“My characters are human and dog teams that do both search and rescue and assist the police with investigations. What puts the story into science fiction is that each pair shares a basic telepathic connection. “
We chat to debut author Ellen Clary about her recently published novel Pursuits Unknown. She talks about its inspiration, writing bi and transgender characters, and the challenges she faced while writing it, plus she also gives some writing advice and book recommendations! You can find Ellen at her website, along with on Twitter and Facebook.
Hi Ellen! Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m a dog-owning computer professional who is also a writer, to be overly-succinct. Since I’m talking with The Nerd Daily, I have a Master’s in Computer Science and 20 years of experience first as a programmer, then system administrator, and cloud engineer.
While I’ve always been a writer, I’ve been thinking about moving into fictional worlds since my mind tends to create such things anyway. Putting dogs into the mix just felt like a natural thing to do.
Your debut novel, Pursuits Unknown, published on July 9th. Can you tell us a little more about it?
My characters are human and dog teams that do both search and rescue and assist the police with investigations. What puts the story into science fiction is that each pair shares a basic telepathic connection. “Basic” meaning that the dogs are about the equivalent of a human two or three-year-old in communication skills, so no complete sentences. This particular story starts off as a search for a lost adult with an Alzheimer’s-like disease and it turns into something else entirely.
What made you want to write Pursuits Unknown?
I wrote Pursuits Unknown because I wanted to read stories where dogs and humans worked closely together, but the main focus wasn’t the dog like every other fictional dog story is. I wanted the dogs to be part of the team, but not the main thing. I kept hoping for years that someone would create that and no one did, so being a writer anyway, when a friend dared me to participate in National Novel Writing Month in 2012, I decided to start on it.
Although you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, did you feel any pressure when it came to creating and writing bisexual and transgender characters?
Another bisexual author who knew I was writing this book did pin me down asking if I had bi characters. I already had one as a main character by then fortunately.
There was no pressure to create trans characters even though I have trans friends and acquaintances. I think they are too polite, and while I was writing the book I was fairly circumspect about it out of superstition. I do have a trans character who appears for one chapter as a part of the investigation. I like him, so I’m idly trying to figure out how to use him in a future book.
Did anything inspire you while writing?
Everything inspires writers. The person who is not looking away from a challenging situation is either a reporter or a writer (or a cop).
As far as inspirations, I do dogs sports and did a lot of dog behaviour seminars because one of my dogs was something of a head case.
I’ve loved meeting lots of dogs. The kelpies I’ve met were such characters that they pretty much insisted on being in the story. The deal was he (the main dog character) had to be a mix, so he could be used undercover since a kelpie is too distinctive.
I own corgis, and I get asked why the main character isn’t a corgi. I have to let the story go in the direction that works best for the story. The corgi in the story is inherently a specialist. He’s the one who gets into the tight areas where no one else can go.
How long did it take you to complete the novel?
It took me around four years of writing and working with a copy editor and advance readers, then there was all the time trying to get it published.
Did you face any challenges when it came to writing whether it be a scene, character, or something else?
Let me count the ways. It is very difficult to come up with situations that are very threatening, but ones that are survivable. You have to localize the amount of mayhem you are creating. I can no longer count the number of times where I ran into: Oops, that just killed everyone. Start over.
At first, I struggled with how bad to make the bad characters, until I discovered that’s not how you do things. You give characters motivations and situations and set them free and see what happens. You wind up with three-dimensional characters who might be quite likeable even though they have malevolent intentions which makes things perversely fun.
What’s your writing process like?
I have a day job, so I am usually writing in the evenings and weekends in my office with a nice view of a live oak and a dog keeping me company.
Though I primarily use Google Docs and MS Word, I have an old-school fondness for 3 ½ x 5 index cards for plotting, and I have a chess set where I get the pieces out to work out scene blocking (I studied theatre directing in college.) I live near the San Francisco Bay, so I sometimes go stare at the water for inspiration.
What’s next for you?
I have several pieces of Book 2 scattered about.
Lastly, do you have any book recommendations for us?
I’m a huge Jim Butcher, Harry Dresden fan, so I’ve just started Brief Cases which is his latest.
I just finished re-listening to Taylor Stevens The Informationist with the intention of going through the whole series.
If you want to scare yourself silly, try Barbara Hambly’s older The Time of the Dark.
If you like really long, in-depth, expansive, (and hot) stories you can’t go wrong with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
I love Tony Hillerman and I read all his books years ago, so I’ve listened to the first couple again now that they’re on audible. I do have a fondness for books that feature a specific detective like Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee, but the most compelling of his work is the scenery of Navajo Nation. It’s the same appeal as Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series, because I spent nine years in Santa Barbara.
And if you need writing help, you can’t go wrong with James Scott Bell’s work.