J L Chalfant Interview + Giveaway!
Hi, J L Chalfant! Welcome to the blog! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
1. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Was there a single moment of clarity or did the knowledge just creep up on you?
I’ve been writing since I was in elementary school. In another author interview with Arkansasauthors.com I tell about my time as a playwright, director, and actor in the sixth grade, one of those rare times when a teacher is implemental in setting the stage, or the route, for one’s path. In my case, since I grew up in a home with parents who were avid readers and writers—my father was also a trained actor—I was exposed to a large family library. However, as much as I enjoyed writing plays, stories, poetry, and acting, the true moment I knew I wanted to be a writer came many years later. By that time I had graduated college, trained in the visual arts and was married, had three children, and I was a public school art teacher. All those stacks of stories, half-finished novels, and more continued to clutter my closets, the words and characters calling to me. Finally, I told my husband I wanted to go for my MFA in creative writing. But his career path took us to another state where our fourth child was born, and where instead of creative writing school, I opted for a night class in journalism. Thus began my life as a full-time writer.
2. Tell us about your writing schedule. Do you write every day? At the weekends? Or like me – whenever you get the chance?
Since my life as a full-time writer gradually conquered my other interests, like being a full-time visual artist, and teacher, my life as a wife and mom continued to come first, and still does. However, writing for me is more than an interest or a job. So yes, I schedule my time for various activities to do with the more left-brain aspects of writing: outlining, or fleshing out story ideas, then more detailed work like character bios, other research, etc. The more right-brained, creative process of writing mirrors what in the 1960’s was termed “a happening.” I’m not a writer who can schedule inspiration or great ideas, even great prose. All that must flow in its own time and place. So when the knowing comes to me that it’s time to sit down and try writing a few pages, that’s what I do. I can remember many times when I couldn’t get free from whatever life obligation had hold of me, and I lost that moment of pure writing bliss. The opportunity might have given me a great story, I’ll never know. But what I do know is the opportunities keep coming by remaining open, listening to that inner voice that nudges one to create, you know, maybe an idea hits you, or the “ah ha” moment, even a dream can inspire a whole novel, or one word can launch a series of great books. Last, I must spend time each day in the room where I write, at my desk, with pen in hand, or hands on the keyboard. And once I’ve committed words to paper for a novel or short story or answers to interview questions, I write, and I edit, and I keep going each day until I reach the end of the story or whatever I’m working on at that time.
3. What inspires you?
Everywhere and everything in life can inspire an idea for a story that can lead to a full-blown novel or series. Most of what I write is inspired from my research into my family’s genealogy (Welsh, Native American, Jewish-German-French), even going as far back into the root location of my ancient ancestry (Great Britain, Persia, Europe); thanks to DNA research today that’s possible. I do not lack for story ideas because my research requires me to read a variety of history books, and I’m always on the look-out for information I can use with a new twist. But those times do arrive when I’m having a dry period where ideas seem to be playing hide and seek with me, I’ll look to nature for inspiration. Being outdoors enlivens me. And since, as a writer I tend to be home or building-bound more than I ought, getting outside, breathing fresh air, hearing the birds, the airplanes overhead, our dogs barking in the woods no doubt chasing a rabbit or coyotes, well, I relax, and so does my brain. And hopefully, amazing ideas will come and inspire me to go back inside and write them down. That’s another point, I keep a pen and pad with me when I’m out and about so I can jot down those inspiring thoughts.
