Thursday, February 07, 2008

Author Interview: Rebecca Shelley

This week's Author Interview is with another Rebecca: prolific writer Rebecca Shelley, who has branched out from selling short stories and articles to selling a fantasy novel in the national market.

Red Dragon Codex, which Rebecca wrote under the series author name R.D. Henham, a scribe in the Great Library of Palanthas, is the first book in a new young adult fantasy series based on the "Dragonlance: the New Adventure" series. For fans of The New York Times' best-selling A Practical Guide to Dragons, this new series focuses on the power of dragonkind.

Welcome, Rebecca Shelley! What made you start writing?
I've always had stories playing out in my head, and it was a natural progression for me to move from thought to paper. With so many stories swirling around in my mind, I'd probably go insane if I didn't write.

How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?
I started writing as soon as I learned to write words in elementary school. To avoid giving away my age, LOL, lets just say I've been writing for a very long time. Red Dragon Codex is my first book sold.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
In the past I've been mostly an organic writer, just sitting down and telling the story that my brain comes up with as I go along. But more and more now I plan things out before I start. Red Dragon Codex is the first book that I outlined completely before I wrote it. That's because I had to sell the book on just the outline. I think I turned in something like a 24 page outline. Since then I've been more open to the use of outlines.

This is how I usually do it. I figure out how many pages I want the book to be. Say four hundred pages. Then I write a one or two sentence description of where the story needs to go in each of those hundred pages. Then I'll take the first hundred pages and write a sentence for each 25 pages. Then I start writing. I don't know the details of what will happen in the second hundred pages until after I write the first hundred, etc.

I make a chart as I'm going along that lists each of the point-of-view (POV) characters on the left with a column for the chapters and a column for the chapter hook (or plot point). Then as I write each chapter, I mark whose POV it is in and what the plot point and chapter hook are. That way I can easily see what I've written and where I need to go from there.

Interesting that you make charts including those elements. I've been doing that, as well. You're writing within a series, and I believe other authors are involved, right? That seems complex to me. Were there a lot of guidelines you had to follow from the publisher? Did you get to come up with ideas, like characters' names, on your own?
The "Dragon Codex" series is a companion series to the New York Times best selling Practical Guide to Dragons book and it's set in the Dragonlance world. Stacy, my wonderful editor at Mirrorstone, asked me to pitch her an idea for one of the minor characters in the "Dragonlance: the New Adventure" series to have an adventure with a dragon. I had already read all the New Adventure books that had come out. I remember the first book that Mudd, the Red Dragon main character, appeared in as a minor character. I read down the page when Mudd first appeared, and a little ripple of electricity went through me. I reread the page four or five times just taking in the character, and I thought to myself "now there's a character I'd love to write about." At the time, I had no idea I'd get the chance. So when Stacy asked me to pick a character, I knew immediately who it would be.

The Dragonlance world is a fully developed complex world with tons of books already written in it. I found that a little intimidating, but my husband is an avid role playing gamer and had a ton of manuals and stuff about the world on his shelf. I pried the books away from him, and that made it pretty easy for me to get to know the world and its history.

What is your daily schedule like?
6:30 wake up. Make kids' lunches and breakfast.
7:30 send kids off to school.
7:30-8:00 get e-mail.
8:00-12:00 write.
12:00-onward, take care of my family responsibilities.

As far as writing, I'm pretty much stuck with only four hours a day, five days a week. But I hold my writing time sacred and try not to let things interrupt it. One week every quarter I put everything else on hold and do nothing but write, eat, and sleep. I like to put out the first draft of a novel all in one bunch like that so I can keep the whole story, continuity, plot, etc., in my mind. So I write it fast and then do a lot of revision.

How do you handle life interruptions?
I write as much as I can, as fast as I can, whenever I can. And I don't sweat it if I miss a day or two or a week here and there. I'm not the kind of writer who has to write every day no matter what. Hey, if my son wants to go fishing, I'm happy to skive off the whole day and go fishing with him. That's one of the perks of being a writer as a profession. I get to chose what I do with my time. Then I make up any lost time during my intensive writing week each quarter. I do try to treat my writing like a 20 hour a week job so I can put out at least three or four books a year.

Do you write to music? If so, with lyrics or only instrumentals?
LOL. In church one time the teacher asked us what do you prize? What is the most important thing to you? The only thing I could think of at the time was silence. SILENCE. I prize it. I cherish it. With four young children I don't get much of it. And when I do get a silent moment, I like to be able to hear myself think. No. No music while I'm writing. I save music listening for long drives.

What food or snack keeps the words flowing?
Must have chocolate to write, especially when I don't feel like writing. I just tell myself. "Hey, you know the M&M's are waiting in the drawer by your desk. If you sit down and write, you can have some." I try to never snack on the M&M's when I'm not writing. They are the special thing that signals my brain and my body that it's time to take off the mommy hat, and the driver hat, and the maid hat, etc. Time to put on the writer hat and get to work. Some writers have a separate work space or a separate computer for writing to get that focus. I just use M&M's. Works good for me.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
I like the adventure and the discovery of creating a new story. I hate it when I sit down to write and all my real world problems have taken over my mind and won't let me get back into the story. Then I have to type out a long rant about everything and delete it so I can clear my mind to write.

The long rant sounds like a good way to clear the mind. What is your next project?
I just turned in the first draft of the Brass Dragon Codex to Stacy. My agent is in the process of selling a fun children's series called "The Smartboys Club" series. I've written the first two books of a political thriller series, the first set in Afghanistan, the second in North Korea. I've taken them through some critique groups and have a number of revisions to make before I send them to my agent. I hope to have those done by the end of January or so, and then I'll start on the third book in that series, unless some other book project comes along first.

Wow! What is your advice for other writers?

Great advice! Tell us about Red Dragon Codex.
In the Red Dragon Codex, an evil red dragon plots revenge against her silver dragon enemy. Her intricate plan starts with kidnapping the village seer who is Mudd's foster mother. Mudd sets out to rescue the seer and becomes a player in the red dragon's designs. He and his companions must discover the truth and find a way to defeat the red dragon and save the seer before the dragon destroys them all.

Thank you for the interview, Rebecca. It was a pleasure.

Thank you.

Other Work by Rebecca Shelley:

"The Cliffs of Seapine" published online in Fragmented Infinity Issue 1, May 2001.

"Amaryllis" published online in Deep Magic, August 2002.

"Mirror Image" published in print Issue #1 of Beyond Centauri July 2003.

"Jackie Paper" published online in Kisses for Kids September 2003.

"Woodworking" published in print in Aoife's Kiss Vol. III No. 2, September 2004.

"Roots and Branches" republished in print in the Invitations anthology, August 2004. (originally published in DKA Magazine)

"Thinking of Death" published in print in Dreams and Visions #34, March 2005.

"Death Dance" published in DKA Magazine, Issue 29, February 2006.

"The History of Christian Fantasy" article. Published in The Sword Review February 2006.

Visit Rebecca's website at


  1. Marsha,
    Very nice interview. I appreciated that you asked Rebecca what her daily schedule was, as it gave me a few good ideas to implement in my own life.

    AND ... the snack food question made me giggle. :)

    Thanks for a job well done--to both you and Rebecca!

  2. Thank you, C. L. I like to change the questions from time to time.

  3. jennifer griffith5:24 PM

    Wonderful interview. I love reading about how authors of different genres from my usual reading material come up with their stuff. Fascinating!


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