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Reserve intel officer authors award-winning fiction

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Timm Huffman
  • HQ RIO Public Affairs
An Individual Mobilization Augmentee assigned to the 566th Intelligence Squadron recently published a novel that took second place in the 2014 Kindle Awards Best Fiction category.

The Long Journey: Tales from a World Yet to Come is Capt. Cara J. Swanson's fourth book; all of which she released through her own publishing company.

Swanson has entered writing competitions in the past, but the The Long Journey was her first award-winning novel.

"It was awesome to learn that I got second place," she said.

Swanson has always considered herself a writer and credits her father for first encouraging her to write. He told her to write without worrying about structure, format or any of the other things she learned in school. He taught her the most important thing was to just get it on paper.

However, Swanson, who is currently serving on reserve personnel appropriation orders as a project officer at Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization, didn't begin writing novels until the mid-2000s. She said she would have these great ideas and short stories but would get bogged down in the details of scenes and couldn't put the whole story together. That all changed about ten years ago.

"Sometime around 2006 something flipped a switch in my brain, and I finished my first book, [Blood Cult, book one of the Elvestran Chronicles], shortly after."

When it came time to publish Blood Cult, Swanson knew that her only choice was to self-publish. Not only was this something her father did years before with his own book, but seeking an established publisher would mean giving up control of the final product. That's why, in 2006, Swanson decided to found her own publishing house: Nighthawk/Raven Publishing. Having her own publishing company allows Swanson to retain full control of her works from the blank page all the way through the design of the cover and eventual distribution.

Once she started writing, the books kept flowing. She published the sequel to Blood Cult, Daigu, in 2010, and in 2012, she published A Writer's Guide to Self-Publishing. She began work on The Long Journey in 2013.

While one might imagine a writer sitting at their desk, hunched over a keyboard, this Air Force Reserve intelligence officer prefers the end of her couch, where the computer and cat fight for lap space. You might also find Swanson in the kitchen, laptop perched on the counter, cooking. She says she will write a few sentences and then jump to the pot on the stove, before returning for a few more sentences. This back-and-forth allows both activities time to marinate.

She will also work at her writing while driving in the car, on her lunch break and during other down times. That's when she is working the story out in her head, figuring out where it will go next. This allows her to spend her limited writing time more efficiently and helps her avoid writer's block. Because her time is shared between work, family and writing, this efficiency is crucial.

Swanson said writing is important to her because is where she finds balance in life. It's the creative, flip-side to the regimented, structured, professional life of an Air Force officer. Sometimes that equilibrium can be difficult to find, so she says she has to be deliberate about making time for her writing, which she says is deeply personal.

"What doesn't come from my intensely vivid dreams comes from the people I interact with and the things I see," she said.

The Long Journey, which began as a short story a decade ago, can be considered post-apocalyptic science fiction. It is set in 2214 and examines the effects that today's decisions could have on the world of tomorrow. In the book, Earth is barren and desolate; a result of wide-spread pollution and the overuse of pesticides and other contaminants. The influential, the rich, and the elite live in the lap of luxury in the governmental Valley City; the last outpost of civilization. The rest of humanity struggles for survival and shares their decimated world with genetically altered creatures left from civil wars centuries before.

The novel has three main characters: the heroine, Khadija, who is a bounty hunter, her genetically altered wolf partner, Ula, and a thief, who has been accused of stealing secret documents from Valley City. The book begins when Khadija and Ula are assigned to track down the thief and bring him back for trial. The novel is wrapped around a series of short stories told by these characters, which bring to light the history of their destroyed world and the overarching theme of individuals choosing their own path. These stories, along with conversations about the past, open Khadija's eyes to the reality of the current world and, in what is the author's favorite scene, she is forced to choose between returning to her old life or beginning a new life that will change the course of history.

A self-proclaimed introvert, Swanson says marketing her writing is challenging for her. She's striving to overcome this, and plans to capitalize on her Kindle award and publicize her novel. Part of the prize she received was the opportunity to appear on digital book tours, including online, question and answers and blogging opportunities, beginning in February.

Her book was also reviewed and accepted onto the shelves of the Denver, Colorado, bookstore chain, The Tattered Cover; the bookstore she grew up going to and an accomplishment she shares with her father. She held her first book signing and author's discussion at the Colfax Avenue location, Jan. 27. The discussion revolved around the book's central theme of how today's decisions affect tomorrow and whether it's too late to change course.

Swanson currently has three more books in the works. When Demons Dance, a paranormal murder mystery slated to come out later this year, a sequel to The Long Journey, and the final book in her Elvestran Chronicles trilogy. After these titles are complete, Swanson plans to continue writing because, as she put it, "it's what I do."