Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with YA / adult historical fiction author Sharon ‘S.L.’ Dwyer. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Sharon. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sharon: I live in central Florida outside Orlando, but I have lived all over the country. I have to say, I am partial to New England. I love the woods and rolling hills, they inspire me. When I lived in Denver, I was so homesick for the green of New England. Not to say Denver doesn’t have breathtaking beauty, it does.
When I was in college, I had to write a paper for one of my classes. (I could have been a professional student – loved taking classes and learning new things) After submitting my draft the professor told me I couldn’t use it due to the fact I had no references for it. I could never forget the story. That paper became my first book, If Truth Be Known, twenty years later.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Sharon: Wow, genres. I write in whatever genre the story dictates. My first was action/adventure. My second book, For Benny, was drama. My new one out now, DIRT, is YA / Adult historical fiction. It was intended for YA but all the adults who have read it love it, so I have to list it in both genres. The one I am working on now is YA. I may stay with YA because the characters are so much fun to write. Their lives are so confusing and malleable.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Sharon: I write under S. L. Dwyer. Now I know since J.K. Rowling stated using initials, many writers are doing the same. I started using it because when I wrote If Truth Be Known there were no other female action/adventure authors – at least that I knew of. I thought using initials may help by the reader not knowing I was female. A sure case of trying to join the guy club. Since then I have continued to use it. I have three books out now – If Truth Be Known (action/adventure), For Benny (Drama/women’s lit), and DIRT (YA/ Adult historical fiction).
Morgen: If you’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
It is so difficult to get to the traditional publishers. You need an agent before they will read your manuscript. To get an agent you should have already been published. A vivacious circle. Yes, there a many agents out there who will look at unpublished authors, but their requirements for taking one on as a client are very tight. Same to be said for publishers if you can get to them from the slush pile. It becomes very defeating – psychologically speaking. You can spend a lot of time sending out queries and researching agents and publishers or you can self-publish and move on to the next book in the hopes you get noticed. I decided to self-publish just to get the books out there and hope that people take a chance and read them.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Sharon: If Truth Be Known is hard copy and eBook, For Benny is hard copy only (don’t ask), Dirt is hardcopy and almost every form of eBook. I was totally involved in the process. With DIRT, I had someone do the formatting and cover (although I had a specific idea for the cover). I wanted everything to be perfect with no frustration. It worked out great for me.
I normally like to have the book in my hands. But I have to say I just finished an eBook and really didn’t mind not having the physical attachment. I am very attached to the books I read. After several years I end up donating them to the local library. Two years ago I sent them 78 hardcover books.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Sharon: My favourite book is DIRT because of how it was conceived and because the main characters are children. The idea came from long hours listening to my father talk about the great depression. If I could pick one person from that book it would be Cloris Leachman playing Ms. Danner, what a hoot to see her spewing out Ms. Danner’s sayings. My favourite character is Deke from For Benny. I think every woman would die to have him in their life. Daniel Craig playing the part of Casey Garrett in If Truth Be Known – what a perfect fit he would be.
Morgen: Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Sharon: I write different for each book so that would be a little difficult to answer. My style changes a little with each story.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are? Good or bad, they were all my ideas with the exception of If Truth Be Known – my cousin came up with the cover for that one. Titles are so important. They have to convey the heart of the story with just a word or two. As for the cover – max importance. Most readers will pick up a book if the cover speaks to them. It must be a window into the story. For DIRT, I wanted a white cover with just the title showing blowing dirt off it and author name. To me, the white symbolized the purity of the children and the title blowing away symbolized the living conditions they were forced to live in and the loss of their family. A simple statement sitting out there all by itself.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sharon: I have a new book I am working on in between trying to market DIRT. It is YA and involves two kids, one a 15 year old teen girl with all her social issues and her 11 year old brother who has to deal with her. They end up being put into a situation that requires they work together. Between attitudes and encounters with another kind, Katelin and Simon butt heads until they need each other for survival.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sharon: I try to write every day but sometimes it is difficult. I take care of my elderly father and his needs come first. If I am not writing, I am thinking about the next chapter or adding sub-plots to the story.
Writer’s block has never been a problem. If I get stuck I write whatever I can think of and worry about making it work later. Even writing crap tends to get the thinking process in gear.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sharon: My first two books, I took my idea and started writing and writing and writing. And editing, editing and editing. Not to mention revising. Now I take 3×5 cards and use one for each chapter listing only what scenes I want in that chapter with future notes on the back. It gives me a kind of road map to follow, but I always seem to take side streets and find jewels in the process.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sharon: The characters seem to fall into the story while it is still in my head. It takes me a lot of time to put names to them. I try to make sure the name defines the character’s personality. For DIRT, I had to look up names that were popular during the early 1900’s. I couldn’t use a name that was popular today and try and fit it to the traits of the characters. The story I am writing now, I had to change the names by the time I finished the first 10 chapters. They didn’t feel right. Now I love the names. I even changed the title.
