isn’t so bad,” and then read it a fourth time and you’re like, “No I was right, this sucks.”

Every writer I know goes through that. Even very famous well-established writers are not entirely confident about every word they write every single day. So I think writers need a lot of validation. If you’re going to go the traditional publishing path, there’s a lot of rejection and a lot of things that are out of your control and so I think it’s even more important to get that kind of feedback.

Tim Knox: Right, we are a – well not me necessarily but writers I think by nature are a sensitive bunch and they want everything to be well received and they love it when they do get validated. It’s one of those careers where rejection is a thing you’re going to face on a daily basis.

Rebecca Cantrell: Absolutely or even just the one star Amazon reviews. That’s going to come up.

Tim Knox: You’ve been doing this a while and have written several series. Give us your thoughts now on writing series now that you’re writing them. You obviously enjoy writing them.

Rebecca Cantrell: I do. I found that it’s a lot of fun to explore the character over a longer arch than you might get in a single story. I think that’s becoming more popular in general. If you look at TV shows people are now kind of binge watching TV shows and I think that’s getting more popular than movies, individual movies, because people want to see and follow characters over a longer period of time across a lot of different events.

Tim Knox: I think that’s a really, really good points. I’ve had other authors tell me this, exactly what you just said. The binge watching is something we’re all doing now. They discover one of your books and enjoy it and want to read another one and another one and another one. I think that’s one of the keys to being successful these days is having, number one, a good backlist but also having good, strong characters that they want to keep reading.

Rebecca Cantrell: Yeah I think that definitely makes a difference and I think nowadays with eBooks in particular. It’s a lot easier to have your backlist accessible. I remember when I was growing up and reading authors that I liked, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to get their earlier books. You could poke around in used bookstores and try to find them and hope for the best but often you’d come into a series at book #7 and you’d never get to read book #1.

Tim Knox: Are your books best read in order or can you read them out of order? Does it matter?

Rebecca Cantrell: You can read them out of order but they’re best read in order. Hannah Vogel actually changes and grows up during the series and her relationships with various people within the series change across time so it makes the most sense if you read them in order.

But I’ve had people who have only read book #4 or #2 or #3 or whichever and they seemed to have no trouble following it but I would recommend staring with A Trace of Smoke and going forward from there.

Tim Knox: How much research do you do for these books? I would imagine you want them to be somewhat historically correct. How much time do you put in on research?

Rebecca Cantrell: I put in an insane amount of time on research. Even among writers who research a lot, I stand out as crazy. For the Hannah books in particular, because it’s during a real period in time and some of the characters are actual historical characters and it’s set in the context of World War II in the Holocaust, I don’t want to make any mistakes. There’s enough Holocaust deniers and people out there who question the events of World War II so for things that are real I want to be as real as I possibly can.

So I research a lot. One of the cool things about it is I get a lot of fan letters from professors and my books are in the Holocaust Museum Collection because of the level of research that I put into them.

For me it’s very, very important in these books but I think in all books you want it to seem real and as soon as something doesn’t seem real, feel real, you’ll lose the reader. You might not lose them all the way but you lose some of their trust and establishing that trust between the reader and the work is your job as an author. If you lose it, it’s hard to get back so I try very hard to make sure that the real stuff is as real as I can make it.

Tim Knox: Are your books available in Germany?

Rebecca Cantrell: Yes they are. The series with James Rollins, the first book in that series is now in German. Hannah Vogel series, the first one Trace of Smoke, should be coming out in about six months.

Tim Knox: How exciting is it to be working with James Rollins? How did that come about?

Rebecca Cantrell: Oh it’s been a lot of fun working with Jim. I met him at this Maui Writers Conference where I booked my agent a year before, two years before. I took a class with James Rollins; it was a thrillers class and I was working on another thriller because my book had, at that point, been rejected 32 times and I wasn’t certain if it was ever going to get published so I decided to write something and took this thriller writing class so I would know how to write it.

James Rollins was the instructor and then right before the class started, like literally a week before the class started, my book was sold. He was the only big, famous author I knew so I asked him to blurb my first book, which he did. He loved it and we stayed in contact over the years.

One day – this was four years ago now – he called me up out of the blue and said, “I have a project and would you be interested in working on it?” and we went from there.

Tim Knox: And so did you hang up and do a happy dance?

Rebecca Cantrell: Well no first I actually grilled him about what the project was.

Tim Knox: You had enough miles on you to ask some questions.

Rebecca Cantrell: Yes. So he said, “I can’t tell you; it’s confidential.” I paused for a minute. This is a year of my life. I need to know a little more than that. So then I asked if he would answer yes or no questions. He gave this deep sigh and said, “Fine!” and told me the entire plot of the book. My vicious interrogation technique – asking twice.

It was a wonderful idea. He had this idea of that there was this sect of priests in the Catholic Church who lived on transcendence wine, which is known as the Blood of Christ, and they had joined the Church to fight vampires and to achieve Salvation. It was such a fascinating idea that I did immediately sign on and do the happy dance.

Tim Knox: Then you did the happy dance, okay got you. I knew there had to be a happy dance in there somewhere. So how does that process work? If you are co-authoring a book with someone, do you work together? Does he write and then you write? Exactly how does that work?

Rebecca Cantrell: So usually we brainstorm the outline. For the beginning we sat down and brainstormed the specific outline, the specifics about the character and the writing style that we both would use. We kind of came up with different type of styles that we wrote scenes in and then picked the ones that we thought would best fit the book, and then we’d both write to that style.

So I write some stuff, he writes some stuff and then we send pages out on Friday and on Monday we meet on Skype to go over the pages and plan what we’re going to do next week.


Tim Knox: Very cool. Does it ever get argumentative?

Rebecca Cantrell: Jim is a hard person to argue with. He’s really nice and he’s very smart so usually when he wants something a certain way in the book and I don’t agree he can usually talk me around, and then sometimes he can’t and then he’s usually very generous about letting himself be talked around as well.

I think we’ve had one contentious argument, which is about the ending of book #2. He wanted one thing and thought it was the right thing for the story, which it was, but I felt it was the wrong thing for the character, which it was. We just went at it for weeks on how we were going to end it. He’d be like, “We need to do it this way,” and I was like, “I don’t care how you spin this. It’s wrong. I’m not going to write that.” “Okay, I’ll write it.” “No!”

So we went back and forth and came up with a third way, which I think was better than his original plan and my original plan. Then it did come together.

Tim Knox: Sounds like you’ve formed a great friendship out of this.

Rebecca Cantrell: Yeah, he’s a wonderful guy to work with.

Tim Knox: You have also written what you call on your website cell phone novels. Tell us what that is.

Rebecca Cantrell: Ah yes, so back in 2010 I had a book published called iDrakula and iDrakula was a retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula but it was a modernization. A big element of the story was how it’s told through different medium. So for example they’ve got the ship’s log, they have newspaper clippings, they have the various journals – they have all these different technologies of the day that they used to gather information and relay information back and forth.

So I wanted to retell that using a phone. So iDrakula is also an iPhone app that you can get from the app store and it tells the story using only text messages, emails, voicemails and web browsers. It was put together in an app and it came out in 2010. For a while it was a bestselling book in the app store and it was nominated for best app of the year.

That was a really interesting way to think about how to present information. It was a lot of fun to do. I did a sequel called iFrankenstein after that.

Tim Knox: And you write these under the pseudonym, Bekka Black?

Rebecca Cantrell: Yes, I do.

Tim Knox: Is there a reason you’re using a penname there?

Rebecca Cantrell: Well my agent at the time felt that it might be confusing to people if I was writing these really serious historical mysteries and these kind of fun teenage, cell phone books. If I had to do it over again I’m not sure I would have bothered with the pseudonym because I think people do know that writers write very, very different books. I think people could see the distinction between a novel set in 1930s Berlin and a retelling of Dracula that’s also an app.

Tim Knox: Do you have any plans to do another in the iMonster series? Who would be next?

