Author Interview – Marian Cheatham @CheathamMarian
What do you do when you are not writing?
I’m busy with my family, the house, our pets. I love to garden and look forward to spring and summer when I can get my hands dirty in the yard. My husband and I also love to travel, so we try to make that a part of our busy schedules as well. But when I’m not writing, I’m often thinking of my writing. Many times I find it hard to focus on other things because my latest novel or blog post is running through my mind. Writing is one of those jobs that can’t be left at the office. It stays with you all the time. My husband always says I’m happiest when I’m writing.
Is there a particular movie that you preferred over the book version?
This question struck a chord with me because I saw the Divergent movie not too long ago and loved it. Though I liked the book, it wasn’t meaty enough for me. I got more from the movie than the book, and that usually isn’t the case when books are made into movies. Books have the luxury of unlimited length. An author can stretch his story from a hundred pages to a thousand if need be. But a movie is almost always 90 to 100 minutes. As a screenwriter as well as a novelist (no movie deals yet, but I’m always hopeful), I can tell you that it’s hard to condense a book into 90 pages. (One minute on the screen equals one page of script). A great deal of a book has to be left behind. That’s why we almost always like the book better than the movie. Not so with Divergent, at least not for me. The movie was better.
Night owl, or early bird?
I’m definitely a night owl. I try to take care of all my chores in the morning, so I can be at my desk right after lunch. I’ll break for dinner with my husband and then be right back at it after we eat. I get my best work down between 8 pm and midnight. This past summer, I had to drive my nephew to work for six weeks. We needed to leave by 6:30 am, and I thought I’d hate it, but I didn’t. I switched my whole schedule around for that month and a half, and totally enjoyed those quiet early morning workouts. Did you know that Walmart is nearly empty at 7:00 am? Great time to get your shopping done without any checkout lines or hassles. But of course, once his assignment was over, I went right back to sleeping till 8 am and staying up late to write.
One of your favorite quotes.
“Tranquility is the first necessity if one is to work well.” Claude Monet 1883
If you could meet one person who has died who would you choose?
As a Christian, I would select Jesus Christ first and foremost. But after Jesus, would have to come Abraham Lincoln. He was always an inspiration to me growing up. Last year, I read Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln. What an engrossing book! Lincoln was a quiet man with a magnetic personality. People were drawn to him. I discovered only one fact about Lincoln that I didn’t like, (he wouldn’t permit any Native American reservations in his home state of Illinois) but overall, he’s one of my most favorite people. (I also read Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus. I loved that book, too! But the Lincoln book was better, in my opinion).
Do you have any advice for new writers?
I’d tell newbies to join a critique group. Try to find one with like-minded writers, so you can talk apples to apples and not apples to oranges. I once joined a group that didn’t understand young adult fiction. They told me that YA books weren’t really novels. As you can imagine, I left that group rather quickly. But I did find a group that was a perfect fit, and I’ve been with them for a dozen years. I’d also tell a newbie to read, read, read books from the genre that they are targeting with their writing. Become familiar with great writers in that genre. See what works and what doesn’t. Newbies should also read lots of ‘how to write’ books. You have to know the rules before you can break them.
When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?
Yes, I do give thought to the meaning of names. I have one of those Baby Name books for new parents with the historical origins of every name. Sometimes that book works for a novel I’m writing. At other times, I have to find alternate ways to name my characters. In my first novel, Eastland, a historical story set in 1915 Chicago, I used a directory of names from a company in that era. I found popular but unusual names like the one given to my male protagonist, Karel Koznecki. Karel is not a common male name today, but in the 1915 directory, it appeared several times. Of course, there’s always drawbacks to taking risks with an unusual name. I’ve talked to several people who have referred to his character as Karl, instead of Karel (pronounced like the female name Carol). In Ruined, my male lead, DB Whitmore, is a play on Shakespeare’s ‘witty’ character, Benedick.
Do you use your OWN experiences?
