Shirley is one of the most energetic self-promoters I know. She lives in Utah with her family.
Welcome, Shirley! I'm so glad you could be here today. What made you start writing?
Oh, didn't you hear? I was born with a pen in my hand. My younger sister came out smarter because of all the graffiti on the walls! Seriously, I wrote my first novel of 25 pages at the tender age of 10. Before that I plunked out short stories on my mother's old Underwood typewriter. I was probably 8 years old, and spelled things wrong, but I didn't care.
How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?
I've been writing since I could put pencil to paper. My first book sold when I was 42 years old. (I didn't have enough faith in myself to persevere to publication earlier than that, more's the pity.)
You have published a lot of non-fiction works. You also write fiction. Do you prefer one writing type over the other?
So far I prefer non-fiction, mainly because it sells the best! I have lots of fiction ideas that I would like to develop, but I still have lots of non-fiction ideas, too. I don't really prefer one over the other for creativity's sake. I like to write about a lot of things!
How do you decide what to write about?
I write whatever bubbles to the surface, is most compelling, or screams the loudest to get out of my head. One summer, I pushed everything aside and wrote a novel that wouldn't let me sleep. That was eight years ago. Even though it hasn't been published yet, I still don't regret making the time to write it, as it was cathartic for my soul.
How do you research your topics?
Lots of ways: by reading books, Internet searches, asking people on Internet groups, and with personal interviews. A funny thing about interviews on historic topics is people's selective memories. I once asked two sisters about an event that happened to their father when he searched for a cave where his ancestor went into hiding while being sought for polygamy law violations. One sister said he flew over the site in a small plane, dropped a roll of toilet paper, later found the roll and went into the cave. The other sister insisted that Dad never found the cave. I really like it best when I find first hand accounts, so write in your journals, you slackers! Some future historian may be dying to know what you know.
What type of writing schedule do you have?
Not one. Sad to say, my current writing schedule is catch as catch can, which is very unsatisfactory. I used to write early in the morning or in the afternoon, but in a huge effort to fit in exercise and scripture and prayer, my mornings often slip away from me and my afternoons are usually filled with family needs. My husband prefers I not stay up late, saying he can't sleep until I come to bed, so what's a writer to do? I catch minutes here and there and take paper everywhere with me to scribble ideas on.
How do you handle life interruptions?
Not very graciously. I've learned to be patient with family, but sometimes I wish telephones were never invented. It doesn't help that I seem to have a hard time saying, "No" to requests for help. I really like my answering machine, but it doesn't do much good when my 8-year-old is so eager to answer the phone. Basically, I just keep plugging away.
Do you write to music? If so, with lyrics or only instrumentals?
I LOVE to write to music. Both lyrics and instrumental work for me, but what doesn't work is when someone in my family complains about the music and I end up turning it off because I don't think it's worth arguing about and I don't know where the headphones are, because someone BORROWED THEM and DIDN'T PUT THEM BACK. I find that various music works for different parts of the book, such as energetic music for the exciting parts and slower music for the romantic or introspective sections.
What have you always dreamed of writing, but haven't yet?
Young Adult ghosty stories. I seem to have lots of spirit-influenced story ideas, meaning spirits, like ghosts, of people watching over or interacting with loved ones, but I haven't finished any yet. (I even think I have some begun on 3x5 floppy discs! Guess how long ago that was!)
What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
What I like most about writing is that it feeds a hunger in me. When I don't write, I tend to get cranky and feel spiritually anemic. Writing makes me content, like all is right with the world, and it helps to soften the voices and poundings in my heart from all the books that want to get out of my imagination.
What I like least about writing is that there never seems to be enough time to write as much as I want. It's a catch-22, because I tell myself if I'd write enough books, then I'd make enough money that I wouldn't have to work, but while I'm working to earn money, I don't have as much time to write books.
Tell us about your new book, The Pioneers: A Course in Miracles.
Miracles are all around us. You can find them in scriptures, folktales, in lives of people you know and even in your own life. I found miracles from the olden days that range from a 4-year-old boy who made it home from a mountain sheep camp after his father tied him to a horse, to a starving missionary who prayed for food. When he looked up, there on the ground was a loaf of warm bread wrapped in a dishtowel that had come from his own wife's kitchen thousands of miles away. Ooo, I just got goosebumps!
What is your next project?
After I finish writing a blind man's life story for him and helping my 14-year-old son re-write his fantasy novel, I plan to finish my first ghosty Young Adult novel, titled Witch's Heart. It's a really cool story about a healing woman from the Civil War era who was wrongly accused of being a witch. She is accidentally burned to death when her house goes up in flames from one of her taunter's careless campfires. Her story from young adulthood to death is interwoven with the cry of an orphan after World War I, which stirs the ashes to life. In an effort to save the toddler from a kidnapper, the witch's ashes slide into windows through open curtains, copying people's body parts. The cool thing is, when the ashes cover arthritic hands or crippled legs or burned torsos and come away, the hands and legs and torsos of the original owner are healed, and the witch's body goes away with crooked fingers, crippled legs, and burn scars. So the witch is healing people while creating a body for herself to save the baby before it's too late. When at last the "witch" picks the grieving child up and holds it to her chest, the child's heart beating against the witch's chest heals the witch's heart.
It's an awesome story, and I'm very excited to finish it.
What is your advice for other writers?
If you don't love writing just because it's writing, then you should find another hobby. I haven't gotten rich, even after seeing 17 books published. But I still love to write. I hope for better sales in the future, but if that doesn't happen, I will still write. You have to like what you do before publishers will like what you do. One thing that has occurred to me about my many books and low royalties is that I write such a variety of things that people are not sure what to expect from me. I've gotten the impression that those who write a "brand," or certain type of book and stick to it, have a better run because people know what to expect from that writer. If they write in a different genre, they use a different name. That may be a good idea after all. Also, wrap yourself in rhino hide. I've got one, and it helps me take criticism without batting an eyelash. I appreciate my proofreaders telling me what they don't like about my books. Then I can figure out a way to make my stories even better.
The "Odd" series:
The Pioneers: A Course in Miracles. Cedar Fort, Inc. 2008
Thank you for the Interview, Shirley.
It's been fun.
Be sure to visit Shirley's website and blog at: