Claire Kim and Brad Chisholm are a thriving, dynamic writing duo. How could they not be? She’s an attorney who’s handled cases like human trafficking, removal of criminal aliens, and sex crimes on the state, local, and even federal level. He’s a retired, award-winning expert in advertising campaigns for print and television. Together, they’ve created two novels coming out within a few months of each other, and there are more planned.
First up is K-Town Confidential, a murder-mystery thriller, to be released in November, while Kat and Maus, a romantic drama, makes its debut in January of 2018.
We recently sat down with them to ask about becoming novelists, their writing process, and what makes them tick.
Have you ever gotten readers’ block? You know, the inability to read because you are writing?
Claire: No. I find other authors works inspiring. When I write, I find myself going back and getting lost in my favorite books.
Brad: I have it now. I have a stack of books on my night table that I badly want to read. But I feel guilty reading anything, because I have unfinished projects and there is only so much time.
As a writer, what would you tell your younger self?
Claire: Don’t snack while writing. It is a bad habit that is hard to break ten pounds later. When we were working on the first novel, I found myself anxiety eating when my mind drew a blank. I would find myself getting through an entire huge bag of chips and discover I hadn’t written a word. When you write, it’s really about ass-in-chair. Sedentary hours and hours combined with yummy snacks catches up quickly and it’s hard work to get your weight back down.
Brad: Work on multiple projects. It gives your brain a break to work on something else, and your subconscious will solve problems on one while you work on another. If you put everything into one project, and something goes wrong, you may not have the gas to get going again.
Are there any authors that you dislike but have grown into?
Claire: John Fowles. I grew into Fowles after reading The Magus. I enjoy psychologically complex characters who find themselves playing “god games.” In fact, I think Fowles has influenced me as a writer because I tend to write about strong, manipulative, male protagonists who are control freaks and play god – to the detriment of the strong female characters who can take these men on and give as good as they get.
Brad: Bret Easton Ellis. At first I thought he was just doing things for shock value, but I realized he was dead serious. He evokes a certain anxiety that I have only seen elsewhere in Kafka. Also Philip K. Dick. I thought he was just another sci-fi hack, but his ideas are so profound and important that his actual writing is just the wrapping paper and tissue you tear apart and throw away to get to them.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Claire: I research by getting into character similar to method acting which is a form of acting where the actor becomes the character and tries to live the life of the character. I write and research my characters in the same way. In order to write about a character, I first have to be moved, understand and feel their passions. I believe in order to move a reader they have to connect and feel for the characters in the novel. In our novels, the emotion journeys are real. It is the manifestation of the journey which is fictional. When writing K-town, I sat in the seedy restaurants, karaoke rooms, and extracted from my visits from prisons and Men’s Central jail. I also sat and interviewed the old timers who lived through the 1992 Los Angeles riots. I research as I go.
Brad: I just start. I careen out of the driveway with no plan except the idea and then research as I go. I had to research the L.A. morgue for K-Town. I mean who has ever been there? And of those who have, who comes out to tell about it? They have Mission furniture. I couldn’t believe it. Seriously, I research not broadly but precisely. That to me sells a scene better than a description that may be lovely but does not evoke much. For example describing a woman’s shoes, be they Christian Louboutin flashing red soles or army surplus boots, saves me the trouble of describing her frock, because a woman’s shoes tell you everything.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Claire: Nothing. Surprisingly, I write all the male characters and Brad writes all the female characters. The men are my creation. The women are his.
Brad: It works. We rarely revise, edit or disagree on this point.
How many hours a day do you write?
Claire: I get up before work and my best creative times are between 4 am and 7 am on weekdays. On weekends, if I can roll out of bed and do nothing else but write, I can go from morning until early evening.
Brad: Actual writing I’d say 3-4 hours is the max. Editing 8-10 hours. The best is when you are on a roll and you don’t notice time.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Claire: Naomi Linser’s murder trial in K-Town. Because it is so significant to the story, there is a huge expectation on the readers’ side – and on my side – to have it be a ‘big’ scene. But real trials at any level are incremental, lots of procedure, very little ‘flow’. And boring. It was really challenging to make it both realistic and dramatic.
Brad: Sex scenes. Some readers want more. Some less. I try and let the characters take the lead, so I feel less responsible for the trouble they cause.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Claire: The Last Convertible, Jane Eyre, The Thorn Birds – I am a hopeless romantic. I love epic dramas of love, nostalgia, reflections of the past where characters begin with innocence and idealism, are ravaged by life, yet transform into a new skin and come out stronger, more confident and survivors of life and men.
Brad: I was in Grade 4 and received a leather bound copy of David Copperfield for Christmas. The reason it was important to me is that I believed that it was true, a memoir. I didn’t understand the idea of fiction – it was a revelation to me that you could just make stuff up. I think I still believe that were Steerforth or Uriah Heep to walk up to me on the street, I’d sit down and have a drink with them.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Claire: It depends on what the characters do. Brad always says once a book gets going, the characters all get up and start walking around. It is true. So as writers, we just follow them around and write down what they are doing and saying. K-Town Confidential has multiple characters and twists and covers a span of 25 years and there is historical backdrop in the story. It took about 5 years. Our second book, Kat & Maus, covers about a year and the story is linear. So that book took one and a half years to write.
Brad: I have a YA novel called Dash that is 5 years in, and I’m only at 40 thousand words. But in the interim we wrote two other novels and I wrote a screenplay. I’d say you need to allow a year to write a solid draft and another year to edit and polish a serious book.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Claire: No. But I believe life gets in the way of writing. Sometimes, you have to push writing aside and do things like go to work, the dishes, get your hair and nails done, or take a yoga class. Suddenly, all this time has passed and you have to force yourself back into that head space which is hard.