4. Where did you get the idea for your latest novel – how was it born?
My newly published novel Pohoi and Comanche Spirit Power is a good example of how I transformed research into my family’s Native American ancestry into a novel. Both via arkansasauthors.com and jlchalfant.com/blog I’ve discussed different threads about how the story was born. For this interview, I’ll add a different thread not discussed at any depth before, and is probably the closest to the heart of this matter:
Following my short venture into journalism, I took on the novel, a task I was told by my teacher would be way over my head at that time. “Every writer thinks that sooner or later they can write the next, great American (or English) novel,” she told me. And I remember, thinking that “maybe I could.” But I didn’t tell her that, and I didn’t really believe it, but why not dream? So began my life-long passion to write. This is when we’d moved, and my baby was a newborn and there were three other children still in house, in school, and in and out of mayhem. My husband worked long hours as a family doctor, and I was home by myself a lot. Writing time came while kids napped, and often, from midnight until 2 AM. This practice continued for years. Today I write up to six hours a day, sometimes more. However, marketing and social media takes up even more hours. I cannot reassure anyone wanting to be a writer that writing is easy. It’s what it is. Writing. And to birth a novel, writers must write. Right? Anyway, I wrote the novel I was advised not to write. I wrote the first part. We sold our house, moved, and settled back into a new home in a new state with kids in new schools, and a toddler on my lap while I wrote. Still I unpacked the novel, and forgot where I’d planned to go (my notes were nowhere to be found.) “Oh My G-d,” I screamed. Really, I did do that. By the way, I was typing on a fancy IMB typewriter. I went to a word processor to a desktop computer rather speedily, I might add. But changing what I used to write on didn’t keep me from losing my way through that novel. By the time I finished I had eight-hundred sixty-two pages, three parts that read like three books, and a really interesting story made up with Celtic knights, Comanche Indians, blond barbarians, and a Scottish community not too dissimilar to the one where I now resided. If I was to really publish that story, all that I had written must change, and fast. Before long, and after attending writing workshops, I boxed the unpublishable novel. However, I planned to use my previous research into my family’s Comanche Indian connection and transform all that into a new novel. With so much actual drama on the high plains of Texas found in my research, and being a native Texan I knew a lot about Texas history from attending public school and college in Texas. This knowledge would play a part in the inspiration for the novel Pohoi and Comanche Spirit Power. By the way, I’m taking information from the unpublishable novel to inspire a whole new second novel.
5. If you could choose any book in the world to have written which one would it be and why?
That’s a difficult question to answer. In my formative years, fourth grade through college, six books influenced my world, books I continue to appreciate and love and would take with me if I could only take a handful of books: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (from the Winchester Manuscripts of Thomas Malory and other sources) by John Steinbeck, and Tom Jones by Thomas Fielding, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and the One Thousand One Arabian Nights. But for the sake of answering the question, I’ll do a toss of these six books. Okay, here it goes, and the winner is: Tom Sawyer. (Note: I wrote out the book titles on strips of paper, cut and folded each strip, tossed and drew one.) Any of these books would’ve been fine to have drawn. They’re all winners for me.
6. If you could be any character from a book who would it be and why?
Again, that’s a difficult question. You might be thinking I’d choose a character from the book I chose in #5 above. But I wouldn’t. For me, not all characters who people books are that memorable by and of themselves. Those characters need the book with its supporting cast, sub-plots and all. The kind of character I might want to be would have to be one that could live without the framework of its story, as in creating a whole new story. There’s a kind or type of character that is termed an archetype. An archetypal character is almost god-like because they represent human beings with all their flaws and all their best qualities, and can extend beyond the boundaries of time and story-place, characters like King Arthur and Merlin, the Gods and demi-gods of the Greek and Roman myths. Probably you can think of others? For me and this question, I chose Merlin, the eternal sage and wise man, the shape-shifter who reminds of all that once was, is and can be again, that of the best in men and women. Merlin challenges me to explore the metaphorical caverns within my mind and heart and unchain the truth of who I am.
7. What advice would you give to other writers out there who are thinking of self- publishing their work?
My father told me a long time ago to avoid giving advice. First, unless someone asks you for advice, no one really wants advice or listens. I’m sure this advice is well-known. Since I’ve been asked to give advice to other writers about self-publishing their work, I will give it a shot:
First, if you’re new at writing, plan to rewrite your first draft. There are many writing how-to books and workshops that will educate you on this process, as well as terminology that is used in the writing and publishing world. If you have been around the proverbial block, I’d suggest a professional evaluation of your finished novel before you self-publish. The evaluator is an editor with the expertise to advise you about story and if it is working, and if not, what to do. They will also cover specifics like syntax, dialog, character development, and more. However, if you find you need to fix story structure as a whole, the development is flawed, and more, or less, if you are not skilled at editing, it is always best to hire an editor who has the skills for your definite needs. For example, many free-lance editors specialize in say line-editing or copy-editing and also offer a quick evaluation of your work. Many line-editors only edit a few pages (50-100+) to show you how, so you will need to shop around. The cost is worth your time and money if you want a quality product that readers will enjoy and/or rave about.
