I’d like to see more people write. It’s not a competition. I love when friends tell me they’re writing something. I love to throw ideas and struggles off each other. It’s big that we support each other. We’re only competing against ourselves, not one another.

Justin and I met through Write Out Publishing. I think of Write Out Publishing as my writer family as it was the first home for my fiction. Justin’s story ‘The Old Man Next Door’ is a story of loss but also of redemption and it will make you squirm and think which is what all good short stories do. Here’s our interview which we conducted over ANZAC biscuits on my side of the globe and Justin covering a football game.

NLK: What’s your motivation for writing fiction? What made you start?

JC: That’s a really good question. My motivation is I love doing it. It’s still pretty new to me. Two years ago, I decided to give it a try. Instead of trying flash fiction or a short story, I dove in and wrote a 220,000 word fantasy novel. I realize now—two years later with that much experience and a degree in Creative Writing—I was too raw. There’s no way I can edit that novel, I plan to rewrite it when I feel comfortable (do we ever?) with my writing. At least I have a hell of a manuscript to write from.

Two events made me start writing. Firstly, I’ve always read fantasy, but it wasn’t until I started getting recommendations from my friend Shane—who’s read nearly every fantasy novel—that I was only reading “the big” fantasy novels. Sometimes big-seller doesn’t mean quality (look at Justin Bieber’s sales vs your favorite modern band, for example). Shane introduced me to Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘Tigana,’ and I was blown away. It’s still my favorite book. In my mind, Kay is it for fantasy writing. Secondly, is a book by a rookie author named Brian Staveley called ‘The Emperor’s Blades (available via Tor Publishing) which I read and fell in love with. It’s nice to be able to leave this world for a time and join another. Staveley and Kay both did that to me in a part of my life where I had been blessed with a son and felt a need to make him proud one day. I emailed Brian and picked his brain about writing. He has been such a big help. He actually edited The Old Man Next Door! I’ve been writing 500 words a day, 5 days a week ever since (Brian’s recommendation from his initial email).

 

NLK:  You work, you’re a journalist with a daily in Ohio and have a young family, how do you make time for writing?

JC: My career always comes before writing. Writing is a passion. A typical work day for me is that I am at my job from 8-5. I write when my son goes to bed. I rely on a schedule to keep my anxiety in check, so that helps me. I am a journalist on Friday nights for varsity football. I maybe hit a weekday or two when it’s baseball season if I can. Whether writing a novel or an article for the paper, I always treat it like a hobby and I always have fun. I never want to have to rely on my (and I stress the my, because writing for others is fine) writing as income.

NLK: Who are your heroes? What writer inspires you?

Heroes. Wow. Probably my wife. She runs her own business and is a great mom. Those are two things right there that are full-time jobs, and she does both. It’s amazing to me how naturally motherhood and being an owner came to her. I had to learn how to be a dad. She just knew how to be a mom. Moms are incredible. I admire Moms a lot—they have that extra notch of power and will that no one else possesses. I think that’s why most of my characters (aside from this story) are female. They just give you more options to choose from. Men, the majority of us are still pretty barbaric. We’d go on a conquest for meat and a beer, women are more complex to cover.

Most writers inspire me because a lot of them write so well. Your short story “Disappointment’ made me question what the hell Write Out Publishing was doing picking up my story. Your writing is incredible. I’m not even close to that level. It was a bit intimidating, but that only pushes me more. Thanks for that. It makes me want to be a better writer. I’ve also learned that I can’t expect myself to write as well as someone I worship like Guy Gavriel Kay or Robin Hobb. If I expect that level of writing from myself then I will never mentally be ready to try and get a book published. I just have to be me. I look at it as trying to sound like Black Sabbath’s guitar tone rather than be in a Sabbath cover band. I’m sure that makes sense to no one.

NLK: *blushes furiously* Aww, thank you for your kind words.

 

NLK: Your story ‘The Old Man Next Door’ explores how it feels to be lost after the death of a child. What made you write this story? Is there a real life story behind this one?

