Sally Fernandez, a novelist of provocative political thrillers, wasn’t always twisting facts with fiction. Heavily endowed with skills acquired in banking, she embarked upon her writing career. Fernandez’ focus on computer technology, business consulting, and project management, enhanced by business and technical writing, proved to be a boon. Her books of fiction also reflect the knowledge garnered from her business experiences, while living in New York City, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.
Fernandez’ foray into writing fiction officially began in 2007 when the presidential election cycle was in full swing. The overwhelming political spin by the media compelled her to question the frightening possibilities the political scene could generate. As a confirmed political junkie, she took to the keyboard armed with unwinding events and discovered a new and exciting career.
Climatized is Fernandez’ fifth novel and the first in the “Max Ford Thriller” series, featuring Maxine Ford as the female protagonist. Her prior series, “The Simon Tetralogy,” was comprised of Brotherhood Beyond the Yard, Noble’s Quest, The Ultimate Revenge and Redemption. Each book provided an exhilarating platform for the next, with a gripping narrative that challenges the reader to put the book down. The ever-elusive Simon’s daring escapes add unheard of dimensions to the classic cat and mouse game. Her development of the other characters has created a lasting bond between them and the reader, especially now that Max has taken center stage.
A world traveler, Ms. Fernandez and her husband, also the editor-in-residence, split time between their homes in the United States and Florence, Italy.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Climatized. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: In Climatized, Max is hired by the wife of a prominent senator to determine the cause of his untimely death. It leads her to discover that three world-renowned scientists had lost their lives days before they were scheduled to testify before the late senator’s investigative committee. Meanwhile, a fourth scientist has gone missing. Max determined he is the key to unearthing the motives behind the deaths. Following the many twists and turns, Max and her associate, Jackson Monroe uncover a powerful organization responsible for the killings. Cogent evidence is provided to the president, forcing him to make a crucial decision—to cover up a diabolical plot—or bring down a multi-trillion-dollar world-wide economy.
In the course of conducting research for two earlier novels, I discovered there is a disconnect between the scientific data that explains global warming and the public policy. Climate change undoubtedly, is a topic up there with religion and politics that creates not only heated conversations, but much confusion. As with all my novels I weave fact with fiction as a means of creating an entertaining read, but also to inform my readers. Climatized will put to rest much of the confusion and shine a light on the real science.
Q: What do you think makes a good political fiction? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: Francis Bacon said, “Truth is hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.” This statement became the impetus for my plot lines, therefore most of the political events are factual and weaved into a fictional plot. This greatly increases the plausibility. To further the realism, I have used my knowledge in technology to some degree, as well as my international travels in the plotline. Oftentimes, I have used a location and real characters where I shared experiences. Overall, my style of writing is to create an entertaining read, to inform the reader and to challenge the reader to ask the ultimate question, “What if?” In the end, the reader will be left with the challenge to sort out what is real and what is fictional. If I accomplish my goal, then that is what makes good political fiction.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: In the course of writing a book, the plot for the next book begins to gel. Invariably, I come up with a beginning and end, although they may be modified later, but not to any great degree. Then I let the story develop starting with chapter one. As I create new chapters I name them as I go along, which might actually be the chapter title I eventually use in the publication, or I might assign a temporary title and change it later. This gives me the flexibility to add chapters in between or to reorganize the chapters as I move forward and keep track of the content. Primarily, my novels read much like a movie, so in essence I write reel-to-reel in a stream of consciousness as it rolls forward in my mind.
With regard to the characters, I keep track of the total image to include ages, personal appearance, and physical locations, to ensure my new characters emerge fresh and unique. And depending on the complexity of the plot, I may create a timeline to maintain accuracy in timing and sequence.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: After developing a series of strong male characters in the tetralogy, it was time to create an alter-ego. Maxine Ford represents my fantasies of one day becoming a secret agent. And even though a few of the male characters from the prior series will reemerge in this new series, Max’s antics will hold center stage.
Max debuts as the female protagonist in her role as a private investigator. Her character was first introduced in Noble’s Quest, the second book of “The Simon Tetralogy,” as the trusted deputy director for the States Intelligence Agency, where she worked side-by-side with Noble Bishop, the director. And while her character continued to develop, this new series provides Max challenging avenues to strut her stuff fully. She is intelligent and attractive, but her determined nature and formidable mouth will shape her persona. She also possesses a life-changing backstory that will slowly ooze out, allowing the reader to become increasingly enchanted by her dynamic character. Yet, at all times Max remains believable, not a sci-fi super being, but someone you could sit down and chat with over a glass of wine.
In my mind’s eye, if Climatized were a movie, Megan Boone would star as Max. Currently, she plays Elizabeth Keen in Blacklist…One time she dyed her hair blond, resembling Max. Now she is back to being brunette, but her attitude is Max all the way.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: In all honesty, as with Max, my characters just come to me and I develop them as I plod through the storyline. Simon, my antagonist in “The Simon Tetralogy” series appeared in the same way. I set off to make him charming and mysterious and then slowly he became more treacherous. The readers and the other characters were led first to admire him and then slowly grew to fear him. In Climatized, my assassin named L, materialized without any forethought. He simply appeared on the scene and I weaved him through the story in the most interesting ways.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: I attempt to create a mini cliffhanger at the end of each chapter to keep the pages turning. I also vary the word count in the chapters; some may only be one page. And because I tend to deal with a lot of political facts the narrative can sometimes bog down the chapter, so I mix it up with as much dialogue as possible to lighten the intensity without lessening the information and/or the message. Oftentimes, I will have my characters reading from some form of media, and break up the narrative by saying, “Hold on, let find my notes,” or “Are you following?” or “Listen up, this is cool stuff,” etc.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: I often use a location and real characters where I’ve shared experiences, but I also will use a location, hotel, restaurant, or street where I’ve never ventured. In both cases, I believe it is crucial that these places be described accurately to add to the realism. Thanks to the internet and satellite maps there is no reason not to make them as real as possible. Given my reel-to-reel writing style the reader always has a clear vision of the local scene.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: As I mentioned, while I’m writing one book the theme for the next book starts to gel. And being a political junkie I find it fascinating to take current political events and weave them into a fictional tale; again forcing the ultimate question, “What if?” Because I write several novels as part of a series there may be cross-over in characters and flashbacks to prior cases, but I strive to keep the theme fresh and current.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: The craft never ends and is always being honed. Over the course of my writing career, I’ve become extremely detailed and rather picky. The narrative must be grammatically correct, but I allow for colloquial expressions in dialogue. That along with the appropriate style of language will keep the characters genuine. In total I’ve become a better student of words and grammar and it has become apparent in normal discussions and presentations. The art, in my case, had been dormant and surfaced in 2007. I’m fortunate that I discovered storytelling was in my DNA. As for editing, my husband is my editor. He has never tried to change the narrative and has only helped to enhance my storyline. Most important, my creative juices are still in full thrust.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: You have to have a story to tell and be able to express it in an captivating way. The characters must be believable and in my genre, research must be impeccable.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: Someone also said, “If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Although the inevitable marketing and promotional aspects can become unwelcome chores, it is superceded by the joy of the creative process.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: Naturally, the Chicago Manual of Style is the bible. I also find www.wordsmith.org a great place to discover words, covering the gamut from archaic to modern campy, along with their etymology and usage. It is a great source to improve one’s vocabulary.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: Write, write, and write. Don’t get caught up initially, in grammar, editing, and organizing; that is why cut and paste was invented. Let your thoughts flow, they can be shaped later.