Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Interview with writer Shayla McBride

Writer Shayla McBride joins me today to chat about her non-fiction book for writers called A is for Author.

During her virtual book tour, Shayla will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

Think of the worst photo you’ve ever had taken. End-of-binge candid, strawpile hair, baggy eyes even Photoshop couldn’t erase, an Autumn shirt and you’re absolutely a Spring. Multiply that by ten. That’s how much the camera likes Shayla. So...no photo.

I’m a native of New York. Now I live in Florida, on the edge of Irma’s path. We’re fine, thanks, although Princess CooCoo refused to come inside while canines were in emergency residence. Before Florida, I lived in Maryland and Morocco. Two years in southern Morocco, in a small town near the Atlantic coast where I was a Peace Corps volunteer, convinced me we can all get along, but we have to try a lot harder than we are now. The previous twenty years in Annapolis, MD convinced me that “Crabtown” is the best, prettiest, funnest state capitol in the US.

At the end of Peace Corps, the idea was I’d move to Paris and become an expat. It was all about the food, of course. And the wine. But my kids are in Florida...so here I am drinking French wine while hurricanes roar instead of drinking it while sitting in a café on the Champs Elysées.

But I wouldn’t be a writer if I’d gone to France, and A is for Author would never have been written. Think of all the new writers who would’ve suffered without that book! And don’t forget the ever-enduring hero Carl Tanner, Key West’s Jake Baron and Margo Hollander, and hilltown Italy’s Marco McCabe and Laura Walter (and all the others) who would never have seen the light of day. Or the black and white of your e-reader or paperback. So it’s all to the good. But...I sure do miss a decent baguette...

I write, on average, seven hours a weekday. Obviously, I have no time for housework; fine by me. I do have time for gardening, cooking, painting (house and fabric), my kids and friends, the Florida Symphony, and my fave, travel. I love exploring third world countries, especially their food and music. Street food: yum! Any ancient ruin is on my to-do list, as is any colonial town regardless of age. One of my favorites? Trinidad, Cuba (founded 1514). I do have a photo of Trinidad, and of a delicious garbanzo-ham-chorizo dish I had there. Find it on my website.

Welcome, Shayla. Please share a little bit about your current release.
A is for Author is my first non-fiction book (but not the last). I never anticipated writing a how-to-write book. I’m a good teacher, but this was a massive undertaking, and the responsibility to get it right was intimidating. Seven months of research capped three previous starts. And I still want to edit it again (and probably will).

But it is an invaluable tool for the new or mid-path writer, one they’ll use again and again as a reminder or refresher. It starts with A Plot and goes to Zebra Crossing, and in between it covers industry jargon, plotting and character development, self-editing and revision, joy and depression, violence and sex. Among many other things. Think of me as curmudgeonly Auntie Shayla who always tells it like it is, and who will always be happy to sit down and discuss, over a beer, the writing life.

In the hard copy, available from Amazon (outside the U. S., through Ingram Spark). I’ve left lots of blank pages for personal notes. The book makes a great present, too.

What inspired you to write this book?
The many new writers who are slowly going mad trying to find out how they’re doing. It’s one of the most common questions. Notice how generic it is: how am I doing? Most newbies don’t even know what questions to ask. They’re confused by terminology, industry and genre requirements, plot flow, character building, dialogue, arcs, plot points, and hundreds of other things. Most how-to-write books assume some knowledge and expertise. But the writers who need it most don’t have that experience. Or the how-to book promotes unrealistic expectations: your first book a best-seller. Ridiculous.

Excerpt from A is for Author:
It’s estimated that over ninety percent of Americans think they have a book in them. You may be one of those hopeful 290,000,000 citizens. Or maybe you live outside the U.S. Either way, welcome to the great  rarely-discussed dream of  writing your own original work of fiction.

It’ll be a piece of cake, right? After all, you use a lot of words every day. You’ve written reports, essays, shopping lists, holiday family updates, e-mails, tweets. You read, everything from check-out line trash to print and e-books. After you finished a recent work of fiction, you thought: I could do better than this. In fact, I think I will.

A dozen starts later, you realize it’s not quite that easy. You can see the story, but everything’s gauzy. You can’t find the words. It takes a lot of words to make a novel, the right words, in the right order. Your initial effort is disorganized, repetitive, and meandering. Why’s it such a mess? You’d never realized books had to be edited. Can yours be saved? Should it be saved?

When you begin writing, you don’t know what to look for. You don’t know the basics of construction, the techniques, the terminology or reader expectations. You simply do not realize what you don’t know.

So many questions, so few easily accessible answers. You’re not alone. Everyone who’s ever embarked on the journey of creating genre fiction from their own imagination follows the same basic path and has the same questions.

Genre fiction is commercial fiction: adventures, fantasies, Mysteries, paranormals, Romances, sci-fi, thrillers. That’s what we’re talking about here.

What you write, your style, will be unique to you. The process itself isn’t. Your questions about writing are neither stupid nor unusual. Every person who writes, including me, has had them. I’ve tried to answer a lot of them—333-plus, but who’s counting?—to make the mysterious world of fiction writing more explicable. My aim is to answer many of your questions in this book.

