AUTHOR GUEST POST
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’m Shalana Battles. I write romance, but I mix it up with magic and the paranormal. I struggled for a long time with this idea that as a writer I had to choose one genre and stick with it. I saw a lot of videos and posts talking about sticking to one genre. However, I had stories in my head that crossed genres and I didn’t want to publish under multiple names. The way I fixed this problem was to add a clover to my books that are contemporary romance. My first novel, Soul Jumper, is a paranormal romance and it doesn’t have the clover. The Man Before You, a contemporary romance, does. My next book, Encampment is fantasy/romance and won’t have the clover. I wanted a way to clue readers into what they were getting into without changing my name. So far, it’s worked well for me. I’m excited to see what happens as I continue to publish.
I’ve always been a writer. I have stories dating all the way back to four year old me. I’ve always known that I wanted to tell stories. I studied journalism and cultural anthropology in college largely because their foundations are in storytelling. After I had my son, I took the plunge and started my lifestyle blog, battlingthechaos.com. After that, I started working seriously on my first book, Soul Jumper, and I’ve spent every bit of the last three years focused on making being an author my career. I’ve always known what I wanted to do, I just spent a long time not sure how to get there. I’m still learning every day, but I love the journey I’m on and can’t wait to see where it leads.
What are some of your pet peeves?
I hate when people don’t push in their chairs. I’m also very big on being polite. It’s super annoying to me when people don’t say please/thank you. I’ve been told I say those things too much, haha, but I think it’s important to let others know that I appreciate them!
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Globe, Arizona, and I grew up in Morenci, Arizona. Something pretty cool about Morenci is that it’s one of the last truly company owned towns in existence. Morenci is a copper mining town (technically a camp) and everything – houses, land, etc. – is all owned by Freeport McMoRan (FMI). I grew up a lot differently than most, because to live in Morenci you have to work for FMI. I never saw class differences growing up, because all of my peers had parents working for the same company as my dad, making roughly the same money. Everyone I knew had similar or the same clothes, toys, and cars.
If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I’d spend my last day making sure my son had the absolute best day. I’d want his last memories of me to be fun. I’d tell him repeatedly how wonderful he is and how much I love him. We’d spend the whole day doing all the things he loves.
What are you passionate about these days?
I’m passionate about writing, but that’s a given. With my writing, I have a passion for giving back. I knew from the start that I wanted to use my books to help others. When I published Soul Jumper, I donated $1 of every paperback sold in October (Domestic Violence Awareness month) to The Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation. When I published The Man Before You, I started a Patreon that I will use for all future books. Currently, my Patreon is benefiting Base Camp 40 and the Jaim’ee Rodriguez scholarship fund. I was raised by a mom who would give the shirt off her back to help someone else, and I love that my books can help do a little good in the world. Being able to grow my donation projects is a huge motivating factor on my publishing journey.
I’m also very passionate about animals/animal rights. I have three dogs, goats, a mini horse, two rabbits, a red ear slider turtle, and chickens. Giving rescues or pets being rehomed a loving home is super important to me. I think it’s imperative that we are educating people on animals as well as the importance of hunting and land conservation. In The Man Before You, Eloise opens her own animal sanctuary and I’d love that to be me one day.
Prior to Covid, I was a full-time high school English teacher. My passion for education has changed over the years, but the love of learning has always remained. I’ve been on multiple committees to better our education system and I don’t see myself ever completely leaving that world. In my mind, there are so many things that we could be doing better, and fighting for our kids and their education is a fight worth fighting.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
When I want to unwind, I binge shows like Bones, Criminal Minds, Castle, and 911. I love being able to sit down and watch a show for hours on end and give my brain a break. I enjoy reading and photography as well.
How to find time to write as a parent?
I have a three year old son who is extremely busy. In the mornings while he eats breakfast, I write. Occasionally, he still naps (like now, haha) and I can sit down and work. It’s funny too, because I get a ton of writing done if I’m working outside my home, like when I was teaching full time or when I substitute teach. I get the majority of my writing done at home when my son is asleep or entertaining himself. A couple of days ago, he spent a good amount of time playing with Playdoh and I was able to write for a while while he played.