Rebecca Cantrell: I’ve gone back and forth on that.

Tim Knox: Can werewolves text?

Rebecca Cantrell: I don’t think they can text and the vampires didn’t… well that’s not true. The vampires were modern day teenagers before they turned in vampires so of course they did text. Dracula himself doesn’t text.

I thought about doing one that’s like War of the Worlds.

Tim Knox: That could be interesting.

Rebecca Cantrell: Yeah, I thought it would be fun, a high mind alien that comes in but I’ve got so much other stuff on my plate right now and eventually I want to write another Hannah book and there’s more books in store with James Rollins and there’s more Joe Tesla books. That’s what I’m working on now.

Tim Knox: Tell us about those books.

Rebecca Cantrell: Those books are a lot of fun too. The main character, Joe Tesla, a descendent of Nikola Tesla, and he’s a software millionaire who’s coming to New York City to ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchange on the day his company’s going to become public and he’s going to become a multi-millionaire.

He’s stricken by agoraphobia and can’t leave the Hyde Hotel in downtown New York. He tries therapy, gets a therapy doctor, does all these things and realizes he can’t go outside again. So he decides the best thing he can do is make the inside bigger.

There’s a house built under Grand Central Station; it was built for the original designer of the Grand Central. So Joe Tesla moves into that house and he lives basically in this house in 100+ miles of tunnel underneath New York City and then Grand Central Station and the Hyde.

Tim Knox: What a great plot. I’m clicking ‘buy’ right now as you describe the book. I’m such a sucker for a great story. You kind of write, I don’t want to say all over the board but you do a variety of things. How do you come up with these really great, fantastical ideas?

Rebecca Cantrell: Thanks. Well for Joe Tesla I’d just moved to Berlin from Hawaii and we were going down the subway and when you go down the subway sometimes wind comes up and it just hits you in the face. I had this idea of subway tunnels breathe and I knew that was the start of my next book and I didn’t know why and I didn’t know how and I didn’t know who.

Then over time I realized it was someone who was stuck down there but it wasn’t a homeless person. It was someone who was stuck down there by choice. It was someone who was stuck down there because of mental illness but he was otherwise functioning. One thing led to another and I ended up with this series.

I was very happy with that one too. I self-published it. That was my first self-published book and it went on to win the IPW Best eBook Original Award against a slate of traditionally published novels, which was really great.

Tim Knox: What prompted your decision to self-publish?

Rebecca Cantrell: The self-published writers I knew were having so much fun. I just wanted to see what it was like and why they were so happy. So I thought I’ll just give it a try with this one, and I’m glad I did. It has been a lot of fun. I love choosing my own cover, my own editor and my own schedule and not having to wait for a very long publication calendar, for example, and just get it out there and interact with the readers.

Especially for Joe Tesla, because he’s computer programmer, a lot of the technology and stuff that’s in there may be obsolete in a couple of to self-publish?

Rebecca Cantrell: The self-published writers I knew were having so much fun. I just wanted to see what it was like and why they were so happy. So I thought I’ll just give it a try with this one, and I’m glad I did. It has been a lot of fun. I love choosing my own cover, my own editor and my own schedule and not having to wait for a very long publication calendar, for example, and just get it out there and interact with the readers.

Especially for Joe Tesla, because he’s computer programmer, a lot of the technology and stuff that’s in there may be obsolete in a couple of years so if it hadn’t come out right away, it might not have been relevant.

Tim Knox: What do you enjoy most – writing the 1930s historical type fiction or writing this really high tech? I mean you’re doing iDrakula and iFrankenstein. Do you enjoy either one more or do you just enjoy them all?

Rebecca Cantrell: I enjoy them all. To me it’s all about characters and story and worlds. Some characters live in a high tech world and some characters live in 1930s Berlin and some characters are vampires in Rome. It’s just about getting into their head and getting into their world and seeing what they see and bringing that back to the reader.

Tim Knox: Fantastic. Let’s talk a little about your process. You’re back in Berlin I believe and you have a family with you; you have a daughter I believe.

