Name: SM Koz
Where are you from: North Carolina
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc:
I’m a veterinarian/consultant/writer who has been happily married for 10 years to a wonderfully supportive husband. We’re foster parents and also have a small zoo with two dogs, cockatiels, temporary foster cats, and a few goldfish. I grew up in Michigan, but moved to North Carolina for college over 20 years ago and never left. My parents instilled a love of reading in me from a very early age, so they played a huge, if not the greatest, role in me becoming a writer.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My debut novel, Breaking Free, will be released on Amazon on 8/1!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Technically, I first started writing about nine years ago. The story was a murder mystery that took place on a cruise ship and one of the main characters had an English bulldog named Penelope. I wrote two pages, realized it was too hard, and then never looked at it again for five years. After my husband and I moved to a sleepy little village, I found myself with a lot of free time. One day while I was cleaning up computer files, I ran across my story with Penelope and was somewhat impressed by what I read. Having lots of time on my hands, I decided to write a full-length YA novel. That one was about a girl who moves to the beach to live with her older sister for the summer and falls in love with a boy as they help a stranded dolphin, named Maurice, recover from a mysterious disease. That one will never be published, but it’s kind of fun to go back and see what my first attempt at a novel was like! Since then, I’ve been writing about one book a year, some fanfiction and some original.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I posted Breaking Free on Goodreads! I’ve had a number of actual and virtual friends read my stories in the past; however, I was still nervous about publishing. But, ultimately, I knew like I had to do it with Breaking Free because it’s a story I believe in. I feel like it may help others. If it stops even one teen from cutting or helps one person understand how to support a friend who cuts, then I’ll feel like it was a success.
Fiona: What inspired you to write Breaking Free?
I have a friend and a family member who have both cut in the past. When I first learned about self-injury, I didn’t understand why people would purposely hurt themselves and, therefore, I thought it was to attract attention. I ended up spending quite a bit of time researching the topic, which opened my eyes. Most people who cut don’t do it for attention. In fact, like Kelsie in the book, they try to hide what they’re doing. They’re ashamed, but it’s beyond their control as it has become an addictive coping mechanism to try and deal with their overwhelming emotions, whether it’s depression, anxiety, whatever.
After learning so much about self-injury, I wanted to help others who were in my position—wishing to help their friends, but not understanding how to or even why their friends did what they did. That’s when I decided to turn it into a story. Because I typically write adventure-filled books, I knew immediately that the main characters would be in the wilderness and run into some unexpected hurdles along the way. I think it ended up being a nice mix of emotion, suspense, and romance with a couple plot twists to keep things interesting.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I think I’m still developing that. I like fast-paced, action-filled stories with romance, but the emotional component of Breaking Free came surprisingly easy to me as I was writing. I feel like I may have found my niche and will be exploring this more in upcoming projects. One thing is for sure, though—my writing is fairly bare bones. I write to get the story across more than as an artistic expression of words. So, if you’re looking for something literary and poetic, you won’t find it in my works . If you’re looking for a suspense-filled story with plot twists, then check out Breaking Free.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I really struggle with titles. Titles may actually be my least favorite part of writing. I always want something short, snappy, and interesting that helps set the tone of the story while tying into an integral plot point. Breaking Free came loosely from one of my favorite songs. Whenever I listen to it I think of Kelsie, so I made sure to work those words into the story when she’s at her lowest point and feels that breaking free from her life may be the only answer.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
I think the entire novel is realistic in nature, meaning a lot of young adults struggle with the issues in Breaking Free, whether it’s low self-esteem, cutting, or feeling guilty for situations that may or may not be under their control. As far as what scenes are based on actual real-life situations? None.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Yes. Like I mentioned before, a friend and a family member cut, which is what first interested me in the topic. My friend was gracious enough to share a lot of her experiences, which helped shape Kelsie’s self-injury behavior. As far as the physical traits of my main characters, their backgrounds, and the specific things they go through, those are all made up to try and create a gripping novel with three-dimensional characters and multiple conflicts. I like fast-paced stories and wanted to do that with Breaking Free, even though there is a large emotional component to the plot.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
I’d have to say Gorillas in the Mist by Dr. Dian Fossey because I wrote about that book for my Duke University entrance application. Luckily, I got in and my four years at Duke really shaped who I am. Being an alumna also led to meeting my husband .
