Writer’s Spotlight Episode 15: CL Steele

For this fifteenth episode of Writer’s Spotlight, we have CL Steele – a newer member of the Scribes’ Circle whom I have gotten to know over the past few months. CL is a wizard of the written word – definitely one to watch!

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What names do you write by?
I write under the pen name CL Steele. I’ve always been partial to writers with initials. It seems so mysterious.

Give us a short introduction to you.
I’m an American living in the Midwest with my husband and my muse a dog named, Dezi. I have two boys who assure me they are 20 somethings, but I see them as eight and four-year-olds. I have great friends from all over the world. I consider myself lucky, and I’m having a wonderful journey.

How long have you been writing, professionally and/or as a hobby?
I’ve always been a storyteller. At age four I announced to my mother that I was going to be a world-famous author. Which mom thought was odd since no one had asked. I made up stories to tell my sisters at bedtime and enjoyed writing stories. I even thought I’d like to live in a small apartment in New York, which everyone I knew thought was crazy. In high school, I chose the practical field of science, but it was my English teacher who suggested college, and a college counselor who sewed my eclectic transcript into a teaching degree. From there life happened and I held many careers.
I hadn’t written in decades. Then one day two years ago, a story came to me and I started writing twelve hours a day for months, like a mad woman. I joined groups and learned as much as I could. It has been heaven on Earth. Blissful learning and creating fill my days and I cannot imagine living any other way. Paradigm Shift, my debut novel, will be out in time for Christmas.

In what genre(s) do you write?
Most of my work is magical realism. Science fiction/fantasy is my genre of choice but I have stories in romance, women’s literature, and children’s literature. I don’t believe in limiting myself to one genre.

Do you outline your stories ahead of time, or do you let the story grow as you write?
I’m a Hybrid. My novel was a pure pouring out of a story followed by a year of reorganizing and changing. Now, most of my stories have a flexible outline, but they rarely stick to the original outline. The characters drive the story and often plot lines give way to heart-lines. In the end, I hope to have a plot in which the characters agree it was a fun ride. For me, planning a story is a collaboration between me, the characters, the muse, and the logical plan.

Which authors have influenced and inspired you the most?
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle opened a new world for me. Who doesn’t like JK Rowling? Then there are Toni Morrison, Dean Koontz and Shonda Rhymes and so many more, including Cat Rambo who has the coolest real name. I love books with power and meaningful themes. I can only hope to write like that someday. 
I think that is the thing most writers forget. Writing is a process. You get better as you write. I’m sure there is a thing called talent, but I’m discovering that talent is a magical creature which exists, but can also be built and cared for and elbow greased into a larger existence. My favorite meme is of Dory, the fish in Finding Nemo, singing “Just Keep Writing”. I often feel oddly connected to Dory and her struggle to just keep on, keeping on.

Do you write in other ways, such as poetry, songwriting, technical articles, etc?
Nope, just short stories, and novels. I’m trying to write a blog but … I do write some bad poetry from time to time and make up a song’s lyrics in the shower and while singing with the radio in the car. I have my lyrics and Adele has hers. Who’s to say which is wrong?

How has your life experiences affected your writing?
Well, isn’t that what writing is? I mean the art is to take life and disguise it as fiction so one can both escape life while experiencing the worst and the best life offers. Everything I write comes from my life experiences and that is what makes it poignant and bittersweet and hard and joyous all at the same time. Writing to me is complexity pie with sweetness ala mode.

What scene that you’ve written has moved you the most, and why?
Of the stories that are out, “Our Place In Time” a short story in the Once Upon A Wednesday anthology the protagonist struggles with her dissatisfaction of how her life has turned out and in one scene finds herself crumpled and crying on the tile floor of the shower. In a short story titled Artificial, (that needs a publisher) the main character pulls at her string of faux pearl beads and watches as the orbs roll across the hardwood floor at the realization that her life is spinning helplessly out of her control. In my novel Paradigm Shift, there is a scene where Sam is trapped inside a cocoon (it makes sense in context) and must face her own reflection of self-doubt. That was difficult to write. However, the scene where she emerges still makes me smile every time I read to edit.

Beta Readers – Yes or No? Why?
Yes! I have the best beta readers in the world. They give me advice and correct all my grammar and share their honesty with me. I love these people. They give me the confidence I need to take that next step. Without their encouragement, I am sure I would have never submitted any of my work to anyone and been a reader-less writer. I can’t think of anything sadder. I’d list their names but I’m afraid they’d get stolen from me, but they know who they are and I thank them with every stroke of the keyboard every day. I hope they know how important and special they are to me.

