Read my interview with Chele Pedersen Smith, below. She is the author of “Chronicle of the Century,” “Behind Frenemy Lines,” and “The Pearly Gates Phone Company”:
How old were you when you realized you liked to write? I always enjoyed drawing, and in 3rd grade, my grandmother gave me stationary supplies, one being a handheld hole punch. As soon as I grasped it, I was inspired to make a book. I ran to my room and put a booklet together with yarn and wrote, “The Rainy Day.” I illustrated each page too, which I think was the bigger ‘draw” to making the book, not so much the writing. It was about a girl who wanted to play outside, but as soon as she stepped out the door, it began pouring. She goes back in and dons rain gear. As she jaunts outside, ready to splash in puddles, the rain stops and the sun is out. She runs back in to shed her raincoat and galoshes, then dashes outside to find it’s raining again. I don’t know how long this went on as I’m sure it was a short booklet and not sure how it ended. I wish I kept it, but we moved shortly after, beginning our adventure as Navy brats.
In 5th or 6th grade, I drew and wrote a haunted house story and sent it to my younger boy cousins in Connecticut. They really liked it! Then I met my best friend, Debby, and we co-wrote a few mysteries. We entered our school’s hobby contest and won! It was another spark for writing, this time a little more serious. I moved soon after so our collaboration came to an end.
In 8th grade, I created my own teen mystery Sherri series and the writing really took off from there. I sent the first two stapled books to my younger cousin Stacie and she enjoyed getting them in the mail. On a summer visit, I collected the first one. We couldn’t find the second book. But between junior high and a little after high school, I wrote 17 books in the series. Another loaner got lost in high school, but I have most of them today. I plan to combine some together and publish them.
Do you have a favorite genre? I write wherever the muse takes me. But the main thread seems to stay within romance, mystery, comedy and what ifs. I love contemporary, realistic fiction so whatever I write, I think it falls into that box,. Even my speculative/light fantasy stays mostly contemporary. I want it to be relatable, not “too out there.”
For reading, I grew up admiring Beverly Clearly, Paula Danziger, and Judy Blume, so I like their simple, yet realistic style and their ability to zoom in on the everyday details of life. They don’t over-describe scenes or characters, so I take a cue from them. I’ve always enjoyed dialogue so that is my favorite part to write. I still enjoy reading young adult, especially in summer.
Where do you get your ideas for your books? I have four out now and it usually begins with a “what if.” Anything can make me suspicious, especially since writing the spy romance, “Behind Frenemy Lines” in 2014-2017. It can be a mundane thing, but then my mind twists it, opening the door to imagination. For instance, on a Disney vacation, maintenance knocked on our door to switch out a tree plant. It seemed odd, especially when the tree in our room looked fine. As soon as they left, I wondered what that was all about. I knew it be a great ruse for a story, so I added it into the spy story which was in progress at the time. Of course, something much more exciting happens with the tree in the book.
I also like to mix in real life experiences. In the story, “Gas Station Time Machine,” one of the tales in my collection of time-twisters, “The Epochracy Files,” Gigi’s opening predicaments are mine as I was driving home on a lonely, dark road in Illinois from my friend Jeanette’s house. I somehow got off path and ran into a leafy Welcome to Wisconsin sign, and once I figured out the right way home, I got pulled over for weaving, even though I wasn’t drinking. Gigi’s night only gets weirder from there.
In the teen/YA time capsule mystery, “Chronicle of the Century,” I added silly crush antics; the same ones in which I goofed my way through adolescence. Some of the entries in the diary the girls find are also created by my own real entries and events. (I admit, yes, my brother really did blackmail me for the reason Janet’s brother does in the book.)
In “The Pearly Gates Phone Company,” every anecdote is real life. They are amazing coincidences I wrote that have happened to me, my family and friends.
The book came to life after I realized I had a collection of blessings racking up from submitting to the Christian magazine, “Guideposts.” I kept getting turned down so I polished them up even more and decided to publish them myself. The title comes from the main story (it took a while for the right whimsical title to come to me) so it’s what started the book in the first place. Through a series of odd coincidences in 2002, my dad called from Heaven a month after he died. Maybe in this day and age it wouldn’t seem that amazing, yet for everything to line up as it did, I still believe it’s a mini-miracle. And I finally got into “Guideposts” this summer with my hummingbird story! (There’s an original version of it first in The Pearly Gates Phone Company.) I was shocked when an editor called, especially since it had been three years since submitting it. My writing goal came true, and it’s a wondrous relief, but I also hope to successfully submit more.
