Today, we’re joined by Australian author Shay Bell. Shay writes gritty stories that cross genres, and today we’re going to find out a bit more about them. If you like suspenseful stories that push boundaries, you’ll want to read on.
Hi, Shay, thanks for the interview. I’ll start with the question I never get tired of hearing answered by authors: What made you decide to start writing, and when did you decide to do it seriously?
I remember once when I was in primary school, we had to write a short story—nothing really unusual or out of the box there—anyway, I remember getting lost while writing it and actually enjoying the process. It wasn’t much, maybe only a thousand words. What I think made it memorable for me was not the fact I got a good mark for it (I’m hopeless at English, spelling, grammar etc. all the un-important things for a writer); It was the reaction I got from my father when he read it. He went on about how good it was, and I vaguely remember him asking me about it or talking about it on more than one occasion. I think somehow that cemented something in me. Years later, when I was with my ex-wife, we were between jobs at one point (we had a strange working relationship at the time, don’t ask) I thought “I might write a book.” Next thought was, “A novel will take too long, but a kid’s book should be easy. I’ll punch one of those out and get famous and rich.” So I started, got a few pages into it and got distracted by something shiny. I still think about going back to it, if I ever find it. But 2013, to answer your question. 2013, after sexting with my princess while I was away for work, she suggested I write a book. So I wrote my newest release, Stiletto: Poppy’s revenge.
How would you describe your books in terms of genre?
All the ladies reading this, please pay attention. I market my books in the GLBT genre and leaning toward F/F (I know how many of you girls love your M/M), but I really only market them that way so there are no surprises or disappointment if/when you come across a lesbian scene in the story. The fact is, there’s a bit of everything in there (as far as the hot stuff goes, except M/M—not yet anyway). But I truly try not to focus on it; it’s more about the storyline for me and the journey my characters take. Any sex is truly just a byproduct of the story. The truth is, straight woman love my books, so don’t be put off.
How long does it take you, roughly, to write a book?
Actual writing time takes three months. Getting it ready to publish, well, that’s in the hands of the gods (or my editor and her schedule). I think the most I’ve written at once was about 15000 words one weekend. For me, that was huge, although I know other authors that can punch that out easy, I’m not quick.
No, that’s pretty huge lol.
What inspires you, and where do you get your ideas?
Stiletto wrote itself. It started as a single scene in an N/A meeting (I think). I was working at the time, doing a lot of driving, so I had time to think. Every time I had time to write, I just put all my new ideas down. It quickly became the story a friend of mine had told me about her childhood and life, then it morphed into ‘what if’ she had the opportunity to get even with all those people.
Can you tell us about your recent release, which has done very well on Amazon, Jenna?
I started Writing Jenna in 2014, not long after I finished Stiletto (formally known as Mak). Sorry if my timeline is screwing with your head at the moment. I wrote maybe half of the first chapter while I was waiting to hear back from a couple of very large publishers about Mak. They never got back to me, so I decided maybe writing wasn’t for me. Long story short, after the eventual release of Mak, my editor and whip handler made me finish Jenna (I had the first chapter and what I thought was the final page in my head and no idea how to get from start to finish). To be honest, I didn’t have very high hopes for Jenna when I finally finished it. I really had to work hard to get the story out. It didn’t flow very well at all, not like Mak (Stiletto). It wasn’t until I re-read it a few months later when it came back from editing (her schedule is crazy) that I thought, well maybe this isn’t too bad after all. Since its release, I can’t believe how well it’s been accepted. I do think Stiletto is way better. Jenna isn’t as dark as Stiletto, and it was never intended to be a F/F story. That came later. It’s hard to give an outline without adding spoilers. But in a nutshell, it’s kind of a road-trip story that quickly goes wrong.
Jenna explores same sex relationships. Do you write from personal experience, or it’s just something you feel strongly about?
Hmmm. How to answer this? The “same sex” aspect of my books focuses on female-to-female relationships. Considering I’m a straight guy, I can’t, by default, write from experience… BUT, with that said, before you judge my credentials to write about F/F, realise this: I’ve personally had relationships with females.. That puts me in the driver’s seat. Let’s just say, I like to think I know my way around a female body. Also, as I mentioned before, none of my books were intended to be about F/F relationships. Mak (Stiletto, my first book but second release) was totally about the story; it’s very deep, dark and intense. The F/F aspect only came to me about three quarters of the way through it. Jenna was never intended to be F/F either, but when you read it, you will see why. It worked better that way and would have been bland if it didn’t go where it went. When I was writing it, I was getting very concerned that the story was becoming too linear. A few times I considered abandoning it and trying something different, but then one day it struck me. The story did a complete turn around, and I couldn’t get it out quick enough. That’s one of the weird things about writing you will never be able to explain to someone who doesn’t write. We often talk about characters talking to us late at night or interrupting our thoughts. These characters are so real, sometimes it’s scary. As far as my feelings about same sex relationships, I’m not sure I ever had thoughts or opinions one way or another about gay or bi people before I started writing. I think I was like most people where it wasn’t part of my life so it didn’t affect me. What continues to blow me away though is the acceptance I’ve had in the GLBT community. For a time, I didn’t even realise I was part of it. One day, I can’t remember what happened, it dawned on me that I was part of all this. Then I was asked to write in the Orlando Anthology (Over The Rainbow) in support of the families of the victims of the shooting. I think that’s when I realised what I was doing was way bigger than I thought.