Making a character believable requires you to know how you want them to tell the story. Yes, you can do a full character analysis and know them from birth to today. I want to jump right in and start them reacting to their circumstances. I usually have a very good idea in my head of who they are. I can visualize them as if I am watching a movie. If they fit the image I have in my mind then I move forward writing. During the writing, I develop little habits for them. It’s the small things that make characters believable, their voice, mannerisms, how they walk, how they react to situations. Most of all they must all be different from the others in the story. In DIRT, Birdie always says Sammy’s name before she talks to him. It irritates him to the point he has to tell her to stop.If all the characters sound alike, walk alike, and react the same, then you have flat characters and nothing they do is believable. You could never tell who was talking if they all sound the same. The main rule I try to remember is to keep them “in character” and the reader will believe they are who you say they are.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sharon: Gosh, editing is the bane of my existence. My first book I did thirty-two rewrites. I dumped over 100 pages to tighten the story. I learned a lot from that experience, so now I find there is less editing at the end. I ended up trashing the first two chapters of DIRT because it took too long to get to the story. I recognized that fact and rather than trying to edit it to work, I threw it out.
So, I guess you can say my writing skills are more fully developed in that I can recognize what will work and what won’t instead of beating myself up trying to make it work. Never be afraid of taking out what doesn’t move the story forward. If five words will say the same thing as twelve, throw out the other seven. It is amazing what it will do to the flow of your words. Tighten, tighten, and then tighten your writing some more.
Morgen: Thirty-two? Wow. I thought seven on my chick lit novel was a lot. Do you have to do much research?
Sharon: This depends on the book. For If Truth Be Known, I researched myself to death. Most of what is in the book had to be researched. I had never been to Mexico, or the jungles. I didn’t know police procedures or what life in prison was like. So, I spent a day locked up in a prison (male) as a prisoner, did a ride along with the police, and read till my eyes were blurry about Mexico – road maps included.
For DIRT, I researched the Dust Bowl history, prices of food in 1933, clothes and government programs. The rest came from my father’s stories. The research time was short.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Sharon: I always write in the third person. I like the fact that I can be in every character’s head. Never tried second person.
Morgen: Oh do, it’s fun. Well, usually pretty dark, but an interesting point of view for shorter pieces. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Sharon: I’ve done some short stories but get frustrated trying to say everything in fewer words. It is not my best form of writing even though I have won some contests with it.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sharon: Of course, don’t we all? I have several other manuscripts waiting for me to pick them up again. I have to be passionate about the story to spend the amount of time required to produce a good book. One manuscript caught the attention of one member in my writing group and she wants me to finish it. Although I love the story, I just cannot put my heart into.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sharon: Lots! And the strange thing about them is people who have read the books loved them. I even have blurbs from bestselling authors who really liked the book. What do I do? I keep writing and hope one day a big name publisher will fall in love with one of my books. I have stories to tell and people who like them. That is what keeps me sane after rejections.
Morgen: Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Sharon: There are so many competitions out there. Writers associations are good, especially if they are associated with the genre you write in. The best out there is Writers Digest. Great promotion for the winner and access to all the right people in the industry. The only problem with so many of the competitions today is the expense. It takes a lot of research to find the ones you have a good chance with and the entry fee is reasonable. One I found is Shelf Group Media for indie books.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sharon: No, I do not have an agent. I would like to have one so he/she could do all the leg work to getting my books published with a traditional publisher, help with the marketing and keep me propped up when things get me down. Someone who knows the inside of the industry. One less thing to worry over when putting out the next book.
I know many self-published writers find success. But, an agent can do so much for the success of all the hard work we do to produce a good piece of writing. An agent can be your rock.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sharon: I have been working on that very thing these last few weeks. It is crazy out there with all the websites and blogs. I have my own website and am a member of quite a few writers groups trying to get my name and book out there. It is so frustrating since I have to use so much of my time doing this and not writing. Breaking in to the YA groups is difficult if it is your first book in this genre, especially if it isn’t about vampires, witches, or paranormal. I sincerely hope there are readers out there that can connect with the story of DIRT.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sharon: I love the fact that writing is so singular. I am at my best when I work alone and not be afraid of others hearing me talking to myself. I get to immerse myself into the heads of my characters and do so many amazing things with them.
