Welcome to the first installment of a new feature on the blog: The Breaking In interviews. In this irregular series, I’ll be asking authors to discuss their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting. Aspiring writers — and really, anyone who’s struggling to realize a dream or ambition — will find a lot to relate to and learn from. And being able to shine a bit of a spotlight on some very talented authors? That’s icing on an already tasty cake.
So it’s with great pleasure that I welcome to the blog the subject of my very first Breaking In interview: Charlene Challenger.
As her author bio notes, Charlene is a writer, a graduate of the Ryerson Theatre School, and the first recipient of the Gladys Shibley Mitchell Scholarship Award. Her debut novel, The Voices In Between, a contemporary YA fantasy, was just released by Tightrope Books.
“Adoni is a teenaged girl who lives in a downtown apartment with her mother, an emotionally and physically abusive woman who drinks too much. One evening, Adoni finds herself drawn to the enchanting voice of a man singing in the alley beneath her bedroom window. The man, Ritter, brings Adoni to the Welcome, a northern colony of the In-Between world, where young people who have been rescued from harm are kept safe by their sworn immortal protectors, the pipers. But when the Welcome is attacked by changelings—led by the vicious and charismatic Sylvester—and a centuries-old grudge spills over the edge and threatens to destroy the colony and everyone who lives there, Adoni must find the strength and courage within to stop the oncoming war. This stirring coming-of-age novel accurately portrays issues such as domestic violence and emotional abuse, as well as cultural and sexual identity.” (from the Tightrope Books website)
The Voices In Between is available directly from Tightrope, or from your preferred bookseller.
[SGM:] Thank you, and welcome to the blog Charlene! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?
[CC:] I still don’t feel like I’ve quite “broken in” as a writer, but I do feel as though I’m on the edge of something very exciting in terms of my writing career. I’ve got a novel published and I’ll be featured in two wonderful anthologies in the next twelve months, so I feel as though I’m on my way. It’s a nice feeling to be sure.
What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?
I didn’t have a real strategy to get to where I am now. I tried the usual method of querying agents and publishers with no success. I sold my novel before it was completed, which I never dreamed would be possible for me, just by talking to people in the industry and making friends. I read a fantastic quote once (the origin of it escapes me): “Make friends, not colleagues.” That’s not to say a writer should strive to be buddies with everyone associated with the industry; I like to think of it as a reminder to be yourself and write the truth of your experiences, and someone somewhere will understand and want to help bring your stories to a wider audience.
And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
I think I would allow myself to be more confident about who I am and the stories I want to tell. When I first started writing I tried to write what I thought would earn me mad cred, classic Can-Lit stuff. (For an idea of what I mean, check out Kari Maaren’s hilarious song Can-Lit here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhjO-sAvLm8) It was only after a spell of writing fanfiction that I realized the stories I want to tell have a more fantastical edge to them. We don’t give genres like sci-fi and fantasy their due because we tend not to recognize genre writing as part of the Canadian identity. The good news is we’re starting to move beyond that.
Now that you’ve broken in, is like or unlike what you expected? How?
Sort of. I anticipated the opportunity to meet and become part of a community of like-minded individuals, which I’m happy to say has been the case so far.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the sequel to The Voices In Between. It’s going well!
And to wrap this up, how can people keep up with you online?
Here’s my Tumblr: charlene-challenger.tumblr.com
and my Twitter: https://twitter.com/CharChallenger
and my Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorcharlenechallenger
and my Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/CharleneChallenger
The Voices In Between is excellent, and deserves your attention. Thanks to Charlene for agreeing to be my very first interview, and for generously sharing her thoughts and experiences breaking in.
COMING UP NEXT: My second Breaking In interview will appear on Thursday as I interview author Katrina Archer. And yes, I really am still going to blog about reading Ulysses, honest!