Today, our star of honor is Christine M. Fairchild. It’s so nice to have you here and shining! I’m sure you’re ready to share with us your success and many fun endeavors. So, let’s get on with the party!
Christine M. Fairchild (also known as The Editor Devil) is a California native who’s worked as a writer and editor for over 25 years. Though trained as a journalist, she spent the last two decades working for niche publications (XFiles, Paramount Pictures), technical giants (Microsoft, AT&T), and consumer product companies (DHL, Hitachi). Christine now teaches writing and editing, helping fiction writers improve their character development, dialogue, and story structure through classes and book critiques. For free writing and editing tips and tricks, visit: http://EditorDevil.blogspot.com. Her debut Romantic Suspense, An Eye For Danger, is not available on Amazon for Kindle.
Let’s get to know you a little better. Why don’t you step over here under the spotlight and shine a little. First questions: (I’ll go easy on you.)
What made you decide to become a writer?
Writing essays in 3rd grade got me started. I would get the best grade, so I got to read my essay allowed to class and I enjoyed entertaining people with storytelling. I was an addict early!
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?
All of my current manuscripts start as dreams. I dream in long, full stories. Sometimes night to night. My husband used to say this was weird. Now that I’m getting paid for them, he no longer thinks that!
Do you beat your muse? I mean…Wait! Do you have a muse? Does he/she have a name?
I’m very muse driven. In the sense that when I’m in the flow, I go deep. For days or weeks sometimes. So when the material comes, I clear the decks. I don’t believe everyone has to engage in the same writing process, such as 2 hours every day. That works for some. I’m better at following my biorhythms: I write when I’m on, I edit or do marketing/etc when I’m not. That cycle is very productive for me. An Eye For Danger was originally written in 4 weeks. It’s the editing that takes forever to finish!
Let’s talk about your writing process. Are you a plotter or pantser? Are there any weird things that you do before you start to sit down to write? (Like stretch those fingers…? Scream at the computer…?)
I’m definitely a pantser. The characters even correct me when I try to force something. I’ve tried to force plots, and the story shuts down. I waited 10 years to find out what happens in the end of my WWII love story, because I kept trying to force the material. So the story “shut down” and hibernated till I learned to let go and trust my characters.
What is your call story?
Sorry, I don’t know what this means
Have you always envisioned yourself a writer? What were you doing before you started writing? Has your earlier career influence your current one?
I was trained to be a journalist and worked as an editor for small pubs for years and as a freelance writer. Journalism is succinct storytelling, so many of those skills translate into fiction.
Since I’m an editor as well as an author, I know when to switch between the writer brain and the editor brain. This is critical for authors to learn, so you:
1) conserve energies
2) don’t fight yourself and undermine your strengths by forcing yourself to write when you are in your editing brain (or vice versa), and
3) produce more natural material as opposed to “forced” material.
How to you separate the writer from the editor? Let me take a second to teach this to readers, just in case they are struggling with this issue.
For years I’ve taught writing classes. To turn off the students’ inner editor, I did an exercise where we learned to brainstorm together quickly. We’d pick a subject, then brainstorm related concepts and build a big list of words. Anything goes–the crazier the better. No shutting down, no stopping, no erasing words on the page. No EDITING.
Then we’d move to a writing exercise that was more storytelling driven. Again, writing fast, moving forward, no erasing, no going backwards, just driving out words onto the page. We didn’t call this writing, but BRAINSTORMING.
Now, during the conversation time we might play with editing in the form of choosing “new directions” for the subject matter of the writing exercise. I mean “brainstorming exercise”. Instead of a red car, we’d pick a blue truck, for example. Then we’d think about how that might change the storyline or the characters or the reader’s experience. In other words, we’d pull back for a broader view of the story.
The point of this exercise is to write when you write–let it all flow, crazy and sane alike, like a brainstorming session. Then in editing we can choose different directions, different words, different ideas. We can analyze and question and re-envision storylines.
This is how you stay sane as an author and write/edit more effectively!
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now with your writing career?
Well, there was that Academy award and the Hugo and the Rita and… Frankly? I’m just happy to have readers experience these stories and characters that have been living only in my head and on my hard drive. I have 3 other books to finish writing and/or editing this next year (or two), so the future is about publishing more stories and in multiple genres, from Romantic Suspense to Women’s Fiction to Paranormal. So, five years from now, I hope to be earning enough from my author career to buy my husband out of his job so we can travel. And then I can then write stories from exotic locations, because you know authors NEVER retire!