In passing, not all self-pubs out there are the same. Again, shop around. I used iUniverse, part of Author Solutions now owned by Penguin Group, what’s called an assisted self-publisher. They sell packages and offer a wide variety of professional services like a traditional publisher. In fact, this route is more costly depending on the number of services, but in the end, you get more help with the overall process of editing, publishing, and marketing. But a word of caution: in today’s writing world, whether a writer is self-published or traditionally published, the writer, if unknown, must learn social media and market their book. Plan to spend many hours promoting and branding yourself and your book. It will pay off. I wish you all much success!
8. Who is, or are, your favorite authors?
Like I mentioned above, I grew up reading the classics since my parents had a library. Often I checked out books at the local library where I discovered literature of modern day.
Today, I’d say I’ve learned to enjoy a wide variety of authors and genre. My taste is eclectic and not locked into one category or subject, or author’s style. For the sake of keeping this answer from getting out of control, I will keep my favorite author list brief:
First, a few from the past: 1) Mark Twain, 2) John Steinbeck, 3) William Faulkner, 4) Dostoevsky, 5) Mary Shelley 6) Ernest Hemingway, 7) Jane Austin and too many to list here …
Here’s a small list of present day literary authors: 1) Louise Aldrich, 2) Margaret Atwood, 4) E. L. Doctorow 5) John Irving (recently deceased), and more …
And present day commercial: 1) Mary Stewart, 2) Sharon Kay Penman, 3) John Grisham, and many others …
9. Do you write for a specific genre or do you like to dabble in several?
Since I enjoy a wide variety of genre and novels in general, it would be appropriate to assume I dabble. However, how can creating a whole novel be dabbling? No, I write historical novels. But not what might be considered a retelling and showing of a story set in a time from the past, afloat with characters in costume and such.
Let me define my historical novels: Supernatural and natural events explored within a historical framework and set in a time period at least twenty or more years ago. In Pohoi and Comanche Spirit Power true events taking place historically in Texas in the 1860’s helped inspire the story line, or main plot.
Now within the story I might play around with time-travel and parallel worlds, but I use that idea differently from how futuristic time-frame might show time-travel or parallel worlds. I suppose my subplots and themes employ some cross/genre techniques from Fantasy, Sci-Fi, with elements of mystery, suspense/thriller, and minor love stories. But don’t many stories do that? For over twenty years I’ve been writing about parallel existence, and what would happen if somehow a doorway opened (wormhole now)? Lots of books have been written about similar topics but remain different from my style.
Another example, my present novel, Pohoi and Comanche Spirit Power, is set within a true historical framework. But I delve into Native American spirituality, which at times might appear unrealistic to the modern mind. When in fact, Native Americans in history, and many today, consider their spirituality to be real.
Just because our belief systems differ from history doesn’t make one belief system truer over another, or better.
Another reason I use historical settings is to distance the reader from harsh happenings. With war, terrorism, terrible news-related stories reported daily, often readers need escape. So I can use historical settings to distance the reader from the violence, if any in the story, as well as the more quirky mystical/supernatural elements I like to explore in my writing; think “Old Age Spirituality Meets Truth or Dare” like Merlin might have done, or the Egyptians, or Moses, other far distant tales of magic and of the gods. Now, that is not to say I will not write a contemporary now and again.
The point of all this? I want the reader to come away from the story, as a whole, wondering if such amazing events can happen today. And why not? Amazing, so-called supernatural events, as unreal as they might feel, science today is on the cusp of proving. Plus it’s great fun for me to write about the supernatural within a historical novel. Not only does the reader get to go on a fun ride but they can experience a particular history they might otherwise never care enough about to read a whole non-fiction history book.
