By J. H. Bográn
As the famous story goes, Steven Spielberg ran into Michael Crichton and asked what he was working on. The author replied with two words: DNA and dinosaurs. Of course, this later became the franchise known as Jurassic Park. Now, author Cara Brookins is taking DNA, and its experimentation in a totally different direction. For starters, as Brookins revealed to us this month, we’re now talking about humans.
What’s the premise of your new book, LITTLE BOY BLU?
Blu Tracey grew up isolated in the Appalachian Mountains and is the only child in his family without a genetic abnormality that causes blue skin. But when he discovers his mother intentionally had abnormal children for a reality television show, he becomes the target of a killer. If Blu doesn’t expose someone in his own family as a suspect, his siblings will be exploited for their rare, genetic mutation, and worse, they could be the next targets in the killer’s pursuit of fame.
How did the idea behind the DNA abnormality come about?
I’ve always been interested in science and unusual genetic possibilities. I read a short news article about Methemoglobinemia, a rare genetic abnormality that originated in the Appalachian Mountains, and instantly knew I had to write a novel about it. I tucked it away in my idea dump folder and waited for a plot to take root. I loved the sci-fi feel of blue-skinned people and the remote setting allowed for sinister possibilities.
Blu’s character came to me immediately, including that he was the only child in his family who was not blue. But it wasn’t until several weeks later, after reading a separate news story about Nadya Suleman (known as Octomom) that I put the full plot together with the mom’s motivations. Suleman appears to have intentionally given birth to multiple children with the hopes of a reality show. The natural question became, “How far will a person go for fame?” And more importantly, “How gray are the lines of this mindset?” In our reality show–obsessed society, it fit very well for a contemporary novel. I especially love that even though it sounds like wild fiction, it’s all possible.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
In addition to the usual Google searches and emails, I drove to Kentucky and spent time exploring the mountain hills and hollers. I also spent several days talking with people in small communities through the Appalachian Mountains to get a feel for the language they used and a sense of how well they kept tabs on neighbors and family. I didn’t mention that I was writing a novel. In some instances that reveal is beneficial, but because LITTLE BOY BLU includes controversial topics, I didn’t want to offend anyone or taint an otherwise natural interaction with local people.
What can you tell us about Blu Tracey?
The Tracey family is completely isolated for eighteen years—until the start of their reality show. None of the kids have a true image of the world beyond their small cabin. But for Blu, this isolation is even more intense because he is an outsider even within his small family. He is the only white child, which introduces themes of prejudice and favoritism in a unique way. The isolation isn’t all bad for Blu. Even though he’s only eighteen at the onset of the novel, he is an intellectual observer and fiercely protects his siblings. Being at a disadvantage for so many years gives him a measure of inner strength the other family members have never had to build. Blu’s worldly innocence, combined with his profoundly loyal and wise spirit, make for a fun character.
What can you tell us about the antagonist in LITTLE BOY BLU?
Through much of the novel, nature is one of Blu’s harshest adversaries. This is very much a survival story. But the most disturbing antagonist is the person trying to kill him. While Blu is confident the murder attempts are due to his inferior skin color, and he remains certain someone in his own family is trying to kill him, he has to follow a complex path to learn the identity of the killer. All the things he thought he knew about life—the black-and-white undeniable things—turn shades of muddy gray when he finds his mother’s memoir and learns dark truths surrounding his family’s history.
Will there be any presentation or signings for the book?
I speak at and attend quite a few conferences, and sign at all of them. I will also have a cocktail release party in Little Rock that is open to the public. I post all events and appearances on my website and chat about them on Twitter.
From your website, you like building things with wood, concrete or other materials, but you also create software. How do you balance the two?
