Monday, June 18, 2007

A Piece of Normal for Summer Reading

Today, I interviewed Sandi Shelton, author of "A Piece of Normal." She talks about making the successful transition from non-fiction freelancer to fiction author and reveals it is just as exciting when your book gets re-released in paperback.

Tell us about yourself.
Well, I’ve always wanted to be a writer from the time I was a little kid and everybody else in the neighborhood was out swinging by their knees on the swing set and throwing baseballs through windows. I was the kid sitting on the side, writing a novel on one of my father’s legal pads. The grownups were always saying, “For heaven’s sakes, go outside and play!”

When I grew up and it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to be able to make a living writing fiction, (this was a big shock, let me tell you), I went into journalism…except that I was missing one major ingredient: what used to be called “a nose for news.” I simply don’t get all squirmy and excited when the fire commission is going to meet. So I started writing a column at the paper—a humor column about being a single mom with two kids—and that led me to writing a column for Working Mother magazine, and then to free-lance magazine writing, and then to three nonfiction books about parenting…and…and…meanwhile, I was still working on a novel which I kept in a drawer and only brought out when everything else was all done. Seventeen years later, that novel got published.

Today, I’m still a feature reporter for the New Haven Register. My first novel, “What Comes After Crazy,” was published in 2005, and my second one, “A Piece of Normal,” came out the next year. These days I’m finishing up my third.

Tell us about your book, "A Piece of Normal."
"A Piece of Normal," is the story of two sisters who could not be more opposite. (Isn't that often the case?) Lily is settled and cozy in her life, could never admit she has any problems--in fact, she's an advice columnist, telling other people how to live their lives. But there's a heartache she's pushing away: her parents died 12 years ago in a car crash and she came home from college to finish raising her younger sister, Dana, who was 16 at the time--and she felt she did such a bad job of handling her little sister's grief that she really blew it. Dana ran away and has been gone for 10 years, off to join a punk rock band and to live the kind of spontaneous, crazy, dangerous life that Lily could never imagine. Now the two of them are reunited in a tense, wary relationship--and each realizes she has something the other wants. Through the discovery of some long-buried family secrets, they come to a halting understanding of each other, only to have to then face the most devastating betrayal they can imagine. I won't say more; I always tend to give the whole plot away! LOL

Your publisher released the book first in hardback and then in paperback in March. That's a feat in itself as many publishers are going straight to paperback these days. Is the second release just as exciting as the first?
Wow! There’s nothing like that sensation of holding the first copy of your book, hot off the press—and I think it’s true for the paperback version, too. The paperback kind of brings your book back to a new life! (And in my case, the paperback of “What Comes After Crazy” had a whole new cover design, so it was like getting a brand new book.

Before having your fiction published, you wrote books on parenting. Talk about the process of transitioning from non-fiction to fiction.
My books on parenting are all humor books, anecdotes about how to muddle through as a parent, so it’s not like I went from real informational tomes to fiction or anything. They tend to be stories about what happens when your kid gets gum and peanut butter in his hair at the same time, and your other kid needs to carve a Sphinx out of a bar of Ivory soap, and why nobody ever gets any sleep, ever.

You write magazine articles as well. How do you juggle the life of a freelance article writer to author?
I actually have been so busy writing novels in recent years that I haven’t had time for much magazine writing, although I used to enjoy doing it a lot. It gets hectic being on too many deadlines at once—and the one thing they managed to instill in me in journalism school was that DEADLINES MUST BE MET. Seriously. That’s all I remember.

What made you start writing fiction?
I am just always wanting things to be a little more colorful than they tend to be in real life. I think, honestly, that life could be so much more…fun…if it was fiction, say, half the time. And I just adore the process of getting to know a new character—the way a personality will show up in your head one morning and start talking to you. Anne Tyler once said that she became a fiction writer because she wanted more than one life—and I think that’s true for me, too. I just want to experience life in another person’s head, and when you’re writing a novel, there’s a little place you can always go and live there for a while. It’s like a little vacation.

Both of your novels have had to do with dysfunctional families. They say many fiction writers use a bit of their own experiences in their work. So, dish, is this art imitating life?
I’m from the South, and in my family, telling stories was almost the main thing we did. I remember sitting out on the porch at the old lake house and just listening to my aunts and uncles and grandparents making each other laugh so hard we all practically needed oxygen. If you couldn’t tell a story—well, then, you got put in charge of making drinks and had to go sit on the sidelines where people felt sorry for you. So I learned early on that to tell a story and make people laugh was pretty important. Yet at the same time, I knew that my family was damaged and broken in the ways that so many families are: there were untimely deaths, alcoholism, divorces, betrayals—and so what I also learned out there on that porch was that stories and laughter can transcend those ordinary dangers of being human and help us survive.

What is your perfect writing spot?
LOL—My husband calls me an itinerant fiction writer, because I’m always moving from place to place. Lately I write on my screened porch in my backyard, and I watch the cardinals making a nest, and smell the wild roses and listen to the peepers and crickets. It’s heaven. But I also do have a serious desk downstairs that I go to when I really can’t take in any other sensory stimulation because I have to really “hear” the book. I’m also known for going to Starbucks and other coffee shops when I need the discipline of needing to stay in my seat, and when home becomes the place I procrastinate. Today? It’s the porch. Definitely!

What's next for you?
Well, I’m on the third draft of my latest novel, which is a love story I’m calling “Kissing Games of the World.” And a new novel is starting to just poke through the surface of my thoughts…I’m looking forward to meeting those new characters.

Please list your websites/blogs and any where else your book can be found.
I have a website at and a blog at And my books can be found at all the usual places—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, and in bookstores.


Post a Comment

<< Home