I think writers who are parents need to be okay with the fact that their schedule is going to look a lot different than a writer who doesn’t have kids or a partner. You have to find a schedule that works for you and if it’s weird hours, then it’s weird hours. Writing when you can is also important. You may only get five to ten minutes randomly throughout the day, but those minutes and words will add up. Just because you can’t sit down and write for six hours straight doesn’t mean you can’t finish a book. Also, kids do get on a schedule. Sometimes parents put them on that schedule and sometimes (like with my son) it happens organically, but regardless it will happen. Once it does, work your writing into that routine. I know my son will let me drink coffee and write while he eats breakfast. I know he’ll want to go outside and I often take my laptop out while he plays with his trucks in our backyard. I’ve written sitting in our bathroom as he plays in the tub. The time is there, I promise. You just have to see those moments in your day and capitalize on them.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have a schedule of books for the next three years! One of those projects is a spinoff of The Man Before You that I’m making into a series. I’m calling it The Grand Mesa Men and it will focus on Jesse’s sons (who you meet in The Man Before You) finding love.
My next book, Encampment, is set to come out in May 2021. I also plan to release the first book in the Grand Mesa series in July 2021 and hope to publish the sequel to Soul Jumper in October 2021.
Who designed your book covers?
Designed with Grace and I adore her! Her covers are incredible.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Yes! I learned a ton, but the most important thing I learned was not to rush the process. With my first book, Soul Jumper, I spent nine months editing. When I finished The Man Before You I didn’t want it to take another nine months or more to see it published. I got impatient. I set a deadline on The Man Before You that drove me and my editor a bit crazy. Also, on Amazon if you miss your posting deadline, you are not allowed to set up a book for pre-order for TWO YEARS! AH! Long story short, with the time difference, I missed the deadline and was super panicked that I wasn’t going to be able to allow readers to pre-order for the next two years. I called Amazon and they were really helpful and lifted the ban for me, thank goodness, but I never should have set myself up for failure like that in the first place. I am currently working on my next book, Encampment, that comes out in May and I left myself two weeks between my editor returning it and it having to be uploaded to Amazon. For The Man Before You I gave myself less than two days. Crazy, I know.
I will never push myself like that again. It wasn’t fair to my editor and it wasn’t fair to my book. It is so easy to just want to publish the next one, but being in a rush means risking publishing a book that isn’t ready. It means a higher possibility of mistakes, typos, plot holes, and losing privileges such as offering pre-orders. I am blessed with an amazing editor, who made sure The Man Before You was publish-ready, but the stress of that wasn’t worth it. Clearly, I had to learn this lesson the hard way, but I don’t recommend that route. The planning process that goes into publishing a book will never be ignored by me again.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
All of my characters are based on real people, but some more so than others. Sometimes I’ll have a character that is heavily based on one person and other times I’ll have a character that is pieces of multiple people. I’m of the frame of mind that everything comes from somewhere, so even if writers don’t always know who their character inspiration is, there is one out there somewhere. I usually recognize when I’m basing a character on a specific person and will sometimes have to change things so that the character isn’t too much like the actual person. Other times, I will make up a lot about a character from my imagination, but will still reference a real person when I’m writing reactions and emotions.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story? Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
My characters always hijack the story. I look at writing differently than a lot of people I know. When I write, I obviously use my imagination, but I picture the stories I’m writing as alternate lives. If things had worked out a different way, if we lived in a different type of world, if I had said yes/no to a specific person from my past…there’s infinite possibilities if you start to think about every big choice you’ve ever made. You really can live a million lives in one lifetime. I truly believe that. The Mark Batterson quote, “You’re only one defining decision away from a totally different life,” sums up my writing style. I use my writing to explore those alternatives. In life, we don’t always get a say and my characters are no different. Things happen to them and they react to those things, usually in a way that surprises me. I almost never feel fully in control of my stories, because I envision them as universes playing out and they always do that in their own way.
The Man Before You deals with a lot of emotional topics, but it all comes down to who we are as people after we lose someone that matters to us. Every person deals with that differently, but we’re all the same in the sense that it changes us. When a person reads The Man Before You, or any of my books, I hope that they find comfort in the unknown, in the tragic, and can live in the silver lining that we’re all desperate to find.
