Storiad is Curious …
A Few Moments with Shellie Neumeier
Storiad: Please tell us about yourself – your educational & career background, your publication history, and what you’re working on next.
Shellie Neumeier: I hold a degree in Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a minor in Psychology, Sociology and Social Studies. A devoted mother of four, I previously worked on staff with Northbrook Church as the King’s Kids ministry assistant (serving children in grades 2nd through 5th), developing and writing curriculum, involving families and volunteers in King’s Kids programs and encouraging the spiritual growth in school-aged children. My YA novel, Driven, is available from Risen Fiction and my recently released novel, A Summer in Oakville, co-written by Lisa Lickel, is available from Black Lyon Publishing. With a middle-grade chapter book, The Wishing Ring, under contract with MuseItYoung, I am actively building an upcoming blog tour. I am an active member of SCBWI and ACFW as well as a contributing author at various blogs including Samiesisters.com, thebarndoor.net, and sutie101.com. When I’m not writing I can be found walking my greyhounds in southern Ohio.
Storiad: Can you tell us a bit more about your most recent (and upcoming) works?
Shellie: The Wishing Ring, scheduled for release from MuseItYoung, was co-written with my youngest two children and it’s a wild ride through a mythical land on the back of a flying greybar (part greyhound, polar bear, and eagle) as Princess Ally and her new friend, Cory fight to find the Creator’s ring of wishes. I’m currently finishing a special work I hope to see in print soon. Splintered is the story of a seventeen year-old autistic boy. Imagine Rainman meets Karate Kid, only the prize isn’t a title, but Delaney’s life.
Storiad: When did you start writing? Which authors do you admire the most? What keeps you writing?
Shellie: I started writing fiction a little over a year ago. I know, my story is not the norm. From first word to signed contract, three short months passed. I say that not in arrogance, but astonishment. It’s not hard to read stories about hard-working authors who write and write for years—decades and still yearn to hold their first paperback. I admire them. Their tenacity and strength to carry through on a dream which requires so much of their time and attention is worth noting. As for my own motivation, I write because I can’t not write. When time doesn’t allow for the privilege, I dream stories. It’s what I love to do.
Storiad: Not all story ideas are of born equal. Where do your ideas come from? And from the many competing ideas that swirl about, how do you isolate those you feel will make for a compelling story?
Shellie: So true. There are many plotlines that have no right to see the light of day, but they tend to get written anyway. I think that’s why they call rough drafts, rough. I let the story run if it captures my attention. Write the whole messy thing. When I’m finished, I’ll eliminate the ideas that don’t work or the subplots that are unfocused, but not before. I freeze if I edit while I write. For me the two have to be separated…at least for a time. That’s not to say I don’t outline, I do. A lot. I just let those outlines breathe a bit. As for totally random ideas, if they catch my fancy, I find a way to tweak them until they are light-worthy, until they fit the story I’m writing and play nicely with the other plotlines.
As far as where my ideas come from, that’s far more mystical—not. I ask a lot of ‘What-if’ questions. What if a demon’s sole existence depended upon the success of destroying one girl’s destiny? (And so was born DRIVEN). What if a princess had a nose the size of a carrot and her dog could fly her far from those who tease her? (The Wishing Ring) What if a farm family in rural Wisconsin lost their heritage? (A Summer in Oakville) What if a boy who can’t understand love finds he gives it by accident? (Splintered) What if the world went blind? And so on…
Storiad: Fiction or non-fiction, the art of storytelling is complex and alive. How do your stories unfold as you write? How do you react when you find your storyline taking you places you hadn’t imagined at the onset?
Shellie: A story is a living creature, complete with characters who love to snicker at your outlines and plot twists that sneak out at the worst possible times, but it needs a firm hand and a leash. I have a rather complex worksheet that takes a day or two to work through, but by the time I’ve finished the exercise, I have a full story from acts to scenes. I like methodical plotting through goals, obstacles, and resolutions that lead you to the next goal…breathlessly. Seamlessly.
However, there’s always that moment, whether its fresh inspiration or too much caffeine, when your story or characters break free and the whole story leaves the backyard. That’s why I always sketch my scenes in pencil (yup, I go old school). It doesn’t take long to get those glitches eased into the story and since they usually make it a richer tale, the trouble is worth it.
Storiad: The editing process is not nearly as exciting as the actual writing. But there is no avoiding it. OK, so your first draft is finally complete. Now what? How do you start the self-editing process? At what point do you finally put the proverbial pen down and say “This is how I want to say what I want to say?”
Shellie: Is there a moment when you say that? Hmm. I haven’t hit that point yet. I can’t read my books after they’ve hit the shelves. The urge to alter and rewrite is too strong—still. With that said, there is a moment when I know I need to close the laptop and walk away. When I can’t stand to read the story again, when I hate the very baby I’ve nursed for months, when the mere mention of it makes my upper lip curl, I know I’m done. Someone else needs to take a look at it. Ironic, isn’t it?
Storiad: Yet no story can ever escape collaboration. Please give us some insights on how you work with writing partner(s), editor(s), and/or other collaborators.
Shellie: With more gratitude than I’ve given to any other human. Really. Editors and critique partners are gold. They have an eye for detail that I was not born with. To me, commas are like Christmas tree ornaments—hang them where there’s a hole in the tree. Guess that explains some of my Language Arts grades. However, I’ve learned more from folks gifted with that eye than I could imagine.