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I haven’t really had an individual author serve as a mentor. I am part of Authonomy, a website for writers to gather, critique works, and share stories. That has been incredibly valuable in finding plot inconsistencies, identifying when I’m telling rather than showing, and finding faults with my characterizations. My books are always much better after a few months on Authonomy.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich I tend to alternate between emotional reads and light-hearted chick lit.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I’ve just recently gotten into reading indie authors, and two that I’ve enjoyed are Cassie Mae and Penny Reid.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Author Sara Mack. She’s been a close friend for over 30 years and started writing two years ago. She took the plunge first and self-published her Guardian Trilogy last year. She is one of the main reasons I decided to self-publish Breaking Free and has been a huge help, not only while I’m writing, but also while navigating this crazy world of indie authors.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No, writing is definitely a hobby for me. It would be great if I could someday make enough money to consider it a career, but that day is not here yet. Until then, I’ll continue to hold down a day job and write in my spare time.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I find little things to tweak every time I read through it, but, overall, I’m happy with the major plot points and characters.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always been an avid reader and daydreamer. I used to make up stories in my head, but it wasn’t until I was suffering from complete boredom one day that I decided to write the story down. It was much harder than I expected, and I didn’t end up trying again for another five years!
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m currently outlining my next YA contemporary realism/romance book. This one will draw a bit from my personal experience as a foster parent and will again follow some teens that have been dealt a rough hand.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Characterization can be difficult for me. I want authentic characters, but it’s hard to be authentic when you’re creating characters who have vastly different values, backgrounds, and cultures than yourself. For this reason, all of my stories so far have been told in first person from a teenage girl’s POV. That helps me feel somewhat grounded since I was there. Even if her life or personality is much different than mine, at least I have some insight into the teenage female mind. I’m always impressed when authors are able to write from the opposite gender’s POV in a believable way. I don’t think I’m there yet.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I love Stephenie Meyer for what she was able to accomplish: a stay-at-home mom who wrote four books that billions of people worldwide fell in love with. Although she had an English background, she had no experience writing. Furthermore, her stories have been torn apart by critics, world-renowned authors, and millions of anti-fans. People can tear apart her writing style, but it worked. Isn’t the ultimate goal of writing to have readers fall in love with your story? It seems to me like she succeeded even if she didn’t follow the typical writing standards of the day. I like that. She went outside the box and it worked. I think it’s a good example of how literature, like everything, is constantly evolving.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not yet. Since Breaking Free is my debut novel, I haven’t been invited to any signing events. Maybe that will change if Breaking Free is well-received!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Me Since this is just a hobby, I don’t have much of a budget.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Writing Breaking Free came surprisingly easy. The hard part for me was getting up the nerve to actually publish it. It’s one thing to share your story with friends, but something else entirely to put it out there for the whole world to see. Luckily, I had some awesome beta readers who built up my confidence. If they hadn’t liked it, this would be just another story filed away on my computer.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned a lot about self-injury. As far as writing, I learned that I don’t use many metaphors or similes. That’s something I hope to work on in the future to improve imagery in my stories.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
For aspiring writers, I say just keep writing. And keep everything you write, even if it’s just a page or two. Eventually, you’ll write something that when you look back at it, you’ll be impressed by yourself. Pair that with a really good writing buddy and that will be all the motivation you’ll need to finish a full-length book.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Please write reviews of whatever you read. Authors depend on them! Whether you love or hate the book, telling us your feelings and the reasons behind those feelings is very helpful to our growth as writers.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The first chapter book I read was Bobbsey Twins. I fell in love with the series immediately and devoured all the books, often reading under my covers with a flashlight. The first adult book I read was Watchers by Dean Koontz when I was in seventh grade. I’m still a huge Dean Koontz fan to this day.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I love to spend time outside hiking, camping, taking photos, or just playing with our foster kids.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I know I’m weird, but I don’t watch much television. Evenings tend to be my time for hobbies so I’m usually writing, reading, or editing photographs. Once a month, I might take a night to veg out in front of the TV. When I do, I usually turn on something from HGTV or TLC. I love movies, but we’ve had a toddler in foster care for the last few months so we haven’t had many opportunities to watch those either. In general, I love chick flicks, mysteries, and action-adventure films, though.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I love ice cream and dark chocolate. If the two are combined, even better! My favorite colors tend to change with the seasons, but right now I’m on a yellow kick. My favorite bands are Muse and The Killers. I could listen to them all day, every day!
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Well, writing is just a hobby for me so I spend most of my time working as a consultant who creates online training for pharmaceutical companies. I was actually trained as an aquatic veterinarian, though. My plan was to rehabilitate marine mammals or work in fish farming. That got a bit side-tracked with my husband’s career, but ideally, I’ll get back to that at some point. Writing will always remain a hobby, though, no matter what my day job is. It’s my escape from the stress and routine of everyday life.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Breaking Free Release Party (7/28-8/1): https://www.facebook.com/events/1510036269211429/