What did you edit out of this book?
The major edits I made on The Man Before You dealt with shifts in the point of view. Originally, the book jumped between the main characters, Jack and Eloise, without indicating a transition. Beta readers noticed, but didn’t say it should be changed. All of my Beta readers said that once they realized what was happening, they were okay with it. However, my editor definitely thought it should be changed to avoid confusion. I also had moments where I included the point of views of side characters, like Nickie, Eloise’s best friend. Those are gone in the final version. I hated making some of those changes, because I felt that those points of views allowed readers to see another side of Eloise, and know her through the eyes of her best friend. But, I agree that the book flows much better now and leaves way less room for confusion. It’s also not common practice to include the point of view of a side character or characters. I’ve seen it done, and even done well, but it’s not something readers see much of. In this instance, I decided to go the route that was expected and common practice.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Characters 100% come to me as I write. When I started The Man Before You, Jesse and his sons weren’t even a thought. It wasn’t until I got to that point in the book, that Jesse evolved and developed. I write a lot like people go through life. We don’t meet all our people right at the beginning. Things happen, things change, people move in and out of our lives and it works the same for my characters. Eloise found herself in a situation where she needed help and that led to her meeting Jesse and his sons. Writing this makes me realize how very little I plan out a story before diving in, haha.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I don’t research before beginning a book, but I do a ton of research as I write. For The Man Before You, I talked to two people in depth about their experiences in the military. I also questioned multiple others about their experiences. I spoke to wives who are married to people in the military as well. When I’m writing and I get to a spot where I know I don’t have the experience or knowledge to write the scene, I seek that out.
For my first book, Soul Jumper, I had to research parallel universes. I didn’t get theoretical in the book, but I wanted to have an understanding of the concept to a point that I could write it in a realistic way. This research didn’t happen until I was doing my first round of edits.
For my next book, Encampment, I had about half of the book written before I started researching the history of witches. I found out a lot of information and went back and changed my story where I needed to in order to make it more accurate. I also spent hours and hours researching how to write horror and I did this for one scene. The book itself isn’t horror, but there’s a scene that is bloody and scary and as a romance writer I had no idea how to do that. So, after well over six hours of researching horror writing, I wrote my two page scene.
My biggest thing is getting the words on the page. I can do a lot with 30 or 40 thousand words, but I can’t do anything with a blank page. I tend to write until I hit a wall and then I go back and research and pick it apart.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
When I write, I listen to a single song on repeat. I see that song as the theme song for the book. With Soul Jumper it was Lead Me Back by San Holo and for The Man Before You it was Dive by Ed Sheeran. I get a ton of inspiration when I hear the same song over and over. I use the song to tell the story. Songs tell stories on their own, but when I can picture the actions of my characters to the music it helps me tremendously in moving my writing forward.
The Man Before also has a playlist. It’s on my YouTube channel.
Advice they would give new authors?
My biggest piece of advice is to trust yourself. Writing is very subjective and as a beginner it is easy to think you have to make every change that is recommended to you. Definitely take advice from your Beta readers and your editor and listen to readers’ opinions, because most of the time they make the story better. That isn’t the same thing as never saying no. Make the changes you want to make. Remind yourself why you’re telling the story and stay true to your vision for that story. The flip side of that is, don’t only say no. You have to find balance and find people that want to help you grow and succeed. Criticism doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. You have to be open minded to the suggestions of others, but you don’t have to live by those suggestions. I realize this is a lot easier said than done. For me, it helps to read feedback and let it sit with me for a day or two before I decide what I’m going to do. Sometimes I write the changes, read them, and then decide which version I like better.
With The Man Before You, one of the hardest changes to swallow was making the main character, Jack’s best friend, Chase, undeployable. After a mission, Chase starts suffering symptoms of PTSD. He goes to Jack for help and shortly after they’re redeployed. In the original version, Chase was with Jack and I wanted them together so, so badly. However, it was pointed out to me, multiple times, that Chase wouldn’t be deployed after seeking help for PTSD. I had to rewrite huge chunks of my story and also develop another character enough that they could be the one with Jack on that deployment. It was rough. I had this pictured so perfectly in my head. It was important to me that those two be together on that deployment. However, accuracy was more important. Showing Chase choose to get help was more important. This was a super hard change to swallow, but when I gave in and tried it my book got better.
