Take a high school football star, prophetic dreams, an attempted murder, and a side helping of comic relief, and you have author Jeff Wooten’s debut novel, Kill Call. I asked Jeff about his book, his path to publication, his advice on writing an exciting thriller, and more!
What is Kill Call about?
A high school football star is thrust into a supernatural world he didn’t know he was part of. He is a Dreamer, a person that has prophetic Dreams of murders before they happen. He is tasked with saving—by himself and without weapons—the person fated to be murdered. On his first attempt, things go wrong, and hijinks ensue.
Disrupting a prophetic vision (or nightmare!) is such an interesting concept. What inspired it?
Thank you. I was watching the news one night, and as usual, awful things were happening in the world. I began to think about what I would do if I had foreknowledge of a horrible crime. My first thought was CALL THE POLICE. But what would one say? “Hi, this person I don’t know is going to be killed Friday night and it definitely won’t be me who does it, and I won’t be in a conspiracy to commit said murdered either.”
At best, the police would think you were mentally ill. At worst, they would think you were a psycho killer.
I wrote a short story about an adult with this curse, and it was way too dark. I never sent that story out into the world, but the idea stuck with me. A few years later, I wrote Kill Call with a YA protagonist and lots of comic relief to offset the dark premise.
What was your process for writing this book?
Slowly, and one word at a time. Ha!
Seriously, I am not much for outlining, but I have learned over the years, I need some structure. I outline as I go. I revise extensively during the writing, so when I get to a “first draft”, it’s not a true first draft because I might have revised the first half of the book several times. When I have something with strong mystery elements, it helps to know who I want the killer to be, so I can foreshadow and lay out breadcrumbs. I certainly did that with Kill Call.
I have been trying to outline more because it keeps me from going back and rewriting so much.
What’s a key ingredient to an exciting thriller?
From my perspective, the short answer is: Keep the reader guessing as tension builds and give a satisfying and believable ending.
As a reader, like many people, I try to figure out what is happening as the story proceeds. In thrillers, it might be who the actual bad guy is or what the true purpose of the antagonist is. The thrillers I like the best have multiple unanswered questions throughout the story. Trying to figure them out as a reader is part of the fun. As a writer, I like to hide the answers in plain sight but muddy the waters with multiple possibilities and keep the reader guessing. The caveat to that is: the ending has to make sense. I think we’ve all read books that the ending was so unbelievable, so out of left field, that it left us disappointed.
What was the path for publishing Kill Call?
Kill Call was a 2018 Pitch Wars book. If you don’t know what Pitch Wars is, it was a mentoring program, mostly run on Twitter. After several months of revising Kill Call with my mentor, I submitted it to agents. Many, many agents. I had a lot of interest, but no agent wanted to take me on as a client.
I wrote two more books, queried one of them lightly, the other not at all, but I still thought Kill Call was a good book. I went back to it and reworked it some. Not much, but I made some adjustments and tightened the plot. At that point, I had submitted it to most of the agents I wanted to work with and didn’t think submitting a book they had already rejected would be prudent. So, I had this book that I still thought was really good, but no way to get it to readers. I considered self-publishing but decided to wait. I had two books finished that I could still query and Kill Call might get published later if one of my other books found a home.
CamCat Books was a name I was familiar with because my friend J.A. Crawford and his wonderful agent, Lucienne Diver, had recently sold a book to CamCat. (Go read Jove Brand Is Near Death if you have not).
Out of pure curiosity, I went to CamCat’s website one night and discovered they did not require agent representation to submit to them. I thought it was a long shot, but I took a few days to work out my submission and sent it in.
I then proceeded to forget about it. This is a defense mechanism one develops after mountains of rejection. In a little over a month, I received an email asking for a call. Writers know what this means. No one is going to ask for a call, and then reject your work. I ran downstairs to show my wife. She has been with me every step of my writing journey and she knew what it meant. Lots of hugs and a few tears followed.
I took the call a few days later, had a wonderful conversation with Sue Arroyo at Camcat, got the offer, and was sent a contract soon after. Oh, boy.
I had never seen a publishing contract in my life, and I knew I needed help.
I joined the Authors Guild and reached out to Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware®. The writer Guild has a contract review team that is outstanding. They reviewed the contract and sent me their suggestions. Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware® is the hero all writers need. She reviewed the contract for free and gave me very good advice. With Victoria’s assistance and the Author’s Guild pages and pages of notes and expert advice, I negotiated the contract without an agent and was able to come to an agreement with Camcat.
Now, at the young age of 50, I will be a debut author when Kill Call hits the shelves (and virtual shelves) on February 20, 2024.
What is a piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?
I am still learning as I go, but I will say that patients will serve you well. Don’t be in a hurry to submit work that is not ready. Find Beta readers and a writing family. Writing is often seen as a solitary endeavor, but for me, my writing took off when I found my people. Join a writing group. Start a writing group. Find people at a similar level as you and level up together.
Where can people preorder Kill Call?
Wherever books are sold. Okay, I always wanted to say that, but it’s somewhat true. Here are a few links:
Also check Goodreads for giveaways- https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/178810807-kill-call
Where’s the best place to follow you?
I’m most active on X, the artist formerly known as Twitter. But here are all my social media links.
TikTok - https://www.tiktok.com/@jeffwooten3
Website - https://jeffwooten.wordpress.com/