I’m happy to welcome an author who writes young adult and middle-grade novels for a change of pace. Please help me welcome Sharon Skinner to the interview hot seat! Take a peek at her bio and then we’ll dive into the interview.
Sharon Skinner holds an MA in Creative Writing and is an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach and freelance editor, whose goal is to help writers weave their words into stories that shine. She writes fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and the occasional steampunk, for audiences of all ages.
Skinner is a proud US Navy veteran, and one of the first women who served aboard a US Navy vessel, the USS Jason (AR-8). In October 1980, she was among the crew of approximately 800 men and 45 women when the Jason deployed for a six-month WestPac cruise in support of troops during the Iran hostage crisis.
She is an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and serves as the Regional Advisor for SCBWI AZ. Her Young Adult and Middle-Grade novels tend to explore complex relationships, particularly those between mothers and daughters. Her picture book, Rocket Shoes! is “a rhyming story for every kid who wants to fly—and wonders when it’s okay to break the rules.”
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Sharon: This story actually stemmed from a short story I wrote called Coffee & Cues. It was a story based on a personal experience that I struggled to write until I remembered that I am at heart a fiction writer, and I could make the story into whatever I wanted. It was extremely cathartic to be able to take a less than positive moment in my life and rewrite it with an outcome that was more to my liking.
Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?
Sharon: The story’s protagonist, Merissa. She is the teenager I want to have been when I was growing up. Despite her lack of confidence and sometimes poor choices, she speaks her mind and her wit has a real bite.
Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?
Sharon: Pretty much every writing project I undertake starts with character. I have to work for plot, which I have plenty of tools in my kit to help with, but if I don’t have a fabulous character to hang out with for the duration, I won’t ever make it to the finish line.
Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?
Sharon: I don’t seem to have a lot of trouble getting inside my characters. I think it has a lot to do with my theater background. Getting into characters is something I have always loved doing. That said, I often have to go back and revise my work to ensure the villains are well-rounded and remain the heroes of their own story.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Sharon: It has been decades since I was in high school, so I had to do a deep dive into what high school looks like, topics of study, etc. I also had to make lunar timelines and a seasonal chart for what plants would be in bloom during the story.
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Sharon: Collars went through a ton of drafts, I didn’t keep a solid count on the number but it was at least ten, possibly more, but I am happy with the way the story turned out, and I actually have a sequel in the works.
Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?
Sharon: Collars & Curses took me about four years from start to finish. I think most of my books have taken me close to that amount of time to write from start to finish. This is partly due to the fact that I have a full-time job as well as a side business as a Freelance Editor and Book Coach and partly because I am generally working on more than one book at a time. The positive outcome of having more than one project going at any given time is that I have been able to average completing/publishing a book a year for the past ten years.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Sharon: I like to do my drafting on my laptop away from the distraction of email and the internet. When I take my laptop into the living room and plop down on the end of the couch, I am there to write and nothing more. It’s a lot harder to do that on my desktop where my bad habits can get the best of me, like researching in the middle of a scene and then falling into the rabbit hole of the web.
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Sharon: I used to say that “looked” and “turned and looked” used to be my most overused words/phrases, but I’ve gotten better at not using them as much. Now, it’s more likely to be a tired simile or an aging cliché, but instead of calling those favorites or overused, I consider them placeholders for when it’s time to revise.
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Sharon: I don’t know that I would call them role models, but there are a number of writers whose work I admire and I aspire to develop my craft to write on that level. I use the work of such authors as mentor texts, delving into what they do well, their use of structure and language to write deeply engaging and emotional stories. Topping the list right now are Becky Chambers, TJ Klune, Julie Berry, Justina Ireland, Erin Morgenstern, Daniel Nayeri, Laura Amy Schlitz, Thana Lai, and Dan Santat.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Sharon: I like to draft in my living room on my laptop. I still like to revise my own work on hardcopy. My brain processes the words differently when I step away from what I have written on the computer and see it on the page. When I read other author’s published works, I prefer a physical book. I do most of my reading at night for 1-2 hours before I go to sleep and having a physical book gets my eyes and brain off the computer.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Sharon: Yes, I do. I am a Grant Professional, so I am a sort of technical writer/persuasive storyteller by day. I do like my work, but fiction is my true passion. I love writing and editing fiction and helping other writers through my Book Coaching service.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Sharon: Successfully completing my trilogy, The Healer’s Legacy series, was one of the most challenging things I have done as a writer. So, I would call that my greatest achievement to date as an author.
Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?
Sharon: There are several, but I think I would have a great time hanging out with Becky Chambers. Her writing is so solid. As I have said, I love to spend time with interesting characters, and her characters are just so fascinating and diverse.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Sharon: I am a firm believer in what Simon Sinek calls “knowing your why.” Publishing can feel so competitive at times, especially since we all have to be so public about what we are doing in order to reach readers. Seeing what other authors are doing/accomplishing can cause us to measure our work and accomplishments against theirs, which is a true recipe for feeling like we are not successful. But if you know your “why,” the reason that you write and publish, the only yardstick you have to measure against is your own. For me, it’s all about reaching readers and connecting. I want them to connect with my work, to be moved, to relate, and to feel like taking the journey with my characters was well worth the time and effort. When I hear from readers how deeply they have connected with my stories, that’s when I know I am a successful author.
Think being a High School sophomore is hard? Try doing it when your messed up genetic code turns you into a wolf every full moon. Not only does Merissa have to deal with high school divas, bullies and pop quizzes, she also has to hide the awkward truth that once a month she really does get bitchy.
And just when she thinks she’s found someone to whom she can actually relate, her new classmate Bree turns out to be an arrogant witch.
If they weren’t the only non-Norms in the entire town of Fair Glen—aside from the annoying half-Elf, Jeryd, who shows up and complicates things—Merissa might not give Bree the time of day.
But when Bree is drawn into a curse that causes chaos at school and threatens the town, Merissa must find a way to vanquish the dark power behind the curse and keep her parents from finding out about it.
All without failing biology.
I love that you start with character and base the action on what they would do and how they’d react. Thanks, Sharon, for coming by and letting us learn more about your motivation and writing process.
Happy Holidays and happy reading!
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