Hello Readers! Today on the blog I have a special author interview for you. Shayla Raquel just released her debut novel, The Suicide Tree. I was a beta reader for it and I’m excited to read the final version and see all the changes.
A washed-up hacker. Two hated scientists. And offbeat alter personalities.
Knox Kevel receives the job of a lifetime when a mysterious man gets his charges dropped for cybercrime and hires him for an international job. His infamous parents, who created a cure for the Raven Virus, are dead and gone, but their decision to keep NovaVita from the world has taken a toll on Knox.
Swayed by quick money, Knox flies to Italy with his eccentric employer, Arlo Jenson. Knox must find the woman who experimented on Arlo and triggered his unpredictable personality shifts. But tension heightens when Knox discovers that Arlo knew his parents.
As the adventure unfolds, Knox falls for Arlo’s niece and finds himself in an even bigger mess when he comes face-to-face with the person responsible for his misfortune.
Read the interview below.
Angela: You’re an avid reader. Who are some of your favorite authors and books?
Shayla: I just did an epic blog post on this—Shayla’s All-Time Favorite Novels and Why You Should Read Them—but let me tell you the top three I can’t live without: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Fun fact: I have approximately 3,000 books in my home. I’ll recount them before 2019 to see if I’m over that!
Angela: What stories/books inspired you to write your own?
Shayla: I’ve talked about this before, but I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft when I was sixteen. I had attended Speech & Drama Camp at Pensacola Christian College and stunk like rotten eggs. But I was pretty good at writing the plays, team song, etc. I rushed to the library and read every book I could find on writing as a career. When I read King’s memoir, I knew for a fact I would become a writer. I also grew up reading everything you put in my hands.
Angela: What motivated you to become an indie author instead of going for a publishing deal?
Shayla: Three big reasons:
- I have zero patience for literary agents. It’s not to be unkind, as I have a few good friends who are agents; it’s simply that I get so tired of how most agents treat aspiring authors that I honestly don’t have the stomach for it. All hail the amazing literary agents who are nothing like that!
- I am a control freak and do not want anyone changing things or being in control of the cover.
- I want it to be published on my own time. With traditional, you’re easily looking at 18–24 months. Oof!
Also, I’m a self-publishing mentor, so it just made sense for me to go this route. A friend of mine had suggested I pitch it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.
Angela: Where did the idea for The Suicide Tree come from?
Shayla: Originally, from a dream whose plot I can’t even recall. For one of my college classes (age 19), we had to write a character sketch so I used the plot from my dream and wrote a sketch on a man named Arlo, who had schizophrenia. Of course, in The Suicide Tree, he suffers from a personality disorder (by all accounts, dissociative identity disorder, although I never call it that in the book). As the years progressed, I had forgotten about Arlo and my research on the disorder but came back to it when I bought The Book of Poisons and discovered a plant called the suicide tree. And what do you know? It made for a great hacker name.
Angela: Talk about the title: What is a suicide tree and why is this appropriate for the book?
Shayla: The suicide tree—or, cerbera odollam—is native to India and some parts of Asia and bears a poisonous fruit that can stop one’s heart. I was so fascinated by what would be the perfect murder weapon (since it can go undetected in autopsies) that I made a mental note to use it somehow in a novel. Finally, the time came in 2015 when my hacker, Knox Kevel, needed an online handle. Hmm . . .
If you want to know why he’s called the Suicide Tree, you’ll just have to read the book.
Angela: You write about a hacker—do you have hacking experience? Is this a hobby that turned into a story?
Shayla: I am not a hacker but have always been captivated by those who are. I mean, what brains! It’s incredible to me that people can do that. For this book, I interviewed a hacker all afternoon long at a coffee shop on the beach. I took pages and pages of notes and am eternally grateful for his help.
Angela: Did you have to do research for your story?
Shayla: So. Much. Research. And to this day, not enough research. I think I could’ve researched more and more. There was a lot to learn about diseases, personality disorders, the dark web, and medications. Many people helped me to ensure accuracy. Even my close friend, Oren Patterson, helped me with a one-paragraph scene wherein a character suffers from a seizure (Oren, too, suffers from them). Each time I did research on the topic of the dark web, I used the incognito option on my browser. Not that it made a difference, really, but ah well . . .
Angela: Knox is a male. Is the entire book from his perspective or do you dance between a male and female voice?
Shayla: It’s all Knox! Although, I had to be very careful not to make him sound too feminine. That was an issue in earlier drafts, but I think I’ve got his voice down pat now. He is my favorite character.
Angela: The setting takes place in Italy. Is this a place you’ve been? Do you have a love of travel that inspired the story?
Shayla: Yes. They travel to Sorrento, Capri, Venice, Pompeii, Amalfi, and Florence. I’ve been to each place, and the memories of the scenery, food, and people are still so clear in my mind. I’ve also spent a good portion of my life in Pensacola Beach, Florida, which is where the story begins. My wanderlust will always, always fuel my stories. I feel like the settings required so little research because I knew them by heart.
Angela: Talk about the character with the split personality. Was it difficult writing a character with such drastic personalities?
Shayla: Yes. Every time I thought I knew what I was talking about, I’d still be off somehow. I worked very hard to ensure I handled this delicately, especially since Arlo’s case is very different from other cases.
Arlo didn’t have a traumatic past that prompted this disorder. For example, many people with dissociative identity disorder experienced sexual trauma as a child and need that alter to help him/her cope. That wasn’t the case with Arlo.
You’ll have to read the book to see what happened. (Getting old yet? Yes? Okay.)
Angela: Did you add a bit of your own personality into the characters? Or are they purely fictitious?
Shayla: Knox is two people: me and my best friend/boyfriend Stephen Peoples. For Norah, I borrowed a lot from Morticia Addams. For Arlo, I thought of Merlin from The Sword in the Stone. And Jessa is just her own thing!
Fun fact: To this day, my blog post published in June 2014, 20 of Merlin’s Best Quotes from The Sword in the Stone, remains my most visited blog post of all time.
Angela: What is your favorite scene or chapter in the book?
Shayla: The scene in Capri when Arlo makes Knox scale a mountain to get to the Jenson residence. The whole thing is so absurd and hilarious, but Arlo just forces Knox to overcome his fears and defeat the mountain.
Angela: One of the things I love about books are the takeaways and messages I glean. While some are intentional, some aren’t. Are there any particular messages or takeaways you want readers to get from reading The Suicide Tree?
Shayla: Go on an adventure. Find yourself. Learn something you didn’t know. Talk to people who intrigue you. Scale a mountain. Learn how to ride a boat in 5 minutes and take it halfway around an island in a foreign country (yes, I really did that in Capri, Italy). Eat foods you can’t pronounce. Uncover a mystery. Fall in love. Just go on an adventure.
Angela: What’s in your future? Are you working on any books right now?
Shayla: The next book I’m working on has no name, no plot, but there is a spark of an idea. The hint? It involves blood but not a drop of gore.
An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients.
Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books.
She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and The Suicide Tree. In her not-so-free time, she acts as organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society, volunteers at the Oklahoma County Jail, and obsesses over squirrels. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.
Email: hello@shaylaraquel or https://shaylaraquel.com/contact