DEVOLUTION features 16-year-old Chiku Flynn. Chiku was born in the rainforest of the Congo to two anthropologists studying the local chimpanzees. For the first eleven years of her life, Chiku is more chimp than human, grooming with the chimpanzees, nesting with them at night slurping termites and ants from twig tools. Everything changes when her mother is killed by a crocodile. Her father sends her back to the States where Chiku grows into a maladjusted teenager. She is diagnosed with mood disorder, depression, defiance disorder, you name it, and is medicated for the lot. Then, when Chiku is sixteen, her beloved father disappears and Chiku must return to Africa, to the rainforest and a land in violent turmoil to discover her true heroic self. In Swahili ‘Chiku’ means ‘chatterbox’. But to the chimpanzees of the Maiku National Park, with whom Chiku can communicate using sign language, Chiku is known simply as Talk Talk.
What inspired you to write it?
Two things inspired me. First, my own sixteen-year-old Leah who is a voracious reader. Second, for the chimpanzees. I became fascinated by the work of scientists trying to determine if chimpanzees could pick up human language. My thought was: what would happen if chimpanzees living in the wild were taught sign language? Would they eventually abandon the skill, or would they pass it along from generation to generation? If the latter, what would the impact be on chimpanzee society?
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What's something you wish you had known in advance about publishing?
I expected to leap to the top of the NY Times best seller immediately and have the world be made aware of this magnificent work through osmosis. I had no idea how much time, effort and energy writers must put in on their own to market their work. Marketing a novel is far more grueling and time-consuming than the research, preparation, writing and editing of the novel. Plus, I had no concept of the competition, the thousands of other writers trying to gain attention for their creations.
What's the best part of being published?
The most important thing writers do is communicate ideas to the world. These ideas may amuse, startle, thrill and entertain people. But I have always tried to add a little extra to my stories. In DEVOLUTION readers will learn about the troubled history of the Congo and the jeopardy that modern technology has placed on the world’s most precious environments. I love meeting with people and discussing my work. I not only want to entertain, as a good book must, I hope to provoke thought and debate. A good book entertains. A powerful book enlightens while it entertains.
Who's your publisher? Tell us your story-- how'd you come to be a published author?
I have been writing since I took my last college exam, May 1973. To many of you that is the Stone Age. I wrote my first novels in notebooks using a bunch of sharpened pencils and a very big eraser. I do not know how many books and screenplays I have written. Nor do I know how many rejection slips I have received. More than other aspiring authors, I would imagine. In 2007, in frustration, I researched publishers and agents in Canada and discovered a new small company called Kunati Books. They were looking for page-turning excitement. ‘Think Hollywood' was their mantra. As it turns out I had a fast-paced entry called HUNTING THE KING for which there was also a screenplay. I sent it to Kunati, and lo and behold, they accepted it.
My current publisher, for DEVOLUTION, is Cheryl Tardif who founded Imajin Books. Cheryl was one of the Kunati authors. I submitted DEVOLUTION to her and was enthusiastically accepted. I am currently working with agent Anne Confuron stationed in paris looking for further success in Europe.
I write a very thorough outline. The first step for me in developing my story is writing biographies of all of my characters. The more important the character, the more thorough the biography. I find that in exploring my characters, I discover plot lines. The same thing can happen in the research phase. For DEVOLUTION, the history of the Congo played a significant role in decisions I made about plotting. When I am ready, I create a lsit of events that I think need to happen in the book in no particular order. This may include scenes that depict character traits or scenes that set up future important moments. Once I have my list, I go back and sequence the events, visioning the novel much as I would a film, from scene one to the end. This does not mean, however, that I don’t reserve the right to change my mind at any point along the way, as I often do. If a plot twist surprises me, it will probably take the reader by surprise, too.
Are you a full-time writer or do you have a "day job"? What do you do in your "day job"?
Oh, if only… I work full time in the non-profit world (much like the writing world, as it has turned out so far) for a community action agency. I have been involved with housing-related issues in one way or another for almost thirty years, first as a tenant organizer, then working in arson prevention and in public housing, and finally for agencies that work with families in crisis. On a typical day, I am trying to prevent evictions, get utilities turned back on, showing homeless families who to apply for subsidies and in general working with struggling people. Writing is an escape.
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