Thursday, November 7, 2013

GIVEAWAY! and Interview with Featured Guest Author Sharon Short, author of MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA

Welcome to Lia Mack's BB Writers Retreat series!

As part of our November BB Writers Retreat, I am excited to have with us published author Sharon Short.

Sharon Short, author of MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA

Sharon Short is the author of eleven books in all so far, plus stories and essays, including:

Lia Mack: Thank you so much for being part of the BB Writers Retreat series, Sharon. 

Please start us off by telling a little about yourself.

Sharon Short: I live in Ohio with my husband, beagle, and two spoiled cats. Our daughters are mostly grown; they're both away at college.  I grew up in the Dayton, Ohio area. In high school, I swore I'd never live in my hometown or get married, and ended up happily married to my high school sweetheart and (after living for a time in northern Ohio, New Orleans, and California) moved back to the very town I foreswore. I'm very glad to be here and glad that things turned out differently than I wanted when I was 16! I greatly love the arts community of Dayton. In addition to writing fiction, I am the Executive Director of the Antioch Writers' Workshop in nearby Yellow Springs, Ohio, and write the weekly Literary Life column for the Dayton Daily News. The column is about writers, readings, literary events and literary history in the greater Dayton area.

Lia Mack: You know, I've been dreaming about attending the Antioch writing workshop for years. How exciting that you spearhead it.

Now, for the ultimate question...

Why do you write?

Sharon Short: It's how I make sense of the world--through story. My head lives in story. I can't imagine NOT writing. It would be like trying to live without breathing: impossible after a very brief time.

Lia Mack: How do you feel you've grown as a writer?

Sharon Short: I attended Wright State University for my undergraduate degree. I tested out of freshman English, but had to take sophomore composition. I admit I was annoyed by this requirement, even as an English major, since I just knew that I didn't *need* the class. Why couldn't I just plunge right in to the interesting literature survey classes?

On my first paper, I received the first "B" of my life, at least in an English class. (I flunked bowling in high school, but that's another story.) I stormed into my professor's office, explained I'd never received a "B" before, and that I just knew I was a better writer than any other students in his class. Looking back on that hubris makes me shudder, but if Dr. Whissen was offended, he didn't show it. He merely pressed the tips of his fingers together, gazed evenly at me, and said, "I'm not grading your work based on what you've done before. Or based on how you compare to other students. I'm grading you based on how well I think you're doing compared to what you CAN do."

Somehow, I understood--my goal should always be to improve upon what I've written before... not to compare myself to others or rest on past achievements. So, that's been my goal ever since then. As proud as I am of my first novel published nearly 20 years ago, I think my dedication to this goal shows in my work. MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA is a deeper, more from-the-heart novel than I could possibly have written when starting out.

Lia Mack:  I love what your professor said and how you've used that to your advantage.

What made you decide to write as a career?

Sharon Short: Again, we go back to that whole writing=breathing analogy.  I discovered books and almost immediately wanted to be a writer. In fact, I wrote and self-published my first book at age 6. Of course, I didn't realize that's what I was doing at the time, but I wrote a little book called "The Fireman," illustrated it, bound it with red construction paper and staples, wrote 1 cent in the upper right corner of the cover and "Published by Little Golden Books" on the inside front cover. I then promptly sold it to my aunt. Years later, after she passed away and her husband remarried, his second wife found the little book in an box of greeting cards. This was shortly after my first novel, ANGEL'S BIDDING, was published by Fawcett Books. My step-aunt returned The Fireman to me. I was really touched, both that my aunt kept it and that my step-aunt knew I'd want it back. Getting that little book back confirmed for me that my life's journey and my writing journey are intertwined.

Lia Mack: That is so heartfelt.

Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like?

Sharon Short: After "The Fireman" I wrote many stories as a child, in high school and in college. My husband has commented that it's telling that I wrote so much outside of my assignments. After college, I wrote part of a confused and confusing literary novel, a romance novel that kept getting rejected because, as one editor noted, my hero was "a wimp," and numerous stories.