JC: This is an easy and hard question. I wrote this story because last year my son caught just a common cold. When that cold went away he started getting hives. They weren’t gross or itchy, they were simply little red blotches. It drove me MAD. They hung around for about three months. The only thing that would get rid of them was an antihistamine. Turns out they were just viral and I’m a psycho. During this time, I felt really down about myself like “why can’t I help my kid.” I had some really dark thoughts because I was terrified and always expected the worst. I had an idea pop into my head one day, so I pulled over into a parking lot and typed the paragraph down in my phone. That was the original opening paragraph of the story, which has since been cut because it was just not really fitting, but the story sprouted from these things I was feeling as a dad. Of course I had to add death. Who would take this story seriously if it was about a dad who’s all messed up because his kid has a small rash.

 

NLK: What do you like to read?

JC: Fantasy, mostly. Authors: Guy Gavriel Kay, George R.R. Martin (read the books, don’t watch that trash on HBO), Robin Hobb, Brian Staveley, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Steven Erikson—the list could go on. I also enjoy the occasional break away from fantasy. Shakespeare is always inspiring, Cormac McCarthy if I want to test my patience, Asimov if I need a sci-fi fix. I really like stories with characters that I can relate to. I think that’s important in a novel. If I can find a piece of the reader and connect that to the character, I’m pretty sure I can bring them into the book, even if they’re not a fantasy writer.

 

NLK:  What do you hope to achieve with your writing?

JC: I’d like to be published. The goal would be for someone to be able to walk into a book store and buy my book. I think that’s absolutely cool. I think I would feel a sense of accomplishment with that.

I also have a goal to write a fantasy novel that non-fantasy fans can read and enjoy. I’d like to bring in elements of romance and drama and stuff, kind of like George did with A Song of Ice and Fire, but mine would have less incest. Back to what I was saying earlier about relating to the characters, that would play a big role into getting, say, a ‘sleuth novel’ reader into fantasy. My aunt, who would tell me if she didn’t like it, read the manuscript of that first novel and really liked it. That’s a big deal to me. She only reads like political non-fiction, so to be able to make her interested in fantasy was a huge boost to my confidence early on in writing.

 

Excerpt from ‘The Old Man Next Door’

It would’ve been Shelly’s ninth birthday today, and for the second year in a row, I call off work. I spend the day crying, swallowing, snorting, and doing shots while reminiscing through photos on my work laptop. Remember when homes used to have photo albums? Ten-pound tomes of fun pictures from vacations and birthdays, all uneven and sideways from that shitty cling wrap that never actually held the photos in place. The laptop’s easier because the battery dies, eventually.
I stare at a photo of Shelly and her mom at the zoo. Shelly’s sitting atop a camel, completely horrified, with her mother sitting behind her. I remember how hot it was that day. She was beautiful, my daughter. Everyone says that about their kid, but Shelly looked like one of those little girls you see at the photo center in the mall that glow like little angels. She had my hair color, my eyes, my nose, and my lips. The only thing she got from my ex was her compassion. Shelly knew when I struggled—with anything—and was always the first to give me a hug. Those little hugs could fix a broken bone. I always put the gun away when I imagine those weak little arms squeezing around my neck.
The battery blinks red for a tenth time, and the computer powers off. Two little clicks echo
through my dismal living room as I close the laptop and set it aside. I’d been looking at the photos for so long, my lap feels like it has a fever.

© Justin Chasteen, 2016.

You can read ‘The Old Man Next Door’ at Write Out Publishing

 

About Justin

Justin Chasteen was born and raised in Ohio. At the age of 31 he started writing fiction, and now, at 33, he has a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing. Aside from this short story, he has an honorable and silver honorable mention from the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, a flash fiction story titled ‘The Shattered Galaxy,’ published in the River & South Review, and four completed manuscripts of various novels (which he now regrettably needs to edit for future publication). Justin also covers high-school baseball and football for the Daily Advocate newspaper based out of Greenville, Ohio.

When not driving his wife mad, Justin

enjoys being a music snob, reading fantasy, NFL football, training boxing, and going on quests through the wilderness with his four-year-old son, Owen—a retired toddler model.

Please feel free to give him a follow on Instagram, Twitter @JChasteenWriter, and WordPress.

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