Our guest today on Writing to be Read is a newly blossoming independent author of two very different books; the first a spy romance and the second a collection of inspirational stories, Chele Pedersen Smith. I recently met Chele through a Facebook book event in which I was lucky enough to win a free copy of her spy romance, Behind Frenemy Lines. After chatting with her, I see many ways in which she and I are kindred spirits, including that she also put off pursuing her passion until our later years, and also in her enthusiasm for the craft and the many creative ideas she has for getting her works into readers’ hands. I’ve enjoyed interviewing her and I hope my readers will enjoy it to as I share it with you.
Kaye: In On Writing, Stephen King talks about how he started his writing career with his brother, printing news on an old printing press, using grape jelly for ink. You have a similar start. Would you share the story of your author’s journey?
Chele: Sure! I’ve been writing since the bicentennial, which sounds really ancient and colonial. Ha-ha. In sixth grade when my best friend Debby and I won the school’s first annual hobby contest with our collaborated mystery booklets. We were totally shocked because a classmate entered her motorcycle and we thought for sure Annette would win. It just goes to show that sometimes the best things are simple and come in small packages!
In junior high, I wrote a teen mystery series my friends loved to read, sometimes before the ink dried on a chapter. I’d fold bunch of unlined white paper and staple it. The plots revolved around protagonist Sherri Whitman and her friend Anna Daine. Anna was more like me, the ordinary girl with ironic luck and Sherri was my alter ego— pretty, more daring and often accomplished what she set out to do. There are 17 books in this series, mostly short booklets until high school when I switched to writing on notebook paper fastened in folders. A bridging symbol between the booklets and the note books is book nine written in a blank journal. Now, that felt like a real book and I think it was the beginning of a serious dream.
With more room to write in the folders and a little maturity, the stories morphed into multiple, more complicated plots. In high school, I took all the writing electives and was on the school paper senior year as well as my first semester of college where I started to major in communications.
One day watching Romancing the Stone, Kathleen Turner’s character was a writer and I noticed she typed her books on a typewriter off the top of her head. I thought, “That is what real writers do!” so I started writing that way too. It was hard to think that way at first, and typewriters did not have the ease computers have today when it came to errors. Now it is second nature to write this way. I still use journals to jot down ideas and I have a separate document on each book called, “Notes for Behind Frenemy Lines,” etc. That way I can cut and paste dialogue if I want to save it for another place, or remind myself what I want to include in the story.
At 21, I tried my first stab at getting published. It was a Sherri manuscript about an amazing mystery that happened to me during my first semester of college. I sent it to a publishing house for young adults and got my first rejection! I was bummed but proceeded to send it to several young adult publishers who said it was too short. So I added other mysteries and back stories from previous Sherri books, but it still got rejected. Only Scholastic gave me detailed criticism and sent me two paperbacks to use as examples. By then I was a newlywed and put it aside to figure out later. I was focused on writing short stories and sending them to Redbook because they use to have contests. I never won but I still have those and other short stories from the 80s, as well as most of the Sherri series.
After years of hiatus, I got back into fiction writing the summer of 2013. An idea for a story kept circling my head like a vulture. It would not go away. Characters formed, names were tried on for size. The perfect first hook crafted itself. Finally one morning, I made coffee, opened a Word doc and then typed out that sentence. And just like that I was writing again! The story is called Confessions of a Goody-Goody and is a bit of a struggle at times because it is based on real life juicy events. I thought Goody-Goody would be my first book, but I got stuck halfway through. It got too personal and I didn’t know how to proceed.
In the meantime, I enrolled in college so I set aside. I took creative writing courses and the writing prompts helped me take Goody-Goody to a higher level. Plus I am adding in a lot of fiction, so I do plan to finish it! In fact, a chapter excerpt appears in our latest literary magazine to set my goal in ink!
Kaye: You gave up a promising career in the health care field to become an author. How do you justify that? Any regrets?
Chele: I had quitter’s remorse at first. I rarely give up on something, but after bailing after just one week in the dental hygiene program, I cried hysterically. What had I done? I felt lost. Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life wasting all that hard work, all those sciences, maintaining A’s to get in?( It wasn’t really a waste because exercised brain power and I made a great group of friends my age and we rocked!)
After waffling on other majors, I ended up in communication because it was the closest thing to a writing degree available. (It’s funny, coming full circle from my youth.) The electives included two creative writing classes, which I loved, and two journalism levels. I lucked out because the spring J2 involved a trip to NYC media writing conference and that was a blast. The good news is, just this the fall, the school branched communications into concentrations and voila–professional writing materialized! It was like the movie Field of Dreams: take writing classes and the degree will come! So now, I’m there with just four classes left.
