Local Author Spotlight
local author spotlight - march 2019
An Interview with Charlena Chandler
Charlena Chandler, a retired high school English and journalism teacher, is also a former newspaper columnist and contributor to several anthologies. A collection of her newspaper columns and articles appear in her book, Not Far From Dryden. A series of essays about her life and experiences as a teacher in West Texas appear in Shakespeare on the Pecos which was originally published as Dead Javelinas Are Not Allowed on School Property.
Her most in-depth work is a history of her family and their property located on the Pecos River south of Sheffield. On Independence Creek: the Story of a Texas Ranch is a window back to a time when things were simpler and nothing came easy. Chandler’s recollections of her family, particularly her grandfather, are both honest and nostalgic. Meticulously researched, On Independence Creek is heartfelt history.
All three books are available in the Local Author Collection at Centennial Library.
Ms. Chandler answered the following interview questions posed by Centennial Library manager, Jane Holt on March 8.
When did you start writing and why?
When I was a freshman in Iraan High School back in the 50s, my English teacher asked me to participate in UIL (University Interscholastic League) Ready Writing. I was a country girl who had gone to school at the ranch for the first seven grades, and I had honestly never heard of Ready Writing. But I struggled through and placed third. The judge wrote, "This paper would have won first, but it didn't follow the title. Stay on topic." I believe that, rather than feeling rejected, I was somehow inspired by his/her note, knowing that I could do better. I started writing for the school newspaper and, in my senior year, won first place in state UIL competition in journalism.
What is the most difficult part of writing?
ust getting the first words down on paper. I don't remember the name of the author who said, "Put the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." But it's surely step one in writing.
What writers do you admire? Did you model your work after any particular writer?
No, I wouldn't dare try, even though I think we are all influenced by writers we like. With contemporary authors, I admire the diverse styles of Frank McCourt, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, and Rick Bragg. My favorite historians are Jon Meacham, David MCullough, Robert Caro, Bob Woodward, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, in no particular order. In another genre, Texana, I have especially liked the work of Larry McMurtry, Elmer Kelton, and a fellow Iraan writer, Denzel Holmes. I admire the talent of local writers, Patrick Dearen and Mary Lou Midkiff.
What are some of your favorite books?
When my students asked this, I replied, "The one I am reading now." Which was usually true. I have loved so many books. However, my favorite as a teacher of English literature was To Kill a Mockingbird. An explanation would be too lengthy for this interview, but those who are interested may want to read the chapter entitled "Mockingbird" in my book, Shakespeare on the Pecos and/or "Best Rejection Letter Ever" in Not Far From Dryden.
In non-fiction, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes is always on my favorites list. It's the most fascinating, well-written account of that historical event, in my opinion. It should be required reading for...well, for everyone who cares about history.
What are you reading right now?
Michelle Obama's Becoming, the late Charles Krauthammer's The Point of It All, and the memoir of Steve Job's daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Small Fry. (Yes, I read more than one book at a time. I don't know if that's a good idea or not.)
What advice would offer an aspiring writer or what advice do you wish someone had given you?
Read a lot. Read everything. I am always taken aback when someone tells me, "I want to be a writer, but I don't like to read." How is that possible?
Are you currently working on another writing project?
No, I'm sorry to say. Writing has given me so much pleasure that sometimes I feel like I have said goodbye to an old friend.