Saturday, October 6, 2012

#AuthorInterview Chris Semal, musician and writer

Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by my blog. Musician, singer, songwriter. Do you find your background in music has helped you as a writer? And if so, how?

Absolutely, music has always been my first love and is a constant source of discussion with my friends, who mostly are musicians themselves. It's an innate form of communication and you can express pretty much every emotion by how and what you play. I'm usually the lyricist in whatever original bands I've played in and most of the songs are character driven, that is to say, they are sung from other perspectives than my own personal one. Someone once told me that to be the singer in my band, you need to be a method actor. This is a huge help in writing a novel, as you have to put yourself in the heads and personalities of many different characters and make them all believable. I'm probably a precious few steps away from having multiple personality disorder :-)

Also, writing about something I know so innately helps in conveying the joy that playing with other musicians provides. I think I've translated that feeling well in the chapters and scenes which focus on that element, as well as the coldness and calculation on the business end.

You're right, music is about evoking feelings and emotions with sounds, whereas writing is with words. Did you have a playlist while writing your latest book, Trial of Tears?

I always write with iTunes on in the background, but no particular playlist. I have some 9500 songs and just let it run on random play like a jukebox. I may tweak things a little and forward a song if it's not the right mood for where I'm at, but I usually just let it run. When you're in a Guns N' Roses mood and Miles Davis shows up, you've got to take charge of the moment, though sometimes it'll take you somewhere unexpected.

Interesting. I know some authors play certain types of music to get them into the mood for a fight scene. Any other stories you have have hidden in your skeleton closet? Will what you're working on see the light of day?

With any luck, most of my stories will see the light of day. At this point, I'm not the most prolific producer, though I see my pace picking up the more I write. The next work to see publication is a novella called 'Time Flies'. It's a coming of age story set in Manhattan in the late 1980s through the aftermath of 9/11. As a native, I love setting my stories in the city. I wrote this as a bit of a reaction to people who commented that Trial of Tears is a little intense or over the top for their tastes. I look at it as if Ozzy Osbourne played a bar mitzvah. That's not to say that I don't let humor into the story, but it's on a different level.

I am currently working on the sequel to Trial of Tears, titled Reign of Tears. It picks up the story a year later. I'm about seven chapters into it and hopefully will have it done in 2013.

Well, I love intense stories, but then, I'm an adrenaline and dramatic junkie. How about characters, which one do you relate to most?

Ah, I relate to most of them in one way or another. The relationship between the protagonist, Pete Watts, and his closest friend is based on the way my oldest friend and I get along. Pete's a nice fellow who, though he's had a tough life, is the kind of guy you'd like to hang out and have a beer with.

That being said, I really had the most fun writing for the villains, of which there are many. You can let loose the worst elements of your psyche without fear of incarceration or recrimination. I wanted to make my bad guys truly hissable, but with an element of humanity that keeps them grounded. They chose the paths they took for a reason.

*Spoiler Alert* I was seriously bummed out when I had to kill off Ronno towards the end of the story. As despicable as he was, he grew on me and I gave him tons of good lines. 

Alice, the inspiration for the novel's title and cover, was an absolute gem to write for, broken toy that she is. She wasn't even in my initial character sketches when I started outlining the story! From some deep, dark recess in my mind, she makes her entrance in Chapter 5 and does her best to take over the story. I've gotten a lot of feedback from readers who want to know more about her and that will happen in Reign of Tears. In this book, I treat her like the monster of a well-done horror movie. You don't want to show too much and overexpose her, so I focus more on the wreckage she leaves behind. I recently had a fun publicity assignment in which I wrote a character interview with her. It ends very badly for the interviewer.

That's funny. Do you have a link to the character interview?

Do you have any advice for other writers?

There are many things, but a lot of them are subjective and what works for one person might ruin someone else's work. If I had to give the younger version of me advice, it would be to realize how much polishing an initial manuscript needs. It's normal to think that you've written something tremendous after you've completed a novel and you may confuse the completion of a major milestone, which finishing a first novel certainly is, with how far you are along the road to being publishable. Without a doubt, once you have it polished til it gleams, hire an editor. You can only go so far by yourself. No one has an ugly baby, but a professional perspective will show you what is working and what needs work. If you have to go down the road of self-publishing, figure out what your business strengths and weaknesses are, because you're going to need to put a good team together. So many different skills are required and it's unlikely you'll be good at all of them.

Anything special you'd like to say to readers? 

I always enjoy getting feedback on my work, good or bad. This a labor of love and I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy the process. It's one of the best mental exercises you can put yourself through and, even if you don't wind up on the bestseller list, all sorts of doors will open up to you if you take a journey like this.

Trial of Tears is available from Amazon.
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  1. Hi Chris, I just realized why your book cover looks so familiar. Your cover artist is Robin Ludwig. She did a fantastic job with Michal's Window and Broken Build. Love her designs.