Saturday, September 25, 2010

Connie Chastain Interview

1. Why do you write romance?

Basically, because I love men and I write to honor them.  They are absolutely fascinating creatures.  Women and men are similar enough to understand each other's humanity, but we have differences, too.

Here's how I conceptualize it. We've all seen the astrological symbols for male and female (male, Mars, circle and arrow; female, Venus, circle and cross).

Sometimes you see the circles linked, but I think the depictions of them overlapping, perhaps 75% of the circle, illustrate it best. The area where the circles overlap illustrates how men and women are alike (i.e., the human characteristics we share) and those parts of the circle outside the overlap are how we are different (the sex/gender characteristics we don't share).

I don't think we can even understand each other in those areas. But there's plenty enough commonality within the overlap for us to get along; and the differences, frankly, are what attract us to each other.

2. Are you aware of any themes that run through your stories? If so, what are they?

Several. I didn't consciously plan it this way, but a theme, or at least an element, that runs through my stories is the difficulty people sometimes have accepting forgiveness/redemption after they have wronged someone. This element plays a crucial role in Southern Man, which I self-published, and Storm Surge, which is currently under consideration by a small publisher in a west coast state.  It also occurs in a couple of my mainstream non-romance WIPs.

Another recurring theme or element is criticism of feminism, or at least, radical feminism and third-wave feminism.  I like voting and being paid what my work is worth, but I am irrevocably opposed to the man-hating aspects of feminism, and the more recent hook-up culture feminism that I believe is so harmful to women. (This is primarily the reason for the "controversial" and "politically incorrect" references in my author logline.)

A third recurring theme or element is the American South, its people (especially its men!), history and culture.  Although I'm a lifelong Southerner, except for a five-year sojourn in the Midwest, I'm as fascinated with my region, its beauties, mysteries and contradictions, as any outsider.

Another element is the role religion, specifically Christianity, plays in my characters' lives. I don't write Christian romances--I've read a few and found them, um, well, a bit too preachy. (I realize they may not all be like that.) Current pop culture eschews religion, sometimes ridicules it, and worst of all, frequently portrays religious people as bizarre, even monstrous. I personally don't know any religious people like that, and I frankly resent the portrayal that slanders legions of good, decent people. Regardless of the irreverence in pop culture, religion plays an important role in the lives of real people, though they may not realize it. I try to show how faith manifests in my characters' lives without in-your-face scripture-quoting and such, so my stories are written with a Christian worldview.

Finally, one of the most fascinating elements, something I love to explore, is reality versus appearance.  How a character's life/work/family may look to those outside it contrasted with how the character himself experiences it.  As an example, in Southern Man, the protagonist, Troy Stevenson, for all his sexiness and good looks, is perceived by co-workers to be a rather staid, upright religionist married to a straight-laced little Southern Baptist wife, when in fact they have an extremely powerful sexual bond, and a very satisfying, um, innovative sex life.

3. Do you have a specific writing style?

Yeah.  I tell, don't show, and I head-hop.

Just joking!

My stories are written mostly from the POV of a disembodied, impersonal narrator--but not third person omniscient.  I conceptualize the narrator as a video-camera that shows or tells, whichever does the job best. The camera  floats around and focuses on what it thinks is important for the reader to see/know.  It can zoom out to see a whole room, a whole planet, a whole universe, or zero in on the multicolored flecks in the irises of the hero's soulful eyes....

The narrator will share POV with one character per scene, but only one; that's how I avoid head-hopping.  Critiquers sometimes detect POV "slippage" between the narrator and a character, and if it's too blatant, I'll address it, but I usually let it go. (I've generally found readers to be oblivious to POV issues.)

I try to conform to the simplified writing style advocated by Rudolph Flesch in How to Write, Speak and Think More Effectively.  Short paragraphs, short, mostly simple sentences (in subject, verb, object order) varied with occasional compound and complex sentences.  There's more to it than that, and there are other schools of simplified writing, but this discipline has done more to make my writing viable than anything else I've encountered.

Flesch's book is out of print, but used copies are available, and I recommend it to any writer.  Fiction writers only need to read the first few chapters.

3.  What inspired you to write your first book?

Southern Man emerged as a prequel to Sweet, Southern Boys, a non-romance about three teenage boys in Georgia, growing up best friends, whose lives are ruined when they're accused of rape.  That book was a prequel to Little Sister, which was--oh, heck, never mind.  I started writing Little Sister first, but Southern Man was the first one finished and published, so it's really the first.