Rebecca Cantrell: A son, yeah.

Tim Knox: How old is he now? Are you still having to write in the middle of the night?

Rebecca Cantrell: I’m on a daytime schedule now. He’s a teenager now so…

Tim Knox: Oh you have a whole new set of problems.

Rebecca Cantrell: Knock on wood, he’s actually a wonderful teenager and we have not had any of those stereotypical teenager problems yet, although you never know.

So usually what happens is he goes off to school, my husband goes off to paint and I go off to write and I just write until lunch. Then I have lunch and usually after lunch I do editing and emails and social media and all that stuff. So I’m usually writing for about five hours a day.

Tim Knox: So he’s the son of two very creative people it sounds like. Your husband’s a painter.

Rebecca Cantrell: Yes he is. He’s a very talented painter. He just had an exhibit here in Berlin.

Tim Knox: Wow, look at you artsy farsty people in Berlin.

Rebecca Cantrell: I know. Berlin is full of artsy fartsy people so it’s a good place for us to be.

Tim Knox: You mentioned the self-publishing and you said just now that you do some things in the afternoon with social media. Are you finding that you are having to be not only a writer but an entrepreneur and a marketer and a PR person, all of those things?

Rebecca Cantrell: I think I always had to do that. So for the books, not for the books I write with James Rollins but certainly for the Hannah books and iDrakula and iFrankenstein, I was not perceived as a blockbuster author so I did not get blockbuster backing.

A lot of the work that happened on those books was mine. I planned my own tours, booked my own tours, setup my own newsletter, did my own social media, all of that stuff. So I found that it actually isn’t that different with self-publishing.

I don’t know how much social media drives sales but I think it’s a great place for me to meet my readers and interact with the readers that I have but I’m not certain how many readers I gain through it. To me I view it more as a way to interact with, play with the readers that I have and not kind of as a sales platform.

Tim Knox: Right, that’s one thing I think; social media has really made authors more accessible to the readers. Do you enjoy that relationship that you have with the readers?

Rebecca Cantrell: I do and I have wonderful, wonderful readers. I feel very lucky that they’re kind and funny and charming and they’re just great.

Tim Knox: You said you’re working on multiple projects now. What is on the horizon for you after you clean your plate of what you’re doing now? Anything in the future?

Rebecca Cantrell: So after I finish book #3 of Hannah and book #2 of Tesla and book #1 of the new series – that kind of takes me out through the end of the year.

Tim Knox: Yeah you’ll be 65.

Rebecca Cantrell: There’s another thriller idea that I have, a kind of contemporary science with more of an old school feel after I get through with these various other things. And I really want to write Hannah for this one.

Tim Knox: Do you see an end to the Hannah books or will they go on as long as you have ideas to write them?

Rebecca Cantrell: I think they’ll go on for as long as I have ideas to write them but it’s tough to fit them in because I have so much other stuff that I’m doing. Yeah, the next one’s going to take place in April 1945 and the Americans are bombing Berlin and the Russians are coming in. Hannah’s going to come in with an American project that really existed called Operation Paperclip, which is where the US government sent special units in ahead of the frontline to capture German Nazi scientists and bring them back to the United States so they could either work for the US government but not under Russian hands.

So what they did is they got these scientists and they often cleaned up their pasts and what they’ve done and then had them work for the government, the most famous one of course would be Wernher Von Braun, who worked on Apollo.

Tim Knox: Coincidentally I live in Huntsville, Alabama where they brought von Braun. The entire team was here and even today if they had not brought those guys here and do the work they did, Huntsville, Alabama would be a little cow town. Now we still have the Redstone Arsenal, we have every defense contractor on the plant, all the Apollo work. So I’m very in tuned to that aspect of history. Our civic center here is the Von Braun Civic Center.

Rebecca Cantrell: And it all started with Operation Paperclip.

Tim Knox: There you go.

Rebecca Cantrell: So Hannah will be going into Operation Paperclip to bring a particular scientist back to the United States.

