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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Spotlight on La'Chris Jordan

La’Chris Jordan was born and raised in Oakland and San Diego, California, before moving to New Orleans, Louisiana, at the age of 14. Moving “down South was an eye-opening experience” for La’Chris – and one of the most “bittersweet” moments of her life. Yet, it was her passion and love for books that got her through the tough times – all of which she credits to her mother.

“My mother is the reason why I’m a writer today. She had me reading the classics as early as 10 years old.” Early literary influences were Madeleine L’Engle, Judy Blume, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, E.B. White, and Shakespeare. La’Chris was particularly fascinated by the ancient Greek myths and legends of Hercules, Athena, Medusa, Dionysus and others. But it was Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why theCaged Birds Sing” that changed La’Chris’ life and her awareness of poetic writing. “Her writing really touched me. I couldn’t get enough of her work.”

After high school, La’Chris moved to Seattle, Washington, to attend the University of Washington where she majored in broadcast journalism. After college, she worked various administrative jobs and studied acting. In 1999, she moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates where she lived for three years, working as a journalist for a weekly magazine while acting for the Dubai Drama Group. One of her plays, “Haram/Forbidden”, is based on her time in the UAE.

When she returned to the States in 2001, she immediately began work on her first novel “The Memories of Bellevue.” Then 9/11 happened. This made her take an even closer look at Thomas and Jeyne, the book’s central characters. “I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. There were so many emotions going on in me at that time. It made me reexamine the book, and it was clear it needed to go beyond the conventions of a traditional love story.”

But theatre was calling La’Chris’ name, and she returned to acting and then playwriting. A few years later she was named one of the “50 to Watch” by the Dramatists Guild of America. La’Chris’ plays have been produced and developed in theatres across the country including Urban Stages, Robey Theatre, Karamu House, ACT Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Manhattan Repertory Theatre, Ashland New Play Festival, the National Black Theatre Festival, and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. In addition to numerous awards and honors, La'Chris has received artist grants from the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and Artist Trust, and was a semifinalist for Juilliard's 2013 ​Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwriting Program.

La’Chris credits her years of playwriting in making “The Memories of Bellevue” a reality. “The novel kept getting pushed aside because I was so busy doing theatre. But it ended up being the best thing because now I’m a stronger writer.”

“The Memories of Bellevue” is the first book in the Bellevue Trilogy and will be released on May 15, 2014 on Amazon.com.

The Interview -- Part II

Scroll Down to read Part I

How has being an actor informed your writing?
There’s no doubt that being an actor has made me a stronger writer. Actors, like writers, are builders. When you’re acting, you’re working and analyzing every beat to inform your next choice. You’re also very tuned into the internal, but you’re using the external to inform your choices – just like a writer does. Without being aware of it, I’ve incorporated many elements of acting into my writing, like character building, scene building and pacing. I think this is what has helped the novel’s rhythm and allowed me to get to the action quickly and cut out what isn’t necessary or moving the story along.

In the novels, just like the plays, I can see and feel everything that is happening as I create a scene -- I’ll see the chair in the corner, what the characters are wearing, even the expressions on their faces as they say a certain line. At the heart of it, I guess I’m always writing a play.

You've recently moved from the Seattle area to Los Angeles, how has environment played a role in your creative process?
Los Angeles certainly makes you more aware of your craft. Not that I wasn’t aware of it before, living in Seattle. But for me, there was a glass ceiling and I kept hitting my head on it. I needed to move beyond my comfort zone and get in a faster lane, and boy has it been fast. There’s a perception of people who live here – they are laid-back and very chill. That’s true, to an extent. Underneath the cool exterior, there is competition everywhere, no matter the industry. It’s like this because people are coming to this city all year round with hopes of making it “big.” So, you’re surrounded by incredible go-getters who are jockeying for position, which means you fall into that rhythm, too, if you want to keep up. And don’t let me forget to mention the weather. It’s kind of hard not to go outside and be motivated with the sun is shining all day.  

What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on the second book of the Bellevue Trilogy (“The Memories of Bellevue” is the first book in the series.) The bulk of the book has been written but there is still more research involved as I continue to strengthen the stories of the central characters, Thomas and Jeyne.

Final Words of Wisdom.
Writing is a tough business. To be successful (i.e., make a living), you have to do more than just love it. You have to understand the business side of things, too. And this is what trips up a lot of writers, the idea that they are a “brand” which needs to be managed. Fundamentally, most writers understand this. But many are still struggling with how all the pieces fit and the level of work involved. In addition to writing very well, you have to be a tireless researcher, marketer, and social media expert. You have to see yourself as an entrepreneur, above and beyond anything else. Most importantly, live. The deepest, creative moments come from real life. Nurture your body and soul, eat right, exercise, and meditate.

Scroll down to read Part I

The Interview -- Part I

You've written in a number of genres, from poetry to journalism, in addition to playwriting, and now you've finished your first novel. What drives you to tell a given story in a specific form? 
I can’t explain it, but every story tells me where it liked to be – and should be. It’s weird, because the stories always seem to find their place. There’s no formal process to where I say, “I think I want to write a novel and here’s the story.” “Or this would make a good short story, let me get started.” The ideas and characters come first and I just kind of let that settle for a while. Technically, most writers understand the parameters of a play, short story, or novel and write accordingly. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different forms just to see if I can write within that paradigm. And what I’ve discovered is that there are really no limits to what you can do with these forms. Sometimes, they’re interchangeable.

How did "The Memories of Bellevue" come about?
“Memories” came to me in 2000 when I lived in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I was working as a feature writer for a magazine and was meeting a lot of interesting people. During an interview, I was introduced to a book by Dr. Brian Weiss called “Only Love is Real,” which explores the whole concept of soul mates on a very deep psychological level. And that got me thinking¸”What happens when you meet your soul mate and circumstances don’t allow for an immediate ‘happily ever after’? I wanted to explore that. I’m also fascinated by anything to do with the Civil War, so I merged the idea with the setting and started writing. I returned to the States a month before 9/11 and wrote the book in nine months. I thought the novel was ready and started sending it out to agents. I was so green back then. I quickly learned that a first draft is exactly that – a first draft. It takes a good 5-10 drafts to get it right, and then you’re still editing.

What has the publication process been like?
The process towards publication has been very empowering. I’m publishing on the Create Space platform which has proven to be a pretty smooth process, and one of the best options for self-publishers these days. However, I was a self-published author before it became popular (with my poetry book “Musings of an Eccentric Dreamer”) so, I understand how the process works and was able to dive right in again. Of course, all the heavy lifting comes before – the writing, research, editing, etc. Then there is the marketing, of course. The irony about self-publishing is that it’s easy to start and then stop. Life gets in the way and you find yourself pulled in different directions and none of them have anything to do with finishing your book. However, all the stops and starts made me a better writer and I was able to tackle the novel with fresh eyes. I also had to keep all those promises I made to myself and push through the challenges.

Check Back May 15 for Part II!