At this point, I’m mainly getting the degree to complement my novel writing. I’ve recently received fantastic validation through the English department via several professors and have just won two awards for my writing! So I definitely feel I made the right choice. But as for making moolah, if a job in the field isn’t feasible, I will probably fall back on my pharmacy technician training and write novels in my free time. I’ve kept up with my pharmacy certification just in case.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer for you?
Chele: The writing is the fun part, compared to formatting paperbacks and self-promoting. But I’d have to say it is a toss-up between finding time to write and my husband giving me a hard time about it. Since he went to the awards night with me, he seems more impressed and realizes it is more than just a hobby.
I mostly write during semester breaks which isn’t very long, unless it is summer. (Although most summers I’ve taken classes, too.) I have all these book ideas and half-finished projects. I’m afraid I’ll lose steam or the muse will leave me before I get them done. And I’m a revision queen so even after I do finish a book, it takes time to patch plot holes, paint in more details, and weed out never-ending typos.
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Chele: I’m corny and get excited over little things. I never lost my childhood wonder. I love word play so much, maybe I should’ve gone into advertising. The corniness may not come as a surprise to anyonewho reads Behind Frenemy Lines. Lee has some punny lines.
Maybe a more of a shock is that in the 80s, I wanted to be a radio DJ. 1984 was so “outrageous” as Lionel Richie exclaimed at the music awards that year and I remember thinking music would never be as good it was then! We had Michael Jackson at his peak, Kool and the Gang and Madonna, and the British bands! (Little did I know a guy named Adam Levine would arrive on the scene and swoon me in the 21st century.)
In my late teens, I’d play DJ in my room with my little brother, practice queuing up and spinning records and timing announcements with my stereo. Well, it paid off, because the first year at the college, they had an opening for DJ at the school radio station and I had a stint for about a month. It was fun to live out a brief dream, even though I’m not sure anyone actually listened.
Kaye: You have plans for a sequel to Behind Frenemy Lines, and several other writing projects for 2018. Would you like to tell us a little about what’s in store?
Chele: I’m working on a romantic comedy novella. I don’t want to give the premise away or the title just yet because it is a unique way to meet a date. When I needed character names, I turned to classic Hollywood starlets so that was fun. I hope to finish it this summer. I already have the cover made to inspire me! By the way, my covers are made by graphic designer Steven Novak. He has the knack of turning my visions into fabulous covers! I also have two other romance novellas started. Maybe I’ll offer them as a tri-pack.
As for the BFL sequel, Galaxy’s heritage has Russian connections and it falls nicely into current events. But I have some comedic moments and surprises up my sleeve too. And of course it will follow the trysts and trusts issue like the first book.
I write off the cuff, so I don’t know what will happen exactly in each work. In that novella, will Viv’s stalking of her crush win him over? Or will it make him mad? I have no idea yet. Maybe the characters will take over and surprise me. I also plan to revamp and publish the Sherri Whitman series, maybe as a whole unless I lengthen each mystery, and the one that got rejections—Will the Real Green Phantom Please Stand Up— is on my list too! Currently I am compiling the 80s short-stories into a speculative fiction book. So the muse needs to stick around.
Kaye: How did your blog start and what’s it about?
Chele: I have a blog on Goodreads. I’m still experimenting with to get it just right. I try to keep it about topics related to my books and writing, mainly romance, but have also ventured off into pop culture ponderings. It may just become the life of a writer.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Chele: I like the solitude of morning home alone with a cup of coffee and my favorite songs blasting. No one interrupting me except Penny, the golden. I love the night too; it is mysterious and brings out the muse, but it is not usually practical to write then. Except for an odd summer night last year I was not sleepy at all, so I got up to write in the living room. I sat in the dark by the glow of the laptop with a happy golden retriever curled by my side until 4 am! That was when I wrote the last scene of Behind Frenemy Lines—the prologue!
Kaye: If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
Chele: I’d jump for joy and thank God. He gave me this talent and being able to make a living on it would be a pinch- me moment! Then I’d hire a housekeeper because I hate cleaning and clutter. It would be amazing to go a book tour and be a guest on Ellen. Being in the spotlight would feel awkward though. Being a writer, it would be nice to have my name known. But I don’t want to be famous exactly; I’d love for my characters to be. When I got my first review from a Goodreads giveaway and the reader fell in love with Lee, I was ecstatic! It was what I hoped would happen. When reviewers mention Galaxy, I’m thrilled. I made these guys up and now people are getting to know them.
Kaye: In a story we are often asked to create images for the reader that we may not have experienced ourselves. When have you had to do that?
Chele: I write what I know, but I also Google a lot! There is a scene in Behind Frenemy Lines where Lee and Galaxy go to the White House to interview Anita, the communications director, about the threats made. I’ve seen the outside of the White House from a park gate, but have never been inside. So, I scoured virtual tours online and described it from there. After the meeting, the spies go rogue exploring the place, so I had to look up different rooms and recreate the experience the best I could.
I’ve also researched Russian Heirloom furniture, so I could describe some antique pieces in Galaxy’s apartment. Soon after, I received a brochure in the mail about Russian art and heirlooms. I couldn’t believe it!
Kaye: You’re a mom as well as being an author. What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?
Chele: My kids are grown now—my son is 27 and daughter is 19 — but they were still young when I was writing the spiritual stories. I only wrote sporadically then, mostly holiday newsletters, and I would craft those when they were in bed. When I got back into writing four years ago, my daughter was about to graduate from 8th grade. So it was easier then. I write while she sleeps in. As for writing around a husband, I like my free time during the week when he’s at work.
Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to have taught your children?
Chele: I hope they see I’m accomplishing my life’s dream, and dreams don’t happen by themselves. You have to put the effort in and seek out the opportunities and avenues to get you there. My daughter is an amazing artist and she is going to school for an art degree. I don’t tell her she has to be a doctor or lawyer. Art is good therapy for her. My son is great at math and has a business degree with a math minor. He’s still trying to find his degree job, but in the meantime is advancing in a job he’s had for 10 years. He likes to do creative writing as a tension reliever after work and my daughter just got public praise from her English professor for a creative angle in her final essay. As a writer and mother, that makes me both proud and relieved. I love that they have writing skills but mostly they are doing what they love.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
Chele: At a Disney resort three years ago, the maintenance crew knocked on the door and were swapping out tree plants. I hadn’t noticed ours and it looked fine when they carted it away, leaving a fresher one in its place. I thought, “how strange.” It seemed suspicious to me, but we were busy and I didn’t think much more about it until we got home. I knew I wanted to work it into a story someday. It happened to fit a scene in BFL, so in it went. What happens in the book is much more exciting than in real life. Also that summer, we received an automated call from our electric company about a 3 am power outage planned to replace transformers. I thought, wouldn’t that be a perfect cover-up to commit a crime? So it found its way there, too.
Every day events make me suspicious now.
Kaye: Your two published works are very different genres. How do you get from inspirational nonfiction to a romantic thriller? What other genres might be in store for your readers?
Chele: Behind Frenemy Lines, is a tasteful spy romance, and was my first published book in January 2017. Almost a year after I started writing fiction again, my husband was going to Germany for business and I thought it would be fun to test my writing out on him I decided to write a spy scene, since that was what he liked to read— Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan, and all that. I hid it in his suitcase, so well in fact, after two days I had to inquire about it and give hints. He really liked it. I added back stories and a serious case to solve. The challenge was adding politics. I joke that I have political amnesia because I don’t understand it very well and I find it boring. I also wanted something unique since that is the genre he reads, he probably has heard every plot out there. So I came up with a unique premise, but it does veer off in other directions too.
Since he traveled often that year in 2014, I kept writing other suitcase chapters, just for kicks with no intention of publishing. About two-thirds done I knew I wanted it to be my first book. And the more I developed secret agent Lee Clancy, the more I fell in love with him. He’s a gallant gentleman, has confidence but is not arrogant, knows how to romance, but he isn’t perfect. He’s a real guy, flaws and all. He woos his spy partner, Galaxy O’Jordan, but isn’t sure if he wants to kiss her or wring her neck. The feeling is mutual.
Gal is complicated, beautiful, has body image issues and is klutzy like me, which adds light comedy. She is ruthless but vulnerable and has questionable connections with a shady past. I originally made her up in 11th grade journalism class in 1981 for the conclusion to a T.V script, but I added her multi-faceted personality in 2014. I’m not sure where her name came from. I wanted something exotic for her honey-trapping role, but maybe I was influenced by Star Wars or the space shuttle hoopla back then. I still love her name today!
When White House threats dredge up an old presidential cover up, the case careens a crazy corner into la-la land and it’s up to NSA’s Link agency to figure it out. Enter Galaxy O’Jordan, feminist crusader with a shady past. An agent harboring secrets, she’s sworn off love while mending a broken heart. It’s just her luck when she’s paired with chivalrous hunk Lee Clancy, surveillance specialist! It’s not long before they’re smitten, despite their best efforts to play it cool.
