Author Interview: Author Shelagh Connor Shapiro Says If You Want To Be A Writer, Find Out What Drives You

Shape of the Sky for posters, cardsThere are different kinds of publishers these days, and many ways to find an avenue to have books published if you do the work, persevere, and sometimes, look places you didn’t expect to find a publisher—like right in your own backyard. If you read this blog regularly you know I’m a fan of traditional publishing (in all its forms) and today author Shelagh O’Connor Shapiro shares her journey and success—amidst setbacks and disappointments—with us. I hope her story inspires you to find the path that’s right for you.

Please welcome Shelagh to WFW!

Amy xo

Author Shelagh Connor Shapiro Says If You Want To Be A Writer, Find Out What Drives You

Shape of the Sky for posters, cardsAmy: Can you tell us a little about Shape of the Sky and what sparked the idea for the story?

Shelagh: In 2004, the band Phish announced that they would be taking a break (possibly breaking up altogether), and that they would play a last weekend in the tiny town of Coventry, Vermont. In reading the event’s news coverage, which started months ahead of time, I learned that a farmer near Coventry had decided not to plant crops that year, because he could make more money renting his land for campground space. To be clear: he had done the math and he would make more money in that one weekend—renting his land to campers—than he would otherwise through the entire planting season. This floored me. I wondered what else this concert might bring to a tiny Vermont village. I began to write about a fictional farming couple who decided to make a similar decision. The town of Resolute, Vermont was born, and a series of interconnected storylines began to spin themselves out from that initial idea. My characters included a high school dropout with extraordinary musical talent; his mother, a paralyzed single mom with a secret; the new state trooper who arrives seemingly out of nowhere; a fan in love with a drummer; a rock star who finds himself short on inspiration and questioning his talent. These characters were so real to me by the end; I found myself feeling indebted to that actual farmer in Coventry.

Amy: In our instant gratification world, sometimes it’s good to remember that books (let’s assume) aren’t written overnight. How long did it take you to write Shape of the Sky? What was the process like for finishing the manuscript and getting it ready for publication?

Shelagh: This question made me smile. I am an exacting writer (to a fault, maybe). I do not outline, I do not free write, and I don’t fly through a first draft. Try as I might to become more efficient, my process is what it is, and I took almost five years to write what I decided was the final draft of Shape of the Sky. Thankfully, my editors agreed that it was in pretty good shape by then, and only asked for a few changes after that point. True, these changes included some painful cutting, but I trusted their instincts and was very happy with the end result.

Amy: Your publisher is Wind Ridge Books of Vermont. When authors today are almost spoiled for choice when it comes to publishing options, would you share why this was the best publisher for you? And what was your biggest obstacle to getting published?

Shelagh: Spoiled for choice? I have to admit, I didn’t feel that way. But I wasn’t interested in self-publishing. I wanted a press that could lead me through the thickets and help my manuscript become a book. Since publishing Shape of the Sky, I’ve honed my marketing and publicity skills, and so maybe I’d be more confident to self-publish now, if I wanted to bring a book into the world myself. But as I tried to find a home for my novel, I felt anything but spoiled.

The background on this is that Shape of the Sky was my fourth manuscript in nearly twenty years of writing. It then became my first published novel. With my second book, I did find an agent who put me in touch with two big, well-known publishers. They asked to see revisions before offering a contract. So I did extensive revisions, first for one press, then for another, but they both passed in the end. The agent subsequently left the business, putting me back where I’d started. Devastating, yes. So I started another book.

With Shape of the Sky, a number of agents asked for the full, then kept it for a very long time. Two agents had the book for a full year without reading it. During that time, I met Lin Stone of Wind Ridge Books of Vermont. She asked me if I’d like to submit my novel to her. And so I did. She wanted to publish the book, and then I did in fact feel spoiled, because of the way that this wonderful small press treated me—with respect and gratitude for the work.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle in writing the book had to do with the process I mentioned earlier. As I said, I am a slow writer, and my approach to writing has, in the past, involved a good bit of meandering to find my way. (One of my novels took more than five years to write, and I did not want that to happen again!) With Shape of the Sky, I managed to minimize this issue by finding a structure to keep me grounded. Once I had devised the structure I wanted to work within (which I won’t go into, because it’s a bit complicated for this post, but suffice to say I worked with a musical construct called the “Circle of Fifths”), the book moved forward much more quickly. Writing into structure kept me focused and also resolved certain creative decisions that could otherwise have become impasses. I will never again work without a structure that keeps me focused, excited and shielded from my own impetuousness!

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors in today’s publishing climate?

