Christa (Wojo) Wojciechowski is the author of The Wrong David, Sick, and is working on a series called The Sculptor of New Hope. Her characters explore existential turmoil, mental illness, and the complexity of romantic love. She uses her stories to compare the dark, carnal nature of humanity with its higher qualities of creative expression and intellectualism.
Christa currently resides in Panama with her husband and a house full of pets. She works as a freelance digital marketer and loves to help fellow authors build their brands and platforms. Christa enjoys foreign movies, yoga, wine, and the outdoors. Most of all, she’s passionate about books and writers and loves discussing them on social media.
So Christa, thank you for having this interview with us, we were interested to learn that you used to tame lions and chase storms; how did this come about and why?
When I lived in Florida, I managed a private animal sanctuary that was open to the public. I took care of nearly a hundred animals. We had tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, lynx, primates, canines, bears, macaws, a camel, llamas, deer, a horse, a donkey, an otter, raccoons, and a wallaby. There were also snakes, lizards, turtles, alligators, all the way down to scorpions and tarantulas.
The big cats were all fed by hand. I had to hack up eighty pounds of bloody horse meat each day for the carnivores. Then I’d chop up buckets of fruit and vegetables for the herbivores. We bred rats and mice to feed the snakes. There was lots of poop. Lots. It was a dirty, laborious, and dangerous job, but I loved each of those animals as if they were my own children.
A few years later, the animal sanctuary was forced to shut down because they were widening the highway in that area. That’s when I went to work with my dad at the power company. In 2004, we had a crazy series of hurricanes – Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. During emergencies, all the staff at the power company is called in for hurricane duty. This means you work about 16-20 hours a day in very dangerous conditions. My dad and I teamed up to go survey the power lines to see if there were any urgent situations and to tell the crews where the damage was. We also turned on some customers’ power while we were there. That was not protocol, but we did it anyway, and they were very grateful.
Your website says that you’re an Internet marketer which can be a full time job in itself, so when did you first discover your passion for writing? And how do you find the time with all the other things you seem to be doing?
I was a child when I first discovered my passion for writing, but I never committed to it until I moved to Panama. I couldn’t legally work here so I had a lot of free time and solitude. I decided to try writing a memoir about experiences I had in my new country. I’ll probably never publish it, but it broke the seal and helped me to realise that I had the ability to finish stories.
My job as an internet marketer came later. I used to just help family and friends with their websites and social media. It was a part-time gig for travel and Christmas money. Now it’s a full-time operation that continues to grow. I have had no time to write during the past six months and am a little grouchy because of that. You know what Kafka says about a non-writing writer, so I’m planning to turn my freelance operation into a firm and hire some people to join my team. I’m also in the process of developing some e-courses to generate passive income.
Your fiction, in particular the Sick series, demonstrates an incredibly subtle style of Horror-writing that arises from psychology and character. How did you come to develop this unique style?
This is a great question because I never consciously planned this story or the characters. I had a nightmare about this pale, sick man covered in bruises. I think he had a broken leg. I was his wife–not myself, but another woman entirely. The bedroom was disheveled and dirty. The scene was repulsive to all five senses, but the most frightening part about it was the way this woman I inhabited felt. Her husband was obviously very, very ill and yet he exuded this powerful menace. The uneasy feeling of the dream stuck with me, and after some months I decided to purge it by writing it as a story.
The psychological aspects of your writing are one of its greatest strengths. Where did your fascination with the human mind arise? Can you name a key event or moment in your life that triggered your interest and desire to explore further?
I’ve always rooted for the deranged characters in books and movies. I’m drawn to the troubled souls and insane villains, but I know I’m not alone in this. Everyone loves a good pyscho or they wouldn’t be so popular.
Some of my family members have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. I, too, went through times in my life where I felt like I might lose my mind (I’m really not quite sure if I haven’t). I’m mystified by how thoughts and emotions can break your sanity. Sure, some brain diseases can be seen in a scan, but most mental illness is in the intangible. You can look at the brain and it will be physiologically sound, but the person is incapable of functioning. It’s this invisible entity that is damaged. How does that happen? How does this ethereal organ break?
