Chantilly White ~ An (updated) Interview ~ February, 2013
I write romance in a variety of sub-genres: contemporary, historical, fantasy, paranormal, romantic suspense, and I'm in the process of developing a sports romance series that I'm very excited about.
How long have you been writing with the intent of becoming published?
I wrote my first book when I was 8 years old – 200 pages on my life plan, now unfortunately long lost. My kids would have loved it. I went on to earn my degree in Creative Writing and English Literature from UC Riverside, but I didn’t get serious about writing for publication until about five years ago.
Since then, there have been many starts and stops and missteps along the way. I have four or five partial manuscripts moldering away that I will probably never revisit, but I learned a lot from each one. I have enormous files of research and notes that I will someday finish organizing—maybe—but in the meantime, I am very much enjoying just writing.
That's why I've returned to the short stories, like the ones I wrote in college, for the most part—I can simply write and not get all caught up in rules, diagrams, reams of research, things like that. I can get lost in research! I love it, but the short stories don't require as much of it, which allows me to actually finish my projects and get them out to readers. Pearls of Passion is a super short story at just 6000 words, and Pearls of Wisdom is a novelette at 15,000. Pearls of Pleasure is a (short) novel, but it started out as a short story. Gwen and David simply refused to be easy, though—they wanted a full novel to tell their story, so that's what they got! Unwrapped is even longer, by a few thousand words, so I seem to be trending upward in my word counts now, but that's okay, too. Whatever it takes to tell the story.
How does a story first come to you?
My stories usually first come to me as one particular scene and almost always start off with the heroine, not the hero. For example, one of my works-in-progress (WIP) originally came to me as a scene of the heroine nearly drowning. A novel I was working on last year (one of those moldering away) came to me as a scene of the heroine running through an apple orchard, on her way to meet a group of her friends. Another one started with the heroine breaking into her cousin’s house. Why would she do that? The question sparked the rest of the tale.
After that initial scene, it’s all about figuring out who the person is, why she’s doing what she’s doing, what might happen next. The plot grows from there, with the hero taking shape based on who would be the best man for that heroine.
Tell us about something that inspires you.
My kids inspire me, nature inspires me. A beautiful piece of fabric, a painting, a clever phrase in a good book. A song lyric. But one of my favorite inspirations is watching other couples in love. I don't care if they're a couple of fourth grade kids holding hands or a couple in their eighties, I love to watch their facial expressions and body language, the way they relate to each other. Elderly couples are my ultimate favorite, because I have such respect for people who manage to stick it out in a long-term relationship. I want to know their secrets.
My husband and I have been together for over twenty years, and sometimes it's really hard. Everyone gets mad sometimes, everyone has bad days, there are times we both need to take a walk, take a break. But he is the one person in the world I know I can always turn to, the one who has my back, who I've made a life with. We have a history, we have children we made together, raised together. That's powerful.
As a romance writer, I know my stories are always going to have a happy ending. It's required for the genre! That's a happy place to work from, a reassuring place—no matter how tough a situation my hero and heroine are facing, I know, and the reader knows, that in the end it will all work out.
What is your workspace like—do you have an office, use headphones, have a whiteboard/plotting board, use candles?
Oh, my workspace. <laughs> Our main computer is in the family room, where everyone congregates. There is NO privacy, no door to shut. Our three cats are constantly crawling all over the desk or bringing me scraps of paper to throw. Yes, our cats fetch like dogs. The computer is a family computer, so everyone has their piles of work alongside mine. The bookshelves in the hutch are stuffed with books (those are almost all mine, I admit, but they’re a total mess.) My husband and I both have overflowing inboxes, there’s the family calendar, the drawers are full of household files rather than writing files, which are all in boxes in the garage, some of which are not all that accessible. Filing and organizing for the writing life has been an ongoing problem for me. I’m hyper-organized in every other aspect of my life, but for the writing accoutrements, I need an intervention!
How do you handle family and/or friends requests for your time when writing?
