Interview | Elsie Chapman
Elsie Chapman, who celebrates her debut book release this week, has been getting rave reviews.
“Fans of the Divergent trilogy will want to read this imaginative tale that is reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.” –VOYA
“Stylish, frenetic, and violent, Chapman’s debut is the textual equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino movie.” –Publishers Weekly
“Readers untroubled by brutal, compassion-free violence will find plenty to admire in Chapman’s gamer pacing, clever suspense–here, stalking is a two-way street–and fast-mounting body count.” –Kirkus Reviews
And she’s a pretty wonderful interviewee too. 🙂 Insightful, intelligent, and funny. Enjoy!
On your website you give a brief bio of who you are. You state you graduated with a degree in literature from the University of British Columbia. So first of all, congrats!!! No easy task! But my question is how much do you think having that degree helped you in your path to publication?
Thanks so much, Bethany! To be honest, I don’t think the degree itself helped. Not directly towards publication, anyway. What I can say is that the four years it took me to earn it definitely helped shape me to become the person and (therefore) writer that I am—strengths, weaknesses, weird annoying quirks, all of it. I don’t mean just the lit classes but also whatever else comes with being on your own for the first time ever. Just as with anything we experience up until the point we start writing—what we read, what we watch, who we hang out with—all of it plays a part, small or large as it might end up being.
Would you recommend people major in literature or take classes with a focus on writing?
I really think it depends on what their ultimate goals are. Because all that stuff does contribute to your writing—whether it helps you get published is another thing altogether. Having a lit degree or technically strong writing skills doesn’t mean you won’t fall through the cracks. I guess if my kids came to me today and asked me that question, my answer would be to go for it, absolutely—not with their main goal being to get published but for the learning experience. I know it’s more of a non-answer than anything else, but everyone works so differently; what works for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work for another.
Let’s switch gears. In a recent interview you did with Gypsy Bookshelf, you said that when you saw your final cover for your story, Dualed, you got a bit teary. How emotional has your publishing journey been so far? Did you expect to go through so many emotions?
Bethany, this last year has been way more insane than I could have ever imagined. It’s not just a cover, you know? It’s the cover of my debut novel. The book I secretly wrote while the kids were at school and my husband was at work and at night when everyone else was sleeping. I love reading; I love the thrill of diving into the world of a book. That someone will be reading mine and maybe experiencing that same kind of enjoyment is pretty incredible. I used to dream about being an author when I grew up, never once thinking it was at all possible, so that it’s really happening is still very surreal. I hope it never stops feeling that way!
You wrote on your blog about statistics in publishing and how really harrowing the odds are. What do you think are the most important things that contribute to whether or not a writer gets published? Is it luck, is it timing, will a good story always get published no matter what, is it a combination?
Oh, I definitely think it’s a combination of all those things. Publishing is a strange animal—it doesn’t always make sense or behave the way you think it should. I can question why certain books get published when other manuscripts don’t, but of course I’m only one reader out of many, all with vastly different tastes. Agents and editors all like different things, too. So in that sense, the most important thing is to just keep writing your book the best way you know how. In the end, the numbers don’t mean much because you’re really only competing with yourself. Agents and editors don’t put their faith behind books because they have a quota to fill but to back the books they truly love.
Do you have a particular aha! moment you can recall where you thought, yes, I want to be a writer. Not just any writer, a published YA writer?
Not really. I mean, as a kid I would worship authors. They were so cool and imaginative and somehow not entirely real; the idea of ever becoming was utterly ridiculous. So even though I continued to write for school assignments and entered the odd contest for money, I never wrote with the intention of getting published. It wasn’t until a few years ago when my kids were older and I had more time to myself that I started thinking about writing seriously.
You’re a part of the wonderful group Friday the Thirteeners. How has that been?
Truly amazing. We’re all learning as we go, and we’re all there for each other, whether it’s celebrating a milestone or being a sounding board for a bit of venting. Publishing being the emotional roller coaster ride that it is, we do both! And I can’t imagine going through this alone; writing itself can be such a solitary thing that it’s easy to lose sight of normalcy, so being able to reach out to others who understand is really important for staying sane.
I’ve interviewed several authors who are part of the same group. They’re all fabulous! Were you guys friends before you started this group, or did the group make you friends?
I actually owe Ellen Oh major drinks when we finally meet for being the Thirteener to introduce me to the group! While I didn’t know any of them beforehand, I now count them as very good friends. Each and every one of them is so talented, so cool, and just incredibly nice. I’m extremely fortunate to have met such good people.
Okay, let’s talk about Dualed, your upcoming book. It sounds very dark! Very atmospheric! And just from reading the back cover, it sounds like it’s going to ask a lot of questions that will force the reader to think. So tell me about the genesis of this book. Did it come to you fully formed, or was it just a spark of an idea you really had to chase after and flesh out?
It was my son that sparked the idea. He asked me one day, what if we all had a twin out there and just didn’t know it? And even as I started to answer that it just wasn’t possible, I couldn’t help but think about the what ifs. The premise of the book just spun out from there.
You’re represented by Steven Chudney. Can you talk about your query process?
I started querying in January 2011 and found representation by mid February, so it was probably on the fast side of things. But the process wasn’t any easier for being shorter—every rejection still hurt, and you start dreading emails just as much as you hope for them. In the end I had a few offers to pick from, I decided Steven was the best fit, and I couldn’t be happier with how things have worked out!
Finally, what advice do you have Elsie for writers who are – as we so love to say – burrowed deep in their cave in the midst of revision hell?
The word “hell” is very apt, as I’m much more of a first draft person myself so I kind of dread revisions. If you’re like me, I think it’s a fear of taking things apart and not being to put them back together again, or somehow making it even worse. So what helps me is mentally breaking edits into smaller chunks to tackle one at a time. You can do it by scenes, chapters, story arcs—whatever works so it’s no longer overwhelming. And to always remember that revisions, as painful as they can be, only make your story stronger.
Elsie, your book is being released right around Valentine’s Day!! So…
a. Your favorite romantic movie:
b. Your favorite romantic meal:
c. Your most cherished romantic moment:
d. The most romantic scene you’ve ever written:
So I’ve already admitted to you, Bethany, that I don’t really have a romantic bone in my body. But I will do my best!
Favourite romantic movie: Lost in Translation.
Favourite romantic meal: Anything that doesn’t require me to cook and then clean up afterward. I know, it’s sad, but it’s true.
Most cherished romantic moment: I consider my whole marriage to be one romantic moment. We were crazy young when we got married, but we’re still together, and we still really enjoy just hanging out with each other.
Most romantic scene ever written: I’ve been told my character Chord in DUALED is pretty swoon-worthy, so any scene with him!