We were thrilled when we found out author and Writing Academy graduate was going to sit down with us to talk about writing and books.
We were even more thrilled when we found out a couple days later that Chris won an Elisa Rolles Rainbow Award for her debut novel Irregular Heartbeat (available here) in two categories!
Today, we get to talk about her reaction to that award, being mentored by the amazingly talented author Jae, and the importance of peer review.
Welcome! First, is Irregular Heartbeat the book you worked on during your time in the Writing Academy? Tell us a little about that process.
It is. I started writing Irregular Heartbeat in 2013, after I got stuck writing another novel, and had this sudden urge to write about a drummer-turned-doctor who helped an icy career physician to reconnect with her softer side. I soon realized that I needed help if I ever wanted to finish the novel.
During an intense writing retreat and workshop by Victoria Villasenor (http://globalwords.co.uk/retreats/), I learned more about the craft to get me started in the right direction. But soon, I got stuck again and didn’t know how to proceed. When I visited my first GCLS conference in Washington, D.C., in 2016, I heard good things about the Writing Academy. I was super nervous, but you were really friendly and down to earth (Ed. Note. We did not pay her to say that), so I applied. My expectations were to learn more about the different aspects that are all necessary to write and finish a novel and to overcome my writing block by doing the homework. And the Writing Academy delivered!
I realized that my problem was that I had plotted myself into a corner. As soon as I re-worked the structure, I was able to write again. By the end of the year, I had finished my manuscript. But then the real work started, re-writing and learning through my own mistakes. I’m very grateful the WA provided a mentor to guide me through that process.
Speaking of which, your mentor was the amazing Jae. How was that?
Great. I knew Jae already and trusted her. She went beyond her duty as a GCLS mentor and not only provided invaluable feedback but mentored me chapter by chapter while I overhauled the complete novel twice. As an experienced author and editor, she spotted my millions of beginner’s mistakes easily but was always diplomatic and fair in calling me out on it.
Before I ask anything else, I have to ask about the Rainbow Award. Did you freak out when you got the news?
A little, but silently. 😉 I was at work and didn’t notice at first, but then Jae wrote an email to congratulate me.
It’s a huge honor to win in two categories on your first book. And you have a second book. Is that out now?
Not yet. It’ll be published by Ylva on January 15th, 2020, but I have the finished ebooks at home already, so everything is ready to go.
Heart Failure (available here) is an enemies-to-lovers lesbian romance about daring to open your heart.
Dr. Jess Riley’s perfect life as a top cardiologist and new mom shatters when she has a heart failure. Forced to move home, she’s shocked to find her mother has taken in Lena Walker, a struggling artist with a broken heart.
At first, an unimpressed Jess resents Lena’s what cheerful presence. Gradually, though, the two women form a tentative friendship over tai chi, picking fruit, and evening walks with the baby. A sexy massage leads to friends-with-benefits fun. When their relationship turns physical, they both need some time to trust their emotions and overcome heir fears.
Shameless self-promotion: You can read the first three chapters here (https://www.ylva-publishing.com/excerpts/excerpt_heart-failure-by-chris-zett.pdf), and you get the fourth as a bonus if you subscribe to my newsletter (http://eepurl.com/dBOWKX).
It’s the second book I finished writing and, instead of four years, it took me a little over four months to finish the first draft. But the editing process still took much longer than anticipated. I learned a lot during the WA and the edits of my first book, but not every theoretical knowledge translates automatically into perfect writing. And I made it harder for myself by writing a complicated main character. At the beginning of Heart Failure, Jess is very unlikable, but during the novel, she learns from her experiences and changes a lot. I underestimated how hard it was to write the character arc, but now I’m happy with the result and can’t wait to learn what readers will think of Jess and Lena.
I know you’re a medical professional, so the medicine part of your books probably comes easy to you. Have you ever considered writing about a hot air balloonist or something completely out of your purview?
Yes, I note a lot of character ideas on an ever-growing list. For example: Piano player at a silent movie theater in the 1920s. Or former eco-warrior and tree-sitter turned into a disillusioned window-cleaner.
But I believe that the occupations of the characters is just one of the facets that makes them interesting. A wide variety of personalities can be found in almost any profession. I can see the hot air balloonist as a romantic dreamer or someone who escapes from their problems or even an ice-queen business woman who has lost her love for her profession while trying to earn a living.
So far, I still have a few medical romances in mind with completely different characters, so I’m sticking to the medical setting for the next few books.
Speaking of hot air ballooning, do you have any odd hobbies?
Just writing. In my circle of friends, I’m the only writer (not counting those friends I’ve made through connecting over lesbian fiction).
Do you stay in contact with any of your former WA classmates?
Yes, through the internet. I haven’t been able to return to the GCLS conference due to work reasons since I graduated from the WA, but I hope I’ll see them again in the next years.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the Writing Academy?
1. Use peer reviews more than I did. Leave your ego at home and listen to the criticism. No one wants to hurt you, but everyone sees things you can’t see yourself, and these comments will help you grow as a writer.
2. Make notes of everything even if you don’t see why it would be applicable to your work. I’ve come back to my notes in different stages of writing and editing and always found something new and relevant. I never thought I would do a reading. But this year I did two and the notes from the great class by Melissa Brayden came in handy.
That’s excellent advice. I think the best writers never stop learning. Along those lines, what books are on your to-be-read list?
So many. I’m currently working against a deadline (translating Heart Failure into German) and don’t have time to read a lot. I sneak in some reading on the train to and from work, but it’s not enough. I’m waiting for a free day to really get into Karen Frost’s Daughter of Fire books. I love fantasy and I prefer to read it uninterrupted to really immerse myself in the setting.
Is there anything about you that we didn’t ask?
I love to travel and recently bought a used VW camper van with my wife. My dream is to leave work behind and travel around the globe for a year or longer to have the time to really explore different cultures and landscapes.
That would be great! You could video the whole thing and share it with us! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
If anyone is interested in learning more about these books or about Chris, please check out her links.
The GCLS Writing Academy is a yearlong intensive program for new or relatively new writers who have written at least part of a novel. In this course, students will learn the critical components of quality writing. The Writing Academy goes beyond craft of writing and takes students through all aspects of writing and publishing a novel.