My spotlight author for this week is Chantilly White. Thank you, Chantilly, for being my guest. Chantilly and I belong to the Greater Seattle Romance Writers’ Association. She’s our chapter’s source of encouragement and positive energy.
Chantilly, let’s chat about your writing career and your books.
Thanks so much for having me, Ashlyn! And for the lovely compliment. I’m delighted to be here.
I understand you write under a pseudonym. The majority of authors do. This is a three part question, lol. What is your pen name? How did you come up with it? Why have one?
Ah, the pen name. Well. . . Most people do know me best as Chassily Wakefield, so I might have to give a four-part answer. My pen name is Chantilly White, and the way I arrived at that is a little convoluted (and long—my apologies!)
In late 2011 and early 2012, I reached something of a crisis point with my writing and was on the verge of giving it up entirely. Nothing seemed like it was coming together the right way, and I’d had a few experiences that left a sour taste in my mouth. Emotionally, I was drained and dispirited.
A good friend encouraged me to put all that aside and try just writing for fun again. Anything I wanted, any way I wanted, with no expectation of sending it out to an agent or editor in hopes of getting it published. To just write and enjoy it. It sounded like a foreign concept by then, but my friend, who knows me very well, knew just what buttons to push and just what sort of encouragement-slash-butt-kicking to deliver, and she got me writing again.
The result was Pearls of Passion, a very hot short story of only 6,000 words, which the same friend then very strongly encouraged me to indie publish. I’d never considered self-publishing, and in fact had quite a large chip on my shoulder about it. It was New York and traditional for me, all the way, or nothing. I’d felt that way for a long time, but there was sort of a perfect storm of things going on in the industry at that time, and I decided to heed her advice. I’ve never looked back.
Which brings me back the long way around to answering your question. I was a bit worried—okay, I was totally terrified, LOL—about putting what, to me, was a very, very sexy-hot story out under my name, not just because of the heat level, but because, as a first-time indie author, I was a nervous wreck over putting my work out there for all to see for the very first time. I didn’t know what to expect. I felt like I was publishing under an enormous spotlight, all eyes on me. I wanted a safety net in case it all went badly, so Chantilly White was born.
I chose Chantilly White because I wanted a name with the same initials and same sort of sound as Chassily Wakefield, so it would be easier to adjust to (and remember to answer to!) I also wanted a first name that was still distinctive and very feminine. I chose White for my last name because I liked the juxtaposition of being a spicy-romance author with a last name that evokes images of purity and innocence, which sort of flows from my books. The sex might be hot, but the couples are—well, not innocent exactly, LOL, but definitely pure of heart.
Thank you for your insightful answer. I think we can all relate. And, I’m so glad you’ve gotten yourself back on the road to writing again! You’re lucky to have such a wonderful friend!
Which brings us to the genre you write in—hot, contemporary romance novellas. Tell us more about the category. Is there a certain word count you stick with? Is it easier or more difficult to write shorter stories?
Actually, I’m sort of a nightmare author as far as most agents and editors are concerned, because I don’t necessarily stick to one genre, heat level, story length, or anything else predictable. My mom always called me a nonconformist, and I guess that’s carried into my writing, too. That’s another reason indie publishing appeals to me so much. If I were with a traditional publisher, I’d have to focus on just one genre, at least while starting out.
The majority of my currently published work is contemporary romance (except for Pearls of Wisdom, which is a WWII historical romance), but the lengths and heat levels are all over the place, from 6,000 words up to just over 50,000. Pearls of Passion is a short story, Pearls of Wisdom and Tempest are novellas, and the rest are short-length novels. Passion and Wisdom are by far the hottest of my titles, with Tempest not being too terribly hot at all—there’s just one steamy but fairly brief love scene.
My works-in-progress are similarly dissimilar. My next release is a New Adult romance that’s pretty clean—no sex at all, with only a few suggestive scenes and very mild swearing. I have no idea how long it’s going to be for sure, but it’s closing in on 40,000 words right now, so it will at least hit minimum novel length.
I also have a paranormal romance that’s partially finished, and I need to complete the final Pearls book, which is another historical, and which I’m pretty sure will hit full-length novel status—80,000 words, maybe more. It’s set a few years before Wisdom—1930’s New York—and is chronologically the first in the loosely-related series, though it will publish last of the four. Then there’s another paranormal romance that has been waiting for fairly vigorous revision, and it’s already 110,000 words.
In addition to all that, I have a couple of horror stories (I know!), and a nine-book fantasy series I plan to publish as Chassily. I envision those books as being quite tome-y, though it’s hard to say for sure. I have about 200,000 words written on that series so far, but those words are spread over three books.
