Friday, October 26, 2012

Interview Spotlight on Michele Shriver WomensLit author

I am so excited to have women’s lit author, Michele Shriver, here today for an interview. Welcome, Michele! So, I have to admit, until I started doing critiques at Critique Circle, I had never before read any women’s lit books. Boy, I’ve been missing out on some great stuff! After Ten is an awesome book, which I’ve already reviewed here, but let’s talk about your new release, Sixth South

Thanks for having me here, Chantel. I appreciate the opportunity.

Tell us a little bit about Kelsey and how she came to merit a book of her own.

Well, since you’ve read After Ten, you know that Kelsey started out as a supporting character in that book and then she became one of the main characters in Sixth South. The short reason for that is that she’s fun to write and she makes my job easy, but of course there’s more to it.

When I sat down to write After Ten, I decided that one of the main characters would be a lesbian. That’s something you don’t see that often in mainstream women’s fiction, but I like to push boundaries a little, and I liked the idea of a character (Sarah) who struggled with her sexual identity for years and basically lived a lie while she was in college, and then goes back for the ten year class reunion very happy and successful but still keeping this big secret.

I knew that if Sarah was going to be able to not only accept, but embrace, her true self, she would need to have a strong and confident partner by her side. Kelsey was specifically created for Sarah with that purpose. She’s a little older, she has more relationship experience, and she’s someone who never really struggled with her sexuality or felt any shame. She just is who she is and is proud of it.

For all of her outward confidence, though, Kelsey has a vulnerable side. She just doesn’t show it to many people and she didn’t show it to me for a long time. When she finally did, I realized her true potential and that’s when I decided I had to write a book in which she was a POV character so I could fully explore it.

It’s been a real joy to write Sarah and Kelsey’s relationship from its early beginnings, with Kelsey as the stronger one, seeing Sarah come into her own and then ultimately, in Sixth South, being the one who has to keep it together to help Kelsey through a rough time. 

Honestly, one of my favorite things about this book is Sarah and Kelsey’s relationship. They are so funny together. Really fun to read. However, the other women all captured my heart as well. Tell us a little bit about Joni, Olivia, and Megan.

The four main characters are all colleagues on the same sixth grade faculty, and each has a story of their own. Joni is Kelsey’s best friend, but the friendship becomes very strained when she discovers a secret her husband has been keeping from her and she ultimately has to make a choice between her marriage and her friendship with Kelsey.

Olivia is an older lady, recently widowed, and her life changes when her daughter decides it’s time for her to try online dating. All of the characters in my first book were roughly the same age, so in this book, I wanted to explore some different generations. Olivia is a lot older than me, and it was a challenge sometimes to try to capture a realistic voice for her, but I had a lot of fun with her story.

In keeping with the different generations, Megan is a young, first-year teacher, fresh out of college. She comes into the job with a lot of idealism and enthusiasm and quickly finds herself embroiled in a controversy that dampens that enthusiasm.

They are all great! One of the things I loved about this book is it's diversity.  Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I didn’t write the book with any particular message in mind. I wrote it just to tell a story, and I hope it’s an engaging and entertaining story. While I don’t think it really has a message, there is a theme that I think runs throughout the book, though, and that is trust. 

When did you start writing? What made you want to be a writer?

My earliest memory of writing, and perhaps wanting to be a writer, dates back to sixth grade. I had a teacher who gave us a class assignment to write the first chapter of a book. I did, and had a lot of fun with it, but I had one complaint. I didn’t want to stop! I wanted to write the whole book, and I told her that. She said “Go right ahead.” I never did finish that book, but since that time I always loved getting a school assignment to write a story. She was a very influential person in my life, and it’s not a coincidence that this book focuses on a group of sixth grade teachers.

I got away from writing for too many years when I was in college and then law school. Well, I was writing, but it was all nonfiction stuff for school or work. About nine years ago I got into fiction writing, starting with a soap opera style role play game on the internet. That gave me a chance to write dramatic stories with original characters, and reawakened my love for writing.

I also dabbled in fan fiction for a while, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It gave me a chance to improve my writing and storytelling ability.

A few years ago, I signed up for NaNoWriMo on a whim and wrote After Ten and I guess the rest is history.

Funny how some people can have so much influence in our lives, isn't it?  I think that's terrific.  Are there any other genres you like writing in?

I’ve written nonfiction articles for law reviews, one short story in the fantasy genre, and one screenplay, but no- women’s fiction is what I enjoy the most and I don’t really see myself seriously branching out into other genres. I’m more focused on trying to build my brand and make a name for myself writing women’s fiction.