I finally realized that the genre I most loved at the time was mystery, so I decided to write a mystery novel. I took opening chapters of that to the Antioch Writers' Workshop in 1990, eager to study with the featured fiction lecturer that year... Sue Grafton. Sue (not realizing she was in a way echoing Dr. Whissen) reviewed my manuscript and told me all that she thought was doing well (character development, pacing, plot) and all that I really needed to improve (realistic dialog, researching police procedure.)

Again, I've patterned my own assessment of my work on her method of giving feedback: rejoice in what's working, but honestly accept what isn't and strive to improve it. That is how I approach writers now in workshops when I'm called upon to give feedback. I followed Sue's advice but realized that, even after attempting to improve the manuscript as she suggested, this novel was the novel I needed to write to learn how to write a novel. I put it aside, and started my next novel, ANGEL'S BIDDING.

Our first daughter was born in 1992. ANGEL'S BIDDING came out at the end of 1993. Since then, I've striven to improve with each piece of writing. I've also learned a lot about the publishing business, although in some ways I still feel like a novice in that arena. Writers need to learn craft AND they need to learn about the publishing business, but the two are very different areas of expertise.

Lia Mack: Can you tell us a little about your book?

Sharon Short: MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA is a novel very much written from my heart. I'd wrapped up the Josie series and written several false starts on other novels.

In February of 2009, I was at a book club meeting. Someone said, "Does anyone recall those deeds to one square inch of Alaska you could get in cereal boxes?" The question didn't have anything to do with the book we were discussing and I didn't recall the deeds (the promotion was a decade before I was born), but the phrase "one square inch of Alaska" literally took my breath away.

I was immediately taken with the concept of what one tiny bit of land in a vast territory could represent. Within minutes--again, literally--a young woman and her little brother showed up in my imagination and seemed to be saying, could you please tell the story of *our* one square inch of Alaska?

By the time I was home, one of the final scenes had, for lack of a better term, downloaded itself into my imagination. I rushed to my desk and wrote it down in my journal. And then I tinkered with the idea, not fully committing to it until September of 2009.

The novel went through many drafts after that; in the process, I realized that the novel was about the power of dreams, of what happens when we embrace them, follow them, encourage others to do so, ignore them or pick 'false' dreams. Though it is set in 1953 Ohio and (at the end) Alaska, I think it is a story that is rather timeless, because the human need to dream--and the sorrow that comes from cutting ourselves off from our dreams--certainly is timeless.

Lia Mack:  I'm so glad someone asked that question as your novel turned out to be a gem.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?

Sharon Short: Realizing that the story was NOT a Young Adult novel (although it is certainly fine for readers 10th grade and up). For awhile, I labored under the incorrect notion that because the novel is coming-of-age and features a 17-year-old female as the protagonist, that it was YA. After feedback at a writing conference in Jan. 2011, I realized that I was writing from the sensibility of a young woman looking back on events.... not from the viewpoint of a 17-year-old as the events unfolded. Aha! So I revised with that realization in mind. I think it makes the work much stronger.

Lia Mack: It most certainly did! And that is great advice to keep in mind when working with certain characters in our novels.

What are you working on now?

Sharon Short: A literary suspense novel.

Lia Mack: What does your typical writing day look like?

Sharon Short: It really depends on where I am in a project, but when I'm working on something new, I try to write new material for the first few hours of each morning. I usually start by looping back to the previous day's work (or the last 2 pages) to do some light revising to get momentum going forward for the next set of new pages. I really prefer the revising stage of work. When I'm in that stage, I admit I tend to neglect other areas of my life (e.g., housecleaning, exercising) because I love the process of revising so much!

Lia Mack: I think you're the first writer I've known who's admited to loving the revising stage of the craft! :)

Do you read a lot while you write?