Oh sure, it hurts when you get a chapter or whole book back and it bleeds red from track changes (editorial markings left by changing something in word docs). I’ve found it helpful to read through the changes, grab a bag of dark chocolate anything, and set the critique aside for a day. When I return either the chocolate has done its mysterious job of calming me or I’ve humbled a bit because I see where they are right and go about changing things. It’s hard to stay angry when the story shines for the labor they’ve put into it.
On The Business of Writing
Storiad: As writers, we often don’t want to think of writing as a competitive business, replete with market research, production, distribution & marketing issues, title P&L, or corporate bottom lines. Alas, it is. Please share with us a memorable anecdote related to the business side of publishing.
Shellie: Last winter, I was invited to participate in a writer’s conference, not as an attendee, but as a presenter.
“What would you like to speak on?” they asked.
What could I speak on, I’d been writing for less than a year at that point. So I relied on my day job (my non-writing hobby, really)…taxes. In the midst of literary experience and brilliance, I chose to talk about protecting your author career from the hands of the IRS or rather an author’s unknowingly mishandled career.
The day of the conference dawned. My segment was scheduled last, right before the book signing portion. Were they nuts, I wondered? I’d bore the attendants to sleep or send them all home before they could buy the books. Stick me first or before lunch or some other ubiquitous slot, I pled. They just laughed and patted me on the back.
To my utter amazement, the authors in attendance were shocked at the information I shared. Shocked and thankful. Though I had a bowlful of candy to throw at them should they fall asleep, I didn’t need a single piece. Questions shot at me faster than I could answer them and the seminar went long. Shocker!
As a tax accountant (I’m an enrolled agent with the IRS when I’m not writing) I understood the importance of keeping writing a business venture. I was shocked when few others knew the depths of work it takes to make it such.
Storiad: Time travel question. What advice on the business of writing would your published-self give to your unpublished-self?
Shellie: Don’t put all that money in the kids’ college funds put it in a book marketing fund instead. Marketing your books is an expensive venture…book giveaways, review copies, bookmarks, posters, swag, and so on. Sure, publishers help a little bit, but unless you work with a large publisher (and even then, I’ve heard tale marketing budgets are dieting) a grand portion of those expenses are expected to come from you, the author. Ouch!
On Reading & Reviews
Storiad: In general, how does your reading instruct your writing? In particular, do you alter your reading material while working on a particular project?
Shellie: I’m constantly reading. It feeds my creativity and stretches my imagination, but do I alter what I read while I work on a project? I don’t think so. I alter the music I listen to match the mood I want to create, but reading is my indulgence (I have four kids, so it’s truly a selfish indulgence). I read what intrigues me.
Storiad: Professional reviews are one thing. But reading, say, Amazon reviews is always an interesting exercise. That two people can read the same book and give dichotomous reviews is to be expected. As the storyteller, how do you relate to your reading audience? Do you consciously write for a particular audience “type”? And we just have to ask this: Do you sneak-a-peek at reviews of your books on Amazon?
Shellie: I’m snickering as I’m typing. I totally read the reviews. I’ve been fortunate thus far in that the reviews have been praises, but I know the day is coming when I’ll see a one-star or two-star review. It happens to most authors.
Guess I look at it like this…by the time one of my books has been published, it’s been critiqued and edited by several folks, so another critic is just that…another critic. They are absolutely within their right to their opinion. I don’t like everything I read (I don’t write hurtful reviews, but that’s my choice). I can’t expect everyone to like what I write. Guess I’ll read a negative review, grab a bag of dark chocolate anything, and walk away when it happens.
On the Internet & “Getting Your Story Out There”
Storiad: How have you used the Internet to help get your work published? Similarly, how have you used the Internet to connect with your reading audience? What types of “offline” activities do you participate in to advance your writing career?
Shellie: The Internet is an awesome marketing resource. Before being published, my husband gave me my own website for Mother’s Day (sounds odd, I know, but I love it). It’s so fun to post, guest post, visit, and comment along with millions of other folks. I also have a tiny twitter following and am on Facebook regularly (much to my teens’ dismay). Besides those venues, I’m working on my third blog tour. Those are fun. Hopping from blog to blog, meeting new people and getting to answer their questions or listen to how a story impacted their life. It fuels me when I’m tiring a bit.
Offline is harder for me. I’ve done the book signing thing, but that’s daunting. I stacked mine—sent out party invitations and brought cookies so people would come. I even brought my mom along for moral support. I enjoy presenting at conferences and hosting seminars. I’m a teacher by degree (career number one), so it’s a natural step for me to take, one I love.
Storiad: There have been some well-publicized stories about successful “self-publishing” efforts. What are your thoughts on writers taking the self-publishing route?
Shellie: May God be with them. It can’t be an easy path to take or an easy choice to make. You only have one debut and if you choose to self-pub, there’s a lot of pressure placed on your back alone. I loved that I could share that pressure, have a sounding board to ask my seemingly endless questions, and someone to help me financially support the book. If it’s not your first novel, but one of many it must still be a tough and potentially lonely road. I think self-pubbed authors are courageous.