Spotlight: Tamara Shoemaker

Tamara Shoemaker 3

She almost doesn’t need an introduction: she’s an active member here at Flash! Friday, supporting the community with her writing, faithful commenting, and even serving as a judge this round. Today we welcome you to join us as we dig a little deeper and get to know the extraordinary Tamara Shoemaker even better.

And as thanks for joining us: Tamara has graciously consented to giving away a FREE copy of her upcoming novel, Kindle the Flame, to a randomly chosen commenter. Thanks TS!

***

You’ve just published your fourth novel (Soul Survivor, May 1) and are about to publish your fifth (Kindle the Flame, June 1), and your first three books have all been published since March 2013. So my first question is: ARE YOU CRAZY?!

Crazy? I’m fairly sure there is a certain probability that this is the case. After Broken Crowns was published in 2013, it lit a fire under me. I wrote reams of pages every day, sketching out the next book and finishing it in a month, and then beginning work on the next. I was certain that this was what I wanted to do, and my enthusiasm was hard to control. I learned, with time, that enthusiasm isn’t nearly all that goes into writing. Tighter verbiage, tighter plots, better characters, more surprising twists, new genres, new styles, the list goes on.

My first books are still on the market, but I don’t do much advertising for them anymore. Amazon actually has a good system going with their reviews. Once you get a certain number, the books sort of sell themselves. I don’t have hundreds of reviews on any of my books, but I do have between 25 and 40, most of them between four and five stars, and that means sales stay at a steady trickle. No gushing, raging river yet, but fingers crossed. 😉

I always have several projects going at one time. I’ve been finalizing two books for publication these past few months: Soul Survivor and Kindle the Flame. I’m in the editing stage of another fantasy novel, and I’m in the first draft phase of the sequel to Kindle the Flame. Lots of things going on.

My most valuable writing resource (especially now that I’m writing fantasy) is my imagination, of course. But I like to keep lots of resources on the side. I get loads of ideas from my kids; they’re all the time asking me, “What if, Mommy?” “What if we lived inside the sun? I might get a little warm, Mommy. Would I be warm, Mommy? Mommy, would I sweat if I lived inside the sun, would I, Mommy? Mommy?” So maybe I’ll set my next book inside the sun. Or maybe my next hero (or villain!) will have the firepower of a thousand suns in his/her fingertips. 😉 Oh, the possibilities.

Your first four books are Christian mystery, but your fifth veers wildly off into the realms of dragons and other magical creatures. While of course I salute you for your wise decision, I’d love to hear your thoughts on branding. Convention says stick with one genre so readers can know what to expect in your writing. You’re clearly breaking the conventional mold: what’s your take?

Convention says stick with one genre; I say write what you love. I enjoy mysteries, but my true love lies with fantasy, and my fascination with it has solidified in the last few years as I’ve delved into Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones and others. I did debate whether or not I should take a pen name — two names for two genres, but I’ve always liked the idea of branding my work with my own name, so I finally decided not to. There’s always a chance that there are a few mystery readers out there who also enjoy fantasy.

I get irritated with “the box” (in case you haven’t figured that out). Phrases like: Writers should never do thus-and-such absolutely turn me inside out. “Writers should never write more than one genre.” Wanna bet? Just watch me!!! (I may or may not have a touch of rebellion that bubbles up now and then.)

Not only is Kindle the Flame your first fantasy, it’s also your first totally self-published work; the first four were published by a small press. Let’s talk about the small press first. Pluses? Minuses? Go back to your very first book, Broken Crowns: how did you find a publisher for it, and what made you decide against an agent?

The advantage of a small press: you get personalized attention without having to worry about dealing with the giant that is Amazon. My publisher did all the set-up on Amazon and other outlets, signing me up with iBooks and Barnes & Noble eventually. They also did all the formatting for both editions (print and ebook) so I didn’t have to do any of that. Those are the positives. The negatives are that things don’t always happen on the timeline that you want it to happen. For instance, originally my editor and I had discussed a Soul Survivor release date for January 2015. I had worked to get the edits to her by November of 2014 to be sure that there would be plenty of time for final organization before release, but when January hit, a kink in the system held up the release, so the date was pushed back to May 1st. At that point, I had already set Kindle the Flame for publication in May, so it was a confusing and rather frustrating time as I tried to flip my schedule around. As it was, I had to release the two books within a month of each other, something I don’t think I’ll ever do again—way too much insanity.

