ST. ALBANS — J. P. Choquette is big on schedules.
“My structure for the day is pretty tight,” she said.
Choquette wakes early. Has some “quiet, reflective time.” And then writes as soon as she can.
The structure of that writing time is not so tight that it isn’t flexible. Choquette might write 45 minutes, or she might write for an hour and a half.
But during that time, “I am totally immersed in the story writing,” she said.
“I don’t do any editing. I don’t do any fact-checking. I don’t let myself look anything up on Google to make sure I’ve got a date right.
“It’s really messy, but I just have to get it all out on paper.”
Then she takes a break, gets her kid ready for school, and spends the rest of her day “flip-flopping” between freelance writing work and marketing her books.
The missing piece here is just what Choquette’s books are.
Her latest, Silence in the Woods, puts four friends into the wilderness of 1917 Vermont, investigating an area where hikers and hunters disappear.
A night spent there in a cave ends with one dead and two missing. The lone escapee, Paul, returns two months later, searching for his wife.
But the supernatural forces of the woods may be searching for Paul, as well.
Silence in the Woods is the second in a series Choquette calls “Monsters in the Green Mountains,” a collection of Vermont-based thrillers connected by supernatural elements and natural, mostly wildly settings.
It’s also her seventh thriller novel.
Its predecessor, Let the Dead Rest: A Green Mountain Suspense, covered two timelines, tied together by one vintage doll — a doll with dark secrets.
What inspires this clear-spoken, sunny, upbeat local woman to craft such dark and ghastly tales?
Turns out it’s the same experiences that might leave the rest of us wondering, “What if?”
For example, in the case of Let the Dead Rest, it was a doll display in the Shelburne Museum, a display Choquette found “so unnerving.”
“There were all these creepy antique dolls, and some of them move… all disjointed, and some of them talk. Some of them talk to you in these weird mechanical voices.
“It’s super creepy.”
It didn’t help that Choquette’s never liked dolls. Or clowns.
“So the idea of a creepy doll, or a possessed doll, was not very much of a stretch of my imagination,” she said.
Exploring that idea in a novel also offered Choquette the chance to write in two different timelines, the 1940s and now.
As for exploring creepy ideas in general, Choquette said the experience is “cathartic.”
“Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, a lot of that stuff is up there anyway,” she said — “up there” meaning in her head.
“It spends less time in my head if I’m writing about it.”
But don’t mistake what Choquette writes for word vomit. She’s proud of the fact her books are not gruesome, that they don’t rely on gore or shock value to affect readers.
“I love the kind of suspense that’s really scary, keeps you on the edge of your seat, but doesn’t have to rub your face in the blood and guts,” Choquette said. “Like Alfred Hitchcock, where you’re so incredibly freaked out, just by the mood, and the atmosphere and the music.
“I think there’s a lot of ways to create a good, thrilling, chilling story without it getting really graphic and gross.”
Choquette said she’s had readers who have still been disturbed by her scenes. Reading is subjective, she noted.
But suffice it to say there are lines Choquette will not cross.
“I just try to write what I would want to read,” she said.
Choquette has a psychology degree. But she said English was always her favorite school subject, “the one guaranteed ‘A’ for me.”
“I never really considered writing as a career,” she said. “I wish I would have, earlier on.”
Nevertheless, Choquette said her training in psychology helps in “creating well-rounded characters and looking at their motivations.”
Several years’ work in human services helps too, she said, “as far as the situations I’ve been in, or places I’ve visited,” specifically during home visits.
But Choquette said the actual writing is only half of her job. The other half is marketing it, which Choquette said was a surprise.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just write some books and throw them up there and people will see it.’”
Choquette doesn’t call herself a marketing expert, but she said she is learning about how to broaden her readership through outlets like social media, where she directly interacts with potential readers, or even her own YouTube channel, where she recommends thrillers for like-minded souls.
“A lot of writers say, ‘Oh, I’m just going to get a traditional publishing deal, because I don’t want to do all that marketing stuff.’ And I say, ‘That’s not really how it works anymore,’ unless you’re Stephen King, or Nora Roberts.
“Most authors I’ve either met or followed their stuff, they spend as much time in their marketing as indie authors do.”
Choquette will occupy a booth at the craft show in the Bellows Free Academy gym during the Vermont Maple Festival on Friday, April 26, from 12 p.m.-5 p.m.
For more information, visit Choquette’s website, jpchoquette.me.
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