In Absence of Fear

In Absence of Fear is a debut novel by Celeste Chaney that examines what it means to be human in a digital age and explores how far we're willing to go in order to feel safe.

A word with debut novelist Celeste Chaney

This interview originally appeared on the Corner Canyon Press website.

Where did you grow up?

My family is from Southern California, but we moved to Utah, about 30 minutes outside of Salt Lake City, when I was very young. It was all dairy farms and fields back then. My mom used to say that they'd drive thirty minutes for Taco Bell because it was the only "Mexican" food they could find. Utah was a lot smaller and more conservative then. I was one of two non-Mormons in my entire grade. It was an interesting childhood, but a very happy one.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I discovered writing in the second grade. My teacher, Mrs. Bray, gave us blank booklets with lines for the narrative and large spaces for accompanying pictures. I've been writing stories ever since.

 Photo taken by Jeremy McDougle

Photo taken by Jeremy McDougle

Did you study English or creative writing in school?

I studied journalism because it seemed to be a more practical career path than "novelist." The funny thing is, I was halfway through my degree when, in 2008, the economy tanked and the advent of social media and blogging altered journalism forever. It was before the pubs learned how to monetize their online content with ads and paywalls. Veteran journalists were vying to keep their jobs, so I knew it was going to be a tough road. I spun my experience and got a job as a copywriter for a marketing and sales company.

How long were you in marketing?

I'm still in marketing. I haven't stopped consulting, and now I'm marketing my own book almost full time, so... six years. It's hard to get out. But, I enjoy it. I really do. At its core, marketing is storytelling.

You quit your "real job" in 2013. Why?

"I had a lump in my throat. A profound sense of wrong. A lovesickness, a homesickness..."

I left because I had to write. At the time, I was Director of Marketing for a medical tech startup and working horrific hours. I hadn't touched my manuscript -- hadn't even opened it -- in almost a year. I'd always wanted to be a writer, but had never believed in myself enough to commit. I'd never taken myself seriously. One Friday night, after a particularly harrowing week, I shut myself in my office and ended up on Brainpickings.org. I stumbled upon a speech called "Fail Safe" by Debbie Millman (I highly recommend it) and found myself in tears. It was as though she was speaking directly to me. She said, "Start with a big, fat lump in your throat, start with a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, or a crazy lovesickness, and run with it...Start now, not 20 years from now. Not two weeks from now. Now." I knew what I had to do. I typed up my resignation letter and sent it to my CEO and CFO right then.

What's the most difficult thing about being a writer?

Sitting down to write. There's always something that seems more pressing. Steven Pressfield nails it completely in "The War of Art." Ultimately, it's our own fear manifesting itself as a stack of dirty dishes, a pile of laundry, a beautiful spring day begging you to take a walk. (And you should take walks...and do the dishes and laundry, I guess.) There are a million distractions, but if you just sit down, if you "show up" as Elizabeth Gilbert says, magical things begin to happen. Your characters reveal themselves, the plot unfolds.

The other difficult thing is the isolation one feels. Having worked with a team for so long in an office environment -- giving and receiving feedback, collaborating, conversing with real people (not just my dog), having to wear shoes, or do my hair -- is starkly contrasted to the life of a writer. You don't regularly receive feedback, and the feedback you do get can't always be trusted. It's so subjective. Not at all like looking at the bottom line and saying, "Well, looks like that campaign worked really well. Let's do it again."

What's your writing routine?

In truth, I'm still working it out. When I quit my job I tried to keep the same schedule. Sit at a desk for eight hours with little interruption and work. It was awful, exhausting and often, depressing. Creative work can't be executed on a back-breaking schedule like that. You need to allow yourself breaks, make room for inspiration. The perfect routine includes real meals. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Time in the morning to journal, to reflect. Time to read. Time outside, walking, exploring, seeing. And, of course, time to write. They say your best work is done in 90-minute increments. So, ideally, I try to write that way. I give myself a daily goal, so I know I'm moving in the right direction, but I allow myself the flexibility to do other things, to consult, to be with friends, to take care of myself, to live.

Why a book about mass surveillance?

I get this question a lot. I started writing IAOF in 2007, well before Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA docs or mass surveillance and privacy were primary public concerns. I didn't set out to write a book about mass surveillance, it just happened. But I'm very glad it did. There are fantastic works of dystopian literature that paint very terrifying pictures of what a mass surveillance state might look like, but there are few that show how we get there, how we, the people, permit that kind of reality. My hope is that IAOF allows readers a glimpse of how easy it is for governments to legislate away liberties using fear. It happens more than we think.

This is a very important chapter of our country's story. How important are the original values our country was founded upon? Will we permit ourselves to become a nation powered by the politics of fear? (God help us if Trump gets the vote.)

What's next?

Good question! My editor is hoping for the IAOF sequel. It's a possibility. Historical fiction also interests me. But also, short stories or a children's book. I haven't made any decisions yet. I'll see where the writing takes me.

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Celeste Chaney's debut novel In Absence of Fear was published by Corner Canyon Press on November 5th, 2015. It is available on Amazon and in select bookstores.

All Content © 2015 Celeste Chaney  All Rights Reserved.