Sooo. . . That doesn’t really answer your question about the category, sorry! As far as whether it’s easier or more difficult to write short stories, for me at least, it just depends on the story. I’m a pantser, so I don’t do a lot of plotting or anything before I start writing, I just get to it and let the story unfold as I go along. I’ve given up truly predicting how long any of my books are going to be, because I’m always, always wrong. But shorter stories are easier in some respects, because there’s just not room for extra plot threads or a lot of characters. However, it can be challenging to wrap up an emotionally satisfying tale in so few words.
Seems like you got back the writing bug back 🙂. Was there an event or a person that sparked your interest in writing romance?
My grandmother! She was instrumental not only in developing my love of reading, but also in shaping the things that I love to read and write the most. We always loved talking about the romances we read together and shared a lot of the same favorite authors. So she was the spark, at least from the reading and genre-interest perspective.
As far as the writing specifically, the encouragement for that started with my parents. I have always written, starting from when I first learned to hold a pencil and spell basic words. I wrote a 200-page story on what I wanted my adult life to be like when I was eight. My parents very much encouraged me to keep going and supported my earning a degree in creative writing.
My degree program was less enthusiastic about my affinity for genre fiction—they wanted me to pursue a more literary track, which just didn’t interest me. I love popular culture, and I love genre fiction. I read romance, mystery, suspense, historical fiction, YA, New Adult, fantasy, I used to read a lot of horror, and all sorts of other subgenres. It’s what I love, so it was natural to gravitate to romance and other genres in my own writing.
The freedom, absolutely. I can write what I want, the way I want, and the only thing that matters is what my readers think. If they’re happy, I’m happy. As long as I’m diligent about putting out the most professionally created product I can, the rest is all about the story and making that connection with readers. Since I get bored so easily (as evidenced by the above), the freedom to jump genres is amazing.
I also love the control. I really don’t like to be told what to do, LOL, and being an indie writer is all about being your own boss. I make the decisions. I’m in control. Which is not to say I do it all by myself, I don’t think any indie writer would say that. I can’t count the number of friends, fellow writers, and indie service providers who have helped me along the way and continue to help. The indie community is incredibly giving and supportive. I couldn’t write or publish the way I do now without that group of people and the wisdom they share on a daily basis.
What do you find most challenging?
There’s a very steep learning curve involved, and I’m not exactly techie or patient. I’ve been indie publishing for more than two years now, and there is still so much I don’t know how to do. I have to remind myself this is a marathon, not a sprint, and to take one thing at a time.
There’s also a flipside to having all of that freedom and control. My decisions drive my business, but that means I have to take responsibility for the consequences, too. Some decisions have worked out better than others, but I try to treat the missteps as learning opportunities and improve the next time. And while I love jumping genres to write what attracts me at the time, it is harder to build a readership that way. (There’s a reason agents and editors want their authors to pick a genre and stick to it!) Some readers love to genre-hop every bit as much as I do, so it’s not a problem for them. Others only want to read one or two genres. I’m trying to find a balance, but the “ooh-shiny-new-idea” sparkle in my muse’s eye is hard to resist!
In regards to what you wrote, you came out to our chapter about writing as Chantilly White. What influenced your decision?
That was all about the heat level issue. I’m naturally shy—no one believes me when I say that, but I really am! I’m pretty comfortable in writing circles, because writers are my tribe, so the people in my RWA chapters might not see that side of me too often (unless I have to speak in front of the whole group. . .), but otherwise, I’m shy and sometimes overly cautious. I worried that I had a particular image as Chassily Wakefield that didn’t jive with writing super-hot romance and that there would be a disconnect, which was one reason for the pen name.
I also imagined, in my innocence, that I was writing a lot hotter than I actually was, LOL. To me, it was off the charts, but I hadn’t read much erotic romance or erotica at that time, so I didn’t really know what was out there. I’ve read a lot of it since then—some that’s really amazing, like Sabrina York’s, whose stories I love—and can honestly say that while my work is sometimes above-average-steamy on the sexy scale, it’s not on the same playing field as erotic romance.
Once I got over myself and what I was writing, I realized I didn’t need to “hide” behind a pen name, and I was missing the support and love I value so much from my chapter mates. No one knew what I was doing, so there was no way to share the experience with them. As soon as I realized that, it was an easy decision to “come out” and everyone was so supportive. It was awesome!
Okay, I have a shared quirky question I ask of all my guests. I’m a big fan of the Walking Dead. If you were caught in an apocalypse and could only take one item and one person with you to a no zombie place, what and who would you take, and why?
