Join us every Friday as we spotlight various members in the Savvy Authors Community. We'll introduce you to volunteers, members active in the Savvy writing community, recently published authors from Our Authors, editors, and agents.
This week we are shining the spotlight on contemporary, historical, sci-fi and paranormal romance author Shelley Munro. This prolific New Zealand native has over 50 published books in single titles, anthologies and series formats. Today she joins us to talk about how she turned small town news into her successful Middlemarch Mates 12 book series, the finer points of gorilla etiquette, and the stunning beauty of New Zealand.
After reading your bio I have to start by asking you to relate the gorilla story! Where were you visiting and how on earth did you almost become a chair for a gorilla?
LOL - My husband and I love to travel. We spent seven months traveling overland through Africa, starting at Harare in Zimbabwe and ending in London. Originally we were meant to visit the gorillas in Zaire or, as it's now known, Democratic Republic of the Congo, but a civil war started and it was too dangerous for us. We ended up doing a detour, and we went to Rwanda where they also have populations of mountain gorillas.
We trekked for hours up and down hills and through thick vegetation. Seeing the family of gorillas was magical. Even now, years later, I can remember the delight, the excitement of seeing the gorillas in the undergrowth. There were several female gorillas, a couple of babies and a male silverback. At one stage we got a little close for the silverback's comfort.
Instantly, we all sat down as our guide told us in order to look less threatening. The silverback came to a halt almost on top of me and the guy who was sitting beside me. It happened so quickly there wasn't time to feel frightened. Satisfied that we were sufficiently cowed, the silverback went back to feeding and grooming.
And as an aside, when I sat, I managed to sit on top of some ants. They're mean suckers, and when we arrived back at camp, muddy and tired, I had to yank them out of my butt.
Seeing the gorillas remains one of my top life experiences. Just awesome!
It certainly sounds like a once in a lifetime experience, wow!
You write for contemporary, paranormal, historical, sci-fi and gay erotica genres, and now are also working on a YA story. Do you think there will be any conflict crossing into YA?
This year I've been focusing on the contemporary and historical genres and finishing off some of my existing series. I do have a YA in the planning stages, but since most of my writing is sensual to very spicy, I'd definitely write a YA under a pen name. Other than that, I don't think there's any conflict, since lots of adult authors have shifted to the YA genre or vica versa.
What does your daily writing schedule look like, and are you a plotter or a pantser?
I'm a firm believer in making writing a habit. I write most days. There aren't many days where I don't do something writing related. When I'm in the zone and pumping out first drafts I aim for 2000 words a day. That's a nice comfortable pace for me, and I don't run the risk of burning out. I'd say I'm a bit of a hybrid when it comes to the plotter/pantser thing. I do a lot more planning than I used to, but I lean toward the pantser end of the equation.
You live in New Zealand, which has some of the most breath-taking landscape in the world, but is located directly on the Pacific Ring of Fire. The scenery is beautiful but dangerous as shown by the devastating Christchurch earthquake. How close were you to the epicenter and will you include any of experience in a future story?
I live in Auckland, which is in the North Island while Christchurch is in the South Island. The quakes in Christchurch have been devastating and many people are still living in damaged properties. The city landscape is very different from the beautiful, English-like city of my memories.
Apart from six years spent overseas, my husband and I have always lived in New Zealand. Neither of us has ever experienced an earthquake in person. Auckland is actually built on a field of volcanoes, and the iconic cones are visible throughout the city and surrounding towns. The last volcano, Rangitoto, which is an island not far from the business center, erupted around 600 years ago. It's quite possible another volcano will burst out of the ground somewhere in the Auckland region in the future.
Remember that YA story? Earthquakes and volcanoes go hand in hand.
Peter Jackson, also a native New Zealander, chose 150 locations in New Zealand to represent Middle Earth while filming Lord of the Rings. Can you tell us what it was like to experience that and have you gone to visit the Hobbiton set?
Before the Lord of the Rings movies came out many people we met in the course of our travels didn't know much about New Zealand or where it was located. Sir Peter Jackson really did showcase New Zealand with his gorgeous scenery shots.
To be honest, I've only seen the first of the LOTR movies, and I haven't visited any of the sets. Maybe I'll get there one day. Yes, I can hear you all tut-tutting!
Never visited the set? Shocking!
What aspect of writing do you find easiest and what do you find the most difficult (plot, character, dialog, etc)?
Some days writing is easier than others. I wouldn't call any part easy, but I find pounding out the first draft the most enjoyable part of the writing process. I start with a vague idea of plot, but a strong grip on my main characters' conflicts and problems. Things just unfold from there.
The most difficult part is easy. I absolutely, positively dislike writing a synopsis. No matter how many I write, they never seem to get any easier!
In your Middlemarch Mates series you use New Zealand and local lore as an integral part of the story. Let's talk about the inspirations for the series and a bit about the connections between each story.
