Interview with Chila Woychik About Her Tome ON BEING A RAT

Tis’ a weird kind of season. All Hallows Eve apporaches or as some call it Halloween. So, it’s fitting to be interviewing Chila Woyckik about her peculiar work, ON BEING A RAT And Other Observations. Then again, we are called to be a peculiar people. Of course this is an interview swap, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing Chila’s interview of me up on her blog in the near future.

Now on to this very unique interview…

Nike: Chila, I’m not sure how we ran into each other. I think on Facebook. I felt I’d found a kindred spirit. Many things you’ve said about Christian fiction echoed what I’d said. I love Christian authors, yet in my heart, I feel a great deal of Christian fiction writing is not as good as that in the general market. For me, it’s not enough that the book is squeaky clean. I want it to be a good read. However, I’ve seen vast improvement in Christian fiction writing in the last year or so. Groups such as American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) are pushing writing courses and have put huge effort into setting up critique groups for the purpose of improving the writing and polishing the manuscripts of their members. I lead one of the ACFW small critique groups and I’m proud of the contribution I make there to improve the quality of Christian fiction writing. What are your thoughts on this?

Chila: I think that’s fantastic.  I’d love to see all writers everywhere, especially those who claim to follow God, begin to challenge one another to be the very best of the best.  We all tend to say we strive for that—to be the best—but the honest truth is that we often stop far short of reaching that goal, for whatever reason (the biggest factors seem to be ignorance of good writing form, laziness, impatience, and for Christians, isolationism and an inability to truly relate to those not of our little circles). And I echo you in that I hold nothing against Christian authors per se—I am one!  May we each write what we feel we must write, and may we focus on the writing essentials rather than our differences in style, belief, or whatever it is that tends to so often divide us.

When I started in this business 2+ years ago, I certainly had my rose-colored glasses on. I soon found that many in the Christian realm were uber-critical of just about anything being offered in what they’ve termed “the general market.” The only problem with that is what they’re offering (in the “Christian market”) simply doesn’t measure up to what’s available in the real world. And to add insult to injury, defending substandard Christian books because “they don’t have swearing and sex in them” is about as lame as we can possibly get. I’ve seen fantastic general market books that have little to no swearing and no sex, yet because they’re not specifically Christian, they’re discounted.  And that’s sad.  As I’ve often asked, what are Christians afraid of? Is their faith so fragile that to read a bang-up general market book with a strong modifier or two would be akin to sacrilege in their eyes? I certainly don’t see evidence in the Scriptures that God would get upset about us reading something that doesn’t have “praise Jesus” in every paragraph, or even something that happens to diverge from foundational Christian truth.  No, the God I read about isn’t that way at all.

Much of the white noise I’ve been hearing from dissenters from those groups is that they simply don’t feel they should scrub their manuscripts of the gut-honest humanity that gives soul to their work.  They want to write from their heart, to our current society, in a way that rings true to their target audience. So, maybe another organization needs to spring up to fill in the gap? I’m not sure.  But  I truly fear we compromise our creativity when we feel pressured or threatened to write in a certain way, by a set of someone else’s preconceived guidelines, especially the “spiritual” ones.

Nike: I support Christian fiction ebooks and those coming out from small houses with my online presence and via my pocketbook by purchasing and reading these novels. Again, I find that in many cases the quality of writing needs improvement. I’d like to see small press publishers encouraging authors to take workshops and to get into critique groups. I read a riveting small press novel that did get some attention in alternative Christian fiction circles. This novel was fresh, exciting, and bold in ways that eludes many traditionally published novels, but the writing could’ve used some basic work. What direction do you think small press authors should take?