Oh, my gosh, LOL! A no-zombie place. . . But they can get pretty much everywhere, right? So I’d still want to be prepared, I think. In which case, the person is easy—my oldest daughter, Megan. She is a total zombie badass! She even did her college dissertation on zombies and other undead creatures. Sort of. It was really on the fandom sub-culture in general, for everything from Harry Potter (my favorite fandom, though I’m also a Browncoat, Sherlockian, Elementarian, Whovian. . .) to zombies and everything in between. She rocks it all, and she’s very into a lot of fandoms herself, including the Walking Dead, Supernatural, and Buffy. So she would be an excellent choice, especially since I’m a total wimp and would be zombie fodder without her.
The one item is a bit tougher. Does it have to be a real item? (Or one that’s widely accepted to be real, I should say, since I’d argue my wand is pretty real. . . I just haven’t mastered the spells yet.) If it could be a magical item, I’d take my wand, for sure. I’d put that up against any baddie out there. For something more pedestrian. . . I don’t like knives or stabbing instruments, so I guess I’d have to go with an automatic weapon of some sort. Something with a lot of rounds, fast action, and that’s not too heavy to run and fire with over long distances. How’s that? LOL I love that question.
Just in case my kids read this, though: in reality, I would of course stay behind to be that zombie fodder so you three could get to safety. I’ve got your backs, my babies!
Where can readers find you on social media?
Oh, all over. Here are my top favorites (but if you follow me on Pinterest, I will not be held responsible for the amount of time you waste going through my fantabulous boards! Fair warning!):
Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/FansofChantillyWhite
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/ChantillyWhite or @ChantillyWhite
Note: TEMPEST is currently exclusive to Amazon, but will be available on B&N and everywhere ebooks are sold by June 30, 2014, so just three more days at the most—in fact, it could already be live! The rest of Chantilly’s books are available everywhere now.
From midway through Chapter One:
Maybe all those petty irritations—from the way he chewed his steak to the way he put the toilet-paper roll upside down on the hanger—were symptoms of bigger problems, signaling the coming end.
So why did her stomach cramp and her heart grow heavy with grief every time [Tracey] thought about putting them out of their misery? Why did her hands shake and her throat tighten with unshed tears?
It wasn’t the toothpaste cap, or the socks left on the floor, or anything so senseless driving her now. It was pain. Pain she couldn’t endure without acting any longer. They would either fix the mess they had made and survive or. . . Not.
But that pain offered her one last glimmer of hope. When she stopped feeling, when the pain died, then she’d know they were truly finished.
“Can I take that for you, sir?” The busboy was back, looking expectantly at Adam and his abandoned plate. “Sir?” he repeated when Adam didn’t respond. “Mr. Wesley?”
“What? Oh, yes,” Adam said, jerking his gaze from the window and staring at Tracey as though surprised to see her sitting there. “I’m finished.”
Tracey’s heart stuttered. The word, echoing her own thoughts, reverberated in her bones. Their eyes held while the busboy cleared the table, but then Adam broke the connection, his gaze returning to the storm-tossed lake outside.
Digging the tines of her unused dessert fork into the tablecloth, Tracey stared unseeing at the pattern of holes she left behind on the snowy-white linen, an expanse they used to cover with their clasped hands. If it did indeed represent a battlefield, she didn’t yet know if it stood bare in readiness for the fight to save their marriage, or because the bodies had already been cleared, the war over, and the only thing left to do was discuss the terms of surrender.
She no longer knew how their love story would end.
Hannah returned with the check, breaking off Tracey’s miserable train of thought.
“Drive carefully,” Hannah said as lightning flashed through the windows. “Those clouds are going to let loose any minute.”
Rising silently from the linen-draped table, Tracey preceded Adam out of the restaurant. His hand guiding at the small of her back felt impersonal, a courtesy to a stranger. She wanted to move away from him, to stand on her own, to prove that she could. She wanted to turn into his familiarity and strength, to hold on to everything they’d built together. Everything she felt slipping away.
The taut flexing of Adam’s fingers against her spine communicated his own tension. She wasn’t the only one unhappy with the state of their marriage.
Adam nudged her forward, his large, warm hand now curving around her right hip. Her body, unconflicted by the emotions roiling inside her heart, came alive, responding with a delicious shiver at his touch.
Regardless of their emotional distance and the many worries crowding her thoughts, it had been too long since she’d had her husband’s hands on her body. Too long since they’d turned to each other for lovemaking, or even for comfort.
And she wanted.
GET YOUR COPY!!
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Chantilly-White/e/B007JDAHPY/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1403844655&sr=1-2-ent
B&N Author Page: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/chantilly-white
Thanks again, so much, for having me, Ashlyn! This was a lot of fun!
Thank you for stopping by, Chassily! Good luck with your current books and your future projects!