Stratagem by Christina Hagmann
What led you into writing?
My sisters and I grew up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. There wasn’t much to do but run around, climb trees, and make up stories. We made up stories, made scary movies, and were constantly using our imaginations. I also began reading at a young age and just loved the idea of making up the stories that I wanted to read, the ones that weren’t out in the world yet. Most of my family is into horror movies and I loved reading books that scared me. I read my first Stephen King book in 5th grade. So, when I was in elementary school, there was a book publishing competition. I entered a 25 page horror story. It was the first major piece of writing I’d done and I was so proud of it. The librarian read it and told me no one would want to read it because it was too scary. I’m stubborn, so that just made me want to write all the more.
How does a typical day look?
Because I’m a teacher, the bulk of my writing is done in the summer. I wake up, write for a few hours, go for a walk, hang out with my family, do whatever needs to be done, and then at night I settle in and write again. I try to keep the same routine during the school year, but sometimes grading essays or coaching sports gets in the way of my writing routine. Some days I’m extremely productive and some days I spend planning and plotting or developing characters.
In what ways do your characters test your abilities?
My characters test my creative abilities to represent many different types of people. I create pretty detailed character spreadsheets, including a Google image of someone who I think represents the character, so that when I’m describing them, I stay consistent. I do try to change up my MC. For my debut novel, Stratagem, the main character is a girl name Meda who is trying to figure out who she is. My next novel, The Brothers Finn, is about two brothers trying to solve the mystery of who framed them for the murder of their parents. The brothers are also trying to figure out who they are when they aren’t together as a family. I just don’t want to bore my readers with the same characters over and over again.
What’s your setup?
A lot of homes boast of having a “man-cave” but I have a “woman-cave” more affectionately known as “The Cave.” It’s in my basement and filled with just the right amount of distractions: arcade games, video games, air hockey, darts, multiple televisions, etc. My husband pretty much stays on the main level of the house because he knows that if I’m in The Cave, I’m probably writing or napping, both equally important in the life of an author. My favorite set up is around the holidays. I like to keep it dark with just a lamp and the television as lighting, but at Christmas, I love writing by the glow of the tree.
What lasting effects have your favourite authors had on your writing and style?
I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since reading Tommyknockers in the 5th grade. I also loved the writing style of Dean Koontz. I began collecting his books in 7th grade and had nearly 40 of them. I love how productive they are and how they always keep their readers guessing. I’m also a big fan of April Henry, a very popular young adult novelist. I would say my work is comparable to hers in that my books are quick reads and high interest for young adults.
What do you do for inspiration?
I read books and watch movies. I go for walks. I listen to music. I always try to match the movies and music with the tone or genre of whatever I’m working on. If I’m writing horror, I’ll binge on some horror movies. If I’m gearing up to write a romantic scene or work on developing a romance between characters, then I’ll watch some romance movies or listen to love songs. Same for action. It’s really all about mood and I’m often inspired by what’s going on around me.
What repeating themes do you find yourself pulling into your stories?
A couple years back, I wrote a short story about a young shapeshifter who took over the lives of the people she shifted into. In order to do that, she had to kill them. After writing the story, I realized that the poor shapeshifter didn’t have much of a choice it was the only way she knew how to live. It was at that time that I began to play with the idea of telling the story from a different perspective, through the eyes of the “bad guy” because really, a story is all about perspective. Stratagem really embodies that because it is difficult to tell difference between right/wrong and good/bad.
I would say that along with the idea of differing perspectives, I do like to write about characters finding themselves and finding their voices. I also like the unknown and the supernatural and pull that it. I’m also really big into political conspiracies, so I like to include shadowy organizations and political scandal, though it usually isn’t part of the main arc.
How do you wind down?
When I need a break, I’ll often go for a walk just to let my mind wander. I can usually work through some serious details when I’m walking. I also love to go to movies. The louder and scarier the better. It’s one way that I know I’ll keep my mind completely off my writing and be inspired by someone else’s story. Sometimes I like to just sit in the dark and listen to podcasts on writing. Often, I find myself zoning out but then tune in when I hear something that I can relate to. Beyond that, I love reading and going to Brewer’s games. I love lifting weights and playing sports.
What sort of challenges do you regularly overcome while world-building?
Keeping track of all the details. I try to write everything down, but sometimes I realize I hadn’t thought through a certain system in the world, so I have step back and write down every single detail, most of which won’t show up in the book. I keep spreadsheets and an attached note sheet. Sometimes, when I can’t crack something, I let that idea sit for a few days and jump to a different project. For example, I’m working on a YA time travel novel called Strange Harvest, and I was really struggling to keep track of the timelines. I left it for a week and one day, while I was going for a walk, it came to me. I ran home and jotted all the notes down.
What’s the most useful advice you could give to an aspiring author?
I have to admit, it really started happening for me once I got active on Social Media. Hard to believe, right? I’d heard a lot about the #writingcommunity and so I started following it on Twitter. After that, I learned about #pitmad and soon I was signing a contract for a novel I pitched. Within a month, I’d signed with two different publishers, Orange Hat Publishing for my debut novel, Stratagem, and RhetAskew Publishing for my upcoming novel, The Brothers Finn. What I learned from both of my publishing houses is that the writing community shouldn’t be competitive and that we all have the same goal and we should support each other. It’s been very uplifting and nurturing. Beyond getting involved, I would say: Read a lot. Read great books, read not-so-great books, read books on writing, follow writers on social media, join writing groups, surround yourself with writers so you being to realize that you are not an aspiring author, you are one. And then read some more!
Tell us about the book you’re promoting.
Stratagem is a young adult suspense/fantasy novel and was released last month through Orange Hat Publishing. It’s about a young girl who is taken from her family and forced to train is a shapeshifting operative for the Agency. While on a mission, Meda is kidnapped and shoved into the trunk of a car. The three boys who have taken her are not just regular teens. They have ulterior motives.
Stratagem is a fast paced, twisty thrill ride and so far, the reviews have been positive. I’ve had many asking when the next book will be, and I just started working on it! My next book, due out later this year, is actually a standalone and not related to Stratagem.