Indie author, Sheila Blanchette talks about her publishing journey, what’s inspired her along the way and offers great encouragement to other writers.
Rain is lashing against the patio doors as I settle down at my dining table, chamomile tea warming my hands while the neighbour’s cat meows pitifully outside, and listen with envy as Sheila Blanchette, mother of two novels and first to be featured in the Indie Spotlight, informs me it’s almost 30oC in the Florida sun as we converse across the North Atlantic.
Sheila, originally from Warwick, Rhode Island, I from near Warwick in the heart of England, marvel at the geographical coincidence as we swap stories of our travels. Apt, of course, as Sheila loves to write about her adventures and her most recently published novel, Take Me Home, is laced with experiences from a spontaneous road trip through Idaho and Colorado.
Slices of life
Take Me Home, the novel I read, stars opinionated protagonist, Josie Wolcott and a huge cast of characters who, as Sheila puts it, ‘are as varied and different as the landscape she travels through’. Determined to be more than a menopausal stereotype, Josie embarks on a journey to discover more for herself than an empty nest and a pompous boss her co-workers nickname Dave-E. Her outlook is summarised perfectly as she considers her optician’s belief that her eyesight is beating the odds for her age…
“What did that mean? A woman her age? Were women her age all alike? A faceless demographic no one noticed? All of them the same, belonging to book clubs, drinking wine, watching HGTV and peering over reading glasses.”
What I love about Sheila’s work is that her novels truly are a ‘slice of life’. She tells me she’s very much inspired by Ed Burns, a New York film maker, whose work she has always admired for its approach.
Sheila makes the ‘empty nest’ generation, so often neglected in fiction, brilliantly alive. The settings are vibrant and her characters feel so real because she’s not afraid to show their imperfections and show their struggles. Sheila believes this is why readers tell her they can relate to them and feel less alone reading about their adventures. Certainly, Sheila’s diverse experience of people through her travels and love of quirky, yet everyday, characters is clear. Expect encounters with everyone from book keepers to nurses. Not all of the cast have a significant influence on the story, as we’re so often told is a ‘rule’ in fiction, but they add colour and flavour, reflecting what travelling can truly be like.
Stories seeded from characters
Sheila tells me her stories seed from a character and a circumstance they are in. She enjoys the initially flurry of bringing the idea to life and from there – I’m more envious of this than the Florida sun – her writing just flows. However, she admits this only happens if she starts as soon as she sits at her desk and doesn’t allow herself to become daunted by her premise. I think part of Sheila’s success with fighting off writers block is her acceptance that first drafts are never going to be great but within them are gems that can by polished up later. In fact, she says editing, fixing stories and making them sing, is the fun part.
To help keep her inspired along the way, Sheila carries a notepad around with her and jots down ideas that come to her as she listens to music, has experiences that spark her imagination and hears snippets of conversation that sound like something her characters would say.
Sheila tells me she loves British humour and we go off on a tangent talking about which moments we found the funniest in Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling and Elizabeth is Missing (which I reviewed recently here). Sheila is witty too and I had a few laugh out loud moments while reading Take Me Home. Overall, the story is uplifting, warming and inspiring so, if you’re looking for more from life, reading it could well encourage you to take action.
It’s never too late for a second chance
Sheila truly believes in second chances and that, whatever your age, it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. So, naturally, all her books have this theme. In fact, Sheila lives true to her beliefs and pursued a new life for herself in Florida and, in the process, brought her dream to be a writer into fruition.
Undeterred by the disheartening process of sending out query letters and the poor odds of being accepted, she wanted to find a better way to get her stories out to people she knew would enjoy them. This was around the time that indie publishing was starting to shake off the ‘vanity’ stigma and, feeling that mainstream publishers don’t help most authors with marketing significantly anyway, she decided she too would become an indie author. She was already active on Facebook, Twitter and her blog so was determined she could make it work.
Sheila recognises that making her work the best it can be is a collaborative effort just like authors who sign with a publisher. She’s worked with the same cover designer for each of her books and, in addition to beta readers, is fortunate to have a family member who is qualified sufficiently to professionally edit her books and whose opinion is blunt enough to be dependable. She also has support with formatting and getting the books loaded onto Amazon which helps make the whole process slick.
She’s come up with some original ideas for marketing her books such as going into bookstores and taking photos of them alongside chart hitters such as Inferno by Dan Brown. She calls it ‘book bombing’! She’s also made some valuable relationships with other authors through social media and they’ve been able to put their heads together to come up with more ways to sell books
Like many indie authors, Sheila has to subsidise her income from publishing with a part-time job in book keeping but is happy that this is enabling her to live her dream. In addition, she’s also a Huffington Post contributor where she writes about everything from wardrobe malfunctions to raging against ageing here.
You can make it as an indie author too
Sheila is full of encouragement for authors who are considering going indie and her three top tips for getting going are…
- Just start writing, Get those words on paper. No one will see it at first and you can always hit delete or make changes later. You need something to edit into a great book and the more you do it the better you get.
- Start blogging. It really helps to discover your voice and get into the habit of writing regularly. Everyone’s got something they’re passionate about to share.
- Read. It’ll help to inspire you and stretch you as a writer. Sheila recommends reading James Salter who the Guardian claims is a forgotten hero of American literature here. She says his prose is beautiful and attending one of his workshops fundamentally changed her approach.
There’ll be many more great recommendations for books to read coming up on Literary Lightbox this year so keep an eye out for some great fiction to add to your ‘must read’ list.
Let’s support each other
So, that’s it for the first Indie Spotlight. I hope you feel encouraged by Sheila’s experience as an indie author and I urge you to check out her work as well as that of all the authors I feature this year on the Indie Spotlight. Let’s get together as authors and support each other!
- Take Me Home is available here in the US and here in the UK.
- You can also buy The Reverse Commute in the US here and in the UK here.
Readers who enjoy Sheila’s novels are in luck. She’s just finished a third novel, which she says has slightly more of a literary feel and has a male protagonist for the first time, so look out for that soon!
If you’d like to apply for the Indie Spotlight, click here to find out how you can apply. It’s subject to criteria but free. And, look out for an announcement next week to find out who’ll be covered in February.