Interview with Chris Africa

December 1, 2017

Love the name. But then I am biased as I was born in South Africa.


Tell us about your latest novel or project:
On October 5, I published The Elf and the Amulet, so my latest project has been marketing and promotion. But I'm even more excited to be finishing up the sequel, The Cloak and the Acrobat. Readers can look forward to a reunion of friends, some daring stunt work from a dynamic new character, an exciting incident where Nita's righteous activism gets her into a load of trouble, and an opportunity to see the world through Andrev's eyes.

 

I absolutely love the cover.

 



What got you started writing?
According to some stories, I emerged from my mother's womb with pencil and notebook, furiously scribbling fiction, poetry, and random ideas in a language no one else could understand. 

My memories of that period are a little hazy - what with being constantly hopped up on milk - so I can't confirm that account. Let's just say I started writing so young that I can't remember when, how or why. I produced my first book of poetry in 4th grade, Banana Limousines, and it was all uphill from there.

What challenges did you face when you first started writing?
The biggest challenge once I started writing seriously was learning how to stretch my writing muscles. Over a few decades, I've accrued experience writing news, short stories (for my now-defunct e-zine, which is still viewable in the Wayback Machine http://bit.ly/2ALCLEJ), technical documentation, and novels. 
 
Do you ever get the opportunity to travel for your writing? Either to market or to research.
I have not yet had the opportunity to travel for my writing - unless you count some nearby conferences. 

 

Those count.


Who in your life is your greatest cheerleader or support in your writing?
How can I choose only one? My husband, Michael, has been my biggest supporter for 20+ years. Stephanie Smart, my sister and editor, was also previously the assistant editor of my e-zine. And my daughter, Olivia, is my most critical and enthusiastic reader. 

What was the first thing you did after your first book was published?
I immediately texted and sent personal emails to everyone I knew. Then I spent two weeks sending personalized emails to every blogger I could find with an interest in YA fantasy. 

 

Ah, the marketing machine never rests.


Do you read your book reviews? How do you handle the good and the bad ones?
If a reader provides feedback, I will always read it. Every review is an opportunity for me to improve my work. Although I'm not immune to negative comments and bad star ratings, I've been doing this long enough to have received a lot of very frank criticism. If you want to set your book loose on Amazon, you have to be open to learning from your experiences, especially the painful ones.

It seems like everything has Easter Eggs (surprise reference to your other work) do you have any Easter Eggs in your books?
Not yet, but that is a great idea!
 
How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have any secrets to productivity?
Length of time to complete a book depends entirely on the book. I had 4 different day jobs during the years it took me to write The Elf and the Amulet. Two critique groups read every chapter. On the other hand, I wrote a middle grade novel in just a couple of months.

To be more productive, try to determine when and where you write best. My most productive time is during the evening while my daughter practices piano in the background. I also prefer to set a goal of an amount of time to write, rather than a number of words. Some days I churn out more than others. The only secret to finishing a story or book is to put words on the paper one after another. 

Where did you get the idea for your first or latest book?
My ideas grow organically from my characters, and I build everything around them. In The Elf and the Amulet, Nita is a tomboy in a town where girls have no opportunities. Her best friend is a boy. She wears pants and wants to own the family inn one day. Will she ever be an innkeeper? Wherever her path takes her, she'll get there with flair and independence!

Do you have any writing rituals?
Yes, though they aren't terribly interesting. I write on my computer, so I make sure all extra windows and applications are closed to avoid distractions. I then arrange my desktop  and browser tabs in a particular way so that I can efficiently switch between my manuscript, outline and Google (for reference and research). 

 

I research on the fly like that as well. I can't understand people writing offline.


What is your best experience meeting a fan?
I'm so new to publishing that all the fans who have contacted me are still friends and family.

 

The hopefully they were all positive.

If any of your books was to be made into a film, which one would you pick and who would you have play the main characters?
I don't have a good answer for this question. I read and write a lot of YA fantasy, but I watch crime and science fiction movies, which don't have a lot of teen actors in them.

How important do you think marketing is for authors today?
Marketing is one of the most important skills you can learn, especially as a self-published author without a big publicity machine to back you up. There are literally millions of active books on Amazon, and without proper promotion, it's basically a race to the bottom.

Do you have any book you have written that won’t ever see the light of day and why?
Two years ago during NaNoWriMo, I wrote a first draft of a sci-fi a novel about a couple of friends who enter a portal and come out on another planet. It's a little bit too weird and dystopian for me, and I'm just not interested in editing it. It's possible I'll change my mind over time and revisit the manuscript, but I have so many more interesting projects that it's more likely to stay buried. 
 
Many authors have a word or a phrase they automatically use too often. Do you have one?
I don't know about a word or phrase, but my characters tend to blush a lot. 

What quirk or trope of your genre do you like or dislike?
I love that lot of fantasy novels like to include supplementary material with more information about the world or characters. When this comes at the end of the novel, it can be a really interesting addition. I recently downloaded a book sample where the supplements were actually at the beginning of the novel, and I found it incredibly annoying.

Often writers get to approach some serious subjects. Which serious subject are you most proud to have written about or was the hardest to write about?
Death is the most difficult subject for me. My short story, "A Thousand Ways to Say Goodbye," is about a young woman facing the possibility of her own death (http://bit.ly/2iDJNQu). I'm in the middle of another short story where a young woman's estranged father has died, and she's finally coming to appreciate him as she wraps up his affairs.

 

Thank you so much for sharing some of your story with us and good luck with the sequel.

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