MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR D.J. SCHUETTE
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
My name is D.J. Schuette. I write in a variety of genres, but my currently released projects, Chaos, and the follow up, Maelstrom, would best be classified as psychological thrillers. I have an as yet unpublished Young Adult Fantasy novel completed and a number of other works-in-progress.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
The idea for the primary conflict between my main characters in Chaos and Maelstrom first germinated with books like Silence of the Lambs and television shows like Profiler. I was fascinated by the idea of equally matched, but mirror-image opponents on opposite sides of the law—much like a game of chess with life and death stakes.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
I’ve always most enjoyed a healthy diet of dark, intense, and twisted. Whether a horror novel or a gasp-inducing thriller or a winding whodunit that keeps you guessing, I’d stuff myself silly. Thathas obviously wormed its way into my writing. Chaos, in particular, is a bloody blend of all of those genres, and it is meant to set the stage for an epic showdown between one of the most ruthless and prolific serial killers of all time and a crack team of investigators.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I did TONS of research, especially while developing Chaos. I even taught myself to shoot and familiarized myself with several standard-issue law enforcement sidearms. Learning about the FBI’s structure and departments, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), and even viewing aerial satellite images of the FBI Academy in Quantico was crucial to creating a realistic storyline. I spent so much time on the Bureau’s website, that I’m fairly confident I’m now on a watchlist of some kind. I was lucky enough to attend a Writer’s Police Academy event, which was an amazing and eye-opening experience. I also had a few well-placed resources at my disposal who helped immensely. Even so, still there are still a few unfortunate mistakes I’ve discovered with subsequent research. The fault is completely mine.
Can you tell me about your Series?
Sure! Book one, Chaos, introduces the two primary characters—profiler Nicholas Keegan and serial killer Aleksandr Zorin—and illuminates the conflict between them that will carry throughout the series. It also serves to introduce a few other characters who will play instrumental roles in the books to come. Another important “character” in the books is ViCAP—the criminal database the FBI uses to find potential linkages in violent crime. In concept, it’s a tremendous crime-fighting tool but, in practice, it isn’t terribly useful, housing only a very small percentage of applicable cases. I wanted to fictionally “repair” this system and reimagine the FBI in an entirely new (and eventually more effective) light.
The second book in the series, Maelstrom, is written in three perspectives designed not only to show the devastating consequences of Nick and Zorin’s first fateful encounter, but to feature FBI New-Agent-in Training Addison Lange and her own personal conflict. A computer-savant and capable hacker. The series is planned for at least five books in which a brand-new, eight-member Behavioral Analysis Unit team led by SSA Nicholas Keegan will be formed and tasked with the capture of the most violent criminals in the United States—including one Aleksandr Zorin.
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
I definitely enjoyed writing both books in the series so far, but Chaos is the origin story, so if I were forced to choose, I’d have to go with that one.
Where did you get the inspiration/idea for your series?
As I mentioned, authors like Thomas Harris, Cody McFadyen, and even Stephen King get some of the credit for my inspiration. The relationship between Zorin and Nick is very much inspired by those of Samantha Waters and “Jack of All Trades” (Profiler) and Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal).
Was it always meant to become a series?
I definitely always envisioned Chaos as a series, especially given the ending. I cut across the genre’s grain a bit and gave Chaos a cliffhanger designed to leave the reader with the same frustration and terror that Nick felt at the end of the book. Psychologically speaking, I thought that making readers wait (as Nick had to) to discover what had become of his wife was a needed parallel to intimately connect the readers to the character.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I’m currently more focused on my editing business than on writing. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to return to creating soon, but in the meantime, survival must be the priority. When I’m most effective writing, I set an alarm, get up, go someplace (a café or restaurant that’s okay with me sitting there for hours at a time), and write. I have a minimum target of 1000 words a day when writing, though I’ve had days well over 5000 words. It all depends on how much research is needed and how well I’m able to keep outside distractions to a minimum.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
The YA Fantasy I mentioned is currently titled Aurix the Bold, and book three of the Chaos series is tentatively titled The Archive (though given the direction the plot is taking, it will almost certainly be called something a little more “fun”). I also have another thriller with series potential in the works, tentatively titled Losing Face, and I’ve even got an erotic piece in the works. (I did say I enjoyed crossing genres!)
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
This is an interesting question! I’d say that it depends on the book. In Aurix the Bold, nearly everything is symbolic in some way—even Aurix is a combination of “AU” the symbol for gold, and “Rix” which is the High German word for “to rule.” In it’s way, Aurix means “Gold King.” In thrillers, I want the names to be strong, have a natural cadence that’s easy for the readers to pronounce, and that don’t have a lot in common with other character names. That helps keep confusion at bay.
