10 questions with author Chella Courington: ‘Always search for the emotional truth’

Chella Courington
Chella Courington

Chella Courington has spent most of her life in the southern USA, particularly the Appalachians. Like many southern writers, she has a love/hate relationship with the very soil that grew her. Coming of age in the 60s, she witnessed the social injustice and violence of a Jim Crow world and worked hard to be an ally for change and equality.

Writing became her way of coping, starting as an eighth-grade poet who wrote about lost children. After graduating from the University of Florida, she went to the University of South Carolina to study with southern writer James Dickey. There she realized that she needed a job outside writing to support her passion.

After earning a Ph.D. in American and British literature, she became a college professor— teaching sequentially at a university, liberal arts college and community college. She adores her students, finding her other passion in the classroom.  

She answers 10 questions..

(If you are an author and would like to take part in this feature please email me via nicolakadam@gmail.com )

Adele and Tom: The portrait of a marriage by Chella Courington
  1. What’s your name and where do you come from?

I’m Chella Courington, and I live in Santa Barbara, California. I was born and raised in the Appalachian south and moved west nineteen years ago.

  1. Do you write fact or fiction and in what genre?

I’ve published six chapbooks of poetry and three of flash fiction. These works blend fiction and fact.

My novella, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage, is a life in flashes as it tells of a writing couple in Santa Barbara trying to negotiate their marriage. Told from both points of view, the novella examines the increasing distance between two artists trying to occupy the same space: one writer’s success is the other’s failure. (I am married to a writer.) But finally, the story is Adele’s as she struggles with relationship, self and aging. A woman born in the Appalachian south yet living in California, she explores who she is through the past and the present.

  1. Are you traditionally or self-published and which route do you consider best?

Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage is traditionally published by an independent press, Breaking Rules Publishing. I’m pleased with the professional manner in which BRP has handled both production and promotion. While I favor traditional publishing, self-publishing has worked for a range of well know writers from Gertrude Stein and Robert Bly to Willa Cather and W.B. Yeats. The key to publishing, whether traditional or self, is for the writer to remain true to her artistic vision.

  1. What’s your work schedule like when you are writing?

When I was teaching creative writing and literature full-time at Santa Barbara City College, I wrote with my students, attempting to keep abreast of the assignments, thus giving me drafts to work on when time allowed (usually the summer). With their passion for writing and vision of the world, my students often inspired me. Since retiring last year, I’ve had more time to hone my craft—play with revision and experiment with form. As far as my daily schedule, I write at least an hour daily, often in the afternoon when the house is quiet. 

  1. What advice would you give to budding writers?

Write whenever you can, whatever your mood (happy or sad). As a mentor once advised me, don’t be afraid to write from that place you want to avoid. Only you can tell your story. Always search for the emotional truth. Because of the personal nature of writing, be careful with whom you share your early drafts.

  1. Who/what are YOUR favourite authors/ books? 

Being from the southern United States, I love Carson McCullers (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter), William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying, Light in August), and Brad Watson (The Heaven of Mercury, Miss Jane) among others. Good southern storytellers have a way of seeing into poverty and race that illuminates the human condition of social injustice. Other beloved writers are Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse), Toni Morrison (Beloved, Sula), Kate Zambreno (Green Girl), Lucille Clifton (any of her poetry), and Stuart Dybek (any of his short stories). There are many, many others, but today these.

  1. Are you a plotter or a pantster?

I’m a pantster. When talking about my process, I like to quote E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime): “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” The joy of this approach is constant discovery. I may start with an image, a character, or an event. Then a whole new world opens in front of me.

  1. What helps you focus?

I like to write in my bed or my study with the lava lamp and silence. Once I enter my own interior space, the imaginative world appears. If I find myself getting tired or unproductive, I take a book outside and read or go for a neighborhood walk.

  1. How long did it take you to write your books?

I wrote my novella, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage, over three years while teaching. Comprised of flashes or vignettes like Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell, the novella’s structure allowed me to write in spurts of creation during holiday breaks. I’d write intensely for several hours and then return the next day. 

  1. Where can we find your books?

Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage, Breaking Rules Publishing

In Their Own Way, Crow Hollow Books

Delphi Series 5, What Women Do, Blue Lyra Press

Paper Covers Rock and Triplicity, Indigo Ink Press

All are also available at Amazon

You can read more about Chella on her website

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