What is the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome in your writing career so far?
The fear of having your parents read your work when you write about issues like violence or sex, such as in Romantic Suspense. Especially the sex part. The industry expects more sensual material, bordering on erotica these days, and, well, I like to deliver to my readers a deep story, both in the suspense and the romance departments.
So when my dad asked the name/location of my novel, I mentioned this fear to him. He laughed and asked for the name/location again anyway. I’m doomed!
Through research, what is the most silly thing you’ve ever done?
Not the silliest, but most earnest thing I’ve done in researching for my book, An Eye For Danger, was I entered the Seattle Police Department’s Citizens’ Academy, a 10-week program to learn about local law enforcement. My husband thought I wanted to become a cop. I’m 43. That’s a late game change if I ever heard one!
What genres do you read? Do you read what you write?
As an editor, I read everything. From memoir to romance to sci-fi to YA. It’s my job to be diverse and well-read. That being said, I’m a slow reader because I’m dyslexic. Yes, an dyslexic editor. Whodathunkit!
What’s the last book you’ve read for fun? Did you read it on an e-Reader or are you still a paperback-kind-of-person?
I’ve take to ereaders well because I can adjust font size when my eyes are tired, so I move through books faster. My latest read for fun was “Chosen” by Denise Grover Swank, which was a mix of Romantic Suspense with a bit of psychic and paranormal going on. I love that the genres are mixing up now. With the ebook and indie author movement, we have more freedom to move beyond the traditional borders of fiction. Our stories can finally go where they want to go without worrying about which book shelf they fit in the store.
What did you wish you had known back then when you began writing?
I wish I knew how long it would take to learn how to write novels. I studied to be a short story writer through high school and college. Writing novels is insanely different in terms of story arcs and energy commitment. Took years to learn my craft. And even longer to be able to teach it!
Is there anything else you’d want your readers and friends to know about you?
I grew up on welfare with a mom who raised 4 kids alone and was slowly becoming disabled, so I got my first job at 10 and paid bills in high school. I learned early to work hard and be on my own.
My mom told us we could be anyone we wanted to be. That no one was better than we were, but that we were also not better than anyone else. Meanwhile, others told me that kids on welfare would never graduate from high school let alone go to college or get good jobs. Well, my brothers and I put ourselves through college and we all graduated from UC Berkeley.
I’ve been told NO a lot in my life, so I use it as a challenge. Likewise, I want other authors to take the naysaying, whether from outsiders or insiders or even from their internal selves, and reply, “Oh, yeah? Just watch me!”
And lastly, where can we find you?
Facebook: Christine Cook Fairchild
Thank you so much for being a star!
Some folks want different types of files, I’m happy to accomodate with a copy of one of my Editor Devil Guides (The Editor Devil’s Guide to DIALOGUE & The Editor Devil’s Guide to CHARACTERS) for ANY reader who requests it!
For one big winner, I’ll give 1) both guides and 2) my novel, An Eye For Danger, and 3) a $25 gift certificate to Amazon.
An Eye For Danger
When former war photographer Jules Larson braves a PTSD attack to jog beyond her five-block safety zone in Central Park, she runs right into a murder scene.
We marched into Central Park at dawn. My yellow mutt, Max, trotted at my side while Johnny Cash pounded “Get Rhythm” over my iPod and my heart threatened to burst through my chest. Only three more blocks till I crossed into no-man’s land. If I could hold down breakfast that far. In college a five-mile run didn’t break a sweat on me, but now a stroll beyond Great Hill could drop me to my knees. So I’d pumped myself with enough caffeine to power Manhattan and rolled out the door before food vendors hit the sidewalks. Now all I needed was courage to exceed my five-block safety zone without another damn panic attack.
I stared at my hands. Shaking. “Just the caffeine,” I said to Max. Yeah, right, Jules.
October fog blanched the sky, the mist dampening my skin when I’d otherwise be sweating fiercely. An early frost had iced over North Meadow’s ball fields, so the grass snapped underfoot as I pushed through the thick air. Even mighty New York could be conquered, at least by the weather.
Max dropped into a stalk position. Probably just another squirrel he wanted to torture. They were racking up these days.
Instinct kicked in and I caught Max’s leather collar. “Don’t you desert me, buddy. Not today.” Today was the day I broke free. “You’re my wingman, so no squirrels, no distractions.” I tugged, and Max gently head-butted my thigh before resuming his post jogging at my side. Just proof that God made dogs first.