If it’s homework help (especially math!), that often has to, uh, wait until I’m done—or, even better, wait for Dad to get home. I am so bad at math. I was a humanities major for a reason! If someone wants to take me out to dinner, I’ll make the sacrifice to leave right away. Otherwise, they try not to disturb me unless it’s an emergency.
What is your daily writing regimen? Are you more of a morning worker or a night owl?
I’m an insomniac and a total night owl, but that doesn’t work so well with family. I've been trying to adjust my natural clock for decades, but I'm about at the point of giving up and just rolling with it. I work when I'm conscious. I can surf the internet or play around on Facebook with a brain that's half-awake, but if I'm writing, it really does help if I've had at least a little sleep, so I do try to grab a couple hours here and there when I can.
Do you use any audio or visual aids when writing?
I use photos of movie stars or models out of catalogues and magazines as references for my characters, and I have piles of pictures I’ve collected over the years of everything from lingerie to a baby’s stuffed animal to a castle above the sea. Nathan Fillion was the inspiration for one of my heroes! I've also found that creating my own covers ahead of time is extremely helpful and also motivating—once I have the cover done, I want to get the story out there!
What is the most important thing you need to have happen before you can begin writing a story?
Hmmm, tough question. I’d say it depends on the story and the day. If I get too caught up in minutia, I can do detail work forever and never write. I once created a 400-member family tree, not just with their names, but their dates of birth and death, the name of the hospital, city, state, country where they were born, the cemetery where they were buried, the college they graduated from, the church they got married in, where their kids were born, why they moved there… I mean, it went on forever, for characters three or four generations back (including aunts, uncles and cousins and all of THEIR spouses – I had to make up my own genealogy forms, because the standard ones only deal with direct lines of descent!), who were never going to be seen or mentioned in the book. It was a bit, um, crazy. The good news is, I now have a cast of potential characters that will last me at least through three thousand stories, so it wasn't a total waste of time. Haha.
What is your most embarrassing moment regarding your writing career?
The most embarrassing moment I can think of (among many. . . eh-hemm), happened in my very first writing workshop as a sophomore in college. The workshop involved, by turns, each student bringing in copies of a completed short story for everyone else in the class to take home and critique over a week’s time. The following week, we’d deliver our critiques for the class. The first problem turned out to be length. Everyone else in the class believed “short story” meant no more than 10 or 12 pages. Mine were never less than 30, so my classmates really hated me when it was my turn.
What is the best moment regarding your writing life so far?
There have been a lot of great moments, but one of the very best was the day I pushed "send" and published my first story, Pearls of Passion. I never in a million years intended to indie publish my work, but that was such an empowering experience. I was really nervous that first time, but now I look forward to the rush of pride every time I publish a new piece.
What’s your favorite comfort food?
Chocolate is the only possible answer to that question.
What’s one of your favorite words?
Again, "chocolate." I also like "thwack." I don't know why.
What’s a word you hate?
“No.” ‘Nuff said.
What are some of your writing career goals or plans for the next few years?
My goal for this year is to get Cupid's Mistake up by the end of February and Remember Me by the end of April. After that, I've given myself four to five solid months to work out a longer-length novel, and I will also have a Christmas story out at the end of the year. Those are my "must-do's" but I'd like to have a few more shorts up by the end of the year, as well.
What "Pearls of Wisdom" would you like to leave us with?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last few years, for fellow writers, is to write your story your way. Don’t try to force it to be something it’s not, or something that doesn’t feel right to you. If you fight yourself too much on that, it sucks all the joy right out of the process. Writing should be fun, even when it’s hard. Otherwise, what's the point?
For writers and non-writers, the best piece of advice I can give is to find your tribe. Whatever your interests are, find likeminded people and join them. The support and camaraderie are incredible, and so necessary to a fulfilling life.
Above all, enjoy every moment you can, and never pass up an opportunity to tell someone you care about that you love them. You never know when the last opportunity to do so might pass you by.
Chantilly White ~ February, 2013