Monday, July 15, 2013

Meet the Talented and Luminous Judi Calhoun

One of the many blessings of our new life North of the Notches is the fabulous creative community we've met and been welcomed by.  Early on, Judi Calhoun (who is as gifted an artist as she is a writer) impressed me with her creative passion -- and her brilliance in delivering a great read in both short and long story format.  A member of my Berlin Writers' Group, Judi's latest release is the engaging novel Ancient Fire in which a demon-slayer armed with a blessed weapon is tested not only in battle against the dark forces seeking to devour her family, but in matters of the heart when she meets a fellow warrior. Judi's prose is crisp, and her world building abilities top notch. Fire is a page-turner in the truest sense, and it was my delight to speak with the author about her exciting literary vision.

Your journey is as interesting as that of Shonna Wells, your heroine in Fire.
Even at a young age, adults labeled me a dreamer and made it sound like a bad word. Perhaps I was living in a dream world…retreating into my fantasies while my parents battled through an ugly divorce. I was constantly creating new fantasy realms and mysterious characters arriving on the scene in ballgowns, masks, and top hats with antenna…all to accompany my artwork. I once whimsically illustrated an entire cast of characters before I even wrote one line to my story. 

This combination I call visual writing was perhaps the best brainstorming contrivance I had in my toolbox as a child. At the time, I was not aware just how important this tool would become in my writing and art. When my husband and I moved to California in 1979, I started a photography business while attending classes at Palomar College, as an Art and English major. I also worked on the school newspaper and magazine and held an office in two major honor societies. Yet, it wasn’t until my husband suffered a major stroke that I donned my top hat, mask and scurried down the rabbit hole…back into my wonderland dream world. That’s when I really began to explore writing at a different magical level.

I love Fire -- is this part of a series and, if so, what's next for Shonna and Company?
Yes, I consider Ancient Fire, The Chronicles of Shonna Wells the first book. However, I wrote another smaller book about the younger Shonna, when she first received the power. It sold roughly 300 copies before going out of print. It’s not my best work. I wrote Ancient Fire, Book 2 in less than two months. It was the easiest book to write. I thought I must have done something wrong, so I kept going back over it, only to discover it was exactly how it should be.

This next volume picks up after Jake has graduated and is leaving for Colorado. While Shonna starts her senior year and struggles to exist without Jake, Rick Steel returns to New Bedford with motivations that are even more mysterious and perhaps still connected with the occult. Shonna’s battle is beyond psychological facing an enemy she cannot kill with her sword, learning the truth about her father and the business he was tangled up in that connects him to the house on Pine Street. The same house that Rick had taken her to the night of the fight with her mother.  

What other projects are you presently working on?
I find myself writing more and more short stories between novel projects. I never considered the possibility it would open up for me. I feel as if I’m acquiring a wealth of knowledge, priceless guidance that people like you, Gregory, offer without veiled motivation. Currently, I’m working on five novels and six short stories, as well as designing book covers for the next installment of Chronicles of Shonna Wells and a middle grade chapter book titled Leaving Holland Glen.

You're also quite the accomplished artist -- what's the Judi Calhoun method?
Other than the visual writing I mentioned earlier, I find self-disciplined, self-motivation to be key factors I believe I’ve got going for myself. I’m up at 4:00 or slightly later every morning, grabbing my cup of tea (me and Captain Picard) and I'm off to my work space to start writing or painting. Sure, I’m passionate about what I’m doing and that is what drives me.

I’ve heard people say they cannot create artwork without being inspired. I have to shake my head when I hear that kind of crap, because as a human being you have this incredible imagination to draw from, everyone does, unless you’re my third grade teacher, who stifled all artistic expression -- she claimed art was a waste of good paper. Not true of course. We are creative beings and we can create anything. Art is a learned process, like learning to play an instrument. Sure, there are people born with gifts, and everything comes natural to them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to develop it and it also doesn’t mean you have to be born with abilities in order to follow creative dreams. That’s like saying that because you are not gifted you can never play the violin.

I don’t really have a set process in writing or art other than what I’ve already mentioned. Most artists see beauty in almost everything, even a dead leaf floating in a puddle, just as most writers see a story in faces they pass by on the street. We draw from our inner resource, our pain, our suffering, and our life experiences. We might identify with our characters without making every protagonist and antagonist carbon copies of ourselves. When I wrote Ian Corbet, the evil, demonic familiar spirit in Ancient Fire, I had to think about soulless creatures and what motivates them to hurt and destroy. How could I make Shonna’s life a living hell? Of course I included my own personal pain somewhat contrived. I’ve had a lot of pain in my life, which helps me to understand the human condition. I want my reader to identify with Shonna’s pain, disappointments and sorrow. No doubt, you’ve heard it said that writers spend far too much time in isolation, and need some social aspect. While that is very true, I find I have this wonderful time with my believable characters. You can try to label me crazy, but I enjoy being with my characters almost as much as being with friends. To me, they are just as real and the more time I spend with them, the more I know about their habits and what makes them tick.

Judi, you and I share a mutual love of '60s classic Science Fiction TV -- particularly, Lost in Space.  How has that love influenced your work?
I have always loved classic fantasy and most all Science Fiction. Television was a new medium when I was a kid. It quickly became the family thing to do, watching shows like The Twilight Zone and later on Lost in Space and the original Star TrekThey not only inspired me on so many levels, but as much as I enjoyed them, they caused me to ponder the possibilities. Lost in Space had some unbelievably complicated plots, sure many offered predictable outcomes, but a few caused me loss of sleep.  I would get frustrated with the plots and think I could have ended this differently. I would grab my journal and write a new ending; one I thought mirrored the beginning, giving the story more strength. I did this all in secret, because I didn’t want to suffer ridicule. According to my teachers I was astutely a lost cause.   

One particular episode of Lost in Space, "The Golden Man", stayed with me for years; I couldn’t get it out of my mind. This may sound completely unrelated, but it really isn’t…one day standing in the flower fields in Carlsbad, California near my former hometown of Oceanside, I was staring transfixed at flowers. Row after row of beautiful flowers and my imagination went back to that episode. I began to develop a plot for my story, which later on, much later, developed into a book, one of those novels currently in the process of truncation wonderfully titled, The Andalorian Bloodstone.