I hope you’ve had a fantastic week thus far! I’m so excited to introduce you to Michael Chrobak, yet another amazing author whom I met via the wonderful world of Instagram.
In this interview, we discuss Michael’s favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process, what inspired him to write faith-based fantasy stories, how he blended his personal life into his latest novel, as well as his top craft and productivity tips!
Here’s your cue to grab your preferred hot beverage of choice, curl up in a comfy chair, and enjoy the interview!
How long have you been writing? Have you always wanted to be an author?
I started writing in Grade School. I think it was the 5th grade. I was a huge fantasy and SciFi fan, so most of my stories followed along those lines.
While I was in junior high, I gave a copy of a short novel I wrote to one of my English teachers to review. I never got it back. I continued to write over the years, but something always kept me from finishing anything that I started, other than a few poems and a couple of songs. It wasn’t until my youngest graduated from high school that I felt called to write again.
So, I guess, technically, I’ve been writing most of my life, but really it’s just been the past few years that it was serious. I think I’ve always known I wanted to be an author, but the challenges of life always kept me from following that dream. Now, I have retired from the workforce, so this is the perfect time to devote to it again.
Your current novels seem to be written in two significantly different genres (YA fantasy and Christian Fiction). Can you tell us what you enjoy most about writing in those genres and if you prefer one over the other? Are there any other genres you plan on writing in?
My first novel, Foundations of Faith, is my favorite one. I’ve been involved working with Youth Ministry since I was in high school myself, so writing a YA fantasy series that has a Christian message for teens really fits.
What I enjoy about both genres is the ability to create situations where I can include some of the things I’ve learned about life over the years, without writing a “tell-all” book about my life. I also plan on writing a Sci-Fi series after my current two series are complete. Where I go after that is very much open.
I love the premise of your fantasy series, Foundations of Faith. What inspired you to write a Christian novel with such creative fantasy elements? Have Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis had an influence on your work?
C.S. Lewis was definitely an influence. I read The Chronicles of Narnia more than a few times. What inspired me to write the Brother Thomas series was an encounter I had while working a youth retreat at my church. One of my tasks was photographer for the weekend. After the retreat ended, I was going through the shots I had taken and I was struck by this one young woman in one of the group photos. I swear that photo was the first time I had seen her, as if she had been invisible the entire weekend. That’s where my character, The Endlessly Dying Girl, and her superpower of invisibility came from.
I understand that your Christian Fiction novel, Where Angels Dwell, is based on your own life. What was it like writing a fiction piece that hits so close to home? Was there any part of the writing process that was particularly difficult, or surprisingly enlightening?
The first two chapters of Where Angels Dwell is almost verbatim the experience I had in the hospital last September. The rest of the book is fictional situations. Though I’ve had similar revelations about life that my main character has, the situations that led me to those realizations are different than what I made him go through. Though, I’ll admit, mine were much more difficult than his are.
None of the process of writing that novel was either difficult or enlightening. I’ve been on a journey of deep, spiritual discovery for the past ten years or so now. I’ve faced the darkest places in my soul, and I’ve found the way to forgive and free myself from my past, so talking about it now is easy for me.
What is your favorite part of the writing process and why?
My favorite part is the days when the book writes itself. I’ve had moments when I don’t have a clue what the next chapter will be, but I sit down to write anyway. As the words flow to the page, I am at times in awe of what I just wrote.
It’s an amazing feeling to be in the process of creation, and to know that I am being guided to write.
What is your least favorite part of the writing process and why?
That would be when I am working on format edits. Going through a completed, fully edited and polished novel, just to ensure the amount of white space on each page is the same, and to ensure there aren’t any small sections of text that get pushed to the next page is painful. It means going back and changing something, perhaps adding only one or two words, or deleting one or two words, so the paragraph shifts enough to keep everything together.
When I am in this process, I can’t write anything. It’s like my creativity is cut off and it takes a few days of writing random stuff (that I know I’ll never use) to get back to feeling creative again. I think it’s my least favorite because it’s the part that feels most like work.
Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser,” or perhaps a blend of both? Have you tried writing both ways? If a plotter, what is your favorite outlining method?
I’m definitely a ‘pantser’. The novel, Where Angels Dwell, was written for NaNoWriMo 2016. I signed up for that challenge on October 30th with no idea what I was writing about. I sat down on November 1st and just started writing. I have tried plotting out a story once, but halfway into the first chapter, I realized the story was heading in a direction that was nothing like my plan. So I tossed out the plan and just kept writing. That story is still incomplete, though I may return to it at some point to finish it.
Do you have any writing tricks or tips for productivity?
Yes – just write. It doesn’t matter the word count, it doesn’t matter what you write about. It definitely doesn’t matter if you like it when you write it or not. Just write.
Don’t stop until you think the story is done. Then go back and read it. You might wind up scraping some of it, maybe even entire chapters, but that’s okay. You should be the one to complete the first round of edits anyway. Not the grammar, punctuation and spelling edits, but the “Does this story flow the way I want it to?” edits. Which means, no one will read the stuff you didn’t like.
I always find that the stuff I cut out during the first round of edits always leaves me with one or two really good ideas. Then, when I rewrite those chapters or sections of chapters, I have an idea where I want to go.
What’s one useful craft tip you’ve learned lately that you can share with us?
Get involved in the writing prompt challenges that the #amwriting community on Twitter sponsor. Every day there is a new challenge, and it always helps me to simplify my writing style. Trying to fit a really good section of my book into 140 characters means I have to cut out the fluff or it won’t fit.
Most of the time what I wind up with after scaling it back to fit inside a tweet is far better than the verbose language I used originally. I now shoot for 140 characters as a max for any sentence. If it is longer than that, I’ll break the sentence into two. I personally don’t believe readers like long, drawn out sentences.
Where do you go for inspiration when you feel your creativity well is running dry?
My backyard, my bookshelf, or my kitchen. When I don’t feel creative, I’ll spend some time in nature, just watching life go by. Or I’ll read a book and see if something another author wrote jogs my creativity.
Finally, I’ll cook, and not from a recipe. Cooking is a very creative activity, especially when you don’t follow a recipe. I’ll just open my fridge, look in my pantry, and try to find something that looks like it might go together. Also – I take naps. Lots of naps.
Which contemporary authors do you admire most, and why?
I admire authors who can write books that change the way I see the world. There are thousands of authors out there telling millions of stories. Books that are nothing more than entertainment are fine, but they don’t make me want to read. I need a book to make me sit up and take notice.
If I’m not challenged to look at my own life in some way, I’ll stop reading and give the book away. Paul Davies is one of those authors. Others would be Wayne Teasdale, Deepak Chopra, or Anthony de Mello.
Do you have any marketing tricks or tips for authors who are new to publishing?
If you are going to self-publish, learn everything you can about marketing. If you’re going to spend money on marketing, it is far better to spend that money taking a class and learning how to do things on your own than to pay someone for a one-time marketing campaign.
Learn how to use Photoshop. Learn what SEO (search engine optimization) is and why it’s important. Pay to have someone teach you how to get your marketing in front of the right audience. Then you can duplicate that over and over again, regardless of how many books you write, and how many genres you write in.
Also, learn how to do a cost analysis of a marketing plan. Knowing how many impressions it takes to get one new customer, and knowing how much each impression costs, is one of the most valuable things you can learn if you’re going to publish yourself.
Also, please understand this: There are many, many individuals and companies in this industry that over-promise and under-deliver. Research, research, research before you pay anyone any money at all.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
First of all – just write.
Don’t write because you want to sell books. Don’t write because you think the world needs to read your story. Don’t write because you think you can do better than some author you just read. Write because you simply can’t keep yourself from writing. Otherwise, you’ll burn out.
Don’t worry if it’s “good enough” at first, and don’t worry how many books you are going to sell. Some of the most famous authors had terrible flops in their early days. There are very few naturally talented authors in the world. Everyone else had to work at it.
Also, there are only two things in this business that it makes sense to pay for. The first is editing. Do not, let me repeat, DO NOT think you can do your own editing. Yes, you will do some, but you need another set of eyes on your work. And please, listen to what they tell you. You don’t have to accept every suggestion, but listen to it. If they were confused by a section of your manuscript and want you to expand your explanation, your readers are going to be confused as well.
The other thing it is worth it to pay for is cover design. The first impression a book has is the cover. No one even flips a book over to read the back cover synopsis unless they are attracted to the front cover. If you only have a very limited budget, then put most of it into your cover.
What’s your favorite writing snack and/or beverage?
I try to eat mostly healthy foods. Protein shakes, fruits and vegetables, lean meat. My backyard has a variety of fruit trees, so it’s easy to take a quick break, pick a fresh peach or fuji apple and then get back to typing. I try to stay away from grains and processed sugars as much as I can, at least while I’m writing. Once I’m done for the day, a quick sugar rush from chocolate or cookies is a great reward. But while I’m writing, I keep it really healthy. And of course, plenty of organic, sustainably sourced coffee.