Not much surprises me anymore. One thing I have found is that while joining some of the discussion groups out there, I managed to find some wonderful writers I have made friends with. We are such a diverse group of people and so interesting.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sharon: Write. Write anything even if it is terrible. Then learn the craft by fixing what you have written. Hands on the keys and determination will give you back what you put in.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Sharon: I would love to have Ernest Hemmingway, Margaret Mitchell and Jo Harper. I would serve prawns cooked in garlic butter served with spicy rice. Cold beer and a good bottle of wine.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Sharon: The day I finished the final edit on my first book. To me, even if no one liked it, I would have completed a journey through all the trials it took to get there. There have been so many memorable moments in my life that I could re-live, but to accomplish what few people can say they have done is monumental. To fulfill that dream felt sooooo good.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sharon: I have a sign over my desk that says “What if…..And then…… my own little prompt to keep me going.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Sharon: My father just finished a look into the past comparing the life of a couple today and a couple living in the 30’s. I am helping him edit it. It may not be a masterpiece, but I will always have that part of my father’s memories.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Sharon: I love jigsaw puzzles and reading. See, I told you I like singular things. No party tricks. I tend to make a fool of myself without the tricks. I do love to cook though.
Morgen: I think you’re allowed if your doing tricks actually at a party. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Sharon: I swear by the book “Getting the words right” by Ted Cheney. I found it during the writing of my first book – loved it. So easy to follow and with all the examples it made editing less daunting. I even got in touch with the author and used him as an editor on the book. It’s a great book for the beginning writer. I sometimes refer to it now.
I found a website I go to frequently. blog.nathanbransford.com. He was an agent (not any longer) and an author. There is usually a lot of good information on his site.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Sharon: I am on so many now I can’t even remember them all. Linked in has some great writers discussion groups. If you join the right discussions, you can learn a lot of useful information. Right now I am scouring the different groups for book trailer information. Never did one so it is a learning experience.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sharon: There will always be readers of good books – even bad ones. The problem today is there are so many out there and we are all vying for those readers to buy our books. The competition is enormous. Writers are going to write no matter what. We have to be dedicated to our craft and put out the best book possible.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Sharon: My website is www.sldwyer.com. I have included excerpts from all my books there. I have two facebook pages Sharon Dwyer and S L Dwyer. S L Dwyer is new and is only for my writing. I haven’t done much with it yet since most of my time has been spent marketing DIRT.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Sharon: Gosh, I think you have wrung my brain dry.
Morgen: Oh dear, sorry about that. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Sharon: How do you get to all these interviews? What a great job you are doing for all of us.
I then invited Sharon to include an extract of her writing…
A dark wind blew in as Sammy and Birdie sat on the back porch. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, they sat in solemn silence, wrapped tight in grief and fear. The wind dipped and raised, one minute bending the treetops, the next blowing dirt into mini-tornadoes. Mesmerized by the dance of the dirt, Sammy gazed out into the darkening horizon. Closer and closer the brown roiling clouds crept toward their home, growing until it rose over one hundred feet tall.
“Sammy, there’s a storm comin’,” Birdie said.
“I see it,” he answered.
“Do we gotta go to the cellar?”
“It’s gonna be bad. Can we go now?” she pleaded.
Sammy continued to watch the cloud of dirt tumbling across the barren land, moving as if it were a hungry beast sucking up the land as it passed over, gathering the fine dust as it went. Churning and growing, the dark cloud continued to rise higher and higher. He was no longer frightened by the dust storms as he had when they first began; now, he considered it a nuisance, to have to run to the cellar every time a mass of angry wind rolled across the horizon picking up dirt and debris as it rushed toward them.
He ran through the house closing doors and windows, then took his sister’s hand. Together they went to the side of the house. Sammy pulled on the old root cellar handle, barely able to lift the heavy wooden door. He went in first, found the kitchen matches on the shelf and lit the kerosene lamp. Once the dark cellar had light, Birdie crept down the stone steps to the small room. Originally built to house perishables, it now served as a shelter from the monstrous winds that plagued their lives.
And a synopsis
In 1933 the Great Depression and Dust Bowl brought devastation to thousands of people. For thirteen-year-old Sammy Larkin, it made him an orphan. Refusing to allow the state to take his seven-year-old sister, Birdie and himself from their farm, he decides to do the impossible—live as if his parents were still alive.
Learning to lie and steal, he embarks on an eye-opening fight for survival in the Oklahoma panhandle, finding help in the most unexpected places. The fear of failure overshadows his every decision. Along with a mangy stray dog and new-found friends, he struggles to adapt to the world of adults, discovering the ugly side of life, all the while questioning why his parents left them.
Battling constant dust storms, known as black blizzards, a menacing drifter, and hunger, he fights to get through each day, hoping for a miracle. When circumstances dictate a change in his plans, he has to make a life altering decision.
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