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An Interview with Author Keith Pyeatt, Part 1

Keith Pyeatt is an engineer turned novelist who writes paranormal thrillers with a psychological twist that he calls “horror with heart.” Living for ten years in an isolated cabin in Vermont may have influenced his choice of genre, but his empathetic nature is what helps him create a variety of characters — “likeable, despicable, tortured, and those ‘gray’ characters you can’t quite decide whether to love or hate.” Keith has four published standalone novels including Struck, Dark Knowledge, and Above Haldis Notch, with Daeva (October, 2015) being his most recent. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website

daeva-front-200What is your elevator pitch for Daeva?
Daeva pits supernatural manipulation against human devotion when a powerful demon with a grudge against mankind stands ready to gain access to the world.

What sparked the initial story idea for the book?
My working title was Imagination, and my plan was to write a novel that showed how a strong paranormal influence would change different characters over the years. I decided a young boy would receive what appeared to be a great gift: a friendly entity who lived inside the boy’s mind and could grant him the power to make things happen. The boy accesses the power by using his imagination, which is fun and exhilarating at first, but the “gift” is actually a demon with his own agenda. The storyline expanded quickly as I wrote the first draft and developed the different characters’ motivations. The initial idea that sparked the novel is still there, but it became a launching point for a much more intricate plot.

Tell us about your main protagonist, his flaws and strengths, and the hurdles he tries to overcome.
Chris was raised to host a demon in his head, an upbringing which gave him some interesting personality defects. He’s inherently a good guy, and his sister Sharon helps pull out his best side, but he keeps many secrets and doesn’t allow anyone to get too close, partly out of need, partly out of habit. Unfortunately for Chris, even a lifelong commitment to being fair and strong can become a character flaw when a demon knows your every thought, desire, and need. And this particular demon has thousands of years of experience manipulating men, and he can dangle a mighty big carrot in front of his host to help lead him astray.

Why did you decide to use the particular setting(s) you chose?
For the macro-settings, Connecticut gave me elements I needed for a general location, and the time period seemed to take care of itself. I went into the past to set up a history for the daeva and moved forward from there. About three-quarters of the novel takes place in late 1992 and early 1993.

The micro-settings were really the key to creating atmosphere in Daeva. Minnie’s cabin in the woods gave me a combination of beauty and eeriness as well as the atmosphere of cold isolation and loneliness that I needed in Part 1. Rowena’s cluttered little house became the next important setting. It helped create the right atmosphere while characters frantically worked to piece together information and plot a course of action. A rural wooden bridge spanning a stream added an atmosphere of danger and mystery to the ending.

DK-cover-150Of the four novels you’ve published, which one did you enjoy writing the most? Who is your favorite character?
I liked editing Daeva the most (good thing!), but I enjoyed writing the first draft of Dark Knowledge the most. It just poured out of me, and it showed me how fun it is to create complicated and engaging “gray characters,” the ones you can’t quite hate and can’t quite love. Lydia is my favorite character in that novel, and if there ever was a gray character, it’s her. She comes across as completely despicable initially, and she definitely enjoys her evil moments throughout, but there’s more to her than is shown in those early chapters. A great joy I have is when someone finishes reading the novel and tells me, almost reluctantly (as if they expect me to be disappointed) that they don’t hate Lydia. A little voice inside me yells WooHoo!

What is your writing routine like? What is your writing process like?
I write in long stretches. Ideally, I like to write every day, but sometimes reality interferes with creating fiction. My process is to start by creating some primary characters and a rough outline (with an ending). I write a first draft that’s loose and sloppy. It will wander. There will be repetition, inconsistencies, time frame problems, and gaping plot holes. There will be a huge number of typos, weak sentences, clichés, and vague notes like “fill in details” or “modify motive” or “fix time frame.” Sometimes I back up and change something to keep the first draft moving toward the ending (or revised ending) I have in my head, but I try to keep moving forward. I keep notes as I write so I’ll have an outline of what I actually wrote that’ll be more accurate than the outline of what I had planned to write.

I always edit novels start to finish, then I begin again. First edits are slow, with a lot of fresh writing and rewriting and deleting chunks of text. Successive edits tighten things up, and after several edits, they start going faster, which is important to get a good feel for the novel as a reader. I keep editing until I’m happy. Then I go away for a while, come back, and find myself shocked with the number of new things I find to fix and old problems that still need attention. When I can leave the novel alone for a while, come back, and still feel good about it, I’m getting near the end. Only a few dozen more edits to go. *smile*

If you suffer from writer’s block, how do you break through?
I’m of the mindset that you don’t wait for inspiration; you go after it…with a club. When writing a first draft, I generally muscle through a “block.” I’m not afraid to write something I’ll later delete or rewrite. It’s important to me to keep the process going, and I’ll usually stumble onto something that works if I keep hammering away. In editing, if I just can’t seem to make a paragraph or section flow and convey what I want, I’ll take a break for a few hours to workout, run, hike, play with the dogs, read, or do some project around the house.

What advice do you have for beginning or discouraged writers?
Write what you enjoy writing (which is probably what you enjoy reading), even if it’s not currently a hot-selling genre.