Tim Knox: Super. Now is Hannah going to come to the US and stay you think?

Rebecca Cantrell: No. She’s not going to come to the US. I think what’s going to end up happening with Hannah is after she – assuming she lives through book #5 – I think she will move back to Germany, to Berlin and try to rebuild her life there. So we’ll see her there in the ‘50s and through the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

Tim Knox: Talk a little about character development because Hannah is such a strong character. When you are developing a main character like this, what’s your thought process? Do you look for strength, weaknesses? How far back do you go in their biography? How do you do it?

Rebecca Cantrell: Well with most of my characters I have a character bio that’s the basics about the character. It’s just a couple pages long. Then I write scenes with them and get to know them through the scenes.

So I setup basics of how old they are, where they were born, a little bit about their childhood, what they look like but then the rest of the character comes through in what they do. I learn a lot about who they are based on how they behave in the books.

Tim Knox: So you actually learn about the character as you go and based on how they respond and how they do things.

Rebecca Cantrell: Yeah, just like the reader does.

Tim Knox: That’s a great way to do it. Do you ever find that writing series, that every now and then you forget something you did in an earlier series and you have to kind of do an ‘uh-oh’? I had one author who wrote series and he didn’t really pay attention to one character and in book #4 the character started chain smoking and he was busted by his fans. I think that’s really interesting. If you write series as you do how closely do you monitor the behavior and the details where you don’t have a blip on the radar?

Rebecca Cantrell: I look stuff up all the time in my earlier books to make sure I’ve got everything right. I had one character whose eye color changed in book #3; he was a minor character but one of beta readers from my writing group immediately busted me for it. She’s very visual and she’s like, “He used to have gray eyes and now they’re blue-gray. What happened?” “Oh my God! Thanks for pointing that out.”

I do and I have to keep looking them up over and over again just to see what I said and see what I said and see what they do. They’re clear in my head, especially the main characters, but a lot of the minor characters – there’s a whole lot to keep track of. At this point I’ve written 9, 10 novels so it’s hard to keep all that straight in my head all of the time.

Tim Knox: That’s so interesting. Are you still working with a traditional publisher? Do you see self-publishing as the wave of the future? What are your thoughts?

Rebecca Cantrell: Well the books with James Rollins are certainly traditionally published, with Harper Collins. With the Joe Tesla books, I will probably continue self-publishing those because I’m really just having a great, fun time with it. With other stuff, I don’t know. It depends on the deal. It depends on the project.

If I write a book and I get a very good offer from a traditional publisher then I would definitely consider going that route again but if the offer wasn’t just right I’d rather self-publish. It’s a very good time as an author to have those kinds of options and to really be able to decide for yourself how you want your work to come out and what control you want to have over it. It’s a wonderful, wonderful time.

Tim Knox: Fantastic. Rebecca, we’ve got just a couple of minutes left. Give us your best advice to the audience – again they are primarily authors and writers who are looking to do what you have done. They want to get published. They want to sell books. What is your best advice to those folks?

Rebecca Cantrell: My best advice would be read a lot and not just in the genre you want to write in. Read in every single genre you can think of. Read every single book that interests you. Then I would say write and treat it like a real job. Block out real time and show up and work. Don’t let yourself have excuses not to write. I think it’s very easy to do that and I know I did that early in my career and it makes a big difference when you treat it as seriously as you would that 7-11 part-time job.

The other thing is to have fun. I think there’s this myth of the tortured, alcoholic, drug-addicted author and I don’t think you have to buy into that. You can have a lot of fun writing. It doesn’t have to be torture.

Tim Knox: Very good. Rebecca Cantrell, the author of so many great books – Hannah Vogel series, the iMonsters series which is downloading on my phone as we speak. Tell the folks where they can find out more about you and your work.

Rebecca Cantrell: I have a website, and I’m on Facebook as AuthorRebeccaCantrell and on Twitter @RebeccaCantrell.

Tim Knox: Rebecca, this has been fun. Will you come back later and tell us what’s new?

Rebecca Cantrell: Sure, of course.


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