Welcome to Author Interview Thursday hosted by the Never Too Old for YA and NA Books group on Goodreads.
Today we welcome Shea Berkley. She has written a terrific series:
Keepers of Life
Magic, murder and monsters aren’t just for the FX teams in Hollywood anymore.
Dylan Kennedy thought he was a normal teen living with a dysfunctional family until the day his mom dumped him at his grandparents’ sheep ranch and left without a forwarding address. Life couldn’t get much worse, at least that’s what he thinks until he starts seeing a girl in white in the woods that no one else can see. But when he joins two guys looking for a way out of a summer that’s shaping up to be as boring as the last one, the three of them discover there’s more than just trees out in the forest. Within the trees, there’s magic and the secret realm of Teag where Dylan is destined to free the people trapped by a murderous ruler who’s got his eye on eliminating Dylan. Threats fly. People die, and both the human realm and that of Teag are turned upside down as the fight of a lifetime is dropped at Dylan’s feet. Can he and the girl he loves win an unwinnable fight for the Keepers of Life or will those he trusts the most turn on him and destroy every good and noble thing in both realms?
If you haven't read this series, I suggest you do asap, it's fantastic!
So without further ado we give you Shea! Take it away!
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else?
When I was about seven, I really wanted to be a boy because all my friends at the time were boys. Thankfully, I grew out of that stage. As to a career, I had absolutely no aspirations to be anything that I can recall. I’m a go with the flow kind of gal. I loved horses, and used to write dreadful poetry when I was little. In a way, I’m doing now what I loved back then. I still love riding horses (I used to show jump and train horses), and I’m now a writer. Thankfully, I gave up poetry. Well, for the most part. I do have a few poems in each of the Keepers of Life books. They are marginally better than what I used to write. I freely admit, I’m not a poet, but I love poetry.
How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
(Laughs for a long time) Well now, that depends. The longest it took me to write a book was eight years. That was the first time I wrote a book, and I had no idea what I was doing. I just wrote to keep myself sane. Now, it can take me as little as four months to a year depending on the length and complexity of the plot. Things have to make sense in my stories, even the outrageous stuff, and I like to write a lot of twists, stuff you don’t see coming and to do that it takes time and effort, something at least I can’t do in a couple of weeks. Here’s the thing. I can write a complete scene in a day. That’s easy. But to make it good, to make the characters real and the situation interesting and the dialogue fun, it takes a lot of time. In theory, I could write a book in a month if I didn’t care one wit about the story or the characters, but I wouldn’t want anyone to read that story.
How do you come up with themes for your stories?
Someone said each writer only has a handful of themes that they tackle and every story has one of those themes. I don’t know. It seems to be fairly true. Most of my books tackle finding your identity, but then, I write Young Adult books and that’s a very common theme while growing up. Also, in fantasy, the themes revolve around stepping up to the task, so that’s been fairly common for me. Themes come with the characters. The YA I’m working on now has a survival theme and accepting limitations. When I’m done with the book, I’ll take a harder look at the themes that run through it and see if they still fit or if they’ve morphed into something else, then I’ll go back and strengthen what I have.
Do you have a schedule of when you write?
It’s more about finding the time. I used to write from 8 until 3, but then things got complicated, and now I have a three year old underfoot, so nap time is writing time. Once the little imp goes to school, I’ll go back to the 8-3 schedule again most likely.
How are you able to balance other aspects of your life with your writing?
I didn’t know I was supposed to do anything else but write. I’d like to think I have my life together, but…um no. I have no idea how to balance a piece of bacon on a pancake. (Mmm, bacon.) Oh, sorry, I got distracted there for a second. Where was I? Oh yeah, I don’t write on weekends. That’s family time. If someone needs me, then I go and help. I believe I can only write if I live my life, otherwise what do I have to write about if I’m not actively living? Nothing really. I have no doubt, someone, somewhere will analyze my life and come up with the perfect solution for me, but I’m stubborn and I probably won’t change anything unless it suits my mood.
What elements do you think make a great story line?
1. Fresh and unexpected dialogue.
2. Informative narrative that moves the story forward.
3. Engaging description that paints a picture without being too wordy.
4. Characters who see the world in a unique way.
5. A plot that unfolds in a way that delights and catches the reader unaware.
6. Wit. Books need wit that surprises the reader and makes them think.
It’s as easy as that! (laughs evilly) I wish I had the magic formula, but there is none. What some readers love, other readers hate. It’s pretty frustrating, actually.
What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
So much about writing is difficult. For me it would be actually putting together a sentence that helps tell a story without boring the reader to death. My biggest fear is boring my readers. I try so hard to make every word in every sentence have a reason for being there, and that reason is to entertain. I will never be the smartest writer, the funniest writer or the most awarded, but I desperately want to be the most entertaining. At the end of my stories I want people to close the book and smile and say, “Now that was awesome fun. I wish it hadn’t ended.”
How many books have you written so far? Do you have a favorite?
Written? I don’t even know the number. Well over twenty. Published? I’ve had five published. Well, I have a collection of dark faerytale short stories that can be bought two books at a time or all at once so I’m counting them all in one book.