Sharon Short: I read a lot of research materials for the work I'm writing. I also refer to writing books I find helpful and inspirational, particularly Hooked by Les Edgerton and Seven Steps on the Writer's Journey by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. I do read others' fiction, but tend to do so much more in between my own projects. However, I always am in the process of reading fiction to some degree.

Lia Mack: Can you share a photo of what your writing space looks like?

Sharon Short: Well, I can... although it might scare your readers. Note the candle lit for inspiration; if my mind starts wandering while I write, I focus on the flame. The Snickers pumpkin wrapper, the coffee cup, the bobble heads (Tim Gunn, Hermey and James Thurber.) Everything on my desk has a story or purpose to remind me about how fantastic this writing journey really is. (Except the Snickers. I just like Snickers...)

Sharon Short's writing space ;)

 Lia Mack: What are your thoughts on the necessity of writers building a platform? Any advice?

Sharon Short: Nonfiction writers must have a platform of subject matter expertise as well as for connecting with readers. Fiction writers need a platform for connecting with readers. I think it's important to have a website, with perhaps a blog built in, and a Facebook Author page (IF the writer has been published). I also have an email Newsletter and  use Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn. But I think it is important to set a time limit each day for these pursuits (note the kitchen timer on my desk); I try to stick to 15 minutes twice a day, and think of it as the virtual version of going to a break room to chat with colleagues. It's also important to post/tweet etc. about more than your own work or events--occasionally toot the horn for other writers, or share interesting opinions and stories for example. But it's also fine to post photos of events and so on. Readers follow writers on these sites because they WANT that insight into the writers' lives.

Lia Mack:  I like that analogy - using it as a "break room".

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?

Sharon Short: Shortly after my first book came out, an older more seasoned published author pulled me aside at a conference and told me that publishers don't care about writers unless they're making a ton of money, that publishing was dying, that since my first novel was a paperback original, I'd never publish anything considered literary. It was brutal.

I was disheartened for months by this negativity. And it made me second-guess everything I did for a long while. I'm not at all sure what this writer's motivation was. Perhaps she thought she was being helpful? But it was really disheartening. I let it affect me to the point that at the conference, when my editor's boss took me out to lunch, I was gawky and half-mute and didn't see the lunch as the compliment and opportunity it was.

I wish I could travel back in time and say to myself, "Look. I don't know that this other writer's problem is. It doesn't matter. But the truth is, yes, publishing can be brutal. So what? Can you name anything, anything at all, that is worth doing that is EASY? Eating Cheetos is easy, for pity's sake. Writing and finding outlets for your work is not easy, but so? It's still who you are and what you believe you want to do with your life! So, ignore the super-negativity just as much as you'd ignore naive positivity, figure out what's realistic, and keep writing! Oh, and for Pete's sake, chat with your editor's boss about what kinds of writing she sees you doing in the future!"

I really wish I'd asked my editor's boss that. But, as it turns out, of course the super-negative writer was wrong. Publishing is still here; it's just changing. Sure, publishers want writers to make money, but I've been blessed with very helpful agents, editors and mentors.

And in terms of publishing anything considered literary... I think in many ways, MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA fits that. The novel has received an Ohio Arts Council Literary award for the work, a Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts & Cultural District fellowship, great critical reviews, and I was an Ohioana Book Festival Featured Author this year.

Lia Mack:  Wonderful advice you'd give yourself..."ignore the super-negativity just as much as you'd ignore naive positivity, figure out what's realistic, and keep writing!"

Thank you so much for being our guest author today. Where can BB readers go online to find you and your work?

Sharon Short:
I'd love for BB readers to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to consider signing up for my quarterly email eNewsletter. (As a thank you to those who sign up, I send a humorous essay--available exclusively for subscribers--explaining just how I managed to flunk bowling in high school... and my experiences as the non-athletic mom of two athletic daughters.) Readers can sign up for my eNewsletter--which includes recipes, stories, and other fun tidbits in addition to book news--via my web site or by emailing me at sharonshort @ sharonshort DOT com.

Sharon Short, author of MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA