- Where do you get your ideas?
- They hunt me down at night and ambush me.
Seriously, I don't 'get' ideas, I build them out of bits and scraps of information, and by altering or adding to ideas I find in literature, and the world around me. My brain is continually busy absorbing information, fitting it into systems and patterns, and then pulling parts of those systems out and substituting something else and trying to see how the pattern changes. I have a lot of trouble with insomnia, because I have difficulty stopping this process long enough to go to sleep. During the six years I spent in Jr. High and High School I either started writing or made notes for over a hundred stories. Now I try to focus more on finishing the stories I've started, and attempt to suppress story ideas not related to current projects, or at the very least, to shunt them off into shorter forms (like song lyrics) whenever possible.
- You haven't got much stuff published yet, have you?
- Nope. It only takes one 'pro' sale to be eligible for an Associate membership in SFWA (Science echo Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) though, and three would make me eligible for an Active membership, except that my other two sales aren't science fiction or fantasy.
- How much stuff have you tried to sell that didn't?
- I have a collection of 50 or so rejection slips. That's not very many considering how long I've been submitting. This is partly because I don't like submitting and tend to procrastinate over it, partly because after my first couple sales I started concentrating on novels which take a long time to write, and which editors tend to be slower to respond to, and well, life has gotten in the way a few times. It happens.
- How come you don't post more of your stories to the web?
- Posting stories to the web uses up the 'first publishing rights', and makes the story less salable. Since I am planning to get as much of this stuff published as I can, I won't post most of it to the web. I do have a couple stories one, one of which was written to be posted online in a forum 'challenge' (which it won). I've also got samples from some of my longer works.
- But you put all your world ideas on the web, aren't you afraid people will steal those?
- Ideas are not considered anyone's property, so it isn't possible to steal them. All people may feel free to use them, it doesn't worry me: when two different writers use the same starting idea they tend to come up with very different books.
- Why do you put all that boring background stuff about your worlds online anyway?
- I like to think that not everyone finds them boring, or at least, that once people have a chance to read some of my stories, that they will no longer find them boring. Not that it really matters -- I have discovered that I like having my notes in the form of webpages. And if I'm going to make them into webpages anyway, why not post them on the world wide web? I don't mind people reading them, and if they are up online I automatically have a backup copy, and I can get at them when I'm away from home.
- Do you let anyone read your stories while you are writing them?
- Not generally, but after writing a rough draft and doing a first revision, I distribute my stories to various volunteers to get some reader feedback, which helps me figure out what needs to be revised and improved upon.
- How long does it take you to write a book?
- Well, I'm averaging one every 2 to 3 years, but those figures include some periods of time when I did not write anything at all. When life doesn't get in the way it takes me just less than a year to complete a book.
- How fast do you write?
- When I have been writing consistently I produce from 3000 - 5000 words a week. That doesn't mean polished words, though, I do have to do revisions afterwards.
- Clearly you do a lot of stuff in addition to writing. Do you think your writing suffers because you don't focus on it exclusively?
- In some ways it suffers, and in other ways it is strengthened. I do have less time to spend writing, obviously, and so probably get less writing done. On the other hand, you need to have something to write about. At any rate the point is moot, because asking me to give up most of those other activities for the sake of my writing, would be like asking me to give up my left arm for the sake of my right leg. Music and art are things that are just as much a part of me as writing is.
- With six kids, how can you find any time to write at all?
- I just sit down and write. I tend to be very tolerant of interruptions... with six kids you kind of have to be. You can find time if you try hard enough.
- Why do you use a pen name?
- Because I find that both my married name and my maiden name are hard to spell: my maiden name because it is unusual, and my married name because it looks easier than it is. 'Shelby' is a play on words using my real first name of (Mi)chelle and my last initial, B. The 'L.' comes from a handle I have used online since 1992, and am therefore very comfortable with. 'L. Shelby' also has the advantage of being shorter than my real name.
- What on earth is a hexblurb?
- A story description that is exactly six words long, no more, no less.
- I want to be a writer too, where do I go to learn more?
- The best way to learn to write, is to write. I have been writing stories since I was 13, (and I still have all my juvenalia, a whole shelf worth of notebooks and binders full of handwritten pages.)
For writing advice, and to learn about the business end of writing, I recommend either visiting your local library or doing a websearch. There is a wealth of material out there; find it and read it.
Most writers (not all!) benefit from some feedback on their work, and so unless you are the sort of person who curls up into a ball and goes into a coma when you get criticized I recommend trying out a few different critique groups until you find one that works well for you. Also, I am an active participant in the rec.arts.sf.composition usenet newsgroup, an online forum for science fiction and fantasy writers to talk shop. There are many such groups available online, or in larger population centers you can usually find in person groups.
For more good advice and some links try the rec.arts.sf.composition FAQ
L. Shelby's Frequently Answered Questions
Hexblurb for Pavane in Pearl and Emerald
Hexblurb for Harp & Gyre
Hero, diplomat, or prankster?
Hero, diplomat, or prankster?