Golden Heart Spotlight – Shea Berkley!

Shea Berkley has seduced men, fought vampires, boxed Irish mobsters, invaded siren waters, ran a covert military mission in the jungles of South America, killed evil thingies that go bump in the night and far more on her journey as a storyteller. The world of make-believe is her preferred hang out, but when she’s forced to associate with reality, she has been known to speak to writers’ groups and mentor those interested in honing their writing craft. As a reward for her hours and hours of fun, she has finaled multiple times in several writing contests including 3 times in RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart contest. She writes primarily general fiction and young adult fiction as her large and noisy family runs wild, terrorizing the neighbors.

Shea isn’t much of a contest junkie, but she has finaled in the Golden Heart® contest three times: Irish Dream (2006 Single Title); Dark Secrets (2009 Mainstream with Romantic Elements); Shattered (2010 Young Adult).

Being woefully incompetent in the technology arena (I’m terrified of On Demand TV and TiVo … okay, I don’t even know what TiVo is or if I’m spelling it correctly), Shea only has a personal email account and group blog. She’s been harassed by others to do a personal blog and website, but she finds her brain begins to wander every time someone mentions the challenge. You can find her most days trolling The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood with her lovely and talented “sisters” and usually getting in the way of progress.

And now a little about Shea’s Golden Heart Finaling manuscript…

According to Shea, “Although I love to write for adults, I have a house full of teenage girls, so it was a natural step for me to write YA. I love the stories because they’re so broad, and even though the readers are pushing toward adulthood, they still have that edge of childish fun and awe that can be tapped into when writing for them. My Golden Heart finaling book is called SHATTERED and it’s told primarily from the young hero’s POV. I love writing stories that feel real to life, and then twist them into a fantastical journey, and that’s exactly what I do with Dylan, my young hero.”

At seventeen, Dylan is the son of a teenage runaway who acts as if he’s more of a bother than a blessing. Something buried deep in his childhood scared his mother so much that it changed her view of him. It was the beginning of his fall from grace and a journey into a life that no one in their wildest dreams could have imagined, because who in their right mind would believe he was a creature from another realm? With a newfound power that defies logic, Dylan is more than just different, he’s dangerous, and now he has to make a choice. Save his own skin (something he’s used to doing) or save a beautiful girl (the only person who’s ever made him feel loved), knowing he’ll most likely die while trying. 

I asked Shea to answer a few questions so we could all get to know her better. Here are her answers:

1)  How long have you been writing?
I’m fairly confident I knew how to write when I was five, but I could be kidding myself. The ABC’s did not come naturally to me. Being dyslexic I struggled to get the gist of why reading and writing were supposed to be so amazing. Seriously, it just looked like a bunch of letters strung randomly together for so long, I fought the process of writing even after I finally figured out how to read. 

2)  Did you always want to be an author or is this something you fell into later in life?
Fell is a fairly good description of how I became a writer, though I guess caving to peer pressure would be more accurate. Let me explain.

I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota.   

What can a gal say about Fargo? It’s flat, cold, windy and has loads of cows and other farm animals and acres and acres of wheat. But let me tell you, it’s a place that encourages imagination. (#1 activity when I was young? Cloud gazing. I’m pretty sure I was my mom’s version of a tornado warning system.) 

I had a best friend named Constance. She was weird, and not because she lived on a goat and chicken ranch, but because she liked to read and write stories. I was nine, and not good at reading or writing, but Connie pushed me. We would hunker down for hours and hours making up stories and run wild playacting. It was my first taste of creating something more permanent than what I imagined in my head. I wish I could say I couldn’t wait for our writing sessions, but reading and writing was such a struggle … Dyslexia is quite the bear to wrestle.

And then at sixteen, my mom tossed a book at me. (Never fear, I played dodge ball and it didn’t hit me … hard.) The paperback was Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Let me tell you, that book changed my life. I loved it – the heroine was spunky, the hero was poetic – and I consumed every romance I could find, and then branched out into other genres. When I finally got to college, I had conquered the bulk of my dyslexia. There were, and still are, a few areas that give me grief … but a major boost to my self-esteem came from my English professor who told me I had talent and pushed me to write more. I didn’t. Instead, I got married and started a family.

Being a mom of five is like volunteering to be hog-tied and burned at the stake … for fun. (Why don’t more people eat their young?) Luckily (for my kids) I didn’t turn cannibalistic and discovered how writing could be cathartic, just like my English professor said it would be.

So, did I want to be a writer? Yes and no. I fought it from the day I met Connie, and only when it became apparent putting words on paper would counteract my plunge toward the kind of insanity only childbearing brings did I find how much I really loved the process.

3) What do you do in your “other” life? (Day job, family, etc.)
Seriously? I have five kids. My job is to make sure they don’t harass the neighbors, and then play dumb when the cops come knocking on my door. 

