Welcome to my first Authors & Inspirations post of 2019! To kick off the new year, I’m thrilled to have historical fiction author Chanel Cleeton. Chanel’s most recent novel, the USA Today bestselling Next Year in Havana, was Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick for July 2018. I was honored to have given a blurb to this stunning and powerful dual timeline novel, which follows the story of a Cuban woman whose wealthy family is forced to flee during the revolution, and her granddaughter who returns to Havana years later. Cleeton’s upcoming novel, When We Left Cuba (which I also loved!), continues the story of the Perez family in the aftermath of the revolution, and will be out on April 9, 2019. Welcome to the blog, Chanel!
Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?
Yes, music is a huge part of my writing process. I usually create playlists that fit the mood/tone of the book I’m working on and I tend to listen to those on repeat. I usually share my playlists on Spotify leading up to a book’s release. For example, when I was writing Next Year in Havana I listened to a lot of Buena Vista Social Club.
If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:
I just turned in a book to my editor and while I was working on it, I listened to Lord Huron’s The Night We Met, Falling Water by Peter Oren, If We Were Vampires by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, River by Leon Bridges, and Back to Autumn by Tall Heights.
What was the last live concert you attended?
I was just in Miami a few weeks ago and I saw Marc Anthony in concert. My father had never seen him perform live and he really wanted to go so I tagged along.
What are your all-time favorite TV shows?
That’s a tough one! Gossip Girl, Corazón Salvaje (the original version), Seinfeld, Veronica Mars, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Stranger Things, Jane the Virgin, Sex and the City, One Day at a Time, The Nanny, Frasier, Sons of Anarchy, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are some of my favorites.
What TV shows are you loving lately?
I’ve really enjoyed Glow, Jane the Virgin, One Day at a Time, Stranger Things, Peaky Blinders, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Making a Murderer, and Younger. I also really loved the sadly now cancelled Good Girls Revolt which was amazing! I also watch all of the Real Housewives franchises.
Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?
Photography is really helpful to me and I spend a lot of time looking at photos of the places and from the time periods I’m writing about.
Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?
Definitely! I draw a lot from my real-life experiences. For example, I have a series set in London at an international university that was inspired by my own time at university.
You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?
I’d probably go to Koh Samui, Thailand. I spent a week there a few years ago and it was one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever been.
What authors have most inspired you in your own work?
There are so many. Some of my favorites include Carlos Eire, Beatriz Williams, Tana French, Rhys Bowen, Judith McNaught, Nora Roberts, Ahdaf Soueif, Elizabeth Kostova, Anita Shreve, Sophie Kinsella, and Jane Austen.
What was the last book you read?
I just finished China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan and dove immediately into the last book in the trilogy, Rich People Problems. They’re the ultimate binge books and my favorite series I’ve read this year.
What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?
I enjoy writing scenes that are high-emotion where I really learn what my characters are made of. They’re often a bit draining to work on, but I find that when I pull back the layers on my characters I connect to them the most.
When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?
I watch a fair amount of television, and looking at storytelling from a slightly different perspective both refills the well and often inspires me. I also read nightly and it recharges me and gets me in the mood to write.
What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?
I’m not sure how talented I am, but I really enjoy interior decorating which has been sort of a surprising development in the past few years. I’ve also always been drawn to fashion. Handbags are my weakness 🙂
Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?
My next release is When We Left Cuba, which will release on April 9, 2019. It’s set in Palm Beach in the 1960s and highlights the tumultuous Cuban-American relations of the time period including events like the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, and the many assassination attempts on Fidel Castro’s life.
I just finished drafting my 2020 release, tentatively titled Our Side of Paradise, which is set in the Florida Keys in the 1930s and is centered on the lives of three heroines (one of the heroines is related to the Perez family from Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba) whose paths cross on one fateful weekend in September.
I’m currently researching a book that I will begin drafting soon which will release in 2021. The working title is The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba and it’s set during the Gilded Age and the New York newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, and features a real-life Cuban heroine who was an infamous revolutionary in her time.