Chila:  I think what we all have to remember is that there isn’t, and neither should there be, a sort of “imprimatur” go-to group for Christian writers.  Writing groups abound.  Writers have options like never before.  At Port Yonder Press, we’ve begun something called our TEAM PYP mentored writing groups.  Our mentors are high-quality authors including an editor from a top-notch large general market publishing house, and a Nebula Award nominee.  I’d love to see dozens of these kind of mentoring groups develop.  And I suppose we’ll always have “writing that needs improvement” on all sides of the fence: whether we’re discussing books from smaller or larger presses (readers constantly refer to Twilight as an example of a NYT bestseller that contains writing that “needs improvement”).  Small press owners should simply keep improving, as should everyone else. There’s not a single or easy answer for that situation, and it certainly isn’t limited to small presses.

Nike: What’s up these days with Port Yonder Press? And how did you arrive there as Managing Editor?

Chila: I started the press and continue to manage it, hence the titleJ.  Port Yonder Press is a fun little diversion for me that takes up a whole lot of my time. And I’m constantly reviewing and renewing our vision to produce the best, most engaging books in a variety of genres. Now that I know my way around the process a bit, know where I’m heading, and how I want to get there to some degree, I’ve come up with a few ways and means to assist me in reaching those goals.

TEAM PYP (mentioned above) – started in July of this year. The immediate goal is to develop stronger writers, while my long-term vision for this is to possibly publish the very best of the best out of these groups, if not the first year then maybe the second.  Initially, our goal is to break into the general market with compelling short stories that get noticed.

BEYONDARIES  is Port Yonder Press’ online magazine set to debut this winter & will focus on all-things-writing from a general market perspective (not religiously focused at all, but writing-focused). Interviews, books, writing tips, art/illustrating tips, and more, from a fresh perspective.

What I’m finding is a need to re-educate Christians who want to be competitive in the larger “marketplace,” in the realm outside their little church groups and small reading circles.  Christians are coming out of the woodwork, wanting to influence society-at-large with great writing, period, no soft-soap preaching, no “evangelistic message,” just award-winning writing.  And I’m all for that!

The IndieGalaxy Publishers Association – is a loose-knit organization I recently began wherein I gather a number of small presses together for shared marketing goals and small press dynamic helps. I hope to hit this harder next year, but do see potential benefit arising from this venture.

Nike: You’ve said you’re looking for “fringe fiction” to publish at Port Yonder and you’ve given authors as reference points such as China Mieville, Margaret Atwood, and even Sylvia Plath. These are all general market authors. Is there anyone in Christian fiction writing like this today?

Chila:  Not that I know of, but then, I seldom read Christian fiction anymore. I simply don’t have time to wade through yet another book that sounds and feels like so many other Christian books available.  But I think a few Christian authors are probably trying.  Unfortunately, it’s likely they feel a certain kind of external restraint knowingly or unknowingly put out by certain organizations, whether Christian organizations, publishers, or book distributors such as the CBA.  Nothing quashes creativity like guilt or restrictions, I’ve found. Mature Christians should be the freest and most creative writers of all, able to tackle profoundly intense and difficult subjects, and unbound by all but their own consciences and understanding of truth.

Nike: If a Christian women’s fiction, science fiction, or literary author wanted to take a huge risk in their writing, what practical advice would you have for them?

Chila:  Push aside everything you’ve heard (outside of basic grammar rules), and write.  Your boundaries are waaaay out there, not that little fenced in area you’ve been standing in. Run and romp in the outer court and have a ball!  Never violate your conscience (and there’s the rub), but know why your conscience is telling you this or that. Know beyond your church beliefs or what you’ve been told.  Know beyond what that group or individual tells you.  Be beyond.  And write! 

Nike: You have a new book out that’s on my to-read list and I’m excited about reading it, mostly because I think I’ll learn more about you. Tell us about ON BEING A RAT and Other Observations.

Chila:  ON BEING A RAT is a wild and sometimes random run through a lot of universal themes, mostly from my perspective, but from what I’ve heard, readers find it easy to relate to as well.  The lyric essay is one of my very favorite forms, and the heart of creative nonfiction handily lends itself to it.  So basically, ON BEING A RAT takes a flying leap through life, writing, and nature via lyric essays and poems, light prose narrative and odd observations.  I’ve addressed a variety of themes, but again, that’s the nature of the lyric essay: unpredictability and an almost stream of consciousness jaunt from one topic to the next.  I believe the book itself will be an education for those unfamiliar with the form, and I hope to some degree it will be a good example of such. But more importantly my hope is that it will inspire writers to expand their boundaries and get at least a small glimpse of the creativity they can engage when writing in their favorite genres.