As with most writing advice, nothing in here is one hundred percent true for all situations or all writers. Almost nothing is absolute. This book is based on my experience in laboring to attain a publishable level of writing skill.

Through teaching classes, counseling writers, and being part of critique groups, I know newer writers pretty much do the same things, and most do the same things in the same order. All wonder how they’re doing without knowing how or where to find the answer.

Most of the subjects addressed are available in expanded form on-line, in other books on writing and through classes, both on-line and in person. Check the back matter for any authors mentioned, plus digital and hard copy sources.

This is a demanding gig with a long learning curve. It’s fair to state that you will never stop learning, no matter how much success you attain. Even New York Times best-selling authors have said they’re ready to take their craft “to the next level”. The information in here is mostly for beginners, although those of you working farther along the continuum may find items of interest.

My first suggestion: read this book in sips, not gulps. There’s nuggets in here that took me years to internalize and you’ll probably travel the same route (hopefully quicker). Because you don’t have to read in order, and I don’t know how you’ll consume this, there’s some unavoidable repetition. I’ve added blank pages; feel free to scribble.

As with ballroom dancing, gymnastics, or oil painting, there are baby steps to take. Any craft has basics to master before moving forward, and writing is one of the most demanding of crafts. As Ernest Hemingway once wrote,

“We are all apprentices in a craft we will never master.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
In non-fiction, F is for Fight, a book to help writers create authentic, believable confrontations, street fights, assassinations, and assorted dust-ups. Many writers, particularly newbies, don’t appreciate the value of tension and physical confrontation in their stories. When they add it, there’s often flabby encounters and little downstream effect. F is for Fight aims to aid the cautious writer to use tension and conflict effectively.
Fiction, It Could be Fun, a Carl Tanner novella, will be released in early December as part of the Omega Team Kindle World devised by Desiree Holt. Tanner, retired military, is lucky in a firefight, but not so lucky in love. He’s undercover at Crave, a ladies strip club, where he meets luscious January Jones, world’s worst liar. The lady obviously has an agenda, which she refuses to share. Does it get in Tanner’s way? Only in the last deadly, desperate minutes does he learn her secret.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It was gradual. There are still days I ask myself, “Who are you kidding?” I recently watched a Charlie Rose show in which he interviewed Robert Pattinson. Both men admitted to impostor syndrome. “If only they knew what I don’t know,” Rose said. So, I’m in pretty good company. But…I write six hours a day, often seven days a week. Of course I’m a writer. At the moment, I’m in Uzbekistan, along the ancient Silk Road. I write every evening, on busses and trains, and the historic sights I’m seeing will absolutely go into my Harry Stone series.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
No spouse, no dog. The cat is low-maintenance. I avoid housework where possible. Nobody ever had on their gravestone “She kept a tidy house.” So, I’ve made lots of time to write. Most of my friends are writers, or heavy readers. We’re all residents of Bookland (see ISBN and Bowker in A is for Author). I used to carry a sketchbook with me. Now I carry a Samsung tablet. Love it!

Fun tidbit:
Travel. I started writing this post in Samarkand and am finishing it in Tashkent, where I’m staying in a fabulous hostel. The staff threw a party tonight, invited the guests, and among other things we danced the macarena, and I talked to people coming from almost every continent. Never dreamed I’d do that. Travel is not only broadening (is it ever; Uzbek food is dense, as was Azerbaijani, Georgian and Polish.), but gives me endless amounts of background and history for stories. I have a historical adventure-romance series set in Edwardian times out on submission, and all of this Silk Road stuff will wind up in that series of books.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I take a long time to kill off my characters. What I mean is that their deaths have significance to the story so figuring out the right means is a long process. You want it to resonate, to be appropriate to the genre and the situation. And the crime, if that applies.  On the other hand, you have to avoid prurience or creating a “who cares?” feeling. If you don’t treat death carefully, it’s hard to treat life carefully.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A chef. I was told I could be a nurse, a teacher, a librarian, or a mommy. Mommy seemed closest to being a chef. At least my kids were well fed. Oddly, today I find that I teach a lot. Writing skills and theory, of course, but also once in a while how to make a cheese soufflé. Teaching more people is what led me to write A is for Author.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
It’s estimated that 92% of Americans think they could write a book. That’s over 250 million people. I cover Memoir in A is for Author, as well as the techniques for good genre fiction. But no way are there 250 million people scribbling busily away. Partly because writing fiction is so amazingly difficult, and few would-be authors expect that. A is for Author aims to demystify genre fiction, and explain how to do it better and more effectively.


Thank you for being a guest on my blog!

Thanks for having me.

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Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Unknown said...

Congrats on the tour and thanks for the chance to win :)

Shayla McBride said...

Hello from Shayla! Delighted to be featured on your blog, and hope that your readers will enjoy the post. Have questions or comments? Happy to answer any and all.

Rita Wray said...

Sounds like a good read.

Shayla McBride said...

Hi, Shayla here. Victoria and Rita...I'd be very interested in what you found interesting in A is for Author. I presume you both write fiction? Be good to know where you think you are on the road to authorship.

Ally Swanson said...

Congrats on the new book and good luck on the book tour!