Thank you, Shirley, for doing this interview with us. It has been fun!
KIC: Shirley, thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview with us. I understand you sold your first article at the age of eleven and have sold over 3000 articles for national and local publications since then. That’s quite a career. What motivated you to start freelancing at such a young age?
Shirley: I’ve always been a pretty driven person. I can’t really tell you what motivated me to do that at eleven, except that I have always had a burning desire to be a writer and I’ve never been a patient person.
KIC: In recent years, you made the jump (no pun intended) from writing non-fiction articles to penning romance. What was it about this genre that inspired you to make the switch?
Shirley: It’s a long story and part of it is about the evolution of my non-fiction career. I started out as a journalist—interviewing widows, seeing photos of crime scenes, etc. I decided a few years into that job that it really wasn’t for me. I wanted to write things that at least helped people, by bringing them information they could use. I didn’t want to be the writer calling the widow after her husband died of a heart attack at the wheel of the family car. So I went into freelancing, where I called the shots and was able to write information-type articles.
As my writing evolved, so too did my dreams and I realized that my dream for writing fiction would be best served if I wrote the stories that fit best with the heart of who I am as a person. I believe in love. In family. In commitment. Romance is my favorite genre. To me, there is nothing better than being able to write stories that celebrate love and commitment and return some joy to the world.
KIC: In addition to writing category romance for Silhouette, you also write single title romantic comedies for Kensington. Which do you find more difficult, writing the shorter, more conforming category reads or keeping the comedic flow going through an entire novel?
Shirley: I think keeping the comedic flow through an entire novel is definitely harder. I don’t always feel funny! But often, when I look back over the words I’ve written, they are funnier than I thought they were when I put them down, so maybe my brain is working harder than I think. ?
Writing the recipes is probably the very hardest part because it makes me hungry. I gain weight with every book I do for Kensington!
KIC: You and your husband have two young children. How hard is it to balance the demands of a successful writing career with the needs of a family?
Shirley: It’s a daily juggling act, but one I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I’m here at the end of the day, I’m at the school to be room mom. I take my portable word processor everywhere so I write in odd spare moments. It’s worked out surprisingly well despite the busy-ness of basketball, soccer, band, Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts and all the other demands of kids and family.
KIC: In addition to your romance novels, you’ve written an innovative how-to book for those seeking to break into the freelance market titled How to Publish Your Articles: A Complete Guide to Making the Right Publication Say Yes. If you could give budding freelancers only one piece of advice as they start their careers, what would it be?
Shirley: STUDY what you want to do. Too many want to leap right in and be successful without studying the publication, studying the success stories of those who have gone before them, studying the articles already in there, studying the demands of the market. I liken this career to any other—you can’t expect to leap in without any training or preparation. It takes skill to be a good writer but it takes preparation and homework to be a SUCCESSFUL writer.
KIC: Writer’s Unlimited described The Bride Wore Chocolate as a “brilliantly funny story,” an apt description. Poor Candace can’t seem to catch a break. Can you tell us where the inspiration for the story came from?
Shirley: LOL. My life! Candace isn’t really me, though all my characters are a piece of me, if that makes sense. I live Murphy’s Law (I have two kids, two dogs, two cats and a husband—if it can go wrong, it will, and at the worst possible time). So I think a lot of those ideas come from thinking “what is the worst that could happen?” and giving that to poor Candace. I figure what doesn’t kill her will make her stronger…and give her that happily ever after!
KIC: The recipes in The Bride Wore Chocolate are a culinary treat with a healthy helping a humor sprinkled in. Are these your recipes, and are you a chocoholic like Candace?
Shirley: Oh most definitely! I’ll eat anything with chocolate at any time. Just before I went into labor with my daughter, I was so desperate for chocolate that I picked all the chips out of some chocolate-chip cookies we had in the house. I absolutely love, love, love, chocolate in all forms!
KIC: The Bride Wore Chocolate is the first part of a trilogy. Can you give us some hints about the two remaining novels in the series?
Shirley: The Devil Served Tortellini is the second book and comes out in March 2005. This one features Maria, Candace’s best friend. Maria is desperate to diet down from a size 14 to fit into a sexy cheerleader outfit before her class reunion. Then she meets a chef who is just as determined to keep her the way she is. Add in a pyromaniac sous chef with an emotion control problem and an engaged heiress who wants peacock feathers at her wedding and you have mayhem all over again at Gift Baskets to Die For!
The Angel Craved Lobster introduces a new character, Meredith Shordon, Rebecca’s cousin, who has moved out to Boston from Indiana. She is determined to shed her small-town roots—and her halo—with the first man she lays eyes on. Travis Campbell, however, has just sworn off women for 30 days and although he agrees to be her love slave, he won’t, ah…cooperate, for her own good, he says. There’s a little costuming involved in this one 😉 that makes for a rather moo-ving conflict, too!
KIC: As a former reporter, you’re no stranger to research. How much research do you put into a novel before you begin?
Shirley: Not a whole lot. I basically start writing, to get to know my characters, then research as the story dictates. I want to allow my characters to tell me who they are before I box them in with research or plot. Then I use research as a procrastination tool.
KIC: How much of yourself and those around you goes into your characters?
Shirley: Just a teeny bit. A little bit of me bleeds into everyone. I’m the racy grandma (or I imagine I would be if I lived alone 😉 in The Bride Wore Chocolate, I’m Maria, (or would be if I were single), I’m Candace…there’s a bit of me in every one of them. As for other people, sometimes elements of people I have met bleed in but no character is based on any real person I know.
KIC: Each romance writer seems to have a differing ideal of what the perfect hero should be. Describe for us your ideal romantic hero.
Shirley: Someone who can make the heroine laugh and is there to hold her when she’s sick, support her when she’s weak and hand her a charge card when she’s in the shoe store. ? Just kidding…more or less 😉
KIC: What’s an average workday like for you?
Shirley: It varies. With the kids, I have weird, crazy days that involve field trips and practices. I try to work for at least an hour of fresh writing, then revise the rest of the day in between my “other” work—I still freelance a bit and edit a monthly magazine. So every day is different, but I write about a chapter or two a week and edit at least that much every couple days.
KIC: As a writer, how important is reader feedback to you?
Shirley: It’s always very cool! I know how the secondary characters are working, how a series is working. I never really thought about anyone actually READING my books when I was writing (before I sold) until I got my first real fan letter. Then when I received one, I was so in awe that people actually READ the books. I know, it’s weird, but it’s not something I really think about until after I get a letter. Then I’m stunned that there are people in other countries that are actually choosing to buy my book.
KIC: You once described your road to publishing as “rocky.” How so?
Shirley: Well, I had written ten books in eight years and not gotten anywhere. I had come close a couple times to selling, but then it all fell apart. My agent at the time had pretty much stopped believing I could do it and wouldn’t represent anything I sent in. One rejection letter, for some reason, hit especially hard, and I quit that day—June 23, 2001. Threw everything in my office away, wiped out the hard drive, packaged the entire writing career into some Hefty bags and broke down and cried.
My husband, thankfully, made me put it all back (and thankfully had made me back up the night before, so I restored the hard drive). A week later, I had a revision letter from Silhouette on the submission of what later became The Virgin’s Proposal, asking for revisions. Two weeks later, I had a new agent and on December 12, 2001, I had my first sale. That book came out in January 2003.
KIC: How important do you think it is for inspiring authors to hire an agent to guide them through the publishing process?
Shirley: I think an agent is invaluable. These contracts, for one, are huge (mine are 20+ single-spaced pages) and there are a lot of things an agent can look out for that you wouldn’t even think about. Plus, if you want to work for more than one publisher or expand beyond category romance, or just have a cheerleader/go-between in your corner, an agent is worth her weight in gold.
However, make sure you sign with a GOOD agent. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. And if the relationship isn’t working out, end it. I did that with my first agent—we simply weren’t right for each other. My current agent and I are much better suited together and it works better.
KIC: One of the books you’ve contributed to is Crumbs in the Keyboard. Can you tell us more about this admirable project?
Shirley: Eighty-one women authors came together to contribute essays to this wonderful book, which chronicles the challenges of writing while raising a family (hence the title). All proceeds from the book, put out by Echelon Press, go to support domestic abuse shelters. The project was started after author Nancy Richards Akers lost her life in a domestic violence tragedy..
KIC: Tell us about the level of sensuality in your books. Are you a “keyboard scorcher” or do you prefer to keep the love scenes tame and allow the reader to use her imagination?
Shirley: I scorch until the ultimate act. Must be because I know my mother will be reading it eventually! My Silhouette Romances have to, by tradition of the line, be tamer. So I draw the line around second base. My single titles, however, round a few more bases 😉 before I close the door and let the last little bit happen off-camera.
KIC: Your next Silhouette Romance title, Her Frog Prince, is due out in December of this year. Can you give us a sneak peak?
Shirley: I can indeed…and will have an excerpt up on my website, www.shirleyjump.com, by the time this interview is posted. The book pits an uppity society heiress against a scruffy marine biologist. She gets…ah, shoved off a boat 😉 and he refuses to rescue her because she interrupts his hunt for the elusive giant squid. Sparks erupt and fly between these two polar opposites, yet they find common ground in the very ocean that seems to separate them.
KIC: By law, I’m required to ask at least one cheesy question per interview. If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one book, what would it be?
Shirley: Hands down, Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer. I’ve read it at least three times and it makes me cry every time (more so now because I know the teary parts are coming!).
KIC: Earlier, I asked you if you had any advice for budding freelancers. Now for the other side of the coin. Any advice for those hoping to make it in the world of romance?
Shirley: Read, read, read. Then write, write, write. It really takes, as I said in the advice for freelancers, doing your homework, honing your craft and then persevering. You wouldn’t hire a plumber who didn’t know what he was doing—why should you expect an editor to hire a writer who doesn’t know what she is doing with a story? Take the time to study the best work that is out there; study the debut authors (because today’s new author is tomorrow’s competition) and then apply the lessons you learn to your own work. Learn to look at it with a critical eye and to work hard at making it as good as it can be.
Try to get into the habit of writing every day, even if it’s only a couple hundred words. Before you know it, one day will turn into two, will turn into ten, will turn into a whole book. And on the other side of the coin…one day of not writing can turn into two, can turn into ten and before you know it, a whole year has gone by and you are one year further from your dream than you were before.
Why not start making it happen today…instead of tomorrow?