V.J. Chambers is a prolific young indie author with over a dozen books already published. Her newest is the romance Out of Heaven’s Grasp. Let's learn more about Valerie and her writing...
Angie: How long have you been writing and when did you decide to indie publish? What was the biggest hurdle in going it alone?
Valerie: I’ve been writing forever. I’m one of those people who started writing as soon as she could make words. I think I wrote my first story at six years old, and it was about a hippo named Chubby.
I wrote as kid, I wrote as a preteen, I wrote Anne-Rice-esque vampire stories as a teenager… There was a brief period of time in college where I didn’t write at all. And then, after I graduated, I decided it was time to get serious, and I wrote my first complete novel when I was twenty-three. (It was terrible.) I wrote eight other books over the ensuing six years, shopped them around to agents and never even got a request for a partial. I started self-publishing in 2009, but primarily on my website. I would post two chapters a week of my book with a link at the end of each chapter to purchase the whole book.
Pretty much no one bought it. It took five more books and two more years before I started to make any real money self-publishing.
I guess I feel like all authors really go it alone, no matter whether you’re indie published or not. I don’t think it’s possible to really make it at this if you don’t have an irrational belief in your own greatness. So, I guess the biggest hurdle would be insecurity and doubt. Trying to keep believing in yourself when no one else does.
Angie: In February 2014, you published Out of Heaven’s Grasp. Can you explain the idea behind the book? Where did the inspiration come from?
Valerie: Well, I guess I’ve been fascinated by polygamy ever since I saw the show Big Love. I’ve been reading and watching things about it ever since. I watched Escape from the Prophet, the short-lived TLC reality show, and picked up Flora Jessup’s autobiography, detailing how she got free of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, and then I just got sort of addicted to those kinds of autobiographies. I read Rebecca Musser’s, Carolyn Jessup’s, Elissa Wall’s, etc. And I just started thinking that these were dynamite stories, and that I wanted to write a story about escaping from a cult, and I wanted there to be a romantic element.
So, I made up my own polygamous religion. It draws heavily on the FLDS, but it also takes its cues from The Family International, the Amish, and my own experiences growing up in a fundamentalist religious sect (which was in no way polygamous).
Basically, the story is about a young couple who starts to fall in love, but—before they can really even get to know each other—are punished for interfering with “God’s” plan for them. He’s kicked out and she’s forced to marry an old man with three other wives. The story is about their separate struggles, and then about the two of them finding each other and getting free.
Angie: What is the story behind Abigail “Abby” London?
Valerie: Abby is an eighteen year old girl who wants to do the right thing. She wants to please her family and please the elders in her religion and ultimately to please God. So, she’s really conflicted about her feelings towards Jesse Wallace. She thinks that it’s wrong for her to be attracted to him, and she tries to fight that attraction, but it simply proves too strong for her.
Angie: How about Jesse Wallace?
Valerie: Jesse’s also eighteen. He’s not as well positioned in the community as Abby is. His father only has two wives, which means he’s not as favored by the elders (and they claim, by God). His father is also physically abusive to his children and his wives. Everyone in the community knows this, but no one does anything about it. So, Jesse knows that it’s really important that he follow the rules as closely as he can, because he risks his father’s rage, and he risks lowering his family even further out of favor. So, he really should stay away from Abby. But… he can’t resist her either.
Angie: You write in many genres. Can you tell us what draws you to your subjects?
Valerie: It seems as if all of my ideas come from television shows or books or movies. I always see things, and I think… “Oooh, if I were doing that, I would do it this way.” And then before I know it, I’ve got some crazy idea that barely resembles the thing that inspired it. But the genesis usually comes from some other form of entertainment.
Angie: How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Valerie: I use baby names books. Oh, and I usually search my hard drive to make sure I haven’t already named someone important that before.
Angie: Chicken or the egg question. Do you create a character and build around him/her? Or do you imagine a concept and create characters which fit the idea?
Valerie: Generally, the concept comes first. The characters, for me, anyway, fit the story and not the other way around.
Angie: How do you avoid writing a Mary Sue or Marty Stu when most writers can’t help falling desperately in love with their creations?
