Book Talk: Alex Kava uses own hurricane experience in new novel

SYDNEY Wed Aug 4, 2010 6:17am EDT

SYDNEY Aug 4 (Reuters Life!) - Being hit by two hurricanes within the space of nine months had such a profound affect on American author Alex Kava that she used the experience as the basis for her latest novel.

"Damaged," Kava's eighth psychological suspense novel featuring FBI agent Maggie O'Dell, is based on the Florida coast and a case involving missing body parts and a mysterious infection which is complicated by a hurricane.

Kava, a New York Times bestselling author, grew up in rural Nebraska but bought a writer's retreat on Blackwater Bay, Florida, where she experienced both hurricanes Ivan and Dennis in 2004 and 2005 and found out how such events impact a community.

The writer, who started out her career in marketing and design before burning out and trying writing, spoke to Reuters:

Q: Did you set out to make Maggie O'Dell your main character?

A: "Maggie took me a while to discover. I never intended the first book to be a series but I really like her now and have been surprised by how readers enjoy her and have become attached to her. I'm always interested to see what will happen to her next."

Q: Does she reflect you in any way?

A: "She has a few of my characteristics. She is as stubborn as I am and also slow to trust people like I am. Her fear of flying also comes from my fear too but otherwise we are very different. I don't have a background in law enforcement and forensics so a lot of that comes from research and people I know in that field."

Q: How does this novel differ from the others?

A: "For the first time "Damaged" did come from my personal experience with hurricanes (Ivan and Dennis). I spent a lot of time with my neighbours cleaning up and preparing. It is almost impossible to go through that and remain unchanged. You see what people can achieve together as a community. Then I was chomping at the bit to get Maggie in the eye of a hurricane and see how she would cope."

Q: Has your area also been hit by the oil spill?

A: "Yes. Pensacola Beach at this time of year is usually packed with tourists and now there is no one there. It is sad that an area that is just coming out of the damage from the hurricane is now having to experience this. That will be part of my book tour stop -- telling people to come back to Pensacola Beach."

Q: Will personal experiences shape your next book too?

A: "In the next book called "Hot Water" I am bringing Maggie back to Nebraska for a kind of bizarre murder twist and it has been fun to use that portion of the state that no one in the United States let alone the world knows much about. So it's based more on my geography than my personal experience."

Q: Is that due soon?

A: "It is the ninth and is due in September. The book I am working on now is under contract, then I'll be back to negotiations. Hopefully there will be more Maggies."

Q: Any chance of Maggie making it to the big or small screen?

A: "We always get calls but I have mixed feelings on that. Every reader describes Maggie to me differently now and that is what I love about the reading experience. As soon as you put an actress to a character it is impossible not to have that character become that actress."

Q: Where do all your ideas come from?

A: "Originally I wrote my first book from a crime that happened here in Nebraska and since then I have developed a community of law enforcement friends who have been very generous with their time and expertise. I used to call it our crime scene dinner club because we'd go out to dinner and they would share details of different cases they were working on."

Q: Any advice to aspiring writers?

A: "My biggest advice is that persistence is as important as talent. People get so frustrated with rejection and take it so personally but it is just a business. My first novel, one that sits in my bottom desk drawer as a reminder, received 116 rejections from literary agents. It didn't even see the light of day in a publishing house with an editor. It is tough business."

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Paul Casciato)