I have to say that most writers would answer this question with a ‘yes.’ How could we not? We can only draw from things that we’ve personally experienced, read, seen, felt. The old adage, “Write what you know” is totally true. Stephen King novels always take place in New England because he lives there. John Grisham writes about the south where he lives. With the exception of my new Stratford High series, all my other manuscripts took place in Chicago. I’ve travelled to many places around the world and lived in several foreign countries, but I’d feel inadequate describing life in those places. I really couldn’t understand the nuances, the locations, the seasonal weather, the jargon that is particular to that specific locale. The novel might not feel authentic. No amount of research can give you the real feel of a place like being native born to that region. (Just as the TV’s Simpsons, live in an undisclosed Springfield, Stratford High is located in Everywhere, USA).
Did you ever think you would ever become an author?
I absolutely did not think I’d ever become a writer let alone a published author. I hated writing in high school and college. My English Lit professor in college once told me that my essay was horrible. He said it put him to sleep like the repetitive tick-tock of a clock. How do you get over a comment like that? For me, it took practice – years and years and manuscript after manuscript to reach the place where I am today. Gosh, I hope I’ve reached a safe place. If Ruined has put you to sleep, then I apologize!
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to publish?
I have a YA manuscript, The Color of Irises, set in Japan in 1968 – the hippy summer of love. I adore that story, but just can’t seem to get it right. The female protagonist isn’t strong enough. The setting is gorgeous, the love interest with the Japanese guy is romantic and exotic, but the girl is not interesting enough to carry the whole novel. Maybe someday I’ll take the time to re-read it. Maybe with time and experience, I can get it right. Who knows?
What are you working on now?
My latest WIP is Book Two in the Stratford High series, an untitled manuscript inspired by Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Merchant is a politically incorrect play that is rarely produced because of its prejudicial nature. But Shakespeare’s themes of hate, love, mercy, and forgiveness seem timeless to me. In fact, in this violent, terrorist-filled world, the Bard’s message of mercy seems especially fitting. Book Two should be available by the end of 2014, with Book Three scheduled for spring 2015.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
An Incredible Life, The Wistful Rantings of a Seen It, Done It, Hope to Try It Someday Woman.
Do you ever run into writer’s block, and if so, what do you do to get past it?
All writers would have to say that they experience writer’s block at some point in their career, and I’d be no exception. The blockage usually comes when I’m beginning a new novel. There is nothing more terrifying than writing that first chapter. I once heard the great, Richard Peck, (A Long Way From Chicago, A Year Down Yonder) speak on that subject. He said that he writes and re-writes his first chapters sometimes as many as twenty times before he gets them right. Hearing this award-winning novelist admit to that made me feel so much better. The first chapter is always challenging. Sometimes I’ll sit and stare at a blank screen begging the right words to appear. Of course, they won’t until I release them. Even then, I backspace, erase, rewrite, and change over and over again until I’m satisfied. It’s a process that takes times and patience. So yes, I face writer’s block, but I have to stare it down, will it away, and press on with my work.
What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
For Ruined, and the entire Stratford High Series, my first wish is that readers will enjoy the stories. But I also hope that they might come to appreciate Shakespeare, even in some small way, for the brilliant story-teller that he was and remains to be. The language in his plays is difficult even for scholars, so I understand why so many people are turned off by his work. Maybe, by reading his plays translated into everyday language in familiar, contemporary settings, readers may be enticed to explore the real words of the Bard. If not, then just have fun with the Stratford High series. That’s all I ask.
Pick one profession you would choose if you were not an author. Why?
I don’t know if this would be considered a profession or not, but I’d open a pet rescue for cats and dogs. I’d love to do that someday when I retirement. I probably should become a Vet Tech first. That could be my new chosen profession – Vet Technician!
When did you have that ah ha moment when you knew you were a writer?
For me, it was the moment I received the text that my first novel, Eastland, had gone live on Amazon. I was visiting my mother who has Alzheimer’s at her nursing facility. My visit was over and I was waiting for the elevator when my phone beeped. I read the message and wanted to whoop with joy. The timing caught me totally off-guard. I thought it would take a few more days, so I was totally thrilled by the news. But I couldn’t share it with Mom, she wouldn’t understand (or remember) and the staff was busy serving lunch to the residents. So I just stood there staring at the elevator doors bursting with joy and no one to share it with – until I got home and saw my family. Then we all whooped it up together!
