Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Interview: A Woman of Many Talents
S.L. Viehl, Lynn Viehl, Gena Hale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly, Sheila Kelly....

By Lazette Gifford
© 2005,
Lazette Gifford


 

Whatever name you happen to have come across on the bookshelves, you are bound to have been impressed and delighted by Sheila's writing.  Sheís one of the most prolific writers today, and she continues to entertain her readers in many genres.  Since January 2000, she has written twenty-five novels in five genres, including the very popular books StarDoc series (as S. L. Viehl), which is returning with new stories. The first book of her new Darkyn series (as Lynn Viehl) reached the USA Today bestseller list.

 

Sheila took the time from her always busy schedule to answer a few questions for writers.  You can also find many interesting notes on writing -- and life -- at her blog:  http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/ 

  

Vision: You write more novels in a single year than practically any other writer.  How do you choose what you are going to write about? 

What I choose to write is largely determined by what I enjoy writing and think will sell well, what the editors indicate theyíd like to see, and what Iím hired outright to do.

Vision:  With so many different projects, one after another, how do you stay focused on the individual pieces? 

Iím a pretty decent multi-tasker; my mind is always going in a thousand directions even when Iím not writing.  Ruthless organization also helps.

 Vision: What trends do you see in the publishing world, and how do you decide which ones to follow?

Generally I see three types of trends: micro-trends, which is whatever becomes hugely popular for a short duration; mid-trends, which are the micro-trends that blossom into a genre movement that might last a year or two; and trend-shifts, which are mid-trends that donít dwindle away and sometimes end up changing the direction of a genre.

Iím definitely a trend watcher, but I rarely chase any for the sake of the trend.  Instead, I use them as timing devices to know when what Iím writing has the best chance of being accepted and doing well on the market. 

For example, I had pitched a trilogy of vampire books back in 1998, but never sold them.  When I saw the momentum the vampire fiction sub-genre was just beginning to build, I dusted them off and resubmitted them -- and promptly sold them to the same publisher that had rejected them five years earlier.

Vision: What is your average work day like? Do you write every day?

I start writing every morning at 5:30 am (4:30 am this month because Iím a bit behind after moving to a new home).  I take a break to feed my kids and drive them to school, and then write until itís time to pick up the kids.  My afternoons and early evenings are devoted to the family, and then I start editing around 8:00pm.  I usually work until 1 or 2 am.  I write every day (unless Iím in the hospital, or someone I love is). 

I donít recommend my schedule to other writers, unless youíre also naturally hyper and a chronic insomniac.

 Vision: How much pre-writing work do you do for a novel?  How long does that sort of work take you?

I do a great deal of prep work before I write a book.  I think about it, nail all the research, outline extensively, and visualize scenes until I can ďseeĒ the entire story in my head before I put one word of the novel on paper.  I like mapping out what Iím going to do as much as possible as I prefer to write straight through a book without stopping.  

Vision: You rarely write shorter material.  Is that because you don't have the time, or because you don't find it as fulfilling? 

I still write quite a few short stories in between books -- about twenty to fifty a year -- but I donít publish any of them.  I used to put them up on my old web site, but I discovered they were being bootlegged and decided to stop that.  These days I just file them away for my personal future reference.  Writing short stories helps me test drive novel ideas and see if I like how they come out on the page before I commit to writing a book.      

Vision: What genres do you write in, and under what names?  Do you have a favorite?  

I write inspirational and historical fiction as a writer-for-hire (contract terms prevent me from publicizing those books),  romantic suspense as Jessica Hall,  inspirational fiction as Rebecca Kelly, nonfiction as Sheila Kelly, dark fantasy/vampire fiction as Lynn Viehl, and science fiction as S.L. Viehl. 

I have fun with everything I write, so I donít have a preference. 

Vision: Are there any other genres you'd like to write?  Are there stories you've always wanted to write but haven't had the chance to yet?

I wonít live long enough to write all the stories in my head.  Iíve been toying with the idea of writing a pair of historical novels under my own name, finishing and publishing an epic fantasy novel I have about half-written, and outlining a mystery series thatís been brewing on the back burner for a few years. 

 

Vision: With your new StarDoc book you've gone back to the very popular SF universe that you created.  Was it difficult to start working with such a complex setting again? 

I was able to publish three standalone novels set in the StarDoc universe after the series was put on hold, so in a sense Iíve never really left it.  It was a genuine delight to come back to characters Iíve not written for two years and update their stories. 

 

 

Vision: Who has influenced your writing? 

Off the top of my head, in no particular order:  Shakespeare, Holly Lisle, Jane Austen, Laura Cifelli (my editor at NAL), Dr. Maya Angelou, George Carlin, Nora Roberts, poet John Keats, Stuart Woods, Chaucer, Joan Sabella (my mother), A.M. Lightner, Mark Kurlansky, Linda Howard, the Bible, Nathaniel Philbrick, Amy Tan, Catherine Coulter, Kahlil Gibran, poet June Jordan, Barbara Tuchman, Stephen King, Iris Johansen and Jean M. Auel.   

