It’s always been a dream of mine to visit Hawaii, and what fun to feel as though I’m right there in DK Coutant’s EVIL ALICE AND THE BORZOI. Not only is DK’s mystery set in Hawaii, but she is the first geopolitical forecaster I’ve ever interviewed! Below are her responses to my questions, followed by her bio and buy/contact links:
First off, congratulations on the publication of your debut mystery novel, the first in the Cleo Cooper Mystery Series, EVIL ALICE AND THE BORZOI. Can you tell our readers about the novel and what inspired it?
Hi, and thanks! I am super-excited about the world meeting Cleo. Evil Alice and the Borzoi is a traditional mystery, on the lighter side, but not a cozy. Cleo Cooper, a cross-cultural psychology professor, is living the dream on the Big Island of Hawaii. With ocean-dipping weekends, she enjoys her dog, her job, and her boyfriend Ben – until the day she’s on a research vessel and a dead body is caught in the dragline. The police determine it is murder and set their sights on a gentle former student, Kai. It doesn’t take much urging from Kai’s auntie for Cleo to investigate. But Ben grows distant, and Cleo’s dog grows ill. A couple of accidental deaths later and someone makes an attempt on her life. It’s not all rainbows and aloha as Cleo tries to stay alive and find her way back to her own personal paradise.
The initial inspiration came on a visit to Guam to visit a daughter. There was a strange case that caught my attention in the newspaper and I thought, wow, that would make a great mystery. And then years later, we were living in Hawaii. We traveled with the same daughter (we have four) to Santa Fe and we saw a painting in a gallery there. We both loved it and I said it looked like an Evil Alice and a Borzoi. That night I started writing down ideas, pulling in the case from Guam and my experience in Hawaii. Three years later I had written my first draft.
To what extent is your protagonist’s personality similar to your own?
Friends and family tell me we are very much alike. I’m not sure I see the similarity (and yes, my tongue is firmly in my cheek).
Have you found that your background in psychology gives you a special insight into your characters and their motivations?
Absolutely! I am a social and cross-cultural psychologist, so my research didn’t involve people seeking therapy, but people trying to make sense of the world. How to make a group work better? Why do groups fight? Why did that person cut me off in traffic? I think my knowledge of what makes people tick in everyday life helps me craft believable dialogue and characters. At least I hope it does.
I was fascinated to learn that you left your career in academia as a psychologist to become a geopolitical forecaster. Can you tell us a bit about what that work involves and why you chose to shift your focus?
I started by joining a research project on Crowd Wisdom sponsored by IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity). I was a participant, not a researcher, but it looked interesting. They gave us geopolitical questions with measurable answers, like… Who would win an election in a foreign country? What would be the price of gas in Nairobi on a certain day? We had to give probabilities, then they scored who was most accurate after the event. I have always followed foreign affairs and loved the experience. I also surprised myself by being pretty good at it. My fellow forecasters were interesting people, and a couple of us stayed in touch. As the field grew I was invited onto several projects. I’m now a superforecaster for GJP, Inc (https://goodjudgment.com/Inc) and a Pro forecaster for INFER (https://www.infer-pub.com/) I really enjoy it and the freedom it gives me to write and travel. But I have to stay on top of it. If my accuracy slips I could be out of a job. I don’t have the stability I had in academics, but I’m at a place in my life when that is okay. And I find the challenge exciting. A lot like trying to be a writer in this point in history.
How did you become interested in mystery writing? And what steps did you take to develop your skills as a mystery author?
I have always been a big reader. My mom was a reading teacher so I was lucky to get a head start. I’ve been an avid mystery fan since my childhood of Nancy Drews and Trixie Belden books. I always wanted to write a novel, but it felt overwhelming when I thought about it. I started small. I wrote snippets and scenes, then quickly realized I’d need guidance to put an entire manuscript together. I joined Sisters in Crime and their Guppy Chapter and have taken just about every course they have offered. Manuscript swaps and critique groups have also been a huge help.
I read in your bio that your first job after college graduation was at Sea World, training dolphins and whales. Do you anticipate using this experience in your fiction?
Hmm, that’s a good idea. To be honest I hadn’t thought of that. Those days feel like a different life to me. But if I do use that experience in a future book, I promise to give you credit for inspiring the idea!
What is your writing process like? Do you consider yourself more of a planner, panster, or somewhere in-between? And do you tend to begin more with character development or plot?
My process is a work in progress. For EVIL ALICE AND THE BORZOI, I was 100% pantser. For my second manuscript, I wrote out a five-page, detailed outline. Book 2 for Cleo was easier and faster to write. I am deep into revisions on that one. I’ve started a third manuscript and it is outlined but not to such a detailed extent. Initially I focused on plot, but found I needed to focus on characters to get an interesting plot. My current philosophy is that having defined characters makes it easier for me to develop believable plot twists. And I need some idea of where those characters are going, but that can change as I write.
What’s next for you writing-wise?
Cleo’s second adventure is in deep revisions as I mentioned. And I’m back and forthing on the title or I’d give that to you. But Book 3 for Cleo kept teasing me, so to allow myself to focus on improving Book 2, I had to set aside some time to jot down a rough outline of Book 3 and write a couple of juicy scenes (or as juicy as a rough draft can beJ) so now I’m back on track refining Book 2.
Is there anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked that I didn’t?
It was a great interview, thanks. The only thing I would add, is that I’m a dog person, as you may have noticed from the title. And I have an Old English Sheepdog puppy. She is seven months old and a love and a terror at the same time – like the best characters. If you follow me on Instagram you will see lots of pictures of our Miss Beasley.
DK Coutant graduated from Davidson College with a Psychology degree, and applied her behavioral training at Sea World, training dolphins and whales. Realizing that scrubbing fish buckets might get old, she went back to school and earned a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her academic career began at the University of Southern Maine before DK made the jump to the University of Hawaii at Hilo rising to Department Chair of the Psychology Department. After many happy years in Hawaii, DK made the move out of academics to become a professional geopolitical forecaster for GJP, Inc ( https://goodjudgment.com/Inc ) and INFER ( https://www.infer-pub.com/). EVIL ALICE AND THE BORZOI is her first work of fiction published by The Wild Rose Press.
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