You haven’t always been an author. Can you tell us about your path before becoming an author?
Totally accidental and unexpected. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone that has had formal training and worked their whole life to publish that one special book. But at the end of the day, I’m a truck driver with a vivid imagination. I keep telling my editor and anyone else that asks, I’m just an idiot with a laptop. Fortunately for me, I can spin a good yarn given enough time to think about it. Writing became an obsession with my first book when my princess told me “you should write a book”. I had an old laptop with me (that I still write on) and started banging out a story, I would drive for up to twelve hours a day and think about what was going to happen next, then write it all down when I got time, then drive again and think more about the next part. It was great because I didn’t have the option to just write, write, write. I couldn’t write, because I was driving, obviously, so the story had time to develop and morph and change over hours and hours for each tiny part before it finally made it to paper.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming release, Stiletto, Poppy’s Revenge?
As I’m writing this, Stiletto has been out three days. I used to describe it as an erotic drama, but my editor insists it’s a psychological thriller. It’s been described as dark, twisted, intense and any other word you want to throw in there along those lines. It’s based on girl I know, who became an addict after she had a pretty shitty childhood. She was bullied at school from an early age, and a few other unfortunate incidents where she was taken advantage of. She had trouble fitting in, and her life was one disaster after another. All that being said, I took her story and it became ‘what if’ she got the chance to even with all these people now… And that’s what she does.
Your covers are very striking. Do you have a vision in mind when you approach your cover artist, or do you describe the story and give them free rein?
Kellie Dennis is amazing. I had different ideas for both books, and Kellie bought them to life. For Jenna, I gave Kellie a rough outline of what I was after, and she did the rest. With Stiletto I poured over hundreds of photos till I found that one. Kellie made a few changes, and I couldn’t be happier. I still catch myself staring at it. It’s so gorgeous; they both are.
Kellie Dennis https://www.facebook.com/bookcoverbydesign/?pnref=lhc
What’s the hardest thing about writing a novel?
For me, first and foremost, time. I never have enough to sit down and do it when I need to or have the focus to. Secondly is focus. I can’t do two things at once, but I especially can’t have my head in two or more books at once. If I’m halfway into edits and re-reads with my editor, there is no way I can write anything. Even right now, I’ve had Jenna out for just over a month, and Stiletto is freshly published, I need to get over the initial hump of all that and get them both out of my head before I can start the next project.
What have you enjoyed the most so far about publishing your work?
The reaction from readers, without a doubt. I’ve recently described myself to someone as a ‘Feedback Slut’. It seriously becomes an addiction. When random people tell you how you made them feel or touched them, it’s an awesome feeling. It makes your head grow pretty fat when they tell you how talented you are or they like what you do or how you write.
Do you have a set routine on the days that you write, or is it about finding time when it’s there?
Time is always an issue for me. And getting my head in the right place when I have time is a bigger challenge. I have four kids and work an average of 60 hours a week. I did set myself a goal once to write just 500 words a day. That lasted about a week. Then you find yourself trying to catch up if you miss a day, which is okay, but eventually it becomes a chore and the story suffers. I gave up on that idea. Okay for some, doesn’t suit what I’m trying to achieve.
What are you working on after Stiletto?
I have at least three other WIP. I’m not sure if any of them will be seen any time soon. But I’m really excited to try to make time for what is next. I’ve recently been in contact with the real life Poppy (From Stiletto, not her real name). We were talking about something, and it struck me, and I said to her, “your life would make a good book.” She has agreed to let me write her biography. I won’t outline everything else here or where she ends up, but it’s an amazing journey from where she started, to what happened to her, to where she is now. And I’m excited to tell it for her. Small spoiler—she’s not a lesbian, and I’m not planning on putting any graphic sex scenes in it. It’s her story, not mine; I just want to try to bring it to life for her.
You can check out Shay’s website or click on the links below to visit his books on Amazon.
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