Friday, March 21, 2014

Author Spotlight: Rick Chiantaretto—Complete with Interview (A Bearded Scribe Blog Tour)

About the Author:
I've often been accused of having done more in my life than the average person my age but if I were completely honest, I'd have to tell you my secret: I'm really 392.

So after all this time, I'm a pretty crappy writer.

I have two books published and a bunch half written (when you have eternity, where's the reason to rush?). I've been favorably reviewed by horror greats like Nancy Kilpatrick, and my how-to-write-horror articles have been quoted in scholarly (aka community college freshmen's) papers.

I enjoy the occasional Bloody Mary, although a Bloody Kathy or Susan will suffice.

Mostly, I just try to keep a low profile so people don't figure out who I REALLY am.

Connect with Rick Chiantaretto:

The Interview:
Autumn Jones: Which book introduced you to speculative fiction?
Rick Chiantaretto: Hi Autumn. Wow, you’re asking me to go back a very long time. I’m pretty sure the answer to that question would have to be The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree, but there are many I could name. I loved Roald Dahl’s The Witches and Matilda, and while he is known for being a children’s author, I found his books magical, with a touch of darkness. As I’m googling these titles now, I’m glad to see they are often included in speculative fiction categories!

Autumn Jones: Do you have an all-time favorite book? What about it makes it your favorite?
Rick Chiantaretto: The Forbidden Game by LJ Smith would have to be it. I have owned so many copies of this book. My sisters and I would read and re-read them until their pages would fall out, and then make our mom drive us to the nearest Barnes and Noble to pick up a new copy. Julian’s race, his love for humans, and that insanely awesome ending have influenced many of my characters and plotlines. I know it’s a YA novel, but I can still pick it up and fall into the world LJ Smith creates in this series, and feel like I’m at home.

If you want a “love conquers all” story, The Forbidden Game is unlike any other.

Autumn Jones: Your main characters had distinct personalities and traits. Are they pieces of you? Were there any actual events or people that inspired any bit of the plot or characters in Death of the Body?
Rick Chiantaretto: I learned from my first novel, Façade of Shadows (now out of print), to not base characters on people you know. My editor for that book often circled entire scenes in red with the notation: “Characterization. YOU know why this person did such-and-such, but don’t forget your readers DON’T.”

Character motivation, because of my experience with that editor, became a big thing for me. I find that basing characters off real life people results in a flat character, because you don’t have to examine and pick apart the character’s flaws and virtues (or, if you do, that person ends up pretty angry with you at the end of the day!).

That said, all of my characters have traits I wish I had. I wish I had Nicholas’s confidence (and body! Ha). I wish I had Edmund’s wit, curiosity, and insider knowledge. I wish I had Xia’s loyalty and fierce ability to love without condition. I wish I had Linda Rose’s darkness… oh wait… maybe I do!

The actual story and plot was derived from two dreams that were so vivid and fit together so perfectly I couldn’t help but write them down (although I probably wouldn’t have needed to. I can still remember them clearly). I think Book Two will have a lot more of that ethereal dream/reality feel as we visit some of the other levels (hint hint).

Autumn Jones: After devouring Death of the Body, I pictured you locked away in a dark room, listening to Gregorian chants, and furiously scribing the next book onto a yellow legal pad for some reason. Instead of letting my overactive imagine run wild, tell me about your writing process.
Rick Chiantaretto: How did you know!? I have the monk robe and everything! And just to answer the question I know everyone is asking: Yes, I am naked under there…

Okay, okay. Actually, I tend to prefer to write in silence, but if I do have any music on, it’s usually Native American flutes (which I feel would bring in the same sort of feel as Gregorian chants).

I usually also write at night, and love to write while traveling (that airplane engine hum is the perfect static white-noise, but I’ve found I have a hard time writing in a car).

Usually I’ll just sit in the dark a bit, until the shadows start to take on a life of their own.

Remember that fog scene? I wrote that at 2 in the morning, and when I looked up and caught my own reflection in the glass of a nearby window, my heart skipped a beat. It was completely dark except my white face, illuminated in the glass because of the light of my laptop screen. That became the inspiration for the look of the “other people” who meet Edmund in the fog… translucent… backlit… hollow. You know what I’m talking about ;)

Autumn Jones: Did you initially set out to write a trilogy or was it something that evolved during the writing process?
Rick Chiantaretto: Oh this is funny. I actually had it planned as a series of seven (one book for each level). I think the readers will appreciate that I won’t draw it out that long, ha!

Seven was a little more than I wanted to bite off, especially if it turned out no one liked the series. I didn’t want to get stuck writing 7 whole books for three psycho crazy readers who might actually kill me or lock me in a room (you’ve read Misery, right?) if I had to abandon the project.

But a trilogy ended up working out. I had already planned how to access the 7 levels… and it was with the Three Deaths (Body, Spirit, Soul). So now, instead of writing one book per level, I’ll write one book per death. It was a good compromise, and it FEELS right. I wanted Death to be the star of the book anyway, so it ended up making better sense to lay out the books this way.

Autumn Jones: If there were 7 levels of existence (and I’m not saying there isn’t for the record), which one would you chose to live in/on and why?
Rick Chiantaretto: I’m super excited for Book Two, because I think the level of the spirit, the energumen’s realm, really resonates with me. It’s a dark place, filled with strangeness and magic that is very different, very cool, and very wicked.

