Interview with Chantilly White

Published 2013-09-06.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote my first 200-page "novel" when I was eight years old, but I'd been writing short stories and little random scenes for quite a while prior to that point.

The novel has unfortunately been lost to posterity. I know my kids would have gotten a kick out of seeing it, but I have clear memories of parts of it. It really was more a treatise on what I wanted and expected my grown-up life to be like. I included details of the house I would live in, down to the decorations in my future children's rooms. I planned to have eight kids (thank goodness that detail changed! I'm very happy with my three!), and no one would be allowed to wear shoes in the house. I don't know where that rule came from at the time--my parents certainly never instigated such a thing--but in my home now, we do indeed leave our shoes outside.

The most detailed part of that treatise, though, involved the animal houses. It was my most fervent desire to grow up to be insanely wealthy so that I could afford to go to all the animal shelters in the world and rescue every single animal. I planned to have a mansion-sized home for every type--a dog house, horse house, rabbit house, one for cats, bunnies, turtles, you name it. They would be required to get along with each other or else! And I would take care of them all and play with them every day.

As a matter of course, I would have to be a veterinarian, too, so I would know how to care for them properly. That ambition ended when I learned that vets have the responsibility of putting animals to sleep. I understood the genuine necessity of doing such a thing for an animal that was suffering, but I couldn't bear to think about doing it myself. However, all those plans, and many others, were extensively detailed in that first book.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in southern California, first in Orange County, then in the high desert, and both locations influenced my writing.

Orange County is a sort of fantasy place to live--the weather is almost always good, it's beautiful, there are beaches galore, shopping is an epic adventure, and there's always Disneyland. I loved it there and still miss it. I was lucky to live there again during a few of my college years, which I very much enjoyed. As for the writing--I started writing at a very young age. Being surrounded by such a fanciful place, not to mention the strong emphasis on the arts in the community, helped my imagination soar. I had constant access to a wide variety of creative, supportive people. It was a wonderful place to begin discovering that part of myself. My writing at that stage reflected both my youth and the fairy tale landscape--it was light, fluffy, and sparkly, full of optimism.

Then my family moved to a very small town in the high desert. Talk about culture shock! In the early days, I felt like I'd been banished to the moon. Artistic opportunities were pretty limited initially, and I admit it took me a long while to learn to appreciate the stark beauty of a desert landscape. Thankfully, I made a lot of great friends there, ones I still cherish today, and they helped smooth the transition. However, a lot of my writing in that period involved escaping the desert! As I grew into my teen years, my work became darker, more angsty. It dug deeper and often reflected the desert's bleakness on a cold winter's day.

Now, I think (I hope!) that my work reflects both places and periods in my life. Since I write romance with a guaranteed Happily Ever After ending, a lot of it is light and fluffy out of necessity, but without any darker tones woven through, it would have no substance at all. Some books, like Cupid's Mistake, are lighter than others. That one is pure sparkly fluff, perfect for a beach read or an escape from a trying day when you don't want to wade through lots of trauma and tears to get to that Happily Ever After. On the other hand, Pearls of Pleasure is much darker and deals with the trauma of a husband and wife coming to grips with the changes in their relationship after the hero-firefighter's near-death experience on the job.

Aside from the emotional contributions my early locations have made to my work and personal development, those locations themselves feature prominently in my books. Pearls of Pleasure, Unwrapped, and Cupid's Mistake all take place in southern California, although the high desert garners only a brief mention--but it will play a more prominent role in future works. I'm very grateful for the growth and opportunities I was able to take advantage of in both of my hometown areas.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love the discovery process of writing--getting to know my characters and finding out what's going to happen to them as I go along. I love researching for a story and learning about different time periods or careers. And I love the sheer fun of it, the escape into another world. I'm a WRITER--one of the luckiest people in the world. I get paid to create something out of nothing. How cool is that?

I'm mostly a "pantser" or a writer who writes by the seat of their pants, rather than a plotter. When the diagrams and rules start coming out, I run for cover. I used to try to force myself to follow those rules, but I've realized now that they just don't work for me. Instead, I let the story flow and try to stay out of my own way until the first draft is completed. Then I'll go back and stick some structure on top of it, just to make sure I've hit the key points, I'll revise it until it shines, and send it out to my critique partner and beta readers for their invaluable input before doing a final pass and formatting it for publication.

Of course, with each story, the process is a little different. I'm working on my fourth "Pearls" title right now, which I predict is going to be longer and more complex than the other three. For the first time in this very loosely connected series, I have created a character list to keep track of them all, as well as a general timeline. I don't want to risk getting facts and subplots confused along the way, but that's about as in depth as I will get until the draft is finished.

I suppose the shortest, simplest answer to this question is just that writing is fun.
What do your fans mean to you?
I LOVE my fans! Love them. There is nothing better than knowing my work has touched someone, has made them laugh or cry or forget the rotten day they had for a little while. That is the juice that keeps the words flowing. Without those fans, there would be no point. Art cannot exist in a vacuum, whether it's a painting, a sculpture, or a bunch of words strung together in a way people find entertaining. Without that give-and-take between author and reader, the whole exercise becomes just that--an exercise. It might still be enjoyable for its own sake, but it is the connection with readers that makes the joy come alive.

I've met some of the nicest, most interesting people through my writing, and I treasure each and every one of them. Recently, a reader sent a request through AuthorGraph for me to "sign" one of my books. I couldn't stop smiling for days. It was such a thrill to know not only that he had read and enjoyed the book, but that he liked it enough to seek me out for a virtual signature. That was so, SO cool. I met another reader on Facebook, someone I actually first bonded with over a mutual love for another author's work (the Queen of Romance, Nora Roberts), who subsequently ended up reading and loving my work, too, and now she is not only one of my biggest fans, but a real friend.

Making those connections, hearing from fans, is one of my top favorite things about being a writer.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Becoming an indie author was a decision that happened in stages over several years. I used to have a huge chip on my shoulder about traditional New York publishing. As far as I was concerned, it was New York or nothing. I wanted that validation and craved The Call (being offered a contract for a manuscript) as a means of proving to myself that my writing had merit. I thought anyone taking a different path, whether with a small or independent press or by self-publishing (which at the time still had the negative connotation of "vanity publishing" which is really a different animal), was at the least misguided, possibly crazy. Why would anyone with solid writing ability do such a thing? I couldn't imagine.

Over the last several years, though, anyone paying even sparse attention to the publishing landscape could not escape the rapid changes taking place. As a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), I had an unobstructed view of the goings on, coupled with plenty of commentary by individuals in all aspects of publishing, from other writers, to agents, to editors, to book sellers, and everyone in between. The more people talked, wrote, blogged, the more it became clear to me that the shine had largely worn off the New York publishing model. Contracts were getting worse, print runs smaller, advances less and less. A few agents and publishers were caught out for defrauding their authors, cheating them out of untold royalties. It was horrifying.

I'd watched many friends go through the thrill of receiving The Call, only to end up agonizing over awful covers they had no control over, being run ragged by agent and publisher expectations--writing to ever shorter deadlines but waiting months to get feedback on the finished manuscript, excessive rounds of revisions, spending exorbitant amounts of time and money on promotion because the publisher required it, even though said publisher wasn't doing any more than the bare minimum themselves--and worse. Then, when that all-important first book with its terrible cover and no publisher promotion didn't earn out its advance, the writers were told their second or third (option) book wasn't being picked up and they were dropped from the publishing house, their name tainted with a "reputation" for poor sales that would make it next to impossible for them to sell another book to a different publisher.

All through that time, indie publishing was gaining ground, gaining respect, losing the self-publishing stigma. It was becoming easier and easier to do, thanks to visionary distributors like Smashwords. A few people whose writings I admired and whose opinions I personally respected--and who had been New York published previously--decided to give indie publishing a try. They started talking about the process, their early successes, and the failures they had learned from. It started to feel exciting.

On a writing retreat with one of my local RWA chapters, an author I adore spoke passionately about her own experiences with indie publishing and strongly encouraged me to give it a try. So I did. And I haven't looked back.

There have definitely been ups and downs along the way, and there are times I still feel the old pull to the traditional model, especially when a friend announces they just got The Call. I'm not an overnight success raking in the dough, though there are plenty of indies doing just that. Sometimes the amount of work involved in doing it all, being in charge of it all, gets overwhelming, even with all the help and support I have from fellow indies, which is staggering and amazing. Promotion and marketing are the bane of my existence--I absolutely hate having to stand on the virtual corner hawking my book and begging for attention, no matter how necessary. Garnering reviews is like pulling the proverbial teeth. And the learning curve has sometimes been steep. I'm not the most tech-savvy person, but the first time a cover I made myself placed in a contest (Cupid's Mistake took third place in an indie cover contest), the pride I felt in that accomplishment more than made up for the hours I spent laboring over it. I still have to tackle getting my stories into print and audio, things I will definitely need help achieving. But the great thing is, writers are some of the most generous people around when it comes to sharing their time and expertise. With their help and a whole lot of patience, I will get there.

Indie publishing is a lot of work, but I love the control I have over the process. I love writing because I want to, writing what I want to write, when and how I want to write it. I love the freedom. I love being able to connect with readers directly to hear what they do and don't like. I have a few future projects I might still shop in New York, mainly because--at least right now--they still rule when it comes to print distribution. But in all other respects, indie publishing is the life for me.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords was my launch pad. I read the Style Guide over and over and followed it to the letter before publishing my first short story, Pearls of Passion. I had a few hiccups initially, and the Smashwords team was right there, able to help me fix the problems I had created for myself, not just in the manuscript itself, but in my online account. Now, even though I upload my books directly to Amazon and B&N, I always run them through Smashwords' Meat Grinder first to make sure the copy is clean.

More than those nuts-and-bolts sorts of things, though, what I love about Smashwords is the way Mark Coker and his team stay on top of the publishing landscape and introduce innovative options and possibilities to the authors here that we can't get anywhere else. I love the latest addition of being able to offer pre-sales on our books, something only traditional publishers have been able to do previously, aside from a few very high-ranking indies on Amazon. We have the potential for library distribution and soon a non-exclusive lending-library model that I think will really boost visibility. I'm far from the level of success I would like to eventually achieve, but Smashwords is helping me get there, and I am so thankful for the opportunities and support.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I have three kids, so I spend a lot of my time with them and with my husband. Even though our children are older now--the youngest just started high school, the middle one is heading off to college in a few days, and the oldest just started her first post-college job--we are a very close-knit family and enjoy doing a lot together. We like to travel, visit family, go to the movies or out to dinner, we play games, and CosPlay at various events each year, such as our local Renaissance Faire, Pirate Festival, LeakyCon (Harry Potter fan convention) and ComiCon.

If I'm not busy with my family, I of course love to read. I don't know a writer in existence who wasn't a reader first. My "To Be Read" pile and the list of books in my Kindle are both huge. I also reread favorite books pretty regularly, so I never run out of worlds to dive into.

I love to scrapbook, but I haven't been able to do any of that since adopting three rescue kittens four years ago. They are so lovable, and I totally adore them, but they are some of the most destructive cats I have ever seen. I won't go into all the things they've destroyed around the house--believe me, it's a long list--but they are also very needy babies and love to be right where I'm at all times. If I break out my scrapbooking supplies, they are all over them, chewing the stickers, shredding the papers, swallowing ribbons, and batting around all the little pieces and bits and bobs that go into making my pages. I've had to give it up for now, but I keep hoping someday they will settle down a bit and I'll be able to get back to my scrapbooks. I am hopelessly behind. I probably have enough photos to make a page a day until I'm 127 years old.

Speaking of those crazy cats, I love animals and love spending time with my kitties. We don't have a dog right now, though I miss that a lot. But these cats keep us on our toes. Adding a dog to the mix at this point would be serious overkill, especially since one of the cats is bigger than many small dogs himself. We named them after some of our favorite characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies--Captain Jack, Mr. Gibbs, and Commodore Norrington. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken their piratical names to heart!

When I was younger, I owned a performing cheerleading group and taught kids from three-years-old up to about twelve. They learned cheers and dances that we then performed for community events, parades, and at high school sporting events. That was a lot of fun and a great way to get back into cheerleading, something I did in elementary through high school and always loved. At one time, I had planned to become an NFL cheerleader, but I never quite got up the nerve to audition. I've also danced from a young age. I started ballet when I was four and continued through the early years of high school. I loved being en pointe and still have my toe shoes hanging on my bedroom wall.

I've dabbled at painting--it's not a skill, but I have fun with it nonetheless. I also played flute and piccolo for years, which is something I am thinking of getting back into by joining a community orchestra. My oldest daughter plays the clarinet and several other instruments and just graduated college with a minor in music, so we might join together.

