No, it’s not a joke! I am selfishly starting with MY OWN author interview about my story in the dystopian novelette anthology, And Man Grew Proud. These questions were assembled by Adam and Sam, who you will meet in the coming weeks, and each interview follows exactly the same format. I hope you enjoy these (much shorter) author interviews!
Hi, what’s your name and where are you from?
I’m Cari Jehlik and I live in North Dakota in the US.
When did you start writing and what got you interested in seeking publication of your work?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, honestly. Whether journaling my high school boy crush woes or writing plays for Girl Scouts or turning in my 6th grade Minnesota History Project paper from the first person perspective of Colonel Snelling himself, I’ve been writing creatively my entire life. However, pursuing publication has been an endeavor of the past four or five years, when I finally had learned enough to craft compelling stories that people would actually want to read.
What’s the name of your novelette and what’s the story about?
My story is Embers. It follows the journey of Katelyn, who becomes Ember after meeting cold-hearted, war survivor Thrash and embracing his code for life and survival: either a person is useful or or they are executed. However, when someone from Ember’s college days unexpectedly shows up seeking refuge or safe passage through Fargo, she’s forced to confront who she has become and whether that’s really who she wants to be.
Writing such a work in just 7 days from scratch must have been difficult, run us through that week, how did you find it? What came easily and what was a challenge?
I actually wrote my own story in four days. I was in the mountains of Montana with some friends and didn’t come home until Tuesday afternoon of writing week, so that’s when I first saw the theme and could even begin to think about it.
As a pantser, I think I just sat down and started writing. An idea had been percolating in my mind for a while–what if someone had the chance to try again with ‘the one that got away’ after some life had been lived? And not divorce, but because of death. A totally “clean slate”, if you will. What might that look like?
Writing dystopian was a totally new experience for me. I’ve read a few novels, but I can take or leave it (many seem to be very similar), so it was a challenge to put myself in the dystopian mindset. I wanted it to be gritty, but not violent for violence’s sake. I didn’t want to dive into overarching politics. I didn’t want to think too hard about what got everyone there–I really wanted to focus on that moment, those moments in time.
Getting the story out wasn’t too hard, but making it WORTH READING was more of a challenge. Because it ended up being a far more relational story than perhaps dystopian might lend itself to, I didn’t expect to make it at all, even though I was SUPER proud of the story. I didn’t think it was gritty enough, dystopian enough, but I also didn’t want to add in more gore for the sake of gore.
It was also a challenge to move from my own ‘the world is safe and I have plenty to eat and it’s highly unlikely someone’s busting down my door to kill me and take my stuff’ and into a place where everywhere is unsafe, every person could be unsafe, every situation is unsafe. It’s a totally different mindset to occupy and trying to figure out how someone might act or react to situations while in that mode of life took some effort and quite a few conversations with my somewhat Vulcan-minded husband to really bring out the reality of being unsafe all the time.
Tell us a little bit about the main characters in your novelette.
Ember, or Katelyn, is a 30-something once-mom, once-wife who survived some horrors of war and finds herself in the company of some others trying to survive. She cares about these people, but she’s also trying to live and trying to deal with the trauma of losing her entire family before her eyes. She’s got some problems.
Thrash is a 40-something survivor who learned that emotions cloud thinking and judgment and get people killed. He has whole-heartedly embraced emotional disconnection and a ruthless view of the world and dealing with people and situations. Because of this, he’s survived alone for quite a few years, but when he meets Katelyn, he decides it’s time to band together. The inspiration for Thrash comes from Gary Oldman in The Book of Eli.
Liam is ‘the one that got away’ from Katelyn in college and while he, and his people, have also experienced the horrors of war and post-apocalyptic survival, he hasn’t lost his humanity in the process and he fights to keep it. He fights to keep the hope alive. He fights to stay human.
Did you draw upon your own experiences for this story? Were you inspired by real people or events in your life?
Sort of. I think everything I write pulls from one experience or another. I think many of us have someone in our past who ‘got away’ and in those moments of deepest life discontent, we wonder how things would be different or better if we’d made this choice instead of that choice. I think Katelyn is way braver than I am, though I would like to be as brave as her. Thrash, as I mentioned, is inspired by Gary Oldman. Liam is inspired by an inaccurate and twisted memory that surfaces only in my moments of deepest discontent with life. He might be real, but he’s mostly not.
Is this the longest work you’ve had published? Tell us a bit about your writing career highlights.
This is my longest published work. I’m in three short story anthologies as well, Heart of a Child, Ink Dreams, and Magic We’ve Forgotten (coming out soon).
I am working on my own fantasy novel series and my goal is to have the first book ready for publication later this year.
What motivates you to succeed as a writer?
I love writing. I love telling stories. I love exploring ideas and running with them. I love sharing them with others. I love taking a memory and tinkering with it and seeing what happens. It’s also a form of therapeutic catharsis, I think. I can work through something in my mind in a work of fiction and while there may be an element or two of truth in there, the entirety of the truth is lost somewhere along the way.
I’m a deep, deep thinker and I spend most of my life buried inside my head, mulling through this or that question and writing allows me to bring some of that out, get it out of my head, and hopefully, connect with the heart of the reader.
Besides writing, what do you enjoy doing with your time?
These days, much of my time is spent being a mother to my 3 kids, which is wonderful and exhausting all at once. I love to run and eventually want to get into ultramarathons. I enjoy knitting and crocheting and creating in that way. I also love to learn new things, so watching documentaries and things like that are also highly enjoyable. I also love to spend time with my good friends and church family. Reading is also a huge pleasure for me. I need to stop making author friends. hahah!
Thanks for your time. If readers would like to find out more about you or read your work where can they find you on social media or elsewhere on the internet?
I am searchable on Amazon (which is so cool to say) for the other anthologies I’m in. I occasionally write on my blog at carijehlik.com, though I’m hoping to do a little better than I have been the past few months. I’ve been swamped writing and editing other things, and the poor blog has been a bit neglected. I’m also on facebook at Cari Jehlik, Author, but have recently stepped back from Instagram and Twitter. I hope to return in the future, but I needed to reduce stress in my life, so they got the boot for now. I love to hear from people, so feel free to stop by the website and email me or follow me on Facebook and say hi.