It's my pleasure to introduce Shirley Raye Redmond.
Her writing career includes numerous books for both children and adults that are available in digital and print editions.
I've provided links to her website and some of her books.
In addition to sharing some highlights about herself and her successful career, Shirley has offered some thoughtful advice for writers.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and when did you finish your first book?
I've wanted to be a writer since I was a youngster. I joined the journalism club in high school—longing to be like Nellie Bly—and later wrote and sold hundreds of magazine articles, essays, and short stories before writing my first novel, Stone of the Sun, a romantic suspense set in Arizona and featuring an ancient Aztec medallion.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing your book?
While writing and researching Amanda’sBeau, I realized we are more sentimental now about animals than those who lived a hundred years ago. We’re more squeamish too about death and dirt. I’ve had readers (under the age of 50) email me regarding the “violence” in the book. Older readers, however, are nonplussed about the idea of killing a skunk with rabies. I’m afraid to go into any more detail—spoiler alert!
How did you choose the genre(s) you write in?
I love history, and I love real-life mysteries (what did happen to those settlers in Roanoke’s Lost Colony?) I love the west. So I guess that means I naturally lean toward historical fiction and romantic suspense—set in the American West.
How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
I’ve been at this for so long I don’t really see how they are not connected. For instance, when I wanted to write a book about Blind Tom, the horse that helped build the transcontinental railroad, it seemed only natural that my husband and I would vacation in Utah that summer so I could follow the tracks and witness the re-enactment of the Golden Spike Ceremony in Promontory.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I love bird watching. I even took a trip to Iceland with my sister so we could get up close and personal with Atlantic puffins.
What other books have you written and published?
There are quite a few besides the ones I’ve already mentioned. Readers can check out the list on Amazon or at my website. They run the gamut from children’s books like Lewis & Clark: A Prairie Dog for the President (Random House) to Rosemary’s Glove (Avalon), a Regency romp set in 1811 London. The Lewis & Clark title was a Children’s Book of the Month Club selection years ago.
Of the books you have written, which is your favorite?
Usually, my most recent book is my favorite, in the case Amanda's Beau. I'm rather like a mama experiencing the thrill of a newborn baby.
Briefly, what's your book about?
In 1905, a New Mexico spinster Amanda Dale struggles to care for her invalid sister and her sister's children. She falls in love with the local school teacher, a man intent on excavating the Anasazi ruins on the edge of town. The archaeological project excites the cash-strapped farmers, but it might not be enough to save Amanda's family from financial ruin. The title is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Astraea Press.
What led you to write the book?
My family visited the ruins in Aztec, New Mexico, some years ago, and I was intrigued by the fact that a schoolteacher and his students “discovered” the old Anasazi settlement. Also, when he was just a boy, my father (now 98!) had to shoot his own dog because the animal came down with bloodlust and ran off into the woods with his 3-month old niece during a family picnic. I wanted to explore that sort of emotional trauma on paper and give it a happier ending. I wanted to see if I could write well enough to make a reader cry or get choked up.
What would you like readers to take from it?
That life is short and one's chance for true happiness can be fleeting. Seize the day!
What are your current/future projects?
I am working on a romantic suspense novel that takes place, in part, on the grounds of an old insane asylum in Illinois scheduled for demolition. I actually visited such a place a few years ago and was given a private tour of the rackety old place before it was torn down. My imagination took flight!
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I am a voracious nonfiction reader. I've traveled quite a bit. Anything may end up being grist for my writing mill. I have a file cabinet where I keep brochures, articles, photos of interesting faces.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I write every day for a couple of hours. I read and research in the evenings.
I try to spend at least 30 minutes a day doing some sort of marketing for my titles, like contacting railroad museums to carry my Blind Tom book or sending promo material to aquariums about my giant squid book for kids. That sort of thing really pays off. Both the squid book and the Lewis and Clark book have sold over 200,00 copies.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
I'm pretty consistent about tackling 1000 words a day--so you do the math. After years of writing, I can produce a marketable children's book in 7 weeks. I've even co-written a workbook with that title and occasionally do workshops on the subject.
What challenges did you face in getting your first book published?
I was so ignorant about the process! Fortunately, I had a copy of THE WRITER’S MARKET. I opened up to the As, picked the first publisher that bought romantic suspense novels (Avalon), and sent off my manuscript. They bought it right out of the slush pile.
If you had to do it all over, is there any aspect of your writing or getting published that you would change?
I would have started attending writers’ conferences sooner. Even though I have an M.A. in literature and started out as journalism major, the focus in most college courses is not how to get published nor were crucial elements like writing the query and synopsis covered.
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Oh, too many to mention! But definitely Nellie Bly, Louisa May Alcott, and Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was young. They turned ordinary, everyday experiences into something worth reading about. And later I was impressed with C.S. Lewis’s versatility and Victor Hugo’s ability to make me cry. I loved Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird. The Bible stories, of course. Gene Stratton Porter’s language in The Magic Garden haunted me for years after I read it in 5th grade—not to be confused with Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.
What do you think makes a good story?
Anything unforgettable, such as hearing an old man's lamentable tale of having to shoot his own dog. Sometimes it's the plot conflict as in Les Miserables; other times it's the main character, such as Scarlett O'Hara or Precious Ramotswe. It can even be the setting, such as Narnia.
Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?
I seldom suffer from writer’s block, because I work on several projects at one time. If I find myself slugging through a particular manuscript, I put it away until later and work on something else.
What suggestions do you have on the subject of revision?
Don’t resent revision. Learn to enjoy the honing and polishing process. The sense of power you will acquire when you learn to control and edit your prose is an exhilarating one. And editors will love you for it!
What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
Resist the television temptation if you’re trying to write a book. This is a distracting time-waster. If you can’t do it cold turkey, resolve to go TV-less for two or three evenings per week. You will discover more time for writing and many other things for that matter. Increased productivity will eventually lead to increased manuscript sales and a more creative, enjoyable life.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about you or your book?
I've posted a great (and old!) sugar cookie recipe mentioned in my novel AMANDA'S BEAU on my website at www.shirleyrayeredmond.com.
Many readers of historical fiction are also into baking and cooking vintage recipes so this might be something they would enjoy trying.