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Beyond the Books with Barbara Chepaitis – Author of The Fear Series

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Barbara Chepaitis is the author of 8 published books, including The Fear Principle  and The Fear of God featuring Jaguar Addams (Wildside Press), and the critically acclaimed mainstream novels, Feeding Christine and These Dreams. Her first nonfiction book, Feathers of Hope, is about Berkshire Bird Paradise and the human connection with birds.   She’s writing a sequel which tells the story of helping our US Troops in Afghanistan rescue Eagle Mitch.  Barbara is founder of the storytelling trio The Snickering Witches, and faculty coordinator for the fiction component of Western Colorado’s MFA program in creative writing.

Barbara’s website:   http://www.wildreads.com
Barbara on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=615302442
Jaguar on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jaguar-Addams-and-the-Fear-Series/135879429815445

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Barbara.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

A:  I’m multi-published, and published in more than one genre.  My books include paranormal/sci-fi novels, mainstream novels, and nonfiction.  My most recent release is titled The Fear of God, second in a series featuring Jaguar Addams.  She works in a future prison system, where she rehabs the worst criminals by making them face their fears.  She’s an empath, with lots of other interesting psi capacities and red glass knife she carries up her sleeve.  In this book, she’s dealing with a cult leader who may have a plan to create the Apocalypse.  She’s been put in a virtual reality heaven, where she has to face her fear – of God.

Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

A:  The first book I wrote was a detective novel titled Papa May Have.  I was twenty-three when I wrote it, home with a six-month old baby, and I had run out of books to read, so I wrote one.  I think it wasn’t published because I didn’t know how to manage the business end of writing at all.  But later on, I recycled those characters and that plot into books that were published.  It’s all material!

Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

A:  My first published book, The Fear Principle, is also first in a series featuring the character Jaguar Addams.  This book started as a short story.  In that form it had lots of rejections, partly because it was much too long for a short story, and partly because I’m a novelist at heart and all my short stories grow up to be novels.  After I had a talk with an editor at a convention about Jaguar and the premise for The Fear Principle series she said she’d be interested in it if I had a novel length work, so I simply took the short story and let it grow.  It was bought by that editor, at that publishing house.

Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

A:  Oh, oh, oh, rejection!  There’s nothing to like about them.  I know everyone says you shouldn’t take them personally, but it’s my personal work, my personal interests, my personal career, so I take them personally, badly, and to heart.  However, I’ve found ways to get over it and get back up on the horse pretty quickly.  I go out dancing.  I rant to friends.  I do something physical to work off the steam of anger.  And then I write something.

In fact, my best advice to writers about rejection is that you should write something else as soon as possible, and send out the rejected piece somewhere else even more quickly.

Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

A: The Fear Principle was first published by Ace/Penguin, and I chose them because they chose me.  They had a great reputation, and the editor was very experienced, so I felt Jaguar would be in good hands.  Of course, that was quite a few years ago now, and the publishing world has changed a great deal in the meantime.  There are more options for writers, more choices available for managing your publication career.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

A: I celebrated my first publication by putting on a long red silk dress, getting a bottle of champagne, and calling everyone to let them know.  I can still remember sitting on my kitchen counter, sipping champagne and laughing wildly with friends who had supported me throughout.  It was a wonderful moment, thick with joy.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

A:  I made t-shirts with the cover of the book on one side, and a quote from the book – See who you are.  Be what you see – on the other.

Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

A:  As I said before, there weren’t a lot of choices 13 years ago.  Ebooks didn’t exist, and self-publishing was not a viable route.  I had to publish or perish in the traditional way, and at times it seemed unclear which way that would go.  I feel fortunate to have found a good house for my first book, which paved the way for the others to follow.

Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

A:  I’ve had four more Jaguar Addams books published – The Fear of God, Learning Fear, A Lunatic Fear, and Green Memory of Fear – and I continue to write that series because Jaguar is so much fun.  I’ve also had three mainstream novels published by different houses, and last year had my first nonfiction book, Feathers of Hope, published.  Right now I’m working on another nonfiction, another mainstream, and, of course, Jaguar.

I’ve grown as an author in two ways.  The first has to do with the art of writing, which I continue to explore in different forms, genres, and venues.  I’m writing scripts as well as books, and playing with ways to meld genres, something that’s probably bad for marketing, but fun for writing.  The second way I’ve grown as an author is in terms of how I understand the business end, and have become more responsible for promoting my work, seeking the right readership, and the right publishers. That’s an entirely different thought process than writing, so it took me some time to understand it.

Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up?  What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

A: I think if I had known more, it might have gone faster.  There were no writing programs when I was beginning my career, and I wasn’t able to move to New York City and take part in the publishing world that way, so I was very much on my own, figuring out the business end through trial and error.  It took me a while to realize how assertive and proactive you need to be in building a writing career.   On the other hand, though I’m not the most patient person in the world, there’s a up side to the time it took.  We live in a culture that values immediate results, but the slowness allowed me to develop my craft with care.  And fortunately, writing isn’t a sport you age out of, so writers can build their career over a long period of time.

Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

A:  Well now.  There’s a question.  There’s many personal accomplishments.  I raised a son and built a house and learned how to live with dogs – a big accomplishment for a cat person like me.  In the professional realm, earning my doctorate was very big, as was last year’s option of the film rights to my novel, Feeding Christine.  But last year I had the odd experience of rescuing an eagle that was wounded in Afghanistan, and that turned out to be a much bigger deal than I imagined.

The bird, Eagle Mitch, was shot in Afghanistan and rescued by an Army Ranger and a Navy SEAL.  They cared for it in Afghanistan for months, but it would never fly again so they contacted the bird sanctuary my book, Feathers of Hope, is about, and I got involved in helping them bring the bird to Berkshire Bird Paradise. I thought it would be easy to do, but it had me rattling federal cages for 137 days.  I had to get assistance from the State Department and the White House and Senator Schumer, which put me in touch with a world of politics I knew nothing about before this event.  I had to fight hard to get Eagle Mitch here, and I had to overcome many obstacles.  The story ended up on Fox News and Rachel Maddow’s blog, and I’m writing a book about it now. I’m pretty pleased that I was able to see it all the way through.

Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

A:  I’d either be a rock star or a chef.  I’ve worked as a storyteller, and for many years had a group called The Snickering Witches, so performance is appealing to me.  Cooking – well, I’m half Italian. I don’t think I need to say more.

Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

A:  It’s clear to me that though I enjoy cooking and performance, I haven’t been willing to put the effort into them that I put into writing.  I like the fun side of my ‘alternate lives’, but I’m married to my writing.  That’s where my commitment for better or worse, through thick and thin, resides.  Fortunately, I can still do some performance and I get to cook a lot, so I don’t feel as if I’m missing out.

Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?

A:  I see myself on stage at the Academy Awards, getting an Oscar for a script based on one of my novels, of course!

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

A:  In The Fear Principle and The Fear of God, my character Jaguar Addams often says, “See who you are. Be what you see.”  That’s the best advice I can give to writers.  Learn yourself, your writing process, your goals, then go for them.

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