Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Interview with Debra Purdy Kong
9/29/2009 6:51:26 AM
An interview with author of corporate capers Taxed to Death and Deadly Encryption.
In today's blog, I am showcasing the life and works of accomplished writer, Debra Purdy Kong. I first met Debra this summer at a local library event where we were both invited to do a reading from our latest releases. The excerpt she read was from her crime thriller, and for lack of a better word, it was a killer! Her description of a housewife returning home from an innocent night of taking her kids trick or treating takes a gruesome turn. Stepping through the front door, she immediately discovers a murder had taken place in her home. What follows is panic and disbelief; a harrowing situation described in detail, with a hilarious twist (can’t get the steak knife murder weapon out of my head)!
I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers.
DPK: Well, I’m a married mom of two who’s been writing novels, short stories, essays, and articles for nearly thirty years. I’ve held different jobs since I was 16 years old, mostly in clerical work, then stayed at home for 14 years to raise my kids. I also spent more hours than I can possibly count volunteering at their schools. When my children were older I worked in retail for five years, then quit to complete the final edits and publication of Fatal Encryption in April 2008. Eleven months ago, I decided to try something completely different so, at age 54, I was hired, and trained, by a security company to become a patrol and communications officer, which I really enjoy. Recently, they gave me supervisory training. Needless to say, the work’s given me new ideas for novels and stories!
LS: What I find so interesting is that you studied criminology, so I was expecting a protagonist that was crime fighting detective or lawyer, but a Canada Revenue Agency tax auditor? Who’d have thought a bean-counter/IT guy could lead such an exciting life? Please tell us about your debut novel, ‘Taxed to Death’, your principle character, Alex Bellamy and the inspiration behind this novel.
DPK: When I was studying criminology, I wasn’t thinking about writing novels or short stories. It was all I could do to write an essay and even then, I failed on my first attempt! Had I followed through with a career in criminology, I might have had a probation or corrections officer as a protagonist, but my life took a different path. After a lot of practicum experience, I realized I wasn’t emotionally prepared to deal with real people in legal and emotional trouble, so I sold my car and left for Europe to travel, work, and think things through. While traveling I wrote letters home, started a journal and began writing short stories.
By the time I returned to Canada a year later, I was hooked on writing, but I was broke and, at age 25, staying with my mother. She’d heard about a secretarial job opening at a firm of public chartered accountants. I thought the job would be temporary, but I was there four years. From that experience, though, came my first novel and my husband who was an articling student when we met.
One day, I was talking about writing mystery novels over lunch with some articling students, when one of them said, “How come no one writes about us?” That sentence started the ideas flowing. I published the book in 1995, and started the sequel, Fatal Encryption, right away. Between raising children, volunteering, holding down part-time jobs, and starting another mystery series, the second book took a decade to finish. Three more years passed before it was finally published. But I’m tenacious.
LS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for Alex Bellamy in the sequel ‘Fatal Encryption’?
DPK: Fatal Encryption takes place 18 months after Taxed to Death ends. Alex has been between jobs awhile and is feeling the pinch financially and personally. The story opens Halloween night and his parents, who live in Palm Springs, expect him to attend a family reunion at Christmas. Feeling like the family failure, Alex doesn’t want to go, nor can he afford it. So, when his girlfriend, Lena, pressures him into accepting a temporary job as a systems analyst for a department store chain he reluctantly agrees. His job is to stop the prankster who’s been pulling all sorts of stunts on the store’s computer. But things turn serious when the store’s data is encrypted by someone who demands ten million dollars or he’ll destroy every single piece of data the store has. As Alex investigates, he discovers a connection between a man murdered on Halloween night and the sabotage. Also, his feelings for Lena begin to dissolve as he reunites with Jillian, the woman he was attracted to in Taxed to Death. So, you could say this book is also part romance.
LS: With so many published works was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
DPK: I’ve had two agents, one Canadian, the other American. Neither situation worked out well, so I currently don’t have an agent.
LS: Becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel, so we’re always pleased when a fellow writer is plucked from relative obscurity to land a book deal. Can you share that moment when you sold your story to Gypsy Moon Press?
DPK: Actually, here’s the truth. My experience with traditional publishers hasn’t been much better than my experience with agents. When I was first marketing Taxed to Death, I was offered a contract by a new small Canadian house; however, the publisher wanted me to invest several thousand dollars to produce the book. After doing some research, I realized my husband and I could do it cheaper, and so he created Gypsy Moon Press. Since then, a publisher who publishes books in electronic format has picked up the Alex Bellamy mysteries, so I guess I’ve gone the traditional route anyway, but using new technology.
LS: This is certainly food for thought for all those writers desperately seeking an agent to get their works published! You have had more than fifty short stories published over the years. How long had you been working as a writer before you embarked on writing ‘Taxed to Death’, a full-length novel?
