Welcome to the seven hundred and fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with Sherel Ott. 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, Sherel. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sherel: Hello, Morgen. Thank you for inviting me to your site. I was a little introverted as a child and did a lot of reading, mostly Sci-Fi and Romance. I loved getting lost in other worlds. When I was in Middle School, for one of my English class writing assignments, we were assigned a project; write a story based on a phrase. My teacher (Mr. Daniel Pritchett), gave each of us a phrase, mine was “…and then there was one.” He was so impressed with my storyline and character development that it inspired me to want to write. I did write a ‘teenage love story’ based around my friends and I and the guys we liked at the time. I also wrote short stories but during high school I mostly wrote a lot of poetry. My senior English teach (Mrs Phyllis Lovett) encouraged me and entered me into a National Haiku Poetry Contest. Didn’t win it of course but it was fun.
Morgen: Wow, you remember your teachers’ names. I thought I didn’t but then remembered Mrs Davis (she might have been my English teacher?), Mr Philpott (the dreaded physics teacher) and Sister Etna (who we very irreverently called ‘Mount’). My favourite was Mike O’Toole who used to come in to my dad’s photographic shop. Anyway, I digress. Sorry about that. You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Sherel: I chose this particular genre because I had noticed that there weren’t books for girls of colour, plus most of the stories out there seemed to have the female heroine needing help, direction as if she couldn’t think for herself, make a decision on her own and that she needed to have a man guide her. I wanted girls to know that they are smart, brilliant and beautiful no matter what other people say. They should be proud of themselves for who they ae, love themselves and know they can stand on their own feet without depending on a man and wanted to present it in such a way that it isn’t preaching to them. I fell that sometimes lessons can be taught best when it is seen and observed instead of being made personal.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Morgen: 🙂 What age group do you write for?
Sherel: These stories are for middle grade / tweens. Although, I have heard great feedback from adults as well.
Morgen: I like ‘tweens’. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Sherel: Wow! That is a tough one. I’ve read so many different types of books. Sci-Fi / Fantasy and Romance stories were the ones I gravitated to the most… Andre Norton, Mercedes Lackey, Piers Anthony, Debbie Macomber, Fern Michaels and Danielle Steele, to name just a few. They made their characters and world come to life for me…esp. the sci-fi / fantasy authors. I felt as if I was really there. They have made me want to create that type of feeling in my books.
Morgen: Which author(s) would you compare your writing to?
Sherel: I think it’s a blend of J.K. Rowling / Piers Anthony / Christopher Paolini.
Morgen: A great mix. Do you think its easier writing for children than adults?
Sherel: It’s hard writing for both actually. For children you have to make it reach out grab and draw them in; with adults you have to make it believable, but they also want more and more graphic, gritty scarier stories.
Morgen: Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Sherel: Actually I have gotten response from both age groups but mostly from Adults. I found that if the adults like it and see that it isn’t raunchy or too graphic they are more apt to buy them for their children.
Morgen: Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Sherel: Actually it’s for any genre of writer. You have to feel and believe the characters you create and the world that they live in. If you are able to immerse yourself and lose yourself in your own story, then so will others. Children’s literature is a little harder to get into because they are not the ones truly buying the books, so you have to make your books and writing appeal to the adults in their lives as well.
Morgen: Have you self-published? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
Sherel: Yes, this is a self-published book through Amazon. I had gone the route of finding agents and have had so many rejections that I stared to lose faith in what I wrote. I had shelved it for years before I started searching again, but received more rejections letters. This time around though, I decided to actually try the self-published route and after a lot of research went with Amazon.
Morgen: It is the biggest selling site (I’m on Smashwords too but don’t sell many that way). Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Sherel: The book came out first as an eBook before it was released as a paperback. Amazon made the process real easy to do. There were no additional fees to edit the format or change the cover if I so chose to do even after making it available to the public. I actually read both eBooks and paperback, but being from the old school, I like having a book in hand when I read.
Morgen: Most people still do. I like Mrs Kindle (my Kindle’s text-to-speech function) reading to me. 🙂 Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, whom would you have as the leading actor/s?
Sherel: My favourite character is actually High Priestess Jinjura. I like that despite having been manipulated by her siblings and finding herself on a strange world; she persevered and learned to stand on her own feet. A testament to the strength and resilience of women in general.
I would love the see China McClain play Janai; Skai Jackson play Moonbeam; Janet Jackson play High Priestess Jinjura; Angela Basset play the Goddess Ariana; Nia Long play Queen Imani; Zoe Saldana play Lady Ashwan and Sufe Bradshaw play Serlena. That would be an outstanding cast!
Morgen: Janet Jackson I would like to see. If any of your books were audiobooked, whom would you have as the narrator(s)?
Sherel: I would love for Jada Pinkett-Smth to be the narrator.
Morgen: Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Sherel: I did choose the title and the cover picture for the books. They were important because it can help catch the attention of the audience and make them want them to pick it up.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sherel: I am working on book two now… “Spiders Spiders Does Size Really Matter?” We pick up at towards the end of training camp. We get to meet a new set of girls who will round out Janai’s guards and team.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sherel: I try to write everyday but I do suffer from the dreaded ‘Procrastination Disease’, especially when hit with a stumbling block. I try to written sequential order, but trying something different this time and write down different ideas / scenarios that come along them go.
