Featured Writer: Samantha Chaffin
I think first Sam started reading Esmeralda, and then I read her then contest entry “Death Touch”, and from there we told each other what excellent writers each other were (she has probably been lying to me all along, but I like her praise so I don’t mind) and have been “writing buds” ever since. She’s even one of the few I knew would be honest enough with me to be allowed to read my horrid original ending to “Esmeralda”.
You’ll just have to accustom yourself to the knowledge that she’s way more awesome than the rest of us. It’s the truth. And her writing? Holy. Moly. Quit now, is my advice. Because she’s monopolizing the market on epic. Her current Pirate novel, Privateer, has me in its clutches; I’m Team Benjamin. 😉
“I love me some Jesus Christ. He’s my All in All. I’m a student at the University of Southern California, working toward a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and English (Creative Writing). Class of 2014. I base characters on especially bizarre people that I meet (so beware), and I have a deep and undying love for historical fiction and fairytales. When I watch movies, I usually end up rooting for the villain, especially if the villain is Alan Rickman or Zachary Quinto. I quote the movie “The Princess Bride” like a lunatic. I have an almost fanatical devotion to Paris, France. Jk, it’s totally fanatical. I never learned to walk in high heels without tripping/falling/causing catastrophic damage. Last but never least, I love books. Real, honest-to-goodness books that have covers and paper and ink.”
From all the way over in ‘Sunny California’ she answered a couple of questions for me:
What inspired you to write Privateer?
In general, I can only begin a story when I hear the voice of a character so clearly in my head that I just can’t ignore the urge to put him or her on paper (or on Word Document!). In the case of Privateer, I had actually had the protagonist Charmaine Trenton in mind for months. I saw in my head exactly what she looked like, how she talked, and essentially all of the personality traits that made her who she was. The only thing she was lacking was a name and a plot to live in. Big problems, right? So I let Charmaine kind of brew in my head for a while, until the summer of 2011 when I went to see the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie with a friend. I ended up placing all of my hopes for the quality of the movie onto the single most interesting character—the woman pirate Angelica Teach (played by Penelope Cruz) who is first introduced as impersonating a man (Jack Sparrow). By the end of the movie, I was sorely disappointed; I thought Angelica had so much potential as a character, but she was almost immediately cast into the Hollywood female character archetype, depicted as subtly subordinate to the male protagonist. When I got home, I was still fuming over it. Then I thought about Charmaine. And I thought some more about pirates and how I have always wanted to write a pirate story. And I thought to myself, “Self. It’s got to be done.”
Would you describe the book a little?
“A little” being the key phrase there. Sure! Privateer is set in the 16th century during the reign of Elizabeth I, and the book opens with the discovery of Queen Elizabeth’s bastard son, who has been hidden away from the world. Meanwhile, Captain Charmaine Trenton, a pirate turned “privateer,” has been blackmailed into doing the bidding of a power-hungry English lord, as he is holding her sister hostage. The only way Charmaine can save her sister is if she kidnaps the bastard prince and uses him as a bargaining chip for her sister’s life, and so she sails off to do just that, but along the way, unplanned adventures and romance and mass chaos ensue. Sometimes all at the same time. Most times, in fact.
What is your favorite thing you ever wrote / are writing?
Usually, my most current project is the thing that I am most in love with. I’m very fickle in that sense… feel free to judge me. But even though I do love Privateer, I think that the novella I wrote over this past summer—“How, Ever”—is probably the piece that I am most proud of (so far in my writing life). “How, Ever” was the story that scared me the most to write, because the issues it addresses are both controversial and very near and dear to my heart, and I was terrified of portraying them in the wrong light. But I am very happy with the result of my decision to plow ahead with it anyway.
What book(s) are you reading now?
I am currently reading an Alexander Pushkin novel in verse, called Eugene Onegin. It’s the first piece of Russian literature I have ever read, and it is absolutely wonderful! It’s about a man who loses his wealth and is forced to move to the countryside. There, a young lady falls in love with him and tries everything to woo him. Mostly, I’m just reveling in the fact that it’s translated from Russian, and all of the lines still somehow rhyme. Brain explosion.
Do you have favorite “noveling music”?
Do I ever. I make entire playlists for each of my stories, because I am just that neurotic. But in general, I listen to film scores. Songs with words tend to distract me while writing. I also start typing out the lyrics without realizing I’m doing it, which is really fun when I go back to reread what I’ve written. Some of my favorite scores are those for Pride & Prejudice (Dario Marianelli), Stardust (Ilan Eshkeri), Peter Pan (James Newton Howard), the first two The Chronicles of Narnia (Harry Gregson-Williams) soundtracks, and of course, Pirates of the Caribbean (Klaus Badelt).
Is there a cliché that turns up in more than one of your stories?
Nope. I’m perfect. No, actually, I don’t know if this is a cliché, per say, but whenever one of my characters realizes that he or she has been lied to, there will be a confrontation, and at some point, I promise you that someone will burst out, “YOU LIED TO ME” (sans caps lock… sometimes). Oh yes. And there are more ridiculous/awful one-liners that I use without fail in my first drafts. I constantly have to remind myself to tone down the drama.
Ever cried over killing your own character?
I’ve never cried, but I’ve definitely had to fight myself on it. Like any writer, I get way too attached to my characters way too quickly, and even if I’ve planned their deaths from the beginning, I always find it hard to kill them off. Even if they’re villains! I have to get up and take a walk or eat a carton of ice cream after I write a death scene. Which is why I will never write an apocalypse story.
If you could go on a date with any literary character, who would it be?
Ooo, okay, I have three. Can I have three? James Sterling from Jade Parker’s To Catch a Pirate (I know, I know, I’m on the pirate thing), because we’d probably go on some crazy adventure to commandeer a ship or something, which would be basically awesome. Geric from Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, because when he’s not being princely he’s really easygoing and adorable, and I could totes go for a picnic. And Etienne St. Clair from Stephanie Perkin’s Anna and the French Kiss, because swoon. So many emotions.
Do your books ever change drastically from your initial idea?
That’d be a yes to the power of fifteen billion. I outline because I have to, but even then, I will inevitably stray from it and come up with “brilliant” new plot twists that conflict with the rest of my story, and my draft will end up in knots. But they’re usually the good kind of knots, the kind you can pick apart eventually with a little poking and prodding and smoothing out. If I didn’t ever change my initial ideas, I would have a whole slew of boring stories on my hands.
Favorite snack while writing? (I’m a nutella girl.)
I have three words for you. Cheddar. Cheese. Twists. These things… your taste buds will sing the Hallelujah Chorus. I can’t even.
Have you ever shamelessly plagiarized a storyline, phrase, character, setting?
Besides taking the idea of Angelica in POTC4 and messing with her so that she came out how I wanted her to (i.e. a completely different and mostly unrelated character)? Usually, I draw my inspiration from real life experiences, so I don’t usually have that problem… but if you count using things I’ve overheard in everyday life as plagiarism, then yes, I am so incredibly guilty it’s not even funny. Seriously, my friends have learned to watch their mouths around me. I keep a list of all of the crazy things my little brother says, just so I can use them for a character someday. Don’t tell him.
And finally, have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? If so, who was it?
Is this similar to the date question? Can I use those three again? I also have a major fictional character crush on a certain awesome prince from a certain awesome book that’s yet to be published, written by a certain awesome lady who happens to be conducting this
interview. His name is Leopold and the book is Esmeralda, and I am certifiably head-over-heels for him because he’s practically perfect in every way, except for his flaws, which make me love him more. True facts.
And lastly, check out her fantastic and often hilarious blog here.