Today I'm going to interview a fellow author who just happens to be a BC Babe, or I should say with Book Cents Literary Agency. Thank you, Sheila Redling, for agreeing to let me grill, er I mean interview, you on your life as an author and your journey that brought you to this point. We’ve exchanged a bunch of information, and sorry, but you’ll have to repeat it for the readers. Though, it did help steer my interview. Let’s begin, shall we?
Mary: Before I get into the questions too far, please tell us a bit about yourself. Do you have a blog, web site? If so, please share the links.
Sheila: Hi Mary. I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for letting me be a part of it. I do have blog that links up from my website (under construction but the link works) – the site is www.SGRedling.com and the blog is I Don't Believe in Reality at blogspot. Hopefully I can turn the tables and get YOU in the chair on MY blog! (You have been warned!) As for me, I'm forty three, living in the great state of West Virginia, where I'm working on getting my first urban fantasy series published.
Mary: Let’s get the standard questions over with first. What genre do you like to read? And do you write the same?
Sheila: I've always been a fan of mysteries, with a special affection for the puzzler or cozy mysteries in which the cleverness of the sleuth is more prominent than the violence of the crime. (This is especially funny if you knew how much I love writing the violent scenes in my own work!) Lyn Hamilton's archeological series and Lawrence Block's burglar series are two of my favorites. Plus I have a weakness for espionage. The day Daniel Silva puts out another Gabriel Allon book is a day of feasting in my house. Aside from those two genres, I like to read authors who get off the path a bit, you know, who find some original ways to play with reality. I guess you might call it non-sci-fi sci-fi. That's what I consider my writing – not quite real reality. Ergo the title of my blog!
Mary: How long have you been writing?
Sheila: On and off my whole life but being serious about writing a novel is relatively recent. I know there are a lot of writers who have stacks of manuscripts tucked away in drawers in various states of completion, but I'm not one of them. I'm a finisher. I really believe that as a writer, you learn more from finishing one piece of crap manuscript than you do from starting a hundred masterpieces. Once you gain that faith in your ability to tie a story together, writing becomes much easier.
Mary: Do you have a mentor, or a writing hero?
Sheila: Wow, that's a tough question. I was an English Major at Georgetown University and so I was lucky to have studied under some amazing writers and readers. One of the most memorable was OB Hardison Jr, who was also the director of the Folger Theater and was named by Time magazine as "one of the country's greatest teachers." I didn't realize his incredible pedigree when I was his student; I only knew he glowed with enthusiasm and a love of language that filled the room like a smell. Plus I am blessed with the greatest circle of fierce, intelligent and candid friends who read my work enthusiastically and force me to always bring my A-game. They really are my heroes.
Mary: How did you find your agent, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary agency?
Sheila: We met at the West Virginia Writers Conference last summer. At that point, I had already received several rejections from agencies and, in my mind, the entire process was becoming just a touch more complicated than launching the Space Shuttle. I attended Christine's presentation on successful pitching and had a sit-down with her later. You know how you meet someone and something inside you just says "Yeah, this works?" She was enthusiastic and easy to talk with and very candid, which is something I value. Not long after, I signed with her and have never looked back. If I had to give advice to any writer looking for an agent, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Go to conferences!
Mary: When you travel, you told me you like the off the beaten path. What exactly do you mean by that? And do you use your experiences in your stories?
Sheila: If I can just veer off the question for a second and answer it sort of sideways…Quite a few years ago, when I had just started in radio and was broke, I got it in my mind that I had to go to Paris. There was a list as long as my arm why I couldn't go: no money, nobody to go with, no passport, no French language skills, etc. And there was only one reason I could go and that was because I wanted to. And that trumped all the negatives. I remember very clearly the moment when I stopped saying "I want to go" and started saying "I am going." Once it became a fact, all the things that had been obstacles, suddenly shrunk down to little things on my to-do list. That's a lesson that has hugely informed the rest of my life.
With travel, when you reach just a little further, you learn as much about yourself as you do the world. You have to face some fears (there are some scary moments) and when you're five thousand miles from home, you don't have the usual hidey holes to duck into. You have to face what's before you and you can surprise yourself. Plus you really learn that, whether you're dancing with a gypsy band in Bucharest (my favorite city in the world) or chilling on a coral island in Honduras, people all over the world want the same things: love, family, safety, hospitality. I am very fond of the American way of life (plumbing!!!) but very few people in the world would trade places with us. They love their ways too and, if you put down your guard, they're usually very happy to show you why. It makes you feel connected to the world. I've used my radio show to try to spread that message, to hopefully dispel some of those fears of travel.
