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Killer's Instinct by Dawn Dalton and Judith GravesBy Stacy Mantle

Co-Authoring: A KILLER’S INSTINCT with Dawn Dalton & Judith Graves

When you’re collaborating on a novel about the paranormal, you have to retain an open-minded approach both to writing and to the world – something that authors Dawn Dalton and Judith Graves do well together. KILLER’S INSTINCT is their first co-authored monster-hunting tale that appeals to both teens and adults.

In KILLER’S INSTINCT, young Hope is shocked to learn that her dead mother’s corpse is wreaking havoc amongst the living, so Hope does the only thing she knows to do – enroll in a militaristic “monster-hunting” school to learn how to lay her mother’s soul to rest.

We had the opportunity to interview Dawn Dalton, one-half of the Dalton-Graves team that created this fast-paced, young-adult thriller.

Why did you decide to co-author the novel?

I met Judith at a young writer’s retreat put on by my former employer. She was giving a presentation to young writers about how to write FICTION TO DIE FOR. To quote a cliché, she had me at hello. I immediately connected with her writing style, her enthusiasm, her work ethic, and her personality. We became critique partners, and shortly after, began brainstorming ideas for projects together. It got to a point where we didn’t ask, “Hey, want to write this together?” It was an assumption.

What kinds of challenges are there in co-authoring a novel?

I don’t think we actually thought about the potential challenges of co-authoring a book before we started writing it. Oh sure, there’s many things to consider, like, deadlines, writing processes, styles, and creative differences. Not to mention, the underlying fear, “What if she hates what I wrote?” But, Judith and I don’t even live in the same city, and the majority of this book was written using Google docs. We set our own collaboration guidelines, and because we were both invested in the characters and the story, it just…worked. We’ve had many comments from readers already that the book reads as though one author had written it. That’s a great testament to how we worked together, and also the skill of our editor. We’re proud of that!

How do you decide who writes which character?

We didn’t. We actually both wrote all four characters. I’ve read several collaboration projects lately where the authors explained how they have split the writing by divvying up characters, but I don’t think that method entered our minds. The characterization happened almost organically – we each added bits and bobs to the characters throughout the process, and all four of the protagonists have evolved into really complex and three-dimensional characters, with their own strengths, weaknesses, quirks and stories. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, or even one I enjoyed writing more.

What inspired this novel?

Judith and I brainstormed a non-fiction series first, actually. A series of survival guides for young monster hunters. The guides were intended to share lore, pop culture trivia, facts, and “kill tactics” for 52 of the Most-Wanted Monsters. We fell in love with the research, and though the non-fiction guides were fun and creative, our hearts are with fiction. We had an intense half-day brainstorming session, and loosely plotted KILLER’S INSTINCT. It kind of took off from there.

Tell us about the book:

Here’s the official blurb:

Where there is no life, there’s HOPE

Hope has always been a bit of a freak. She sees beyond the veil to where the dead walk amongst the living, their semi-corporeal forms appearing like creepy flashes from a never-ending macabre dream. But when her mother crawls from the grave and her zombified corpse goes MIA, Hope’s last thread of normal snaps.

Enrolling in a militia-style school for monster hunters seems her best bet for tracking down Mommy-dearest and putting what’s left of her to rest. But the stakes are raised when she’s partnered with three unique male recruits – each with their own personal demons to slay if they want to survive basic training.

But does Hope have a true killer’s instinct? If she finds her mother, will she have the guts to do what must be done to save her soul? In a place like Le Manoir, all bets are off.

Although this is primarily Hope’s story, the book is told through alternating points of view from each of the four main characters.

We’re both fans of the paranormal genre, but in this book, we really strived to make each “monster” unique. Yes, there are werewolves, vampires, and ghosts—but with a twist. There’s also some great lesser-known beasties, plus some fun side characters, including a rival group of monster hunters that really up the ante for our protagonists.

Tell us a little about Hope and her skills as a “monster hunter.” How did you come up with the concept?

Hope sees beyond the veil—which I suppose is a fancy way of saying she can see the undead. Her visions come to her in different forms, and sometimes are stronger than others. This skill is both a blessing and a curse, and not widely understood by the others in her unit. In fact, it’s the source of some conflict between them.

We liked the idea of Hope being vulnerable—but also unique. This “skill” allows for both of those things, and further drives home the challenges she’s faced as a teen. This girl is tough, but she’s lost both her parents to the dark side, she’s a girl in a primarily boy’s game, and she’s got her father’s stubbornness. That gets her in trouble, but also helps her survive.

Which characteristic of your main character do you most wish you shared?

Well, I definitely don’t want to see dead people. But I love Hope’s independence. She’s a fighter, and fiercely loyal. I love that she’s not afraid to take risks, even when they get her in trouble. I sometimes cater too much to my cautious side. Hope would be the one to kick me in the butt and tell me to take a risk. I sometimes wish I was more like that—without the kick.

What is something that may surprise your fans about you or your writing process?

My writing process isn’t very exciting. Like most writers, I have a full time job, and a family—which means, you cram in time for writing when you can. I’ve learned to write pretty much everywhere, whether it’s at my desk, on a park bench during my lunch hour, or in the car while my husband drives. But I’m picky about pens (I should own stock in Staples), I have an ever-growing collection of moleskin notebooks, and I must have Diet Coke. Actually, my Diet Coke obsession is so bad that I believe I will write only utter dribble without it. I tried to quit once, and even poured out my Diet Coke and substituted it with water in hopes my brain could be fooled. It was an ineffective experiment. Also, chocolate. Chocolate makes the world go round, don’t you think?

What are you working on next?

Too much! I NEED to be busy…and I always have ideas. I have a few writing contracts that span several genres, age categories and styles (write all the stories!) and are at various stages of completion. I have a couple of collaborative projects on the go, and some exciting news I can hopefully share in the New Year. Judith and I are hoping to do another book in the monster hunting series, with one of the other protagonists taking the lead. Always lots of fun stuff to do – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Dawn Dalton and Judith GravesDawn Dalton is the author of (mostly) creepy young adult and middle grade fiction. When she isn’t dodging monsters, you can find her at creepy crossroads with her husband and two hounds. You know, just skulking around. Killer’s Instinct is her first published novel. Her short story Thread of the Past was published in the SPIRITED Anthology (Leap Books, 2012).

Visit Dawn at Dawn also writes under the last name Ius.

Stacy Mantle
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