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

To receive my posts sign up for my blog, blogs, blogger, writer, author, playwright, books, plays,fiction  On the home page, enter your email address.  I love comments!  Take the time to write one at the bottom of the post.   Thanks!


Interview with best selling author**Sheila Connolly


Sheila Connolly
Sheila Connolly

This prolific writer has three series of mysteries and I love them all.  But, my favorite is the Cork County (Ireland) mysteries.  Her Orchard ‘who done it’ series is also a fav.  So I am always happy to snag an author that I buy and read and enjoy!  This is an exceptional interview, funny and fascinating so read on; you won’t be disappointed!  Ireland, a great mystery

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?  Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

A. I moved into a Victorian house over ten years ago, when my husband and I fell in love with it. When I first toured it (what I could see of it—the people we bought it from were serious antiques hoarders!), I saw an open landing at the top of the stairs, with a window overlooking the street, and I said, “that’s where I’ll write.”     I can watch for delivery men at the front door, and I can hear anything that happens in the house (usually involving the cats).

I write at a vintage knee-hole desk that my mother bought for my father, which works surprisingly well with a laptop. There’s a very messy 3’x5’ cork-board that hangs in front of it, where I collect inspirational pictures and things I can’t lose, like appointment reminders. And there’s a calendar at eye level—it’s too easy to forget what day it is!

My dream space? An entire room devoted to books—mine are already stacked three deep on my wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Q. Do you have any special rituals when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

A. (Wait until I stop laughing at the “neat” part.) Coffee, definitely. I do almost everything on the laptop, but I do like to write notes to myself and plot on regular lined paper, in pencil. I collect pencils from everywhere I travel—they’re easy to fit in a suitcase. Now I have pencils to go with each series, as well as those that I’m fond of because they bring back memories. The problem is, I hate to use them up!

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

A. I worked in a department store in London the summer after college, and sold Ingrid Bergman a very ugly silk shirt.

Q. Do you have a set time each day to write or do you write only when you are feeling creative?

A. I’m at my computer every morning, including weekends. My brain works best in the morning, so that’s when I get the most creative stuff done. The rest of the day…there are always emails, and Facebook, and I write for three blogs, and, oh, now and then I let myself actually read a book for pleasure. And then there’s all the research.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

A. If you find you’re putting off applying your butt to the chair, it usually means something’s not right with your story—plot, characters, setting, point of view, almost anything. Forcing it won’t help because you’ll just get frustrated and bored. Either set it aside and do something else that’s completely unrelated (no, you don’t have to clean the bathroom), or let your mind drift until you figure out what the problem is. Writing should be a happy process for you, not a painful one.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing and for how long?

A. For reasons I don’t begin to understand, I usually write a chapter a day, and each chapter averages

Sheila's desk with catabout 2,500 words. It’s not as though I set a goal, or say, I must get this many words done—that’s just where they all seem to come out. But having said that, if the muse is yelling in my ear, I just keep going. It’s kind of unpredictable. (But I do thrive on deadlines.)

Q. Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment ?

A. Ireland. While my father’s parents both came from Ireland, I never had a chance to know them. I didn’t even visit the country until 1998. But when I did, it just felt right. After my third trip, I came home and wrote a short sweet romance with an American protagonist and a nice Irish bar owner, but it never sold. I couldn’t let it go, though, so I salvaged the setting and swapped some characters, and threw in a couple of murders, and the County Cork Mysteries were born. It’s still the quiet place I go to in my head when things get crazy in the real world. And I visit whenever I can.

Book 1 of County Cork
Book 1 of County Cork

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

A. I started dabbling when I was between jobs around 2001 (it may sound trite, but 9/11 pushed me into it—if there was something I really wanted to do, what was I waiting for?). Then I stopped for a while when I got what I thought was the ideal job in Boston—which lasted all of six months. But by then I had a great house-sit in a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood out in the suburbs, so I said, what the heck—let’s get serious about this writing thing. I turned out a not so great book, which landed me an equally not so great agent, but at least I was on my way. And I had so much fun with the first one that I couldn’t stop. I think I wrote or began five books in six months while I was there—and some of them ultimately did get published.

Q. How long after that were you published?

A. After dumping that first agent, I started over and landed a much, much better one in 2006, with a three-book for-hire series with Berkley Prime Crime. But I sold them a second series under my own name, the Orchard Mysteries, before the first book in that first series was released.

Q. What makes a writer great?

Don’t miss Part 2 tomorrow, Saturday!

I just reviewed her latest, “An Early Wake“. Check it out.

To receive my posts sign up for my blog, blogs, blogger, writer, author, playwright, books, plays,fiction  On the home page, enter your email address.  I love comments!  Take the time to write one at the bottom of the post.   Thanks!