What makes it even more interesting is that the mind can repair itself through words. Therapy or writing can fix mental illness–words, which are nothing but a sound vibration. They are ink marks on paper. They’re black pixels on this screen, and they have the potential to destroy and heal. It’s all very spooky when you think about it.
What scares you most?
Maybe the reason I’m drawn to psychology is because I’m afraid of going insane, but the fear that preoccupies more than anything else is knowing one day I will cease to exist. Death doesn’t scare me, but the thought of not existing as a conscious being torments me.
For most of my life, I believed in some sort God and afterlife, so I didn’t worry about it. People tell you about heaven when you’re a little kid and you never think to question it. I’m not sure how it came about, but one day I imagined the world without God and it made sense. It doesn’t matter that it might not be true. Just the fact that it’s a logical possibility is enough to make a person lose their mind. Now I can’t unsee that possibility. I’m afraid I will die and everyone I love will die and it will be as if we never existed. All we have is this absurd life together that is no more permanent than a dream. The thought is always at the back of my mind. I’m waiting for some spiritual epiphany to save me because it’s not a good place to be.
So far you have solely published novellas, is that correct? Some consider this to be a dying art form (publishers increasingly phasing them out of publishing schedules) whilst others think it is the future of publishing. What are your thoughts on it?
I initially published novellas out of convenience. I didn’t have time to work on full-length novels and I wanted to familiarise myself with the self-publishing process – book cover design, formatting, leveraging Amazon– because of my job working with authors. I could put the marketing and publishing all under one roof.
Another reason I thought novellas might be a good idea is to adapt to the modern world’s shortening attention span. So much material is competing for our eyes these days. I’m a consumer of Kindle books too, and I know when I download an ebook, I may not finish it. I get interrupted by something and lose my grasp on the story. Then I forget to pick it up again.
I like having shorter fiction to read so I don’t have to commit to a long book. Novellas are easily digestible, like a Netflix series. Readers can choose to binge or not.
Have you ever thought of releasing a short story anthology? Would you ever consider working in this genre or do you prefer the length of the novella?
I’ve been writing short stories since I was a kid. My first published work, The Wrong David: A novelette, is essentially a long short story. I have a folder of literary fiction short stories I would like to polish up and submit to magazines and sites, but that plan has been pushed to the side for now. I would absolutely consider an anthology in the future.
Your writing is effortlessly modern (something many writers seem to struggle with), but there are also some classic gothic elements: the shadowy characters (such as the caretaker), the decaying architecture of John’s family home, the sense of degradation and paranoia. Are the novels from the Gothic tradition an influence for you?
Absolutely. I read mostly classic literature, and Gothic novels are some of my favourites. Whatever a writer reads, they absorb into their writing. I’m always afraid I come off sounding archaic compared to the kind of prose that’s popular today, so I’m relieved to hear you say it’s effortlessly modern.
The Gothics are a major influence because they are psychologically scary. Gore is not scary to me, just gross. I think what lurks in our minds is scary. It’s the fear of the unknown parts of ourselves and losing control over them.
Sick’s narrative is convincing, especially when it comes to the precise details of the medical procedures relating to John’s “illness” (which also form key plot points). Are you drawing from personal medical experience or are you just a bloody good researcher?
I did do a lot of research thanks to Google. I don’t know how writers in the past managed without it. The most disturbing and interesting part was researching John Branch’s condition by exploring anonymous forums for people like him. You would not believe the suffering people endure and the horrific lengths it drives them to go.
I also know some of the hospital procedures from experience. I’ve had four surgeries requiring general anesthesia. I think that’s why I could relate to John. There is a certain comfort being in the hospital. You are relieved of all responsibility and you have no choice but to surrender to being taken care of. You’re off the hook and you get great drugs.
One of the most impressive things about the Sick series was that the voices of the protagonists, Susan in Sick and John in Sicker, were so anchored and real; the viewpoints are authentic. How did you go about creating these voices?
We all have different personalities inside us. We show different faces to our spouses, friends, coworkers, attractive strangers, or those who disgust us. There are people we feel comfortable and free with and people who make us instinctively hide. I think it’s a healthy form of multiple personality disorder that artists like writers and actors are keenly aware of.