I also teach online writing classes. It pays worse than indentured slavery for the time I put into the lessons and writing exercises, but I love the craft and want to help others love it too.

4)  Who are your favorite authors?
This is really, really difficult. I read a lot and in a multitude of genres. My favorite authors change as soon as I pick up a new book. Does that make me fickle? I’d like to think it makes me well-rounded story wise.

5)  Do you have an agent?
I do have an agent. The lovely and energetic Laurie McLean of Larsen and Pomada Literary Agency. She’s knowledgeable, and fierce and in my corner, in other words, she’s everything an agent should be.

6)   Where do you see yourself in five years?
You know, this question always baffles me. I’m not one to look too deeply into the future. I live for the present as much as possible because I’m not guaranteed tomorrow, and frankly it’s hard enough getting today right.

 But if you’re going to be persistent with this question … 

I’d like to be multi-published with a rabid fan base that makes me blush all the way to the bank. 

(grin) I am an optimist if anything. But then again, in five years I might go insane and think I’m at the Disneyworld riding rollercoasters and eating calorie-laden food when in actuality I’m sitting in a car sipping a chocolate, nutritional supplement and trying not to drool on myself. Honestly, just so long my kids aren’t allowed to experiment on me, I’ll be content. 

(Disclaimer: all references implying my children are the spawn of Satan or have criminal intentions or are evil in any way other than that cute impish way all children act when being darn adorable are just the figment of this author’s imagination. Really. Well …)

 And now, in Shea’s own words…

How personal do you want to get?

It’s a question every writer has to ask him/herself.  The one thing I’ve learned about writing lately is that writing is personal.  It has to be.

When we write, it has to make us catch our breaths. It must reveal something of the human condition that might make us uncomfortable or proud or elicit some kind of response. It has to stir emotion, whether it brings out a soul cleansing laugh or a body-shaking sob. To bring out those emotions for our readers, we have to take risks. We have to dig deep and live the moment with our characters.

So, how can we get in touch with our characters? Although the world sees us as authors, we’re actually more like actors. We have to put on the skin of our characters and write from their personal point of view – how they see the world or to be more exact, revealing their opinion about the world. Every character will have an world POV from the main characters to the walk-ons and as writers we’ve got to show that by the way each of them interacts with others.

So, if you’ve got a guy who has become disillusioned by life, he’ll sport a cranky outlook. His demeanor will be steeped in woe-is-me until someone rescues his attitude and shows him a bigger, better purpose. Think of Luke Skywalker. His character is petulant and he finds no worth in his current life. Not until everything is taken from him does he see how wonderful he had it, and then he’s pulled, kicking and screaming into a purpose far greater than he ever imagined. By the end, he knows he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing even if there are risks and real life-threatening dangers all around.

In fact, that same scenario can be attached to Scarlett O’Hara. She is so consumed with her petty wants, that when everything is taken from her, she is thrown into disarray. She fights the system of war, grasping at the edges of the life she once knew, keeping things together by bent of will. It’s the way Margaret Mitchell brings out the passion of emotion in Gone with the Wind that keeps us reading about a spoilt, unlikeable woman who deserves what’s coming to her.

Let me give you the best piece of advice I can. “Lack of emotion is deadly. It’ll kill every scene.” I’m not sure who said that, but whoever said it was brilliant.

They say finding the emotion and putting it on the page is the last thing most writers learn to do before they’re published. Do you agree that emotion is important? How do you bring out emotion on a page?

68 comments to “Golden Heart Spotlight – Shea Berkley!”

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  1. Shea Berkley
    June 8th, 2010 at 7:25 pm · Link

    Thanks, Rita. I’m glad you could make it, too.

  2. Shea Berkley
    June 8th, 2010 at 7:27 pm · Link

    Hey Alicia,

    I’m glad someone will be rooting for me. There’s nothing more upsetting than sitting there when you’re name is called and no one hoots for you. I know from whence I speak. I can’t wait to meet you and all my other Oklahoma buddies.

  3. Shea Berkley
    June 8th, 2010 at 7:30 pm · Link

    Hey Jillian. Isn’t it awesome when your character starts acting on his own? I find that fascinating. Ou minds are so complex that when we create another persona, it can actually start acting on its own without our consciously trying to make it do anything. Creepy actually, but cool. I’ll see you in Orlando!

  4. Shea Berkley
    June 8th, 2010 at 7:31 pm · Link

    Hey Kelly, thanks for dropping by. I know people are really busy and I’m just surprised when people care enough to read what I’ve written. I have the bestest friends ever!

  5. M.V.Freeman
    June 8th, 2010 at 8:05 pm · Link

    I really enjoyed your interview, you had me laughing, and voraciously interested in your story…!

