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This blog was featured on 04/10/2019
Chanel Cleeton on Revisions, Inspiration and Finding Her Way
Written by
She Writes
April 2019
Written by
She Writes
April 2019

Last year, we fell in love with author Chanel Cleeton for her novel Next Year in Havana, one of the Reese Witherspoon Book Club picks. And this month, fans can fall in love all over again, as the New York Times bestselling author releases When We Left Cuba. While this romantic thriller can be read as a standalone, it follows the story of Beatriz Perez (the older sister of Next Year in Havana’s heroine) after her family has arrived in South Florida. And like its preceding novel, Beatriz’s story is intertwined with the history of the times, including turbulent Cuban-American relations in the 1960s, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Kennedy Assassination. 

On Revisions

Cleeton describes her writing style as one of a pantser, relishing in the unpredictability of her process. Her editing, however, is another story altogether.

“I always start with a revision pass on my computer. Since I often take months to write the initial draft, I read through the entire manuscript with the aim of getting a holistic view of the book,” she says. “This revision pass helps me gain a better sense of how the overall story is working and whether any plot holes exist or character development is needed. I’m also fixing obvious flaws that jump out at me.”

Next, she moves on to tweaking the plot and characters.

“I print out a hard copy and pull out my red pen. For me, this is where the magic happens. There’s something about editing your work in print that really helps you polish your writing. I spend a lot of time at this stage working on sentence structure, word choice, and adding layers and depth to the story.”

From there, she reviews her manuscript on her e-reader.

“I found that I am much more likely to catch typos, mistakes, and awkward phrasing when I change the medium with which I view my book,” she offers. “If I’m used to looking at it a certain way, it’s easy to skip over things, but with variety, it feels fresh each time I revise.”

Lastly, she takes a step back to decide if she’s happy with the book, or if she’ll restart the revision process all over again.

“The goal is to reach the point where I’m not making significant changes at the e-reader stage,” she says.

These excerpts were originally published on Penguin Random House. Read the full post here.

On Finding Her Way

In the summer of 2016, Cleeton found herself at a crossroads in her career. She had finished writing the final book in her Wild Aces series, and while she had some ideas, she was quickly losing confidence.

"I liked the characters in the story I was working on well enough, but I didn’t love them like I wanted to. And as a writer, when you spend months working on a book and exploring your characters, it’s difficult when you don’t feel that connection."

“I didn’t know what my next book would be or if I would have another publisher deal. And honestly, it was a familiar feeling. It wasn’t the first time I had felt that way, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But it did inspire me to step outside my comfort zone and write something different, something a little bit scary.”

She did, however, have an idea for a book, one that strayed from her typical romance novels, and instead was inspired by her family’s rich history in Cuba.

“I knew that the heart of the book would be about two women, that they would be bound by a powerful legacy, and because I am a hopeless romantic, I knew that each woman would have a great love, a man who would challenge them—epic love stories set against the backdrop of revolution and its aftermath. But the focus wasn’t the romances. It was equal parts a love letter to Cuba, then and now, and a story of the courage and strength of these two women and their family and friends.”

Honing in on that inspiration is what set her back on track.

This excerpt was originally published on BookPage. Read the full interview here.

On Inspiration

“My grandmother lived with us growing up and we had a special bond. She used to tell me stories of her life in Cuba and she passed on so much of our history and culture to me, and really gave me a great appreciation for where I came from. She was a strong, unapologetic, fierce woman and I’ve injected a lot of her spirit into my characters. My grandmother was pregnant with my father during the Cuban Revolution and lived through a tumultuous time in the eight years she lived in Cuba under Castro’s regime and then her exile to the United States. I was inspired by her strength and courage when writing Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba and strove to honor her legacy with my words.”

This excerpt was originally published on Greer Macallister. Read the full interview here.

On Advice

Cleeton encourages aspiring writers to push through the emotions and never give up.

“Publishing can be a solitary endeavor, especially in the early days, and dealing with setbacks and rejection can be tough, so perseverance is key. When you face a disappointment in your writing career, it’s natural to be sad, but the most important thing is to keep writing and learning, and to never, ever give up.”

This excerpt was originally published on Jean Book Nerd. Read the full interview here.

She also recommends that writers create and stick to a strict routine – one in which making time for writing is a priority.

“I’m a HUGE Nora Roberts fan.  She’s probably one of my greatest writing influences.  She writes daily and that piece of advice has always stuck with me.  I will admit that during particularly crazy life times (i.e. when I found out we were moving to South Korea), I tend to struggle with writing daily.  But honestly, it is the best habit to form.”

Cleeton’s first book was a historical romance, one which took her two years to write.

“Looking back, I cringe at how much more productive I could have been if I’d taken it seriously.  Writing daily makes it a part of my routine and it also keeps me sharp.  Even if I can only do a couple hundred words a day, the act of prioritizing writing and treating it like a job (in the best sense) has made a huge impact on my writing career.”

This excerpt was originally published on author Amy Trueblood’s blog.  Read the full interview here.

Photo Credit: Chris Malpass

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