Personal experience. I love when a writer takes something they’ve lived and then carefully weaves it into their narrative. Today’s featured author, Chanel Cleeton, took her own experience of living abroad at a boarding school and used that knowledge to build her debut. What I love about Chanel’s interview is her willingness to make changes to her original story so it would work in the NA category. Sometimes we as writers get so caught up in our original ideas that we cannot get beyond what will, and what won’t, work for our manuscript. Making changes proved to be the right decision for Chanel as her novel, I SEE LONDON, hits bookshelves in February, 2014!
Many thanks to Chanel for sharing her story today…
Amy: At what age did you truly know you wanted to be a writer?
Chanel: I didn’t realize I wanted to be a writer until I was twenty-five. I’d just started law school and was already realizing it wasn’t a good fit for me. I’ve been an avid reader my entire life so writing felt like a natural progression.
At that point I had already written my first book, a historical romance, and decided to query it. I really had no idea what I was doing and my query letter was horrible! Understandably, I racked up a lot of rejections. As I read the rejections, my first thought was, “Well I guess that’s it. I’m not cut out to be a writer.”
That might have been the end of it, but I’m stubborn and rarely take ‘no’ for an answer. So after feeling sorry for myself for a few minutes, I decided it was time to treat writing like it was my job and to get serious about my craft and my understanding of the industry. That was the moment where I knew I wanted this badly enough to push myself to be better.
Amy: What compels you to write new adult fiction?
Chanel: I love writing NA because it represents the time in my life when I really developed my confidence and sense of self. I was a late bloomer and a bit shy, so my high school years weren’t all that exciting. College was a different story.
I moved to London at seventeen and it changed my life. College gave me the freedom to let go and take chances. London was a huge departure from my life in the U.S. and every day felt like an adventure. I will always look back at my college years as one of the happiest times in my life.
For me, NA epitomizes that sense of adventure. It’s about taking risks and discovering who you are, independent of parental expectations. Those years (18-25) are a great exploration full of incredible possibilities. I love getting to develop that with my characters. I love getting to inject that spirit of hope into my stories as well as giving my characters difficult challenges to overcome.
Amy: How much did your schooling abroad fuel the story behind I SEE LONDON?
Chanel: So much! I SEE LONDON developed out of a lunch with my agent back in 2012. We were discussing my next projects and I mentioned that I’d always wanted to write a book inspired by my experience attending an international university in London. I had played around with changing my characters’ ages and setting it in high school because at that time college stories were a difficult sell, but I never could come up with a way to tweak it and still preserve the same spirit I wanted to convey. Timing was everything! NA was really starting to become more accepted and Kevan embraced NA from very early on. She loved the idea and I started working on it immediately.
The funny thing was that I originally envisioned I SEE LONDON as much closer to my own college experience. But as I started writing, my characters took over and while it is certainly inspired by my experiences, it really is it’s own story.
Amy: Was I SEE LONDON your first completed manuscript?
Chanel: It was my third completed manuscript and my first NA.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Chanel: My second completed manuscript was the one that got me an agent.
Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query, or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?
Chanel: I actually love writing query letters. Weird, I know. I always dread sitting down and actually writing query letters and pitch letters, but once I do, I love working on them. I usually go through a few drafts before I’m satisfied. I’m not such a big fan of writing a synopsis, though.
Amy: Do you use critique partners? If so, how do they influence your writing process?
Chanel: I don’t use critique partners. I started writing without one and I’ve just developed the habit of working on my own.
Amy: Can you give us a short summary of your call with your agent, Kevan Lyon?
Chanel: Ahh I remember being really nervous and “cautiously optimistic.” I was pretty sure she was calling to offer representation but I wasn’t positive. Her email said she wanted to discuss the manuscript and she had been tweeting about it, so I had a good feeling. I had a list of questions to ask her but I just remember it all going by quickly in a blur of excitement and nerves. Nervous babbling was definitely involved.
Amy: What was one piece of writing advice you got early on that you still use today?
Chanel: I’m a HUGE Nora Roberts fan. She’s probably one of my greatest writing influences. She writes daily and that piece of advice has always stuck with me. I will admit that during particularly crazy life times (i.e. when I found out we were moving to South Korea), I tend to struggle with writing daily. But honestly, it is the best habit to form.
I mentioned that my first book was a historical romance. I worked on that book for two years because I only wrote in spurts. Looking back, I cringe at how much more productive I could have been if I’d taken it seriously. Writing daily makes it a part of my routine and it also keeps me sharp. Even if I can only do a couple hundred words a day, the act of prioritizing writing and treating it like a job (in the best sense) has made a huge impact on my writing career.
Chanel Cleeton writes New Adult contemporary romances and Young Adult thrillers. Her New Adult debut, I SEE LONDON, will be released by Harlequin (HQN) on February 1, 2014, followed by a sequel, LONDON FALLING, later in the year. An avid reader and hopeless romantic, Chanel is happiest curled up with a book. She has a weakness for handbags, puppy cuddles, and her fighter pilot husband. Chanel loves to travel and is currently living an adventure in South Korea. For more information on Chanel, check out her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.