Welcome to the two hundred and eighty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with author Shelly Frome. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Shelly. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Shelly: I’m a professor emeritus of dramatic arts at the University of Connecticut and I live in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills. I suppose I went from being a starving actor in New York to teaching acting to writing plays. I then began to realize that playwriting was too limiting. In novel writing I could go anywhere and, most of all, found that all my characters were fully able to play their parts and weren’t hampered by lack of talent or an overabundance of ego or the response patterns of a given audience.
I should also mention that I started writing short stories at some time after college and even resorted to writing serial episodes in study hall in the eighth grade to the delight of some of my classmates who wanted to know what happens next. I also write movie reviews and articles on writing and the creative process.
Morgen: Wow, that some variety. I tried the first 100 pages (102 actually) of a script for ScriptFrenzy but didn’t warm to it. What genre do you generally write?
Shelly: In fiction, I write crime stories or at least stories that contain some threatening element that raises the stakes and makes the venture worth the candle.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Shelly: My latest two offerings are The Twinning Murders, a trans-Atlantic “village” cozy that takes the reader from the Litchfield Hills to London, Devon and the Moors and back again. Most recently, my Twilight of the Drifter is set in the Deep South and, in effect, is a crime-and-blues odyssey haunted by both The Civil War and the civil rights movement. All my books, both fiction and non-fiction are listed under my name.
The non-fiction, appropriately, deals with the stage and screen—e.g., The Actors Studio, The Art and Craft of Screenwriting, etc.
Morgen: It’s great to have different projects, then you don’t get bored. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Shelly: Acceptance or rejection is so subjective I take it all with the proverbial grain of salt. For instance, recently an agent in New York thought Josh, my drifter and central character, was too passive at the outset and the publisher who accepted the novel loved the way Josh gradually found himself drawn to the pull of the past, a southern gothic haunting, if you will, and a calling to right a great wrong.
Morgen: 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Shelly: I have entered one or two contests, discovered the odds were at best 1,000 to one and decided I’d rather spend my energy on creation and a little marketing.
Morgen: I’ve sort of got to that stage. I’ve entered more competitions than submitted works but it does feel more of a gamble with the former – good to have on your CV though. 🙂 Do you have an agent?
Shelly: I would love to get an agent but, as mentioned, am not happy with the same old response: “I really like your work but have to absolutely love it before I’d take it on.” Translation—Can I really market this one and earn a sizeable commission?
Morgen: 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Shelly: My books are also available on Kindle. I read paper and hard copies. I just tried to read a family friend’s novella in an ebook format and, somehow, found it very trying. Perhaps I’m too old-fashioned. Perhaps I simply need to have the book in my hands, let it drop by the bed-stand as I get sleepy followed by a reassuring clunk.
Morgen: As if often does with me. I have to make sure that I’m not reading my Kindle at the time. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do?
Shelly: I write for certain blogs, go on virtual book tours, have book signings and so forth in order to help the publisher promote the book.
Morgen: There certainly are plenty of opportunities – and authors doing the same thing. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Shelly: I love all my characters and am a bit leery of what would happen if my stories were made into films, were in the hands of the wrong director and miscast. On the other hand, this sounds a lot like J.D.Salinger and I would probably be happy if any of my works became a film.
Morgen: Me too. 🙂 Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Shelly: I have a great deal to say about the title and covers and think they’re both vital in order to create just the right impression and promising resonance.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment?
Shelly: I’m reworking my Hollywood novel Tinseltown Riff because so much has changed since the first publication, especially in terms of new technology, so-called reality shows and what’s available on the Internet.
Morgen: I love technology but that the trouble, it moves on so quickly. And what’s next for you?
Shelly: Well, this may be a long answer to your question, but since it’s so fresh in my mind and potentially meaningful, here goes. I’ve learned the hard way that literary agents really only pay attention to writers they’ve either met at a conference or who’ve been recommended by either a client or someone they know and respect. Which is why I recently got on a plane and attended the Willamette Conference in Portland, Oregon.
So what we’re really talking about is a step-by-step fishing expedition. If you’ve gone to the trouble of putting your manuscript through the proverbial mill and wonder whether you should just hand it over to your independent publisher or whatever; or would rather try your hand at breaking into “the elite professional ranks,” the only thing for it is to pitch. That is, boil down the essence of your work face to face with the agent or agents who seem appropriate, compete with all the other 800 aspirants who have the same idea, and see what happens.
At this stage of the game you’re given one to three strikes. If you hit it off and they ask for anywhere from the first 10 to 50 pages and subsequently discover you not only make a good impression but can also write, so far so good. However, even if you pass the first two obstacles and they like your work and feel it’s destined for success, if they “aren’t captivated immediately and don’t ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT (one agent’s caps, not mine), you’re left with feeling good about yourself and the sure knowledge you’ve struck out. Which, I suppose, would still make you want to carry on.
During my own fishing venture, I’ve had four responses. A Hollywood agent dealing exclusively with novels to film cut me short. In no uncertain terms he declared “as of the present moment anything alluding to Hollywood is not trending.” As for three other encounters, one shy young lady e-mailed that I’m a nice guy and a terrific writer but she’s not absolutely smitten by my first 20 pages. A very personable woman informed me that I’m very memorable, it was great meeting me, she likes the first chapter and wants to read the next 50. A laid back gentleman just wrote that he never received the first 10 pages I sent three weeks ago and he wants me to try again.
I haven’t yet heard from the four others and I still have no idea what words like “I want to be captivated immediately” mean. But I am still undaunted. As they used to say in the old Saturday morning serials: to be continued.
Morgen: Absolutely. If you (any writer) want(s) to write badly enough we’ll just keep pushing through. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Shelly: I write every day and sometimes wish I could get writer’s block so that I could have a little time off.
Morgen: I’ll do you a swap. 🙂 I don’t get writer’s block but then I don’t get as much spare time as I’d like to write. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Shelly: Usually one of my basic assumptions has to be threatened or something provocative has to keep nagging at me, some unfinished business. At that point, I set up a dynamic leading, hopefully, to a compelling unfolding venture.
Morgen: “nagging” – I love that. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Shelly: Each of my characters is vital in terms of the dynamic and their names have to be fitting in terms of the given circumstances. They’re fully believable because, as a former actor and playwright, the whole process would stop if I tried to make them say or do anything out of character. In short, they are all motivated and have to act the way they do in terms of pressure and response from moment to moment.
Morgen: 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing?
Shelly: After I put the work aside, I go back to it and polish it, looking for loose ends, inconsistencies, moments that weren’t fully experienced, extraneous details that should be cut or at least modified.
Morgen: How about research?
Shelly: I have to make certain that all details and settings are as authentic as possible in order for me to believe what I’m doing. Moreover, the setting to me affects everything that happens.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Shelly: I seem only capable of writing in the third person subjective. Meaning, I see myself as the storyteller. In this way, I can zoom in on a character’s inner thoughts and pull back out again as the narrative carries on.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Shelly: I started a novel that takes place back in the 1950s, wrote three or four chapters and put it aside. Until it catches fire again and begins to prod me, I may never go back to it.
Morgen: If you’re like me you have more than enough stories already / in your head to keep you busy. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Shelly: My favourite aspect is the possibility I can set up a dialectic or dilemma that’s bothering me, see it through and discover something surprising that I never knew I knew.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Shelly: Find your own voice and try not to get influenced by how-to books and magazines and trendy best-sellers that have nothing to do with why you need to write. Keep your sense of integrity even if you have to resort to some form of self-publishing. Of course, at the same time, you can’t be blind to constructive criticism provided you consider the motives and significance of the source.
Morgen: Absolutely. We’re too close to our writing and always need a second opinion, although we can always disagree with them. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Morgen: I would love to sit down to dinner with Vanessa Redgrave, J.D. Salinger and the German actor Oscar Werner and, hopefully, have the dinner and drinks catered. I generally hate to cook and / or worry about how the meal is going, which would ruin the ease and flow of the conversation. There are well over a dozen more people I would love to sit down with but those are the first three who immediately came to mind.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Shelly: I’m fond of Rilke’s dictum that all art is the result of being in danger, of going as far as one can go and beyond.
Morgen: That’s intriguing. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Shelly: Just the movie reviews and interviews and blog pieces for fellow members of Mystery Writers of America
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Shelly: At the moment, my eldest son dropped off a goldendoodle puppy from the shores of Lake Ontario. Baxter (the puppy), seems to need a great deal of attention and care or at least insists that he trains me as I begin to train him.
Morgen: Oh cute. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful? (please include links where you can)
Shelly: Just the discussion forums for members of Mystery Writers of America. Some of the discussion groups or topics at, say, Linkedin are, at times, helpful or interesting. Some of the topics and queries are so benign or amateurish, they’re not even worth any consideration. The good thing is that they can be glanced at or deleted.
Morgen: And I do. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Shelly: It’s going to be hard if the book stores keep closing and writers have to become experts at marketing.
Morgen: We do. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Shelly: You can look on Google, Facebook, Amazon and author central.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Shelly: It’s always difficult to bridge the gap between what you think you’ve brought to life for some compelling reason and the somewhat loopy demands of the commercial world.
Morgen: 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Shelly: If you find or know of a viable venue for promoting fiction, would you please let me know?
Morgen: In my experience really the top three would be (in no particular order) Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. They have their different uses but it’s where social networking seems to gather. Then I guess the most popular sales outlet would have to be Amazon followed by Smashwords. Real success stories are far and few between but they do say that a successful author is one who didn’t give up but to be successful – definitely the $64,000 question. 🙂 Thank you, Shelly.
I then invited Shelly to include an excerpt of his writing…
Wolf Creek was silent again, shrouded and hidden away in the fading early December light.
Then the cracking sound of wood as the old hunter’s blind gave way somewhere in the near distance, a sudden scream and a muffled thud. The cracking sound was not nearly as sharp as the first gunshot or the second, the scream not at all as piercing as the first cry or as grating as the moans that followed and faded.
The coonhound took off immediately, ignoring the touch of frost in the creek water, the obstacle course of fallen tree limbs and bare forked branches, the muddy slope and the snare and tangle of vines and whip-like saplings. Within seconds, the hound was bounding higher until he came upon a prone scrawny figure totally unlike the one that had just fallen on the opposite bank.
Sniffing around, barking and howling, the hound snapped at the flimsy jacket and bit into it. As the scrawny little figure began to stir, he tore into the sleeve, ripping it to shreds and barked and howled again, turning back for instructions. The sight of the skinny flailing arms sent the coonhound back on its haunches—half guarding, half confused as it turned around yet again, looking down the slope to the creek bed, still waiting for a signal.
Presently, a tall, rangy man made his way across the same obstacle course, long-handled shovel in hand. But he was only in time to catch sight of a girl clutching her head, staggering away from the scene through the tangles and deepening shadows.
Shelly Frome is a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of mysteries, books on theater and film, and articles on the performing arts that have appeared in periodicals in the U.S. and the U.K. He is also a movie critic and has written a number of articles on aspects of novel writing for various web sites and blogs. A member of Mystery Writers of America, his fiction includes the recently released Twilight of the Drifter, The Twinning Murders, Tinseltown Riff, Lilac Moon and Sun Dance for Andy Horn. Among his works of non-fiction are the acclaimed The Actors Studio, and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. He lives in Litchfield, Connecticut.
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