Part two…My interview with author, Sheila Connolly

Sheila's desk with cat
Sheila’s desk with cat

Q. What makes a writer great?

A. Someone who makes you forget you’re reading a book, whose writing makes you care about the characters and what happens to them, sometimes so much so that you ignore plot holes and stay up half the night to finish it and then feel sad because there’s not any more book left.

Q. and the all important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like?

A. For me, writing a book (and I’m referring to series now, so I already have a cast of characters and a place) starts with an “aha” idea. I see or hear or read something, somewhere, and it just clicks. It can be as little as a single word, but it’s the core idea that drives all the rest. That doesn’t mean I jump on it immediately and start writing. Usually I’ve got a couple of books at different stages (draft, revisions, one-bad-apple-200hedits, proofing), so I’m busy.

But then there’s the moment when the characters for the new book start speaking their lines, and you know the book is coming alive. Sometimes that comes at an inconvenient moment (like when I have a deadline for something else), but I’m a strong believer in the subconscious, which is busy churning away even when I don’t know it.

Of course, it’s still a long slog to get all the words on paper. I may have a fuzzy idea of the story arc, but like many people, I often have a panic moment in the middle when I think that I don’t have enough story to fill up all those empty pages before the end. So far I’ve muddled through.

Then I ship it off to my editor and forget all about it until he or she tells me that I have to change any number of things and I can’t remember why I said them in the first place. Editing is not my favorite part of the process, even though I know it’s necessary.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing/stories?

A. I’ve had a career no one would describe as linear. I have an undergrad degree plus a Ph.D in Art History, and an MBA in Finance, and you’ll notice I’m not working in either field. But almost everything I’ve done, from providing advisory services to a major city, to working as a fundraiser for a library/museum, to being a free-lance genealogist, has found its way into one book or another. I think it makes a difference to a reader’s experience with a book if you can insert authentic details. Anybody can do research, but it’s the little things that make a story feel real.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

Sheila Connolly
Sheila Connolly

A. Sometimes I borrow from real people (some but not all of whom know it). For example, the main characters in the Orchard series are based on a woman I worked with for several years, and who is still a friend, and the guy we bought a house from in Pennsylvania, who continued to be a neighbor for years. That may sound a little odd, but the first possesses a wonderful sense of calmness even in the fact of difficulties, and the second was one of the nicest guys I’ve met—he’d do anything for you, and he was sincere about it. In the Museum Mysteries I had to use another amazing woman I worked with, because her history and her knowledge of Philadelphia are essential. She’s in on the secret now and is one of my biggest promoters. On the other, the hunky FBI agent in the Museum Mysteries is my own invention—and my ideal man (as I may have mentioned to my husband a time or two). Sometimes for the protagonist I use myself—a smarter, younger, better version of me.

Q. What inspired your story/stories ?

A. Places, mainly. The Orchard Mysteries are set in a house that one of my ancestors built, in a small New England town where I have multiple generations of those ancestors—I stumbled on it when I was looking for a bed and breakfast in the area. I worked in Center City Philadelphia in a major institution, and I thought people would enjoy seeing what goes on behind the scenes (the Museum series) while my sleuth goes about solving murders. I also wanted to try setting a traditional mystery in an urban setting. And for

Pub in the village
Pub in the village

Ireland…it’s a challenge to portray it without making it too cute, but there is a strong sense of community and connection there that works very well in solving mysteries.

Q. Have you? Or do you want to write in another genre`?

A. I started out trying to write romance, because I knew it was the largest market, but I wasn’t very good at it. A few years ago I tried my hand at a rather tongue-in-cheek romantic suspense, Once She Knew, that I self-published. That was fun to write, with a lot of snarky dialogue and a plot that involved saving the First Lady’s life. Then in 2013 I pulled a book off from one of those dusty shelves that most writers have—something I’d written years ago, a romance with ghosts, set in an area I know well and featuring a heck of a lot of my dead relatives. I self-published it as Relatively Dead. It sold well, so my agent said, why not do another? Which became Seeing the Dead, last year. Now I’m working on a third one in that series, which looks at the Salem witch trials from a different perspective (and yes, I have a number of ancestors who were accused of witchcraft in Salem).

Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

A. I love what I do. It’s like I’ve been preparing for this all my life, but it took a long time before I thought I had something to say. I can’t believe I get to do this for a living, because it sure doesn’t seem like work.

Click here to read Part I of this interview

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