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Interview with Avanti Centrae

International bestselling and multi-award­-winning author who blends intrigue, history, science, and mystery into nonstop action thrillers. Avanti Centrae is honored to have won ten literary awards and hit the Top 100 charts in three countries. She finds inspiration from her father, who served as a US marine corporal in Okinawa, gathering military intelligence. 

Avanti graduated from Purdue University and has spent time in a spectrum of professions, from white-water raft guide to Silicon Valley IT executive. When not traveling the world or hiking in the Sierra mountains, she’s writing her next thriller in Northern California, helped by her family and distracted by her German shepherds.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
Not many people know that I tend to write on my phone, especially when I’m outside. The prologue to Cleopatra’s Vendetta came to me while hiking up a mountain near Lake Tahoe! I had to stop, pull my phone out, and sit on a boulder to jot down my ideas. My muse loves nature.

Q.2 When should we expect your next book? What will it be about?
I’m currently working on a domestic prison break/heist novel, which is different than my usual international action thriller fare. The publication date is TBD. There’s also an outline for another VanOps thriller percolating.

Q.3 When did you decide to write Cleopatra’s Vendetta?
Back when we were all in COVID lockdown, I had an idea for a novel in which a special ops husband and CEO wife were fighting over the death of their infant son, and the wife and daughter were kidnapped. 

As I worked on the story, I decided to layer in Cleopatra’s desire for revenge against her mortal enemy. It all came together really well, and then took some time to edit and have published. It was just published in November of 2022.

Q.4 What drew you to the historical/action thriller fiction genre?
Many things drew me to this genre, including my adrenaline addiction, my interest in history/castles/historical figures, my experiences traveling the world, my frequent dreams of being chased by men with nefarious intentions, and my lifelong fascination with covert operatives.

Q.5 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I’ve written four: Three are in the eight-time-award-winning VanOps thriller series: The Lost Power, Solstice Shadows, and The Doomsday Medallion

Cleopatra’s Vendetta is either a standalone or the start of the Stryker series. I know authors, like parents, aren’t supposed to have favorite children, but there’s something - or someone - special in Cleopatra’s Vendetta.

Q.6 Which character(s) in this book spoke to you the most?
In Cleopatra’s Vendetta, Angie Stryker and her sister Samantha Coin were both incredibly dynamic. Angie is kidnapped and held prisoner on an island where she has to come to grips with her own past before she can figure out how to escape. Samantha is on Timothy Stryker’s special ops team trying to find Angie and has a strong voice. They’re both a little snarky, which made their dialogue a lot of fun to write.

Q.7 What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
I really enjoyed learning about Cleopatra and her city, Alexandria. Cleopatra had sparkling eyes, a commanding presence, and a rich voice. Her beauty has been debated, but it’s clear she had a host of responsibilities as empress of Egypt, including commanding the army and navy, dispensing justice, setting prices, distributing grain, collecting taxes, dealing with foreign powers, building temples, and acting as high priestess. Everyone answered to her. 

According to Plutarch, she spoke nine languages, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Troglodyte (Ethiopian), and she was the first Ptolemaic ruler to learn the Egyptian language.

Alexandria was ahead of its time. It had automatic doors and hydraulic lifts, hidden treadmills, and even some coin-operated machines. Magnets, wires, pulleys, and other mechanical innovations delighted its citizens. That really surprised me!

Q.8 What was the hardest part of writing this book?
For me, the hardest part is always finding the hook. What creative and unique idea will pull readers into the story? I often play with hooks for months before I settle on something worth writing about. For Cleopatra’s Vendetta, once I hit on the idea of using the ancient queen in the story, all the twists and plot points came together.

Q.9 Is there a type of character in general you think is overdone in the historical/action thriller fiction genre?
Yes, I think the lone wolf operative with no feelings who just wants to kill things is a tired trope. I prefer to read and write about 3D characters who go on emotional as well as physical journeys.

Q.10 What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
I think the best piece of advice I ever received was that I control my own emotions. At first, I didn’t want to believe that, but over time I’ve come to see how what I think and/or put my attention on directly affects how I feel. Joy and happiness have been much easier to sustain with me in the driver’s seat.

Q.11 Who would you most like to thank for their involvement in your writing career?
I’d love to send a special shout-out to James Rollins and Steve Berry, who both provided glowing recommendations for my debut, VanOps: The Lost Power. Rollins called it “riveting” and Berry said it was “a good ole-fashioned rip-roaring adventure.” You guys rock!

Q.12 How do you select the name of your characters?
Fun question. I keep a note on my phone for interesting names and whenever I come across something unique, I jot it down. Once, I had a doctor with the last name of Stryker and thought it was the perfect moniker for a hero. Years later, when writing Cleopatra’s Vendetta, I pulled that name off my list. It fits!

Q.13 Tell us about your writing process while you’re working?
My process involves a lot of up-front brainstorming, mad outlining, and tearing up of pages, walks while jotting down notes on my phone, waking up with aha moments, and putting it all together in the shower. Odd, I know. Then it goes into the laptop and I pound out a chapter or two a day.

Q.14 How do you select the title of your books?
I obsess over ideas for weeks, months, or years and sometimes do some A/B testing using ads.

Q.15 How do your family/friends feel about your book or writing venture in general?
Everyone is super supportive, even when I’m obsessing over titles. By following my dreams, I think others are inspired to follow theirs as well.

Q.16 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good and bad ones?
I read the advanced reader reviews to see if any last-minute changes are necessary. Also, I read professional reviews from news outlets and use them in my marketing. 

For example, Midwest Book Review just posted a review and I was able to use “A snappy read” in marketing materials for Cleopatra’s Vendetta. On Amazon and other retailers, I will sometimes peruse the good reviews when I want a feel-good moment. I ignore the handful of bad ones.

Q.17 Who designed your book covers? How do you select him/her?
My publisher allows me to use David Ter-Avanesyan/Ter33Design. I found him on Reedsy and loved his portfolio of work and his experience working with Big 5 publishers. He’s easy to work with and has amazing vision. I think he does a fantastic job.

Q.18 Do you try to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I think there is a way to be original within genre expectations. For instance, Cleopatra's Vendetta has been described as Da Vinci Code meets Mission Impossible, and there are elements of Taken and even The Handmaid's Tale in the story. It's a creative original work with familiar elements.

Q.19 What books have most influenced your life?
A dog-eared copy of The Enneagram in Love and Work by Helen Palmer was given to me in my twenties and I read it with equal parts horror and fascination. It’s a personality typing system designed by the Sufis thousands of years ago. 

It helped me understand my own psychological motivations, as well as those of my family. I’ve used it to succeed in business and it’s come in very handy when creating characters out of thin air.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
My writing journey started with a long, slow build-up over decades. Almost ten years ago now, I decided to pursue the path and from that point on, it’s been more like a roller coaster with lows (the usual agent and publisher rejections) and highs (winning multiple awards and hitting numerous bestseller lists). When I die, I’ll be happy that I’m leaving pieces of myself behind that will live on forever.

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