Over Easter, thanks to the wonders of technology, Just Heard, Just Read, Just Seen caught up with author Emlyn Chand and found out what makes the Michigan based author tick. What with a husband, a golden retriever and five birds to take care of as well as business Novel Publicity to run, it’s a wonder Emlyn has time to write at all.
Just Heard, Just Read, Just Seen (JH,JR,JS): Thanks for talking to Just Heard, Just Read, Just Seen, Emlyn, wow that keeps you busy.
Emlyn Chand (EC): Um, I think I’ve just self-identified as crazy….
JH,JR,JS: Not at all. You have recently published Farsighted – can you tell us a little about it, without giving away too many spoilers? Who is the target audience?
EC: Farsighted tells the story of Alex Kosmitoras. Here’s my mini teaser: Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still “see” things others can’t. When his unwanted visions of the future begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider.
The target audience is definitely young adults. I wanted to write a YA novel for YA reader, since I think much of YA literature has been trending too old.
JH,JR,JS: What inspired you to write it?
EC: Everything started with a single image—my face in these tacky oversized sunglasses reflecting out at me from the car’s side mirror. I was daydreaming while my husband drove us across Michigan for my sister’s wedding. Something about my image really struck me in an almost horrific way. I felt the glasses made me look blind but found it so weird that there was still a clear image within them; it seemed so contradictory.
At the time, my book club was reading The Odyssey, which features the blind Theban prophet, Tieresias. I started thinking about what it would be like to have non-visual visions of the future and began forming a modern Tieresias in my mind. Lo and behold, Alex Kosmitoras was born. I didn’t want him to be alone in his psychic subculture, so I found other characters with other powers to keep him company.
Thank God for my poor fashion sense.
JH,JR,JS: Is this the genre and style you usually write in? If it isn’t, what moved you to make a change?
EC: I’m a YA writer through and through, but that wasn’t always the case. Actually, my first novel was literary women’s fiction. The novel is good, and after 10 drafts, it did land an agent, but it never really spoke to who I was as a writer.
When I was ready to write my second novel, I had 4 ideas that really excited me—a dystopian novel, historical fiction, chick lit, and what became Farsighted. I thought each idea out and wrote sample pages or character sketches as practice (I call this the left-brained approach to brainstorming books as described in the article I wrote here).
The Farsighted pages were the easiest to write, and they were the ones my trusted beta readers liked best too, so I decided to give it a try. Now I am hooked.
JH,JR,JS: How did you come up with the title?
EC: Finding a title that accurately captures the story and its variegated meaning is incredibly important to me. I like to have my titles picked out before even beginning the first drafts of my works.
Titles shape the stories a great deal, and Farsighted is no different. It’s a book that, among other things, is about the ways we see the world around us. Take Alex’s blindness, his psychic powers, his misunderstandings, and we have ‘Farsighted’.
JH,JR,JS: Which character do you like the most? Why?
EC: Shapri is definitely my favorite character even though she plays a more secondary role in Farsighted. Not only is she the most fun, but she’s also the kind of the person I wish I could have been like back when I was younger. She’s strong, always true to herself, and won’t let anyone disrespect her. Sure, she has fears, but we all do. Shapri is the kind of girl I would love to be friends with. You know she’ll always go to bat for you when you’re too tired to step up to the plate.
JH,JR,JS: Is this a ‘sit back and read for pleasure’ book or is there a message in your book you want readers to grasp – or is it a bit of both?
EC: First and foremost, I hope that readers will enjoy themselves. My primary goal is to tell an interesting story that people will find entertaining and be glad they read.
Secondly, I’d like to infuse contemporary Young Adult fiction with a bit more diversity and teach readers about the beauty of other cultures and other ways of life.
I also hope that Farsighted is a book that leads to introspection—what would I do if put in Alex’s place? Did Alex ever have a choice or was this path his destiny? What would it be like to see the world the way he sees the world?
JH,JR,JS: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you?
EC: India is my eternal muse for this and everything I write. Farsighted in particular was heavily influenced by the prophecies of Nostradamus (as you’ll see in the epigraph for part III). I also drew a good deal from Zoroastrianism and its core concept of dualism—all light contains dark, and all dark contains light. Oh, and coffee. I was influenced by the desire to go to the coffee shop and order a gigantic latte with extra chocolate sauce, all in the name of writing.
JH,JR,JS: What books have most influenced your life most?
EC: As a child, my favorite book was Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson. It opened my eyes to the world that could exist if only I was willing to create it—I think it’s what encouraged me to be a writer in the first place. As an adult, it’s A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, definitely. The novel has so many layers and entertains on so many levels. Also the characters in that novel seem more real than those from any other I’ve ever read. It’s just beautiful—that’s the only word for it.
JH,JR,JS: What book are you reading now?
EC: I am currently reading I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. I’ve recently realized I love science fiction and am trying to cover the sci-fi greats, so I can move on to some alluring contemporary reads.
JH,JR,JS: Are there any new authors that currently interest you?
EC: I’ve been hob-knobbing with many an author online. Two I really adore are Marissa Meyer (author of Cinder) and Megan Miranda (author of Fracture). Both are debut YA writers with wonderful books. Both have become my online buddies and are just so personable and approachable. I often go fan girl on them, and they still put up with me. I feel pretty blessed. There are also so, so many wonderful indie authors out there. I’m going do feel bad about naming any, because it will mean that somebody else gets left out, but I will answer the questions like a good interviewee: I especially love Kimberly Kinrade and Melissa Luznicky Garrett.
JH,JR,JS: What type of music do you listen to when you write?
EC: I can’t listen to music while I write. Too distracting. But my favorite type of music for other times is what I dub “happy music.” I love Frank Sinatra and all things croon. It just makes me “smile in my heart.” When I’m driving I listen to pop, so that I don’t fall asleep at the wheel… yeah, I totally have done that before.
JH,JR,JS: Do you have any little ‘things’ you do or traditions you follow when you write? Where do you write? Do you have a dedicated space, a particular office or piece of machinery?
EC: I go to Panera and stay there for about eight hours with the pure intention of writing. I keep the WiFi off and eat and drink whatever is needed to fuel my prose. I call this holding myself “writing hostage,” and it really works for me. Um, but lately, I’ve been procrastinating a bit too much, thanks to the wonder that is Facebook.
JH,JR,JS: Mac or PC?
EC: PC all the way. I have an iPad, and I hate the useless thing.
JH,JR,JS: Do you ever write longhand?
EC: Um, no. I’ve honestly forgotten how. I loathe having to autograph books, because I can’t even sign my name correctly. My signature is like a snowflake—no two are ever the same.
JH,JR,JS: How long does it take to finish a project?
EC: Well, that depends what you consider the start of the writing process. Since every story has a different life arc, I’ll use Farsighted as an example. I first got the idea for the novel on July 5, 2010. I didn’t start writing it until October, but I thought about it a lot and started building the plot in my head. I wrote about a third of it in late 2010 and then decided to start my own book promotion company, Novel Publicity. That kept me super busy, so I didn’t get back to Farsighted until summer 2011. Then I wrote and wrote in a wild frenzy. I spent about 10 hours per day holding myself “writing hostage” at the local Panera. This lasted about three weeks. If I had to pick a definite amount of time, I’d say Farsighted took about one year to write.
JH,JR,JS: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
EC: I’m really happy with how Farsighted turned out. As I got reader feedback in and started to notice what reviewers consistently commented on (“I love XYZ, but…”), I decided it would be wise to heed their advice and incorporate their suggestions into a new extended edition. That’s exactly what I did. None of us are infallible as writers. Our best bet is putting our utmost quality in the product and keeping an open mind during the process.
JH,JR,JS: What do you love most about writing? And what do you dislike about it?
EC: My favorite part of writing this book or any book is getting to know my characters. They start out as vague concepts, but with time and effort, they actually begin to feel real. That process of literally bringing someone else to life is unbelievable. Yeah, it may give us writers a bit of a God-complex, but it’s so much fun.
On the flip side, plotting is much harder for me. I like to build really strong characters, and sometimes I allow them to distract me from my story. These detours can be good, or they can cripple your work. I guess that’s why Faulkner said “kill your darlings.” Fortunately, my Farsighted detours were good. Shapri was never supposed to be a main character, but I let her get under my skin. Now she’s many readers’ favorite.
JH,JR,JS: What are the three pieces of advice you would give a new writer?
1. Have fun with your writing. Don’t put pressure on yourself or your story and don’t try to fit either into some type of mold. Not every work has to be published, but every work will teach you something, and it will make you a better writer. Find the joy in writing, and you won’t go wrong.
2. Something’s gotta give. If writing is important, you’ll move around other aspects of your life to get it done. You have to. Writing is not something you can do with just a little bit of effort. To get through the first draft, editing, what-have-you, you’ll have to work hard! Yes, you could space it out over several years, but if you want to finish anytime this year, you’re going to have to make sacrifices. For me, this was less time with friends and family, less television, and less attention to my health (eating right and exercising).
3. Listen to the negative, but focus on the positive. Constructive feedback is important, but sometimes a review will hit too close to home. It may even bring you to tears. That’s the price of putting our work out there. Don’t brush off the critics by telling yourself they’re all wrong. Listen to their complaints and improve their style. If you can find a handful of very devoted fans, you have it made. Whenever I get upset or feel like a writing deadline is impossible, they keep me going.