Susan is a lot like me in day-to-day life. I like to stay in the background and observe. I feel very uncomfortable when attention is focused on me. John is like an inner trouble-maker, full of bravado. He knows himself and is unapologetic about who he is no matter how unacceptable it is to others. My characters are different personality traits playing or arguing. I think writers get an exhibitionistic gratification exposing their hidden sides through characters.
What was your journey to publishing Sick? Did you write any manuscripts before or was this your first novella/full length piece?
I mentioned The Wrong David, which I published it myself. It was considered by Kindle Singles, but in the end, they rejected it. Then I wanted to try to take on a full-length novel. I signed up for National Novel Writing month thinking it was so crazy that it would work, and it did. I wrote three novels that way, but they haven’t been released yet.
Do you have plans to write more novels in the Sick series or is your next release going to be something different?
Yes, the third part of Sick is in the rewrite stage. I plan to release it in April 2017. After that I have some new ideas bubbling up. I’m not sure what they will become. Maybe I’ll take on that short story anthology idea.
Writing a series is extraordinarily difficult: creating that world people are willing to return to over and over. Did you conceptualise the story as a series or was it more organic in how it developed?
Sick was going to be a stand-alone novella, but I liked the idea of getting on the other side of the story and exploring it from John’s point of view, so I put a link to a poll in the back of the first book and asked readers to vote if they wanted the story to continue. The results were 100% positive. I was already attached to the idea of writing as John, so I think I would’ve kept going anyway.
After I began writing the second part, I knew there would be a third. John and Susan needed to endure some extremely challenging circumstance to grow into who I wanted them to be in the end. When the series is complete, all three books will equal a full-length novel.
And we also read that you are writing another series of books ‘The Sculptor of New Hope’ how is this coming along and do you know when we may see it published?
Those are my National Novel Writing Month novels I spoke of. This means they are a mess. I’m hoping by the end of the year to have one, maybe two books of The Sculptor Series out. They are not as gruesome as Sick. They’re more of a dark, gothic romance that begins in New England and ends up right here in Panama.
What would you say have been the books that have left an impression on you the most?
From the first read in English class, I was in love with Poe – the short story format, the darkness, the paranoia, and the romance. I felt at home in his stories. I also devoured Anne Rice during high school. I lived in a small town, and her books took me around the world and through history. I loved Shakespeare. I’m addicted to tragedy. Then I discovered Russian literature. You can see I’m stuck on a theme here. Crime and Punishment is probably the book that has left the longest lasting impression on me.
Who is your literary hero and why? Do you have more than one?
Charlotte Bronte is my female literary hero. I go back to Wuthering Heights ever few years to re-experience the atmosphere and Heathcliff. He is one of my favorite characters of all time.
Fyodor Dostoevsky is my ultimate literary hero. He’s the master of making you doubt everything you know. He forces you to confront things about yourself or human nature you don’t want to admit. I get a little physically sick when I read something like Crime and Punishment because there is so much truth there. Humans think of themselves as higher beings, but we still operate in a very violent, selfish and dark animal level. There is only so much we can do to deny it or cover it up. It doesn’t mean we’re hopeless, though. The fact that we try to learn and evolve redeems us.
As an independent writer, normally this craft is supplemented by another job; reading on your website you run a Twitter service for writers, where did this idea spring from or was this something you yourself could have done with?
I notice many writers struggling on Twitter. They have no clue as to what to do there. Some authors get duped into buying fake followers and subscribing to services that repeatedly blast links to their Amazon page. Others have four or five random followers and craft beautiful tweets to no one. I’ve even seen people tweeting at themselves. But with a little strategic thinking and help from the amazing software out now, Twitter is a powerful tool for any writer’s platform. Unlike Facebook, you can get great results without spending money on ads. My Twitter Service for Writers is a jumpstart for authors who are having trouble finding their readers and getting their momentum going. You can also think of it as Twitter babysitting service for writers who just don’t have time to deal with it.
Working in Yoga Pants is another part of your website which offers a 12 week marketing course; what was your rationale behind this project?
