Sunday, May 20, 2007

Welcome Sandi Kahn Shelton!

Well I'm one chapter away from finishing A Piece of Normal (weeks went by with no progress in the reading department--horrible, I know). I read most of it this weekend, and I have loved it. Love the characters, the humor, the situations, the quirkiness of it all. So it is with lots of excitement that I welcome Sandi Kahn Shelton to my blog today!!!!

Below are the questions and answers from our mini interview:

1. What is your writing process, and did it differ between your first (fiction) book and this one? (What did you know the second time around that you didn't the first?)

Oh, boy! Did my writing process ever differ between my first book, What Comes After Crazy, and the second one, A Piece of Normal. My first book, you see, was written over a 17-year period. It was the Thing I Did When Nobody Needed Me to Do Anything Else. I would actually take it along on vacation each year and dabble around in it. You know, for fun. My children would roll their eyes—“This is how you relax??”
But, yes, it was. In the meantime, I was writing features stories and a weekly humor column for the newspaper, writing the Wit’s End column for Working Mother magazine, doing free-lancing for other magazines, teaching writing at the four-year university nearby, AND raising three kids. I also, in that 17 year period, wrote three non-fiction books. You can see where a novel that nobody was expecting might fall to the bottom of that list.
But one day I realized I really, really did want to finish this novel, and so I took some time off from work and really powered through to the end of it—and then, through what can only be described as a miracle after such a long time on the drawing board, this novel got accepted and became a book!
One thing, though: it was when I took a look at the contract that I noticed it said I needed to write a new novel…and that one was due in ten months.
Well, I nearly had to take to my bed with the vapors. “What,” I asked my agent, “did I ever say or do that indicated I could write a book in less than a decade and a half?” She said she was sure I could do it, and actually, she was right. I discovered how delicious it can be to wake up knowing every day that you need to write your novel, not that you can write your novel today only if there isn’t something else that needs doing. When somebody says, “Oh, can you take on the chairmanship of the tea-fetching-and-cupcake-baking committee for the principal’s retirement commission, which will require you to bake twenty-four cupcakes every single day for a year?” you can—and must—say NO. It’s a thrilling thing.
So my process became: (1) do three pages on the book every single day; (2) don’t wait for inspiration, and (3) don’t get sidetracked by editing while you’re writing. Just, as they say, DO IT.

2. What prompted you to write A Piece of Normal? (I'm only a few pages in, and already I love the quirkiness of the characters).

Oh, thank you, Alyssa. I always love to write about family relationships, because I think they’re the most fascinating, complicated things going. I’m always struck with how other people’s families always look so together on the outside, and yet when you get to really know them, you see that everybody’s got quirky relatives to deal with, and weird past histories, and buried secrets. (Well, almost everybody. I do know a few people who seem to come from genetically secret-less people. But I’m still digging around, so I’ll get back to you.) I’m particularly interested in the ways that being in a family often requires us to understand and forgive acts that may at first seem like real catastrophic (even if unintentional) betrayals, but which in many ways, serve to enrich and open us.
I think it is these powerful relationships that shape us most dramatically and hold the key to how we see ourselves. (Isn’t there a saying that goes: “Families—can’t live with ’em. Can’t kill ’em”? Until I take up writing murder mysteries, I guess I’m stuck writing about how families manage to forgive each other and go on.)
My first novel—What Comes After Crazy—was about a complicated mother-daughter relationship—briefly, the mom was a flaky, itinerant fortune-teller and the daughter grew up with almost no skills in making a normal life for herself and her kids. (It should be noted that I thought it was a very serious novel, but when it came out, critics called it “hilarious.” That was a bit of a surprise.)
In A Piece of Normal, (which I had wanted to call “Ordinary Forgiveness”) it is two sisters—Lily and Dana Brown—who couldn’t be more opposite. Through their betrayals and long-buried sibling rivalries, they come to realize that they each have something the other one needs. And when the betrayal comes—well, oops, I should stop here. You see, I always have a tendency to tell too much. I’d write the whole plot here if I’m not careful, and all you asked for was what prompted the idea.

3. Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love so many authors that I always forget to name at least half a million of them. But I adore Anne Tyler and Alice Munro, Sue Miller, Elinor Lipman, Anne Lamott, and Elizabeth Berg. Lately I’ve discovered a memoir writer, Haven Kimmel, who makes me laugh so hard I practically need oxygen. And it turns out she has some novels, too, that I’m going to read just as soon as I finish writing my third one (which is due in days!)

4. Do you have any advice for the unpubbed out there, still waiting for The Call?

I think the best advice is not to get discouraged. I know that sounds too easy. But if you’re writing seriously, then you know that it’s not something you can just quit forever and decide you’re not going to do it ever again. If you could do that, you probably already would have. Writing is one of those things that pursues YOU, I think. During those seventeen years, I cannot even tell you how many times I decided I wasn’t going to work on that novel anymore. I would even say that it was my “starter” novel and that I had to let it go and do something else. But then…well, something would drag me back to it. The characters would start talking to me in the middle of the night, or when I was in the shower, or driving in the car (you know how they are; they sneak up on you when you’re vulnerable against them), and pretty soon, I’d be back—as Anne Lamott says—doing their typing for them, trying to tell their story. I just never realized how many times I’d have to write that book over and over again, but maybe that’s just me. I don’t think that I knew how to really write the material I was given, until I’d practiced it again and again. It just wouldn’t let me rest until I had it right.

Thank you, Sandi! And if you have any questions for Sandi, please post them in the comments.


Christine said...

Excellent interview! I don't have any questions, but I have to say I love the sound of your book. I'll have to check it out. :)

Annie said...

Oooo... both books sound good! I will definitely be putting them on my list to look out for!

Thanks for posting the interview, Alyssa!

Vicki said...

Hi Sandi,
The book sounds great. I've added it to the BnB list to pick up.

If you're still answering questions then I have one.

Do you write from page one straight through till you write the end? Or do skip around writing scenes and putting them together later into the wip?

Henri de Montmorency said...

I am reading A PIECE OF NORMAL right now and I have to say this book rocks. I am loving it.

Sandi said...

Oh, thank you, everyone, for your wonderful comments! It's so exciting. Christine and Annie and Vicki, I hope you enjoy the book. And Vicki, unlike most of my friends who are writers, I tend to start at the beginning and write straight through to the end. If I skip around, I lose my train of thought, can't remember what I've said and what I haven't said (this could be early dementia, LOL)and I get all messed up.

BUT! Having said that, there is an exception. Sometimes when I'm getting near to the end of the book, I find that I just keep stalling and stalling. More and more scenes keep creating themselves, scenes that I never even saw coming! So sometimes I've found it helpful to go ahead and write the very last scene in the book...and then write my way toward it.

You've all been so very nice, and, Alyssa, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog and for saying such great things! You have a wonderful blog, BTW, and I've been sympathizing with you over the computer stuff. I've been there, more times than I can count! :-)

Julie S said...

Great interview, Sandi and Alyssa!
I'll definitely have to check out these books - I adore quirky characters and family secrets!!!

ERiCA said...

Great interview! thanks!

susanhatler said...

Thanks for sharing, Sandi. Amazing that you went from seventeen years a book, to 10 months. Very cool. They sound like something I'm gonna have to pick up next time I'm at Borders :)

Sandi said...

Yeah, going from seventeen years to ten months was something of a brain shift for me! LOL. But, you know, it was almost easier...gave me a real reason to get to work every day!! Fear is a wonderful motivator, I find.

Thank you, all of you, for your lovely comments. I hope you enjoy the book. And if you have other comments or questions after you've read it (or even before) please come and visit me at my blog at Thanks again!

Sara Hantz said...

Great interview, thanks. I love the premise of your book.