Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Inside the Sun–Alexis Marie Chute

My first book was published by She Writes Press, which is how I first “met” Alexis. I was intrigued by her online presence–I wanted to get to know her, personally. I finally saw her in person at the 2018 ALA (American Library Association) convention in New Orleans–I was not disappointed. Alexis is one of those unforgettable people who light up a room as soon as they enter it.

Q&A with Alexis Marie Chute, author of The 8th Island Trilogy

  1. Where did you grow up /live now?

I grew up and continue to live in the same city; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. For two years I lived abroad in New Zealand, which was a fabulous adventure, and I don’t doubt there will be other distant lands in my future.

  1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child, I always wanted to be an artist and author—exactly what I am doing right now. I also wanted to be an actress and big business woman. I’ve always had many dreams and still think it would be a great challenge to be a lawyer or a firefighter. I don’t subscribe to the idea that we must pick one career and stick with it. Life is more fun with adventure, change and challenge. 

  1. What is your education/career background?

My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art and Design. I also have my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

  1. Do you have kids and/or pets?

I have three living children, ranging from ten-years-old to four-years-old. We have no pets, unfortunately, as I grew up with dogs and love furry companions. My husband is allergic to everything non-human so I chose him over four-legged friends.

  1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Or what first inspired you to write?

I have been writing since as far back as I can remember. As a child, I was always coming up with stories and adventures. Fortunately, I didn’t lose that trait as I grew up. I find writing inspiration everywhere, always. My brain is a sponge for my environment and stimuli. Sometimes this is overwhelming, but most often I use this hyper-awareness to my advantage. 

  1. Where/When do you best like to write?

Mornings are best for me. When I’m working on a book, I like to write first thing in the morning until 11am or sometimes, with a lot of coffee, till 1pm. Then CRASH (crash = nap). I like to write surrounded by candles and incense. I cannot have distractions or a cluttered desk. My music choice is typically classical, like Vivaldi or Mozart, and nothing with words as I find I begin typing what I am listening to. I like to write at my vintage style black wood desk by the window in my room. My actual work-desk in the office is too distracting. When I am crunching a deadline, I don’t have a “best time” to write; I simply sit down and get it done, no matter if I feel like it or not. I love deadlines as external motivators.

  1. Do you have any interesting writing habits or superstitions?

I am far too busy and productive to have useless superstitions about my writing—I don’t mean that to sound arrogant. It has been valuable for me to be disciplined and approach my writing with bootcamp focus. I sit down and work. I love it, but if I only write when I feel like it, I will procrastinate till I’m dead.

  1. When you are struggling to write/have writer’s block, what are some ways that help you find your creative muse again?

Free writing is the best tool I have found to break out of writer’s block. I sit down and simply start typing, no matter what it is. Getting my fingers moving and the mental juices flowing always opens the floodgates eventually.

  1. What do you think makes a good story?

A good story has characters that are simultaneously loveable and deplorable. The plot is unexpected and varied. There is a lot at stake, and the risks and rewards are always in flux. I can tell a story is good when it keeps me up at night, lingers long after the last page, and I wish I had thought it up!

  1. What inspired your stories?

My memoir, Expecting Sunshine, arose out of the anxiety and introspection of my own life. I wanted to survive my pregnancy after the death of my son Zachary and not go crazy in the process. Coming out of it on the other side, sane and with a living baby, Eden, gave me hope that perhaps I had done something right. I wanted to share that hope with others who struggle with loss and growing their family in the midst of the storm of grief.

My 8th Island Trilogy was inspired by the belief that we go to extreme lengths to protect those we love. The trio of unlikely heroes learn that their past selves do not define their present bravery. They rally against unsurmountable odds and discover that they possess strength they never imagined. In many ways, the trilogy is a fictionalized look at the resiliency of the human spirit. That is a topic I am obsessed with and optimistic about!

The order of the trilogy is:

Above the Star

Below the Moon

Inside the Sun

  1. What inspired the three main characters in The 8th Island Trilogy (Archie, Tessa, Ella)?

I was inspired to create the Wellsleys—Archibald, Tessa, and Ella Wellsley—based on real families. They have interesting relationships with each other, some good, like Ella and Grandpa Archie, and some more tense and complicated, like Tessa and her estranged husband Arden. I created characters with flaws, but also redeeming characteristics. In Ella, Tessa, and Grandpa Archie, my goal is for readers to relate, to see themselves, as well as have protagonists they can root for. 

  1. Have you always loved fantasy and adventure novels?

Oh my goodness, YES! Ever since I was very young, I’ve loved fantasy, adventure, mystery, and magic novels. I have a visual mind and I enjoyed picturing the settings in these books and being carried along with the characters. I still remember so many of these novels I read when I was younger, like Ender’s Game for example, which is a very cool science fiction story and blew my mind when I first read it. 

  1. Who is your favorite character in your trilogy and why?

I don’t like to pick, but if you promise not to tell the others: My favorite character is Ella. She is held back by her illness, but she still chooses to be strong for her family. She’s also smart, funny, and creative. She really cares about people, too; another reason she is so important in the story—especially as the trilogy continues.  

  1. Do you always know what the ending of your books will be when you start writing?

When I began writing book one, Above the Star, I had no idea what the ending of the trilogy was going to be—not even after I began writing book two, Below the Moon. I had to pause writing at that point to outline and plot right to the end so I could make sure all the storylines resolved and surprise the reader.

It was a fun experience to outline—I’m typically a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of writer—although I always leave room for the magic of creativity while writing. I even surprise myself. For example, I cried when writing the end of Below the Moon. At the end of Inside the Sun I shed no tears but felt a strange sense of completion and satisfaction. It was eerie and beautiful, surprising and addictive all at once. 

  1. What advice would you give to someone who is working on a book but tends to go back to re-read the first chapter, and gets stuck there?

Don’t go back and reread the beginning! That’s my first piece of advice. A more productive way to approach your book is to focus and write the whole first draft, from start to finish, not rereading anything you’ve written earlier in the story. Don’t do any editing during this first draft stage. A first draft is supposed to be terrible! The most important thing to do is get your story out, fully, on paper. Then you can go back to address the whole book, switching your mind into editing-mode, and work on improving the way you tell the story.

A really great book about switching between the creative act of writing and then the critical act of editing is called Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser.

  1.  What are some interesting facts to note about The 8th Island Trilogy?

I wrote Above the Star during NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. It happens every year. I wrote the book as free writing, stream of consciousness, and with a newborn on my lap.

I wrote book two—Below the Moon—in a video series I call my “80 Days of Writing.” Each day I filmed myself write in time lapse videos and added in an Author Reflections about what I learned through the creative process. You can find all the videos on my YouTube channel.

The trilogy are hybrid novels. There are 30 to 60 illustrations per book. Inside the Sun has the most illustrations and many of them continue in a sequence over multiple pages. The illustrations were created in the persona of Ella. Ella Wellsley has cancer and because of this cannot talk. The chapters from her perspective are unique because we the readers get to venture inside her head, hear her thoughts, and see the magical worlds through her eyes by her illustrations.

The 8th Island Trilogy is what’s called portal fantasy. That’s where the main characters start out in the human world and travel through a portal to a magical world. Another example of portal fantasy is Harry Potter. What’s great about portal fantasy is that we learn about the new magical world alongside the main character(s). 

Another neat point to mention is that The 8th Island Trilogy is told in both first person perspective (Ella’s chapters) and third person perspective (Tessa’s and Archie’s chapters). This is one cool distinction that sets it apart. Also the fact that it is a young adult series, but has main characters that are not teenagers. Yes, there is one main character—Ella—who is a teen, but her mom and grandpa also play leading roles. This is quite unique for the genre.

  1. How does a new story idea come to you? Is it an event that sparks the plot or a character speaking to you?

I get new ideas all the time. From everywhere. From everyone. A new lightbulb is constantly illuminated above my head. My struggle is not finding ideas, but choosing which ideas are worth my attention and which ideas should be the focus for right now. Typically, however, plot precedes character for me in the developmental stage, but character always shines in the end.

  1. Is there a message/theme in your novels that you want readers to grasp?

The resiliency of the human spirit is what percolates up in most of my work. It’s the dogged determinedness that I see in so many people, no matter the hardships they face. They inspire me, and because of them, I want my work to inspire others.

  1. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

I learned that books are hard to make and yet tremendously rewarding and fulfilling. Creating books, for me, is akin to getting tattoos. I am terrified of needles, and thus do not have a tattoo of my own (one day!!), but my friends who get tattoos always tell me it’s addictive. You can never only get one! That’s how I feel about writing books. I’m addicted!

  1. What was your greatest challenge in writing your books?

My greatest challenge in writing any book is getting my bum in the chair, overcoming that procrastination. Once I’ve gotten over the initial hump, and am in the flow, I’m good to go—until, that is, the end. Endings are just as challenging as beginnings. Then the next struggle is when to stop editing. I am a relentless, picky, and perfectionist kind of editor. There comes a point, however, when I need to hold back and declare a book, “FINISHED!!”

  1. On a Friday night, what are you most likely to be doing? How has this changed since COVID-19 came onto the scene?

Friday nights are family movie nights in my house. My husband and I and our three kids will make pizza, wings, and popcorn, we put on a hero-centric movie (my kids have been obsessed with Marvel but I’m trying to sneak the odd 90s flick into our movie schedule), and we cuddle up together. My husband and I work so hard during the week, and our kids do the same with their school and activities, that we love crashing on Fridays.

Our schedules look very different now that we are all in self-isolation because of COVID-19. My husband works from home half the time, the kids are home 100% of the time, and I’ve always worked from home. Can you see the theme: home. It is our hub of family, work, and school life now. Being a glass-half-full kind of person, I am loving the additional time with my family and am seeking to make the most out of every professional opportunity while this pandemic continues. It’s all about resiliency, supporting each other, and seeing the beauty in life despite the pain. This is a season and it too shall pass. 

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Not in winter—I hate snow—but I typically love being outdoors! My favorite activities are paddle boarding, canoeing, hiking, trail running, and sitting in a hot tub outside and talking for hours with friends and family.

Also, aside from my writing, I am a visual artist, curator, filmmaker, and public speaker. So those things, plus family time, keep me super busy. I do, however, always make time for the important people in my life. I LOVE getting together with friends and playing games… you might say I’m a game addict; Mario Cart, Ticket to Ride, Hand and Foot, Uno, Cards Against Humanity, puzzles, escape rooms… You get the idea.

  1. Who is your favorite author?

I love everything Laini Taylor writes. The first book of hers that I read was Strange the Dreamer and I was immediately hooked on her vivid descriptions and complex characters. She’s my hero!

  1. Do you have a bucket list? What are some of the things on it?
  • Travel. Everywhere! (Post-pandemic)
  • Create a library of stories I’ve written.
  • Make a difference in people’s lives.
  • Create meaningful memories with family and friends.
  • Do work that I love.
  • Soak up the family time.
  1. What person(s) has/have helped you the most in your career?

My mom has been a relentless force in teaching me business and determination—she is also tirelessly supportive of my artistic pursuits. My dad and step-dad should be included in this as well. I love them all dearly and am so grateful.  

My husband, Aaron, has taught me to believe in myself, and also that self-care is critical. He is truly a teammate in all my crazy adventures.

My children have taught me to shut off and be present. They are all so creative and brilliant in their own ways and provide me with much inspiration and joy.  

  1. What’s the best writing advice you have ever received?

I have a friend who is an amazing illustrator. His name is Kelly Mellings. We weren’t talking about writing specifically, but about working in creative fields. Kelly gave the absolute best advice that I have applied to every area of my life—personal and professional. He told me he always does things before he’s ready—and I took that lesson to heart.

I was not ready to write a book, but I learned as I went and got ‘er done!

I was not trained on how to create and produce a documentary film, but I did it anyway. It’s called Expecting Sunshine and is based on my memoir of the same name.

I had a general concept of how to be an art curator, I learned on the go, and now curate an annual exhibit called InFocus Photo, and curate for two other spaces; the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel and the Multicultural Heritage Centre.

  1. What was your favorite book as a child?

Too many to count! I was always reading. I loved the Sweet Valley Twins series. And R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps.

  1. What is the one book no writer should be without?

A dictionary and thesaurus. Though I use these tools online now, I am constantly referring to them while writing my books.

  1. How do your spouse/significant other/friends/family feel about your writing career?

All the close family and friends in my life have realized that I am eccentric and am going to do what I want no matter how much they object, so they have defaulted to being amazing cheerleaders instead—which I am immensely grateful for!!

  1. If The 8th Island Trilogy was turned into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?

I’ve spent some time thinking about this and I’ve come up with a graphic of one possible trio for Ella, Tessa, and Archie:

Two people posing for a photo

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  • Where can people find you online?


Twitter: @_Alexis_Marie

Facebook: Alexis Marie Chute, Art, Photograph and Creative Writing

Instagram: @alexismariechute

YouTube: AlexisMarieChute

LinkedIn: Alexis Marie Chute

Pinterest: AlexisMarieArt

Above the Star

Below the Moon

Inside the Sun

The 8th Island Trilogy

Expecting Sunshine Memoir

Expecting Sunshine Documentary

General Alexis Marie Chute website

Alexis Marie Chute on Goodreads

Alexis Marie Chute on Bookbub