I’ve also been blessed to find a couple of people who will read things and give me feedback. Find two or three people that can read your stuff and give you honest feedback. Having someone read your drafts and only tell you how amazing you are isn’t going to help you grow as a writer.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first? What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I never outline a book first. I know some people are cringing at that, but I honestly believe that writers can get so caught up in the process that they never get past the planning stage. I see so many writers in the writing community online that have been planning and outlining for literal years. You can think and think and think and plan, but that isn’t getting words on the page. I am 100% a dive right in writer. I just write what’s in my head to start a story and almost always I’m not starting at the beginning, but when I get all of it on the page then I have a true starting point. You don’t have to have a perfectly planned out story to write a book. I think too often aspiring writers are so afraid of failing, either not finishing the book, or it being bad, that they don’t ever start the book.
I am usually about halfway done with a book, word count wise, before I go through and roughly outline. When I say rough, I mean super rough. I read what’s there and say okay I need a chapter before this and x, y, z needs to happen to get us here. So, I’ll add a blank page and write down a couple bullet points. Once I’m at the end, I write down what else needs to happen in order to reach the resolution.
Another thing I do way later is even out the number of pages in each of my chapters. I learned this while writing Soul Jumper. I’d have one chapter that was 5 pages long and another that was 18 pages long. Now, when I’m close to finishing a draft I’ll go through and count my pages. I end up with a range so that each chapter is between 10-14 pages or whatever that count ends up being. While I do this, I make notes in my notebook about what each chapter still needs, what I need to research, or I make a check mark indicating that the chapter is done. It’s basically a t-chart with the chapter number on one side, and the page count and notes on the other side.
I definitely believe that there is such a thing as too much planning. Each person should write in a way that works for them. However, if your goal is to finish and publish a book then don’t fall into the trap of spending months making notes about your main character’s favorite color and how they take their coffee. Those are fun things that you can play with later. Focus on the things that will move your story forward and on finishing your draft.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
To start sharing my writing sooner! I spent years not sharing my writing and that isn’t the way to get better. I see young kids now posting their stuff all over the internet and I think that’s amazing. There are so many platforms now to post stories on and they don’t have to be stories that you plan to publish either. Just get your stuff out there, let people read it and get their feedback.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
This is a fun one, because I actually struggle more writing characters from the same sex. In Soul Jumper, my main character is male and in The Man Before You readers get both perspectives. There are times when I have no clue how a male would react to something, and in that case, I ask. I ask friends, or my husband, or one of my brothers. I have made a lot of phone calls to males in my life saying, here’s the scenario, now what would you do? This makes it easy on me, because I have multiple men telling me how to handle the situation. It takes some of the pressure off.
In general, I just tend to gravitate toward writing male characters. The Grand Mesa Men series is going to be told from the point of views of each of Jesse’s sons. I may include the female main character as well, but I’m still deciding on that. I can’t really explain why, but males are just easier for me to write.
When I’m writing females, I think I tend to overthink it because I know that not all women are going to react to something the same way I will. The way I feel about something doesn’t speak for all females. For some reason that makes me struggle so much more, because I want to attack it from as many angles as possible. It sounds silly, but I question myself way more when writing same sex characters.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I do to an extent. I know from experience that there are times when I have to step away from a scene because I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do next. Where I’m probably different is I don’t step away from the whole story. I will write a note at that spot in bold that tells me what I need there and then I move on. I skip over that part and keep writing. Eventually, the scene comes to me and I can go back and fill it in. The difficult part here is that sometimes that scene affects things after it and I’ll have to make changes to pieces that I wrote when I skipped that part. It’s worth it to me to make a few small changes, instead of just stopping completely for hours or days until my brain can process that section. So, yes, I think writer’s block is real, but no I don’t think it has to halt the entire draft.