It’s also a place that is completely from my waking imagination (it wasn’t inspired by the dream that the book is based on, but is the part that I had to create consciously to fill in the missing pieces that made sense in the dream but not in the waking world. I guess you could say that the dream came from my imagination anyway, but I don’t look at it that way, oddly enough).

I think it’s pretty cool that the most solid, urban, and realistic pieces of the book came from a dream, while the most dreamlike and ethereal pieces came from my waking mind.

Autumn Jones: What’s the best advice you could offer someone who’s looking to become a writer and publish their work?
Rick Chiantaretto: I love this question, and it is the answer that I got sitting at a table not 3 months before Death of the Body went to print: Publish now.

If you have a finished manuscript, what are you waiting for? Don’t wait for the big publishing contract that will offer you millions of dollars and movie rights. Those contracts are going to authors who already have a following, who were successful with a smaller press or in the indie market. Only a tiny tiny fraction of people get the opportunity to work with a big press without proving themselves FIRST.

And, you’re losing out on money, sales, and readers.

It is so easy to publish your work. Check out Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace, sign up for accounts, and get yourself out there.

Stop holding back. Let the readers decide if your work is “good enough.” Stop judging it yourself (‘cause it will never be good enough for you).

Go. Publish. Now. (But hire a good editor).

Autumn Jones: What project(s) are you working on at the moment? And any sneak peeks into what’s going happen in Book 2 and/or 3 that you're willing to share?
Rick Chiantaretto: I am working on Death of the Spirit (Crossing Death #2). After that I’ll start Book 3, and then I have quite a few other projects planned, but don’t know in which order I’ll write the other projects. I have sort of my “quintessential” haunted house story bouncing around in my brain (which will probably be the first book written after the series), as well as an urban fairytale story about a female detective whose friends and family start dying around her in fairytale fashion.

As for peeks into Book 2, I think I’ve already shared plenty (probably too much!).

Autumn Jones: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
Rick Chiantaretto: You know what? I get people commenting all the time on the relationship between Edmund and Xia. I’ve had reviews and emails that say things like “Well, that relationship was pointless,” and “I won’t read the rest of the series because it’s OBVIOUS they won’t end up together” (emphasis mine).

I’m a little surprised no one bothers asking any questions around that subject, so I’ll answer a couple of those for you.

First: If you’re mad at me for that relationship, be prepared to be even more mad by the end of Death of the Spirit.

Second: Yes, the relationship is important. In fact, it is central and core to the story.

Third: Just because you can’t see HOW something will work out, doesn’t mean it WON’T, although maybe in a way that is different… maybe Edmund and Xia’s “happily ever after” isn’t typical (is there ANYTHING normal about the Crossing Death series?).

Four: Trust me, and stick with me. The ending… you, relationship doubters, will want to get there.

Autumn Jones: Seriously though, when will you be back in Utah so we can get together, eat a Café Rio salad (or burrito, whatever), drink some Jack Mormon coffee and have you tell me what the heck is going to happen to Edmund?
Rick Chiantaretto: I’m so mad I didn’t know you were in Utah before this! I think my mom would kill me if I didn’t come home around Christmas time. While I can’t promise with absolute certainty, there is a good chance I’ll be around in December.

I can’t wait to have coffee with you! I’ll bring Edmund so you can ask him some questions. But a word to the wise: be careful which spoon you choose to stir in your cream and sugar; something about that makes Edmund a little sensitive.

The Interviewer:

There was once a girl named Autumn Jones. She was born on Easter Sunday in a tiny, shoreline town in Michigan. Autumn’s formative years were spent in and around the greater Grand Rapids, Michigan area. With a father in radio broadcasting and a former 4th grade teacher for a mother, communication and reading were a way of life. Books were not only a fun, free adventure, but a great way to learn about the world outside of small-town, Michigan, too.

After graduating from high school, Autumn ventured out west to Utah where she found wide open spaces, new faces and room to make her big mistakes. She worked for a year to establish residency and then attended Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University). After two years there, she transferred to the University of Utah where she graduated with a degree in Political Science and Communications. Autumn was planning an adventure to law school when she met the love of her life and decided to follow a different path that included marriage, government work, and having 3 children in 3 years.

Having once aspired to be the next great American author, these days Autumn’s favorite form of writing involves limited characters in social-media formats. Her sarcastic take on daily life as a mother and government employee is a creative exercise that keeps life exciting. During much of her late teens and early twenties the majority of her reading included books like Methods and Models: A Guide to the Empirical Analysis of Formal Models in Political Science. After having her first baby, her book log was full of things like In a People House. These days, she is reading anything she can get her hands on—from trashy novels like 50 Shades of Grey to YA Dystopian series like The Hunger Games. Autumn has a varied love of literature. Stories that entertain, provoke thought, and transport her to another location are a criteria these days.

When she’s not at work managing the office affairs of a child advocacy center (Employee of the Month, March 2010), driving carpool, and running a busy household, Autumn can be found curled up with her Kindle and surrounded by half a dozen books in various stages of read. Autumn is an avid fan of dramatic, prime-time television shows, musical theater, overpriced coffee, and sushi.

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