What inspires your story ideas?
Remember my answer on talent being hard work? Well, it is, but I think the difference in writing and being an author is how inspired you are. Inspiration, that great idea, that different way of thinking and seeing the world is what separates great authors from hobby writers. Inspiration is the key. I joke that my dog Dezi is my muse. She literally sits on my feet as I write and I get a sense that she is sending me writing vibes as she snores. But really, inspiration comes from everything. Mainly little things. Often with me, it is a scientific principle that gets wrapped around a small action. I was reading about fractals when I wrote Paradigm Shift and Artificial Intelligence has always been a passion of mine I suppose from watching and worrying about Spock on Star Trek. My feelings about women’s rights and human rights inspired Our Place In Time and Which Shoes was inspired by a fight my sister and I were having and me trying to solve it while doing errands at the mall. I’m now working on a story about change that was inspired by my inability to whistle. I never seem to be out of ideas for stories. I have tons to write and think of more daily. For those who struggle with what to write, I’d say start with something small and ask why is that important. Then turn your mind off and let your soul speak. Then write your outline with your mind on.

Do you belong to any Writing Groups?
United we stand, right? I belong to several writing groups. Once that first story came to me and I wrote like a mad woman for a few months, I realized there was a lot I didn’t know. Google could help but the questions I had needed the human touch. So, Google gave me Fiction Writers. It’s lovely band of 300 or so people there when I joined nurtured me. They corrected my bad thinking and told me I could if I would. I learned so much just by interacting with these doers of writing. The group grew and is now so large that I wonder if it is a closed group. I still belong and always will. I owe them my writer life in a lot of ways. I also belong to An Author’s Tale and SciFi/Fantasy Writers and a few more that I check in on from time to time. Recently, I was asked to join The Scribes’ Circle. I am humbled to be a part of this group of talented writers who are passionate about making their craft better and caring enough to give back. I am very lucky to be part of this group. If you are new to writing, these groups will help you figure out the web of publishing and give you great things to research and explore and contemplate. Join one … or five.

Tell us about all of your works in progress (include your favorite snippets).
My Ideas folder has over fifty story ideas and outlines or partial outlines. But I’ve learned through my writing groups that having just one WIP (work in progress) at a time is the way to be the most productive. My current WIP is in rewrite after being rejected by an editor. I love the short story and I’m rewriting the ending to give it more punch. I want to drive home the idea of what is artificial and what isn’t? Can love be artificial like intelligence?  Here is an excerpt from my WIP Artificial:  

          As the sun was setting, I put my key into the front door lock of our townhouse and slipped into the sanctity of our home. That night, away from all the people, I put on our music. I stood in the middle of the living room held up my arms as if to dance with him and swayed. The long pearls moving side to side, my bare feet feeling the warmth of the floor and my memory filling me with the last time I had worn this dress—the time he slowly unzipped the back and begged me to leave the pearls on because he liked the way they swayed when I moved. We danced in nothing but my red heels and long pearls. And while I’d made it through the worst days of my life without a single tear, tonight a horrible thing happened. Everything connected again. In anguish, I pulled at the knotted pearls and they rolled across the floor and all around me as I laid sobbing on the hardwood floor remembering my red heels and watching the orbs of my life roll away. 

 

 And here is an excerpt from my upcoming novel Paradigm Shift Sam has just arrived in a new land, a very strange new world. She has no idea how she has gotten here or who this guy is or even if he is human, but she feels a connection to him: 

     Ahead, there was a shadow. As I approached, I recognized David. He had his hands on his narrow hips, and was looking back at me strong, assured, and with a cocky smile. It made me boil with anger. My hands clenched, my stride grew wide and powerful, I leaned toward him, my face hot and tight.   
     “You bastard, how dare you leave me alone.  You know I’m lost; and you leave me?  What kind of …” and then I stopped. I was going to say man, but was he?  Being—perhaps, but were his social rules the same as my social expectations?  He just stood there frozen in that stupid half-smile. I wiped my hands over my face to cool it. “Sorry, I’m just…” 
     “Scared,” he completed my sentence. I was going to say angry, but he had cut right to the point. I was angry, because I was scared. 
     “Yes,” I said. 
     “You have every right to be. It’s okay. It’s just that I knew you were safe and strong enough to be on your own, but half-way back it occurred to me that maybe you didn’t know you were safe. So, I came back to check on you. Is that … okay?” 
     “Yes,” I said, feeling ensnared by him. 
     “It’s late.  I want to show you around the community; but I don’t want to alarm them this time of night. This will be a lot for them to take in. Let’s find a place for you to sleep; and I will come for you in the morning. Will this meet your needs?”  
     “Yes,” I said, feeling awkward at the repetitiveness of my yes-es. I returned a half-smile, shook my head and rolled my eyes at my lack of composure and the unease I was feeling being so near him. 
      He stifled a laugh and looked down momentarily. Then he looked at me, as if he had done so millions of times. I felt connected… but, I couldn’t be.   
     “This way,” he said softly. And I followed.

