This is the interview with Chino Chakanga, author of Special. Full review of Special.
You can buy Special using the affiliate link here: Special
Questions About Writing
Is writing your full-time job? Do you also consider it a passion?
Chino: As of last year, it is. I left my full-time job so I could write.
Yes, although passion isn’t quite the word I would use to describe the entire writing process. There’s passion and enthusiasm with the conception and initial draft of a story, but writing doesn’t end with the first draft. Although I write sci-fi and fantasy, I like my stories to have some validity so a lot of research is required and sometimes this process might not always be fun. Writing also requires a lot of rewrites and rereading your work can be tiring, but when you’re invested in a story, all these drawbacks become minor.
Amanja: That’s amazing that you are able to devote full time to writing. I know a lot of people may glamorize the passion part and forget the hard work part.
What is your schedule for writing like? How much time does it take to write say 1 chapter?
C: I sit down to write at least five days a week until I reach my daily writing goal of 1000 words. Somedays when I have the story marinating in the back of my mind the words flow quickly. Depending on how fast the words come or how solid the writing is, I will sit from as little as 3 hours or up to 7 hours a day. If I’m in flow and the words come easily, I won’t limit myself to 1000 words or 3 hours. Somedays I will write up to 2500 words.
I have written chapters in one day, but it usually depends on the lengths of the chapters of the project I am working on. It also depends on how far in the project I am. I find the first few chapters easiest to write because the story is fresh and exciting, and I’m itching to put it on paper. I also find the last quarter of chapters easy to write because I usually have a deeper understanding of the characters and story by the time I get to them. The middle chapters usually take more time. Sometimes a week or more each, even with an outline.
How much planning goes into writing before you actually write a sentence? Or do you just let the words flow and do heavy editing later?
C: When I started writing, I used to edit as I wrote, but this significantly slowed down my writing. I try to write as much as possible and ignore typos, errors and grammar etc. This allows me to get the story written faster. It also allows me to iron out some outline plot holes early on.
How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your writing?
C: Criticism is something you can’t avoid if you intend on publishing your work. It’s hard to put your work out into the world to be judged, especially when you’re a new writer. It was daunting getting feedback about my work at first, but art is subjective. People have different tastes and they are allowed their opinion. Depending on how far you are in the writing process, constructive criticism from beta readers etc. can be vital, however, elaborate criticism, especially after publication can be detrimental. The important thing is to focus on the positive reviews and to keep writing.
The other thing to remember is that no one is born an expert. Sometimes we tend to give up too easily. Your first draft or book might not be great, but if writing is something you truly want to pursue, you’ll keep writing. Your second and third drafts might not be great either, but with persistence, you can only get better.
A: That’s really good advice, even natural talents still have to work hard to get better.
Do you have any tips and tricks for aspiring writers?
C: It would be great if family and friends were supportive of our dreams, but for some, it may not be the reality. The people around you may not understand why you need to write. Many may believe there is no money in writing, or it’s not a real job etc. Don’t listen. Keep writing.
Read as much as possible and keep writing. There is no greater teacher than published books. You can go through all the writing workshops and creative writing classes, but if you’re not reading enough when you’re starting out, your writing will not improve.
A: I definitely understand not having an overtly supportive family. It’s important to find someone who is supportive, even if that someone has to be yourself.
Questions About Reading
Do you think it’s necessary for a good author to also be a prolific reader?
C: Perhaps prolific is exaggerated, but yes, a writer needs to read. You need to have a love for books or stories. Being a prolific reader before you decide to become a writer is an advantage. Depending on your writing schedule, however, you will have to produce more than you consume. I used to read about three to six books a month on average but now that I’m writing it’s been reduced to one or three. I found this works best for me and my writing schedules and deadlines.
How do you find time to read?
C: It wasn’t easy when I had school and a full-time job. I would mostly read during lunch or after hours and weekends. Now that I‘m writing full-time, I can set an entire week or two aside for reading or research after I complete a draft. Sometimes I can set aside a few hours or half the week if I complete my writing goals.
A: I know a big chunk of my reading time is my lunch hour at work!
Who are the authors that you most want to emulate?
