Wednesday, September 16, 2015

TP Keane: Author Interview with Joe Chianakas

Author Spotlight: Joe Chianakas

In this "Author Spotlight" I interviewed Joe Chianakas, author of the book, RABBIT IN RED by Distinguished Press coming out in September. 

Bill Wise has blood in his past, so he turns to horror films to wipe it clean. Jaime Stein has felt the betrayal of death, so she too takes refuge in the on-screen deaths of others. Now Bill, Jaime, and seventeen other horror-loving teens have gathered at Rabbit in Red Studios, the brainchild of eccentric horror producer Jay “JB” Bell, for the terror-filled, blood-drenched contest of their lives.
JB has presented this competition as a race between the best of the best that will reward the winners with cash, internships, and a career making the movies they love. But things aren’t always as they seem at Rabbit in Red, and soon life starts to imitate art. Will Bill and Jaime be strong enough to confront real horror to save their friends, or will they all fall victim to JB’s twisted plans?

What makes/made horror your favorite genre in pop culture? 

I’ve always admired the power of story to produce a physical reaction: laughter, cries, or that chill down one’s spine. I hope to do all of that in my writing. Growing up, I remember reading books that kept me up all night. Terrifying stories (at least I thought so at that age). They captivated my imagination, I lost sleep, I had nightmares, I even faked sick and skipped school to finish great reads. That’s power, that’s art, that’s just genius. I started writing my soon to be published novel thinking about all of those stories that kept me up through the night. Really, this book is a tribute to such tales. But with that said, I would say horror is one of my favorites (I have several, coming-of-age tales are another I enjoy writing) because of its power—I don’t have nightmares over a romance or a comedy (unless they were just really bad stories!). I enjoy other genres, but to play with fear, to explore the dark side of humanity, the horrors in reality and the horrors in our imaginations: on one hand, it’s really fun. On the other, it’s a chance to examine and try to understand a darker side of being human. 

What genre would you classify your book as? 

It’s a new adult horror adventure. I originally thought it was going to be a young adult story because I have teen characters and some high school drama. As it’s been going through the editing process, we’ve largely slashed (pun intended) the high school side stories and jumped right into the adventure. New adult is a relatively new genre in itself: it means, demographically, the story is best suited for college age and up—those in their twenties and thirties. It’s a horror adventure because it’s a very fast-paced action story. It has mystery, suspense, thrills. There’s a “whodunit” aspect, characters you can’t trust, a potentially unstable genius at the head of it all. And horror connects every aspect of the story, but mostly in a tribute kind of way. I originally wrote it as a love letter to all the great horror stories out there, something a horror fan like me would absolutely love and devour. It’s evolved a lot, and it has death, fear, and cruelty in the story too.  

How and why did you begin writing to an extent where you wished to become a published author? 

I’ve written a lot ever since I was in junior high: short stories, poetry, anything. When I got my first apartment at age 22, I wrote my first complete novel. It was an exercise to see if I could do it more than anything. It’s really complete crap. I knew then that what I needed most was more life experience and more practice in the art of writing. I would try again throughout my twenties and early thirties to write a new novel. I have a lot of unfinished drafts, stories that have potential I think, but I just didn’t quite have the magic to tell the story well. Last summer, at age 35, I remember sitting in my back yard reading a book when the idea for Rabbit in Red came to me. I outlined the entire novel on a beautiful summer afternoon and I’ve been working on it ever since then. I finished the first complete draft just a month later. It was the first time I thought that I had something really special here, so I got some friends to read it, made lots of revisions (still revising—it’s a nearly never-ending process), and then decided I would try to get it published. Being a published author was always something on my bucket-list. Like any form of writing, it’s cool to see your name on something, to know you’ve contributed (like in journalism!). I love books, and I just always wanted to contribute to literature—even if it’s not all that literary and simply pure fun—and see my name on the spine of a book. 

Do you have any routines or activities you must complete before or after writing? 

I prefer to write on days off work. My brain is too fried for serious writing at night, although I do make some revisions at edits. So it’s on the weekends and college breaks that I get the most done. And yes. I get up, eat breakfast, have two cups of coffee, find a station on Pandora that matches the tone of the writing I plan on doing, and then GO. I’ll take a break after about two hours and walk or jog through Springdale Cemetery. That gives me time to clear my mind and think about what I’ve written. I’ll make notes in the note iphone app. Then on big writing days, I’ll come back and do another hour or two before calling it a day. I usually like to get 3000-5000 words written a day when I’m in the initial creation stages.  

How do you rid yourself of writers block? 

Exercise! Like walking or jogging through the cemetery like I mentioned above, I think you have to physically move to rejuvenate the creative juices.  

Is the protagonist of the story a reflection of you or someone you know? 

Both, yeah. His interests and passions are mine, but I modeled him physically after a friend. They say “write what you know” so I took this young kid who was frustrated in high school but had a huge passion for horror and reading and threw him in the middle of an epic adventure.  

