Author Interview: Cheyenne van Langevelde
I first saw Cheyenne and her debut novel, Between Two Worlds, on Goodreads a year or two ago. The book looked interesting, I added to it my want-to-read shelf, and started following Cheyenne...but it wasn't until I (finally) showed up on Instagram that I got a chance to connect with this amazing, creative, and inspiring young author, musician, and dancer! She's quickly become a fabulous friend, and I am SO excited to introduce her (and her work) to y'all! I think you'll like her just as much as I do! *winks*
What first inspired you to write?
Reading novels by Rosemary Sutcliff! I hated writing because of the curriculum we had been using, since it destroyed any creativity. But after reading her books about Roman Britain and falling in love with her style of storytelling (especially in The Shining Company), I decided to give writing another try. (Also switching curriculums helped!)
What are some of the driving forces behind you and your writing now?
Honestly, it’s the act of storytelling. Giving a voice to the scenes and dialogue and actions both of story and characters in my head. I think it’s especially the gift of being able to tell the stories I wish I could have read when I was younger, writing stories of hope and courage regardless of setting and atmosphere.
Can you name any authors who have inspired your voice in different ways? How can you see their influence in your writing?
Besides the obvious one, Rosemary Sutcliff, other HUGE influencers are Emily Hayse, Verity Buchanan, J.R.R. Tolkien, Marcus Zuzak, Leigh Bardugo, and Brianna De Man—who isn’t published yet, but has taught me so much, both as a writer and editor.
What are some of your most favorite books/genres—to read and to write?
Reading wise, favorite genre is historical fiction, but I also have fallen in love with fantasy in recent years. Not the mainstream type, mind. I like original and fresh storytelling. As far as writing goes, I write mostly historical fiction, but I’ve also written some fantasy, sci-fi/literary fic, and one Phantom of the Opera telling that classifies as paranormal, apparently. Only very lightly so, I tend to avoid most of that stuff like the plague.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Usually I’m at work. Or on social media. In terms of hobbies, though, I enjoy Irish dance, reading (a lot!), traditional calligraphy, editing and graphic design, and most importantly, composing music.
Looking back, what has changed for you as a writer—be it how you write or what you write about?
My first few stories were me just trying to imitate my favorite authors and and write about the characters in my head going on adventures. I’ve since learned that trying to imitate is only going to bring frustration because I can’t be the second Rosemary Sutcliff etc. but I can be the only one of me. Discovering what my own style was, establishing my author brand has probably been the biggest learning curve for me as a writer. (Also, to give perspective, I’ve been writing seriously since the end of 2015 and only discovered what my “author brand” was in 2021. So if you feel like you still haven’t figured it out, don’t sweat it. It doesn’t come at once.) This has been especially important since I tried out a variety of genres and learned that I can write almost anything once I have established what my style is like.
Another huge change was learning how to actually tell a story. Unfortunately, writing dialogue and description isn’t all you need to write a story. Studying how to show character emotion, understanding story conceit, and how to build an interesting plot were all things I had to learn over time—and am still learning. Writing is an art, and like any art, you will always have something new to learn.
Out of all of your books (published or unpublished), which one is your favorite? Why? (Bonus question: who is your most favorite character?)
All of my stories hold a special place in my heart (or at least most of them do). But my all-time favorite, my magnum opus, is definitely The Princess of the Highlands Trilogy. The first book, Dìlseachd - A Stolen Crown, is releasing this September. Not only have I been working on this the longest, but this was the prime story concept that I wanted to read when I was younger. Granted, it’s taken me six years to really develop it into what I originally envisioned it to be, but I think all the hard work has paid off.
Favorite character out of this trilogy…this is a tough question. I love them all in different ways and I think it unfair to decide between my trio, Fiona, Angus, and Malcolm. Fiona is unashamedly me. Just far prettier. Writing about her struggles of unworthiness and doubt was a way for me to work through many of the issues I was going through when I was the age she is supposed to be in the first book. Angus is also me in some ways, and his trauma and consequently path toward healing gave me hope that there was a way out for me as well. Malcolm…is just Malcolm. I’ve yet to meet a reader who DIDN’T like him. 100% a cinnamon roll, his childlike innocence has been described as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise rather grim story, and the way he believes in hope and a new day gives me courage. (I’ve also received death threats from readers in case anything ever happens to him. Of which I can promise nothing.)
What does your writing process look like? Do you pants? plot? How long does it usually take you to write a novel?
I’ll be completely honest with you here. I haven’t actually written anything “new” in over two years. I’ve just been so busy editing works I wrote years ago. But I do have some stories I have started that are back burner during this publishing stage, don’t worry. I haven’t given writing up.
Originally, I used to just pants my way through a novel. Dìlseachd - A Stolen Crown was such a book, which made it a nightmare to edit. Generally, I have a loose outline so I know where the story most likely will end up, and then pants the rest of it. However, my latest story is actually quite detailed in its plot and I wrote most of it out just so I remember everything that needs to happen.
I’ve participated in challenges like NaNoWriMo, and have completed writing books within a month. I also have books that have taken me years to write that are still unfinished because I had to focus on other things. It really depends on the book and what stage of life I’m at at the time.
What made you choose self-publishing?
I actually never intended to self-publish. But after finding myself in a situation where (this was for my debut, Between Two Worlds) I had signed with a hybrid press and had a fundraising campaign going, I knew that if I split with them, I either had to refund everyone and start all over, or split, keep the fundraiser going, and self-publish. After doing lots of research, I decided to go with self-publishing. And if I’m honest, while there are a few stories I might try to traditionally publish, I like the aspect of being able to control every part of the process and not worry about someone else ruining your vision for your book. I love self-publishing, even as costly as it can be sometimes.
What are your thoughts for other aspiring writers on writing and publishing?