I had written Broken Crowns in 2006 during my lunch breaks at work. It was on a dare from my husband (“Bet you can’t write an entire novel,” says he. “Watch me,” says I.) When I finished it, I began submitting it to various presses, but quickly became discouraged with the tedious query process (and the horribly impersonal rejections I received). I eventually gave up and let the book sit on my flash drive for several years. In 2012, a small press put up a notice on a friend’s website, and I found it. They were looking for material. I figured it couldn’t hurt anything, so I dusted off the first three chapters of my manuscript and sent it in. Within a week, I heard back with a request for the full manuscript, and two days later, I received an offer of publication. Only the birth of my three children will ever compete with the moment I pulled in that email. “Excited” doesn’t quite cover it.

I decided against an agent for some of the same reasons I mentioned above that are negatives working with a press. I would lose a lot of control for my book (cover design, cover descriptions, shoot, even interior material gets edited). I would be paying them 15 – 20% commission, with no guarantee of a publishing contract, and the biggest thing is the wait time. I wrote my first draft of Kindle the Flame in November of this past year. I’m putting a high quality product on the market in June of this year. That’s a fraction of the amount of time that it would take for Big Publishing to do the same. Granted, going with the big houses gives you the possibility of more marketing muscle power, but the drawbacks are that they invest only so much in you for a limited time (think six months out from the date of your publication), and unless you’re someone absolutely tearing up the market (level of Rowling, Grisham, Collins), they’re not going to invest much effort in you. All that to say that I felt like indie might be the way to go. Someday, sure, I’d like to try a big house just to see what it’s like, but I’m kinda enjoying paving my way through the indie and small press world first.

Walk us through each of your first four books, the Shadows in the Nursery series, and then Soul Survivor, in terms of your learning curve and expectations as you approached/published each one.

I mentioned this above: my enthusiasm was the main ingredient in my first publication. Not to say I’m not enthusiastic about my later releases, but I’ve learned to temper it with more skill, finesse, understatement, and refinement (at least, I hope I do). I’ve learned that characters don’t always follow my guidelines; I’ve learned that not everything I plan on paper before the first draft makes it out the other side. I’ve learned that the world will not care about my books nearly as much as I care about them myself, even the ones that go ga-ga over them. I’ve learned that one star reviews aren’t the worst thing in the world, and I’ve learned that buzz about my books, whether good or bad, is always good. I’ve learned to write the best that I can, to be the kindest I can be in all areas of my life, and somehow, usually, I am repaid in kindness from others.

What made you decide to go in a different publishing direction for Kindle the Flame? What all has that encompassed for you?

I wanted to just try out this thing called “self-publishing.” It’s had a bad rap for a while. The who’s who in NYC and Writer’s Digest don’t have a lot of good to say about the process, but I’ve been reading lots about people that have tried it and loved it and been successful at it. So why not? Granted, I haven’t done the entire process by myself. I hired a brilliant editor (Emily Street: Flashdog extraordinaire and amazing, amazing person) to produce Kindle the Flame. Together, we spent about a month doing global edits (the big fixes, filling in plot holes, reconstruction, etc.). Then we went through and line edited for another month, tightening up my baby until it was leak-proof. I purchased a cover from selfpubbookcovers.com and we put that on there. The process was wonderfully smooth, and I can truly say I enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t sure what in the world I was getting myself into when I first began.

Grapevine says you’ve got another novel out there in the world somewhere being looked at. Spill, please.