Why did you choose the publisher of your book?  

My goal in getting the story published was to find a talented team who would see its potential and continue to work with me on the story. I had a couple of agents say “If you change ___, then I’ll take it.” Keep in mind when I first sent the story out, all I heard were crickets. It takes a lot of work to make this happen. I had to keep revising the story, keep working on my query and submission package, lots of stuff. Around the 3rd major revision, the story started getting a lot of bites. So I researched the agents and ultimately didn’t go that route because of a lack of personal attention. They would take 3-4 weeks (and sometimes longer) to reply to simple questions. Their revision suggestions were brief, and not the kind of feedback I really wanted. 
When Distinguished Press offered me a book contract, I asked to speak with some of their writers. Everyone raved about the connections and the family-like atmosphere. Once I signed, one of the editors sent my manuscript back to me with TONS of feedback. That’s what I wanted! I say something like this in the classroom a lot: the key to success is collaboration. We can go all rouge super-hero, but I believe if you want to be successful, you need a supportive team. And that’s what I’m getting at this publisher. We (the authors, owner, editors, and staff) chat almost every single day online. Not always about book stuff. A lot is totally random, and that’s why I like them.  

Where and when will your book be available? 
Current release date is September 29! Print and ebook options. We’ll also have a local release party on October 17 at I Know You Like a Book in Peoria Heights, IL. This will be a book-signing event complete with a costume contest and live music 

How long is the series? 

The series will be at least three books. The second book is titled Burn the Rabbit. Tentative titles for book three and four: Drown the Rabbit and Bury the Rabbit.  

How long have you been writing?  

I started “writing” when I was in junior high. I’d read an R.L. Stein or Christopher Pike book and then write my own horror short stories. They were quite terrible! 
Throughout high school and college, I took creative writing classes and wrote short stories, poetry, and tried a novel here and there. In my early twenties, I’d write often to practice, and then would look at it and think: I just need a little more life experience. In my thirties, the words flowed more smoothly, and I think the longer I live and the more I write, the sharper all of my stories will be. 

What draws you to create?  

My head is full of ideas, and I have to get them on paper. I’m inspired by other great writing and film, and I get these wonderful creations in  my mind that I think could be just as good if not better than anything else already out there. But most of all, it’s my release. Like exercise or video games, putting ideas to paper gives me a great feeling of excitement.  

What genre do you enjoy reading? Writing? Why? 

I read all genres, but primarily horror, literary, fantasy, and coming-of-age. I love horror because I love to be scared, like an adrenaline rush from a roller coast. I’ve consumed virtually every King novel, and I still get excited to this day when he releases something new. I love literary—as an English major in college, I fell in love with writers who could pain the best picture, even if it didn’t have a commercial hook, like Kingsolver, Morrison, Ellison, and dozens of others. I love sci-fi and fantasy too. I love everything Bradbury. I read Dandelion Wine of the first day of summer every year. I still refer to Fahrenheit 451 in my teaching. And I’m a sucker for coming-of-age. I fell hard in love with the Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I’m not ashamed to say the Fault in Our Stars made me cry years before the movie was released. There are a hundred authors I admire who inspire me. All of my stories have a little bit of the heartache of Perks, the suspense of King, the magic of Bradbury, and the insight of Morrison. 

When was your first book published?(or when will it be?) 

Rabbit in Red is my first book that will be published in September of this year.  

What tips do you have for new writers? 

Start by reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and the On Writing by Stephen King. I also recommend the introduction to Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury—there’s some magic there, if you’re willing to look for. Ultimately, it comes down to this: read a lot, write a lot, and never stop. If you enjoy it, whether you publish tomorrow or never, it won’t matter. Keep writing. And then get some feedback. You have to really let people TEAR apart your work. And then you start again. If you’re going to be successful, you have to be just as excited about revisions as you are the initial writing process. For me, revisions are the best part. It’s like seeing characters and plot from new perspectives, cleaning them up, realizing where I “missed a spot,” and perfecting it to the best of my ability.  

What are your passions? 

TEACHING! I love teaching. It’s like writing—lesson planning is my brainstorming and outlining. The performance each day in the classroom is like presenting a work in progress. Then the next class, I revise and make it better. I love working with all students, seeing the “light bulb” moments in class, challenging them, making them laugh. I will always be a teacher. 
FITNESS! I try to exercise an hour a day. It rejuvenates my brain, and especially if I ever struggle for ideas, I take a break, go on a walk, or go a bike ride. 
MOVIES, BOOKS, MUSIC, TV: I’m a pop culture junkie. I love too many in each category to list. But if you bring up works like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Lost, Empire, the Walking Dead, the Newsroom . . . then yeah we’re meant to be best friends.  

Do you have a favorite author to read? 

I’ll read any King over and over again. I’ll read Rowling’s Harry Potter over and over until I can quote it. But I like a lot of authors, from the classics to indie authors to teen reads to contemporary literary fiction.

Follow Joe and his new book


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