Oh goodness, there is so much I could say. Writing wise, I think the most important advice I ever received was this: write for yourself, edit for your audience. It’s a struggle, especially for me being a perfectionist, to spend too much time making the words perfect the first time and consequently never getting anything done. But you can’t edit what you don’t have, so just go write it. You can fix it later.
As far as publishing goes, this is split both ways. If you’re seeking traditional publishing, be mindful that it is a hard and oftentimes long journey. It’s going to require endless amount of patience. It’s going to sting when you receive rejections, especially on full requests. But be mindful that your identity isn’t in your work. People aren’t critiquing YOU, but your work. And so often, it’s subjective more than anything else.
The same goes for self-publishing. It can be hard and costly to find the right editors, cover designers, etc., but the end product is worth it and feels so much more special and intimate because of it. Negative reviews and low sales can be very discouraging. But remember, it’s all part of the journey. No one has an easy time of it. Your identity isn’t in your story, so never feel attacked. (And unless the agent or reviewer is completely a jerk, majority of cases, you will not be verbally attacked either.) It’s all subjective, which makes sense when you remember that writing is an art form. Not everyone loves the same painting or piece of music. Same goes for your story.
Dìlseachd – A Stolen Crown is your upcoming release—can you tell me a little bit about it?
I could be smart and chuck the blurb at you. So I’ll just say this intro and then give the blurb since I worked too hard on it not to use it. ^_^
Think Disney’s BRAVE meets BRAVEHEART.
A TIME OF DARKNESS
Six years since the Danes invaded Scotland, slaying her finest men.
Five since the Highland King married one of the enemy, betraying his countrymen and losing the Lowlanders' support.
Three since the king died and the Danes imprisoned the remaining blood heir to the throne.
Her crown stolen, her country desolated, Fiona McCurragh now faces the looming threat of execution.
The Lowlanders, weary of enemy rule, seek to free their stolen homeland. With the aid of a blind harper, they attempt to rescue their Highland princess when the Danes ride in on Lowlander territory, shattering the fragile peace. The Scots are left with no choice except to launch a war in the face of the coming winter. If they do not attack now, the Scots—and their princess—may not live to see the spring.
In the face of despair, Fiona McCurragh finds courage in friendship with two chief's sons. Yet conflict lies on more than one side, and for some of the Scots and their allies, loyalty no longer has any meaning.
Which part of Dìlseachd – A Stolen Crown was the easiest to write, and what was the hardest? Where did you stumble and second-guess yourself in the writing of this novel?
The easiest parts were actually some of the most emotionally high-strung sequences. I can’t say much for fear of spoiling. Those scenes were the ones that came easiest to mind prior to writing and still the ones I see most clearly in my head. The most challenging part of answering this question, honestly, is the fact that the first draft was the mere bare bones of this story. 75% of this story was written later during the editing stages. To give some perspective, the first draft was 34k words. The final draft, including the hardcover extras, is a couple hundred words short of 99k.
The hardest parts were things like battle sequences and just ordinary day life. Making the battle sequences interesting and believable, and making ordinary day life not “boring”.
What do you want your readers to take away from this story?
Oh, this is a great question. I think, besides enjoying the story for the sake of the story, it’s the themes. Hope in the face of adversity is the underlying theme of the entire series, but loyalty is the primary theme of book one. (Hence the title, dìlseachd: loyalty in Scots’ Gàdhlig) Hope in the face of despair and loyalty vs abandonment are very personal things to me, and became such a huge part of writing this book. I hope that readers are encouraged by seeing my characters grow courageous and persevere in spite of everything they go through.
Have you ever experienced any discouragement as an author? If so, what inspired you to persevere?
I think any author would be lying if they said they never got discouraged. I know I definitely have, especially with working on this story for so long, seeing all the mistakes even after rounds and rounds of editing. I just had to keep in mind that this work is going to pay off someday. J.R.R. Tolkien took 14 YEARS to write the beloved Lord of the Rings and even he had doubts about it. And it’s still the most popular fantasy book sold today. If he pushed through, then so can I.
What are your greatest aspirations for your future, be it as a person or as a writer?
It’s cliché to say I’d like to write full-time, and I actually don’t want to. Because as a creative, I need breaks to refresh and depending on writing as my main source of income would be far too stressful.
I’d love to have a successful business with editing and cover design, helping other authors fulfill their dreams. But we’ll see what ends up happening. ;)
What has being a writer taught you?
So many things. It’s taught me to be compassionate for people, to try to understand where they come from. (This stems from trying to be better at portraying my characters on the page for readers to understand and sympathize with). It’s taught me to be patient, to learn that I can’t force myself to be creative. It’s taught me the wonder that comes with describing ordinary things and making them extraordinary. It’s taught me that no one is in the same boat and it’s harmful to compare individual journeys. But most importantly, it’s taught me that my words are not my own and to be grateful to the One who’s given me the gift of story-telling and allowed me to write the books I always wanted to read.
about the author
Cheyenne van Langevelde is a young author and musician whose greatest passion is weaving tales through story and song. When not struggling to attempt the most metaphorical prose, she enjoys composing and recording soundtrack pieces for books, practicing calligraphy and Irish dance, and studying the Welsh language. She occasionally emerges into the real world to restock her chocolate supply, of which she hoards like a dragon would his gold.
Y'all make sure to follow this girl! She puts out some amazing content, from inspirational posts on Instagram to beautiful music on YouTube and Spotify! And definitely check out her books! My review of Between Two Worlds, a lovely biblical novel fans of Francine Rivers will love, will be coming soon, and I'll be sharing about her upcoming release soon! (Y'all, I am SO excited for Dìlseachd – A Stolen Crown!! I dunno about y'all, but it sounds AH-MAY-ZING!)