Morgen: Procrastination Disease, I love it… the phrase, not the disease. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sherel: I usually try to plot it out from beginning to end but sometimes I get so wrapped up in the books that I’ve forgotten what I was meaning to write and have to reel it in to where I was originally supposed to be going.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sherel: Once I’ve created a plot for the book them I create the players. Then once the players are created I write down their features and characteristics; and then we start. The names I pick are from the imagination or a deviation of friends name or names that I have heard that stuck with me because they were so unusual. Once I smooth all that out and I start writing, they start to grow and evolve in my mind and book and take on a life of their own.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sherel: I do a lot of editing. When I put it down and pick it back up to read what is already written new things that I’ve missed pop out and demand to be put in the book.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Sherel: For fantasy writing it is mostly imagination driven, but for some of the characters I do base them in this reality or on people from this reality. I do try to research the different cultures so that I can be as close to them so some of the girls can see themselves a little bit in the book.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Sherel: I usually write in first person but do add a little third person point of view at times to try and give an overview that first person might miss because they are focused on what’s happening to them.
Morgen: You mentioned poetry earlier on doe you write any non-fiction or short stories?
Sherel: I do write poetry and some short stories which is how my writing had started out. I’ve had some friends say I should send some my poetry to card companies because they could be so sappy at times.
Morgen: What do you have to lose? I mention greeting cards during my poetry sessions and suggest http://www.greetingcardassociation.org.uk/info-resource/writers/writing-for-greeting-cards and http://voices.yahoo.com/how-write-greeting-card-verses-cash-35875.html?cat=35. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sherel: mostly my poetry because they are so emotionally personal and private that they probably will never get published.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sherel: I had a lot of rejections and the first time after I had gotten so many I actually put the book away and believe people that I would never be an author. It took me almost 10 years to start again but this time I didn’t give up.
Morgen: Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Sherel: No, I haven’t entered a competition since high school.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sherel: No, I don’t have an agent, but I do believe that to get your book into the right publishing firm and agent would be a tremendous help. A lot of publishing companies don’t want unsolicited manuscripts anymore.
Morgen: Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Morgen: Isn’t Della brilliant? She’s been very supportive of me and my blog. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sherel: my most favourite part is the writing, creating and giving birth so to speak to the stories. My least favourite has been trying to get an agent interested in it. I still get surprised and humbled when people have said they read the book and like it. Writing is such a personal experience that when someone says that they love it or hate it you feel it down in your soul.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sherel: Never give up, never lose faith in yourself. Remember, that your greatest fan is yourself.
Morgen: 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)?
Sherel: That’s a tough one. There are so many people I would love to meet, but it given a choice I would meet: Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. These were all great people of their time and I would love to sit down and follow them and talk with them to see where their mind was at the time when everything was going on around them; to hear what their thought process was on those various life-changing moments. I would love to start dinner off with a nice good salad and then for the main course I would have my famous Baked Ziti with Hot Sausages and garlic bread then for dessert I would make my famous Cherry Cheesecake from scratch.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Sherel: Any day that I spent with my mother. We never fully realize how much we love someone until they are gone and we can no longer say how much we love and miss them and appreciate them.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sherel: I’ve always liked “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” because what you do does comes back to you.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Sherel: I’m actually taking more classes so I can refine my skills and be able to do a lot more of my own drawing or illustrations in my book.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Sherel: When I’m not writing, I’m a family nurse practitioner and have been practicing for the last seventeen years in Delaware. I do try to crochet and cross stitch in my spare time as well for family and friends and as I said I do like to draw here and there.
Morgen: I love cartooning but haven’t done any for years. I keep saying I will… and I must. <added to the list> Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Sherel: Writer’s market has been a tremendous help, as well as writers.net and agentquery.com.
Morgen: We also have the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and the Writer’s Handbook in the UK. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Sherel: I’m on Twitter and Facebook, they are great in this day and age to get people where what you’re doing. A lot of social networking is done on computers or computer based so they are very valuable to your chosen market.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sherel: the writing market is very tough to break into but with hard work and perseverance you can and will succeed. Nowadays though a lot of books that are available are out there for e-book purchase. That is the future writing nowadays.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Sherel: you can go to my website www.sherelott.com. I have an author bio on there, and information about my book, and where you can buy it.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Sherel: Be true to yourself, write as if you’re reading it. If you can believe it then so will others.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Sherel: I’ve always been fascinated by blog sites, how did you start your blog site and gather such a large following?
Morgen: Thank you, Sherel. 🙂 I started it late March 2011 because I had a website but wasn’t doing very much to it (and had 327 views in about as many days) but heard that blogging was the way to go. It’s been a lot of work (and taken a lot of time) and I think it’s the content (quantity and quality) that has lead to the 300,000+ hits, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am without it, and all my guests. I wouldn’t be teaching because I wouldn’t have met my predecessor (via another author) and I’ve met some wonderful people because of the blog, mostly online but some in ‘real’ life, and it’s been such a joy. One, to continue for a long time to come, I hope. Thank you again, Sherel, for joining me today. It’s been such a pleasure and I do wish you well with your book, and your career. Do come back for an author spotlight and / or guest blog whenever you like.
I then invited Sherel to include a synopsis of her latest book…
In “The adventures the Princess Janai and the Warrior Maidens of Quinu: the Cities of Tonga and Tongia”, we meet Janai a twelve-year-old Princess who has responsibilities that she must deal with but she would rather just be a normal everyday person. In order to become the leader of the Warrior Medians at age sixteen, she has to enter the group now and during competition an attempt on her life is made. Instead of her being caught in the trap, two of her guards were caught. Now Janai has twenty-four hours to find an antidote, bring it back and treat the guards before they become permanent living statues. All this must be done within twenty-four hours and the city of Tongia is more than three days away.
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