Marian will be awarding an eBook copy of Ruined to a randomly drawn commenter at each stop during the tour. A Grand Prize of a signed paperback copy of Ruined plus a new DVD of Much Ado About Nothing starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson will be awarded to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour (US ONLY). Click on the banner to follow the tour, comment at all stops to increase your chance in winning. To enter scroll down and leave a comment then enter the rafflecopter. While waiting to win click over to Amazon and get your copy. Thanks for visiting.
Ruined – Stratford High Series, Book One
by Marian Cheatham
Blythe Messina spends her senior year focused on her studies and college, and not on her ex, Stratford High’s lacrosse star, DB Whitmore. At least, that’s what Blythe keeps telling herself. But her younger cousin, Bonni, knows otherwise. Same goes for DB, who swears to be over Blythe and their breakup, but his teammates aren’t fooled.
When scandalous photos of Bonni and the team captain are texted around Stratford, Bonni’s virtuous reputation is ruined. She professes her innocence, but no one believes her. No one, except Blythe and DB, who come together to uncover the truth. But, will they stay together?
Ruined is a modern twist on a classic Shakespearean romance.
“Deceit, loyalty, honor, and romance–Ruined has it all! A teen version of Much Ado
About Nothing that Shakespeare aficionados are sure to savor!”
Kym Brunner, Author of Wanted: Dead or in Love & One Smart Cookie
All books in the Stratford High series will be modern retellings of a Shakespeare classic. Ruined is inspired by Much Ado About Nothing.
I’d been bitchy and on edge ever since that blasted luau last Saturday. Seeing DB, talking to him, being near him again, had taken my life off course. For days now, I’d been ordering my brain to STOP THINKING ABOUT HIM. We were ancient history, two people doomed from the start, like Antony and Cleopatra or Marie Antoinette and King Louis. So why couldn’t I regain control of my world? I snatched up my backpack and my Coach crossbody bag, and did a quick once-over in my bedroom mirror. The hair was tied back in a no-fuss ponytail. The jeans were clean, well, relatively. This faded ASPCA tee was past its expiration date, but good enough for school. I turned off my bedroom light and went in search of Bonni.
She wasn’t in her room or downstairs in the kitchen. So I grabbed a frosted Pop-Up and headed into the garage, where I was blinded by piercing sunlight. Someone had left the outer door open, and my new hybrid was nowhere to be found. I shaded my eyes and peered outside.
Halfway down our long driveway, I spied Bonni and Uncle Leo with their backs to me, their heads together under the opened hood of my car. They were talking, but in this quiet morning air, their voices carried. Even from this distance, I could hear fragments of their conversation. And if I heard them, so could our neighbors. I was hurrying toward the hybrid, anxious to warn my cousin and uncle to keep it down, when I heard something that stopped me in mid-stride.
“… believe what Cory told me … DB and Blythe …”
Had Bonni just mentioned DB and me in the same sentence?
I ducked behind the six-foot-tall hedges lining the drive.
“What else did Cory say?” Uncle Leo asked.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Marian is a full-time writer of contemporary and historical young adult fiction. A native Chicagoan and a graduate of Northern Illinois University, Marian taught special education and worked in the business world before pursuing her dream of becoming a writer. She would rather be at her desk than almost anywhere else, but of course, that isn’t always possible. So when she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, gardening, walking the dog, travelling with her husband, and researching new projects. Not necessarily in that order.
She adores anything Shakespeare. An avid reader of Shakespeare biographies, she has travelled the world to see his plays, visiting Stratford, Canada as well as Stratford-Upon-the-Avon, Great Britain, and the new Globe Theater in London. Her latest YA novel, Ruined, Book One in her new Stratford High series – modern retellings of Shakespeare’s plays – is inspired by the Bard’s classic romance, Much Ado About Nothing. Book Two, inspired by the Merchant of Venice, is due out fall 2014.
Her debut YA, Eastland, came out in February 2014. Based on the real-life story of the 1915 Eastland boat disaster in Chicago, Marian lectures about the Eastland to schools, libraries, and book clubs, as well as co-hosting haunted Chicago tours of Eastland disaster sites. She writes a post on the subject on the Tribune’s Chicago Now blog site. Visit her at: