Interview with Carma Chan

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in Los Angeles, but grew up mostly in Utah. That had a profound effect on my writing because I was a minority in that crowd even though I was white. My mother had a Chinese last name and my last name was different than hers. The majority of kids in school were white and their parents were married in the Mormon Temple. I was part of a non-traditional family, not by my choice, but because my father abandoned his wife for another woman and left her with six children to feed, and she had not finished high school. So when she married a Chinese chef in 1966, it became obvious to everyone that my parents were divorced and there was a lot of stigma surrounding that. So, I've always felt like a misfit, and it's given me tremendous empathy and respect for underdogs.
When did you first start writing?
At age 12. It began with a love of poetry, especially freestyle poems like those written by Cummings. When I was 14 and in typing class, instead of typing what was in the textbook, I wrote a short story about sexual curiosity. My teacher found out I was typing something creative and told my English teacher, and she begged me to let her read it. I was pretty introverted--I had written 103 poems in 2 years, and had only let one person read my innermost thoughts. Eventually I gave in, because she seemed safe, and she became the second teacher who told me I should never stop writing. For many years it felt like a curse. Since meeting Professor Richard Walter at UCLA, I've grown to love this gift and feel honored to be part of the ancient art of storytelling!
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Creative freedom is an incredible space to be in when your imagination is wild and prolific. Business managers tend to pigeon-hole creative types because they only make a small percentage of their client's profits, so they try to guess what's going to be hot in the near future and it's really anybody's guess. The truth is, without a big PR machine behind you, as an indie you remain obscure unless you pay to play. I've discovered my path to joy and completeness--it's creative freedom. Best natural high next to skydiving!
What are you working on next?
Right now I'm writing a book based on the life of my Chinese stepdad. It's going to be the next volume in the Higher Natures digital book series, and it will be the best thing I've written so far because I love that man so dearly and this is his legacy. His life story is amazing. Every time I tell people some of what he went through before America, how he got here, and how he treated my mother and her six abandoned children as if we were his own pride and joy, people tell me I should write a book about him. I'm taking my time on this one!
Who are your favorite authors?
Kurt Vonnegut, because he's so clever and subtle in his metaphors, and because he said the reason he writes is to reach into the minds of young people before they become generals and senators, to infect them with humanity. I love that! It's my motto. Infect them with humanity.

I also love Rick Bragg's style of storytelling--it's lean and juicy. Most classics are pretty lean. I don't understand why it takes a 3-inch book to tell a story, and I don't like that style of storytelling. It's too heavy-handed for my taste. Picasso said he thought most writers really wished they were painters because they were always painting landscapes and portraits. I prefer writers who leave much to my imagination, which is highly active and my readers tend to have very strong imaginations of their own and appreciate being able to envision their own movies in their heads.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My children and the promises I've made to them. I believe in honoring your word, being your word, making your word mean something--of course, I do--I'm a wordsmith! Words matter to me. If you become someone who does what they say, and says what they mean, people know they can count on your word. It really helps to build trust and profound relationships with others. So I do what I said I would do--I get up, work hard, save for old age because I am committed to not be a burden on my kids, and I'm always in the process of writing something--a screenplay, a novel, a short story, an article, or a poem--it's always brewing and it spills out when it's ready. I love being me!
What is your writing process?
Very abstract and exploratory. That's my personality and how my mind works. It's all over the place, ideas floating around my head, some of them I love so much I cannot bear to lose them, and I write them out as much as I can at the time or I talk to my honeybear about them. I can feel when a story is ready. Until then, I let it steep in my subconscious. I can smell it brewing. It's always going on no matter what else I'm doing. I'm feeling it, thinking about everything on a subconscious level, observing people, processing a lot of ideas--and finally, it won't wait. It will wake me at 4AM or keep me up past midnight. I'll use vacation days to write and spend 20 hours a day writing, easily. I don't believe in forcing it out. That's another reason I'm an indie--deadlines are treacherous and make writers do unoriginal, formulaic things. I never want that kind of lifestyle. I have something to say to the world about a great many things, and I am going to say as much as possible before I die. It's all good:)
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
That's a bit silly because obviously the first story any of us have ever read was an early reader like See Spot Run or Sally, Dick, and Jane. Yes, I remember reading those books and the impact it had was that my family started saying, "Carma's the smart one!" Pretty funny, really. I was in Kindergarten or 1st Grade, so it's not like I was a genius! But to them, I guess I seemed smarter than the rest. The first GREAT story I remember reading was "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis. It was in the school library, this was in 3rd or 4th Grade, so I was 8 or 9. I never forgot that title, and when I looked for it again at age 14, I found out it was part of a series and I read all of the Narnia books and the Tolkien Hobbit books. That's when I fell in love with the idea that some animals are smarter than people, and you see that in my Higher Natures series.
How do you approach cover design?
I actually need the image to inspire me, so I think of the cover before I write the ebook, and that becomes a kind of emotional theme. The image is the main thing because a picture really is worth a thousand words! You convey a great many things to readers by the image. For example, the splotchy purple and white moth on my ebook "New Game, New Rule (Favorite Fallen Angel)" which is #13 in the Higher Natures series--it is a clean, simple, disturbing image because of its lack of symmetry. One of the things about Saardu and its sequel, New Game, is this rejection of the notion that symmetry=beauty.

I met a lad at a grocery story who had a birthmark over most of his face and his lower lip looked swollen. I couldn't stop thinking about him, and I wanted to write something for him. I wanted to give him a place in history, so this is it. My character Rascal has a splotchy purple face. I also did this because I hate prejudice. It's something my mother taught us explicitly--not to judge someone by their skin or name or church--not to judge period. There was a black kid in my 3rd grade class--see, that's Utah in the Sixties and probably hasn't changed much--there was 1 black kid in my class, and I don't recall seeing any others on the playground, so Perry was probably the only black kid at Lafayette Elementary School in 1966. One day we were having a class party and several kids brought cookies. Perry brought Chips Ahoy and I saw many kids turn him down as he walked desk to desk offering them from the bag, and it irked me. Even then I could see hypocrisy. We were supposed to love one another--that was what Jesus taught! So I loudly said, "I'll have theirs!" The next day Perry showed me that he had drawn a heart on his arm with our initials in it. That was so cute, but I didn't mean it that way--I wasn't boy crazy yet. Boys were icky, but it felt good to be nice and to be appreciated.

Years later, an online peer in a screenwriting workshop read Saardu, and when he got to the part about Zenyans being children of all colors, he asked, "Green and purple too?" That made me laugh, and I thought, "Sure, why not?" So they are. And that's the story behind the asymmetrical splotchy purple moth on the cover of one of my books, which readers understand as they get into the story.

My name isn't that important on the cover, I don't need to be famous, and I've always felt awkward about my name--Carma--because people presume too much about it. Everywhere I went outside of Utah, I was asked if my parents were hippies or flower children or Buddhists, and when I answered, "No, they're Mormons." It became a big long story. Also, people thought it wasn't my real name--and that made me uncomfortable because if I was going to choose a nickname, it certainly wouldn't be Carma! People think it's short for Carmen or something. It always leads to too many questions for an introvert!

I learned a lot about fonts after a book reviewer of my paperback misread the 'S' of Saardu as a 'G'. Never again will I use a strange font!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
#1 Ava's Man by Rick Bragg. Lean, juicy, poetic style of storytelling--he made the most ordinary people unforgettable!

#2 The Diary of Anne Frank. The most sweetly scary thing ever written. Unforgettable, poignant, charming, sincere, and utterly terrifying. People must learn to love one another and writers must help that process speed up!

#3 The Chronicles of Narnia -- OK, that's cheating, because that's seven books in one, but sometimes as a creative catalyst you get to run roughshod over the rules! As I've said, the first volume changed my life. I fell in love with Fantasy fiction. It is deeply metaphorical and poetic, and my first love is poetry because of metaphors and artistic language.

#4 Welcome to the Monkey House (Vonnegut) -- I will never ever forget Howard Johnson's suicide parlors! What a bizarre concept--it taught me a lot about how to treat difficult subjects with humor and eccentricity.

#5 The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. From her I have learned to write more about feelings and thoughts, and less about visuals. When I say feelings, that includes tactile, sensory feelings as well as emotions. I think about Helen Keller often because she was so vulnerable and brave, and she inspired me as a kid and as an adult. "Security is a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men for the most part experience it. Avoiding risk is no less dangerous than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure, or nothing."
Describe your desk
E. E. Cummings Complete Poems 1904-1962 stands next to my monitor, held in place by a bronze statue of a hermaphrodite given to me by a dear friend, profound poet and artist, Alexandre Nodopaka. Next to it is "Moods in Motion", an anthology of poems by Robert Jude Forese. A photo of my son at age 14 kissing a dolphin. A small bronze vase given to me by my Chinese stepdad, who died in 2001, with a bouquet of Forget-Me-Nots. Coffee, always coffee! I like Hawaiian Hazlenut brewed at home in an old-fashioned drip coffee maker, with a splash of 2% milk. Nobody does it better! Gummy vitamins. Two love notes from my granddaughter. The white box that my engagement ring came in. It's an opal because I love opals. The first earrings I put on my baby girl were tiny opals. Opals are gorgeous and they remind us that life is a grand mystery!
Published 2013-08-21.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Cerebus Film: An Epic Journey
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,550. Language: English. Published: May 12, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Entertainment » Celebrity culture, Fiction » Graphic novels & comics » Comics
George Lucas, Dreamworks, and Paramount Pictures contacted the creator of this legendary graphic novel series, Dave Sim, to inquire about purchasing the movie rights, but Sim would not sell the creative rights to his work. Instead, he gave his blessing to a fresh, loyal, unknown face to write, produce, and direct the first movie. This personal Mount Everest story will inspire you.
10 Most Annoying Things People Say to NICU Parents
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,910. Language: English. Published: November 23, 2010. Categories: Nonfiction » Parenting » Family tragedy, Nonfiction » Health, wellbeing, & medicine » Family health
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On May 4th, 1992, Carma finally got to take her baby home after 73 days on an emotional roller coaster in a place that felt like science fiction. Surrounded by a sea of babies, most of them weighing under 2 pounds (1 kilogram), kept alive through surgeries, daily being needled, tubed, taped and treated in ways no parent wants their baby to experience.
Cerebus ~ Under the Aardvarkian Spell
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 1,000. Language: English. Published: November 15, 2010. Categories: Nonfiction » Entertainment » Entertainment industry, Nonfiction » Entertainment » Celebrity culture
The victorious muse that spawned an entire industry of self-published comic books now blazes a trail for independent comic book movies.
The Ills of Saardu (25th Anniversary Special Ebook Edition)
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 65,560. Language: English. Published: May 11, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Adventure
For curious readers, the author presents the original registered draft of her first novel, archived by Library of Congress since 1985, made public for the first time via Smashwords in 2010. Smashwords allows authors to retain all rights to their work and to make it available to readers through premium channels. For a synopsis of The Ills of Saardu read the long description.