WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
SS: Oh wow. Haven't thought that far back in my life in quite a while. And for a good reason, but I digress. I am a native of Oklahoma and still live in the state. I went to college at Oklahoma State U. in Stillwater, Oklahoma but didn't graduate. I've had every dead-end job you can imagine to be had in a town of 2500 people. Was a farmer's daughter and then a farmer's wife for 31 years until a divorce in 2005. I have two children, and a niece I helped raise after my sister died when the niece was 5. So I always think of myself as having three children, and they have given me 8 grandchildren - 6 girls, 2 boys. My hobbies used to be painting (pictures, not houses) and sewing. I used to go to craft fairs with my handmade cloth dolls. I probably have 25 or 30 different patterns for cloth dolls and actually miss doing stuff like that, but once writing took over my life, everything else faded in comparison. I love the journey of telling stories and then sharing them with people who like to read.
WG: Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.
SS: Oh, this is a doozy. I had a job I hated - checking groceries in a local grocery store and I used to think, there has to be a better way to make a living than this. I've always daydreamed and I've always been able to pick what I wanted to dream about when I went to bed, and then dream it. I don't know how I do this, but it's my process. Most of the books I've published started out as a full-fledged dream - like you would go to the movies and come out with the whole story in your head? Well, that's the way my dreams work for me. But it was the job I hated that prompted me to start the first book.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
SS: It took me a year to write the first book between my job and family, but I remember the huge satisfaction I felt in typing THE END when I'd finished. Unfortunately, the book sucked eggs big time, so I stuck it under the bed and started another. It took another year to write that one, and when I was finished, I knew it was no better than the first, so under the bed it went, too. I let the notion of writing slide until four years later when my father died and then 2 months later, my only sister died, too. It left the family in shock. I remember sitting at my sister's funeral with her 5 year old daughter curled up at my side and thinking that grocery lists they'd written were still here but they weren't. All their dreams, and hopes, and plans for tomorrow had ended with a breath. I didn't want to find myself on my deathbed one day wondering what would have happened if I'd written another book. So I joined a writers group and began writing in earnest. I entered contests and wrote short stories and basically taught myself how to put the stories in my head onto paper and make them work. About 3 years later, I decided I would write another full-length manuscript, and when I finished it, I liked it. It was the first book I ever submitted to a publisher, and the first place I sent it to, which was Meteor Publishing, (no longer exists) bought it. I sold 8 books to them, five of which were published before they were bought out by a bigger publisher. But by then, I was already writing for Harper Collins, as well, so I wasn't orphaned like so many of the others.
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
SS: As you know from previous comments, I wrote two full books before I sold. The third book was the first one I sold, and one winter about 4 years after I was published, I pulled those first two books out from under the bed and burned them in the wood stove. I was afraid I'd die and someone would find them and read them. LOL
WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?
SS: Oh wow, of course. Every writer remembers 'the call'. Mine happened to come on a cold, grey day in March. The phone rang. I answered it. A woman introduced herself as Kate Duffy, and told me she wanted to buy my book. I was so shocked all I could do was giggle. She was trying to tell me how the process worked when she realized I wasn't going to remember a thing she was saying. So she started laughing, told me she was going to call me back tomorrow at the same time, and that when she hung up, I could call everyone I knew - especially the ones who'd made fun of my hobby - and tell them I'd just sold a book. She became one of my dearest friends, and the writing world is a sadder place without her in it.
WG: How has being a published author impacted your life?
SS: In so many ways, but most importantly, it gave me independence and the means to leave a verbally abusive marriage.
WG: What aspect of life as a 'published author' surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?
SS: Before I was published, I wrote for myself, never thinking of the people who might be impacted by my stories. After the books began coming out, I was stunned, then humbled by the letters from my fans.
WG: What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
SS: I used to have a schedule of sorts, but that no longer works. My 92 year old mother lives with me now. She has dementia and no short term memory. A typical day for me would be finding the things she loses, turning on the TV for her because she's forgotten how all that works, making sure she takes her meds, and has things to do that she enjoys, like reading and watching TV. I write when I can. I am blessed with being able to write fast, and the stories are always in my head, so it's just a matter of finding the minutes here and there to get them on paper.
WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?
SS: LOL Just to get from one deadline to another without default.
WG: Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?
SS: I don't want music playing in the background. I don't need sexy pictures of men taped to my computer/laptop. I don't pour myself a glass of wine and I usually look like hell. Hopefully, it's fairly quiet, then all I need is just me, a Diet Dr. Pepper and the laptop.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
SS: No, and to this day I still hate synopses, but my publisher requires them. I write them, turn them in, get them okayed, and then rarely ever look at them again. When I begin the book, I know what's happening. All I have to do is get it on paper.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
SS: Can't/won't start a book without the title. Once the title is in place, then the story begins. But remember, I already know the whole story because it's in my head like a movie.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
SS: Yes. Women who aren't too stupid to live. I like strong, aggressive women who can take care of themselves, although I have written about women less able. I like Alpha men. Preferably Native Americans because that's my ethnic background. I like wounded heroes and heroines. I never write happy, upbeat stories, although all of my books will eventually end happy-ever-after. Sorry. Fair warning to all.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
SS: My readers tell me it's the emotion I put in my characters and stories, so I think I'll let that be the answer. It's hard to judge myself, so I'm just passing on their assessment of my writing.