Valerie: Honestly, I think that Mary Sue concept is something best worried about if you’re writing fan fiction, which is where the idea first originated. Obviously, if you’re reading fan fiction, then you want to read about the characters in the show, not the author’s wish fulfillment fantasy of inserting herself into Star Trek or something.
In actuality, I’d say some of the most compelling characters are ones that make it easy for the reader to sort of graft themselves onto. We all want to be able to identify with the main character of a story and vicariously experience things through them. I’d say characters like Harry Potter, Bella Swan, Bilbo Baggins, and Luke Skywalker are all “Mary Sue/Marty Stus.” And that’s probably a good thing.
In my case, though, I tend to write really flawed characters, and that’s mostly because I feel flawed as a person. I like stories about imperfect people because I feel imperfect. And so I naturally write about people who drink too much or have too much sex or are compulsive liars or what have you. I haven’t actually been imperfect in all those ways, but I feel like I can easily identify with weaknesses in characters.
Angie: Do you use anything to inspire you while you’re writing? Music, visual aids, etc? Also have you found ideas come to you more freely in particular places or at certain times of the day?
Valerie: I do like to make specific playlists for certain books. I’ve also been known to procrastinate seek inspiration by making Pinterest boards.
Time of day and/or place is totally irrelevant to me. But I do need to have my super awesome Kinesis Advantage keyboard if I’m going at it for a while, or it’s tough on my hands and wrists.
Angie: When an idea hits you, do you start writing immediately or plot it out first?
Valerie: Usually plot it out.
I think that I plot out books because I get scared that I’m not going to be able to figure out the whole story, make it long enough, unravel the plot, or a host of other things. Writing an outline soothes my fears. Sometimes, though, I don’t outline at all—or at least very little. Those are stories that I’m less afraid of, ones that tend to just flow right out of me.
Angie: When you read less-than-fawning reviews, how do you know when to use the critique to improve your future writing and when do you chalk up the criticism as different strokes for different folks?
Valerie: When they say something that I have already worried was a problem, then I know I was right and it is a problem.
Anything that has to do with being offended by the language or horrified by character’s actions, I ignore. (Actually, I think those reviews are funny.) Anything that speaks to the way the story is crafted, and does it in a way that provides some clue as to what’s wrong, I listen to. (Sometimes people just say, “This is stupid.” And there’s not much to discern from that, you know?)
Angie: I’ve read criticism from particular bloggers (Fangs for the Fantasy being one) about the lack of people of color and different sexual orientations in fiction. Do you take this lack of diversity into consideration when creating plots and characters?
Valerie: I have to admit I have trepidation about trying to write from the point of view of African American characters. It feels so… I don’t know, great-white-hope and condescending of me. What right do I have to think I can truly understand that struggle? That means, of course, that most of my black characters are in supporting roles, which creates another sort of issue of relegating people of color to the fringes or something, so it’s not great in any respect.
I do deal a lot with sexual orientation in my series The Helicon Muses. There’s a main character in that series who’s an androgyne. He’s biologically male, but doesn’t fully identify with either gender and thus struggles to determine whether or not he’s straight/gay/bisexual or anything. I also dream of writing some m/m romance, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.
Angie: Do word counts mean anything to you? Do you find your books top out at around the same lengths?
Valerie: Yes, I totally make goals and write to them. I sometimes come up short, but mostly I succeed at making the book the length I want it to be.
Angie: How big a deal is writer’s block for you and what do you do to shake it off?
Valerie: I think writer’s block stems from trying to make writing into work instead of play. The best way to shake it off is to throw out all the rules and give yourself permission to have fun.
Angie: What books did you enjoy most in 2013?
Valerie: Um, probably Gillian Flynn’s books. Especially Dark Places.
Angie: What trends do you hope die in 2014? Are there any you hope take off?
Valerie: I guess I really wish that trends themselves would die off. It would be cool if there weren’t this glut of same-old-same-old trailing in the wake of every hot new thing.
Angie: What are you plans for 2014 as an indie writer?
Valerie: To rule the world, of course. J
Find Valerie's books at Amazon.