Good Morning Everyone and happy Friday
Welcome to Inside A Beautiful Mind.
Go grab your coffee, tea or beverage of choice and come sit with me as we get comfy and have a chat with the marvelous Christina Hoag.
Good Morning Christina, thank you for agreeing to hang out with me and wanting to be a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind.
So let’s get right to it, can you tell me a little bit about yourself.
I won a prize for writing interesting stories when I was six years old and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since as a journalist and novelist. I’m the author of two novels Girl on the Brink, a YA romantic thriller (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, 2016) and Skin of
Tattoos, a gangland thriller (Martin Brown, 2016), and co-authored Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014), which is about gang intervention. I live in Los Angeles currently, but I’ve lived in numerous countries as a child and adult.
Can you tell us about your books?
One is a literary thriller called “Skin of Tattoos,” in which the main character, Mags, comes out of prison wanting to get out of gang life but finds himself trapped in it by various circumstances. It’s a story of revenge and rivalry, but there are also other layers: Mags’s quest for his father’s approval, the hardships faced by a poor immigrant family, and the larger picture of the factors that drive gangs in our society.
“Girl on the Brink is a YA romantic thriller about a 17-year-old girl who gets involved with the wrong guy. At first, she thinks Kieran’s the one. He sweeps her off her feet, to use an old cliché. Slowly, however, he reveals a dark side of his character – he’s manipulative, abusive, violent, possessive. Chloe wants to help him, but Kieran’s not that keen on being helped. He pulls a huge move to harm her, and Chloe must use all her smarts, strength and courage to defeat him.
What inspired you to write your first book “Skin of Tattoos”?
I was sent to El Salvador back in 2000 to do a magazine story on gang members deported from Los Angeles to San Salvador, which most of them really didn’t know because their families had emigrated when they were infants. It was a classic “fish out of water” story. They neither belonged in El Salvador or in the United States. Some barely spoke Spanish. It’s really a strange take on the immigrant experience. Their story resonated with me. I could relate to them because I had moved around the world as a child, so I also feel I
don’t really belong anywhere. Although my novel is not about deported gang members; it’s the tale of rival homeboys in L.A., the book was inspired by those interviews in El Salvador.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
“Skin of Tattoos” is basically from my imagination although I did a lot of research for it, including interviews with former gang members. “Girl on the Brink” was inspired by a personal experience and I felt strongly that I wanted to write about it to show girls the red flags of an abusive relationship. I’ve had very good feedback from it so I’m glad I wrote it.
What was your favorite parts to write and why?
In “Skin of Tattoos,” I really liked writing Mags’s resolution of his rocky relationship with his dad and of his betrayal of his homie, Blueboy. Those bits come near the end but I felt very satisfied that he had grown enough to confront those issues in his life. In “Girl on the Brink,” I liked writing Chloe and Kieran’s fun relationship, when Kieran was still quirky before turning abusive. The abusive bits were hard to write.
How did you come up with the titles?
Basically brainstorming. I needed strong edgy titles for both books. Tattoos were a big symbol in the gang novel—Mags is haunted by his tattoos, which signify his gang membership that he cannot get out from under, while books with “girl” in the title seem to do well so I decided the YA book needed a “girl.” I think both have worked well.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The toughest criticism I got was from agents who rejected “Girl on the Brink” because they said I didn’t have the teen voice right. It was tough because I didn’t quite know how to remedy it, although eventually I gave up trying and just wrote from my heart. It seemed to work. It’s interesting to note that no reader has mentioned any problem with “voice.” The best compliment is from readers who really like my lyrical, literary style of writing and from those who say my characters are well formed and deep.
Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?
I sit in this weird way with one leg folded to the side and the other leg crossed over it, angled to the other side so basically my legs are going in opposite directions. It looks odd and I’m sure an ergonomic specialist would have a heart attack but I find it very comfortable!
What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research online for your book?
Murder methods. I won’t give anything away about my forthcoming thriller, tentatively called “Jungle,” but I came up with a cool way to kill someone. Eek, that sounds so creepy!
Give us an interesting fun fact about your book.
“Skin of Tattoos” started life as a YA novel, but that genre proved too limiting for the character and story. I upped Mags’s age a couple years and voila, I had an adult book that granted me full rein over story without having to think of teenager-ish things like parental control, school, etc. It was far better.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
A bit of both. I like to know where I’m going so I have a loose outline. I’ve found knowing your ending from the getgo really helps to avoid writing yourself into corners, or into a wall. That said, I change stuff as I go all the time. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Sometimes I do detailed mini-outlines covering just the next chapter or two. It also helps to get you started when you sit down at the computer every day so you avoid wasting time wondering what comes next.
Can you tell us about your experiences in getting your first book published?
It was a long and rocky road to publication that took years, even after I finished writing the books, which took years in of itself. I eventually got an agent after sending out about 90 queries, but frankly, she was a lousy agent who gave up quickly. I did not. I rewrote and rewrote and got another agent, who was a real pro. She did not, however, succeed in selling my book (this was “Skin of Tattoos”). I kept at it. I knew it was good, and I knew “Girl on the Brink” was good, too. I kept rewriting, but I switched from seeking agents to
seeking publishers who took unagented subs. I kept searching the Internet for publishers and submitting. My persistence paid off in the end.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I won a prize for “writing interesting stories” when I was six years old so I think writing was something I was born with. I always wanted to write books. I discovered journalism in high school – a career that would pay me to write! I wrote short stories on and off until I really focused on my childhood goal of writing novels about a dozen years ago. I wrote an outline for ‘Skin of Tattoos” in 2006, started writing it in 2008, finished it in 2013.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
It really chose me. I naturally gravitated toward dark crime stuff, particularly thrillers. I’ve always liked reading about the seedy side of life and human nature, ever since I was a teenager.
Where do you get your ideas?
Really anywhere. Some have come from my own experience, some from people I’ve interviewed and things I’ve written about as a journalist, things I read about or that people just tell me about their own lives. It kind of all gets poured into a funnel in my brain and mashed up.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
I have a list of must-read books, but I’ve always been partial to Graham Greene. Many of his books are about the concept of being a foreigner, an outsider, which I relate to since I’ve lived in many countries both as a child and as an adult. That influence comes through in my novel “Skin of Tattoos,” where the protagonist Mags was born in El Salvador but left with his family fleeing the civil war when he was a child so he doesn’t really feel Salvadoran, doesn’t remember anything about the place, yet that is his identity. He’s an outsider to El Salvador, yet as an immigrant an outsider to mainstream American society, as well. He finds his home in a gang with others from similar backgrounds. As a reader, I love immersing myself in foreign cultures and settings because you always learn something new. As a writer, Greene’s work made me see how key setting can be. It can almost become almost like another character with a personality all of its own.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Believe in yourself and that you have something to say. That’s the greatest gift you can give yourself. Just keep going no matter what anyone tells you, no matter how many rejections you get.
What is your favorite quote or saying?
Never, never, never give up—Winston Churchill. I think it underscores the fact that a lot of success in this game is simply perseverance. Plus, the more you write, the better you get at it.
Two cups of Cuban café con leche in the morning and tea (PG Tips from Britain always!) thereafter if I need a pickmeup. Herbal tea at night.
I definitely have a sweet tooth, but I don’t like things really sweet. I prefer European-style sweet, which is sort of medium on the sweetness scale.
Would you like to share with us a passage that will give us a glimpse into the world you built?
Here’s a passage from “Skin of Tattoos.”
“Ay yo, homes!” A familiar voice sliced through the bustle. “Mags!”
I twirled faster than a ballet dancer, my stomach clenching. It was him. Rico. Slashing across the street aiming the shopping bag in his hand at me. His baggy shorts slung so low the waistband of his boxers showed. Socks, white as fluorescent light, pulled neatly to his knees. Ink flowing out of the arms and neck of his plaid shirt. Exactly how he looked the last time I saw him.
The memory of that day bore down on me. We were kicking it at a street corner, and Rico was bragging about how he shot a trey-eight into the ceiling of a liquor store he was jacking, and the storeowner pissed his pants. As he was talking, he took the .38 out of his waistband in a live re-enactment, and I just had to take the piece, feeling its cold weight in my hand for just a second or two before handing it back to Rico. That second or two cost me twenty-six months of my freedom.
Would you mind sharing with us the best way to stay in touch with you and where to learn more about your books?
Alright folks, it is that time again but I would like to say a heart felt thank you to Christina Hoag for allowing us to see what she does and spend some time in her world today.
Also, I would like to say a big thank you to the lovely readers out there for joining in and taking a moment to support your Authors.
If you or any of you know of someone who would like to be a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind, please send me a message.
Enjoy your Friday folks, you are awesome and please remember to be kind to your Authors, leave a review. See you in a couple of weeks, Peace!!