An Interview with Romualdo R. Chavez
Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
When the project was first brought to my attention, I had no idea what to expect. I had never co-written a story, let alone an entire novel with other writers before. But the whole premise of last year’s story intrigued me enough to take a risk, which I’m glad I did! I enjoyed the experience so much that it was a no-brainer for me to sign up again.
What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project?
I enjoyed the fact that the setting and characters originated in Topeka. It’s great to be able to write about my home town and discuss Kansas History in the process. The characters were also intriguing. As a writer, I look for challenges when it comes to creating characters and the idea of writing about a 108 year old primary source was both interesting and a little intimidating. It was fun to be able to tackle Topeka’s rich history and weave it through the story. The other characters presented their own challenges. I’m not used to writing about a female protagonist, so it was fun to be able to tackle both Julia and Ronni’s characters. Charles, being one of the main antagonists, had evolved significantly throughout the course of the story thanks to great writers. When it was my turn to tackle the character, I tried to delve deeper into his narcissistic ways and show the reader how smart and dangerous he really could be.
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
My first reaction to the previous chapter developed into more of a question: ‘How do I top that?’
What is your favorite and least favorite addition that you contributed to this novel in your chapter?
My favorite part about my chapter was being able to incorporate scenes within Mike’s Mirage from Julia’s point of view. It was a different direction altogether than previous chapters, but I felt it was necessary to truly deepen the character’s likeability. Julia’s very interesting and full of memories, so it was nice to explore those moments. I’m not sure what my least favorite addition would be. I truly liked everything that I did. My only qualm was not being able to make my chapter longer. I could have kept going!
What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?
I hope to see more flashback sequences or perhaps further explanation of Billy the Bootleggers involvement in the Westfield Heist.
How did you write your chapter – in a burst of inspiration or carefully outlined?
When it was my turn to tackle a chapter, I was a little nervous. There was so much going on in the story that I had no idea where to take it next. I re-read most of the chapters and took notes, trying to assess what questions needed to be answered. During the research phase, I started getting a vision of Julia on stage entertaining an audience with a song. From there it evolved into a dream/flashback sequence that was brought upon by the previous chapter’s jazz performance. From there I was able to incorporate a scene between Julia and Ms. Banning that clearly shows the reader who the real villains of the story are. During that scene I was able to sprinkle bits of information about why they were so interested, leaving room for the next author to continue the story. At the end of chapter 14, Ronni, who’s been through so much already, is put through the grinder once again and ends the scene with an unusual proposal. So I wanted to make sure I also had time to address that as well. In the end, I was quite proud of what I had accomplished and thought it gave new insight into the characters.
Any memorable stories to share about your writing experience?
A funny memory for me was looking back on my first suggestion of how I wanted to write the chapter. I think I might have given the coordinator of the Community Novel project a heart attack when I suggested killing off a major character. After all, my chapter was entitled The Darkest Hour, which needed to have something major happen. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but the final result worked out better than I could have expected.
What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project?
I learned to surrender to the story and see where it takes you. In order to create good fiction, you have to stop worrying about all the little details and just write. It’s also a good way to hone in on your writing abilities and work collaboratively with other authors. Everyone has their own style and it’s great to be able to see how different writers evolve the story.
What is your writing background? What do you usually write? How was this project different?
I’ve always been an avid reader. I was the book nerd who enjoyed getting reading assignments, while everyone else cringed. This love for books carried over into my first attempts at writing short stories in middle school and high school. Several years later, my first novel, El Vampiro and the Cruse of the Feathered Serpent, was published in April 2009. The novel centered on three friends and their desperate attempts to fight off a coven of vampires. In September 2012, I participated in TSCPL’s Community Novel Capital City Capers for the first time and enjoyed it, which is why I came back. During the initial waiting period to write my chapter this year, I managed to finish a second novel, tentatively titled The Mourning Sage, which I started in November 2011 with Nanowrimo.
I tend to write under the genre of Urban Fantasy, which is vastly different from the mystery genre that the Community Novel Project has evolved into. There are no vampires, werewolves, witches, or ghosts in the CN’s world (at least not yet!). However, I didn’t have any qualms with it. It was a great experience and taught me a lot about this genre and how it works. The research aspect was fun too. I was able to interview a family member familiar with Topeka’s past and they gave me a lot of insight on the layout of speakeasy’s and the people who frequented them.
Would you be interested in participating in the 2014 TSCPL Community Novel Project next year?
My answer to that would be—absolutely!