Where do your ideas come from?
Occasionally, something mind-blowing will pop out of a dream, a snippet of conversation, or a song lyric. I often plan out the day’s writing during my morning shower—and sometimes, with fresh mind and relaxed body, I’ll hit on something I think is brilliant. Most often, though (and I suspect many writers will tell you this), they just happen in the course of writing. My best stories tell themselves. I am little more than the fingers on the keyboard or the grip on a pen. What my characters do is more driven by who they are than who I am, and the better I know them, the more freely they find their way onto the page. It is incredibly common for me to pick up an old tattered notebook or open an old computer file and discover things that I almost can’t believe I wrote. As much as I’d like to be impressed with my unequivocal writing genius, I know that I’m little more than a conduit.
Is there a genre that you’ve been wanting to experiment with?
Ultimately, my goal is to write a novel in every major genre. I’ve even got an erotica piece in the works, believe it or not.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Of the writing itself, it’s consistency. Some days, settling for a decently clean 1000 words is necessary, others, 5000 sloppy words is possible. If I could churn out 5000 words every day with consistency, I’d be one of the more prolific authors out there. It just rarely happens that way. Beyond the writing, my weakness is marketing, which is why I’m so grateful for these kinds of blogs and opportunities to talk about my work.
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I think they have their place, but they’re only effective if they’re reaching and being shared to a large, interested audience. Targeted marketing is a tricky, prickly beast at best.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
I have a kind, talented, beautiful, all-grown-up daughter who consistently fights for what she believes in. I’d like to think I had a hand in that remarkable mentality of hers.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
Getting feedback from readers. I’ve been fortunate that most readers of Chaos and Maelstrom (thus far) have really connected with the books and see the universe building that’s taking place as the story line unfolds. I’m sure this could easily skew the other way, if readers despised what I was doing; but thus far, I’ve been very lucky to have nothing but kind words and supportive comments. I will say that it’s also pretty damn cool to know that someone has spent several hours enjoying something that I’ve created.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I wish I knew! My life is undergoing a bit of upheaval at the moment, so things may look very, very different in ten years. Ask me again next year as things are settling down, and I may have a better answer!
Have you always liked to write?
In third grade, I took a homework assignment to write a paragraph about a monkey stealing a boy’s hat at the zoo and turned it into a twenty-page short story. My mother has my very first book stashed away somewhere, entitled the Creachure [sic] from Mars, so my passion for storytelling was apparently birthed from a very young age.
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
I’m probably the last person that should be giving advice! I can mostly only repeat the same things that have been said a thousand times. Write every day. When you’re not writing, read. If you can’t do either, observe–you never know where or when inspiration might strike. If there is one thing I might be able to add, it’s based on my answer to the last question: know your characters. Visit them often, have a little chat with them now and again. They’ll tell you most of what you need to know. Oh, and use a thesaurus! You don’t need to use the biggest words, just the right ones. Those usually escape me the first time around.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I love words and language in general, so I am also an editor. If that were adequate to pay the bills, I’d be happy as a clam. Otherwise, I’d like to think I’d be doing something helpful with my time on earth, but odds are I’d probably be using my argumentative nature and semantics as an attorney or something equally despicable. I won’t deny, however, that I have a deep interest in psychiatry and law enforcement, so perhaps I’d make a good profiler myself!
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
Every single one of them. And I almost always respond. I appreciate all constructive feedback. It only helps me get better and clues me in to what the reader wants. I’ve been fortunate not to have a whole lot of negative reviews so far, but I’d like to think that they would inspire me to be better, and I always take them into account when revising or working on something new.
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
Marketing. Bar none. It’s just not what I’m good at. I’m a storyteller not a sales/pitch man.
What are you working on now?
I’m on a temporary writing hiatus as I necessarily work to build my business: CriticalEyeEditing.com, but I hope to get back to it before long. There are too many stories waiting to be told!
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress? Here’s a little excerpt:
Nick slipped his hand into his pocket. Wright’s face was contorted in rage and turning purple. Just as he took a deep breath, Nick slapped a circular object onto the table and gave it a little rattle.
Wright stopped cold, the roar caught in his throat. His eyes locked onto the round pill box on the table.
“It’s okay,” Nick called out to the guard. “We’re good. I just knocked over my chair.” He stood and walked around the table to retrieve the jettisoned chair. He pushed it gently to the back of Wright’s knees, who sank into the seat as if he had no bones. When Nick returned to his own chair, Wright’s eyes were still glued to the small plastic disk.
