Today on Interviewing the Indies, we sat down with Laura VanArendonk Baugh, author of several books including the Kitsune Tales series and a dog training manual. Her most recent release, Con Job, is a cozy mystery also suitable for YA readers. It’s a geeky read full of nerdy humor.
Jacob just wanted to have a good time with his friend Samantha and fellow geeks at the fan convention. But when dead bodies start turning up, Jacob has to start a little early on his hoped-for detective career. After all, the police are out of their depth in a world where nearly everyone wears a costume or uses an alias. But Jacob has a secret of his own, and it looks like someone is bent on revealing him to the entire con. If Jacob’s history comes out, his police career will end before it begins, even if he can find the killer. And if he can’t, more fans will die.
What’s your favorite geeky reference that you make in Con Job? Why?
A lot of references go by in the background, a fun catch for those in the know but not disruptive to anyone not familiar with that particular field of geekery. I'm a cosplayer, so one of my favorites is a really cool costume from a CLUTCH design, seen a few times through the story.
CLAMP is a legendary Japanese art group (samples here), producing many manga and art books. They're known for a distinctive elongated style and over-the-top and detailed designs, and a lot of talented cosplayers choose CLAMP designs to challenge themselves and show off their work. While there are plenty of real-world references in Con Job, like Star Wars and Sherlock, there are others which are more allusions, and CLUTCH is the CLAMP of the book's world.
If Jacob could meet one of his idols, who would he meet and why?
He gets to! Jacob brings his mint condition, first edition copy of How to Die in Five Easy Steps to be signed by Greg Hammer at the con. There's not time in the book to explore why Jacob is a fan, but it's really just the same enthusiasm that brings most people to fan conventions: an appreciation for story, art, character, concept, possibility. Fan conventions are ultimately just about rooting for things you enjoy with other people who enjoy them. Jacob lucks out and is assigned to be Hammer's security during his autograph session. Too bad there are corpses and other distractions to interfere....
Samantha is aiming for a voice career, so she'd probably want to meet Rob Paulsen, Mark Hamill, or Simon Jones. (Okay, I'm the one who wants to meet Simon Jones. He's one of my favorite narrators.)
What’s interesting to me is it sounds like you have two mysteries going on inside your story: who is the killer and what is Jacob’s history. What was the most difficult part of interweaving those two plots?
Actually, they worked together surprisingly well. Jacob's problem seems his own, while obviously murders at the con are of concern to everyone. But of course things are rarely that simple, and ultimately they do collide, threatening Jacob's longed-for law enforcement career.
Con Job was a very different genre for me, as I usually write fantasy or historical which is much more character-driven, while the mystery genre really requires that the focus stays pretty tightly on the mystery itself. Jacob's fear of exposure made it easier for me, I think, because that felt more familiar!
What’s been the best part about being an independent author?
I'm a control freak, and being an indie lets me set my own deadlines and make my own decisions. For example, I got to pick my cover artist (Kristie Good, an indie comic artist who knows the con circuit well and was able to give me awesome front and back art). Being able to talk through options with her and get perfectly customized characters was great fun.
I also get to write my own stories. Traditional markets are less willing to take risks or deviate from known formulas, but I can be more flexible because all the risks are my own. Most books in the cozy/humor genre feature female protagonists and more romance than Con Job offers, but I felt that Jacob's story was worth telling, and Jacob and Samantha have a great friendship even if it's not anything "more." I really value my critique partners' opinions, of course, but I appreciate not having to adhere to a market formula or shoehorn in an extra romantic scene.
What else do you have planned for the future? Any other books on the horizon?
I usually have several projects running at once. I'm experimenting with serializing a work in progress right now: Smoke and Peers is a sequel to a popular short gaslamp fantasy Smoke and Fears, and you can read it for free at Wattpad. Please check it out and leave me a comment!
I have short stories in four traditionally-published anthologies in 2014, which is pretty cool. One of my personal favorites, "And Only the Eyes of Children," is a rockin' urban fantasy and I'd love to follow those characters through another few adventures. I’ve also started writing another serial, a high fantasy adventure featuring a farm boy with a magic amulet which doesn’t really work and a sorceress who dropped out of magic because it was easier to rob people for a living. Oh, and something about the end of the empire and a sexy antagonist. It’s nowhere near ready to launch yet, but I’m writing….
But there are novels in progress, too. I'm kicking around ideas for the sequel to Kitsune-Mochi, and I hope to finish revising Shard & Shield soon. It's an epic fantasy, huge and powerful and very personal with the characters.