I’m so excited to launch my new website today by having an interview with Sharla Scroggs who just signed a two-book deal with Berkley for her debut novel Anything But Normal (release date to be announced). You can find out more about Sharla on her website or follow her on Twitter (both can be found at the end of this interview).
Here are Twenty Questions that I asked Sharla to answer so that we can get an insight into who she really is:
1. Sharla, before I dive into any novel I like to know a bit about the author. For me, it’s a springboard to understand exactly who is behind the novel’s concept and theme. Could you give us a short biography? I read that you have teenagers? I have a 17-year-old son. How does that fit in with your writing?
* I’m married to a wonderful guy who puts up with me and all the voices in my head that demand my attention. I have an almost-21-yr-old son (and that ‘almost’ is vitally important, you don’t dare call him 20) and a 16-year-old daughter, an old lady dog that sits in my recliner with me as I write, and 19 cockatiels in an aviary in the backyard. My son is out of the house and working and on his own so my time is really around my daughter now. Probably the years when he was 13 and she was 8 were the hardest to get any writing done, and probably why I didn’t. LOL. Now life is alot calmer, she’s pretty much driving now, and I can write when I get home from work.
2. Did you always want to be a writer?
* No, I wanted to be an artist. Then an archeologist (really really badly). Then a fashion designer. Then a graphic designer. Then an artist again. Ended up doing none of that professionally, but all along even when I was a kid I’d always make up stories that no one else ever saw.
3. Can you tell us a little about your debut novel, ANYTHING BUT NORMAL.
* Below is my pitch:
In the small town of Bethany, Dani Shane never fit in. Being different pushed her to the fringes of society, and even leaving town for two decades didn’t stop the talk. Now she’s back. She just wants her daughter to have what she never did–a normal life. But “normal” leaves the equation when sixteen-year-old Riley is found talking to Dani’s only friend, Alex–who’s been dead for forty years. As Dani scrambles to get solid footing under her family, secrets buried for forty years begin to unearth themselves. Alex is the only spirit that stuck around, and they’ve always been connected, but he is hiding something from her. Her father is hiding something, too. Then there’s that little thing she’s not telling her daughter. Like that some of the people she sees aren’t breathing.
4. Have you won any contests?
* I don’t know if it counts, but I won the November 2010 Secret Agent Contest on Miss Snark’ First Victim blog, for the first 250 words of my novel.
5. Did you learn anything surprising about the industry on your way to being published?
* Every single step is surprising once you get past that “agent” door. You spend so much time on the outside of that door, that you don’t think about the other side. Once there, it was like, holy smokes what on earth happens now?
6. There are lots of rules out there, like “show, don’t tell” and “don’t use adverbs”. Are there any that you break and why?
* I naturally write with adverbs and use passive verb phrases like “he was beginning to turn pale” or “he was turning pale”…both of those have to be scratched in editing to “he was pale” or even better “he turned a sick shade of gray.” LOL. Editing takes care of all that.
7. Especially for those unpublished writers reading this interview, they might want to know how you progressed from query letter to having your book grabbed up for publishing. Could you tell us a little about your journey.
* Well, I wrote a book before this one that I edited for 5 yrs (yeah, I know. walk away issues) queried for 2 yrs with no success. When I finished this current book, I queried for a year with a few requests but nothing went further than that. So I took a break for a few months and then entered an excerpt in the November 2010 Secret Agent contest at the Miss Snark’s First Victim blog. I actually won, but then the agent wasn’t sold on it as a whole, and she gave me some really helpful feedback. Of course I sent out a “rebound query” the same day (don’t we all?) to another agent who essentially said the same things plus some, and it got me thinking. I did a major revision of the whole thing, and about the same time I had a casual conversation on Twitter with the awesome rock star agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds, about cross-genres and her fave author in that realm, and she recommended I read that author’s work and then query her when my ms was ready. Two months later, when my revisions were complete, I knew I was querying her before anything else. So I sent it only to her. Very next day was a partial request. Next day was a full. Two days later she called me to offer representation. So…. I guess I can say that once I got my BOOK right, the querying process only took five days. Then, because I have that rock star agent, my pub contract came only two months later.
8. What’s the most rewarding aspect about having written this book, besides getting a 2-book deal with Berkley?
* Sharing some of the relationship I have with my daughter–in the story. She essentially IS the daughter in the story, and some of the easy banter and conversations are very real. She recognized them easily. Also, my mom and dad are in there, though only people who knew them will recognize it. They passed away years ago, but started this writing journey with me.
