Sounds Like Crazy: Interview with Women's Fiction Author Shana Mahaffey

Shana Mahaffey lives in San Francisco in an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends and five cats. She’s a survivor of Catechism and cat scratch fever, and is a member of the Sanchez Grotto Annex, a writers’ community. Her work has been published in SoMa Literary Review and Sunset Magazine. She welcomes all visitors to her website, and is happy to meet with book groups in-person or in cyberspace (phone/webcam/the works).

Her latest book is Sounds Like Crazy.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Shana. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Sounds Like Crazy?

I have been writing since my single digits. In grammar school and high school, I wrote, sent my writings to my grandfather (Poppa, the English teacher amongst other things), and he returned them corrected with red pen. Undeterred, I continued on, eventually sending perfect letters (either that or he got tired of correcting me!). In college, I discovered the Beat generation writers and decided I wanted to be them. I wore a beret, black clothes, smoked cigarettes, waxed poetic about this that and the other thing and wrote a lot of poetry, short stories, and a few controversial editorials for the UC Santa Barbara paper. Some of my poems were published and a few won minor poetry awards. I spent the next number of years talking, sans beret and other vestiges of my Beat years except cigarettes and black turtlenecks, about how I wanted to be a writer but doing anything and everything but. The book that eventually became Sounds Like Crazy, however, percolated slowly in my mind and occasionally on the page. Throughout all of this, Poppa (also a coach) continued to encourage me. Finally, about five years ago and many writing groups and lots of talk and no action later, Poppa switched tactics and decided direct pressure instead of coddling. This approach and a deathbed promise to become a published author (his death and my promise), is what gave me the perseverance to wrestle Sound Like Crazy out of my brain and onto the page.

Q: I love your title! Can you tell us why you chose it?

The original title of the novel was Voices. My editor at New American Library (NAL/Penguin) said this name was too nebulous and didn’t convey the nuances of the book. She presented dozens of alternatives to me and vice versa. But, I had become too used to Voices, and subsequently, nothing appealed. The day we had to choose, she prefaced the proposed title, Sounds Like Crazy, with an “I hope you like this because we have to make a choice. And this is the choice.” Then she told me the name, Sounds Like Crazy. I acquiesced because it was better than all the other choices, but I wasn’t crazy about Sounds Like Crazy. I couldn’t let go of Voices, because it was the title that endured all the heartache, neck pain, coffee jitters, negative feedback, rejections, stiff fingers, dark circles, etc. to get to a sale with NAL/Penguin. Changing the title to anything else felt like abandoning an old friend. It took a while, but I love the title now. I can’t imagine the book called anything else. And, I learned my lesson—I’m using a working title for the novel I am currently working on. I have zero attachment to is, which is why I expect to hear, “I LOVE this title,” when the book goes to the publisher because life just works that way.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

This is a tough question to answer. I wanted, desperately wanted my book to be published. When my agent signed me, she said, “Before we go out on submission, we need to do edits. We’ll either we’d reach a point where I want more than you can do, the book will be ready to go.” My response was, “I will keep working on this book until it is ready, even if I have to edit it a hundred more times.” Thankfully, it did take a hundred edits, but I wasn’t going to quit. I never “believed” the book should be published, but I also was not willing to quit until it was.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

My publisher sent Sounds Like Crazy out to a long list of reviewers and looked for other publicity opportunities. However, since I am a new and unknown author, they had a hard time getting anyone to take me on. The NAL/Penguin publicist was able to get me an interview on Bay Sunday, a local Bay Area talk show. But, the rest of the publicity I managed on my own. This is the beauty of the Internet, blogs, virtual book tours, and other forms of media—all of these outlets allow authors to take control of their book promotion.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

Sounds Like Crazy has been compared to Sybil. Both main characters suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), although when Sybil was published it was known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). What makes Sounds Like Crazy different is Holly, the main character, has the co-conscious form of DID. She and her personalities interact. She doesn’t lose time or awareness when she’s not in control. Also, Holly is for the most part a functioning member of society. What makes the book so special is the endorsement it has gotten from the Executive Director of An Infinite Mind—a resource center for people suffering from DID. She said Sounds Like Crazy is one of the most accurate portrayals of what it is like to suffer from DID.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?
Holly, the main character of Sounds Like Crazy is at the Shrine Auditorium attending the Emmy Awards ceremony. She’s just heard her name announced and is now trying to negotiate the crowd standing between her and the stage. Holly is awkward under normal circumstances, but the pressure is high in this situation. Her boss demanded she attend, Betty Jane, her most dominant personality threatened mayhem if she didn’t and now Holly finds herself in the worst position imaginable—trying to gracefully make her way through a large crowd of onlookers to a stage where she is then going to be the center of attention. In Holly’s experience these situations always spell disaster. If you keep reading from here, you’ll discover if she got what she expected or not.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes, I want to write as many books as I have in me. I am currently working on a book about a woman who has to correct a mistake she doesn’t know she made and guiding her through the process is her best friend’s dead brother. This is another story about a woman, a family, circumstances, choices, and overcoming great obstacles to get to the truth. The working title is Ruckus and this book links to Sounds Like Crazy through characters that cross from the one to the other.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Shana. Do you have any final words?

Thank you and thank you everyone who is reading, and hopefully thoroughly enjoying, Sounds Like Crazy. And yes, more books are coming!

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