Author Interview - Deborah Sheldon (Hand To Mouth - Short Sharp Shocks! Book 48)
Dean recently sat down with Deborah Sheldon to talk about her upcoming Short Sharp Shocks! Hand To Mouth – Book 48. It is out now for pre-orders and is released on the 31st January 2020.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome Deborah, let’s get straight down to it – can you tell us why you became a writer?
DEBORAH SHELDON: Over the 34 years of my professional career, this question has come up a lot and it’s always difficult to answer. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been a writer. As a pre-schooler, I drew my stories because I hadn’t yet learned my letters. I’ve devoted my entire adult life to writing in so many forms―TV scripts, feature articles, health and medical writing, play scripts, flash fiction, short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels―and I’m still exploring new forms. My latest crush is poetry. I expect I’ll keep experimenting with words until the day I die. So, why did I become a writer? Well, that’s like asking a cold virus why it causes a runny nose. The urge to write is simply hardwired into my DNA and I can’t resist the compulsion.
DP: And what about your story?
DS: On the surface, Hand to Mouth is a novelette about an imprisoned man who writes letters to his son to explain why he’s behind bars. It’s also a sci-fi exploration of cutting-edge technology. And while Hand to Mouth is a horror story, it’s a puzzle too; a layering of truth and deception, like a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Ten readers will have ten different interpretations of what happened. It took a lot of drafting to work in so many possibilities.
DP: An intriguing premise then, who is your protagonist?
DS: Graham is the first-person narrator, so we don’t get the balancing act of any other character’s point of view. It means we have to take Graham at his word…or not. He’s an English lecturer who prizes intellect over anything else except his son, James. Graham may be a distant, non-demonstrative and awkward father, but his love for James shines through the narrative.
DP: I love the idea of an unreliable narrator! I guess, considering the subject matter you’ve alluded to, that you had to do a lot of research?
DS: The crux of Hand to Mouth is the prosthetic arm. I had to familiarise myself with the latest technology―not so much as to write a thesis on robotics, but just enough to offer credibility. The idea for the story came from my husband. At his workplace, the HR department regularly holds safety seminars. One such seminar was presented by a man who had lost his arm in an industrial accident. While his talk was about keeping safe amongst machinery, he also happened to be in a medical trial for a new generation of prosthetics that attune to the nervous system. As my husband told me about this meeting, the roots of my scalp began to tingle which, by the way, is how my brain tells me that I’ve just found the germ of a story idea.
DP: That’s brilliant! Did you find any of the scenes difficult to write?
DS: The final act. I knew all along what I was working towards―I never start a story before I have my ending in mind―but that didn’t make it any easier.
DP: I bet. So, tell me, creatively what would you say was your biggest success so far?
DS: Moving my skillset from non-fiction to fiction. For most of my career, I specialised in health and medical information for the layperson across a range of media, including magazines, CD-ROMs (yes, I’m that old), and websites such as the Better Health Channel. In 2005, I wrote my first short story. In 2007, I switched my focus from non-fiction to fiction. And in 2014, I wrote my first pure horror story. Making the transition into fiction was challenging. I had to figure out which skills I needed to take with me, which to jettison, and the ones I needed to keep but adapt. A steep learning curve, yes, but fascinating. I’m still on that learning curve.
DP: Aren’t we all – we should never stop learning. What books / authors do you read and do they influence you?
DS: I read widely across a range of genres, from literary to crime to horror to classics to self-help to memoir to you-name-it. Everything I read influences me. I firmly believe that the best way to improve your writing is to be an avid reader.
DP: I’m with you on that one. So, what is ‘horror’ to Deborah Sheldon?
DS: Emotional honesty. No other genre allows you to delve into life as it really is―unpredictable, violent, unfair, ultimately lethal―instead of how we wish it could be. And unlike other genres―which have strict parameters and tropes that fans expect to be honoured―horror allows the writer to do whatever the hell they want. The range of subgenres is staggering. In fact, mashing genres together is not only tolerated, it’s expected. Readers always want to be surprised. This freedom allows the horror writer to slip the leash and explore any theme or storyline they desire; in whichever format they’d like to try. I find this freedom exhilarating. If I end up living a long life, I could spend its entirety writing horror stories and never run out of subgenres.
DP: I like what you’ve said about readers want to be surprised, that was the whole reason we started the Short Sharp Shocks! in the first place. Creatively, is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so, what?
DS: I’ve written for TV, but I’ve never had my own stories translated onto the small or silver screens. I’d like that very much. It’s also been a dream to make a documentary, but apart from a couple of false starts in my twenties, this dream has never eventuated. Opportunities for scriptwriting in Australia are limited. For example, free-to-air channels prefer reality TV series and cooking shows. Australia’s film industry mostly exists to provide production staff for Hollywood blockbusters. Our own stories don’t seem to matter anymore.
DP: Really―that’s a massive shame! Though also true because not that long ago I was talking to an Australian film producer and he said he was having issues finding an ‘Australian’ story and was unsure actually what that was nowadays...he felt the ‘identity’ had been totally lost―lots to seriously think about there...so let’s end with something completely irrelevant but fun: Marvel or DC?
DS: When I was a kid, I loved comics and my hero was Wonder Woman. I liked Supergirl and Superman too. And the Legion of Superheroes featuring Superboy, Lightning Lad, Mon-El, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, Shadow Lass…oh, it’s DC all the way, baby.
Hope you’re watching Titans then [did I mention previously I LOVE this show?]. Thank you so much for your time Deborah. The best of luck with Hand To Mouth.
If you would like to connect directly with Deborah:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0035MWQ98
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Dean M. Drinkel