9. What is the best piece of writing advice you’d like to hand out to us?
* Learn about story structure, make your work the best it can be, and do your homework on agents. Oh and maybe on publishers too, because I was clueless on that.
10. Did you feel you chased the market or did you just write from the heart and know that it was good writing and someone would eventually publish your work?
* I’ve never chased a market, I have characters and stories that come to me and I just write them.
11. How would you describe your writing style and genre?
* LOL well, kind of humorous romantic women’s fiction with paranormal elements. Try querying that. 🙂 Funny is always there because I have to have funny in books or tv or anything. I write in first person naturally, it makes me feel like I’m in there with my characters.
12. I love character-driven novels myself. Can you tell me where you got the ideas for some of your characters and describe a few of them. Did you find it harder to write certain characters more than others?
* Well as I mentioned above, my daughter inspired ‘Riley’, and she and ‘Dani’ were with me for a long time before I knew what their story would be. My characters come to me before the story does. The dad ‘Nathaniel’ is my dad. The old lady ghost ‘June’ is my mom. The other characters came on their own.
13. What challenges did you choose for your characters to overcome and why?
* I struggled with this question because I don’t know that I really chose anything. The story was just there. It changed along the way…they always do for me…but I don’t know that any of it was me deciding that such and such needed to happen. I kind of wish I did have that much power, but I have to admit I don’t think I do.
14. What challenges you personally in your writing?
* Time. I need cloning, and I need a maid. And I need seclusion away from my laptop and any other shiny objects, as I’m easily distracted. Give me a pen and my spiral notebook and a chair with nothing interesting to look at, and I’d be set.
15. Do you work on paper or a computer? At home or in an office? What time of day do you write and why? How much do you write a day?
* I write longhand first because I’m a natural editor when I’m typing and I can’t let myself write a rough draft. Longhand lets me be messy and scribbly and free, and then I type it up when I get about 20 pages down. I write in my recliner in the living room, which is the least used room in the house, after work for an hour or so each day depending on errands. On weekends I get up early and try to grab several hours. I wish I could give a word count or page count, but I’m not that consistent!
16. The inevitable: are you a plotter or a pantser?
* I’m a pantser with plotter envy. More and more I’m trying to plot a little ahead of time, so the editing goes smoother. I actually made a story board with post it notes for my current wip, but it’s already obsolete. LOL.
17. I see on your website that a few of your favorites things are: Secret Life of Bees, David Cook, “Pretty Woman”. Why that book, that singer, and that movie? (Does this mean you’re addicted to American Idol? Do you vote?)
* Love Southern books and Secret Life of Bees was just beautiful. David Cook was my fave Idol of all time, and the first season I ever watched from beginning to end…but no I don’t vote. Pretty Woman is one of those movies that I’ve seen 555 times and can watch 555 more times. Romantic comedy never gets old. Like Sweet Home Alabama and You’ve Got Mail and While You Were Sleeping. Love movies like those.
18. Do you have any favorite websites and/or blogs that you avidly follow?
* Oh lord, so so so so many! Can I just say they are linked or followed on my blog www.sharlascroggs.blogspot.com so if you go there and check out my links and my follows you’ll find so many great places to go for craft, for reading, and just for a laugh.
19. Who is your favorite author in the whole world and why.
* I have to say (and I’m going to tell her this so she can go read this and blush and throw things at me) that would be Kathryn Magendie. I have many favorite authors, but this lady I know. Not only can I read her books over and over again because they are just that amazing, but she is also one of the neatest people I’ve ever encountered. And I only met her through blogging. She lives on a mountain, by a creek, and last summer after I had surgery she mailed me a care package with “magic healing” rocks from her creek. I still have those rocks on my dresser. Her books are Tender Graces, Secret Graces, and Sweetie. She’s working on a third “Graces” novel now. They will change your life, I promise you.
20. Lastly, tell me about your dog. She looks sort of like a beagle…
* Nope, she’s a rat terrier, and she’s probably 150 years old in dog years. She doesn’t chase cats or squirrels anymore unless my husband walks outside then she makes a big show of it. But the mail slot ticks her off royally. She is missing alot of teeth, so she kind of has to chew on one side, but she still begs for table food like a puppy. She is my girl.
Thank you, Sharla, for allowing us a small peek into your life. Good luck with your books!