Brad: Yes. Writer’s block is your subconscious sending you a message that something isn’t working. But the problem is because you are so invested you can’t give it up. I skip it and work on something else until I get a solution. Sometimes the scene I had trouble with isn’t even necessary anymore. My theory is that you write a first draft for yourself, you are telling yourself the story. Subsequent drafts are for the reader. What do they need to know to help them, and when do they need to know it?
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
Claire: Live more. Listen and observe and not be closed minded to new experiences.
Brad: Take more photographs as memory triggers.
What is the first book that made you cry?
Claire: A Separate Peace.
Brad: David Copperfield.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Claire: By reading backs of jerseys when I go watch my kid play in hockey games and tournaments.
Brad: If I am stuck I use maps. For Wolf Linser in K-Town I looked at a map of Austria. Maps are a wonderful source because they combine layers of history and a great variety.
K-Town Confidential is the new legal thriller from Brad and Claire. It’s being released on November 30, 2017 – just in time for your thriller lover’s Christmas stocking! Publisher Black Rose Writing has already received some stellar reviews:
5.0 out of 5 stars: What an ending! OMG, I cried!!
An L.A. the Likes of Which You’ve Never Seen Before!
5.0 out of 5 stars: Fantastic n thrilling read!
5.0 out of 5 stars: A hard-boiled hit!
5.0 out of 5 stars: Exotic and Erotic and Twisted, too!
5.0 out of 5 stars: I hope will become a series. Holly’s likability can only increase with each successive chronicle.
So tell us, what is K-Town? And how did you come to write about it as a central locale for your book?
Claire: K-town is short for Koreatown. It’s a section of Los Angeles which is south of Hollywood, east of Beverly Hills and west of downtown Los Angeles. Going into K-town is like going into the Korean Embassy. It’s a metaphor for a state of mind. A place with its own rules or no rules. Where social rules are suspended for a night. It is a place to go to escape, chase demons and indulge in prurient interests in sex and fantasy. Where the rich inevitably end up in the darkest places and to the poor it’s simply their livelihood. They can’t afford too many morals.
Brad: K-Town fascinated me as a writer because it fit right in with the history of darkness in L.A. It emphasizes the contrast between glamour and corruption going back to the ‘film noir’ era through to present day. I come from Toronto, an innocent place – in my day at least – so L.A. was a shock.
I’ve studied ‘noir’ for many years. There are great non-fiction books including Friedrich’s City of Nets, Norman Klein’s The History of Forgetting and Jim Heinman’s Sins of the City. And everyone knows the great L.A. writers: Robert Towne (Chinatown) Chandler, Fante, Cain, Ellis. Glamour and moral decay seem to need each other to thrive.
What is K-Town Confidential really about?
Claire It’s about this question: are tragic events random or fate? This theme has been on my mind for many years, since I studied a novel in school: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. It’s about a bridge that collapsed in Peru many years ago, and five people are killed. They have no connection at all, just being on the bridge at that moment, but the priest in the story searches for such a connection.
This idea of utter randomness versus fate, or predestination has always intrigued me. As a practicing criminal defense lawyer, people’s lives are a constant source of fascination to me and how people end up in the predicaments that they do. Is it pure chance or is it inevitable based upon choices made.
The other theme is how one small act or choice a person makes can have huge consequences. In K-Town Confidential choices are made in Korea, and come to fruition in an L.A. courtroom decades later. It’s the power of tiny choices. How one little lie can have such power.
The plot is about a young lawyer, Holly Park, who leaves a downtown law firm to try her hand as a sole practitioner. Ethnically Korean, Holly is culturally all American. She is a young and somewhat naïve Korean-American lawyer. She sets up her practice in L.A.’s sprawling Koreatown, but knows nothing about the enclave, its values or norms. She is an easy target for shady Koreatown characters, several of whom waste little time in finding ways to manipulate Holly for their own purposes. Holly has no idea of the implications of the cases she involves herself in, or the very real fact that her own life is placed in jeopardy. When a politician gets murdered in one of the karaoke room salons and Holly is hired to defend the suspect, she gets in way over her head. K-town Confidential shows the rich ancient tapestry of Korea cloaking the dark side of L.A.’s Koreatown, its history and its struggle.
Brad: Each character has their story. Their inner conflicts and complexities drive them to their fates. Events may appear random, but gradually pieces are fitted, and patterns appear.
Claire: The story is about how tiny actions result in huge consequences. Is it predestination or bad luck? How do people get to where they are? Those themes are explored. Also themes of loneliness, redemption, love and hope.
The new book, Kat and Maus, is being released in January. Is it another legal thriller?
Claire: There’s a lawyer in it. But it’s more about his personal life. It’s a romantic drama about an idea we couldn’t resist – the story of a successful Beverly Hills attorney, Mark Bell, who is so jealous of his beautiful young wife Kat that he is driving himself crazy. So he decides to test her loyalty, by hiring a handsome young man to try and seduce her.
Brad: It’s about an idea that many people may have had, but have never had the guts or resources to act upon.
Claire: But Mark Bell can hire a detective to spy on Kat. He can make things happen. By chance he meets a handsome young man who needs a criminal lawyer to help his friend, but he can’t afford one.
Brad: It’s a cautionary tale like Fatal Attraction or Indecent Proposal – that we should perhaps be glad we can’t always act on our impulses, because things can go very, very wrong.
K-Town Confidential will be published November 30, 2017 by Black Rose Writing.
Kat & Maus will be published January 18th, 2017 by Black Rose Writing.