Hey, hey faithful followers and newcomers. Today’s treat is an interview with debut cozy mystery writer, Shaen Layle.
This Missouri wife and working mom—staying home with your kiddos is a full time job even without writing—was not born out of the foam ala Aphrodite. Her upcoming release of Waves of Doubt, Book 22 in Guideposts Mysteries of Martha’s Vineyard is the result of daily dedication, holding tightly to a dream, and making the most of those windows God likes to leave open.
Teamed up with suspense powerhouse, Nancy Mehl, Shaen is going for the gold. Or should that be the pink? The Cadillac on her first cover is to-die-for.
So take a moment and get inspired by Shaen’s journey to the land of the published. And please do glean insights about necessary helpers—Robot Mop, Trello, Skype, FaceTime, family, friends, and the wonders of a work-with-you husband. A definite plus around the house!
1) Tell your journey from reader to writer to published author.
My earliest memories are of storytelling- creating fairytale-like puppet shows for my parents behind the backdrop of a huge, green velvet armchair-, and then as soon as I learned to formally read and write, consuming and creating just went hand in hand for me. I wrote my first novel- inspired by Janette Oke’s books!- when I was a teen, and then after high school, went on to get a B.F.A. in Creative Writing and a Masters in Library Science. I burned out really badly with writing in college, though, and didn’t write very much for most of my twenties. After the birth of my first child, I realized I had to make room for the writing dream or I might never pursue it. I began writing and editing full drafts of manuscripts, and in 2018, received an opportunity to collaborate with my mother-in-law, suspense author, Nancy Mehl, on a Guideposts continuity series. Waves of Doubt releases in January 2019.
2) Do you have a muse? Tell us about it. (Where do you draw inspiration?)
Writing has always been an act of worship for me (much as Eric Liddell’s running was for him), so it makes sense that I draw inspiration from the original Creator, God. I think when you’re a writer, you’re just looking at the world through that creative lens all the time, cataloging juicy bits of dialogue you hear or interestingly-dressed people you see while walking down the street. I love to read Lisel Mueller’s poetry or Tosca Lee’s fiction to get my creative juices flowing. Writing critique groups can be a great encouragement, too, and help to keep that fire of inspiration lit and stoked.
3) Take us through a typical work day
I love planning, so I have notebooks full of routines and schedules for what the perfect day would look like. Things don’t often go according to plan, though. On an ideal day, I’m up at 5:30 AM, getting myself and my two boys ready for the day, then either taking my oldest to school (brainstorming story ideas along the way) or cleaning house and running errands. My “work time” is when I put my youngest down for a nap. My husband and I try to get the boys to bed fairly early so we can have some time to either work independently or on our collaborative creativity podcast. (YES, Shaen does podcasts, too!) I read for my reading challenge group a little bit every night. A lot of times, it’s cramming stuff in where it fits, though. If anybody’s interested in more details, I have posts outlining my reading and writing routines on my blog at http://www.shaenlayle.com.
4) Any scheduling tips for mom/wife/working writers?
I don’t think there’s any one golden formula! I’ve tried a bunch of different stuff. I think you need to outsource what you can. This summer, we had a babysitter come in one day a week for six hours, and I just worked like crazy while she played with the boys. I don’t have her help this fall, but my husband watches the boys on Saturday mornings so that I can work a little. I also bought a robot mop, and that’s been pretty helpful 😊 (Three Cheers for Robot Mop!)
The hardest part of balancing everything has been fitting in the platform side of being a writer. I could work writing in through the week and do pretty well, but when you add social media, blog posts, giveaways, etc. into the mix, it gets out of control. I recently switched some of my planning from paper to virtual and am LOVING Trello—(Shout out for those who need a PA)—for organizing my writing tasks. I have a board for all the different aspects of writer life: writing, editing, my critique group, my reading group, social media, my blog, etc. Then I can slap due dates on the prioritized items and color-code all the tasks that are due for the next three weeks. I use red for the tasks that are due in the current week, yellow for the ones due next week, and green for the ones due the following week. That way, I can see at a glance what I have to do immediately and what can wait. Otherwise, I get overwhelmed thinking about all the things, and my brain goes into meltdown mode!
5) A quick rundown of your “call” story. When you knew you’d be in print.
I had kind of an unusual “call” story. I’ve been writing for a long time and have attended conferences where I networked with agents and editors the traditional way, but in this case, I was actually brought in to write the story for Guideposts via reference. My mother-in-law writes suspense for Bethany House, as well as cozy mysteries with Guideposts and Annie’s Attic, and this summer, she was under multiple deadlines. She checked with her editors at Guideposts to see if she could bring in some outside help on her next book with them. Since she needed to streamline her workload and I was interested in writing professionally, it seemed like a win-win to collaborate. Thankfully, the wonderful team at Guideposts was incredibly accommodating and took a chance on me. After the final edits went through this fall, I knew that the book was really happening and am so very excited.
The story I co-wrote with Nancy is called Waves of Doubt, and it’s a cozy mystery in the Mysteries of Martha’s Vineyard series. The series is a continuity-based one, so the book we have coming out soon is book 22 out of 25. All of the books in the series can be read as a stand-alone (each novel is a self-contained mystery), but there are some plot points, such as Priscilla’s romance with Coast Guard captain, Gerald O’Bannon, that span the course of the whole series. All of the other books in the series are delightful and written by different veteran Christian fiction authors, so I’d highly recommend picking them up if you get a chance.