To learn more about Keith and his writing, including what he’s working on now, go to Part 2 of “An Interview with Author Keith Pyeatt” on

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

The Best Way to Create Suspense Is…

by Keith Pyeatt

KeithPyeatt206SSuspense is an emotion. It’s that feeling when you don’t know what’s going to happen next…but you want to. Using that definition, it’s easy to see why creating suspense is an effective way to keep readers turning pages.

I write in the broad category of suspense/thriller, and I was already scheduled to write this article when the print galleys for my novel Dark Knowledge arrived. While I searched for typos, I also noted the different ways I generated suspense so I could share some of my favorite methods with you.

1. Use setting to enhance or create suspense. I mention setting first because I used it to build suspense right from the opening paragraphs of Dark Knowledge. My mentally challenged protagonist, Wesley, enters a world inside his mind that’s shrouded in fog, radiates a “bad color” that terrifies him, and proves it can hurt him. The mind-world became a steady source of suspense because I kept it mysterious, dangerous, and full of paranormal surprises, but suspenseful settings certainly don’t need to be supernatural ones. A boat on rough seas, a job interview, or a packed department store during a bridal sale can all add tension and suspense, especially if there’s a pregnant passenger on the boat, the interviewee needs the job to feed his family, and there’s a good reason why the bride-to-be needs a certain gown.

2. Withholding information from readers can generate suspense, but be careful not to be too obvious and cheesy about it (like I was with the title of this article) or the reader will feel manipulated. Withheld information works best when it’s natural. For example, the point of view (POV) characters introduced so far don’t know the information, so they can’t relay it to the reader. This method is a clear favorite of mine, and it works well because I normally have multiple POV characters in my novels, which helps me control when information is presented.

3. Withholding information from the protagonist is another great way to create suspense, especially in novels with multiple POV characters. Let that antagonist reveal his dastardly plans to the readers. Doing so creates the classic “Don’t go in there!” response when readers know the bad guy is waiting behind the door with a knife but the hero doesn’t. Note that this type of suspense pretty much defines the difference between suspense and mystery novels. In a mystery, we know Professor Plum was killed from the beginning pages, but we don’t know who bludgeoned him to death with a candlestick until the end. The fun is trying to figure out who did it and why. In a suspense/thriller, the professor is alive, but the readers know Miss Scarlet’s plans and motivations to kill him. The suspense is whether the hero will discover the plan and be able to stop Professor Plum from meeting his death in the library.

4. Impose a time restraint. Whether the bank will repossess Grandma’s iron lung if money isn’t raised in time or the wormhole that leads to present day Earth is about to close, a hero’s race against a ticking clock adds urgency and suspense.

5. Complicate things. For an added shot of suspense, start the ticking clock mentioned above, and just when it looks like your hero might actually succeed in time, drop a delay or complication on her. Now will she make it? Yes? Drop another complication on her.

6. Be unpredictable. Readers are smart, and once they get used to the flow of a story, they may start thinking they know where it’s going. Add an unexpected twist, and now they’re in suspense about how this new development, revelation, or character will change the course. The only way to know is to keep reading.

7. Mind games are another of my favorite ploys, which is probably why my paranormal thrillers can also be classified as psychological thrillers. I love a good dilemma, and there’s a whopper of one in Dark Knowledge that stands out as a suspenseful element. Wesley doesn’t know whether to sacrifice his life to save his soul or if he needs to sacrifice his soul to protect mankind from evil. With a big dilemma like that, readers get a whole new element of suspense. In addition to wondering “can he succeed?” and “can he succeed in time?” they wonder along with the character which course of action leads to success. Smaller dilemmas add suspense too, so experiment with them. Create a reason your protagonist can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t do something, then make sure he must do it to get what he needs. Or give him options, but make sure every option has a serious downside.

8. Create a convergence where separate lines of action meet, combine their energies, and shoot the story forward. In Dark Knowledge, there’s a point where three scenes, each written from a different character’s POV, bring story-lines together as the characters charge into the mind-world for the climactic battle. Different motivations drive each character to the same point, and the convergence supercharges the tension and suspense.

9. Make the hero act alone or at a disadvantage. There’s strength in numbers, so isolate your character when he needs help the most. Wesley has friends who would do anything for him, so I…Well, I’m not telling, but isolating the main character is a technique I frequently use to beef up suspense. A variation of isolation is to impose a disadvantage on your hero at a critical time. Maybe your urban fantasy heroine left her sword on all night and discovers it’s out of juice just as a shape-shifting monkey demon attacks. Now how’s she going to fight it?

10. Make the reader care about the characters. Sure, determined government hit men in helicopters chasing a desperate man through an active minefield is high action and may grab a reader’s attention, but the suspense you need to hold interest comes from giving the readers reasons to care what happens to the desperate man. Let readers into your hero’s head. Better yet, into his heart. Flesh out your antagonists and other major characters so readers care what happens to them, too.

Remember, suspense is an emotion.

daeva front 145Keith Pyeatt served as an officer of SouthWest Writers for three years and received the SWW Parris Award in 2009. He writes paranormal thrillers that he calls “Horror with Heart.” He now lives in Tucson, Arizona, and he recently released his fourth novel, Daeva. Other published novels are Struck, Dark Knowledge, and Above Haldis Notch. Find out more about Keith by visiting his website at or his blog at

This article was originally published in the November 2012 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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