I’m creating one course for anyone who wants to work as an internet marketer and lead the “digital nomad lifestyle” that’s becoming so popular. I called it Working in Yoga Pants because one of the biggest perks of the job is working at home in comfy clothes. Once my students learn all the fundamentals of social media and content marketing, I’m going to teach them how to immerse themselves in an industry they’re passionate about. You don’t want to trade your 9 to 5 for another career you don’t find fulfilling. You want to help businesses you believe in. For instance, I love writing, so I cater to publishers and writers. If you’re a surfer, I would show you how to become the digital marketer of the surfing industry. I’m not promising millions (though it is possible). What I’m promising is freedom from your alarm clock and freedom to move around the globe. Soon, I’d like to work in a new country 6 months out of each year.
I’m also planning a marketing and publicity course for authors specifically. I work with many authors, both self-published and traditionally published, in developing their platforms and promoting their books, but I know most writers don’t have the extra money to hire a full-time marketer or PR firm. It’s obscenely expensive. My plan is to create an easy step-by-step formula to grow a writer platform from the ground up. I’ll also reveal all my hacks and shortcuts so there is more time for writing.
Are there any authors or books you would suggest for our readership at STORGY Magazine?
I didn’t have much reading time in 2016, but in the realm of self-publishing, one author stands out and that is Joseph Sale. I had been feeling dreary and discouraged, and his prose made me excited about writing again. You tell how much passion he has for crafting a beautiful sentence. It helped me to remember why we do it. I was like, “This! This!”
In the traditional book world, I’m exploring the works of the Marquis de Sade, the grand-père of sick writers. As John Branch’s creator, I felt it was required reading. So far, it is full of all the depravity you’d expect – sodomy, rape, ridiculous euphemisms etc. – but it’s also experiments with morality and philosophy on a deep level. Like Dostoevsky, de Sade challenges our naïve assumptions about human nature and society. These writers help us get closer to the truth about ourselves. I think that’s our job.
If you could work with one author alive or dead who would that be and why?
I’m already working with one living writer who keeps me inspired. She is my little sister whom I’m helping to publish under the name Thora Worldly. Thora is blind and had been typing her stories in Braille. After hearing how I published my work, she wanted to publish hers, but I couldn’t do anything from Panama with the Braille. She came to stay with me for a few months to read her Braille copies to me so I could transcribe them into digital format. It took hours and hours. She was intimidated by technology, but I told her we’d have a difficult time getting anything accomplished this way because it was so time-consuming and we lived in different countries. We eventually set her up with an iPhone and now she uses iOS Voiceover. Writing for her is still a tedious painstaking process, but she taps her books letter by letter into her mobile device and has learned to email them to me. When I’m whiny and feeling discouraged about writing or rewriting or editing, I think of her sitting in her dark bedroom, tapping out a story without ever seeing the words. Now that’s a true writer.
SICK; Part I
For a limited period only ‘SICK; Part I’ is available for free as a digital download on Amazon!
Susan Branch’s life revolves around the care of her charming and inscrutable husband John, a man born into wealth and prestige who lost his family’s fortune when his mysterious chronic illnesses left him bedridden. Together they live a decrepit existence beholden to the current owners of his family’s former estate.
After years of devoting herself to John’s care, Susan is worn out and frustrated. Yet she is determined to scrape together whatever resources she can to keep John comfortable and happy. This includes stealing Demerol from the doctor’s office where she works to feed John’s ever-increasing need for pain medication.
As John’s condition continues to puzzle doctors, Susan begins to notice strange objects appearing around her house. Ever wary of creepy Old Pete, the groundskeeper, Susan decides to confront the elderly man and put an end to his snooping for good.
John suffers a critical emergency, but he is saved and is soon released from the hospital. As his health begins to improve, Susan dreams of a normal life, but her hope for a miracle transforms into a nightmare one fateful afternoon when she discovers
the true cause of John’s sickness.
SICK; Part II
The dark and twisted series continues from the mind of John Branch.
John Branch’s sickness has dominated the lives of all those around him, consuming all it can from well-intentioned doctors, compassionate strangers, and trusting loved ones. His chronic illness also bonds him intimately to his wife Susan, trapping them in relationship of unhealthy psychological attachment.
But John’s disease isn’t the only blight in the Branch family.
Injured and loaded with Demerol, John Branch tells his life story from his filthy sickbed. He confesses the horrific secrets of the past and his warped vision of the future.
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