It was inspired by a comment made by Reade Seligmann, one of the Duke Lacrosse defendants.  I no longer have the quote, and can't find it online, but he said something like, when he saw pictures of himself on national TV and heard news reports about what he was accused of, "I can't tell you what that did to me inside."

I wanted to tell what it does inside to a good, decent man to be falsely accused of that type of crime.  In Southern Man, the accusation was toned down to sexual harassment because it is set in the early 1980s, when a lot of sexual harassment law and policy was being formulated in the United  States. But the story focuses on the experience of the protagonist, Troy Stevenson--what it did to him inside--and the effects it had on his family.

4.  How much of the book is realistic?

I tried to make all of it realistic; the office politics where Troy works, the viciousness of small-town gossip; the pull and tug of progressivism versus traditionalism.  People might think the adoration of Troy's wife for him is a bit unrealistic--he acknowledges that her love for him borders on idolatry--but even she has her limits, and her near worship of him does cause emotional problems for her.

The only other element I'm concerned about is the realism of the children in the story. I don't have kids. I've never been around them much, and the portrayal of Troy's kids really concerned me; but thus far, I've received absolutely no feedback that the kids aren't realistic.

As for the realism of false sexual harassment accusations, as one of my video trailers alludes to, nearly half of the sexual harrassment complaints brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are dismissed after investigation for "no reasonable cause found."

5. Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

No. Except for the Seligmann quote referred to, the story is based only on recent and current cultural trends in the USA.  None of my stories are based on my own experiences, except incidentally.  For example, in Storm Surge, I draw on my experience in property and casualty insurance claims and living through coastal hurricanes, but I made up the specific events of the story.

6.  What are your current projects?

I've just started a paranormal romance with the working title Wrong Turn. It's about a man who doesn't believe in crypto-primates (Bigfoot/Sasquatch) until the woman he's falling in love with is imperiled by them.

The aforementioned Sweet Southern Boys is about three-quarters complete, Little Sister is about a third complete.  The Candidate, a follow-up to Southern Man, is in the planning stages.  None of these are romances but they include romantic elements.

7.  What books have most influenced your life most?

As far as my writing life goes, the earliest books to inspire me were the Nero Wolfe mysteries by the inimitable Rex Stout.  To this day, Archie Goodwin is the only first-person narrator I can abide.  I read The Doorbell Rang when I was about thirteen and at some point after finishing several more of the series, I was thinking in narrative and dialog.

Others include Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Louisiana novels of Frances Parkinson Keyes,

Robin Lee Graham's Dove. Favorite classics include Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time.

I could go on, but those are representative.

8. Please tell us about your most recent release and where we can purchase it.

Southern Man is about a devoted family man who is targeted with a false sexual harassment complaint by an amoral young woman and her uber-feminist mentor.

Here's a blurb:


In 1983, in moss-hung Verona, Georgia, the tender and tenacious love between a hardworking man and his adoring wife is tested by sudden adversity.

Corporate executive Troy Stevenson must confront his nascent alcohol abuse or he risks losing the wife, daughter and son he deeply loves. When his latent destructiveness impacts his family, he moves to their weekend cottage to come to grips with his personal weaknesses.

But busybodies at his company assume he left home because his marriage is in trouble. Encouraged by the assumption, co-worker Brooke Emerson, a 1980s material girl romantically obsessed with Troy, attempts to seduce him, setting in motion a chain of events with harrowing consequences for him and his family.


I created a publishing company, Brasstown Books, to bring it to print.  (I enjoyed publishing the book so much, I'd eventually like to do go into that as a sideline and publish other writers' books and stories, both in print and e-book format.)

Here are links to more information about Southern Man on my website:



Videos (yeah, plural; four of 'em, ha!)


Southern Man is available on in print and Kindle versions, and on Smashwords.




9. Please give us your urls and your publisher’s url.

My website:

My blog (not entirely devoted to writing):

My publishing site:

10.  Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Yes. I learned to tell, not show, and to head-hop!  LOL!

Again, I'm kidding.

What I learned is to not let the "rules" put your creativity in a straight jacket.  There were so many false starts with Southern Man, as I sought to conform to the rules ("Open with a hook," "Get straight to the action," "No infodumps!" "Sprinkle the backstory," "Show, don't tell," "No prologues,") that I sometimes despaired of completing the book. At the very least, I feared it would rob the story of my voice, and in that case, I might as well not finish it.

I learned so much about how to craft a story, and it is valuable knowledge, but what I would share with other writers is, listen to yourself. When all is said and done, agent newsletters, editor blogs, crit groups do not write your story. You do.  And only you, so guard your voice.

It was great having you Connie on NN.


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