This week’s Surly Questions are courtesy of Chantal Boudreau, an author and illustrator of dark fantasy and horror. When you’re done reading, make sure to visit her website at Writers Own Words. Thanks for the interview, Chantal!
1. When did you know you wanted to write?
I was four – there was a children’s television show called The Pencil Box that would take stories written by kids and turn them into full scene tales on their show (sets, props, dialogue, costumes, etc.) I was too young to write a coherent story, but I knew I wanted to create something for this show. Sadly, by the time I manage to write something decent, the show had been canceled.
2. You write mostly horror and dark fantasy. What do you find so alluring about the darkness?
It’s cathartic. Most creative people are hyper-sensitive to the troubles of the world and writing about dark things lets you flush them from your system. It also allows you to turn things around so that the hero or heroine vanquishes those dark things in the end, if that’s what you want. There’s often some element of hope to the endings of my stories, especially the novels. Less often with the horror stories.
3. What’s your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?
My favourite thing about writing is getting lost in a scene. It happens more often with action or battle scenes, or one of those really moving portions of a plot where you get completely immersed in a character. The thing I like least is the editing. Picking apart the technical elements of the story, and forcing yourself to pay careful attention and to avoid getting lost in the plot again, can be pure drudgery.
4. You seem to have excerpts of your work up on Scribd. Has that helped increase your exposure at all?
I believe it has. I have people who read my excerpts and who have taken an interest in my work, giving me feedback, who might never have sampled my work otherwise. It’s hard to translate that into specific numbers, but every little bit helps.
5. In a recent blog post, you talk about why authors shouldn’t respond to negative reviews. Do you feel the same way about positive reviews?
A “thank you” never hurts, but I try not to say more than that. Reviews are subjective and while a good one is appreciated, you shouldn’t go on about it. It may express that person’s opinion, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect how the book will be received in general. You don’t want to come across as gushing or egotistical either.
6. You also relate an anecdote about a reader taking you to task for writing a male protagonist in one of your books. Do you think male readers are intimidated by female writers writing male POVs?
I don’t think that individual was intimidated, as much as he felt that there aren’t enough good female role-models in books and therefore that it is specifically the responsibility of female authors to present that type of female protagonist, since we have a better understanding of what girls or women have to deal with on a daily basis. I got the sense he had a bone to pick with characters like Harry Potter and felt that Rowling had failed her gender by offering up a boy wizard as her protagonist. He was taking out his frustration on me because I happen to have a young male protagonist as well, in Fervor. I don’t usually have male readers questioning the gender of my protagonists. It usually comes from female readers. I don’t, however, feel like I have to have a woman as the focal character of my stories. I like to follow whatever inspiration strikes and I have a fairly even ratio of males to females.
7. You draw in addition to writing — how have the two disciplines influenced each other?
A few of my drawings have inspired stories, like the first in my Masters & Renegades series, Magic University. More often, if I’m struggling a little with a story, I find I can solidify my thoughts by sketching them out. I’ll do that if I find myself stuck. It’s also a good way of attracting attention to an excerpt. If you have a striking drawing accompanying your writing, it can hook an observer’s curiosity and they’ll give it a read.
8. If you had to pick one passion over the other, which would it be? Or could you choose at all?
Oh, I’d definitely pick the writing. I find them both somewhat therapeutic but I “love” writing while I only “like” drawing. I feel that it’s much more difficult to achieve what I’m striving for when I’m drawing. I can usually capture what I’ve envisioned in writing with more ease.
9. Who are the most influential authors and illustrators in your life?
I’ve read so many books it is really difficult to pick only a few authors. I grew up on Anne McCaffery, Tanith Lee, Mervyn Peake and Roald Dahl, adding Theodore Sturgeon, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tad Williams and Frederic Brown to the mix as I went. Lately I’ve been reading Robert J. Sawyer and some great lesser known authors like Ren Garcia and Arlene Radasky, as well as a fabulous variety of horror writers. Illustrators that have influenced me include Darrell K. Sweet, the Brothers Hildebrandt, Michael Whelan, Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, and lately, Carol Phillips, Eve Ventrue, Shawn Conn and Fantasio. There are so many great artists out there who put my efforts to shame.
10. What are you working on now?
I’m working on an experiment – a paranormal thriller called Intangible involving a young man who discovers that he has the ability to astral project. This discovery leads him to the victim of an abduction, a little girl who looks to him for rescue. But the protagonist can’t make use of his talent on his own and is forced to pair up with a homeless medium. She is the only person whom he can trust will believe him and help him, even though she can’t convince others regarding the situation either. It’s quite different from the many other novels and short stories I have written. I like to play with new concepts and stretch my boundaries from time to time.
11. What songs are in your writing soundtrack (if any)?
I have playlists for every novel I’ve written, most of them stretching 3 to 4 CDs in length. Alternative rock is my music of choice although I have eclectic tastes and I went pretty old and mellow for what I’m working on now. My usual listening preferences range from things like Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, Finger Eleven and Evanescence, to artists who are a little more obscure, like Bif Naked, Megan McCauley and Sarah Slean.
12. What’s the single best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
“Don’t be fluffy.” I have a tendency to over-describe things that have little importance to the story if I don’t purposefully rein that in. I heed that advice carefully, and while my writing may end up a little sparse in description as a result, I stay true to the stories and characters, which aren’t bogged down by unnecessary detail. Having a little flavour is good, but when it drowns out everything else, you have a problem.
13. And now, the clichéd question: your top five “desert island” books?
I had no idea that was a cliched question. I guess in a way that depends on your definition. Lord of the Flies is my absolute favourite pick for this, hands down, both set on a desert island and a book I’d want to have with me. Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon is a must and I’d want to have Arlene Radasky’s The Fox and Ren Garcia’s The Hazards of the Old Ones. The last one would be a tie between a classic, Jane Eyre, and a moving and dark novel called The Gargoyle.