Nick gave the little container another shake. “There are eleven teeth in here, Aaron. But you know that.” He’d taken great pains to match the container, right down to the black smudge on the side. Inside were literally eleven teeth—molars to be precise—but not those of Wright’s victims. Those were evidence. These he’d borrowed from Brian Mulvaney, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.
Wright’s gaze dragged back to him, almost as if he were in a daze.
“Was it only these eleven.”
He shook his head.
“How—” Wright started.
Nick cut him off. “How many times did you ruin her,” he asked again.
Wright was slowly pulling himself out of his stupefaction. “Fourteen. Twice in Wisconsin. Once in Iowa. They were the first.”
As he was perfecting his modus operandi, Nick knew. “Before you started pulling the teeth?”
“Yes. Give them to me.”
“What did you do with the bodies?”
“I threw them in the Mississippi. Give them to me.”
“Only the last. It’s easier to move them when they’re in pieces. Give them to me.”
Something about his fixation suggested the teeth were more than mere souvenirs. Nick was curious. “Can you identify the girls?”
“Yes! I can tell you all of their names. What I did to them. How long before they broke. How they looked when they died. Where I left them. Give me the teeth!”
What the fuck?
“Why?” Nick asked.
Wright’s eyes flashed in the dim light of the room. His voice became serpentine—low, raspy, and dangerous. “Because they’re mine.”
Nick had to know. He made a conscious decision to violate the policy of passing an inmate anything and slid the rattling disk across the table.
No sooner had the container reached Wright’s hands than he had popped the lid and tipped it to his mouth. The teeth tumbled onto his tongue. He began to suck on them loudly like they were hard candy.
Nick retched and leapt up, nearly knocking over his own chair in the process.
Wright leaned back, his eyes rolled in the picture of ecstasy. After a second, a wet spot began to spread on the crotch of his prison-issued jumper.
Nick stood there with his mouth agape.
Enamel clicked and clattered together as he slurred, “I can taste their parent’s anguish. Their tears. I ruined them too.”
Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
Its actually very handy to write in more than one genre. It keeps tedium or “writer’s block” at bay. If I’m stuck on one project, giving my brain something different to focus on often unlocks the needed door.
Where did your love of books come from?
It was there long before I have any memories to share. I learned to read very young, and had (have?) an incredibly vivid imagination. I was probably writing my own books in my head as a toddler.
Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
I mentioned some before, but a more inclusive list: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Cody McFadyen, Brian Freeman, Shakespeare, Poe, Thomas Harris, Tolkien, Nelson Demille.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favouriteand why?
Has to be Aleksandr Zorin. He was born in the deepest, darkest corners of my mind and is therefore also the most therapeutic. I usually write him best on my phone while lying in the dark next to my sleeping wife in bed. I allow Zorinto cross “acceptable” boundaries in the mystery genre through his “blog” at enterthemaelstrom.com. There Zorin shares his exploits in explicit detail without the filters that the publishing industry might otherwise place on him. It’s the mind of a true sadistic psychopath that I love to explore.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Most often it energizes me, but it certainly can require a significant amount of emotional connection. If I’ve written a particularly difficult or dark scene, I may find myself pleasantly exhausted afterward.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Time. I always wish I had more to dedicate to writing.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Originality is important, but it’s pointless without readers. I take all constructive feedback and try to incorporate it into future works. What I don’t like are subjective “boundaries” that often times prevent books from being published. My job as an author is to always push those boundaries while maintaining as much realism as I can.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have a number of author friends: Kristi Belcamino, Adam Nicholls, Jessie Chandler, and Brian Freeman among them. They all teach me something different that I can use along the journey. Their friendship and encouragement and sometimes their demands to keep my butt in the chair are critical factors in achieving a finished product I can be proud of.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
Expect the Unanticipated.
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
You covered most of them, but I’ve always wanted to be asked what central theme I can attribute all of my work to. That theme is love. Always has been. Always will be.
Where can your fans find you and follow??
My author page is at www.djschuette.com. You can find Aleksandr Zorin’s blog at www.enterthemaelstrom.com. And you can find Chaos here and Maelstrom at the links provided. Please feel free to reach out to me anytime through my website. If you need an editor or proofreader, you can find me at criticaleyeediting.com. And a special thanks to Amy for allowing me the opportunity to tell you a little bit about my writing endeavors!
Thank you for taking your time to do this interview ❤️