Please welcome guest author Sheila Webster Boneham today. She describes herself as curious, passionate, restless, funny, and disciplined. She characterizes her writing as smart, funny, compassionate, informed, and intriguing. Here are her remaining eight questions and answers:
You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?
My paternal grandmother would be first. I know her only through a handful of stories my uncle told, and I would love to know her. She was one of the first telephone operators in Providence, RI, in the first decade of the 1900s, and when she was in her twenties, she and my grandfather took out a homestead in Alberta, Canada. She died in childbirth when my dad was two years old.
Walt Whitman. I’ve read his poetry since I was in high school, and I would love to have a conversation with him.
Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, The Five Quarters of the Orange, and other luscious books. Her writing is so rich and satisfying, I would like a chance to get to know her a bit.
Since I don’t have a favorite restaurant, I think I’ll choose a cozy fish place, not too fancy, with a lovely view of the ocean. Fish is brain food, so suitable for smart conversation, and I find breaking surf and sea air both calming and stimulating. I’ll order grilled scallops and shrimp.
Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?
Cafes, preferably in an out-of-the-way booth. I can easily shut out most noise (and when I can’t, I put on my earphones and play instrumental music—New Age, classics, Andean flutes…). Writing can be an isolating pursuit, and I like the sense of connection without obligation a public place provides.
What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?
Early morning or evening from about six to ten. I do drink a little tea, but I wouldn’t say I need the caffeine. Mostly I’m a water drinker (lime twist optional).
How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?
I don’t track my reading, but best guess? Three to five. I read a lot of shorter writing as well—essays, short stories, poetry. Whatever strikes my fancy. I write literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry as well as mysteries, so if I didn’t read in my genre while I’m writing, I’d be stuck with cookbooks and product manuals!
What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?
It’s funny, but sometimes we don’t recognize the themes in our own work. Years ago I took a short-story class, and about half way through, the instructor said, “You know, you always write about responsibility.” I think that’s right—my work, whether fiction or nonfiction, is often concerned at one level with questions of responsibility.
In my mysteries, “who done it” is obviously a major concern. In my essays and literary fiction, questions of responsibility may be more subtle, and I don’t set out to include them, but they do always seem to be present. Much of my work also explores the nature of relationships of different kinds—among people, among other animals, between species, with the land and environment. The over-arching theme, I suppose, is the question of what it means to be alive.
What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?
At the moment, my biggest challenge is not a writing challenge per se, but a “time and engagement” challenge. The rise of social media has been a blessing and a curse for many people, and I think the distraction of the Internet and various social platforms is especially difficult for writers. We work (most of us) on the computer, so the (positive) connection and (negative) noise are a click away. I love being in touch with friends and readers and other writers, but I also long for long stretches of focused time to think and write and reflect.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
Shepherd’s Crook, the fourth book in my Animals in Focus mystery series, takes my characters to a sheep-herding event. Janet MacPhail, my protagonist, is a 50-something professional photographer and avid amateur dog and cat (yes, cat) sport enthusiast. Since her dog, Jay, is an Australian Shepherd, I know at the start of the series that sooner or later they would try herding.
In the first three books, events have unfolded around obedience, retriever fieldwork, and agility (canine and feline), so it was about time Janet let Jay use his instinctive herding abilities. The book opens when some sheep go missing. That—plus some notion of the series subplots—were about all I had when I started the book. I tend to let the story develop as I write, then backtrack and fill in the holes as needed. Writing that way can be a bit scary, but I also find it a lot more fun.
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?
I have a very smart and insightful friend and mentor named Cait Johnson, and I carry one brilliant piece of advice from her in my mind—“Do what lights you up.” Those five words have helped me make some difficult choices over the past few years.
For more about Sheila and her books, check out her website http://www.sheilaboneham.com/ (ed. note: where I fell in love with her picture of a great blue heron.)
Here’s a blurb for Shepherd’s Crook (Midnight Ink, 2015) – Animals in Focus Mystery #4
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail has just arrived at a sheepherding competition with her Australian Shepherd, Jay, when she learns that two-dozen sheep have disappeared. Police think the animals have wandered off, but Janet is convinced they’ve been stolen.
Janet knows she should leave the snooping to the police while she attends to her own problems—new living arrangements, her mom’s wedding plans, puppy and kitten antics, and extremists bent on keeping people from having pets. But when a livestock handler turns up dead, the police and a pair of thugs pay Janet way more attention than she likes. Setting out to find answers, Janet puts herself in the killer’s crosshairs.