BUILD A TEAM — even if you’re a sole proprietor in your next chapter, chances are you’ll need to find people to partner with. Narrow down where your talents lay and outsource the rest. I’ve partnered with editors, publicists, and marketing professionals to build and promote my books.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50's.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Avanti Centrae.
Avanti Centrae is a former Silicon Valley IT executive turned #1 international bestselling thriller author. Before becoming a writer, she worked for ALCOA, Texas Instruments, Hughes Aircraft, IBM, and Hewlett Packard. Avanti’s multi-award-winning novels blend intrigue, history, science, and mystery into pulse-pounding action thrillers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank you for having me! I’m looking forward to sharing some of the secrets of my reinvention with your readers.
I grew up in a two-story house with red shutters on a quiet street in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the local library delivered books every week in a silver bookmobile. My childhood was filled with basketball, outdoor adventures like waterskiing and snowmobiling, and reading everything in sight. Characters were my friends and authors my heroes. I vowed to someday grow up and write bestselling novels, but life got in the way for a long time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Mom taught that one to us early and its refrain rang in my ears every time I fell off my bike, or answered a homework question incorrectly. As I grew older, that mantra gave me the courage to persevere when I made a mistake at work, and as an author faced with the rejection of agents and publishers, it has provided a level of comfort that there is almost always a next time.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Perseverance — having a belief that if we keep trying we’ll eventually succeed, has served me well. For example, I was rejected by over eighty-seven agents before finding my first one.
Big Picture Thinking — this gift has helped me become organized and efficient, while staying focused on what truly matters. This skill also helps me write novels. For instance, while I write a chapter, I need to keep the big picture of the story arc in mind.
Strong Work Ethic — Perseverance ties in here too and fuels the fire of working hard, knowing that I’ll eventually succeed. I’m grateful I have the energy to work hard. I often write until the bed beckons.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I graduated with a computer technology degree from Purdue University and worked for several decades in the IT field. I began as a programmer/analyst, and spent time as a DBA, a project manager, and then worked my way into management, where I spent the last six years of my career as an executive, leading talented teams.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
During the time while I worked in the computer industry, I nurtured my writing fire by studying craft, story structure, and the publishing market. In 2014, I decided it was time to pursue the dream and outlined my first book, VanOps: The Lost Power. That was the beginning of my second chapter.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I received one of those phone calls from my doctor that no one wants to get. That mortality moment triggered a period of soul-searching and looking at my bucket list. None of us live forever and I’d achieved many of my life goals, but had yet to have a book published. I made the decision that it was now or never, and started to dig in.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
When I started VanOps: The Lost Power, I had no idea whether I could write or not. I’d played around with poetry and screenwriting, but had never written a novel. I leaned on world-class editors to give me a crash course in craft, and it turned out I did have a talent for keeping readers turning pages.
How are things going with this new initiative?
We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
A few years after I began writing VanOps: The Lost Power, it was picked up by an agent, then a publisher, and went on to win three awards after it was published in the fall of 2019. The sequel, Solstice Shadows, won two awards, including Best Global Thriller at the Chanticleer International Book Awards, and hit #1 on bestseller lists in America and Canada. The third book in the series is almost half-way complete, and a standalone or series started called Cleopatra’s Vendetta will be published next year.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m most grateful to James Rollins. He’s a #1 New York Times bestselling author and the writer to whom I’m most often compared. Not only were his novels a huge source of inspiration for me, but after several attempts at contacting him through his website and agent, I finally went to one of his book-signing events where he agreed to read my debut. When he called it “a book that defines page-turner” I jumped up and down for days. Having his blurb on the cover changed the trajectory of my writing career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Writing runs in my family. My Uncle Dick used to pen poems that he stuffed in the annual Christmas cards. Reading his poetry gave us chuckles, and the occasional groan. After I finished my novel, I found out that his granddaughter, my cousin’s sixteen-year-old daughter, had also written a novel. She and I traded feedback and I encouraged her to enter her story into a contest. Because I’d won the previous year, I had the pleasure of announcing her blue ribbon at the awards ceremony. I’ll always remember the huge smile on her face.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Sure. Just last week I noticed a negative review from someone who didn’t resonate with my style. Their words festered for a few days, limiting my interest in writing, until my latest manuscript won an award over the weekend. That helped to remind me that writing is a subjective art and not everyone is going to love my work. I think it’s important that we guard our thoughts as carefully as we guard our money. Thoughts and beliefs about ourselves are more valuable than gold and can be the most toxic of poisons.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I didn’t plunge into the pool right away. It took several years of writing and getting that book deal before I transitioned out of my IT work. During that window, I built my support team of editors and supportive friends, while putting my toe in the waters.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
Sure. My personality isn’t fond of criticism and I knew my new chapter was going to involve feedback from editors, and both censure and approval from readers. I mentally prepared myself by focusing on the positive experiences I’d had working in teams during my corporate tenure, where I’d learned to encourage feedback as a way of making a better product. Now I love comments from my editors, as I know that together we’re making the book stronger.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my second chapter” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- THE ROAD MIGHT BE ROCKY — success will probably take longer than you wish. Especially financial success. Have a monetary safety net to tide you over until the big bucks begin to roll in. You may even need to take a part-time job to finance your dream until the new career takes flight. Personally, it’s taken years for my writing career to become an overnight success.
- YOUR SELF ESTEEM MIGHT SUFFER — you may be going from the height of one career to the lowest rung of a new ladder. Don’t get caught up in identifying with a career. Remember, you are the one who chooses what work to pursue. For me, I went from leading a team to receiving countless rejections from agents and editors. Some days can be tough, but when I achieve success, such as winning a literary award, I feel like I’m walking on clouds.
- MOST BUSINESSES ARE PAY TO PLAY — whether you’re wanting to start a restaurant or become a novelist, you almost always need to spend money on marketing to help your customers find you. With writing, both marking and public relations outreach can be expensive and I set aside a portion of my earnings to find new readers.
- FIND YOUR TRIBE — almost anything you might want to do in your second chapter has already been done successfully by someone else. There’s no need to start from scratch. Study and learn from others who have gone before you. Most people enjoy giving a little bit of advice. I love the International Thriller Writers organization and my friends, the Blackbird Writers. Both groups have been invaluable sources of knowledge and encouragement.
- BUILD A TEAM — even if you’re a sole proprietor in your next chapter, chances are you’ll need to find people to partner with. Narrow down where your talents lay and outsource the rest. I’ve partnered with editors, publicists, and marketing professionals to build and promote my books.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d love for every reader around the world to plant a tree. Without them, there could be no books, and the world right now needs their oxygen producing and carbon absorbing capabilities to help minimize the danger of climate change. Trunks and leaves make shade and habitat for birds and other wildlife. No trees = no books. Go plant a tree!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
The next time Gal Gadot is in northern California, sipping wine at a vineyard in Napa Valley, or skiing near Lake Tahoe, I’d love to have lunch with her to discuss her upcoming Cleopatra film and how my next novel, Cleopatra’s Vendetta (2022), ties in.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow me on any of these platforms:
They can also read the first six chapters of VanOps: The Lost Power for free by signing up for my newsletter at avanticentrae.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!