After the success of Pagan Flames, published by Summer Solstice Publishing, Vanayssa Somers has just released her follow-up novel, The Boy Scout, destined to be a best-seller. The Boy Scout, comes from her heart and soul and is all about the horror of human trafficking. Children being sold for sex or as slaves is shocking enough when it takes place on the other side of the world; even more so when it takes place in America, and the youngsters being kidnapped are American children.
This amazing novel, includes Melchior, King of Fairies, and Theresa, a young American woman soon to be his wife. Reality becoming enmeshed with fantasy as these two Wizards help fight for what’s right, to support the human race, while trying not to expose their own world.
Vanayssa’s career as a writer began later in life for her. She is an inspiration to everyone to never give up on their dream. Here is what she has to say in a very open and candid interview which is well worth the read, especially if you are an aspiring writer.
INTERVIEW WITH VANAYSSA SOMERS
What inspired you to write your first book?
The first novel, Pagan Flames, is a story that came from real life, although it is a fantasy suspense romance. I wrote it just as an adult story but it was awarded a place on the list of Best YA [Young Adult] Books of 2015 by Michael Thal’s review blog, Pop’s Picks. So that was a surprise, I didn’t know it was a YA book.
I used to do psychic work on my days off at times. I spent one summer renting a house on one of the beautiful islands off the BC coast, and I did readings outside a New Age shop during the day. A young woman came for a reading on her lunch break one day. That particular experience was so memorable and amazing for me, I never forgot it. I usually did not remember the readings, as they were channeled and all very different, but this one stuck in my mind. I knew one day I’d have to make up a story about a young woman who had these things happen to her.
It was very hard work to write that first novel, but it was also a lot of fun, especially because I knew the real story behind it. A lot of the book is made up of course, but the core of it came from that reading.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I am not sure about that. I tend to write in third person and to use a couple of different POV’s. Maybe more than just a couple. The Boy Scout has POV’s for the hero and heroine, and the Boy Scout himself and to some extent others of the victims. Actually, young Jim is the real hero, but Theresa and Melchior play a part.
Nowadays, you might be taught formally not to do this or that, but when you get out there, you see that writers are doing a lot of what they want, and mostly it seems to work for them.
I like to inspire readers to accept the challenge of change in their own lives, to think about things they’d like to tackle, but are afraid to try. And go out there and try, if it makes sense.
How did you come up with the title for The Boy Scout?
Well, you know, I have noticed that most writers will answer the same way, they start writing up an idea, then they don’t like it, so they change it, then a few days later they pick it up and read it and go back to some idea they’d chucked out…and suddenly it finally grabs them and away they go. It was like that for The Boy Scout.
I got the idea of a young guy, twelve or thirteen, belonging to the Scouts, being a fanatic for getting badges and stuff, and getting involved in rescue of others. Then after a couple of days, the idea of having the villain also involved in a peripheral way, with Boy Scouts of America, too, so there are two boy scouts in the story. It really grabbed me and I just went with it. So the title was obvious…had to be, The Boy Scout.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Believe in yourself, in a realistic way, to take some measured risks, and go out there and transform your life.
How much of the book is reality?
Well, it was inspired originally in a general way when I read a news account on my cell phone one day, about how traffickers kidnap people and put them in shipping containers, lock them up, sometimes with no food, water or anything, and just send them off to some world port somewhere, where another trafficker picks up the container and lets them out and takes them somewhere to be sold on the market as either sex slaves or hard labor slaves. Or, often, both.
There was one that came into the U.K. from the continent, it had nineteen people in it from the Middle East, men and women, one of the men had finally died shortly before the container arrived in Britain. Somehow, the authorities got wind of it and caught the monsters and rescued the rest of the kidnapped people.
They actually had gone voluntarily in that case, I seem to recall, hoping for a new start in a new world, but they were taken by traffickers for their own purposes.
I tried to imagine being in a container like that for a week or two, and I thought, I would probably die. I am not really physically very tough.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Although it’s not something I talk about, in fact I cannot talk about it, it’s too hard, yes, something like that has touched my life.
When I was young and still not married, I gave birth to a fabulous little girl. When she was only about two years old, I fell into the Baptist Church. The church was very anxious for me to give up my girl for adoption and I fought them off again and again. Then they wanted me to go to Prairie Bible Institute for missionary training, and to place her in a fundamentalist Children’s Home in a nearby town. I foolishly agreed, being young and without understanding of the world.
