This week I have the pleasure of introducing Shellie Foltz whose second Avalon romance, Love Under a Dark Sky, was just released. We've never met face to face but, through the emails we've exchanged, I've come to think of Shellie as a friend. I think you'll find her as likeable as I do. Now ... meet Shellie.
What prompted you to become a writer?
I've wanted to be a writer since fourth grade with Mrs. Pyle when I was encouraged by her to keep writing. I thought that if my teacher thought I was good at it, I must be (oh, the power of words and the power of teachers) and I was excited about that. I got my B.A. in Creative Writing and kept working at it through the years, but without really pursuing it as a business. When I was facing my 40th birthday, I thought, "If I don't do this now, I won't ever do it." So, I did.
What part of writing do you find most satisfying?
The most satisfying part of writing to me is the feeling of having really accomplished something when I've written a scene I'm happy with, or crafted a dialogue I think really flowed, or surprised myself with some detail that fleshes out a character in ways I hadn't really planned on. It's a meticulous, purposeful pursuit, but there's a whole lot of magic involved, too! Besides all that, it's just plain fun!
What part do you find most difficult?
The dry seasons in between stories. Between Avalon's acceptance of Love Under a Dark Sky and my current project, there are many, many starts (of various lengths) that will likely not ever be finished. It's not that they're bad; they just didn't click for me.
What comes first for you? Characters? Story? Setting?
Where do you find inspiration?
The input I get from the outside world plays a bigger role in my writing than I might have supposed it would. If I'm going about day-to-day life and not really taking in much from outside my own little world, I'm not likely to strike upon something worth writing. On the other hand, the times when I'm nearly too busy to write tend to produce the enthusiasm I need for a project. No Penalty for Love was born out of my then new interest in ice hockey. Love Under a Dark Sky followed a renewed interest in sci-fi and my discovery of the British television series, Doctor Who. I think all those things work together for me to build a story. I spend a lot of time at coffee shops and places where people are. And, yes, I eavesdrop!
What is your one unbreakable rule in writing?
Good writing trumps message. I don't mean that the message of a book or a play isn't important; but, I don't think that a heavy-handed message excuses a poorly-crafted story. Whether my message is one of the meaning of love, the value of romance, the importance of creation care, or even more the message of salvation through Jesus, I want it to be couched in a high-quality story that possesses the elements of quality literature.
Tell us about Love Under a Dark Sky.
Love Under a Dark Sky is my second novel. It is set in Minnesota and the romance is between an older woman and a younger man at very different places in life. Willa (named for my grandmother) had her own organic oats business which failed with the economy. Daniel is a science fiction writer. The story is as much about Willa's growth as a person, her determination to discover who she is and what she really wants from life, as it is about romance, and I'm proud of that.
I understand you're a playwright too. What are the differences between writing a novel and a play?
When I write a play, I have to visualize everything happening in actual space; whereas, in writing a novel, I can expand beyond the confines of a stage. Also, while I hope my dialogue reads naturally in my books, when I write something I know is going to be spoken in front of an audience, it's extremely important that my phrasing be natural. In a novel, I might linger on descriptions; in a play those are limited to the stage directions. I had two plays produced before I ever attempted a novel and found it so enjoyable I thought I didn't want to write anything else. Since I started writing novels, I haven't gone back to plays. I hope someday to get back to it. Maybe the reprise of Welcome to Joe's at Stained Glass Theatre this coming September will inspire me!
What else is in the works?
Right now I'm working on a young adult novel. I'm a high school librarian and my colleague in the library has been encouraging me in that direction. I really was hesitant to do it because I've had such fun writing the romances, but once I got started, I've found it very enjoyable. Since I write for personal pleasure rather than depending on it for my income, I don't really set hard and fast deadlines for myself; but my hope is to finish it this summer and also get a start on a new romance before school starts again.
What other authors do you especially admire?
I really admire Luanne Rice for her rich family sagas and her makes-me-feel-like-I'm-there settings. I love the action, passion, and intelligence of John Grisham's novels. Stephen L. Carter blows me away with his writing; the man is a true wordsmith. Barbara Kingsolver can make me laugh out loud and challenge me at the same time. For personal inspiration and encouragement, I choose Lisa Graham McMinn. For the ability to take a hotly-debated issue (like animal rights) and write about it with absolute integrity, it's Matthew Scully. I cherish Judy Blume. More recently, I've discovered John Green, Gayle Foreman, S. A. Bodeen, and Jennifer Donnelly; all writers of young adult novels whose works I've thoroughly enjoyed.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I work full-time as a high school librarian. Summers off see me traveling to Minnesota with my husband and my dog, Natalie. I volunteer as a reviewer for Missouri State University's Book Review Board. During the season, you'll find me watching the Missouri State University Ice Bears and traveling to St. Louis for Blues games. Mostly, though, I'm satisfied to be at home with some jazz, a cup of coffee, and a good book.What refreshes you creatively? Giving myself a mental free-pass to not write for a certain amount of time if I'm between books. Sometimes, the "freedom" to not write jump-starts the writing. Instead of staring at a computer screen struggling for words, I get outside and get out around people. That external stimulus is so important.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
I didn't realize how much would fall to me as far as publicity. I'm a very shy person; blogging, social networking, and promoting the books is not the most natural thing for me to do. I find it takes a lot out of me emotionally to do those things, to put myself out there like that and I have to beware of getting sucked into that aspect of it and losing the joy of the writing or the accomplished feeling of actually having had a book published.
Anything you’re glad you DIDN’T know?
Having said that, maybe I should say that I'm also glad I didn't know those things. If I'd known I would be called out to center ice at a hockey game and had a microphone stuck in my face in front of an audience to talk about No Penalty for Love; if I'd known I would be handing out bookmarks and chocolates at Barnes & Noble in hopes that someone would stop long enough to look at my novel; if I'd had any idea I would have to license myself as a business with the city and county. . . well, I might not have had the courage to pursue the dream of becoming a writer.
Okay, Readers - your turn. If there's anything you'd like to say to Shellie or a question to ask that I didn't think of ... well, that's what the comments are for.