Grapevine is right. Although Grapevine needs to be updated. 😉 I had submitted my book to Marisa Corvisiero, a NYC agent, and one about which I had heard many good things. I met her at a writer’s conference in NYC, and she requested my full manuscript. That was August 2014. I was excited as I checked my inbox for mail from her every day, and then every week, and then once a month, and finally realized—yes, six months is a normal timeline for something like this, but it’s way too long for impatient me. If I self-published this, I could get it out almost immediately, and who knows how long an agent would be pitching this to publishers? It could be another year, two, three, maybe even not at all. Meanwhile I watch my dreams die a disillusioned death. I pulled my manuscript from her desk in April 2015, and sent Mark of Four to my small press publisher. It will hit the market on Cyber Monday in November.

So on the one hand you’re a crazy novelist weeping over having to chop 10,000 words off a draft. But on the other hand you’re a renowned flash fiction master: you’ve won three times at FF alone. One would think flash would be your anti-form, yet you are SO GOOD. What gives? How do you cram all those stories into finite spaces?

I guess when I think of a novel, I plan a story from Once Upon A Time all the way to And They Lived Happily Ever After (unless, of course, they die a horrible, traumatic death), but it’s a whole story. When I write flash, I usually write segments of a story. Pieces of a person’s day, a thought that turns into an action. That’s my style. I’ve seen other flash masters (not mentioning any names *cough* Phil Coltrane) cram entire trilogy plots into one short 150 word story, and I shake my head in awe. I don’t have that gift. I focus on the slices of life, I guess.

You’re finishing up a round of judging at FF. Talk about that a bit.

As a judge, I like the stories that look at the picture and then blur the edges. They don’t write about the picture, they write what might have happened if the picture had stopped for coffee at Starbucks, got caught in a rain-shower, peed on by a dog, and then made it home with a corner torn off. Stories that take me waaay outside the box are the ones that make me remember them.

When I submit to contests, I’m doubly aware now of the little irritating things that I catch when I’m judging, so I try extra hard to make sure I have those things in place. A frame. No typos. Point of view all in the same head unless there’s a break. Outside the box thinking, etc.

Judging with a partner has been so much fun. We are always perfectly serious, because grave important decisions are at stake, and we never crack a smile, right, Mark? The bloodshed is slightly less than Game of Thrones level. I may have stooped to threatening Mark with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on his doorstep if he didn’t approve my favorite story. Still can’t understand why he doesn’t agree that such food is a staple of life.

What advice/encouragement would you give the next panel of judges?

Don’t drive yourself crazy wondering if you chose the right winner or not. Honestly, the level of writing that comes in each week is astounding, and trying to sort them out and pick only one grand winner is amazingly difficult. Give it your best effort, but don’t lose (too much) sleep over it. People will appreciate all the stories, not just the winner, so while it’s a nice recognition for the people chosen, the fact that you didn’t choose another favorite doesn’t devalue those other efforts.

I so appreciate the work of every one of my fellow judges, but of course, most of all, Mark, my partner in crime, who has made me laugh just when I most wanted to pull out my hair. And Joidianne and Image, who had the widest time zone difference to work through, you’ve earned my unending respect. Judging is hard enough without the difference of night and day between you.

Shouts out to writers (both within and without the FF community)–who do you admire, who have you learned from (and what have you learned from them), and who’s just plain awesome?

Well, since you obviously want this interview to take up another fifty pages, I’ll just go ahead and list all of them. Oh wait, you don’t want another fifty pages? Sigh. Fine.

            Foy S. Iver, for wowing me over and over with something different each time.

            Chris Milam, for the harsh grit that hides diamonds in your work.

            Michael Seese, for leaving me gob-smacked a few times with themes and imagery beyond compare.

            Casey Rose Frank, for poetic imagery and outside the box thinking.

            Mark Morris, for consistent encouragement and fantastic writing style.

            Margaret Locke, for finding the deep story behind the words.

            Emily Street, for teaching me the value of a solid sentence with no word fluff,

            and every one of the Flashdogs who are such a supportive and encouraging community.

            Most especially, the Dragoness, who besides sharing my propensity for scaly things and TimTams, is also a pretty awesome neighbor IRL.

Bonus 11. This is a flash community: so give us a 20-word Kindle the Flame pitch.

Kinna must examine her past to find her future. But she may not survive the fires of discovery. (18 words, yessss).

Bonus 12. Where can readers find you–how about a couple of links? 

I love to be found! 🙂

Blog: www.tamarashoemaker.org

Twitter: @TamaraShoemaker

Facebook: www.facebook.com/tshoebooks

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Tamara-Shoemaker/e/B00B6AY5PY/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6884471.Tamara_Shoemaker

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21 thoughts on “Spotlight: Tamara Shoemaker

  1. Thank you so much for sharing all this! I loved this glimpse into your world. I am excited about checking out your books- I’ve tended to veer away from Christian fiction because it is often so typecast…but since I can see your reading preferences are similar to mine, (and you clearly don’t like typecasting!) I will look into them!
    Thanks again for sharing!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Amberlee! I feel like my books are a journey of sorts. Broken Crowns was the starting point, and Soul Survivor is the result of many miles traveled and many lessons learned. If you prefer Christian fiction that is out of the box (and incidentally would never be touched by the houses publishing Amish fiction :impish wink at Bethany House, et. al., because I buck the Christian fiction trends), I’d recommend Soul Survivor. 😉 Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  2. It astounds me how psomeone can write whole novels in month. I can barely get a flash out in a day. I admire you Tamara. I enjoy reading your flash stories. They are so detailed and wonderfully worded. I have yet to read one of your novels so I’m going to remedy that right away. I just ordered Soul survivor! I can’t wait to delve in!

  3. Ooh! Ooh! A shout out! Great interview, Ms. Shoemaker – and thanks for sharing it with us, Dragoness Postupak. I love hearing about the various ways in which you’ve brought your books to the market, and what you’ve learned each time.

  4. LOVE the depth of this interview! Hearing about how you finished and published your first book is 1) Hysterical – I recognize that rebellious streak – and 2) Encouraging – gets those of us who want to follow in those footsteps thinking perhaps this whole author thing isn’t so crazy after all…
    Thanks for the SO and kind words; hopefully, I can live up to them. 🙂

    • Foy, you know me so well – that rebellious streak crops up in unexpected place. 😉 I’m glad you were able to find some encouragement from it! But I never said this whole author thing isn’t crazy. It’s just people that are crazy enough to try it that gain the most satisfaction from it. 😉 And I have no doubt that you’re one of the best. 🙂

  5. As someone who has only self-published one novel (in July, 2013) I am impressed with your production. I am a plodder, slow and steady like some turtleized scribe. Anyway, a fun and informative inteview. Thanks

    • You know what they say about the slow and steady ones. I love the mental image of a turtleized scribe. 😉 What’s the name of your book? I’d like to go check it out. And I’m glad you enjoyed the interview! Thanks for taking the time to read it! 🙂

      • Hi Tamara,

        My one novel (thus far) is a social work noir ( a genre I had to make up for want of a home to hang my author’s hat) called Like a Child to Home. Here’ s my website http://www.engleson.ca

        Take care.

  6. I loved the phrase ‘certain probability’ right at the start – like being ‘slightly pregnant’! Reading the interview, I kept thinking ‘I must post this question’ but you covered everything I wanted to know – and then some… (Kidding!! 😀 ).
    I was welling up at the phrase ‘I’ve learned… to be the kindest I can be in all areas of my life’. As a closet Christian – don’t tell anyone, willya? – this is a big failing of mine. I’ll always remember that the first time I entered a flash fiction contest (yes, it was Flash! Friday…), you were the first to leave a comment. It was so generous, supportive and encouraging; but that sums up the kind of person you are.
    However, I won’t be buying ‘Kindle The Flame’ – not as long as there’s a chance of getting a free copy!
    I wish you every success with your novels.

    • Aww, Geoff, you just made me well up myself. I can’t even begin to express how truly blessed I’ve been to find this group of writers, and you and everyone who is a part of it have, quite literally, changed my life, and have helped me realize my dreams. Before, I wrote as a hobby. Now, I write as a way of life.

      And from one closet believer to another, thanks for opening that door. It’s nice to know we share some core beliefs. 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind words!

      As a bonus challenge for myself: I’ll try to work being “slightly pregnant” into my next FF story… 😉 Sounds like an impossibly fun challenge…

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