Inspired by a criminal case about an illegal body-parts-harvesting ring, Pamela Callow wrote DAMAGED, the first book in her thriller series for MIRA Books. Prior to making writing a career, Pamela worked as a strategy consultant for an international consulting firm. She is a member of the Nova Scotia Bar, and has a Master’s degree in Public Administration and an undergraduate degree in English Literature.
Pamela lives in Nova Scotia, along with her husband, two children and a pug. She loves to go for walks (unlike her dog), drink coffee, and can be spotted avidly cheering on her kids at their many activities when she isn’t writing. For more information please here.
Tell us a bit about your current project.
I am currently working on the third book of my legal thriller series for MIRA Books. The series features thirty-something lawyer, Kate Lange. A runner, owner of an abandoned husky and a fixer-upper Victorian home, Kate is struggling with her career and hasn’t had the best luck with love. In DAMAGED, the first book of the series, Kate has to overcome her darkest fears — and learns how far she will go to stop a serial killer. In INDEFENSIBLE, the managing partner of Kate’s firm is charged with domestic homicide. Reviled by his colleagues, despised by his son, he turns to the one person who knows the taint of criminal scandal: Kate. TATTOOED, the third book, finds Kate drawn into a cold case in which a tattoo artist — who is an old high school acquaintance and Kate’s alter-ego – is involved.
We are all about journeys…unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.
Ahh…my journey was fairly convoluted, but in the end it was all about connections. The first novel I had written was a time travel historical. I cut my teeth on that book, learning revision, world building, dialogue, pacing. I eventually got it into publishable shape (by cutting 380 pages), and it won several contests. An editor at a major NY house wanted to buy it, but Acquisitions didn’t go for it. So I dusted myself off and decided to write a contemporary thriller. It is a genre I love to read. And I wanted to create characters that reflected my own experiences working in a blue-chip corporate environment: the politics, ambitions, ethical dilemmas, disappointments.
I started writing DAMAGED. At the same time, I was organizing a workshop for my local RWA chapter at which an executive editor at Harlequin (MIRA Books is the single title non-romance imprint of that house) was attending. She read the first chapter of my time travel historical. She loved my writing but the story wasn’t right for them. So when DAMAGED was ready for submission, I contacted her. She was interested, and I hoped to make a pitch at a conference we were both attending in Surrey, B.C. However, a week before the conference, this editor contacted me to say she was unable to go, but Executive Editor Valerie Gray was attending in her stead. She suggested I try to find her at the conference. As most writers know, this is not as easy as it sounds, and I wasn’t optimistic that I’d be able to track her down.
However, fate had other plans…at the opening breakfast for five hundred attendees, Valerie Gray was introduced with the other industry professionals, and I discovered she was sitting at my table! But our nametags were obscured by the table cloth. I introduced myself, we met for a glass of wine, I pitched DAMAGED and Valerie was interested in reading it. A month later MIRA Books offered me a two-book contract. They offered me a second two-book contract in January, 2010 for the third and fourth book in the series.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.
Of course! When I was an unpublished writer, the struggle was figuring out how to craft the book, find a story that appeals and get it published. As a published writer, believe it or not, the struggle is the same. Certainly, I’ve learned some things along the way, but it still takes time for me to figure out the story structure because I work in multiple POVs with several plot lines that need to intersect organically while propelling the story forward.
The best lesson I’ve learned is to dig deep – very deep – into back story. Any time I hit a wall, it is because I don’t know my character well enough. My mantra is this: one step forward in plot = two steps backwards in back story.
Elizabeth George, in her book “Write Away”, taught me an important lesson when I first began writing suspense. She said that suspense is created when the reader cares about the character, not the plot. That is something I think about while I am writing. I try to create plots with twists and turns, and create suspense about how my characters will navigate them.
What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?
The news. What happens in real life is often more bizarre than in novels. The challenge is to take a real-life case and make it plausible!
What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?
I have to acknowledge my junior high school English teacher, who introduced me to creative writing. She fueled the spark. Currently, my editor, Valerie Gray, has helped me focus on the value of back story.
Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.
Like many writers, I’d love to see my books on film. I wrote DAMAGED with certain actors in mind (whom I shall not name, as I don’t want to affect my readers’ perceptions of the characters) so it would be a thrill to see their interpretation of my work.
Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you’d like.
This may sound a little strange, but I work best sitting on my bed with my laptop. I can unplug from my email and the internet, close my bedroom door, and just work. It does wonders for focusing my mind. I don’t work completely in isolation, though. My pug is usually on my lap or by my side. Here is a photo of her, channeling the muse.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?
I find some element that intrigues me. In DAMAGED, it was the actual criminal case that inspired the book. For INDEFENSIBLE, it was the notion of wrongful accusation and self-identity. TATTOOED was inspired by my fascination with the mainstreaming of tattoos in our culture. Then I build a crime around it, characters and start researching.
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.
A music teacher for one of my children told me she gave DAMAGED to her uncle, who is in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy and is suffering from terminal lung cancer. She told me that he read my book and declared it the best book he had ever read and that he hoped he would live long enough to read the next one. I can’t express how humbled I am. And you can bet he’s getting the first galley of INDEFENSIBLE off the press.