I've had the pleasure of being friends with Christina since we met online several years ago. Christina is a delight on Twitter and beyond. She's humored me by answering many a nosy question behind the scenes, so I've finally asked her to do the same here on LitReactor, where everyone can enjoy her stories and insight like I have. And if you haven't yet, definitely go get yourself a copy of
VOX to see what all the buzz is about!
Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the US, UK, and UAE. Her short stories and flash fiction appear in online and print journals worldwide. Recognitions include first prize in the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net. You can find Christina online at christinadalcher.com, Facebook, and Twitter, or hiding in a closet re-reading a tattered copy of The Shining. She lives in Norfolk, Virginia with her husband and the ghost of one excellent dog.
I would normally ask you to give LitReactor readers a quick description of your book, but I feel like anyone who hasn’t heard about Vox by now has been living under a rock. You’ve gotten fabulous international exposure. What’s the touring/interviewing/limelight been like so far?
Thanks for the interview opportunity! I love LitReactor, so it's fabulous to be here alongside one of my favorite writers (that's you, Annie). I’ll be honest — the press and travel that came along with VOX have ranged from exhilarating to exhausting. It’s not something I ever expected, and, like everything, there are high points and low points, times when I’ve woken up in Berlin thinking I was in New York, times when I’ve scarfed down a sandwich while running between interviews. Oh, and the jet lag is a killer. On the upside, I’ve met some fabulous writers and publishing people along the way.
I know from our private talks that Vox isn’t the first novel you wrote. Do you want to talk a little about your journey to get a debut out there? How did Vox strike the magic note?
If your agent pitches a book about limiting women’s speech at the same moment #MeToo is happening, publishers are going to pay attention.
True! I wrote a thriller back in 2014, which I pitched to agents as Jack-Reacher-in-a-skirt (among other things). It also had a strong linguistic element—the MC is a phonetician—but I don’t think I have to remind anyone of how difficult breaking into such a crowded market is. That novel went through a fantastic amount of revisions and was actually out on submission while I was writing VOX. As for the magic note, I think if your agent pitches a book about limiting women’s speech at the same moment #MeToo is happening, publishers are going to pay attention. So some of VOX’s success was a happy result of timing!
What’s been the best part of your experience with Vox so far? Has there been a dark side?
Hitting the top ten list in the Sunday Times (UK) last month was definitely one of the highlights! But there’s always a flip side. The months after publication, especially for a debut novel, can be depressing and anxiety-ridden. You’re worrying about the sales numbers. You’re wondering if you’ll ever manage to write another word. You’re reading reviews—some glowing, some scathing. It was a tremendous comfort to find out I wasn’t the only one having that experience, and when I read of other writers’ post-publication blues, I was able to settle down and face the blank page.
What’s it like to promote a book that’s so politically and socially loaded? Did you ever have a moment where you wondered if you really wanted to set yourself up for such discussions?
A moment? No. I’ve had millions of moments when I’ve said, “Jeez, Dalcher. What the hell did you get yourself into?” The truth is, I meant to write a thriller, not a political statement, and I’ve learned the advantages and drawbacks of including these kinds of themes. Everyone, it seems, wants to know my opinion on government and women’s rights. Me? All I want to do is write my next book!
Do you read reviews? And if so, with such a polarizing topic, I imagine that’s a wild ride! Any lessons there?
Does any author not read reviews? I know, I know, we’re all taught the golden rule when we begin putting our work out there: Do not read your reviews. So, naturally, we read them. If there’s a lesson to be had, it’s this: you’re never going to please all of the readers all of the time. What an impossible task! Are there things I would have done differently? Maybe. But this question is an invitation down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. Once that book is out there, with all of the eyes that have been on it through its publication journey, it’s probably time to let go.
I’ve had millions of moments when I’ve said, “Jeez, Dalcher. What the hell did you get yourself into?”
Thank you! I truly love flash fiction, but I published quite a bit less in 2018 than in the previous years, partly due to travel, partly due to my head being in this unfamiliar space. I’ve heard that Stephen King, when he finished a novel, often went straight to work on a short story or a novella. It must be a refreshing break (especially given the length of some of King’s books). With flash fiction, this switch is difficult. We’re not talking about writing 40,000 words instead of 80,000; we’re talking about changing gears entirely and writing 300 words. I’m hugely thankful for markets like The Molotov Cocktail, whose themed flash contests give me the kick I need to make that switch.
I’ve heard that a Vox sequel or two are in our future! Can you give us any hints about what Vox’s follow-ups might touch on?
I’d love to write a sequel, maybe two more books following Jean McClellan and her family as they navigate the inevitable forces of extremism and changes in the balance of power. As for a hint, we’ll need Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Speaking of sequels, how does it feel to have readers asking for more? Do you find yourself flattered and excited to deliver, or is the pressure to do it again a little hard to handle?
A little bit of both. In the end, though, we need to write for ourselves, not for anyone else. I think if we can stick to that, we’ll write things that are true, and that’s all we should be doing.
Any advice for other writers admiring your success?
Write your heart out, submit your stories, and start growing some thick skin! That last one’s a joke, but I’m dead serious about the first two. (See, Annie? I managed to squeeze the word ‘dead’ in here. Just for you.)
Thank you, Christina! I can’t wait to see what you do next!