Shelagh: If you love writing, and if you are able to write, do it. If you want to “be a writer,” first decide what is driving you. Money? Fortune? Fame? Admiration? All great motivators, but pointless if writing does not bring you joy or some sense of discovery and purpose. If, however, writing is how you make sense of the world, and you’ll be doing it with or without a book contract, then don’t lose faith if your ideal publishing experience eludes you. For the most part, unless you’re incredibly lucky, only perseverance and hard work allows you to succeed as a writer. Think of the journey as a kind of koan, a “paradox to be meditated upon … used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment.” (www.merriam-webster.com) If you embrace the paradox, and focus on your writing, you’ll survive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShelagh Connor Shapiro’s novel, Shape of the Sky, was published by Wind Ridge Books of Vermont in September 2014. Her stories have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, The Baltimore Review, Short Story, Gulf Stream and others. Her story “somewhere never gladly” was nominated in 2014 for a Pushcart Prize, having been included in Please Do Not Remove, a collection of stories and poems inspired by old Vermont library cards. She has an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a contributing editor for the Vermont literary journal Hunger Mountain. Her radio show, Write the Book, which features interviews with authors, poets, illustrators, agents, and editors, is heard weekly on 105.9 FM “The Radiator;” archived podcasts can be found on iTunes and at writethebook.podbean.com Shelagh lives in South Burlington, Vermont with her husband, Jerry. Sons Bennett, Connor, and Aaron are all grown up and scattered about the country, but luckily they still come around from time to time.

Author, Shape of the Sky
Host, Write the Book Radio Show & Podcast
Website: shelaughswithoutus.com

Author Interview: Wendy Lee Say If You Don’t Take Your Work Seriously, No One Else Will

across a green oceanAuthor Wendy Lee weaves Chinese culture, past and present, into her new novel, ACROSS A GREEN OCEAN. As Wendy notes, it’s important to weave our personal stories into the threads of our fiction. That’s what makes the universal, personal. That’s what makes stories matter to their authors. And like Wendy says, “If you don’t take your work seriously, no one else will.” Please welcome Wendy Lee to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Wendy Lee Say If You Don’t Take Your Work Seriously, No One Else Will

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Author Interview: Multi-Published Author Sharon Maas Tackles Diversity In Publishing And Writes A Story About A Family Of Women, Healing, and Love

dorothea qToday I’m pleased that the insightful and generous Sharon Maas is back with us on Women’s Fiction Writers. Sharon struggled to find a home for her novel that features Guyanese women, a story not set in the US. But she held fast to her belief that “Diversity in publishing seems to be hot at this time, and publishers are waking up to the fact that brown people read too, and white people don’t mind reading about brown characters in foreign countries!”

While it’s not the same thing, in the early stages of getting feedback for The Glass Wives, I an editor told me no one would read it or understand it unless they were Jewish. (Soooo not true!) That really made me mad and I realized there would always be people who wanted to read only about what and who they knew. Luckily, most people want to expand their horizons through reading, not limit them. 

Sharon Maas deserves your attention. Grab a cuppa, read, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Amy xo

Author Sharon Maas Tackles Diversity In Publishing And Writes A Story About A Family Of Women, Healing, and Love

dorothea q

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Author Interiew: Debut Author Sonja Yoerg Rises From The Slush Pile After Querying 100+ Agents

House BrokenHappy New Year fellow women’s fiction writers and readers. New year, new author. Apropos, right? 

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Sonja Yoerg, who’s debut novel, HOUSE BROKEN, is a riveting family saga strewn with secrets. It’s deftly told from three points of view, and that’s no easy task! I was impressed by the distinctness of the three voices from three generations. I loved that HOUSE BROKEN is set in the present. I enjoy historical fiction but have just been itching to read a slew of contemporary books, since that’s what I write. HOUSE BROKEN did not disappoint. Plus, look at the face on the cover! How could I resist? 

Please welcome Sonja Yoerg to Women’s Fiction Writers and tell us about your journey to publication in the comments. (When I read Sonja’s answers, I emailed her immediately because I’d queried well over 100 agents as well the first time around.)

Here’s to a productive 2015 for us all!

Amy xo

Debut Author Sonja Yoerg Rises From The Slush Pile After Querying 100+ Agents

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Author Interview: Multi-published author, Mingmei Yip, Says Sometimes, It Is A Single Word That Brightens A Whole Paragraph

mingmeiOnce again, we welcome author Mingmei Yip to Women’s Fiction Writers. Her novels come from history, culture, and her passion for her subject and for storytelling. That’s a lesson right there! But her advice to aspiring authors really hits home. Tell me if you agree. You’ll also find the trailer for her new novel at the end of the interview, I hope you’ll take a look!

Please welcome Mingmei Yip back to WFW!

Amy xo

“Sometimes, it is a single word that brightens a whole paragraph”

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Interview: Author Leslie Lehr Says Keep A Movie In Mind When Writing Your Novel To Keep Your Story Moving

WAMKcoverFinalI’m so excited that Leslie Lehr is here with us today at Women’s Fiction Writers! Not only is Leslie sharing how she approached adapting her latest novel into a screenplay (as if that’s not enough), but she gives practical advice on how to keep our stories moving along to make them page turners!