In that Home, she was sexually tormented and abused by both male and female staff. Of course, I didn’t know, and none of the parents of the children would have known. I suspect that the owners of the Home did know, however. But it was a long time ago, and years before I found out what had happened to her.
Then, when I returned to my church, they wanted me to go do nurse training in Scotland. The training was free and they knew about, what was apparently the most wonderful Home, where my girl could, once more, go to live while I completed this training. Again, unable to make wise decisions for myself or my daughter, I agreed, not wanting to argue and unable to figure out what to do, really, as I had to learn to earn a decent wage to support her.
The Home they were talking about was Quarrier’s Homes in Bridge of Weir, Scotland, and if readers are interested, they can find out all about the horrific revelations that finally came out in the late 90’s and early years of this century about Quarrier’s. Children were tormented and abused routinely and systematically for years. My daughter was one of those children. Again, she told me nothing when I went to visit her, and after she came to live with me finally, at age nine, she did not tell me for a long time.
When I finally realized what she had gone through, I was, of course, frantic with regret for being led around by the nose by those stupid fundamentalists. I finished with the church and with Christianity after that. We like to think it’s only the Catholic church that is burdened with these kinds of events, but no, it runs like poison throughout all churches equally.
Unfortunately, my girl was killed in a car crash at age of 22. She came back to visit me on the first anniversary of her death, teaching me that although I might not believe in religion any more, there can be no doubt that there is a most wonderful and thrilling afterlife waiting for us all.
Then, in addition to abuse of children, there is the crime of human trafficking, more in terms of kidnapping of adults and teens.
I have discovered, through my research, that it happens every day. And we have all read news accounts of traffickers being caught and charged. There are different ways of trapping and using victims.
Often victims are shipped around the world to work in restaurants or warehouses or whatever, doing cleaning and stocking and hard labour, for years, they don’t really feel like they are trafficked, they are working, and being paid a tiny amount and have a roof of some sort over their heads. But they can never escape, and different means are employed to keep them where they are, working, or doing prostitution, or whatever the owner wants. Some are blatantly shipped away and sold to an owner for sexual purposes, and there really is no escape possible, although they often try. They are in a strange country, can’t speak the language, have no money, wear rags, are confused and terrorized and can’t cope with the problems that arise during an escape attempt.
Young people disappear every day, in our own country, right here, and we never think of it having to do with being trafficked, but it often is. Right now, there are people somewhere on board a ship in the middle of the ocean, sitting in the dark in a huge container, no food, no water, no toilet facilities, nothing. If they are alive when they arrive, then they are sold. If not, the bodies are disposed of. No one cares.
What books have most influenced your life?
When I was a child my mother got me a book about a Russian girl during WWII and her heroic acts. Of course that stuck with me. I was raised somehow or other to be codependent, so I had a hero complex, thinking I was stronger than others and could sacrifice myself to help others heal and get better. I have had four alcoholic husbands, and after the fourth one passed away, my doctor compelled me to go for codependency counseling. Twelve sessions later I was done with trying to save alcoholics. But it still gets me sometimes. I get pulled into “hero” situations because someone really needs me, just me, no one else, I am the one they need, to help them with their problems. I still fall for manipulative things like that, but I am becoming more aware of my own flaw in this way.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I love John Grisham’s books, he addresses huge social issues, Issues that in fifty years from now would be unthinkable probably. I grab every new book that John Sandford brings out with hungry hands, I wish he’d write more. He doesn’t seem to like Canadians much. I am not sure why but I forgive him. I pay to read his books, and Grisham’s, when I see a new one, and I don’t do that for many authors. Usually, I use the Library. I love Nevada Barr’s books, although I wish she would not go off the main story to bring in extra characters quite so much. There is a fashion right now to do that, and it’s nice to have a little of that but I am finding a number of good female writers are doing a lot of that and it is a bit wearing when you are involved in a story and want to follow the main characters. I always read her new books though.
And there are a couple of other suspense/romance authors I like. I get stuck in a rut and shut out some really good books because I just want that, over and over. Trying to break out of that habit.
