Interview with Christi J. Whitney

Today on the blog, I’m interviewing Christi J. Whitney a YA author with a successful series on the market. I’ll post links so you can all go follow her after the interview. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have. 

Justine: Hello, and welcome back to my blog! The last time you appeared on my site, it was in the form of an author spotlight, two years ago, and your last book release had been Book 2 of your Romany Outcasts series. Since then, Book 3 was released. Tell us more about that book. 

Christi: Yes, it has been a couple of years! Well, the third book in the trilogy is titled MIDNIGHT. It finishes out the story arc of Sebastian Grey and Josephine Romany, and it continues immediately after SHADOW.  Although I had originally envisioned The Romany Outcasts Series to be four books, my publisher wanted a trilogy, so I did a lot of editing and rethinking the storyline to bring everything to a satisfactory close in MIDNIGHT. I had the least amount of time to write this book, as I was under a deadline, so it was certainly a challenge, but I am pleased with how it turned out. MIDNIGHT differs from the other two books, in that a good majority of the novel is told from Josephine’s point of view, so we are able to get a more in-depth look into her life and emotions than I was able to present in GREY and SHADOW.

Justine: How did it feel to bring that era to a close?

Christi: Although my plan for four books had to change when I sold my book series to HarperCollins, I still have the outline for book four, and I do have plans to write it in the future. I don’t know what that will look like as of yet. It might be something I self-publish; but I love these characters so much, and I really want the chance to do a little more with them.

Justine: On my blog, we’ve been talking a lot about writing what you know. You don’t have to get super personal with this, but are there any aspects of your story which came from personal experience?  

Christi: Oh, there were definitely several aspects of my story that came from personal experience. At the time I began writing GREY (the first book in the series) I was teaching and directing theatre full time at a local high school. I modeled many of my characters directly from students that were in my program. In fact, my students were the ones who encouraged me to turn this story idea I had into a full novel, and a few of them even volunteered to read my chapters and give feedback as I wrote them. The Gypsy Ink Tattoo Parlor and the guys that worked there were also modeled after things and people I knew in real life. And finally, I gleamed the idea of the Romani characters from some of my own family history.

Justine: What are you currently working on? 

Christi: I have a completed novel called BLEEDER that I am currently shopping around. BLEEDER is also YA, but with a bit more urban fantasy and science fiction bent to it. The story takes place in a small coastal town in Georgia and deals with different dimensions, strange creatures, and a girl with unusual gifts. As to what I’m writing at the moment…I’m about half-way through a first draft of an untitled novel that I would categorize as light science fiction. The characters are fun, and I’m have a blast writing the dialogue in this novel.

Justine: Oh, BLEEDER sounds interesting. And I can’t wait until you’re ready to share more about that light sci-fi. On a different note, I see you like to Cosplay! A fellow geek like me. 🙂 Please, please, PLEASE share your favorite cosplay with us. Pictures or it didn’t happen. 😉 

Christi and friend as Sven and Kristoff from Frozen

Christi: I’m so pleased you asked me this! Yes, I definitely like to cosplay, and I am a huge geek. If it’s fantasy or science-fiction related, I probably love it (unless I am simply not familiar with it). And I do enjoy cosplaying characters that I really adore. I think my very first cosplay (years ago) was Jack Sparrow. Since then, I’ve done everything from dwarves from the Hobbit, Frozen, Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, X-Men, and How to Train Your Dragon.

Christi as Nightcrawler from X-Men

My most recent favorite cosplay, however, has to be Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series. The Professor has been an unexpected, but wonderful experience for me.

Christi as Professor Snape from Harry Potter

About a year ago, I made a profile on  the Musical.ly app as a way to try and connect with readers. But I decided to sort of give it variety by posting a mixture of book/writing things with some cosplay. Not long after, Musical.ly became TikTok, and I began getting a lot of traffic for my Professor Snape cosplay. Fast forward a few months later, and it’s become a crazy thing! I’ve connected with so many readers and have been able to talk so much about writing and books…but it’s really all because of my cosplay. So I owe the professor quite a bit of love. I have a few cosplay pictures here, but if you’d like to see more of Snape, you are welcome to check out my TikTok page (christij.whitney)

Justine: Those are SO COOL. You just made the geek in me very happy. So, you clearly have a flare for the dramatic, between teaching theatre and cosplaying. What led you on the path to becoming a writer? 

Christi: My path to becoming a writer began, as many paths do, when I was a child. The first true fantasy book I ever remember reading was The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. It opened up a door to me that I didn’t know existed. I would write little short stories and create characters in fantasy worlds similar to Narnia. By the time I was in middle school. I was writing quite a lot, but I had no confidence, and I refused to show anything I’d written to anyone. It all stayed carefully hidden in journals and folders. In high school, I was bitten by the theatre bug, and I went to college to become a theatre teacher. I spent many years doing that, but the stage became my way of creating stories, so my writing took a back seat. Then, one Christmas break, several years into teaching, I began having these ideas for a story pop into my head. I shared them with some of my students, and they convinced me to write it down. So I put on my dusty writing cap and began. It was a big learning process, especially because I was learning towards young adult fiction. I had to learn how to pace my writing and how to balance description and dialogue. Despite having an English degree, I felt like a complete writing novice. But I attended classes, joined SCBWI, found a critique group…and I got better at my craft.