Do I have a favorite? I write over a large range of genres so that’s kind of difficult, but one of the ones I love is a YA Fantasy called Mist on Water. It’ll be published this fall, so I’m really excited about that.
Do you have a favorite character?
I love all my characters, even the evil ones. They all teach me something about life and living. There is one I absolutely adore. Her name is Lucinda in my YA Fantasy trilogy The Keepers of Life. She’s a Lutine, which means she can morph into a cat at will. She’s unrepentantly selfish one moment and selflessly risks her life for others the next. You just never know what she’s going to do.
Where do you write?
I write on a laptop, so I can travel all over the place and write whenever the mood strikes me. That being said, I’m lazy to the bone, so usually that mood is when I’m lounging in my bed. I may look like I’m sleeping because my eyes are often closed and there may be a bit of drool, but that’s actually the look of deep concentration. Trust me. I wouldn’t lie about that.
When deciding on how to publish, what directed you to the route you took?
My agent at the time directed me to my publisher. I’m traditionally published and indie published. I think it’s important to spread yourself out in many directions and see what fits for you and your career path. Traditional publishing isn’t for everyone, but neither is indie publishing. If you publish a story that isn’t ready just because you want to be published, then you’re not doing yourself any favors. So having an agent who can guide you is a smart business tactic.
Have you gotten feedback from family about your book(s)? What do they think?
A couple of times I’ve had one or two in my family read a passage I’m struggling with to see if it works, but they’ve never read a full story until it’s in print.
I write a lot about magic, monsters and murder so I suspect they think I need psychological help. I’ve noted lately they keep sharp objects away from me and lock their doors at night, just in case I snap. (grin) Okay, not really. They think I’m a weird bit of fun, but they’ve always thought that. If you want to know if they like my books, you’d have to ask them. I don’t want to know either way. It’s not fair to insist they like what I write. I like what I write and that’s the only thing about writing I can control. Seriously. Trying to control anything else makes for a one way ticket to the psych ward.
What kinds of things do you like to do outside of writing?
Being in front of a computer writing all day has the habit of causing the bottom half of the body to expand disproportionately to the rest of the body, so because of that, I exercise every day (kind of fanatically) by kickboxing, weight training and running. I’m addicted to sweets, and Coca Cola keeps my engine purring along. I love people watching, dancing, movies, superheroes, hot chocolate on cold nights, swimming on hot nights, riding horses, reading in bed and lying on a hammock in the afternoon gazing up at the clouds. And if a friend calls me up and says, “Hey, let’s go play!” I’m there, pretty much no matter what it is. I just love hanging out and getting into trouble with my friends.
What kinds of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
It’s all about the story. A writer needs to read, a lot and in as many genres as possible. Write every day. Rewrite what you’ve written until it’s says exactly what you want it to say, is consistent with your characters and moves the story forward. So even if you love what you’ve written, if it doesn’t add to character or move the story forward, get rid of it.
Here’s the most important thing I can say. Writing is personal. You have to dig deep to create emotions you’d rather not tap into. But writing a story is about letting those emotions out so others can experience them safely. Writers have to be brave and honest. It’s a difficult job, one that everyone thinks they can do, but only a select few really can do well. If you want to be one of those select few, then you have to constantly work at perfecting the craft.
What is your favorite book? favorite author? Do you have an author that inspired/inspires you to write?
My favorite book will always be Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss, not because it’s the best book I’ve ever read, but because it was the first book I ever read all the way through, and it inspired me to keep reading.
I’m excited to meet any author because it’s really amazing that they took the plunge and wrote a whole book. It’s not easy. Seriously. Good writing is hard and anyone who tells you differently is an idiot, and what they write won’t be worth reading. An auto-buy for me would be J.K Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Darynda Jones, Robin Perini, Dean Koontz. Geesh, I could go on and on. What I really love is when I find a new author. I love the sense of discovery that comes from that. So I read a lot and in a ton of different genres. Honestly, I just love well thought out, well written stories.
Do you have any go to people when writing a book that help you with your story lines as well as editing, beta reading and such?
I have an amazing critique group. Tammy Baumann, Louise Bergin and Robin Perini. We support each other and nag each other and always tell each other the truth about the stories we’re writing. If my story sucks monkey toes, I’d rather hear it from my close friends than hear it from an editor.
Robin Perini and I do a lot of brainstorming together for our books. We seem to bring out the meat of what we’re each trying to convey to the reader, and that’s a rare relationship, let me tell you. Neither of us tries to overtake the other and force an idea. We keep throwing ideas out until one of them sticks.
Are you working on anything now?
I’m currently working on several projects. One is a YA Contemporary about a girl and two guys causing havoc in the wilderness, and then there’s a fun little YA Fantasy I mentioned above, and then there’s an Adult Paranormal novella that’ll be in a box set with 12 other authors called Twelve Shades of Midnight. (It’s already up for presale, so go check it out. It’s gonna be big!) All the stories in the box set are new and range from dark and dangerous to fun and flirty. Mine is on the darker side, but with humor. Seems like an odd match, but everyone likes to laugh.
Thanks so much for stopping by today, Shea. It was great to have you!