    I have to admit, your explanation on POV and the fact–emotion is what drives every scene was the one thing I truly needed to know. It was the “eureka” moment for me. For me, this is very I am looking forward to revising.

    (Btw, Shanna–was also one of the first books I read…and I still remember it)

    Thank you!

  6. Shea Berkley
    June 8th, 2010 at 8:20 pm · Link

    M.V. — Thanks for the kudos. I’m glad I could help.

    Ahhh, editing. My favorite thing. In fact, I’m playing hookie from doing just that. My agent will not be happy if she finds out. I’ve got a book to turn in by Thursday.

  7. M.V. Freeman
    June 8th, 2010 at 8:26 pm · Link

    I wish I loved it more… Once I am committed to revising I enjoy it…but getting me there is the hard part. I envy you!

  8. Shea Berkley
    June 8th, 2010 at 8:38 pm · Link

    I like editing because the story is on the page and that’s the hardest part. You know the saying, you can’t fix an empty page.

  9. Keli Gwyn
    June 9th, 2010 at 6:22 am · Link

    Congratulations on being a three-time GH finalist! After reading your interview, it’s easy to see why. You have an awesome Voice.

    How cool that your friend, Constance, encouraged you to write despite the challenges you faced. And let’s hear it for that English prof who affirmed you and acknowledged your talent. Supporters like that are gifts. Are you still in touch with either of them? If so, they must be thrilled for you.

    All the best on your journey to publication. I’m eager to help you celebrate your First Sale.

  10. Shea Berkley
    June 9th, 2010 at 7:49 am · Link

    Hey Keli.

    Sadly, Connie and I lost touch years ago when I moved away,(my dad got a job in California when I was 13), but she was extremely patient with me and literally forced me to concentrate. I think without her, I would’ve been far worse. She was like my own private tutor without me even realizing it.

    My English professor became angry when I turned down his offer to take an advanced creative writing class for his “pet” students. We had a love/hate relationship. He loved himself and hated everyone else. He was not a warm, caring individual and it took a lot for him to praise anyone. That I found myself in his good graces was a shock … to him and me. My best teachers were the authors I read. To them, I am eternally grateful.

  11. Autumn Jordon
    June 9th, 2010 at 12:11 pm · Link

    Shea, I couldn’t agree more about emotion needs to be the one element on every page. If, as a writer, we don’t care enough to openly display our characters’ hearts on the page, then out readers wouldn’t either.

    LOL on the kids. I have five too and even though they’re mostly on theri own, there are times I still think I need a straight jacket. For them. Peace and quiet for me.

    Great post. WINK

  12. Shea Berkley
    June 9th, 2010 at 12:31 pm · Link

    Autumn, I’m so glad you made it. Thank you for the kind words.

  13. Keely Thrall
    June 9th, 2010 at 2:00 pm · Link

    I’m not much for crying in “real life” but I sure do like a book that brings me to tears in the last chapter. I find those are the books I return to time and again if I need a little emotional catharsis.

    I’d add to the dictum of pulling strong emotional reactions from readers that having them read a scene and simply nod in agreement (“yes, I recognize that from my experiences”) is a “win” too. Even in a fantasy setting (maybe even especially there?), the connection to what’s human in our characters is what will turn a one-time reader into that rabid fan. (At least…that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!).

    Great post, Shea, and great interview!!

  14. Gabrielle
    June 9th, 2010 at 2:53 pm · Link

    Loved this post, Shea! And I completely agree with you about us being actors. Sometimes the emotion comes really easily for me, and other times I’m wandering around my apartment muttering “What’s she feeling?” The answer is not always the most obvious, and that’s another of the joys of writing, when you get to go deeper. I know when my first reaction is “Oh no, he can’t do *that*” that “that” is exactly where I need to take the character–if I let myself get scared, then I’m just skirting the issue and not getting to the real heart of things.

    Thanks for a great discussion, and good luck keeping those cops from the door 😉

  15. Shea Berkley
    June 9th, 2010 at 10:21 pm · Link

    Hey Keely.

    I think having a reader relate to your characters will definitely keep them coming back to your books. Story is all about connection.

  16. Shea Berkley
    June 9th, 2010 at 10:25 pm · Link

    Hey Gabrielle. I’m glad to hear you take it to the next level and don’t settle for the easy fix. You;re right. We have to plunge our characters into the fire and have them react in ways that really bring out the issue without sugar coating it.

  17. Angi Morgan
    June 10th, 2010 at 7:38 am · Link

    Shea–I admire those with dyslexia who have overcome the disorder. I have family with the same problem. I mention it because one of my favorite books is THE LOST DUKE OF WYNDHAM by Julia Quinn where the hero is dyslexic. Absolutely awesome book.


  18. Shea Berkley
    June 10th, 2010 at 3:37 pm · Link

    Thanks Angi. And congratulations on your second book sale! I’m keeping an eye on you. (grin)

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