Middlemarch Mates, my paranormal feline shifter series, was inspired by two things. I was reading the New Zealand Herald one day and came across an article about an alien cat sighted in the Canterbury region, not far from Christchurch. Several people talked about sightings of a mysterious black cat, said to be a black leopard/panther roaming the hills. Fascinating, I thought, and I saved the clipping, filing it in my story idea box.
A few months later, I was watching the news on TV. Toward the end of the news they usually have a few human interest stories and one of them was about the small country town of Middlemarch in the South Island of New Zealand. The town had a problem. They had a surplus of single males and no ladies to help keep them in line. In order to attract single women to the town they decided to hold a ball.
It was a tongue-in-cheek kind of story but something clicked in my mind. What would happen if I combined the elements of this true story with the mysterious black cat? Scarlet Woman, the first story in my Middlemarch Mates series was born-a story about a community of black leopard shifters and the mischievous Mitchell brothers. Saber, the oldest Mitchell brother, is determined to marry off his siblings because they're out of control. He's hoping marriage will calm his brothers, but Saber is the first Mitchell brother caught in the matrimonial trap. He takes one look at Emily Scarlet in her sexy red dress, and he's toast!
Saber has four younger brothers and their stories are told in Peeping Tom, Assassin and Twin Trouble. The other eight stories in the series are about the Mitchell's friends and relations plus a couple of new arrivals in Middlemarch.
That's a great example of taking an ordinary story, mixing in a bit of imagination and coming up with a winning plot for a great series! When you sit down to read for pleasure, what do you reach for and who is your favorite author?
It's probably easier to tell you my favorite genres, which are currently contemporary and historical. I'm reading a lot of both genres this year. Oh, and the young adult genre. I used to read a lot of paranormal, but I'm a bit burnt out on this genre. Any paranormal I'm reading comes from the YA category.
I think all writers should read as much and as often as they can, and I follow my own advice. I read hundreds of books each year and have numerous favorite authors. I'm always looking for new authors to read as well.
You are using Pinterest to showcase your Middlemarch Mates series. Do you feel that it adds to the reader experience or does it also push the books to a wider audience? Would you recommend it to other authors?
I joined Pinterest this year and thought it would be fun to do boards for my books as an extra for readers who visit my website. Many people enjoy the visual aspect of Pinterest and it's a fun way of showing elements of my stories. So far I've done boards for my Middlemarch series and also for my contemporary mystery Cat Burglar in Training. I'll probably do boards for some as my other books as time allows since it's a relaxing and fun way of promo.
Would I recommend it? If you're a member of Pinterest and have time-sure. Displaying visual elements of your story can't hurt.
Finally, what key bit of advice would you give aspiring authors?
Read as many books as you can and treat them as a source of learning. Study the plot, the characters, the dialogue and setting and how the author combines the elements. Even if you come across a book that doesn't work for you as a reader, the writer in you will learn something from it.
Write. Just sit down and do it. Reading craft books and attending conferences and workshops helps, but sitting down and actually writing is the best way to learn.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today! You can learn more about Shelley by going to herwebsite to sign up for her newsletter, and follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
For more information on our Spotlights, feel free to leave a comment or private message me from my profile page.
Typical New Zealanders, Shelley and her husband left home for their big OE (overseas experience) and a year long adventure lengthened to six years of roaming the world. Enduring memories include being almost sat on by a mountain gorilla in Rwanda, lazing on white sandy beaches in India, whale watching in Alaska, searching for leprechauns in Ireland, and dealing with ghosts in an English pub. While travel is still a big attraction these days Shelley is most likely found in front of her computer following another love, that of writing stories of romance and adventure. Other interests include watching rugby and rugby league (strictly for research purposes!) and curling up with a good book.
Scarlet Woman: Emily Scarletís husband left her for his secretary and died in a car accident-all on the same day. Now, six months later, Emily has emerged from her chrysalis of painful memories, and to prove she has what it takes to attract a man, sheís determine to experience one perfect night of passion.
Feline shape shifter, Saber Mitchell has a problem with his four boisterous younger brotherís. theyíre out of control. Itís too late for him, but he hopes to get his brothers mated and settled, and the ball is the place to introduce them to marriageable women. Unbridled sex is the last thing he plans on, but one glimpse of Emily Scarlet changes his mind. Sex with her is a necessity. They dance. They make love. One thing is clear-a single night isnít enough. Saber must have her for his mate, but Emily isnít so easy to convince...or trust.[/I]
Ria Boulay, Spotlight On Editor, writes paranormal romance and young adult. A former paralegal now working as a judicial secretary, she previously spent six years as the general manager and editorial writer for a large, metaphysical website. With her husband and two utterly impertinent Italian Greyhounds, she divides her time between New Hampshire and Cape Cod. When not writing, she spends her spare time rescuing homeless gargoyles and relaxes by riding her Harley.