I totally understand what you are saying there. What do you love about writing? What do you hate?

I love creating characters and crafting stories that I hope make people smile, laugh, perhaps occasionally cry, and hopefully touch their heart or at least leave some impression on them. That’s my goal.

I hate not having as much time to spend on writing as I would like, but I’m sure that’s a common complaint. As far as the process itself, the most frustrating thing for me is when I know what’s coming next, I can see the next scene or chapter vividly in my head, but for some reason struggle with getting that mental picture into words.

I hate that the chatty little buggers don't let me sleep sometimes. My characters always like to tell me the good stuff when I'm trying to go to bed! Guess that's better than them not talking at all. 

Where do you get your story ideas?

It may sound strange, but most of the time I get my story ideas from my characters. My books tend to start with me creating a few characters- I’ll give them a name, an age, an occupation, think a little bit about what type of person they are and what their life is like. For example, with this book, I decided I was writing about a group of teachers. Then I just started writing and let them create the story. I’ve never been one to do a lot of advance planning. I like to let my characters surprise me.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

I do occasionally, but fortunately not very often. The bigger problem for me is what I already mentioned-knowing what comes next but struggling to get it on to paper. Usually it means that the scene isn’t quite ready. I’ve learned that I can’t force my writing. If a scene or chapter isn’t ready to be written, no amount of staring at a blank page is going to make it ready. I have to let it come to me.

Usually I just go do other things and wait until it does. One thing I’ve noticed is that being outside can help clear my head and get ideas flowing, and that I sometimes do my best thinking when I’m out on a bike ride. So, weather permitting, I’ll just get on my bike and head for the trails.

Oh! Bike riding sounds so much better than what I do to stop writer's work. I'm trying your method instead! To heck with a clean house!

What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing? Why?

I’m a big fan of Jodi Picoult and Kristin Hannah. Jodi Picoult is one of the best I’ve read at telling a story with multiple points of view and writing about controversial topics. Her books stay with me a long time because she poses some difficult questions that can really make a reader think. I’m in awe of her grasp of the subjects she writes about and how much research it must take.

Kristin Hannah explores some difficult themes, too, but she writes them with so much heart. She creates memorable characters and really makes a reader care about them. Her books are about the characters’ journey. Also, I’m a sucker for a happy ending, and I like that her books usually end with things working out, even if there’s been some heart wrenching and difficult stuff along the way.

I've never read either of those authors, but they sound interesting. I'm a sucker for happy endings too

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I’m a big sports fan, so if there’s a football or hockey game on TV, I’m probably watching it. If not, then I’m at the gym doing a Zumba fitness class. I also love to read. I think to be a good writer, one has to be a good reader as well, and there’s not much better than relaxing with a good book.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on my third novel right now, and this one is very close to me because it was inspired in part by the work I do in juvenile law. It’s a story rooted in the child welfare system, told from the points of view of the different people involved. It features a drug-addicted young mother fighting to turn her life around and regain custody of her child, a jaded social worker with inner demons of her own, an attorney who thinks she can save the world and a judge who might be too close to the case.

I can never wait for more stories from you. You need to write faster! J

I was born in Iowa and raised in Texas and now live in Iowa again. I am proud to consider both states to be home, and therefore poke fun at both of them, but it's always meant in the nicest way possible. I am a practicing attorney with a focus on juvenile law and have also worked as an educator, and some of my experiences have found their way into my writing. My dream is to someday pay the bills as a writer and be able to spend winters in the Dallas area going to Dallas Stars hockey games. In my free time, when I’m not writing, I am probably at a Zumba class, riding my bike, watching a football, hockey or soccer game on TV, or enjoying a glass of wine while I lose myself in a good book written by someone else.

Want to connect with Michele further and keep up with what she's doing? 

Want to buy Sixth South?
Amazon Product Page for Sixth South
Barnes & Noble Product Page for Sixth South

Want to buy Michele's first book, After Ten?
Amazon Product Page for After Ten
Barnes & Noble Product Page for After Ten

Happy reading, everyone! I know you'll enjoy Michele's books as much as I do!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love hearing your comments! If you enjoy what you read, have a question, or just want to tell me off ;-), please say it all here!

I did have to restrict anonymous users because there was way too much spam. Sorry about that! If you can't post here and need to reach me, check out my "About" page and contact me through one of those methods. Have a great day!