Interview with Chelsea Campbell – Author of The Rise of Renegade X

Chelsea Campbell is the author of the delightful novel, The Rise of Renegade X.  In addition to penning a fun debut novel, her imagination enables her to soar over buildings in a single leap, and she types so fast she melts keyboards! Battling through a city of supervillains, she freed herself to spend some time in the virtual offices of Manga Maniac Cafe, to chat up her new novel.

Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

I have a degree in Latin, I’m an obsessive knitter, and I write humorous YA novels.

Can you tell us a little about your novel, The Rise of Renegade X?

The Rise of Renegade X is about Damien Locke, a teen supervillain bent on going to supervillain school and becoming one of the greats, until he discovers his mom had a one night stand with her nemesis and he’s actually half superhero. He ends up having to go stay with the superhero side of his family for a while.  His dad wants to prove to him that deep down he has superhero traits and isn’t all villain, and Damien wants to prove just the opposite, that no matter what his heritage, he’s 100% villain and not a hero at all.

How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

I decided I wanted to write about a villain character who has to save people.  That was a pretty vague starting point, but it wasn’t long before I knew my story was about a supervillain kid on the brink of his life of villainy all coming together.  And I thought, "What’s the worst thing that could happen to him at this point?"  And the answer was that he found out he wasn’t really who he thought, that he was actually half superhero, and that that would throw a huge wrench in all his plans.  That left me with Damien, his supervillain mom, and his superhero dad.  I did some writing prompts, ones like, "Your character gets a letter in the mail and is upset–what does the letter say?" that kind of thing, and just kept playing around with the world and characters until the story started to emerge.  I’d also write out scenes I was looking forward to, to see how they felt and get some of them out of my system.  It really helped early on to see what would be fun to do and how to make it better.  For instance, in my pre-writing stage, I wrote a little about Damien having to go stay with his dad, who at this point in my plans was a bachelor who didn’t know how to deal with having a kid.  That was fun in the really early stages, but it didn’t take much to realize it was also boring and could be SO much worse.  I gave him a family instead and a sense of how he thought his kids–whether they’re hero or villain–ought to be raised. 

Was it difficult to strike a balance with Damien’s personality?  It would have been easy for him to come across as a jerk, but instead he is such a sympathetic character.    Was it hard to keep him likable?

This is something I definitely worked at, especially in the beginning.  I wanted to have a bad boy villain character who was also really likable, so he couldn’t be *too* bad, but he couldn’t be too good, either.  One way I tried to deal with this balance issue was to have him manipulate someone in every scene, whether it was some big scheme he was playing out, or just something small like getting someone to do something for him.  That helped give focus to his villain side.  He’s constantly manipulating people, yet he also has his own rules of what’s right and what’s wrong that he won’t cross, and I think that’s a very likable quality.  Ultimately, whether he’s acting as a hero or a villain, he’s trying to figure where he fits in the world and how to do what’s right for him, and that’s something a lot of us can relate to. 

What have you learned about yourself through your characters?

It’s been almost three years since I wrote Renegade X, so it’s hard to remember.  I always learn a lot from my characters, though.  They start out as tiny bits of me, but by the time I’m done writing a book, I feel like it’s the opposite, like instead of them being parts of me, I wish I could be parts of them.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book? Was there a scene that you just couldn’t get right?

I used to have serious problems with writing scenes about families that took place in houses.  I know that sounds completely stupid, but every time I would try to write them, they would just come out all wrong and usually really goofy.  O__o  I don’t know why.  The characterization would just fall to crap.  Anyway, I’m over it now, but I had some trouble writing the scene where Damien first goes to his superhero family’s house.  When I first sat down to write it, everyone was awful.  His half siblings were all bratty monsters and everyone loathed him and it was all just out of control.  I tried rewriting the scene with him standing on the front porch just watching them all inside, and that was stupid, too.  I realized I didn’t want characters I couldn’t stand and that this was not the way to go.  And then I thought about how if I show him meeting them, there has to be conflict, because otherwise why am I showing it?  But I didn’t really want there to be conflict there, because it was too awful, so I skipped that part.  In the book, we come into it the next day, after he’s already met them.  (And since I didn’t show it, we can assume nothing too noteworthy happened.)  And I made them not be horrible–his little brother is kind of fascinated to have a villain in the house–and while his sister might not be crazy about him being there, it’s more sibling rivalry than inherent hatred.  I went a different angle with his stepmom and had her feeling more protective of him, like she felt more like they were rescuing him from what she imagined was a horrible villain life, and actually stuck up for him rather than being an evil stepmother.  Once I figured out his family’s attitudes towards him, the rest of the scenes with them were a lot easier!

Can you tell us about your experience finding a publisher?  What was the process like?

It was a long process that took about a year and a half.  It’s a long story, but basically, I knew this book was the best thing I’d ever written and it just had to be The One.  I found an agent for it, but she was too busy for me and not enthusiastic enough about the book. Well, she couldn’t sell the book and stopped communicating with me.  An agent who wouldn’t even speak to me and who was just holding up my work wasn’t good, and I was more desperate to be submitting my work than I was to have an agent, so I fired her.  I thought since Renegade X had already been shopped that I didn’t have a chance of getting another agent, so I sent it out to a small publisher on my own.  I was really ready to quit at this point. I wasn’t writing anything new, and everything was falling apart. But just when things looked their darkest, the small pub I sent the book to made me an offer. With some prodding from my writer friends, I made another attempt at getting an agent, now that I already had an offer, and I ended up signing with the amazing Holly Root, who has been my dream agent.  She didn’t feel the book had been properly shopped by the old agent and sent it to a few more houses, one of which was Egmont, who ended up buying the book.

What’s the most gratifying aspect of having your book published?

People can read it!  Like, my book is in parts of the country I’ve never even heard of, yet someone there could pick it up and read it. Even someone famous, or who makes something I admire, could read it, and that’s just mind boggling.  Books can be a lot of things–comfort, inspiration, entertainment, or even just an escape from reality.  They’ve been all those things to me, and the idea that people might experience those same feelings while reading something I wrote is very satisfying.

Who was your biggest supporter while you were working on the book?

My critique group.  I refused to tell them what the book was about until I finished it, and they put up with that and helped me problem solve, even though we had to talk in code.  I’d be like, "Okay, so… there’s this guy and let’s say he works at McDonalds.  Well, he THINKS he does, but then it turns out secretly he’s worked for Burger King without knowing it his whole life…"

If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, what would it be?

I can’t remember a time I didn’t love stories and at least being read to, if I couldn’t read yet myself, but the earliest non-picture book I remember loving to death and making my mom read to me over and over was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  I think it had a big influence on me, even if it’s hard to pinpoint anything specific.  But I’m sure it had a hand in making me love reading so much.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

I knit, usually while watching TV shows.  (Right now I’m rewatching all of The Office.)  There are always endless shows to watch and endless knitting to do.  I also play video games and try and keep up with my Latin. 

Can you share a little about your next project?

I just finished a paranormal historical YA about Julius Caesar and Cicero teaming up to save Rome from an army of violent ghosts.  It was really challenging to write–I never in a million years thought I would write anything historical, and especially not from the point of view of a real person–but it was also something that had been building in my brain for a long time, so I’m glad I made the effort. 

Thank you, Chelsea, for stopping by for a chat!

The Rise of Renegade X is in stores now, and I highly recommend it.  It is fun and unique, with a great cast of characters.  You can buy it from your favorite bookseller, or order it from Amazon by clicking this link.