SPECIAL GUEST: Sandi Kahn Shelton, author of A PIECE OF NORMAL

We are proud to host Sandi Kahn Shelton, author of A Piece of Normal, on her first stop of her virtual book tour! Sandi's a remarkable woman, a dear friend of mine, and an excellent writer. I've got both her books, A Piece of Normal and What Comes After Crazy, and I have laughed all the way through them. If you like chick/hen lit/women's fiction, you can't help but to love both these books!

Sandi not only is the author of both A Piece of Normal and What Comes After Crazy, but she also has three non-fiction humorous books about parenting called You Might As Well Laugh...Because Crying Will Only Smear Your Mascara, Sleeping Through the Night...and Other Lies, and Preschool Confidential. She wrote an award-winning humor column for Working Mother magazine for ten years, and her work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Salon and Reader's Digest. She is currently a feature reporter for the New Haven Register and has taught writing at various colleges and workshops throughout Connecticut. She is currently at work on a third novel, and writes a blog at www.sandishelton.com/blog. Her books can be purchased through her web site or on amazon.com.

TWL: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Sandi! When did your passion for writing begin?

Sandi: I was lucky in that I discovered very early on that I wanted to be a writer. I sold my first story to a neighbor for twenty cents when I was six years old and my mother wouldn't give me money for the ice cream man--and from that moment on, I was hooked. Life was always going to be banana popsicles for me, the way I saw it. Seriously, I always loved making up stories and figuring out ways to make life more interesting than it really was in my small town upbringing. The summer I was 11, I decided to write a novel in long-hand, and I got to page 200 before I realized I had completely lost track of the plot! (My main character was the middle child in a family of 7 children. I couldn't even remember their names half the time! LOL) Writing has always been the thing that comforts me, that soothes me, even as it frustrates me and drives me crazy at the same time. Sort of like life!

TWL: Can you tell us what your typical 'writing' day is like?

Sandi: Lately a typical writing day has been me working on my third novel, which is due in a matter of weeks. I get up in the morning, make a cup of tea and stumble over to the computer to stare at yesterday's pages. This is a dangerous time, because it is SO easy to cruise the internet, spend the whole day answering emails, reading blogs, googling people I went to kindergarten with--ANYTHING but starting to write in earnest. I don't know why this is! All I know is that once I have "tricked" myself into beginning on the novel, I almost can't stop for the rest of the day. Five hours can feel like five minutes. These days I'm finding a lot of success going somewhere else other than my house to write--the library or a Starbucks. I've even plugged my laptop in at our local diner, just to escape the internet (or as someone called it, the "world wide waste of time"). I also have a tendency to decide the bathtub needs scrubbing, or that I can just throw in one load of laundry...and so it's best if I write in a place where there are no bathtubs or laundry. So I do ten pages on the novel each day--and then I come home, cook dinner, hang out with my husband, talk to friends on the phone, and then wander back to my novel sometime in the evening, and usually get passionate about writing it again--oh, say about 11:00 at night. It's usually hard for me to tear myself away until 1 or so, and even then I'm often awakened in the middle of the night from a sound sleep, knowing exactly what I should do to make the next scene real. Lately I feel as though I'm mainly living in my novel; I occasionally dip into the real world, just to say hello. Do you write full time? As full-time as I can. My paying job is being a feature reporter for a newspaper...which, if you have to have a job to support a writing habit, that's a pretty good one to have. The hours are flexible, and you get to interview people and meet interesting characters that can often show up in novels. So it seems I'm always writing either a feature story or my novel, or sometimes magazine pieces. And my blog! Between all these things, I'm pretty much connected to my laptop full-time.

TWL: Can you tell us a little bit about your book?

Sandi: A Piece of Normal, which is my latest novel (just out in paperback this month) 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

TWL: Who published your book and how has your experience with them been?

Sandi: My two novels have both been published by Shaye Areheart Books, which is a division of Crown, which is a division of Random House. They are wonderful! Really, I cannot say enough about them. Shaye Areheart is an editor at Crown who was given her own imprint for specialized women's fiction. My editor there is Sally Kim, who is insightful beyond belief. I hand her a manuscript, and she reads it and then calls me and tells me what it is about. (Because try as you might, you don't really, really know the deep reasons you're writing a book. It takes someone with a keen analytical sense to help you sort through the material later and give it back to you.) They are also publishing my third and fourth novels; the one I'm writing now is due out next summer.

TWL: Can you tell us the inspiration behind your book?

Sandi: I am always fascinated by the way families interact and by how much we have to forgive each other. My first novel, What Comes After Crazy, is about a mother-daughter relationship in which the mom is a powerful figure, an itinerant fortune teller who has raised a daughter who grows up with almost no skills in figuring out her own life. When the daughter's marriage breaks up, she has to once and for all deal with her mother's past and decide which risks are worth taking so that she can find love again. It's odd: I saw it as a very sad story that ultimately led to understanding, but critics kept saying it was hilarious...so I think my books tend to be a combination of funny and poignant...which is, I now realize, how I see life. A lot of laughing and crying, most of it happening at the same time. In A Piece of Normal, I really wanted to write about the complicated relationship between sisters, both the sibling rivalry part ("Mom always liked you best, but I was the good one!") and the envy they have of each other's particular gifts in life. Again, although it's a funny novel, what I think I'm always writing about is how we have to take our families as we find them, and then learn to love them anyway.