Have you been published?
Two years ago, if you’d asked me about being published I’d have laughed. Even just a year ago it was a dream that would probably never come true. Six months ago, I considered self-publishing and then decided to submit some stories to see what would happens. That was January. In February, I had been accepted and in March my second story was accepted for publishing. My third story met with a crushing rejection but I’m dusting it off. I have several that I will be submitting soon. Keep your fingers crossed for me.  Here is where you can find my stories: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=CL+Steele .  

“Our Place in Time” in the anthology Once Upon a Wednesday is about a woman who is at the end of her rope when magic from her past sets her moving forward again in a new life. 
Excerpt:  Our Place and Time 
By CL Steele

            The clock read 3:33 AM. Twelve hours ago, I had entered Dr. Wallace’s office to sell him medical equipment that he didn’t need, but my commission account did. I hated that part of my job. To be honest, I hated all parts of my job. Yet, I had been in medical equipment sales for decades. Decades …  

Time mystified me. Moments could seem longer than days and decades could fly by; as if we flew in and out of time, as time ticked its steady metronome. Time used to tick, like a steady metronome. The sound was a reminder of the passing of our lives and purpose. Now, in the digital age, time had been silenced. We can rely only on our eyes to notice its passing. For me, without the ticking reminder, life passed by in habits instead of aspirations. How else could I explain decades consigned to my station in life? Not that I was poor, my employment had afforded me middle-class status. Rather it was my place in time, my dreams of changing the world, that had remained stagnant for decades. Simply put, I was marching in place. 

 

One of my favorite stories for its world building is “Which Shoes”. It is about two sisters torn apart by tragic events. The younger sister has lost her memory and the older must decide if it is wise to restore the memory. The worlds they live in are intertwined with our own and just on the other side of our visual spectrum.  

Excerpt of “Which Shoes” in the Chasing Magic Anthology: 

          “Do you remember?” Glinda asked. 

Locasta’s swallowed hard, and forced a poker face. A glaze overcame her eyes.  

Why, why doesn’t she want to remember, Glinda thought. 

“I remember that I came here for a great dress. Something sexy and elegant,” Locasta said opening the door and allowing Glinda into the shop. 

If the window was magical, the interior of the shop was bewitching. A grand spiral staircase flowed thought the middle of the shop. Glass catwalks flowed from either side of the second story landing and emanated to various areas of the shop. The second story had no floor other than these glass catwalks and you could see up to the dresses above while standing on the first floor. Occasionally blue slivers of sky could be glimpsed between the attire from the above glass roof. The tuxes seemed to know to hide within the walls, while the dresses danced around greeting us with a curtsey. One sparkly-sexy number simply shimmied a welcome. Locasta startled as the disc she was standing on raised out of the floor. Grabbing the rising railing she was swooshed out and into the dresses.  

Behind her Glinda called out, “…on the panel fill in the information. Select black for color and enter your size.” Locasta did so. Dresses flew up glass cylinder tubes while black dresses in a size six rushed into place from other cylinders and began to twirl and dance. Each greeted her then pirouetted from view. Locasta laughed with true delight. 

“This is wonderful,” Locasta announced with youthful glee. 

“If you find one you like push the green button.” 

How can readers follow you?
If you want to help me, and I need your help, like me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/author.CLSteele/ and be part of the ground level startup of my blog https://clsteeleauthor.wordpress.com/
You can also go to Amazon to buy and leave reviews https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=CL+Steele . Thank you in advance for supporting writers.

Is there anything else you want readers to know about you?
Well, they should know that I am a little crazy, but caring, and love to think deep and write uplifting stories about love and life and the science that holds us all together on this blue dot in this starry sea of the galaxy. If you like magic mixed in with your reality and want to make the world better, then join me. Together, we can imagine it all and become a step closer to better. See you in the pages of a book.

Thanks, CL, for taking the time to share athis rather fantastic interview with us! And Happy Anniversary!

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