The Next Chapter with C.H. Armstrong
Today we welcome back author C.H. Armstrong to Whispering Stories Blog to catch up on what she has been doing since our interview with her back in February 2016 on ‘The Writing Life of: C.H. Armstrong‘. This post contains affiliate links.
C.H. Armstrong is the author of two traditionally published novels, Armstrong’s first book, THE EDGE OF NOWHERE, was released in 2016 and was inspired by her grandmother’s struggles as a young widow with fourteen children during the one-two punch of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. Embraced by reviewers as GONE WITH THE WIND meets THE GRAPES OF WRATH, this title is due for a second edition re-release on June 1, 2019.
Armstrong’s second novel, ROAM, follows a homeless teen and her family as they live out of their van in the midst of a cold Minnesota winter. Inspired by the homeless community in Rochester and, in particular, a soup kitchen and its guests, ROAM has been called “Where THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS meets CINDERELLA in an uplifting and hopeful novel about a homeless teen just trying to find normal. “Early reviews by teachers and librarians have dubbed Roam “a study in empathy” and “a must have for school libraries and classrooms.”
Welcome back to Whispering Stories Blog, lovely to be featuring you again. We last met you back in February 2016 when we spoke to you about your writing life and your latest book at the time ‘The Edge of Nowehere’. Since that date I believe you have written and published another book.
Yes! Since then, I’ve gone on to publish a young adult novel titled ROAM (released Feb. 5, 2019); and my original title, THE EDGE OF NOWHERE, has been picked up by my current publisher and is about to be re-released (on June 1st) as a second edition with new material and a new Author Q&A at the end! Additionally, I collaborated with four authors who’ve become really good friends (Amanda Linsmeier, Bianca Schwarz, Kelly Cain, and Jamie McLachlan) to release an anthology of short stories called DÉJÀ YOU. So, needless to say, the last few years have been a lot of fun.
1) How has life changed since we last met you?
I’m not sure it really has changed much on a daily basis. I mean, yes—I’m now a published author and my work is recognized by readers, but I’m still the same person I was before. I’m still the swim mom to my 14 year old, and the first point of contact for my 23 year old when she needs to vent. I still have housecleaning, grocery shopping, meals to make, and dishes to wash; and I’m still my husband’s “personal secretary” when he needs errands run that he doesn’t have time for. And with all of that, I still have to carve out time to write and do those things I need to take care of myself.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I, like most authors I know, are just like the rest of you.
2) Has your writing style changed since we last interviewed you?
Yes, I think it has; and I hope it’s actually improved. I think with any art form, you learn new “techniques” as you work with your craft, and I think my writing style has evolved quite a bit in the last several years. I feel like I’ve learned better storytelling and character development, which I hope is evident both with ROAM and with the extensive edits and rewrites made for the 2nd Edition Release of THE EDGE OF NOWHERE.
With that said, my stories still come from deep inside of me—they’re still stories that settle so completely in my gut that I can’t move forward until I get them written for others to read.
3) Have you allowed yourself to be influenced by your readers’ opinions of your characters?
Yes and no. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last several years is the difference between “criticism” and “critique.” Criticism is not constructive. It’s simply a complaint about your work, often without a means for improving it. But critique can be very important, and I’ve learned to accept reflective critique from readers and other writers.
Embracing critique with an open mind, I think, has helped make me a better writer. But the key is to know the difference and having the confidence to decide whether the critique should be embraced or just be filed away for future reference.
4) Have you found writing gets easier or harder the more books you write?
Oh gosh! HARDER! My first two books (and my short story contribution for the anthology DÉJÀ YOU) just flowed out of me. Since then, I think I’ve put so much pressure on myself to be “better” with each release that the writing is a bit harder.
5) Is there a difference in the way you feel about your books the more you publish?
As crazy as it sounds, I think I get MORE excited with each new release. There’s just nothing more fulfilling than holding my book in my hands for the first time. It’s not exactly like holding your child for the first time, but I’d argue that it’s pretty close. It’s such an overwhelming feeling of pride and joy, mixed with a little bit of anxiety as I worry that the rest of the world will like my “baby” as much as I do.
6) If you could live within the pages of any of the books created by you, which would you choose?
Oh wow. That’s such a hard question. I guess, as a history buff, I’d want to live within the pages of THE EDGE OF NOWHERE—but not for very long. Set during the 1930s and the one-two punch of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, it would be interesting to me to see if I could survive in the midst of so much poverty and destruction. I’d like to believe I could do it, but I’m not optimistic.
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – Central Avenue Pub
Pages – 320
Release Date – 5th February 2019
ISBN 13 – 978-1771681513
Format – ebook, paperback
Seventeen-year-old Abby Lunde and her family are living on the streets. They had a normal life back in Omaha but, thanks to her mother’s awful mistake, they had to leave behind what little they had for a new start in Rochester. Abby tries to be an average teenager-fitting in at school, dreaming of a boyfriend, college and a career in music. But Minnesota winters are unforgiving, and so are many teenagers.
Her stepdad promises to put a roof over their heads, but times are tough for everyone and Abby is doing everything she can to keep her shameful secret from her new friends. The divide between rich and poor in high school is painfully obvious, and the stress of never knowing where they’re sleeping or where they’ll find their next meal is taking its toll on the whole family.
As secrets are exposed and the hope for a home fades, Abby knows she must trust those around her to help. But will her new friends let her down like the ones back home, or will they rise to the challenge to help them find a normal life?
7) How long did it take you to write this book?