C: I reference some works, but I can’t say I try to emulate any specific author. In the beginning I would say Suzanne Collins. I love the Hunger Games and when I first decided to write, Suzanne Collins trilogy was a big inspiration. My stories are far different now. Depending on my story, I reference more than one book and author. For example, when I am writing a fantasy with action scenes or chapters, I’ll read fantasy with great action sequences to get a feel of how other authors depict action. When writing a historical romance, I would read Charlotte Brontë or Jane Austen to get a feel for the time period and dialogue etc.
Who’s an author that you think is criminally under-read?
C: I can’t think of one at the moment. Most of the books I enjoyed in recent years are mainstream and from authors who don’t have an incredibly long list of works. Some of the books I couldn’t put down way past midnight that come to mind include Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Wonder by R. J. Palacio. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.
I’ve also enjoyed a lot of comic books and graphic novels more than I have some novels. The writers I enjoy are all renowned, but there may be a few story arcs that don’t get enough recognition. Some of my all-time favourites I can mention off the top of my head include The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One by Frank Miller. Captain America Vol 5 by Ed Brubaker — truly legendary. Everything from the winter soldier to the death of Captain America is brilliant. Extremis, Faith in Monsters and Caged Angels by Warren Ellis. Born Again and Man Without Fear by Frank Miller. Frank miller’s entire work on Daredevil is transformative. Solve Everything by Jonathan Hickman. His entire run on Fantastic Four and Future Foundation is incredible. Hawkeye by Matt Fraction. Messiah Complex and Second Coming. Most Wanted by Matt Fraction. Jason Aaron’s Thor run. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run on Nova is brilliant. Their entire Marvel cosmic work was epic.
A: I strongly agree with a lot of these recommendations. I always maintain that comic books and graphic novels should be up there with the most renowned books. Matt Fraction is also a personal favorite of mine.
What’s a book from your childhood that holds a special place in your heart?
C: Probably Captain America #1 (2004) by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. I was more into comic books when I was younger, but there were no dedicated comic book stores around. The grocery store in our neighbourhood sold comics, but they came in concealed packets of three unrelated issues, so I had no idea which books I was getting.
Spiderman and X-men 90’s animated series were still popular around the time, so I was mostly into those particular titles, but most of the books in the concealed packets would be DC or Image. I never got to read a full arc because the issues were inconsistent. Captain America #1 was one of the first books I got that I really wanted. I read the issue a couple of times. It wasn’t easy shipping books and comics from the US when I was younger, but a few years later with ComiXology and Kindle, I was able to read the entire Brubaker run and purchase novels.
A: I love stories about young people going out of their way to find reading material. I love that the digital market has made that so much easier.
Questions about Your Book
How much of yourself is in the protagonist? Why did you choose to write from a female perspective?
C: Quite a bit. I didn’t think about it much while writing the initial draft, but the more I related to Hope I began to draw from some of my experiences.
The initial story was told from the perspective of Hope’s father, Ray Goodman which I intended on turning into a graphic novel. It was also told from a third-person perspective. The script was more about the family than Hope. Her treatments and school scenes were about a quarter or less of my initial idea, but when I got to the end of the story, hers was the most interesting, so I rewrote the script as a book in her perspective.
A: That’s an interesting progression. I really enjoyed Hope’s journey and am glad I got to see so much of it.
Did you draw on any personal experience when writing the book?
C: Yes. Long before the MCU and superhero films caught on, comic books were considered cartoonish or childish etc. by people around me, so I endured some ridicule for liking books and comics. There were other experiences, like my interest in meditation or vegetarianism that people around me didn’t understand. A lot of things I was into were considered to be a “white thing” or weird etc. For a long time, I felt I had to constantly defend or explain myself.
What kind of research did you do to write the hospital scenes? Your writing about genetic issues and treatments appeared to be above a baseline knowledge.
C: I researched a lot of genetic disorders, including Asperger’s and Autism. Since Hope’s alienation largely has to do with her thoughts and people’s ideology, I wanted a genetic disorder that had something to do with the brain or had a treatment that focused on the brain. When my research led me to Angelman Syndrome my search was over.
Hope’s treatment with Dr Graham is largely influenced by real-life experiments with an experimental chemotherapy drug, Topotecan that showed improvements on the UBE3A gene in mice which is associated with Angelman Syndrome in humans. Brain scans were necessary to monitor the progression of the treatment in mice. OME3A is a reference to UBE3A. Ability Dysfunction Spectrum Disorder (ADSD) is a reference to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which has been shown to improve through improvement of the gut microbiome — another treatment Hope undergoes. Hope’s exact ADSD diagnosis of Remo’s — named after the fictional Doctor, Jack Remo — is a reference to Asperger’s which is named after the paediatrician, Hans Asperger.
It took me about three weeks to a month to do the initial research. I read several articles and treatments pertaining to ASD and Angelman that I went back to over several months while writing to make sure Hope’s condition was scientifically believable.
A: I think all of the research payed off. It really came through in the writing and made it seem so much more real.
What is your favorite power given to any character in the book?
C: In terms of coolness, I would say Grandma Sophie’s. With her power, I could have eight powers.
Creatively and Artistically, I would say Christie’s. I couldn’t explore it enough because the story is told from Hope’s perspective, but Christie is an augmenter. She boosts people’s abilities. Her powers and affiliation with the adroit was an analogy for how some people keep friends around to boost their ego.
A: That’s such an interesting power set, kind of forces a selflessness that isn’t often present.
What happens to Hope next?
C: I think Hope’s story has a good ending. I had outlines for a second and third book which would focus more on Cody and the entire family, but I don’t plan on writing anything unless it has a message or strong theme as Special.
I have plans for a short story titled Invisible which would follow Allie’s time with the adroit so Hope would be a very secondary character. The story would be from Allie’s perspective with a focus on the adroit and the mischief they lure her into. The story will most likely be released as a short story addition to the second edition of Special or a graphic novel.
A: A graphic novel would definitely work well for that kind of story!
Questions about You/ Just for Fun
What is something mundane that doesn’t seem to bother most people but drives you absolutely insane?
C: Noise, disorder and untidiness.
What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken?
C: That’s a tough one. I travelled through Cape Town, India and South East Asia last year for four months and it was incredible. There was lots to see and learn, but there’s something about a trip I took to Los Angeles a few years ago that was magical. I did something exciting, almost every day. I slid down the OUE Skyspace, visited Warner Bros Studios, took tours, saw iconic movie settings and saw Doctor Strange the week it premiered. I also went to book signings and writing workshops. The tours around LA, Hollywood and Warner Bros Lot were great. It was like stepping into some movie scenes at times. I got to see the Game of Thrones iron throne prop and the red chair from one of my favourite movies, The Matrix. It was amazing.
A: That does sound like an incredible trip! So many memorable activities!
What’s your favorite present you’ve ever received?
C: A 4th gen kindle. I love physical copies, but some books wouldn’t ship to my address or got lost in transit. Some would take months to arrive. I received a kindle as a gift in 2012 — that I still have to this day — which allowed me to read all the books I could think of without the long wait. I’ve read tons of books on the device over the years, and it still works perfectly, even after being dropped in water. It has lasted longer than a paperwhite upgrade I got a few years ago.
A: I think some people underestimate how great an e-reader can be for those who don’t have as easy access to physical copies. And even water proof to boot!
If a stranger wanted to win you over at a bar, how would they start the conversation?
C: It’s unlikely because I’m passed my drinking and clubbing phase 😁
I guess they would just have to be direct. I believe a person’s confidence or energy can be more attractive than words. If they could work in or show some knowledge of books, comic books, astrology or spirituality, philosophy and the MCU it would be a bonus.
What’s something you would scream at your younger self until you were sure they heard you?
C: I love you. You are enough. Just be yourself, and the right people will come along.
Self-love is the key to leaving your most authentic life. When you’re younger, it’s easy to follow the wrong crowd or abandon your dreams to fit in.
I followed the crowd longer than I should have. I drank longer than I should have because everyone around me seemed to do it at the time. It took me a while to understand this, but when you are being authentic and following your life purpose, you attract the right people and circumstances. You attract the love you give to yourself and deserve.
A: I think most of us could have used to hear that way more in our younger days.