We moved into denser woods, where blazing red and amber leaves of the park’s giant trees drifted to the ground. Max growled, a low rumble that cut through my music, which I turned down when I saw a pair of large boots jutting into our path. Military boots the color of ash, their plastic heels cracked and peeling. To these were attached narrow legs in desert camouflage pants with threadbare knees.
“Shhh,” I whispered to Max as I signaled him to sit and stay: index finger up, palm out. “He’s one of ours.”
The rest of the man’s body lay half-wrapped in a black sleeping bag under a bush. With these temperatures, he should be fully engulfed in a heating blanket to survive.
At a lean I could see his eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling. Alive. Barely, from the look of him. His face reminded me of a diseased tomato left in the sun: bright red blotches for cheeks, crinkled skin stained black with dirt at the edges, and deeply cracked lips. A mat of dreadlocks served as his beard. At least his coat looked new, like he’d picked it up at one of those Army supply stores, but the chevrons he’d safety-pinned to his shoulder caps told me this guy wasn’t just dressing the part. The insignia for a master sergeant’s ranking, if memory served me right.
My heart skipped a beat when I noted the baby-blue baseball cap from a Brooklyn Little League covering his balding head. Maybe he’d known the kid who’d owned the hat, or had fathered him. Somewhere, sometime, somebody had loved this guy. And maybe still did. Life just stank sometimes.
From my sports bra I pulled the twenty-dollar bill allocated for my cab fare home after my anticipated nuclear meltdown and my all-too-familiar inability to walk thereafter. I could always crawl home. Cement could be the new skin exfoliant.
With my fingers still trembling, I shook the bill in the air like a damned flag, an irony not lost on a woman who’d spent her share of time buried in Middle East bunkers, hiding from Taliban grenade rocket launchers and AK-7 gunfire. Shaking under fire had been shameful enough, but shaking every time the toaster popped fell into the nuthouse category.
I folded the bill in fourths to fit it into the man’s boot. That’s when I saw he was still military at heart. He’d tucked his desert-duty trousers inside his boots and tied the laces so tight not even hot sand would seep in, let alone cold hard cash.
So I crab-walked under the branches to tuck the money into the man’s coat. Enough for a solid meal. Or a bottle of his choice. The cloud of liquor over his head hadn’t escaped my notice, but who was I to judge. Lord only knew the nightmares that drove him to drink. They’d driven me to worse.
“God help us both,” I whispered, feeling petty for the sentiment. If he awoke, he’d probably be more angry than grateful.
So I scrambled out of there, taking to the track with new heart, though the old one was still threatening a coronary rupture. I spat the sourness from my mouth and aimed for the base of Great Hill at a clip. My stomach still mixed a nasty cocktail of adrenaline and anticipation, but at least my motives had clarified. My mission remained: take the hill, get my life back, or at least my sanity.
Max galloped beside me like a rocking horse, tongue spilling sideways for all the thrills we were having. I could take lessons from Max; despite his temper, he was loyal to the core and never missed a chance to brave adventure. Years ago, people would have said the same of me.
My knees quivered beneath me. “Not today, damn you.”
I’d reclaim that fearless woman today of all days. Another anniversary of Luke’s death, another doctor’s misdiagnosis and prescription for pills I refused to swallow because I knew I wouldn’t stop at one, another attempt to rejoin the rest of humanity. PTSD was for soldiers, like that vet sleeping in the bushes, not trust-fund photographers from the Upper West Side. He’d probably volunteered for multiple tours of eating bullets for breakfast, and then returned to the shock of a quiet stateside life, a shitty paycheck, and little or no emotional connectivity. Smiling neighbors, laughing families; happiness he couldn’t relate to let alone endorse. While I’d escaped a mere six weeks filled with the staccato of distant assault rifles to come home to my plush life and plan a wedding, only to watch Luke burn to death on the streets of New York.
Difference was, the vet’s suffering was called valor; mine was called first-degree manslaughter.
He’d be alive if you hadn’t been so careless.
“Enough.” I blinked, jumping back into my body. Max looked up, ears flat, like I’d scolded him. “Not you, buddy.” I rubbed his velvety ear. Who needed meds when I had Max. “Never you.”
Lengthening my strides, I took the incline to Great Hill.
An accident, that’s all it was. An accident.
My chest felt on fire, and still I ran. Harder. Feet pumping, pulse quickening. October’s chill burned my lungs, so I breathed in through flared nose, out through pursed lips. Controlled.
Focus, Jules, you can make it this time.
Yet the air was already thinner. Like I was climbing the damned Himalayas. At least I wasn’t wheezing, and I wasn’t passed out. Upright was a good sign.
Max’s growl sounded a new alarm.
“Not another squirrel.” My voice sounded as strained as my nerves. My gaze shot to the top of the hill and my feet halted. Not a squirrel.
Rusty leaves scattered on the air as a man bent and raked debris into a pile with his bare hands, like a dog covering his bone. Even from my distance I recognized his military-style boots, but his orange Carhartt pants conveyed he was no soldier, not even the homeless kind. His pea coat, wool cap pulled low, and the lack of gardening tools told me he was no groundskeeper either. At least groundskeepers wore uniforms that didn’t scream Unabomber.
His task complete, the man rose onto trunk legs, expanded his tank-sized chest and shook out his black shaggy beard of debris. Tall, scowling, bearish—no man outside a battlefield should look so menacing. And I’d photographed the worst of them.
A shiver twisted down my spine. Max and I were yet unseen but standing in the open. At a 100 yards, we still had time to U-turn, retreat to my apartment, hide inside my safe shell. Or we could go off-trail, cut north through the trees, circumvent the man, and still take the hill. Hell, we could just jog past, ignoring him. He was well off our path, skirting the edge of the woods, and probably as slow as sludge with all that weight on his bones.
Max pulled against my grip, wanting a piece of the action, but I held tight, deciphering my intentions, if not my courage. Which obstacle was I really avoiding here, the thug or the hill, and where the hell could I run and not see monsters in every shadow? Besides my usual gutful of guilt, the only real obstacle standing between me and that tree was one ugly bastard. Ugly, I could handle.
My target atop the hill stood within view: our tree, Luke had called it. The place where he’d asked me to marry him a week before the accident. Now just my tree, a twisting elm with a three-story canopy and deeply-grooved bark that I could still feel under my palms. A symbol of love and life.
Military training kicked in: feel the fear, and move your ass anyway.
But I hadn’t taken two steps when a second man stumbled through the brush, clutching his belly. Though a half-foot shorter and a good 50 pounds lighter, he looked no better dressed, no better shaven. Same pea coat, same dark cap and long beard, same designer-thug look.
Shouts flew, arms thrashed the air between the men. I hit stop on my MP3 player to catch details of their fight.
“You can try, brother,” said Bear Man, “but I’ll still plow you under. Just like Tony.”
Shit, there were three of them?
Max crouched, ready to charge—just enough Lab to be curious, just enough German shepherd to brave trouble. And these thugs reeked of trouble.
My cold fingers couldn’t hold Max back much longer, and we couldn’t stand here all morning without being noticed eventually. I wasn’t so neurotic I couldn’t calculate bad odds, and though I’d had more defensive training than most women, at 5’6″ and 138 pounds I wasn’t going to win any heavyweight titles against these big boys. Not even with Max as wingman.
Clinging to Max’s collar, I swallowed hard, forcing down the bile crawling up my throat, and watched the new guy get a running start, only for Bear Man to arm-block him to the ground so hard the guy flattened on his back and his cap flew off. A shock of long, brassy hair spilled out as he rolled to his side, shaking stars from his head. He struggled to a crouch and then onto one knee. Barely.
By now, Bear Man stood over him, smiling like a steak breakfast had just been served, laughter bursting from his belly, a thunder that seemed to shake leaves from the trees. “Should’ve finished you at the river, Sam,” he said. “What a waste of training.”
“Like I said, can’t teach a new dog old tricks. Your training sucked.” Fists clenched, this ‘Sam’ guy dug in his position, forced himself to stand—posture that bragged of audacity when he looked clearly outclassed, courage when he faced certain defeat. Or he was just drunk.
Bear Man took one step and threw a roundhouse to Sam’s head. A sickening crack of bone on bone. And down the sucker went again.
Poor sap’s asking to get his brains beat out.
My teeth were grinding so hard I could hear the enamel wear away. I’d seen worse fights. Marine on Marine could prove brutal. Still, this looked like less of a fight than a would-be slaughter.
Seconds ticked till Sam stirred, rolling in slow motion onto his side and rubbing his eyes like he couldn’t justify the world swirling. He got as far as sitting on his heels, and then he dropped his chin to his chest, his shoulders sagging, exhausted of fight. Maybe he hadn’t the strength to stand. Or the motivation.
Come on, come on. Get up. I might as well have been leaning on the ropes of a boxing ring, I grew so charged. Their battle could be over a woman’s love or stolen loot for all I cared, but I knew that giving up killed your soul first, your body last.
Bear Man retrieved something from the pile of leaves as I stood rock still and shushed Max. Any decent New Yorker would run the other direction, but I hated an uneven fight, hated bullies even worse. My dog may have been the most important guy in my life, but an underdog was a sure second. That and some desperate part of me still believed one person could make a difference in this lousy world. But without a cell phone I couldn’t call the cops and, even if I did, by the time police arrived late tomorrow, the worst would be done.
And things looked like they were about to get much, much worse.
By the time Bear Man returned, that belly laugh sending shock waves of dread through me, Sam had managed to prop onto one knee again, tilting furiously.
Max writhed within my hold, his feet scratching at the pavement. I was barely hanging on to his collar. I looked to my tree, then to the man on his knees. Missions changed, even in battle.
Instinctively, I stepped forward, willing Sam to his feet. “Get up, damn it.”
He caught my movement and stiffened, staring downhill at me.
Then Bear Man’s head snapped my direction. Oh, shit.
I froze. Max lunged, breaking from my grip and barking a hailstorm of threats as he rocketed toward the men. And when Max’s bark boomed, he got attention.
Sam scrambled to his feet, as Bear Man moved to intercept the bellowing dog charging him full force.
“Max, come!” I raced uphill, lengths behind my dog. Another bite to a human by Max and he could get put down. If Bear Man didn’t execute the job himself. With his bare knuckles.
I charged. No one touched my dog.
Whatever air I’d been struggling to capture before came in gusts now, my lungs expanding and contracting like an Olympian’s, my full-out sprint closing the distance.
Max snarled, springing in small motions toward Bear Man’s knees. If the thug moved an inch, Max would strike. Then I realized half the growls were coming from Bear Man. If Max struck, the man would move in for the kill.
At least their standoff gave Sam time to run. But the idiot just waited, watching.
“Naughty dog.” I caught Max’s collar and laughed, pretending innocence. “You’re on heel,” I said, then pulled Max backwards, unable to quell his snarling, barking fury. And not really wanting to.
Max writhed and twisted, pinching my fingers within his collar. His teeth were fully bared, saliva dripping at the corners, more vicious then I’d ever seen him. And with reason. From our close range I’d caught the acrid smoke of Bear Man’s clothes, noted the char marks on his pant legs, felt the weight of a predator’s stare from eyes full of all kinds of hate. The man made Sing Sing inmates look like milkmaids.
My gaze shifted to Sam, who should be running for the hills by now. Instead, the guy was silently swinging his head side to side, his wide eyes imploring: Don’t stop, lady.
“Sorry, still working on his training.” I laughed, relying on that dumb blonde stereotype and a pretty smile to get my ass out of harm’s way, but regretting the unintended reference to their argument. Hopefully, they’d seen my earbuds and assumed I couldn’t hear a thing over my music.
I towed Max straight through a puddle, keeping my head down. Way down.
My peripheral view remained locked on the men as we trotted off. Sprinting would hook Bear Man’s suspicion, draw him after us. So I kept perfect form, ran a casual pace, though not a calm one. Either he’d chase us down and beat us to death, or he’d assume I’d been too preoccupied with my dog to notice the glint of a metal pipe in his hand.
We neared the tree atop Great Hill and were about to cross the demarcation line into no-man’s land when my brain hurtled needle-sharp warnings to stop. Flashes of flames, the pressure of hot air hitting like a giant slap, the stink of burning rubber. I hadn’t stepped beyond this periphery in two years, and my nervous system decided to remind me why with a few mental postcards.
Damn it, this is no time for reminiscing.
My feet trudged, leaden and numb at once. Wires got crossed, intentions and actions mismatched, muscles stopped responding. Run, don’t run. God, I wanted to puke.
My lungs began to seize, the pressure spreading from my chest to my throat. This impassable space, where Luke had gotten onto one knee, where time had stopped in a fantasy of happiness, grew thick as water and cold as ice. A glacial tide against my tumbling pebble.
Bear Man turned his head our direction, saw me slowing. Then he pivoted his whole body to face us.
My nerves ratcheted up a dozen more notches.
“Run!” shouted Sam as he leapt at Bear Man and grabbed the pipe… [END EXCERPT]
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