Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Serena Chase {Writer Wednesday}

A little bit about Serena...

Serena Chase is the author of the critically-acclaimed Eyes of E’veria series and a regular contributor to USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog. A lifelong performer who sometimes speaks in show tunes, Serena lives in Iowa with her husband Dave, teen daughters Delaney and Ellerie, and a 100-pound white Goldendoodle named Albus, who is the biggest star of her Instagram account. Connect with Serena Chase by visiting her website and signing up for her newsletter, “like” her official Facebook page to stay up-to-date on new release news, and enjoy her sometimes poignant, but more often chuckle-inducing random observations of life on Twitter.

Connect with Serena...

Amazon Author Page:
Purchase: Intermission

Get to know Serena...

Emilie here: I'm so excited to introduce you to the lovely Serena! I first met her during a post session at the ACFW conference (um...2 years ago? 3?). I sat in front of her and, during a break, happened to turn around and start talking with her. She's completely lovely and I'm so excited to have her on the blog today! Be on the look out for her new novel, Intermission which comes out November 15!!! (Pssst! you can pre-order now: Intermission)

You and Writing

Tell us a little bit about yourself...

As a young adult, I had hoped to someday make my living as a songwriter and performer, which is why I moved to Nashville and majored in Music Business at Belmont University. When I met a guy from my hometown while home over Christmas break my junior year, however, things changed, as they often do when “twoo wuv” enters the scene. Now, I sometimes joke that I still write songs, except they’re really, really long songs and you have to hum the music in your head.

I’ve been back in Iowa for *gulp* twenty-two years, this December. My husband Dave and I have two daughters, Delaney, who is in her second year of college, and Ellerie, who is a sophomore in high school. The canine member of our family is Albus, who was, as you may have guessed, named after the Headmaster of Hogwarts. We’re strange like that.

Up until now, readers have known me as an author of epic fantasy and re-imagined fairy tales. My first four books were part of one series, Eyes of E’veria. Now, with Intermission, I’m diving into contemporary YA romance—which is one of my favorite genres to read.

Your Writing

Let's talk about your book...

Why did you write it?

This book began as a short story assignment when I was in the Apprentice Course through the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, many moons ago. My mentor for the course (still my mentor today—but now also a very good friend!) told me she thought it had potential to become a novel. So, when I needed to take a break from writing (or rewriting) my fantasy novels, I would pull it out and develop it just a little bit more. Once I published Eyes of E’veria, book 4: The Sunken Realm, I decided it was time to focus hard on this story and to get it ready to meet the world.

What is one take-away from your book that you hope readers identify with?

Sometimes life gives you hard questions with no easy answers. Don’t be afraid to wrestle with those questions, to wade through the gray areas, no matter how murky. You’ll be stronger for experiencing the pain of an honest struggle, and you may even discover something beautiful about yourself, someone else, or God along the way. Not only do Faith and Noah have to do this within the story, but I had to do it, too, to get that authenticity on the page.

What was a challenge you faced while writing Intermission?
I had to trawl through some pretty deeply implanted, deeply faulted mindsets to get Faith where she needed to go within her relationship with her mother. And it took repeated stern admonitions from my mentor and my critique partners to dig in and pull out the guts of a few particular scenes to reanimate them into something that could live as authentic and “true.” It wasn’t until the final, pre-copyedited draft that I was able to exhale a breath that I think I’ve been holding for most of my life.

What did you learn while writing it?
Changing a book from third-person point-of-view to first person is more difficult than it sounds. But when you then decide to change it from past tense to present-tense, you may just lose your sanity. I did all of that over the past two years. Talk about tedious work! All those verbs! The pronouns! The horror! That being said, however, it was so worth it. The book is so much stronger in first-person, present tense. So much!

Is there a funny story associated with writing the book?
Not funny, necessarily, but a fun “taken from real life” vignette. In the book, Faith is sixteen when she is cast as Liesl von Trapp in a community theatre production of The Sound of Music. I, too, played Liesl when I was, literally, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” (just like the song she sings) in my high school’s production! But although I considered the boy who played Rolf to be a good friend, we were never romantically inclined toward one another like Faith and Noah in Intermission. In fact, we’re shirt-tail relations now, since his brother married my first cousin! There’s small-town Iowa for you!

Did you get to do any fun research for the book?

I made a lot of treks to the little waterfall near where I grew up, soaking in the atmosphere for the setting of scenes that happen “there” for my characters. Several years ago, my sister-in-law joined me for a hike to the waterfall, where she snapped a pic of me sitting atop it, as I so often did when I was in high school and then we hiked through a nearby nature preserve in our area and I took a lot of pictures to help me with setting descriptions, including these beautiful orange fungi I found at the base of a tree.

Since this book has gone through extensive revisions over the years (I completed the first few drafts while revising The Ryn and The Remedy), it’s hard to believe these pictures were taken in 2010... several re-writes into Intermission, already... but that’s what the “date taken” stamp is telling me, so... yikes!
Were your characters easy to pin down or did you discover them along the way as you wrote the book?
I really enjoyed how Gretchen Prescott, Faith’s older sister, developed over the course of re-vising the novel (again) this past year. I did not see that evolution coming, but I’m so glad it happened because it made for a richer story. And although I felt that I was writing a “true” character in Faith’s narcissistic mother, I worried that some readers would find her a little over-the-top. It is encouraging (and yet saddening) that I’ve heard from several early readers who’ve said things like, “You nailed it. I lived that.” or “You wrote what I had to deal with from my mother/father/sibling/etc.” I hate that people have to suffer as Faith does in the story, and worse—but I do want to write about the human experience in a way that is not only believable and identifiable from a distance, but true-to-life for those who’ve experienced similar situations themselves.

