Interview by Brock Eastman
Finally Returned Home, Reef McKenna
Finds His Beloved Alaska Facing Its Greatest Threat
Growing up, goody-two-shoes Kirra Jacobs and troublemaker Reef McKenna were always at odds. Now, working together as search-and-rescue for Alaska's arduous Iditarod race, a growing attraction seems to be forcing aside old arguments. Then Reef catches Kirra sneaking from camp in the middle of the night.
Kirra's uncle, a musher in the race, has disappeared. Kirra and Reef quickly track the man, but what they discover is harrowing: Frank's daughter has been kidnapped. Kirra and Reef, along with the entire McKenna family, are thrown into a race to stop a shadowy villain who is not only threatening a girl's life--but appears willing to unleash one of the largest disasters Alaska has ever seen.
“Pettrey keeps the pages turning with a wicked pace, snappy dialogue, and likable characters, while deftly handling deep emotional and spiritual struggles. Series fans will relish—and mourn—the conclusion of the McKenna siblings’ adventures.”
Brock: How did you come up with the idea for the Alaskan Courage series?
Dani: I watched a movie about cave divers and it got me thinking what type of person would pursue such a dangerous job for a living. I find extreme athletes and people who pursue adventurous careers simply fascinating. I began diving into all the extreme sports and adventure professions and the McKenna family was born.
Brock: What was your inspiration for setting your Sabotaged during Iditarod?
Dani: It’s an idea I’d been toying with since the start of my Alaskan Courage series. The McKennas’ world revolves around adventure and extremes. There’s no place on earth where you find a better combination of the two than during the Iditarod.
Brock: Tell us about the main characters. Who are they? What makes them unique?
Dani: Reef McKenna is the black sheep of the McKenna clan. He spent many years estranged from his family. Now he’s back and trying to set things right.
Kirra Jacobs is driven, focused and kind, but she’s also been deeply wounded. Seeing these two vastly different characters interact has been a lot of fun.
Brock: Give us one fact about each main character that no one else knows.
Dani: Reef is allergic to avocados and Kirra loves the Hallmark channel, despite her aversion to all things romantic.
Brock: In three sentences, what is this book about?
Dani: Partnered on a search-and-rescue team, Reef and Kirra are thrown into a race to stop a shadowy villain who is not only threatening a girl's life--but appears willing to unleash one of the largest disasters Alaska has ever seen.
Brock: Do you outline the entire book before starting, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?
Dani: I don’t plot. The thought of outlining gives me hives. I start with a story premise, a ‘what if’ question and just write. The typically means a lot of drafts to get it right, but it’s the process that fits me.
Brock: How do you believe this story relates to the lives of readers?
Dani: I believe we all face difficulties in life. We all have struggles. They may not be facing a villain intent on sabotaging the Iditarod, but they are just as real and trying. Seeing God at work in the midst of these struggles, watching a character navigate through hardship and overcome is extremely inspiring. I believe we all need inspiration and, more importantly, hope.
Brock: What is your favorite genre to write for?
Dani: I love writing inspirational romantic suspense because it incorporates so many things I love--the thrill of adventure, nail-biting suspense, the deepening of one's faith and plenty of romance.
Brock: Any certain research required for the book, or is it all from your imagination?
Dani: I do a lot of research with my books on the setting (Alaska), my characters’ professions (Search and Rescue) and the events surrounding the mystery (Iditarod being threatened). I try to have my facts as accurate as possible and then take fictional liberty to make the story unique.
Brock: How do you strike the right balance in your book?
Dani: Romantic suspense is a difficult genre. It’s important to have an equal balance between the two. Since I don’t outline or plot, it takes a lot of practice and numerous drafts to strike the right balance.
Brock: Why did you choose to have two protagonists?
Dani: In a romance it’s really important for readers to be able to see the story through both the hero and heroine’s eyes. To understand what each is thinking and feeling.
Brock: Sabotaged is book five in the Alaskan Courage series. Do you need to read the books in order?
Dani: Each book in the series features a different McKenna sibling and can be read as stand alones.
Brock: Sabotaged is the conclusion of the Alaskan Courage series. What’s next?
Dani: I’m working in a new four-book romantic suspense series entitled Chesapeake Valor. The first book will release early next year.
Brock: How hard was it to say goodbye to a family who’ve spent five books with?
Dani: While I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to know my new cast of characters, it’s definitely been an adjustment not spending time with the McKennas.
Brock: Any chance you’ll revisit the McKenna clan?
Dani: It’s definitely a possibility.
Brock: Where do you like to write?
Dani: I have an office in the sunroom off our kitchen. I love writing there because it’s so bright and sunny. I’ve got a desk and a loveseat for when I need a break from the computer. My black lab is always curled up on the loveseat while I’m writing.
Brock: Are you a full-time or part-time author/writer?
Dani: I’m a full-time writer now that my kids are grown, but I do watch my grandson two days a week, which is an absolute treasure.
Brock: How long does it usually take you to write a single book?
Dani: I started out writing a book a year, but my deadlines have definitely moved closer together. I now write a book about every eight months.
Brock: Expound on the spiritual theme in Sabotaged.
Dani: The theme for Sabotaged is hope in the midst of brokenness. God is able to bring healing and hope despite the worst of circumstances. It doesn’t happen overnight most times, but if we trust Him and wait on Him, He is faithful to bring healing—to turn our mourning into dancing. It doesn’t mean that all our questions will be answered, but we can hold tight to the promise that He will provide the grace we need to get through, even if it’s simply the grace to make it through day by day. God is faithful.
Brock: What is your "how I got published" story?
Dani: I have always loved daydreaming and making up stories. I dabbled with creative writing growing up, but set it aside. It wasn’t until after the birth of my youngest daughter and a bout with a serious illness, that I really felt God stirring me to start writing again. My kids were young, so I started slowly. I spent a lot of time simply reading novels, seeing how they worked, analyzing why I fell in love with certain characters and not others. I attended writing conferences, joined a writer’s group and devoted regular time to writing.
I was also blessed with an amazing mentor who really shepherded me in the craft and writing life. I wrote for a number of years, entered contests and applied the feedback I received. A number of years ago, I attended the ACFW conference. I approached my editor after his Spotlight Session and he was gracious enough to ask to see the first three chapters. A few weeks later, I got a request for the full. A few weeks after that he told me they were going to present it for contract. The day I got ‘the call' was amazing. I had received my share of rejections, so getting the ‘go ahead’ on a story I loved so dearly was pure joy.
Brock: What are some of the strongest influences on your writing?
Dani: Reading books by favorite authors like Dee Henderson, Sue Grafton, Jane Austen and Agatha Christie really stir my creativity. Watching powerful movies also provides a lot of inspiration, but the greatest influence on my writing is my relationship with God. It’s all for Him. I pray I honor and glorify Him with every word that I write.
Brock: What is the one author, living or dead, who you would co-write a book with and why?
Dani: Dee Henderson. She’s my favorite author, a wonderful inspiration, and someone I would be incredibly honored to partner with.
Brock: In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?
Dani: My faith greatly impacts my writing, but I hope in a natural way. Just as my love of adventure permeates the stories I write, so does my faith. My relationship with Jesus is part of every facet of my life; it’s only natural to be part of the stories I tell.
Brock: Coke or Pepsi?
Brock: Soft shell or Hard Shell tacos?
Dani: Hard shell.
Brock: Favorite place to vacation?
Dani: The beach.
Brock: Favorite season?
Brock: Do you have a particular drink or food you consume when you write? Like coco, raspberry tea, animal crackers?
Dani: Coffee and chocolate. I’m really healthy, can’t you tell ☺
Brock: Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
Dani: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV
I love it because it explains why death is so hard for us to deal with. It is because God has set eternity into our hearts. We know He has created us for more than this life, this world.
Brock: Do you listen to music while you write? If so what are some examples?
Dani: I can’t listen to music while writing my first draft. I find it too distracting. However, I develop story soundtracks for all my books while working on the first draft. I listen to the soundtrack during revisions. You can listen to the soundtracks on my website.
Brock: Did you learn surprising facts or trivia while researching the Iditarod?
Dani: So many things. For example, race times have gotten twice as fast since it started. The first Iditarod took place in 1973 and took about 20 days to complete; currently, it takes about 10 days. Additionally, sled dogs need to consume 10-12,000 calories a day during the race.
It goes without saying, but I am truly in awe at the brave athletes who compete in such a grueling and arduous race—both the men and woman mushers, and of course, the sled dogs. I loved seeing the musher’s devotion and care of their animals, as well as the bonding that exists between the two. It’s really touching.
Brock: If you could have dinner with any fictional character who would you chose and what would be the first question you asked them?
Dani: Jamie Sullivan from A Walk To Remember by Nicholas Sparks. I would ask her how she could always be so brave. I know the answer. I know it was Christ filling her with strength, but I admire her steadfast faith so much.
Brock: How do you celebrate when you finish a book?
Dani: My family and I always go out to dinner to celebrate. My favorite treat is Roy’s Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé. It’s a Belgian chocolate soufflé drizzled with raspberry coulis and accompanied by vanilla bean ice cream. It is out of this world. Then, I play catch-up on everything I’ve let slide during deadline craze—sleep, email, cleaning. Though I don’t suppose the latter part counts as celebrating ☺
Author Website: DaniPettrey.com
Author Facebook: facebook.com/DaniPettrey
Author Twitter: @DaniPettrey
Author Pinterest: pinterest.com/DaniPettrey