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Last Word of the Week: Deborah Sheldon

Deborah Sheldon leans to the darker side. Although she too is a Melbourne-based author and a member of Writers Victoria, I met Deborah for the first time last year when she had Something to Say. Deborah’s novel Contrition was published late last year, and her new novel is about to be released.

Welcome to LWOTW, Deborah! Tell us, when did you write your first story?

I’ve been a professional writer since 1986 when I sold a feature article on steroid abuse to an Australian bodybuilding magazine. The first short story I ever wrote, “300 Degree Days”, was published by Quadrant magazine in 2005. I began switching my attention from non-fiction to fiction in 2007.

My fiction has always leaned towards the darker side, but I’ve been writing horror ever since Midnight Echo published my first horror story “Perfect Little Stitches” in 2015. I’m indulging myself in the various subgenres and having a blast.

Deborah Sheldon

What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?

Dreams don’t often motivate me but when they do, it’s a punch to the face. My novelette “The Again-Walkers”, inspired by my interest in ninth-century Danish mythology and included in my collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, began its life as a terrible dream. The nightmare woke me in a literal sweat, unable to return to sleep. In the dark, even as my heart raced, I thought: damn, that nightmare would make one hell of a climax to a story. And yes, I believe it did!

I plan everything I write but not meticulously. As soon as I envisage the premise, my imagination runs straight to the ending. With a finale in mind, I decide on the story’s length whether it be flash fiction, short story, novella or novel, as each form requires a drastically different approach from the get-go. My outlining is sparse. As an example, I’ll block out 24 points (with a sentence or two per point) for a 24-chapter novel. The outline prevents me from meandering in pointless circles as I write.

Imagination is critical. Premises, plots and characters are always noodling around in my thoughts. I keep a work diary, jotter pads and stacks of post-it notes on my desk.

What’s the highlight of your career so far?

As far as fiction is concerned, in June 2018, winning the Australian Shadows Award “Best Collected Work 2017” for Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories. The collection getting long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award would come a very close second!perfect-little-stitches-final-cover-sm-e1512690490918

That said, every acceptance letter is a highlight. I celebrate a story getting published, a new contract with a publisher, a great review. My noir-horror novel Contrition was released in September 2018, which was another career highlight. (My favourite way to celebrate a book release is a restaurant meal with my husband and son, and plenty of chardonnay.)

About mid-year, I have a dark fiction collection coming out, and I’m looking forward to that very much.

 

That chardy sounds like a good plan! What are you most busy with at the moment?

During 2016 and 2017, I wrote two long-form titles back to back: the novel Contrition (IFWG Publishing Australia) and the bio-horror novella Thylacines (Severed Press). To help my brain to “decompress” and revitalise, I wrote short stories throughout most of 2018. The intensity of such a condensed and challenging medium always gives me an endorphin high.

Right now, I’m about halfway through a novel in a horror subgenre I’ve never attempted before, and loving every minute of it.

I’ll be interested to see what develops next! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Prepare yourself to commit to a lifelong endeavour. This is a joyful thing! Like Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” If you keep his words in mind and your ego in check, you will improve with every story you write.

And the last word of the week: What’s your favourite colour?

Purple: in every shade from lavender to wine.

 

Deborah’s Links

Website: https://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3312459.Deborah_Sheldon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Deborah-Sheldon-936388749723500/

Amazon Author Page: here

Five questions, a writing exercise, and a picture

Today’s wonderful image is from WallUp Wallpaper Images

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to some creative writing students at Victoria University, in the western suburns of my hometown Melbourne.

Being trapped in the spotlight in a room full of other writers felt a bit daunting, so instead of just reading from my book and then expecting discussion, I structured my given hour around reading, writing, questioning and visualising fiction.

In this post, I’ll look at the questions I prepared and the answers we discussed. These are the five questions I am most often asked since The Pale was published:

  1. Where do you get your ideas?
  2. What made you want to write about this?
  3. How did you go from a short story to an 80,000 word novel?
  4. How did you find a publisher?
  5. How do you sell books?

My ideas come from the real world and from dreams. (I find my dream stories have had better success in finding publication – but that topic is for another post!) In the case of The Pale, in 2014 I had a dream that I was locked inside a wire compound and that there was a crying baby on the ground outside the gate. Nobody would let me go out to pick up the baby, and eventually it was left to my old German Shepherd dog, 15-y-o Dinny, who arrived suddenly at the baby’s side and rescued it.

The morning after the dream, I wrote the first draft of Man/Machine/Dog, which was published in Overland 215, Winter 2014.

What made me want to write about this dream was the refugee crisis, in particular Australia’s response, which I continue to find deeply distressing. (More information at the Refugee Council of Australia.)

From short story to novel took me almost a year and I did this mostly by writing backstory for all the characters. I created a writing exercise around this for the students which I will outline in a later post.

Finding a publisher was a pitted path. After the story was published, a start-up sci-fi publisher asked about the novel (which I had not written!). The first draft, which I sent to them, was seriously under-done and rightly rejected. Many revisions later, after learning more about the industry by attending workshops at Writers Victoria, I searched for a publisher willing to accept unsolicited submissions electronically (who wants to pay postage on a novel-sized project?). I sent a much re-worked version to Odyssey Books and was thrilled to be accepted for publication. I have some tips for organising and surviving your submissions – but that too is for a later post.

Selling books is quite hard. There is so much excellent competition out there, and marketing is not a core skill for me. It took me quite some time to grow a writerly skin which allowed me to submit my writing (poor shivering creature!) to publishers, and I am aiming now to grow a marketing persona. There are a number of associated activities that authors can undertake to help sell their books, and I will outline some of these in a later post. I can’t do everything, but I can always do something to help my book get into the hands of readers.

Speaking of which (shameless plug alert), if you’re in the market for a gripping read in dystopian sci-fi, you can buy The Pale here, or at the usual places, like Booktopia or Amazon.