Can you talk to me about the decision to make this your first book? What inspired the story?
Chelsea Campbell: I wanted to write about a bad guy who had to save people. Or at least that's the idea I started with. The story changed a lot from that initial seed as I was planning it out and figuring out who the characters were, but I think it's still reflected in the story. Damien learns that no one is all good or all bad, and that even if they're labeled as a hero or villain, they're all stuck in between, just like he is.
CC: Being female myself, I like to write boys that girls can like. I mean, some female authors like to write about girls lusting after hot guys. I'd rather just write about the hot guys--who needs a middleman? Ahem. Anyway, I have heard from female readers who really thought they wouldn't like the book and who don't like to read about superheroes who were then glad that they'd tried it out because they loved it. The main character, who narrates the book, has a funny, sarcastic voice, and people like to see what he'll do next. People also tell me they love the female characters in the book, especially Sarah, Damien's quirky genius sidekick, and Kat, his on again off again villain girlfriend. So I guess what I'd really say to girls is read a sample and see if you like it.
(The first chapter is available on my website here: http://www.chelseamcampbell.com/?page_id=126)
Here is a taste:
Golden City isn’t your average tourist trap. Sure, it’s got its tall buildings, and the one street everyone knows the crazies hang out on—the teens with green hair and lip piercings that tourists think are an attraction somehow. Like they don’t have them at home. Traveling to see ordinary stuff like that is the same as going to a restaurant and ordering a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s a waste of time and money, and that’s not why people come to Golden City. Tourists aren’t here to throw pennies in old fountains or catch a play—they’re here in the hopes of spying some idiot in tights soaring past the skyscrapers. They want to visit superhero-themed diners and order Justice Burgers and Liberty Fries, served to them by an unhappy wage slave in a polyester cape. They want to visit the Heroes Walk in Golden City Park and see all the shining white statues of the superhero do-gooders who made the history books.
What are you waiting for!! Go read the rest of it! After you finish this interview of course, Chelsea still has lots of great things to say. Ahem, please continue...
Being a comic book geek, I read into a lot of references to other comic book archetypes in your story. Are you a fan of comics? If so, what are you reading (or did you read)?
CC: I am a fan of comics! But I hadn't read any before I wrote Renegade X. I LOVE most of the superhero movies that have been coming out in the past decade, and I can't get enough of Smallville. I know as a kid I wanted to read comics, but just never had the opportunity, and by the time I was old enough to realize you can get them from the library, getting started felt really overwhelming. A friend read the Renegade X, though, and was shocked to find out I hadn't read any comics, so he sent me home with a stack of graphic novels.
I think some of my favorite comics so far have been Batman--The Long Halloween, Arkham Asylum (the video game of Arkham Asylum was freaking amazing). I love Batman, and I love the villains. I think what makes Batman so great--besides, you know, Batman--is the villains. They have their own interesting storylines, and I would read/watch/play stories just about the Joker. I don't know if I can say that about any other superhero stories.
Can you talk to me about writing from a boy perspective and how you found Damien's voice?
CC: Well, it's been three years since I wrote the book, so it's hard to remember. I think in the beginning I was a bit nervous about getting a boy voice right, but that nervousness has faded over time, since no one has complained about it, lol. I tend to have male main characters in my books, but this was the first time I wrote one in first person. I knew I wanted Damien to be funny, but I'd done a LOT of pre-writing, where I wrote random scenes, experimented with what would happen in the book, with his character, how he interacted with other characters, etc. Stuff that wasn't meant to go in the book and that I could write quickly, just to get a feel for things. So I had all this pre-writing, and there wasn't really a lot of voice to it. And it wasn't funny. And also I wanted him to always be scheming and manipulating people, and that wasn't there either. So then it came time to actually start a real scene in the book, and it's like someone poking you with a stick, going, "Okay, now be funny!" At that point I knew a lot about Damien and what made him tick, but suddenly it was show time and I didn't know if I could pull off everything I wanted to. I decided to have him manipulating people in every scene, whether it was pulling off some big scheme or just something small, like getting someone to do what he wants. I also made him snarky and sarcastic and tried to get in his opinions about everything around him. The book ended up with lots of sex and math jokes, which I think says a lot about it, or maybe about me...
Well, you are visiting the Asylum. If there is anything you would like to talk about... No? Please, go on..
I love to speak with writers about the process of writing the first draft. How does Chelsea get through the first draft? What are your writing rituals?
CC: I like writing at night. My brain comes alive after it gets dark, maybe because I spent so much time in high school staying up too late writing. The only real requirement I have for writing, though, is quiet. I can't really handle distractions. I don't know if I really have a process for getting through a first draft... for some books, I write rambling notes to myself that sometimes end up being as long as the book does, just hashing out what the book might be about and how the story goes and what choices to make when. And some books I just say, "This is what happens here, here, and here," and then I write the book. For Renegade X, I got an idea and just sat down and started writing. It was kind of like the rambling notes to myself, except it was through the main character's perspective, kind of like journal entries, just talking about the people he knew and what his world was like. And it morphed all over the place and I had about 35,000 words of that (about half the size of the actual book) before I started writing any real scenes.
What is the most painful aspect of writing for you?
CC: The middle. *shudder* I hate middles. Beginnings can be troublesome and hard to get into, but they can also be fun. Endings can be tough because you've spent all this time building up to it and you want it to be just right, but, again, it can be fun, and when it's done you have the satisfaction of finishing. But with middles, what do you get? It's not new, it's not the end... and you've got to take everything you started in the beginning and connect it with the stuff you hope to do in the end. I feel like it's lots of pressure mixed with confusion, and no reward. Except, you know, the writing itself...
Right! I'm in the middle of a middle myself. Sometimes it makes you feel like Hoffman in Marathon Man.
CC: Fake conflict. Fake conflict is when the characters are worried about something, but you never feel like that something could actually happen, or when there is supposedly some kind of conflict going on, but it never affects anybody. Nothing actually bad ever happens, and the characters are always saying what horrible danger they're in, but after a while you get wise to it and you don't believe them. This can happen with large scale danger, like, "Oh no, I hope we don't get hit by that really fast train that's ten miles away!" or some smaller conflict, like the character's mom is the world's best rocket scientist and loves the main character to death, but consequently only has time to call them five times a day and can only hang out with them during their Saturday night ritual of eating chocolate and watching sappy movies for ten hours. *SNORE* It's fake conflict because even though they say there's a problem, there isn't really, and there aren't any real consequences. In that scenario, it's like, "Oh, no, your mom is really really successful and can afford to feed you and give you a nice place to live and loves you a lot and still spends more quality time with you than most parents, but maybe you have to, *gasp*, make your own dinners." It's something that doesn't actually cause a problem between the characters and in fact can be seen as an asset for the MC.
How did you prepare for the launch of the book?
CC: I have a website where I blog, though it's funny because before I was published, I blogged ALL THE TIME. And now that you'd think I'd have anything interesting to say... I clam up. I'm also fairly active on twitter (http://twitter.com/kaerfel), and that's hurt my blogging, too, because I'd rather just tweet something. I also did a book giveaway on Goodreads, had bookmarks made to give to people, and had a launch party in real life.
What superhero/villain would you NOT want to be and WHY?
CC: As much as I love him, I wouldn't want to be the Joker. He has too much turmoil. He'll never be really happy, and he can't/doesn't trust anyone. He does things that are really awful, and I don't think he'll ever really love Harley, no matter how hard I ship them.
Chelsea, Thank You so much for stopping by. I really enjoyed RENEGADE X and I hope it is a great success for you and may your writing continue to soar into the atmosphere.