Chawna Schroeder loves stretching both imagination and faith through her novels. Living in Minnesota, she dreams of far-off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, and princes in disguise, just like her favorite Disney princess Belle. When she isn’t committing her dreams to paper, you can find her studying the biblical languages, working with fiber, or teaching about the importance of discernment.
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You and Writing
Let's talk about you and writing...
Story has always been an intricate part of my DNA. Bedtime stories would make me hyper rather putting me to sleep. Mom taught me to read when I was four because I wouldn’t talk. And I have many childhood memories of my dad making up a story with objects & characters we kids would ask for. Indeed, one of my grand ambitions at the age of six was to someday write down the stories my dad told.
Despite this, I put away writing stories through most of middle school and high school. I loved the creative writing assignments but never wrote anything beyond that. As graduation approached, though, I felt lost. Nothing I considered pursuing seemed right. Finally, my parents, who had tired of my bemoaning this, sat me down and asked, “If you didn’t have to worry about money or education but could do anything you want, what would it be?”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Tell us a little bit about your book...
Do you have a favorite character in this work? If so, why?
I have several favorites in the story, but one of my favorites turned out to be a minor character who appears for only one chapter. I needed someone to help my protagonist to get into a city, and there rolled up Old Thaddeus in his wagon to help. His unassuming manners, his rambling dialogue, and his unrefined gentleness all captivated me. Even to this day, his scene never fails to bring a smile to my face.
What’s the theme? How did you come up with it?
Beast has various themes woven through it, but one of the core ideas that drove the story for me was the need to unconditionally accept God’s unconditional love. That is, for God to fully express His unconditional love, we have let Him express—unconditionally.
This theme sprang out of an emotionally down time, when I was feeling especially unlovable. I knew God loved me and loved me unconditionally, but I couldn’t understand why or how He could.
So God gave me the image of Him standing with His arm outstretched, ready to catch me. But for Him to catch me, I had to let go. I had to let go of my need to understand or explain. I had to let go of my view of myself to see me as He did. I had to accept His love simply was.
Indeed, the image was so potent to me that it became a central scene of Beast.
Was there a passage of scripture you came across or used while writing it that you’d like to share?
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Roman 8:15
What was a challenge you faced while writing it?
Beast was the book I never intended to write—never wanted to write. In my mind, during that time before I wrote the novel, Beast was a dark and violent story, asking me to imagine things I didn’t want to think about. Complicating matters further, I was convinced it was a story that would never be published; no one in the Christian market would tackle the slightly off-kilter story I had conceived.
So actually convincing myself to sit down and write the story was one of the earliest challenges I faced in writing this story. But I wasn’t getting anywhere with any other stories I was writing, and this story wouldn’t go away. Finally I wrote a chapter. Looking back now, I think I was hoping that writing a chapter would get the story out of my system. Then I could go back to my other writing. The reaction of my critique partners convinced me otherwise. It was the only time I remember reading a chapter which was followed by dead silence and then a singled whispered word: “Wow.”
Interestingly, nothing I feared became reality. The final version of the book didn’t turn out nearly as dark or violent as I had imagined, and obviously Beast has found a place to be published in the Christian market.
What was one thing (or character) that surprised you while writing this book?
Another favorite character, Tracker, was never supposed to exist for more two or three chapters. He was supposed to be another of those characters who gets the protagonist from point A to point B, nothing more. In fact, I didn’t want him to stick around as he was associating with some rather unsavory characters and causing trouble for my protagonist.
But Sharon, one of my critique partners, strenuously disagreed. As she pointed out, Tracker had called the protagonist “she” instead of “it,” like everyone else up to that point. It was an unintentional slip on my part—and nudging from God—which led to Tracker filling a much bigger role in the story.
Let’s talk about your writing life...
What’s your encouragement for younger writers aside from “keep writing”?
Daily remember that writing is a privilege.
For when we create a story, we start with a blank page and an idea, and from this “nothingness” we create a miniature world. So by engaging in this form of creation, we imitate the God in whose image we are made. After all, the main thing we know about God in Genesis 1, in whose image we are made, is that He is a creator. Therefore, the very act of writing stories, no matter what happens to them, gives us insights to the character of God that many other people fail to understand.
I learned this during a particularly rough time about a year before I was finally contracted. Writing has become an arduous act of obedience. But when I remembered the privilege of writing, my joy was restored. Just the simple act of writing became significant and full of purpose. It no longer mattered if the writing was imperfect or if the story would be published or if it ever impacted another person or even if it changed me. That then freed me from perfectionism and the need to see results. I finally saw that writing itself was worthwhile activity, for it was an act of worship of the Creator, which of course is what I was ultimately created for.
I admit, this is still hard to remember sometimes. But when I take the time to remember, more joy than labor fills my writing time.
What does your writing process look like?
I’m supposed to have a writing process? Even after two novellas and five novels I have yet to find a “process.” Each story insists on being written in its own unique way. Not a method I recommend, but I guess that’s how my brain is wired at the moment.
How long did it take to publish your first book?
I seriously started pursuing writing in February 2000. So it has taken me just over sixteen years to see my first novel in print. During that time, I think I have been rejected, either verbally during pitching or on paper, by every major Christian publisher and agent who would look at my stuff—including the publisher of Beast.
Where do you find inspiration for your story/characters?
All my stories thus far have come from an emotional “heartbeat”—a source which triggered a strong emotional reaction, since story is one of the ways I process the world. As a result, I have found inspiration from a very emotional scene in a movie, dreams I’ve had when sleeping, or as with Beast, an unusually potent encounter with God.
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, have a favorite artist or playlist to share?
No music for me. Unlike most authors, I don’t have a movie running through my head when I write. Rather, I “hear” my stories, possibly because I listened to books read and to my dad’s storytelling so much as I grew up. So as a result, I need quiet to write.
Are there any books or resources you could recommend to younger writers looking to grow in their craft?
The oldie but goodie, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain, for general writing technique. Anything by Donald Maass—his work is always practical and provides tools you can put into immediate practice. The Imagineering Way by the Disney Imagineers, for a unique look at the creative process. Chris Volger’s work on the hero’s journey helped me with understanding the rhythm of plot.
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Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? If so, which one(s) and what were most helpful about it?
I have attended several conferences and workshops over the years, each helpful in their own way.
The American Christian Writer conferences tend to be cheaper and often can be found closer to home, providing a great way for beginners to test the writing waters.
The Iowa Summer Writing Festival is a secular forum that allows writers to focus on very specific areas of craft. This forum is especially good if you tend toward the literary side of fiction.
Both the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference & the American Christian Fiction Conference are great places for connecting with other Christian writers and for meeting industry professionals, like editors and agents.
My favorite workshop for growing in the craft is the Break-Out Novel Intensive (or related courses) under agent Donald Maass. Although he isn’t a Christian, I love how he provides not just techniques but practical tools for immediate application. So though his classes can be pricy, they have been worth every penny I’ve spent.
Also when I was just starting out, I took correspondence courses from the Institute of Children’s Literature and the Christian Writer’s Guild (now defunct). While these aren’t a conference, the one-on-one teaching I received from these places was invaluable for setting the foundation of writing for me.
Apparently August 15th is National Lemon Meringue Pie Day (who knew). What is your favorite dessert?
I love pie and all kinds of desserts, but homemade red-hot divinity is probably my current favorite.
What are you currently reading?
Biblical History: The Old Testament by Alfred Edersheim. I also just finished Jenny L. Cote’s The Wind, the Road & the Way, a delightful bible retelling for 8-12 year-olds, while Swift by R.J. Anderson is next in my pile to read.