10. Okay some quick fire questions. Don’t think too hard just answer.
Super Villain or Super Hero?
I’ll go with the Super Villain; I suppose you want an explanation?
Super Heroes are often without flaws and not fully developed characters. On the other hand, the Super Villain is a character with abundant baggage, and goodness. The Super Villain can be explored in-depth—as in psychotherapy. However, there’s always hope the Super Villain in all of us can overcome his/her demons and ascend to goodness. Think Merlin. Was he always a nice guy? Doubt it. But then no one, even a villain, thinks they’re evil or wrong. In writing, all characters need flaws, and many border on being villain-like.
Ice-cream or chocolate?
I choose Ice-cream for I can flavor it any which way I choose. Remember, there was no identifier placed on the ice-cream … Plus, ice-cream can be cold, frozen, melting, liquid, cold or hot … multiple states, like water, and can appeal to almost anyone, anytime. A shape-shifter, like me.
Damsel or Dominatrix?
Maybe in a Fairy Tale being a Damsel is fine. But boring and weak, and uninteresting. I must go with Dominatrix. Now, I have no desire to dress myself or my characters in black and carry a whip, much too cliché. However, I can be in charge of my characters so they do not run off with the story. I can also be in charge of my life, and I can decide not to push my dominating self on others. So, I have choices, and the world opens to me.
Underwear or commando?
A no brainer for me … Commando, of course! No need for explanation here other than underwear is always optional.
Beach or the Alps?
I must go with the Alps as much as I love an occasional beach break. Besides, the Alps are in Switzerland. How cool is that? Now if we’re talking writing and authors, I’d enjoy writing my next novel in the Alps in summertime. Talk about inspiration from nature…
Edward Cullen or Lestat?
Seeing as how one of my all-time favorite novels was Dracula, I must go with Lestat. Now I know he’s one of the un-dead and all that. But, in a novel, couldn’t Dracula, or Lestat be one of those archetypal characters I mentioned earlier? I think so! And he’s also a Super Villain with conflicted feelings and huge emotions about life, death, love and revenge. He’s beginning to sound too human to me, and a perfectly drawn character. Interesting too.
Keep the One Ring or throw it in the Mount Doom?
For the sake of the story and plot, I must keep the ring. Who wouldn’t? Power, control, success, everything is yours, the new god of … of what? Now that I think on that, the ring isn’t the problem it’s how one looks at the ring, the power we give the ring. Oh, the power is in me, and the ring reminds me of that, like a symbol that points the way to truth and oneness. So for all the trouble caused by choosing to keep the ring, it’s definitely worth it in my book, and makes a great story that appears to be living on forever, and ever.
Audio or Paperback?
Well now, I love books, love to hold them in my hands, caress them like a lover (only if the covers are silky smooth). I love to read books uninterrupted, all attention lost inside its pages. Me, the book, the story, its characters become one. Now, yes, I could do that listening to the story, but my other senses of sight, touch, smell, taste get in the way more often than when reading. Unless it is night and I’m sitting around a fire with other people listening to a story-teller, then hearing the story told is almost enlightening. I suppose because you’re involved in a group-listening-sharing experience. So maybe this question is a toss-up. I know I’d like for all my novels to be in both Audio and Paperback and e-book format.
Horror or Romance?
Who doesn’t love a good romance, especially when it’s real-life and your own? There are times when a romance on the Hallmark channel gets my attention, especially when I’m feeling out of sorts or need some escape from the junk in life. Hum, horror … scary can be fun unless someone’s really after you with a big knife or chain-saw. Thinking here not too much … oh, okay, I’m going with H-o-r-r-o-r. Why? Because as a writer, Horror stories can have a romance, the hero can escape the knife and chain-saw, scream, cry, laugh and still have time for lunch, coffee, a mystery, thrill ride and get home in time to save the day, and finally kill the monster. Even the sun also rises in the morning as the street lamp continues to light up the waning night. Either way, the good triumphs over evil, and horror. That is until the next book.
Phew! Okay that was fun!
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