TWL: Can you tell us ways you are promoting your book? Have they been successful?

Sandi: Well, here's the thing: for both books, I have gone to readings and book-signings, and they have been successful when I'm in my own local area, where newspapers will tend to give publicity. Until you're really a best-selling author, most papers won't write about your books. And then the problem becomes: how do you become a best-selling author if no one knows about your books? It's a conundrum that keeps me up nights! I was lucky enough with the first book that People magazine gave it a rave review--but although I was told they had scheduled another rave for the second book, it somehow never appeared. Yikes! Just a piece of bad luck...but it was then that I discovered what lots of people had known for ages: that I needed a web presence and a blog, so I could connect more directly with readers. That has helped a lot. I now talk to book groups who have found me online; I can find readers who want to read about the kinds of subjects I write about. I will be on a "blog book tour" in May, arranged by Dorothy Thompson, who knows more about blogs than I will ever know!

TWL: Do you have a mentor?

Sandi: Hmmm...I would have to say that I have different mentors for different things. Does that make sense? I have several very dear friends who are so helpful in helping me shape the stories I write about. One of them in particular will just get in the car with me, and we go for long car rides while I talk out loud the plot of my book. She asks gentle, prodding questions that somehow illuminate everything I need to remember as I'm writing. Another mentor of mine helps keep me sane while I'm writing, by reminding me that other things matter, too. Like eating good food and getting exercise every now and then. And laughing! And I have another friend who is a life coach, who just keeps me reminded that so much about life is faith and belief and attracting what you need to go forward.

TWL: What future projects do you have in the works?

Sandi: Well, I'm almost finished with Novel #3, which I am calling Kissing Games of the World. We'll see if that title sticks. It's a love story between two unlikely people, told in alternate chapters from each one's point of view. I've never written a story that's just about the process of falling in love--all those stages of fear and doubt and what-if, and maybe-I-should-get-out-while-I-can. LOL. It's been fun and exhilarating for me to live in their heads for the past year.

TWL: Can you give aspiring authors words of advice towards getting published?

Sandi: Write the best book you know how, and don't be afraid of revising it! (I truly do love revision, but I may be in the minority here. I could just tinker on a book from now until the rest of time.) And when you get it the way you think it should be told, don't give up on it. My first novel took an embarrassingly long time to write: SEVENTEEN YEARS had passed from the day I first sat down on vacation in Vermont with my typewriter and wrote the first sentence, until the day when the agent called and said, "They're buying the book!" Now it's true that I wasn't writing on that book for the whole 17 years; it spent a fair amount of time in a manila folder in a drawer, waiting for me to finish my column, write the next magazine article, do the next carpool run, even get married again and have a new baby. But in all, I did about five different complete drafts. Characters came and went; the love interest guy didn't even show up in the book until the THIRD version. I can't tell you how many times I said, "Well, that's it. I'm never going to write this book again. I'm throwing it away..." only to hear those characters continuing to talk to me in the shower or when I was falling asleep at night. And so I'd sigh and re-read it and think, "Hmm, with just a little revision right here, and with something exciting over here, this could be a book!I love these characters!" And so I'd work on it again. I knew there was a story there; it just took me forever to learn how to tell it. My advice is: if you have a book in a drawer that won't let go of you, take it out every now and then and see what was so compelling about it in the first place. Keep at it. Don't give up. And don't listen to people who tell you the market is too saturated, it can't happen, blah blah blah. I'm living proof that it can!

TWL: What’s one thing about your life that you think is important, but nobody asks?

Sandi: Oooh, excellent question! I had to think about this one a long time, because authors get asked a million questions about every aspect of their books and about the writing process. I think the question I'd like to be asked by those around me is, "Are you having fun doing this?" And I would jump up and pump my fists in the air and say, "YES!!" You see, a lot of the time, I think we writers look like we're mostly in pain. We're walking around, living in another whole world, and our brows are furrowed, we're listening to our characters work out their difficulties and invent new difficulties for themselves, we're trying to figure out how to make that scene SING. And--okay, we look a little tense. We may even BE a little tense. But it is just the most fun thing in the world, creating these little worlds and then moving everything around in them, trying to make it all make sense. When I'm writing and creating this way, I may look like I'm in misery--my family is always urging me to take some time off, or to do "something fun" for a while--and it's hard to explain that for me, this IS fun!

TWL: Thank you for coming, Sandi, and have fun on the rest of your book tour!

Be sure to stop off at Trashionista tomorrow as Sandi continues her A PIECE OF NORMAL VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '07. Click here if you would like to see Sandi's official tour page.

You can purchase A PIECE OF NORMAL at Amazon by clicking here.

Sandi's tour is brought to you by the Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours.

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