Here’s the back cover copy for Waves of Doubt:
Prickly Virginia Lawrence, a preeminent scholar of Vineyard history, is also a notorious recluse. Therefore, the island is abuzz when Priscilla manages to book a library lecture with the local eccentric. However, on the evening of the event, Virginia is a no-show and nowhere to be found, and the valuable museum artifacts in her possession are now missing as well. As Priscilla delves into the mystery of Virginia’s ill-timed disappearance, a seemingly unrelated puzzle emerges. Could a rash of random cemetery plunderings somehow be connected to the missing historian?
As pressure builds to find Virginia and the missing priceless artifacts, she begins to doubt her own instincts- especially when she spies Gerald having mysterious dinner meetings with a lovely blond-haired woman.
6) Team writing. Give us tips for collaboration
I’d suggest having a mix of face-to-face meetings and virtual collaboration. You could always interpret face-to-face loosely, meeting via Skype or FaceTime instead of being in the same geographic location. Nancy and I researched and gathered ideas individually, then had a brainstorming session together to hammer out a rough outline of the book. After that, we alternated writing chapters and refining the outline until we had a rough draft. Then I did light edits, and she did content edits for the first revision. We met together to talk through and do final edits as a team before handing in the book. Also, embrace flexibility! One of the tough things about collaboration is that you can’t be too much of a control freak, but really, that’s sort of a benefit, too!
7) What have you learned by writing with Nancy?Maybe it’s because Nancy and I get along together so well (she’s not just my mother-in-law; we’re friends, too, and often meet up for girls’ days where we eat fancy food and have Dr. Who marathons), but I would say don’t be afraid of collaboration! For me, the whole experience was so much more manageable than if I had been carrying the load entirely on my own, and I think she would agree with that. And also, that collaboration can be tremendously energizing. I saw it as this fun challenge, almost like a game, when Nancy would hand me a chapter she’d just written with a great twist of a cliffhanger, and then I’d try to up the stakes in my next chapter. It was a lot of fun.
8) What have you learned about yourself in this collaboration
When it comes to how I work, I am definitely a “plotter”- somebody who plans and outlines-, versus a “pantser”- somebody who comes up with plot points more organically. Nancy is definitely more spontaneous with her storytelling than I am with mine, and that threw me for a loop a few times! By the end of our collaboration, though, I learned just how valuable it is to not script your story too tightly. I need to leave some room open for spontaneity, and my creative process will be the better for it. For example, that gorgeous pink Cadillac on the cover of Waves of Doubt? That car was a spur-of-the-moment creation of Nancy’s, and it wound up driving (pun not intended) our story forward.
9) What do you plan to write next?
Nancy and I are working on another cozy mystery together right now; this one will be book 10 in Guideposts’ Mysteries of Lancaster County series. That book will be released in July 2019.
And I have a few of my own personal projects now, too, that will hopefully be fit for daylight sometime soon! I’m working on a contemporary romance, called Nothing Lost, about childhood friends, Henry and Darcy, who reunite, somewhat reluctantly, after Henry’s grandmother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I’m trying to play with the idea of memory- how it shapes us and our decisions, and how even awful situations of loss and grief can be redeemed through faith. I’m also working on a young adult spec fic piece, called The Tank, in which a flawed teen girl learns the unsettling truth about the perfection-driven society she lives in. It’s my response to “why are you pro-life?”, and it plays on the philosophical idea of “potential personhood” and how I believe people have intrinsic worth apart from what they do or don’t do.
10) Give us the skinny on blogs, podcasts, media and all the book details (Shameless promo time ;^)
Though I’m still trying to figure out the best way to juggle it all, I have quite a few links for you!
The best place to connect with me would be at my website, for starters. Sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll send you an email every time I update anything on my blog, where I talk about reading, writing, and the creative life in general. All of my social media handles are there as well, and you can find out about my upcoming books.
I also just started hosting a monthly podcast, The Inspired Creative, with my graphic designer husband, Danny, where we plan on talking about all things creative and maybe doing some interviews with other Christian creatives in the future. Our first episode, “The Importance of Not Looking Down”, will be available this month in the Apple iTunes store. Info about the podcast can be found on my website.
I also run a Facebook group, the Inspy Fiction Reading Challenge Group, where a bunch of wonderful readers and I chat Christian fiction. We encourage each other to become better readers by following Monthly Challenges, which force us outside of our normal reading patterns, and I have gift card giveaways within that group for readers who fulfill the challenge each month. We also meet up once a month on Facebook Live to chat books and other book-related topics.
You’ll find all the ways to connect with me below!
Facebook- Shaen Layle
Pinterest- Shaen Layle
Goodreads- Shaen Layle
Inspy Fiction Reading Challenge Group- https://www.facebook.com/groups/1692777667504930/
Ann, thanks for much for inviting me on your blog today! You are a gem of a writer and a wonderful friend, to boot!
All Right, while I did ask Shaen to do a shameless promo, I didn’t expect to be included. But, hey, I’m not gonna say no.
Thank you, Shaen, and…