Justine: I love it. What inspires you?

Christi: Gosh, everything! I get a lot of inspiration from film and television shows, and also from books. Theatre is inspiring because I love the process of creating characters and fleshing them out. Teaching novels to students does the same thing. I could discuss plot, characters, and motivation all day. As I said, I’m a huge geek, so I look to all kinds of fantasy lore to spark something fresh in my brain.

Justine: If you could pick the brain of any writer, which would you choose?

Christi: I have so many writers I adore, and they come from different places and times. I’d certainly love to pick the brains of some of the giants — Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. But I also wouldn’t mind sitting down with some of the great YA authors currently out there, like Cassandra Clare and definitely J.K. Rowling…I’d also love picking the brain of Jack Thorne and John Tiffany (who helped Rowling writing the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).

Justine: If your geeky self could choose any imaginary world to live in, where would you go and why? 

Christi:  It is so difficult for me to chose the fantasy world I’d best like to live in. I suppose it depends on what type of character I was able to be in those worlds. I will always adore Narnia, but I would want to be some magical creature there. I would love to travel with the Doctor in the universe of Doctor Who (even if that’s more science fiction), but if I had to only choose one…maybe the Wizarding World…I’d love to be a Hogwarts professor like Snape or McGonagall. 

Justine: And now it’s time for our rapid fire Q&A segment!

Q: Favorite writing instrument? 
A: Computer

Q: Plotter or Pantser? 
A: Both

Q: Chocolate, Vanilla, or other?
A: Toffee

Q: Sweet or savory? 
A: Savory

Q: Favorite book? 
A: The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Q: Dream vacation?
A: The U.K.

Q: Dogs or Cats?
A: Dog

Thank you so much for joining us, Christi! If you want to follow Christi on the web, you can check her out at the following links:

Website: http://christijwhitney.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christijwhitney/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChristiWhitney
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/christijwhitney/


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Dreams vs. Reality

I have an active imagination.  This fact is pretty much a no-brainer since I write loads of weird fantastical things on a daily basis. But I don’t just have an active imagination about things I would place into a book.  I have an active imagination about reality too. Sometimes, this means that the creak of a floorboard in the middle of the night has me plotting how I will avoid the crazed killer that has clearly snuck into my house (doesn’t everybody do this?).  But most times, this involves dreaming up where I will go in my career, what I will do with the crazy amounts of money I make, how I will support my family.  There are real versions of my future, and then there’s the ideal version, the person I could be if the absolute best case scenario happens to me.  They do not remotely resemble each other.

In my ideal world, the hubby and I meet unprecedented success as writers.  All three of the novels that are currently still mere works in progress are published by major publishing companies and my urban fantasy is picked up as a series.  All three are optioned as movies.  We make a ridiculous amount of money, as they become immensely popular.  I gain J.K. Rowling style fame. The lead character in the urban fantasy, Jacklyn Madison, becomes a household name.  Other people write fanfiction about my stuff.  I get enough money to become a full-time writer.  I buy a house somewhere with wide open spaces and beautiful views.  I get all kinds of fancy stuff for my family.  My kids go to prestigious schools.  I stay home and write all day and when I’m not writing, I’m doing interviews, working as a consultant on the movie set, or teaching writing.  I eat, sleep and breathe my dream job and my family and there is nothing to get in the way of that.  No distractions from real life that take me away from writing for weeks at a time.  I can travel to new locations to research for future books.  I have room for a writing office in my house, which has state of the art computer software and is covered wall to wall in anything that inspires me.  My husband has one of his own.  We live a busy but happy life that is thoroughly driven by family and writing.

Reality will probably look alot different. It is alarmingly likely that I will never be a traditionally published author.  I may end up publishing independently or not at all.  I may end up publishing my novels in serial format on this very blog.  Who knows?  You guys may be my only readers!  I will likely never be paid all that much for my books. A normal publishing contract doesn’t look anything like J.K. Rowling’s next contract will look.  I will probably never be a household name.  There is a very good chance that I will continue to live in the apartment I live in, with the car I’ve got, and my children will go to the nearest public school.  We’ll do our best to gather a college fund for them.  Anything else, will likely be done in student loans that we will co-sign…assuming our credit gets better.  I will work a 9-5 (or in my case, a 9:30-5:30) for the rest of time, and I will write when I can scramble time together.  My computer will probably always be a four year old or older model.  My writing office will probably always consist of my laptop on my lap, while I sit on my couch.  And we will almost always be fueling our writing with the scraps of money we have left over from our tightly budgeted lives.

The truth of it is, while writing is my dream job, I am realistic about it.  I know where my writing career is, where it has been, and where it is likely to go.  As in every relationship or situation I find myself in, I’ve asked myself a couple of questions – Am I willing to live with this if it never changes?  Is doing this ‘for the sake of doing it’ enough?  And I think it is.  I love to tell stories.  It would be great if there were people out there to hear them.  But barring that, the simple process of putting words to a page, of weaving a tale, is something that brings me great joy.  I’m nothing if not a practical person, so I will probably always have my day job, squeezing out minutes to write whenever I can.

Do I really believe I will be the next J.K. Rowling?  Probably not,. but it sure wouldn’t suck. Can I live without that?  If I knew I would never make a single dime from this thing I would keep doing it, because I love doing it, and that’s more than enough to keep me fueled.

 

50 Shades of Unoriginal – Should Fanfiction Be Marketed as Original Writing?

If I say the title “Fifty Shades of Grey” to most people, they know exactly what I’m talking about.  They may never have any intention of reading it, but they’ll recognize it.  Why?  Because E.L. James has become a household name and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

I have several real issues with this trilogy, and while only one of them is the focus of this blog, in the interest of full disclosure, the following is a summary: I’m sure that my time in fandom has led me to far raunchier pieces than this trilogy, some that I’ve enjoyed, other that have left me with the distinct need for brain bleach.  Some of the good ones are more well written than this trilogy by leaps and bounds.  I don’t need to read an entire book to know it’s badly written, I need only samples to feel the need to give some advice to James: You shouldn’t eat a thesaurus and then start spitting out words at random.  It just doesn’t make for a smooth writing style.  Never mind the complaints that I’ve heard that this book contains a false representation of a consensual BDSM lifestyle and instead throws an abusive relationship before the reader and claims that it’s BDSM – that’s one I can’t even remotely confirm, as I never plan to read it.

Despite all of that, my biggest complaint about this book is it’s origins.  Once named “Master of the Universe,” “Fifty Shades of Grey” originated as a Twilight fanfiction.  Now, I’m not a big fan of Twilight, so what I’m upset about isn’t something as basic as the bastardization of my favorite characters.  The issue is that it violates a basic tenant of most fanfiction writers – this work does not belong to you.

You may be thinking ‘She spent a long time working on this and the words were hers, how can it not be her work?”.  There’s some truth to that.  For instance, when E.L. James wrote her fanfic,it was an “AU Fic,” a fandom term for Alternate Universe Fiction.  Meaning she eschewed the world that Twilight’s Stephanie Meyer created, took her characters and placed them in a non-supernatural setting where they could meet, fall in love and have wild bondage sex together and not have to worry about that pesky vampire issue.

E.L. James isn’t the only fanfiction writer to become a published author.  Cassandra Clare, author of the NY Times Bestselling Mortal Instrument series and its companion series, The Infernal Devices, was originally a writer of Harry Potter fanfiction.  There are quite a few moments of deja vu to be had while reading her fanfiction – main characters Clary and Simon strongly resemble HP’s Ginny and Harry, while Jace is nearly an exact replica of Clare’s interpretation of Draco Malfoy.  The world is certainly not the same, but they are both Young Adult novels in which magic exists but is hidden from regular humans.  Potter’s J.K. Rowling names those regular humans Muggles, while Clare calls them Mundanes.  There are even a few passages that Clare wrote for her fanfiction to serve as back story for Draco and then lifted out to serve as back story for Jace’s character.  According to publishing website Galleycat, new writer Sylvain Reynard is about to come out with a new book titled Gabriel’s Inferno, also based on a Twilight fanfiction.  So this is becoming a trend.

The very basis of writing fanfiction is the idea that you are writing a story based in another writer’s world, so what’s the problem?   As both a fanfiction writer, and a writer of my own original work, there is a great deal of work I am not doing when I create fanfiction.  I am not dreaming up casts of characters, making them whole and seeing where they will go.  I am not creating a world and all of it’s facets.  I am working within the confines of an already existing world created by someone else.  And as such, while I will admit to being inspired by another writer to create a character or use certain themes that may vaguely resemble the work of another, that character or theme always takes a different direction, is combined with completely other elements and is molded into something new and different.  And there is a big difference between “inspired by” and taking somebody else’s characters, putting them into a different situations, changing their names, and selling it as your own work.

There is alot that goes into creating a very good piece of fanfiction – I’m not denying that.  But creating an entire world all your own from beginning to end takes alot more work.  I’ve done both, so I can tell you for sure.  Despite plucking Edward and Bella from the Twilight world and putting them in a real world situation, E.L. James wrote this work while envisioning another person’s characters in the role.  Despite a tendency towards purple prose and the fanfiction roots of The Mortal Instruments, I fell in love enough with the more original characters in that series to actually enjoy those books – yet I still bristle whenever I can tell Jace is really just a reproduction of Malfoy.

I bristle because, despite the fact that the day someone decides to write fanfiction about my work will be a day I feel like I’ve really made it, the day someone tries to make money off of that work will be the day the lawyers come out to play.  Not because my characters, my plot, my worlds are my bread and butter, but because they are my heart and soul, and taking a piece of that and pretending its yours crosses an ethical boundary that, I feel, cannot be denied.