Not as fond of murder mysteries anymore, tired of the gore and the suffering. I used to love the really big murder mystery writers, like JD Robb and Patricia Cornwell, but I got tired of being afraid all night long and having to get up and check the doors and windows in the middle of the night. Then, you know, it affects your thinking, you aren’t as positive, as upbeat, as confident and relaxed in life, when you read too much of that stuff. I took James Patterson’s course on Masterclass, and I love the videos, but I can’t read his books much, they are too scary for me nowadays. I do healing energy work for example, you have to stay positive and upbeat to do that.
What book are you reading now?
I am reading A Course in Time Travel by Curtis Loys Jackson. It’s hard going, but it’s getting easier. He has a whole different philosophy. I am just starting to understand it better. And I’m also reading Initiation: A Haram Boy’s Saga by Bernard Foong. I have never understood much about the world of homosexual men, and Foong’s book is quite wonderful, being biographical. These two books are teaching me things I have always wanted to know more about. No matter a person’s age, you can always expand your understanding of the universe and of other kinds of people.
What are your current projects?
Working on a new novel which will be a contemporary romance, maybe some suspense, maybe not, can’t quite get the plotline right in my head yet. But it’s coming together slowly.
I start a new book by writing up an event line, rather than an exact outline, and I find it really helps.
Do you see writing as a career?
Oh, yes, it takes a lot of time and energy. If you have time you can write as a main career, but a lot of writers start out writing and submitting and being published while still working. It takes at least five years to become known and really sell books much, so you need to keep at it for a time with little reward, and it’s good to do that while you are still in the workplace. Get that five years in. Get up early, do whatever you have to do, work at it on weekends, whatever. Learn to promote your books, learn the whole tradecraft. Then when you retire, you name will be known and selling books; earning extra income and also people find you interesting.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Well, I admire real Shamanic practitioners in life, I’ve benefitted from two Shamanic healings after my daughter died, and it saved my life. I love the stuff, it is the stuff dreams are made of. And it whistles you in, back in, so you belong again here in the world. They are great people.
But now and then, [like in The Boy Scout] a trained and experienced Shaman goes wrong. And when they do–oh boy. That’s a big deal. They are powerful people.
I hope that First Nations people will not feel I am picking on their medicine men and women by writing this book. I so admire professional healers who do Shamanic work. They are wonderful, brilliant people.
But, like anything, there is always a rotten apple, right?
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When I was in Grade Three my teacher told me I might grow up to be a writer. That went very deep and stayed there for my whole life. I always felt I HAD to write at some point.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Well, I have only started to create the characters, so I can’t say much yet. But the heroine is Kathryn, who is a well established author, like Grisham I guess, someone who makes a ton of money off their work.
She had a bad experience in her youth, while still living at home with her parents, some men broke in, and it has made her unable to have a lasting romantic relationship. So she writes romance instead. But of course, she is quite lovely and sooner or later some Sir Lancelot just has to come along, wanting her to wear his ribbons, right? So in comes Eric, a war correspondent, still stinging from a bad divorce in which he lost a lot of money as well as having a broken heart. They both dislike each other on sight, it’s so much fun that way, starting off that way. As a reader, you just know what’s going to happen.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The hardest part of writing is learning to promote your work. You just resist that at first, don’t want to do it, it’s alien to a writer or an artist, and that’s why writing and painting are synonymous with poverty. But you can learn, and you have to realize it’s a long-haul kind of thing. It takes years to become established, and at 72, I might not have those years, but I’m giving it my best shot anyway…it fills the hours of retirement nicely and it’s good to be learning new skills online. Buy My Book…makes you shudder, right? But you get over that.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Favorite without a doubt, John Grisham. Love that man. Also John Sandford. But Grisham tackles social issues, which I appreciate, as I grew up in a politically active home.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Oh, Ha Ha LOL I wish. I don’t even know how to do airmiles. I don’t have any in fact. But in my dreams, I fly to Paris for breakfast on the River Seine (I think) and have lovely French pastries and good dark coffee and then wander over to the Louvre, where I stay all day with meal breaks. And I’m young again and there is most likely a gorgeous Frenchman in there somewhere.
Who designed the covers?