DPK: I’d had only two or three short stories published before I started writing Taxed to Death. One of the reasons I’m so slow is that I love to work on other projects while writing a book, and I do like to take a long time between drafts, so I can look at the work with really fresh eyes. For some strange reason, working on just one story or book isn’t enough. I feel far more comfortable if I have 3 or 4 different things going on.
LS: This is called multi-tasking to the max! I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
DPK: I’m very disciplined about dedicating a certain amount of time to writing. Although that time has shrunk drastically since I began my security job and I started promoting Fatal Encryption. On work days, I’ll devote perhaps an hour to writing and an hour to promotion. On my days off I double that at the very least. If I’m really lucky—which isn’t often—I’ll write three hours a day.
LS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know.
DKP: Oh, I’m definitely a plotter. I tried to write Taxed to Death without an outline and found myself restarting the book too often because the plot changed direction in a way that didn’t make sense by the midway point. I need to keep track of subplots, red herrings, events, motives, actions, and character traits on paper. Having said that, though. I start my outlines very detailed for the first third. Outlining tapers off during the second third, and is maybe a sentence or two per chapter for the last third. By that point, the story is telling itself based on the foundation I’ve laid. Many times, I’ve veered away from an outline when something isn’t working. After all, they’re only guidelines, right?
LS: They are just that, and as you are the master of your literary universe, you pull the strings. Now, with these two novels and numerous short stories in your writing portfolio, where do you find your inspiration?
DPK: I find inspiration by getting out in the world and seeing what’s going on. My jobs, my children, volunteerism, and my past have all provided plenty of inspiration. Ideas also come from news events that I find horrendous, strange, outrageous, or funny.
LS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
DPK: I don’t have any real rituals before writing. Writing time is so scarce that I try to get right to it. It takes about ten seconds to get into the story which is something I’ve trained myself to do with years of practice! What I always do while writing, though, is drink tea. I don’t make a pot because once the cup is done I need to get up and stretch and relax my mind anyway. I’m starting to drink more coffee now – my security job has corrupted me because of those 5:30 a.m. wakeup calls. I had given it up when I was pregnant with my son 15 years ago, but what can I say? 5:30 is tough!
LS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
DPK: I had this problem a lot during my first decade of writing and solved it by going for walks to relax. I also read books about writing. I find so many books—even how-to—books inspirational that I can’t wait to get back to work after reading one. Going to a writers’ conference also helps!
LS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
DPK: After the 9/11 tragedy, I know of a number of writers who stopped writing for awhile because they thought their work was suddenly unimportant, given all the horrible things happening in the world. Even before that day, I sometimes asked myself if it mattered whether I wrote or not. It’s only stories, not life and death stuff. It’s not as important as raising happy, healthy children. But then a fan letter came and later a compliment by a stranger who walked up to me and said “I really liked your book”. And I realized I was giving people something to take their minds off the serious stuff and that this is important. Writing is important. Writing well is the goal. Being recognized for my work is the dream.
LS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
DPK: The most important thing I’ve learned is that the journey is what matters most. I love the process of writing from first draft to last. My goal is to keep developing so one day someone will say, “Wow! That’s the best thing I’ve read in a long time!”
LS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
DPK: Right now I’m reading a collection of prose and poetry by a member of my writers’ group, Addena Sumter-Freitag. Her wonderful book is called “back in the days”. She’s a seventh generation black Canadian who was raised in Winnipeg. And she writes from the heart and soul and with a truth that absolutely grips you by the throat.
LS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from these corporate capers into other genres? Can your fans expect another Alex Bellamy novel in the near future?
DPK: I see myself still writing, but what I’ll be working on is the big question. I’ve put the Alex Bellamy series on hiatus to focus on my other series featuring Casey Brisseden, a transit security cop. I’ve written the first two books, I’m on the fourth draft of the third book, and have plotted the fourth. Once these titles are released I’d like to work on something else.
I was at romance writers’ conference about 18 months ago and loved the many different subgenres that have emerged over the past 20 years. While I was at the conference, an idea for an urban fantasy sprang to mind. It’s about a witch, a hospital, a romance, and some strange goings on. I’d really love to be working on that, too.
LS: Thank you so much, Debra, for taking the time from your hectic schedule to share in your experiences and inspiring authors to look at other possibilities when it comes to publishing their works! You have certainly paid your dues and I wish you great success in all your writing endeavors.
For more information about Debra Purdy Kong and her novels ‘Taxed to Death’ and ‘Fatal Encryption’ check out:
Follow Debra on Twitter: .DebraPurdyKong
Where to buy the book: amazon.com, amazon.ca, Goodreads, my website and Dead Write Books in Vancouver at
Dead Write Books
#1 4333 West Tenth Avenue
Vancouver, B.C. V6R 2H6 Canada
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