It’s actually about twelve things that I balance, and not always as gracefully as I’d like! My day job as a senior programmer/analyst is a great problem-solving game. And since I’m developing software for the Little Rock police department, I’m gathering a wealth of knowledge about every aspect of law enforcement. Spending days analyzing the procedures of homicide evidence in the property room is both sobering and creative fuel. Writing code is very analytical though, so my dominant creative brain cries out for art projects and writing. My favorite writing projects are novels, and I’m also the U.S. staff writer for Riddle.com, where I develop playful quizzes and lists that you often see shared on Facebook and Twitter (for example, 15 Life Lessons From Star Wars). And I can’t fail to mention that I’m a single mom to four of the most amazing kids on the planet. Balance? I suppose the way I approach that is to direct 110% of my energy toward my family and my passion for writing. Unfortunately there is little time left for things like a social life or (most regrettably) sleep!
You seem to be a pretty active person. What is your writing schedule and how do you fit it into your life?
My day job starts in the early morning hours and that gives me the flexibility to leave in time to pick my youngest son up from school. I’m a night owl, so all writing for both Riddle and novels takes place at night. Marketing through social media is a big part of my life throughout the day. Spreading that task out makes it manageable and turns it into great fun instead of an awful task. I tweet when I’m making morning cocoa and afternoon tea, or in the line and the grocery store and while waiting for a meeting to begin. Admittedly, I only get a few hours of sleep at night. I’ve been saying for years that the schedule isn’t sustainable, but apparently it is. I am a very determined person, so with a massive goal of becoming a full time author, I believe in putting in the massive effort it requires. I don’t cut myself much slack or allow excuses. I work very long hours.
What are you currently working on?
My current manuscript is by far the most difficult thing I’ve written, and with a bit of luck the hardest one I’ll ever have to do. I was a victim of domestic violence at the hand of a mentally ill man, which put my kids and I in some very complex and frightening situations. When we were finally on our own, it felt impossible to rebuild a family from all our broken pieces. As a first step, we decided to build a house together from the ground up with our own hands. It was a crazy idea, but I firmly believe in order to profoundly change the direction of your life, you must make a profound move that changes the way you see yourself and your dreams. That’s what the house became to us. We watched a zillion YouTube videos so we could set our foundation blocks, frame walls, run plumbing, and even our gas lines. (My youngest son was only two when we started, so you can imagine the job site was part comedy, part tragedy.) About five years ago we moved into our 3500–square-foot house with five bedrooms, a three-car garage, an enormous shop, and a two-story tree house—all built with our own blistered, slivered hands. It was the most difficult time of our lives, so it’s tough to write about all of it. I’m normally very dedicated to looking forward, not back. The working title of this project is Rise, and I’ll have it to my agent by January 1.
You have middle grade, young adult, and adult novels available. Will you continue writing for a variety of age levels?
It’s much easier to create a brand and manage publicity if an author writes for fewer age groups and genres. I suppose I knew this going in, but I wasn’t sure where I would be most comfortable. Maybe I’m a slow learner on this front! While I don’t ever see myself sticking with a single genre, I have seen my focus narrowing quite dramatically over the past few years. Writing LITTLE BOY BLU was like coming home. I love the suspense and thriller genres and plan to hang out here for a long time. I’m also working on a women’s comedy about divorce and voodoo which provides an emotional lift after spending time in a dark thriller mindset. Ideally, I see myself bouncing between adult psychological thriller and comedy for a long time to come. It may be years before I write again for the younger market.
Cara Brookins is the author of the psychological thriller, LITTLE BOY BLU and the women’s comedy, Voodoo I Do. She is also the author of the young adult novels, Mark of the Centipede, Mark of the Serpent, Mark of the Spider, Treasure Quest, and the middle grade Gadget Geeks and Doris Free novels. Her latest novel, Rise, is based on the real-life events after she and her four children left a domestic violence situation and built Inkwell Manor, their 3500-square-foot home, from the ground up with their own hands. Cara is a staff writer for Riddle.com and works as a senior computer programmer/systems analyst.
To learn more about Cara, please visit her website.