Mary: Radio? You have a background in radio, how does that fit in with your writing, or does it?
Sheila: Radio is a live medium, there are no do-overs, so you have to be able to think on your feet and keep going, even if you've made a misstep. A live radio show is a lot like herding kittens. There are technical foul-ups and nervous guests, and unfunny comedians and somehow I have to keep it all heading in the same direction. I'm hard to rattle! So when I write, I rarely take notes or need to make lists because I've developed this constant floating memo board in my mind and a blind faith in my ability to tie it all together in the end. Plus we have a lot of interaction with our listeners and I've developed an ear for picking up information from small snippets of conversation. People let their guard down with a radio show they trust, and if you pay attention, you can get some good insights.
Mary: Is there anything that you’d like to accomplish with your writing? Other than appearing on the NY times Bestselling list.
Sheila: Can you arrange that NYT's thing? I'd like to stretch myself as an author. I'm on my first step now as I'm taking a break from my urban fantasy and trying my hand at mystery. Wish me luck. It may sound strange, but my goal is to be prolific. Anytime I see a branch of writing and think "I could never do that," the little cowboys in my mind start riding hard. I want to be fearless and expressive. I've been lucky enough to read so many books that have flipped switches in my mind, illuminating thoughts that might otherwise have stayed dark, and I want to be able to throw my little stick onto that bonfire.
Mary: You’re Irish/Hungarian, exactly how does that mix work? It sounds very interesting, I bet you have some wonderful stories about your family. What is your favorite?
Sheila: Well, Mary, that mix works with a lot of yelling and whiskey. And tons of laughter. My mother is Newfie-Irish, the Irish who stopped off in Newfoundland before coming to the States. They are crazy, funny, fierce people with nerves of steel and whips for tongues. You have to be quick to keep up. My father's parents came over from Hungary after WWI, where my grandfather was a Prussian Hussar. Yeah, the other team. Their names are on the memorial at Ellis Island. Both sides of the family are family-oriented, loyal to a fault, and killer storytellers. Anything worth telling is worth telling in style! From stories of my grandmother having to hide in the cellar under trash so the Russian soldiers wouldn't find her to my Uncle Pat saving the town of Lawn from a tidal wave, I've spent my whole life listening to these varied voices weave these big tales. I only hope my writing can reflect a little of that magic.
Mary: You love to garden, when you do your watercolors or draw is it of your garden? If not what do you find inspiring for your art? I am envious since I can’t even draw a stick figure!
Sheila: I do love my vegetable garden and my goal is to become as self-sufficient as possible. As a culture, I think we're very disconnected from our food. (Read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." And prepare to dig!) To me, gardening is the ultimate optimism – you put something in dirt and let life take its course. Magical. Most of my painting, however, is of the places I've traveled. Once you see Italy, it's almost impossible NOT to paint it. Another fun project I do are commissioned pieces called "Dreamstreets" where I take the little details of someone's life (their kids, pets, favorite foods and places) and turn them into a cartoon street. They're very detailed and fanciful and nice way to recharge after writing. Plus when else do you get to draw a cat in a sombrero?
Mary: To wrap things up, is there anything you find unique about yourself, I haven’t touched on with my questions?
Sheila: These have been interesting questions and my mind is firing up connections that I hadn't made before. I'm something of a language junkie – I speak passable Italian, bad French, snippets of Hungarian (which I don't recommend trying!) Wherever I travel, I try to learn not just some phrases, but the sound and feel of the language. It's not enough to memorize words; if you want to communicate in French, you have to feel the language the way the French do, the gestures and pursed lips. You have to feel French to speak French. (For an incredible, if dense, look at the nature of language, read "The Unfolding of Language" by Guy Deutscher.) When you paint, it's easy to paint a human face – two eyes, a nose, a mouth. It's only when you try to paint a particular human face that you realize that the details that make each of us unique are so particular and subtle and irreplaceable. As writers, it's our job to capture those details, to feel those differences, to be able to not just transcribe dialogue like a court reporter, but to translate the emotions and drives of our characters. It's a wildly optimistic leap of faith that's always worth taking. For me, radio, traveling, painting, even gardening, all sharpen and fuel my desire to make that leap. And being lucky enough to work with talented writers like you, Mary, makes it all the more fun. Thanks again for letting me ramble with you!
Thank you, Sheila, for taking up some of your valuable time answering my questions!