Well, my books so far have all been published by Summer Solstice and my great editor in chief, KC Sprayberry, who also writes books, mainly for Young Adults. So I get to pick the covers from a photo website at her direction and the covers are put together by a gal called Michelle Crocker, who does a fabulous job.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The first one, Pagan Flames, I had no clear idea of getting published or how to achieve that. When I finished it after about 36 edits on my own, and with a major edit being performed by a wonderful friend who has saved each of my books from fates worse than death, by her generous reading and advising, then I started submitting it, and got rejected over and over by online publishers. It was hard to give up, because I loved the story. But I did give up after a while and put it away and forgot about it.
Then I started getting a newsletter called Freedom of Writing coming into my inbox and one day it talked about Solstice Publishing wanting submissions, so I hauled the manuscript out of its dark and cobwebby hole and sent it in. Imagine my surprise when I got my first contract in my inbox. Amazing. Wonderful day.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned to research everything. I can take days to learn about some small thing because if I get that small thing wrong, then some reader will notice it and lose respect for me. I still make mistakes, miss something here or there, but I really try to make sure I get my facts right. And in the process, I learn a ton of new stuff. All kinds of stuff.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just to keep writing if you love doing it. And to face the fact that you will, without doubt, need to learn to promote your own work. So start right away, don’t put if off. The first five years are spent in work and struggle and trying to get known. So put in those five years. Or even a bit more. And remember, the most successful authors you know have spent a lot of time and footwear selling their early books out of their car. Don’t be proud. Be positive and get those books out there. Learn to promote.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Just to be willing to change their lives if they are not happy, to take courses, go to night school, whatever they have to do, be willing to fall in love if they aren’t already, believe in your kids, try to help them get a good leg up in life, and never try to keep them down where you are. Permit your kids to climb higher than you ever thought of, and help them. Permit your own self to climb higher than you thought you could. They are watching you, so set an example.
One of my high points in life is a hidden moment, when I went to a Voice instructor because I suffered so much in dealing with four alcoholic husbands that I lost my voice and could hardly speak.
She discovered that I have a terrific voice. I mean…like…Hey, I have. A. VOICE. I never knew, never even dreamed. So that was wonderful and I took lessons from her and sang all the time to myself, it made me so happy. But life changed and that was over, I haven’t sung for a long time, except to myself sometimes.
You see, it was too late…I was getting old when I found out that all those hard, scrabbling years of my working life, I actually had a VOICE. Hidden there all that time. Unused, unloved. Wasted. All those wasted years doing other things, things I did not love. I regret that I never gave myself a chance to learn to sing, to dance, to paint, all those things. I thought I was not much good because I can’t handle numbers. Hell, who needs numbers when you can write novels about a scary Shaman who travels through time on a magic carpet and a Fairy King who follows him and rescues his beloved from a fate worse than death two hundred and fifty million years in the past? Who needs numbers when you can sing a song? And sing it like an opera singer. All day long. I never knew, you see. I thought I didn’t have much to offer life.
And when I finally realized I had everything to offer, I’d wasted my years, about sixty of them, trying to rehabilitate alcoholics and work in hospitals and offices and learning to use a calculator because I can’t handle numbers. Instead of singing and dancing, and I wish I’d learned to do that Spanish dance thing, the one where you wear a red frilly dress and shiny black shoes and stamp and whirl and throw your arms around.
I wish I’d had long hair and long ear rings and stood on a balcony somewhere in Europe and sung La Cavalleria to a rising sun coming up behind some staggeringly gorgeous snowy mountains.
But I didn’t. I did injections and gave meds and carried bedpans and typed banking documents and rode weary buses to and from small, cramped apartments. Instead. Because, you see, I never thought I was good for much.
So I try to get my readers to believe in themselves. There’s a lot more inside of you than you will ever even guess.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
I guess the big challenge was relaxing into the process and allowing all facets of my mind and imagination and knowledge base, everything, to really work in tandem and bring new ways of thinking and feeling into my experience of writing a book. The first one taught me how lovely it was to do that, how much fun it was. After that, I wanted to do more, of course. But with the internet, now, we don’t have the same challenges researching and learning. It’s much easier now. I did find that by the time I was tackling The Boy Scout, my third novel, I was more brave about going deeper inside myself and letting more hidden stuff come out onto the page. It became liberating. If you want to write you really have to be brave and dig down and let the world know who you really are.
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