Some time ago Shayla shared in a guest post 7 lessons learned the hard way while writing her then-in-progress sci-fi novel, "The Suicide Tree". Well, you know what? I am overly excited to inform you it's already completed (pre-order here) and hitting the shelves on 30 October 2018!
Shayla kindly agreed for a behind-the-scenes interview on her novel discussing some of the challenges and pitfalls every writer faces.
Have you got your seatbelts fastened? Let’s go!
Hello, Shayla! Thank you for for this interview on Just How Cool Is That?! – backstage stories from the creative
Congratulations on your first novel The Suicide Tree! How did the idea first appear and what
made you go for it? Characters first, story first – how did it happen?
It started with a dream I had in college, wherein a man with a personality disorder started forgetting his alters. I wrote a character sketch back then for Arlo and studied dissociative identity disorder to understand more about it.
Then many years later, I came back to the story idea and completely revamped everything. I was intrigued by DID and wanted to work with a character who had alters.
Did you have the outline in your head before starting, or you let the story flow on its own whim, with characters surprising you, behaving as they pleased but not as you told
Originally, I had no outline. This caused quite the disaster as the story evolved. I believe that’s why I had so many plot holes—I should’ve written an outline first and foremost.
The characters definitely surprised me, as I had zero intentions of there being a love interest for Knox (the protagonist). Oh, those characters—they have minds of their own.
When I first read the title “The Suicide Tree”, I assumed it would be a sort of thriller, mystery or crime fiction. Why did you choose science fiction and which authors sparked your
interest in the genre?
I chose sci-fi because there are so many sci-fi elements in the book, such as the Raven Virus, NovaVita (the cure), and Ibisco (Knox’s little project).
Some of my favourite authors in this genre are Pat Frank, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Andy Weir, and Daniel Keyes.
As you were writing the book, you decided to eliminate all distractions – including Hulu and Netflix – for the sake of writing. However, sometimes external creative
influences can be a source of inspiration and ideas when you feel stuck with the plot. How do you tell the difference between creative research and mere procrastination?
The way I feel. When I watched Deep Web on Netflix, that was 100% research for me. In fact, after watching that documentary, I went for a walk to think and had the best a-ha moment ever. It gave me a solution to a huge plot hole I had. Now, when I watch Rick and Morty, albeit sci-fi, that has zero to do with my novel and doesn’t help me with the plot.
When you are doing creative research, you feel like you’re accomplishing something, whereas writer’s procrastination makes me feel awful (because I’m not productive).
A common trap for professionals is the “I can do it myself” syndrome. You are an expert editor, and yet – you had The Suicide Tree edited for you. Why is it a good idea to
resist the temptation and actually delegate tasks that fall within your competence?
Because my poor little brain will tell me words are there when they most certainly are not.
The brain is deceiving, which is why I hired a content editor and a proofreader. I cannot and should not edit my own work. I will miss a plethora of errors—believe me.
I also hired a professional cover designer (Monica Haynes, The Thatchery) and a professional interior designer (Melinda Martin). I have no business doing those things on my own. I am not skilled in those areas and need an expert to bring my book to life.
Having supporters and honest feedback is a huge part of having a successful book. Did your beta-readers influence the story development and in what ways?
Absolutely. They caught so many messes I had overlooked. For example, I totally forgot to mention how Knox got out of the whole “going to trial” thing; thankfully, a few betas caught that.
When you work with betas, you’re working with avid readers. They should be the first people who read your book, not an editor. Work with betas, make rewrites, and then hire an editor.
You have quite an experience writing non-fiction. Did that help with writing fiction? How are the processes alike/ different?
With non-fiction, I don’t have to think as hard. It just flows out. But with fiction, I can spend hours trying to figure out something through research.
However, on the opposite spectrum, when I write non-fiction, it’s always conversational and engaging. That made things easier when writing first-person narrative and dialogue.
It took you over 3 years to complete the novel. What were some of your greatest challenges as a writer and how did you overcome them?
Plot holes, plot holes, plot holes. I had so many that it made me not want to work on the novel. It was too big of a mountain to climb.
Thankfully, I took over as organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society in May 2017, and what do you know? That novel was completed in six months. If you aren’t a member of a local writing group, I recommend you find one or start one. The encouragement, constructive feedback, and accountability changed everything for me.
Did you choose traditional or self-publishing, and for what reasons?
Self-publishing. I chose it because I am a control freak. I want to be in charge of when my book is published, who edits it, and who designs the cover. I want to have the rights to my book, not anyone else. I love the freedom of self-publishing more than the restraint of traditional. Plus, I just do not have the patience to deal with literary agents.
Did “The Suicide Tree” turn out better or worse than originally planned? When did you know it was already good enough and ready to go?
So much better than I ever could’ve imagined. I knew it was good after Sarah Liu, my content editor, did her first round of edits. I thought, “Finally. I can be proud of this. I know I did my absolute best.”
What is your final message to any unpublished author reading this?
Please do not let someone else’s timeline for completing a book make you feel inferior. You write the book on your own time. It doesn’t matter if it takes ten months or ten years. What’s important is that you never, ever give up!
Thank you so much for this interview! May "The Suicide Tree" line up among the best-selling readers' favourites, and make Ray Bradbury & Co proud of you! ;)
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Shayla Raquel Today:
An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients.
Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books.
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