How long does it take to write your first draft? That varies, but I’m definitely not a fast writer. I’m a revision queen, and sometimes I tweak as I go. I know that’s a no-no. I should power straight through and then edit. It took me three and half years to finish “Behind Frenemy Lines”, but I was also going to school so I wrote on semester breaks.
“The Pearly Gates Phone Company” published in October 2017, ten months after as Frenemy so that took probably eight or nine months since I already had six of the stories. Then I collected testimony from family and friends and wrote those.
Before “Behind Frenemy Lines,” I got back into writing fiction with a novel I started in 2013 and that is still idling, waiting for me to come back. I got stuck and switched to the spy story, but creative writing classes helped me out of the slump, so I do want to get back to employ the prompt pieces for it.
In Fall of 2017, I started a romantic comedy about a very different way to meet someone and it still is sitting half done. I need to get back to it since I have the eBook cover already. I got sidetracked putting “The Epochracy Files” stories together. I already had two written from the 70s and 80s, plus one from creative writing in 2016, so I thought, piece of cake. But it’s never a quick dessert with me, ha-ha. Of course I had to tweak and lengthen the stories from my youth. One even turned into its own novella, “Chronicle of the Century.” When it became its own entity, I needed another story to take its place so last month I wrote “Gas Station Time Machine.” That only took a several weeks to a month. As soon as I started the tale of Gigi driving in the dark and needing gas, the story kept wanting to take a romantic turn. I was resistant at first because this is a story of strange phenomenon happening to the girl and I thought any hint of romance would ruin it, but it didn’t. I tested it on my reader friend, Lisa, and she loved it! It’s her favorite tale in the book. She actually wants it to be its own novella, so we will see.
What is the most difficult thing about writing for you? Writing comes easy but I’m not very organized. I write off the cuff most of the time. I was lucky to have all the tangents come together in “Behind Frenemy Lines.” And sometimes I have too many ideas for premises. I start them to have them on paper and so I won’t forget, and then I have several works-in-progress waiting for my full-fledged attention. I’m also not sure how premises will pan out or how they will end, or if I’ll have time to get them all done. This is when I wish the characters would take over and write it themselves.
Sometimes in a story, I’ll come to a fork in the road and I’m perplexed, not sure which outcome to choose. In “Behind Frenemy Lines,” I had to decide if a detail was true or not for main spy, Galaxy. Most recently this happened with another story trying to decide if a character was married or not. Maybe I should just start flipping coins to make it an easier decision.
Who are your favorite
authors? I still love Judy Blume and Beverly
Cleary, and then there’s Sue Monk Kidd. I love The Mermaid chair! (She was one
of my favorite Guideposts writers too!) I enjoyed Stephen King’s anecdotes in “On
Writing,” so it piqued my interest in reading one of his fictional books. I
enjoy celebrity autobiographies too, especially comedians.
I’ve met some talented authors on Goodreads and Facebook, too. Lana Campbell writes ethical vampire stories and Jo Wilde writes paranormal romance, and Valerie Tate writes fun cozy mysteries.
Any advice for novice writers? I was told in 9th grade English or 10th grade Creative Writing never to write “The End” on a manuscript because it was amateurish, so I never did. Besides that, if any new writers out there love to write, keep writing. Get it all down. Doesn’t matter if it’s messy, or awful, you can cut and paste later. Also, keep a journal for ideas, rough drafts, or for whenever the whim to write strikes.
A great perk to taking creative writing classes was the excuse to buy a cool journal. It was mandatory for two classes so that was two journals I got to buy. Never throw any of your writing away, either. Even if you think it’s rubbish, someday down the road, you might look at it and think, “Hey that wasn’t bad after all.” And even if it is, you can always take something from it. You’ll have ideas at the ready to revise and elaborate into your next great thing.
Chele’s Bio: Chele’s a pharmacy tech and college English/writing tutor by day and undercover writer in her free time. She lives in Massachusetts with her scientist husband, has a grownish son & daughter and feisty golden retriever. When she’s not dreaming up dialogues, she’s a FRIENDs fanatic, loves popcorn and Pepsi at the movies, and thinks any day is Taco Tuesday.