WG: Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?
SS: As I said earlier, caring for an elderly parent. I just take it one day at a time. I don't make plans because they rarely come to pass. I try not to stress when things go wrong. I guess the best way to describe me is to say that I bounce rather than break.
WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?
SS: I think I've rattled on long enough about myself.
WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
SS: Sub-genre...paranormal, but in the psychic/healer/reincarnation/ghost vein. Not witch/vampire/demon/ realm.
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
SS: Well, I am published in contemporary romantic suspense, western historical fiction, young adult and most recently, self-pubbed my first mainstream fiction, which stayed on the top 100 paid Kindle sales on Amazon.com for over three months straight. My next novel coming out in May is another mainstream fiction from BelleBooks called The Boarding House. I'd like to be published in childrens books - the kinds that are picture books for younger children, but so far not having any luck.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
SS: Join a writers group. It was the most beneficial thing I did for myself.
WG: Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?
SS: Several years ago I wrote a book called Annie and The Outlaw for Silhouette Intimate Moments. It was about a woman who was dying from a brain tumor. I went to a Romantic Times convention in Nashville and while I was there at the book signing, a young woman came looking for me. She rushed up to my table clutching a copy of Annie and The Outlaw and she threw her arms around my neck and told me that she was just like Annie - that she had a brain tumor and they couldn't cure it. She said she'd been so afraid of dying until she read that book and now she 'got it'. She wasn't afraid anymore. She said she was going to be just like Annie, and when the time came, all she had to do was let go. By the time she quit talking, she was smiling and I was bawling. I've never been so humbled in my life. Her name was Steffie Walker. She was a bookseller, and is the same woman for whom the RWA Bookseller of the Year award was named. Every year when the new bookseller is announced and honored, I think of Steffie and how she learned to let go.
WG: Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?
SS: Well, honestly, I don't read reviews. If you buy into the belief that your 5 star reviews prove you are an amazing author then you also have to believe that your 2 star reviews mean you suck. So who do you believe? I prefer to believe in myself. You can never please everyone anyway, so why fret? All I have to please is myself and the editor. After that, it's a crap shoot.
It's frustrating when the editor doesn't like your work - when someone doesn't have the same 'vision' for something that I do. But if it's rejected, then I pick myself up and move on. I refuse to 'rework' something for an editor. If they don't like what I sent, then I send them something entirely different. They don't get to pick my work apart and rework it to their preference. They have to like something I've already finished or I move on. I know that sounds weird to a lot of writers, but that's just my process. I'm the writer. I'm selling my work. They can edit for grammar, time references, etc... but I'm not the revision queen and don't intend to turn into one. Because for me, that book would forever be the editor's book and not mine.
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?
SS: I've never belonged to a critique group, so I haven't really been on the receiving end of all that much advice, and I'm not too sure I would have paid much attention to it anyway. I trust me better than anyone else. I am my worst critique. Nothing leaves my house until I personally love it.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
SS: The most rewarding is of course the connection with readers. The aspect I most struggle with is the total lack of control once it's in the publisher's hands. That and waiting FOREVER to get paid.
WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?
SS: Movies and massages! I love to go to the movies, although since I started caring for my mother, I don't get to do all that much anymore. But when I do treat myself, it's a trip to the movies or a massage.
WG: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
SS: A mother.
WG: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
SS: The wolf is the totem of the Cherokee people. And the year I began first grade, my family lived way off the beaten path down on a river south of Paden, Oklahoma. Every morning as I walked to school, a wolf walked parallel to me on the hill that ran along side the road. I saw it, but I wasn't scared. It was just there. It was there every morning until winter set in, and then it disappeared. Years later, an old Indian man heard me telling that story and grabbed my arm, his dark eyes flashing with an inner fire that almost scared me. He said that the wolf was my totem, and that I had been marked for something special, and to pay attention to the signs in my life.
I probably missed a lot of the signs, but I will admit that this story-telling path that I'm on is pretty special to me, and to a lot of my readers, so that is probably the thing few people know.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
SS: Favorite movie: Last of the Mohicans (Daniel Day Lewis version) and Avatar. I have seen Avatar so many times it makes me ache. I want to be 10 feet tall and blue and live on a planet where everything and everyone is as 'connected' as it was there.
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.
SS: My personal favorite quote is a bible verse. Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby ye may have entertained angels unawares.
SS: I'm writing the last book in my Rebel Ridge trilogy for Mira.
It's called 'TIL DEATH. It will be out sometime in 2013.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?
SS: It's just the last book in a trilogy. The last really big inspiration I had for a story was about child abuse, and I wrote that book and sold it to BelleBooks. It's called THE BOARDING HOUSE, and will be out next month (May). It's mainstream fiction.
WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?
SS: I only research as I write...when I come to a place in the story that needs fleshing out with specific items. I don't research for ages and then incorporate it into the story. My process is just the reverse. I research when I need a fact. I already know the story.
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
SS: I am in the process of a new contract for Mira books for more romantic suspense stories. No dates or titles yet.
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
SS: I have a website at www.sharonsalabooks.com I'm also on Facebook and while I'm almost to the tipping point (5000 friends) in being able to accept any new friends, they can always subscribed to my posts without friending.
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!