Vision: What drew you to quilting?  Do you have any other hobbies or pastimes that you enjoy?  Do you like just getting away from writing now and then? 

After I left home, my mother threw away a ratty old quilt that my great-grandmother had made and that I had cherished when I was a child.  I taught myself to quilt from how-to books so I could remake the one that was discarded.  That led to me becoming an avid quilter and eventually a quilt conservator. 

I also paint (horrible watercolors; think swallows that look like flying turkeys), crochet, knit, make and bind my own books, cook just about anything, and read for pleasure.   

Writing is such an integral part of me and my life that I never feel the need to get away from it.  Itís always with me anyway.  If Iím not writing on the keyboard or in a journal, Iím doing it in my head.  

Vision: Your blog is a very popular spot, and a place where you are not afraid to tell your views.  Do you think having a blog has helped your career?  

Paperback Writer (http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/ )has definitely helped my career, mainly by getting my name out there and making people wonder what sort of books I write (curious people go out and buy your novels).  Itís also made me a number of enemies among those who think authors shouldnít talk openly about how they feel about the business, editors, reviewers, other writers, advances, royalties, etc., so itís not been all hearts and flowers.

 I wanted to use the weblog more as an information outlet and a personal journal than a vehicle for fame, and Iím still not comfortable with the fame.  I wonít put a page-view counter on the blog because Iím afraid to know how many people read it.  The popularity has also made me seriously consider shutting it down.  I try to think about all the writers who have told me how much they appreciate the financial and industry information Iíve been publishing on the weblog, and then I donít hit that ďdelete blogĒ icon.

 Vision: Do you see the Internet as a good tool for upcoming writers? How should they be using it, if it is?

Absolutely; the internet is changing writersí lives and careers for the better.  I think the research opportunities on the net are incredible.  What library could ever be big enough to hold all the information that is out here in cyberspace? 

The internet also allows writers to get important data about markets, publishers, editors and potential sales opportunities, far more than any trade news source could cover.  There are endless chances to network, communicate and collaborate with other writers, so no writer ever has to dwell in isolation (unless they want to). Best of all, itís free, and you can access it from home while youíre wearing your PJs and bunny slippers.  Nothing can beat that.

To use the internet, you have to get out there and explore it.  Each week I try to hit at least twenty new web sites and/or web blogs.  I also check out what other writers recommend.  I bookmark what I think can help me and pass the information along in the ten things lists I post on my weblog every week. 

Vision: Are there common mistakes you see new writers making? What suggestions would you give them?  

The most common mistake I see is the one I think we all make: we allow something involved with the publishing industry to interfere with our writing.  Whether itís the state of the market, a rejection letter, a sneering critic, or a brush-off from a colleague, letting what they do mess with our process is counterproductive.

Iím just as sensitive to negative influences as any writer, so I try to steer clear of them.  Mostly I joke about them, ignore them, or unplug.  You canít surround yourself with non-stop happiness, but you can stay away from what can harm the writing.  In all things, protect the work. 

Vision: Has writing changed who you are or how you see the world? Are there themes that matter most to you? 

Book CoverWriting has allowed me to cope with who I am and the world around me.  If not for writing, Iíd probably be crazy or dead.  Tolerance and identity are the two themes that perpetually fascinate me, but Iím a child of the first American generation to be desegregated.  The fight against racism had (and still has) an enormous influence on me as a person and a writer.

Vision: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Has your career progressed the way you thought it would? 

I started pursuing publication when I was thirteen and had written my first novel.  Iím pretty sure I was hooked from the day I picked up a pencil and started learning to write the alphabet.  I looked at the words, something clicked, and I discovered who I was.

My career has gone in unexpected directions from day one.  I never expected to spend ten years getting nothing but rejections, or to sell two books with the first contract, or to end up writing in so many genres.  I had only one expectation: to see my name on the cover of a book.

I still donít know what will happen with my career, but itís been one hell of a ride so far.

Vision: What do you have coming out that we should look for? What sort of things do you plan, or hope, to write in the future?  

The last of my SF standalone novels under contract, Afterburn by S.L. Viehl, just hit the shelves in hardcover.  So did the paperback reprint of the book before it, Bio Rescue.  I have a writer-for-hire novel coming out in September, which I canít talk about, and then the second of my Darkyn vampire novels, Private Demon by Lynn Viehl, comes out in October.  The first new StarDoc series novel in two years, Rebel Ice, will be released in January 2006. 

Iím considering a number of projects and career shifts at the moment, but Iím holding off on deciding anything until Iíve finished out my present contracts.  I want to tell great stories, so I hope to be doing that. 

Vision: Thank you for taking this time for this interview. Any last words you'd like to say to our readers?  

Itís been a pleasure.  I hope the writers who read this will keep working toward their goals.  Nothing depresses the cynics more than someone who wonít give up.

Be sure to check out Sheila's weblog and watch for her books at your favorite bookstore!
http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/