One thing I'm not is domestic. I'm a good cook and a very good baker, but I don't enjoy it that much. I'd much rather be reading or writing or any of a hundred other things. Fortunately, my husband does enjoy it, so he's taken most of the cooking over.

In the future, I hope to have both a shorter and a longer answer to the question of what I do in my spare time: TRAVEL! And then I will wax poetic about all the amazing places I've been. Someday...
Who are your favorite authors?
Oh, so many favorite authors! I'm a HUGE Harry Potter fan, so JK Rowling is at the very top of the list. I really enjoyed her newest novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, which was originally published under a pseudonym, although I didn't care as much for her first post-Harry book, The Casual Vacancy. But I reread Harry at least once a year, if not more, and watch the movies repeatedly. I can't get enough of that world and the people in it, and the Harry Potter fandom introduced me to some of my closest friends. I'm even a Headmistress of a virtual Hogwarts!

In the romance genre, Nora Roberts has been top of my list for decades. I've read absolutely everything she has ever written except for the first short story she published under a pseudonym in a now-defunct magazine way back in the day. Her stories and characters transport me in ways that are truly magical. I always wish her characters were real people I could be friends with, which I think is a great talent. Two of my other biggest "old-time" faves are Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and Celeste de Blasis, whose books I also read over and over. I've loved the works of Johanna Lindsey, Jude Deveraux, Julia Quinn, Karen Robards, Danielle Steel, and many others. There are too many to name!

More recently, I've added a whole bunch of favorite newer authors, such as Sabrina York, Kristine Cayne, Christine Fairchild, Anthea Lawson, Margaret Mallory, Jami Davenport, and Lydia M. Sheridan. Their work is amazing and very inspiring.

As for other genres, I'm a huge Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz fan, along with Patricia Cornwell, Robin Cook, Sydney Sheldon, John Saul, and... again, too many to name!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first story I remember clearly is one my parents read to me a lot, The Chosen Baby. I'm adopted, and that book was all about Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their journey through adopting a new baby. When I was very young, I didn't internalize the fact that the story had anything to do with me personally, or that it represented a way of having children that was different from anyone else's. It was just a nice story, and I left it at that.

It wasn't until I was in second grade that I understood the whole story, and that's a day I remember very clearly. I was walking with my mother along the playground at my elementary school, and for some reason I chose that moment to ask her if it hurt to have a baby. She looked at me for a minute, then said, "I don't know." I was so confused!

A long conversation followed, with a lot more detail than I probably wanted at the time, but by the end of it I finally knew what it meant to be adopted, a word I had heard for years but never really processed. It took a lot longer to come to grips with it all, even though I always felt it was a very positive thing. It was still "different" and therefore needed dissecting and thinking about.

Years later, my birth mother contacted us out of the blue, and that began another phase in my life. I'm so grateful to her for being brave enough to make sure I had the best start in life possible, something she wasn't able to give me at the time, and I am even more grateful for the security and support I had growing up with my parents, and that they were secure and confident enough to welcome my birth mother with open arms. She and her family became an integral part of mine, and she and my mother even became best friends. Knowing her was one of the most precious gifts of my life, all the more so because, as it turned out, we only had six years together before she passed away from an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was only forty years old. I miss her every day, but I am so grateful to still have her family in my life.

Ultimately, I am thankful that my parents read The Chosen Baby to me so often and were always honest with me about our family, so that when my birth mother came into our lives, I was mentally and emotionally able to handle that new relationship and to appreciate her and my parents for the gifts each of them gave to me.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
As an indie author, I'm a member of a lot of indie-specific writing groups. Someone always has a new book out! I always try to download a book when it goes free to help the author move up in the rankings, and I've discovered many new favorites that way. I also try to buy their books at regular price as often as I can, for the same reason. I think it's really important that indie authors, in particular, support each other as much as possible. I try to do the same for my traditionally published friends, as well, but their print and ebooks are often priced so much higher than indie books that it gets tough to purchase all the ones I would like to buy.

Beyond author-friends and fellow writers in my groups, word of mouth is probably the biggest way I discover new books. If a friend is raving about a book she read, nine times out of ten, I'll check it out myself. There are so many fabulous stories out there, the only constraints on my reading are time and money.
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