One male reviewer recently said this while reading it, “My writing was boring and flat this morning. Then I read a bunch of your book (had to tear myself away because of a word count goal) and then my writing improved greatly, flowed out, and even felt eloquent. Thanks for your beautiful writing and encouragement to tell my story while I still can.” Someone else said, “This is the most purely satisfying new author that I’ve encountered in over two years.”  Very encouraging words.

ON BEING A RAT is DIFFERENT.  It really is. Don’t expect it to be like anything you’ve ever read, but I do hope you get a chance to read it! J  Official release date is early January, though it is currently available with the old cover on Amazon.

On a final note, I’ll be taking 2012 “mostly” off, to hone both my writing and publishing craft, to take in seminars and workshops, to learn.  BUT, submissions will still be open at Port Yonder, and we’re looking for the very best soft and hard science fiction, fringe fiction, fantasy, and creative nonfiction we can find.  I think I have 2 or 3 books slated for publication, but that’s all.  It’s time to truly kick our desire for excellence in gear!

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About NikeChillemi

Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She writes literature that reads like pulp fiction. She likes her bad guys really bad, and her good guys smarter and better. She is the founder and chair of the Grace Awards, a member of ACFW. She has judged numerous literary awards including the Grace Awards, Carol Awards, Inspy Awards, and the Eric Hoffer Awards. View all posts by NikeChillemi

11 responses to “Interview with Chila Woychik About Her Tome ON BEING A RAT

  • Chila Woychik

    Thanks for the invite! Great little blog you have here. Best wishes,Chila

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Thx Chila, I like to keep things as isnteresting as I can around here. 🙂

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  • Teric Darken

    This was a wonderful interview, Chila and Nike. Chila, I couldn't agree more, pertaining to "mature Christians should be the freest and most creative writers of all," and also on the point that some Christians are unable to, or are afraid to script outside of their little circles – often not being able to relate with life on a larger level.Quick question, Chila: What is your definition of Fringe Fiction?Thank you again for the informative and interesting interview, Nike and Chila!As iron sharpens iron…Teric Darken<><+><>

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Teric, I think many Christian writers are on the threshold of something really big. They are ready to write in a way that expands Christian fiction.

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  • Teric Darken

    I agree with you, Nike. I am trying to expand the genre, myself. With my first two offerings, KILL FM 100 and U-TURN KiLLuR, I felt a bit trapped into having to keep things on a "churchy" level, mostly due to the company I was utilizing at the time.After U-TURN KiLLuR was released, I received feedback from a reader. She informed me that she liked the story but thought that some of the dialogue was "old fashioned." I asked her what she meant by that, and she responded that it had to do with the dialogue a central character used when riled up: "Blast it all!"She thought the script would be more palatable if it had more bite to it.After digesting her words, I told myself, "Never again will I compromise my characters for the sake of industry." She rated the book four stars, which was nice, but it would have been a five star had I not compromised the dialogue due to my second guessing of what I thought the industry wanted.Now I simply script what initially comes to mind during those heated scenes. Why? Not to be gratuitous, but I attribute this to "natural flow." If a certain phrase or words come to mind, I believe that is because that's what's immediately believable, or at least plausible, upon interacting with the script. That is what I would expect such a character to say during one of those scenes. Thankfully, both KILL FM 100 and U-TURN KiLLuR are being re-released through my current publisher, giving me a chance to go back and alter the manuscripts into what I had initially intended the characters to say, and think, and do.And with Wickflicker, I did just that: "kept it real" from the onset. I am thankful that my current publisher understands the need to "keep it real." If a character is to live, to breathe in the eyes of a reader (a mark of a good character), then the storyline must be plausible, must be genuine, must be kept "real" – meaning what one would expect a character to say, think, or do in a given situation… "natural flow."By "keeping it real," I'm not referring to inhibiting a character from possessing abilities not contained in our realm, as in a sci-fi or supernatural story.And like the Bible, just because wrongs are recorded in a work doesn't mean that those wrongs were meant to be emulated in the big scheme of things. On the contrary, the wrongs are shown so that we can make them right. The darkness points to our need for the Light.As iron sharpens iron…Teric Darken<><+><>