Please welcome Leslie Lehr to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

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Author Interview: Lindsey Palmer Says To Write About A Passion, Or Better Yet, An Obsession

Pretty in InkLindseyPalmerI know you’re going to love today’s interview with Lindsey Palmer, who brings up something very important: if your book bores you while you’re writing it, STOP! Because then it’s likely to bore someone else. I will add that once you’ve reviewed, revised, edited, and read your book twenty times, it’s okay to be bored and then you’re likely not the best arbiter of what’s boring and what’s not — but when a book is new and being written — follow Lindsey’s advice and write about what interests you most. What pulls you through three hundred pages is likely to also pull along the right reader!

Please welcome Lindsey Palmer to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Lindsey Palmer Says To Write About A Passion, Or Better Yet, An Obsession

Pretty in InkLindseyPalmerAmy: What has the best part been so far, now that you’re a published author? What has the most difficult part been? (I won’t say ‘worst’ but it’s not all easy, that’s for sure!)

Lindsey: The best part is hearing from readers that a certain character or conflict or plot point really connects with them–it’s wonderful to learn that the things that preoccupy and interest me resonate with other people, too. That’s a dream come true.

A more difficult part has been a new sense of pressure. I always considered myself a writer, but before I published a novel, it was something I did in my own little quiet corner of a cafe, a personal project that only a few people close to me knew about. Now, although it’s a thrill to have others think of me as a writer, it’s still a shock when someone casually asks, “What are you writing now?” I bumble a bit, one, because I don’t think I’m especially good at talking about works-in-progress, and two, because something that used to feel private has become more public. I do realize this is a pretty nice problem to have.

Amy: Did you have a favorite scene in the book while you were writing—and can you tell us about it without any spoilers? I also know that some of my favorite scenes when I’m writing are the most difficult to write. Did you have a scene that “gave you trouble?”

Lindsey: One of my favorite parts to write was the chapter narrated from the intern’s point of view. An office intern has such a unique perspective because she’s at the company but not of the company–she’s got more than a visitor’s pass, but she’s temporary, too, trying out this career to see if it fits. She may be naive about a lot of the inner workings of the office, but the fact that she’s less entrenched affords her a totally fresh viewpoint, which from a writer’s perspective was fun to inhabit after taking on the points-of-view of so many longtime staffers. Also, one might say that the intern in Pretty in Ink has more of a heart than the other characters, and yet she also commits what is arguably the least ethical act of the novel. For these reasons, she was an interesting character to develop.

One scene that gave me trouble was when the managing editor goes out to drinks with the new editor-in-chief, Mimi. Mimi has been cast as a villain up until this point, but I wanted to find a way to make her empathetic, to complicate her character a bit. I started thinking about how, despite her position of power, a new boss would face her own difficulties, in Mimi’s case insecurity and loneliness. What better way to get them out in the open than to get the character a little drunk? It was a challenge to write, but a fun one.

Amy: How do you feel about the term ‘women’s fiction’ and having your novel categorized as one that would appeal mostly to women?

Lindsey: Well, since Pretty in Ink is about a cast of primarily women and an exploration of issues and struggles that are often unique to women, it makes perfect sense to me that the book would be categorized as “women’s fiction.” Does that necessarily mean that a man wouldn’t read it and find a character or situation that resonates or interests? I would hope not. Categorization can be helpful when it comes to connecting with readers who know they like a certain genre–I’m all for that. Categorization only becomes problematic when it’s seen as exclusionary, as in, This book is X type so it would only appeal to Y readers. But really, I’m like most writers in that the main goal is to get eyeballs in front of my work, so whatever means can help make that happen is okay by me.

Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

Lindsey: First, read a lot–you have to keep filling your brain with writing that sings in order to be able to craft your own powerful prose. Second, write about a passion or, even better, an obsession. Especially if your goal is to write a novel, you’re going to be living with those characters and that set of conflicts and issues for quite some time, and at least for me, the best way to keep motivated and interested is to be writing about something that presents endless enthrallment. If you get bored, your reader certainly will too. If you’re still fascinated by the end of the process, then hopefully readers will be too.

LindseyPalmerLindsey J. Palmer worked as a professional writer and editor in the magazine industry for seven years, most recently as Features Editor at Self, and previously at Redbook and Glamour. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she earned a Master of Arts in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and currently teaches 12th grade English, A.P. Literature, and Creative Writing at NEST+m in Manhattan. Lindsey lives in Brooklyn. Visit her at http://www.lindseyjpalmer.com, http://facebook.com/lindseyjpalmerauthor, and @lindseyjpalmer.