Now an international award winning and Barnes and Noble bestselling author, Avanti Centrae got her start growing up in Steuben County, spending her summers waterskiing and working as a lifeguard after her family moved to Jimmerson Lake from Fort Wayne.
And of course, she enjoyed the local bookmobile.
The Fremont High School graduate was known by her classmates as Kathy Baker, a name she legally changed in her 20s.
“In my mind’s eye, I still remember the two-story white house with red shutters nestled behind a white birch,” said Centrae of her childhood home. “The bookmobile would stop at the corner on Monday afternoons and some of my earliest memories are of running down the street, stacks of books in hand, fortified with another week’s worth of books.”
Her love of literature and drive to become an author stems from those early bookmobile days.
“That bookmobile was filled with magic,” she said. “Characters were some of my best friends, and authors, my heroes.”
She wrote her first book as a young girl, right around the time she was in first grade, and that was the spark that was ignited, making her want to someday become a published author.
“The flame was still lit in my 20s when I legally changed my name from Kathy Baker to Avanti Centrae,” she said. “It’s a better pen name, don’t you think.”
There was a time in her 30s, after a screenplay she’d written didn’t sell and some poetry dabbling didn’t pan out, that the spark was nearly snuffed out. By the time she turned 50, she instead nursed that flame, adding fuel to the fire to finally make the dream first-grade Avanti had always wanted come true.
Pursuing an education
Upon her graduation from Fremont High School, Centrae did not immediately pursue writing.
Instead, she was off to Purdue University to study something that may be as far from creative writing as you can get — computer science.
“As you know, we Midwesterners are a practical folk,” she said. “My parents didn’t think there was much money in writing and encouraged a technical degree after I graduated from Fremont High.”
In retrospect, she said, the decision proved to be a wise one as deciding what she really wanted to write about wasn’t a decision that came quickly.
“Meanwhile, I maintained a steady career in information technology, working for ACOLA, Texas Instruments, Hughes Aircraft, IBM and as an executive for Hewlitt-Packard,” Centrae said. “Having that degree financed world travel and fast cars, setting me up financially so that I could build a writing career later in life.”
Centrae’s role as a Silicon Valley IT executive, she said, works to provide inspiration for some of her work, especially when it comes to what she said are the “edge-of-your-seat threats.”
In her debut, “VanOps — The Lost Power,” the threat is an electromagnetic pulse weapon that could melt electronics like cell phones and computers.
In the second book in the VanOps series, the threat is instead a quantum computer that could disable the military’s encryption.
“I’ve also found inspiration in some of my pastimes like white-water rafting and aikido, as well as traveling, having been to Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Spain Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and New Zealand,” Centrae said. “The world is a fascinating place, full of potential fiction in the form of cultures, belief systems and history.”
For Centrae, outlining is the best part of the writing process.
“When I was a kid, I had a Rubik’s Cube that I solved, and outlining is much like puzzle solving for me,” she said. “Adding in a plot twist here, a character flaw there. A lot of research happens at the outlining level, as well as at the point where I’m fleshing out a chapter.”
Another important part of the process is having a good grasp of the characters in the story before writing.
As Centrae puts it, that understanding is important because the characters are the ones driving the action in the story.
“For example, the VanOps series has three main characters … whenever I’m stuck writing, I just let the characters figure out what to do next,” she said.
Those characters are Maddy Marshall, an intelligent, independent truth-seeker with special martial arts abilities that is suddenly thrust into a dangerous world where her non-violent martial arts skills aren’t enough to save herself or her country, and her twin brother Will Argones, a skeptic who has made his living as a successful test engineer. Always on the lookout for danger, he can’t keep his hands still. When his father and wife are murdered, he’s forced out of his comfort zone and into a deadly, international game of cat and mouse.
There is also broad-shouldered Theodore Thorenson, a bristly-haired marine, who has always wanted to carry the world’s troubles on his back by being a covert operative. He jumps at the chance to join VanOps, an ultra-black organization with the duty to stop extreme threats.
Centrae’s writing career took off with a bang, as “VanOps — The Lost Power” became an instant Barnes and Noble Nook bestseller.
The book also brought back a genre grand prize blue ribbon at the Chanticleer International Book Awards, a bronze medal at the United Kingdom-based Wishing Shelf Awards and an honorable mention at the Hollywood Book Festival.
James Rollins, a No. 1 New York Times bestselling author called the book a “masterwork of national intrigue.”
“Solstice Shadows,” the second in the VanOps series, became an Amazon Canada number one best seller before taking home a bronze medal at the Readers’ Favorite book awards and taking the Global Thriller Grand Prize blue ribbon at the Chanticleer Awards.
“Kirkus Reviews called it ‘a rousing sequel’,” said Centrae. “I’m grateful for all the success to date.”
As far as advice for up-and-coming writers goes, Centrae said she would echo the advice her parents gave her.
“I’ll echo their advice to not quit the day job until you’re financially stable with writing,” she said.
She also recommends studying story structure to have a strong understanding of how a novel fits together.
And study human nature, she said, to help create authentic characters.
“Practice writing, even if it’s in a journal, so you can develop your voice,” said Centrae. “Once you have a book deal, study book marketing and hire a publicist. Finally, engage experts along the way — there’s a plethora of editors, consultants and marketers who can help you make your dream a reality.”
The first six chapters of “VanOps — The Lost Power” are available for free on her website, avanticentrae.com. Her novels are available wherever books are sold.