The Pearly Gates Phone Company was published in October 2017 and is an uplifting collection of mini-miracles that happened in my life as well as my family and friends. Remember those spiritual shorts I kept submitting to a Christian magazine? I realized I had quite a few stacking up. From there I wrote a bunch more. There are 33 anecdotal snippets to inspire hope, comfort and give a few chuckles. The title is from the main story in the book, about my dad calling a month after he died. This was 2002 but if it happened today, I think we would have a better explanation about technology. Still, it was a goosebumps moment that was so remarkable, I had to write about it soon after it happened. The original was too long and complicated, but it’s had a few revisions since then, 2014 being the most recent. That is when just the right title popped into my head. I knew it would make the perfect title for the book too.
Have you ever been wowed by the wonders of God? Or enchanted by an extraordinary event? This is a book of coincidental moments, those instances that stop you in your tracks, and you know deep inside it could only be explained by heavenly evidence.
Kaye: You have two very unique titles for your books. How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the writing process for you?
Chele: Thank you! I love whimsy titles. Sometimes the perfect one just comes to me, even before I start the story, like the novella and Confessions of a Goody-Goody. But for the two books out now, the names did not immediately click until halfway through. Behind Frenemy Lines had the working title Spy Story as I chiseled away on each traveling chapter. Especially since I threw it together a day or two before my husband’s trip. It was just a place holder, really. Then my daughter was having trouble with a friend and we were not sure if this girl was a friend or enemy so I referred to her as a frenemy. With that word in my head, I suddenly had a title—a play on the movie, “Behind Enemy Lines.” And it was perfect since we don’t know which side Galaxy is on.
As for The Pearly Gates Phone Company, during the original writing, I had the title, “A Call from Heaven” and then with a rewrite, other titles like, “Hello from Hippie Heaven” or “A Heavenly Hello” materialized, but did not feel right. I knew I wanted something more fun. Finally, during the last revision, it popped in!
Kaye: What’s your favorite social media site for promotion? Why?
Chele: Facebook seems to be the easiest and I like Instagram. Twitter seems mysterious to me. I’ve tweeted and try to use hashtags, but not sure how effective it is. The self-promoting concept is one of the most challenging parts of being an author.
Kaye: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Chele: Goofy, Creative, Lifetime learner
Kaye: What makes you laugh or cry?
Chele: I’d rather laugh than cry, so I enjoy comedies. There is no shame in crying, but for me personally, it is easier to laugh. Maybe because I “ugly-cry.” There isn’t anything lady-like about it. Everyday moments crack me up. I always say, “Life’s a sitcom.” And that usually refers to mishaps happening to me.
At orientation a few years ago, they played a little cartoon emphasizing students asking for help to do all they can to pass, rather than use excuses and blame the professor. The cartoon was drawn simply and used computerized, monotone voices, which sounded so funny. I was trying so hard not to burst into a fit and almost left the auditorium, but luckily I was able to keep it under wraps. Good thing, because no one else was laughing. I am easily amused and find if we don’t take life too seriously, we can have a good time.
Sometimes my laughter rolls into crying, especially if I am tired or needed a good cry and brushed it off. An episode of The Goldbergs had me laughing so hard, I was in tears. My daughter came home and I couldn’t even talk to explain what was going on. I could only point to the TV. In the ep, Barry was trying to make sculptures of his girlfriend, copying a cue from Lionel Richie in his video “Hello.” His attempts were hideous, and each one was funnier than the last. I just lost it.
As for crying, I am soft-hearted when it comes to children and animals, so I avoid movies with disturbing themes, but sometimes they sneak in a “feel good movie of the year.” I hate that!
I had big crying jags moving here and experiencing my first partially empty nest when my son stayed behind to move in with his dad to finish college. It felt so unnatural. Another big tears moment was a month later. Losing our old golden retriever, Buster was one of the saddest days I can remember, aside from losing my parents.
I’ve also cried out of sheer happiness, like when my daughter said she wrote about my mom as her favorite relative. I knew she would love to know that! Or when I was trying to track down a friend and finally got a letter from his mother. That was in the 80s, before internet and Facebook, so it felt like a true miracle.
Thank you for asking me all these wonderful questions.
Thank you Chele, for joining us and sharing today on Writing to be Read. It obvious that you really opened yourself up and spoke from the heart. It has been great to interview you. I hope all my readers will thank you as well, and remember to watch for my review in the near future of Behind Frenemy Lines. You can find ouot more about Chele and her books here:
Facebook group: Chele’s Galaxy
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/chelepedersensmith
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16337551.Chele_Pedersen_Smith
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