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Teric,I think we all do that. I don't know how many times I've asked a question on this Loop or that Loop only to be told, "Your publisher will never let you do that." Luckily my publisher is Desert Breeze and I don't have that many constraints with regard to realism of language. Still, I find that with each manuscript, I am able to move further.As to language used by bad guys…I have a list of acceptable words. And it's growing. I started out with words used in the Bible, such as "hell," "damn," "piss" and "ass." I wrote a jailhouse scene in Goodbye Noel where two bad guys are being patted down and the detective removes two pistols and a switchblade from them. It didnt' have zing. So, then, to the worst of the two guys I added, "Get the hell off me." And the entire scene was right on the money.The more I write the more I'm exploring topics that might've been taboo…and I'm not sanitizing them. My Christian detective goes into a cops bar to meet an officer he need info from. While there he orders a draft. These are small things, but they add truth to a scene. I have Christians who don't drink and Christians who will take a social drink. This is the way it is in life. It's preposterous that guidelines have to be given to Christian authors. When you think about it, it's laughable. We're supposed to have the Spirit of God within us…so why do we need writing guidelines firmly laid out for us? Don't we get our marching orders from God?I'm glad you're getting a chance to redo a few things on your earlier novels. I read Kill FM and it was terrific. But if your heart tells you Carter would've said something stronger in certain instances…go for it.Hey, one day all of us in our little group (and we know who we are)…we ought to have a writers' retreat. I'm sure we can find a camp meeting grounds or retreat house that would rent to us reasonably (translate…cheaply) for a weekend off season. Publishers would be invited too. We could do workshops for each other and pray a lot as a group.

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  • Chila Woychik

    I define "fringe" fiction, Teric, as more of the experimental, maybe a little psychological or mixed genre type of thing. It can be urban fantasy type of stuff, but it has a weird twist to it, a surreal feel to some of it, or just a little bit "beyond" the usual same-old same-old. I'm not sure if that helps. The term most widely used for it is "weird fiction," though I don't like to get as dark as some of that stuff. I just like it a little bit "fringe" without getting all horror and supernatural on me, if that makes sense.And I'm glad you enjoyed the interview! Nike asked some great questions.

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  • Teric Darken

    @ Chila: Thank you for the response. That does, indeed, help.@ Nike: I am so happy for you with being able to get Burning Hearts, and soon, Goodbye Noel, out there. You and I have discussed this topic before, pertaining to what is/should be acceptable in fiction with a Christian worldview, and I know we're on the same page.You are one of my faves, Nike: That take-no-nonsense red-head who coined the phrase, "Crime Fictionista!" I would definitely enjoy a retreat/conference where we could all meet up and laugh, share, and pray.As iron sharpens iron…Teric<><+><>

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  • Madison Richards

    Nice interview. In regards to dialogue, I believe fiction needs to be true to its scenes and characters, and if it's a story about a Baptist couple farming in a small town with traditional values I wouldn't expect certain things to be said or done because that would clash with the story and it's inhabitants' values. In contrast a story about gang warfare in NYC that DIDN'T have swearing and drug use or drinking would feel inappropriately sterilized. So whatever kind of story a person is writing, it needs to feel "real" – and it's up to the reader whether or not they want to patronize those kinds of stories or not. As a writer, being true to the story is important. Thanks so much for your thoughtful blog!Grace, Madison Richards

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  • Nike Chillemi

    Madison, Thx for the throughtful comment.I think you've hit the nail on the head. Being true to the story is what it's about.

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  • Chila Woychik

    Madison, very good point. And of course I agree.

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