When I sat down to write ROAM, I had the whole story in my head, so it just poured right out of me. My first draft took only three weeks; however, there’s a saying in the writing community that goes, “Write ugly, edit pretty.” What that really means is that the first draft is almost never ready for the public. After I finished the first draft, ROAM went through multiple extensive edits including a complete rewrite just before it was picked up by my publisher. All together, it was roughly three years and more than a dozen rewrites between the time I finished writing ROAM and the day it finally came out in print.
8) Can you tell us a little about your new book?
ROAM is a lesson in empathy, and is intended to leave readers thinking about the world beyond their own experiences. I think we all remember our high school years and the desire to fit in. It’s fine to be different, and most kids enjoy those things that make them different and help them stand out in a positive ways around their peers. But to be “different’ in a way that makes one uncomfortable is never fun, even in adulthood.
So in ROAM, we have a young woman who is different in one of the worst ways imaginable for a teen: she’s poor and living in her family’s van. She’s terrified her friends will discover her secret, so she goes to great lengths to blend in and appear “normal,” including small lies that, combined, make her feel horrible. Along the way, she finds a group of really great kids who become her closest friends, and a series of individual adults who help give her the guidance and courage to succeed. Each of these people touch her life in the smallest ways, but together they are links in the chain that will keep her from breaking.
9) Can you tell us anything you edited out of your book?
Actually yes. In my final round of revisions before being picked up by my publisher, I cut my favorite scene between Abby and her little sister, Amber., because it “didn’t move the story along.” One of the hardest things about writing is asking yourself, “Does this scene move the story along?” In my case, the answer was no.
Most of the scenes in ROAM are related directly to Abby’s experiences as a homeless teen; however, in this deleted scene, we finally saw how the family’s circumstances affected her younger sister, Amber. To me, it was a heartbreaking scene and showed how homelessness was affecting Amber, but it also show how much responsibility Abby had taken on as a result of family’s circumstances. In the end, I decided to cut it because I needed to cut words and it was a chapter that didn’t move the story along. It still “hurts,” and I think maybe one day I might release that one chapter as a bonus excerpt for readers…but I haven’t figured out how or under what circumstances.
10) Are you still going through the same publishing methods?
Yes and no. My first novel was published through a small publishing house and without an agent. Since that time, I’ve found representation through Tina P. Schwartz at The Purcell Agency, and I’ve handed over the “stress” of finding my novels a home to her. So, everything up to the point when my manuscript is ready to find a publishing house is the same, but now I just hand the manuscript over to Tina and give her the “privilege” of figuring out where to send it.
11) Can you remember seeing your book for the first time in the bookstore, supermarket, online?
Yes…but the truth is the feeling is new and just as thrilling every single time. I think one of my favorite things is not so much seeing it online through retailers or on bookshelves in stores, but seeing reader photos of it “in the wild.” Sometimes a reader will take a spontaneous photo of one of my boos and post to social media, and other times someone will spot one in a bookstore and take a photo. THOSE are the most thrilling moments, and they’re exciting every single time it happens.
12) What next for you in your writing career?
I’m actually working on two manuscripts at present. The first is related to sexual assault in our schools and, because this is such a difficult topic, I’ve started a second manuscript that’s much lighter (and completely different than anything I’ve ever written) because I need to take frequent breaks from the difficult topic for my own mental health. I love issue-driven, realistic fiction; but, when you “become” your character during the writing process, it takes a terrible emotional toll. So the second manuscript I’m working on is intended to help me maintain my sense of humor.
1) Question from Kerstin – When did you start writing?
Hi Kerstin! I’ve always been a writer, but it wasn’t until I sent my oldest child off to college that I decided to try my hand at writing fiction. And even then, I never imagined I’d actually get it published.
In 2014, I started writing THE EDGE OF NOWHERE strictly for the purpose of trying to understand how my grandmother became the woman she was. I sat down at my laptop and just “pretended” I was my grandmother and put myself in her shoes, so to speak, when she was a young widow with fourteen children. Soon the facts I knew took a right turn and I began allowing my imagination to take the lead. The result was the first draft of THE EDGE OF NOWHERE. But before that, all of my writing had been non-fiction for newspapers, magazines, non-profit organizations, blogging, etc.
2) Question from Tina – Where do your ideas come from?
Hi Tina—great question! It depends upon what I’m writing, but mostly from something I’ve seen in real life that blooms so big in my chest that I can’t let it go. So for THE EDGE OF NOWHERE, it’s because I couldn’t stop thinking about the hardships my grandmother endured during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. I couldn’t imagine raising fourteen children alone (and with no support network) in that kind of poverty, so I needed to “live” the experience vicariously by writing the story.
Similarly, I wrote ROAM because I met people in the homeless community—in particular, a teenage girl—and I couldn’t get her out of my head. I needed to try understanding how one deals with the worst kind of poverty in the midst of a community with so much money. So to do that, I had to sit down and pretend I was that young girl and imagine how I’d cope.
3) Question from Ellwyn – Which genres do you write?
Hi Ellwyn! I’m strongly drawn to issue-driven fiction, mostly in the genre of young adult. It’s my go-to for reading, and I prefer writing it because our kids today are so smart and going through so many difficult situations. They NEED books that speak to their struggles. When nobody in real life understands what they’re going through, they NEED books that address those issues so they don’t feel alone.
With that said, while ROAM is issue-driven young adult fiction, and the manuscripts I’m currently working on are both young adult, THE EDGE OF NOWHERE is issue-driven adult fiction. I guess I see my writing as fluid in that I write what I need to get off my chest. Generally speaking, that means issue-driven young adult; but if an adult story came to me I wouldn’t hesitate to write that again either. The bottom line is I tell stories that “hurt” me to leave unwritten. Unlike many authors, I don’t write every day or just to tell an interesting story. I write because the story refuses to be silent and I can’t sleep until that story is told.