What made you choose the setting for the book?
I’ve lived in Iowa all but the four college-years of my life, when I lived in Nashville, Tennessee. When I’m writing contemporary fiction, I want to really feel like I *know* the setting, which I do, because I’m living in it!

What's the most random thing you had to Google for the story?
Let’s just say, “It was gynecological-based question.” and leave it at that!

What’s your favorite snack while writing?
I’ve been into crunchy things lately. Crunchy things that are a little salty, a little sweet. What that thing is on any given day really depends on what catches my eye at Costco and whether or not my husband has already devoured it when I search through the Sacred Snack Chamber in the kitchen!


Let’s talk about your writing life...

How long did you write before you got published?
The Ryn (Eyes of E’veria, book 1) and The Remedy (Eyes of E’veria, book 2) were originally meant to be a single novel. They published a month apart, seven years after I began writing them.

What’s your encouragement for younger writers aside from “keep writing”?
Being a part of a tight-knit critique group, or having a critique partner or mentor who believes in your writing, and in you, is crucial, I think. I was a mess in my writing life and my personal life while writing The Sunken Realm (and for a good many months after it finally published, to be honest.) If it hadn’t been for the encouragement, the willingness to brainstorm, and the love my mentor and my critique partners showered on me, I’m not sure what that book would have become. What I would have become, honestly.

It’s not easy, this author business. Being an artist, having to pull your heart through your brain, and vice-versa, on its way out your fingers and onto the page, day after day, can suck you dry. Having a team of like-minded creative people who are willing to provide (and receive!) support when needed is an amazing blessing that I hope I never take for granted. My mentor has been with me about ten years, but it took years to find a critique group (actually, they found me... when I was in a rather desperate place, mentally and creatively.) So don’t give up looking for the *right* group. My mentor, my critique group... I love those four women. Fiercely.

Are you a Panster or Plotter?
I’m a Pantster with a plan, if that makes sense. I know where I’m going, roughly, and I know a few stops I’ll make along the way, but the “how” of reaching those stops is a pretty organic process with a lot of surprises along the way!

What is your favorite and least favorite part of the writing process?
I loathe—and I mean loathe!—writing the first draft of anything until I hit my stride... usually around the 10,000 word mark. The first draft I write provides the bones of the story and, because I’m an emotionally-driven mostly-pantser writer, a lot of fat on those bones that has to be trimmed in later drafts. But I love-love-love the re-writing phase, the process of trimming the fat and adding muscle to the bones of the story that were built in that loathsome first draft. I’ve often said, “I’m a horrible writer, but I’m a great re-writer!” Ha!

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, have a favorite artist or playlist to share?
When writing fantasy, which is what I’m working on now (my NaNoWriMo project!) I listen to instrumental movie soundtracks... and I have a ginormous writing playlist on Spotify called, “Write, You Fool!” that I use a lot. But I’m also in the midst of crafting a specific playlist for my work-in-progress, as-of-yet-untitled novel, which is set in the world of the Eyes of E’veria series. To listen to that still-growing playlist, “Rowlen’s E’veria” click here.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors for writing and/or publishing?
I know it’s expensive, but pay the money to send your manuscript through a developmental/substantive edit with someone who knows what they’re doing. The results of that edit may send you into the fetal position for a few days, but once you stop sobbing, wipe your eyes, put on your big-author-panties, and GET. AFTER. IT. I’ve gained priceless insights into my stories and have been guided toward solving the issues of into what’s missing or messed up within my stories through the developmental editing process. Trust me. It is so worth it!

How do you balance your writing life with “real” life? Any tips or tricks to share?
At this point, I’m more of an example of “what not to do” when trying to balance the writer-life with the “real” life. But I’m working on it. When I am out of my zone long enough to remember I need to cultivate friendships and plan meals and clean my house and stuff. It’s very easy to become isolated and blind to the things around you, as well as the needs of your own heart.


What will you do for Thanksgiving?
We have a rather unusual Thanksgiving tradition at our house. It shocks a lot of people, to be honest! Some (including some extended family members) are aghast at our beloved tradition. But... we’ve managed to pull it off for nearly ten years now, and... it works for us! Here’s what we do:

Practically nothing.

It’s just the four of us. If we want, we stay in our pajamas all day. We cook nothing that requires a lot of effort. Sometimes we’ll have a Schwan’s frozen turkey and gravy thing, sometimes we eat frozen pizza, or simply snack on junk food all day. Those who wake up in time watch the Macy’s parade, and once everyone has rolled out of bed and munched on some sort of breakfast-y pastry, like freshly baked (from a cardboard tube) orange rolls, we start our movie marathon, which almost always ends with Elf but usually has either The Princess Bride or Galaxy Quest or both in there at some point) and we nap, as necessary. It’s awesome, with zero pressure, zero drama (except what’s on the screen!) and we are so, so grateful for that day. We look forward to it!

What is your favorite food of the Thanksgiving dinner?
This year... I imagine it will be a bag of something yummy and crunchy from CostCo that involves coconut in some fashion. (see the previous question!)

What are three things you’re thankful for?
  1. This post will hit your blog on November 9th, which means NO MORE POLITICAL ADS in my mail, car radio, computer... etc. That’s something to be thankful for!
  2. My family, including my dog, Albus, who is such a beautiful example of unconditional love and loyalty.
  3. New mercies, every morning, without fail.
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