Monday, September 17, 2012

Five Dollar Mail: An Interview with Author Regina F. Shelley

Today we welcome author Regina F. Shelley as we chat about The Five Dollar Mail (how cool is that cover). But we're also talking about her favorite types of scenes in the book, her quirky personality, and what she has in store next for readers. Welcome Regina!



We'd love to know a bit about you--spill please!

You’d think someone who writes as much as I do, and TALKS as much as I do, would not at first draw a complete blank when faced with this question. Let’s see here…my more polite friends describe me as “eccentric”. I’m passionate about the things I love, and those things include Westerns (particularly unusual ones), nature, graphic design, historical re-creation, and folk music (well, many different types of music, but I am actually a folk singer, so I guess that fits best.). I have a romance-hero husband I’m desperately in crazy love with, and a sweet six year old daughter who is so unlike me it makes me laugh and shake my head. I moved to South Carolina from New Jersey when I was six and I’ve been here ever since.

Did you plan to be a writer or did it just happen?
I’ve always written. I didn’t plan it, and it didn’t just happen. I can’t remember not having the urge to do it. I never intended for Five Dollar Mail to turn into a book series. It was just my outlet, and THAT just sort of happened.
Is writing a full-time career for you? If not, how else do you spend your work day?

I was a professional graphic designer until I was laid off. I decided to stay home and be a mom, a writer, and a freelance graphic designer. In that order.

If you had to sum up The Five Dollar Mail in 30 or less words, what would you say?

A shy young woman answers a “housekeeper wanted” ad and finds herself hired as the bewildered den mother to an unruly stagecoach and pony express crew.

What inspired the idea behind your book?

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this. But when I was in college, my sister and I loved to watch the soaps. And I’m such a huge Western fangirl all I could think the whole time was “It would so rock if somebody made a western genre soap.” Seriously. Think about it…lot of westerns out there seem to be aimed at men…but who really digs a guy in a hat and boots? Yeah. Women dig a guy in a hat and boots. Seems like such a no brainer. “Write the book you want to read,” Carol Shields says. So I did.

Will you share with us a short preview of The Five Dollar Mail?

Luis leaned against the whitewashed boards of the back of the schoolhouse, drawing in a deep pull of smoke and letting it out through his nose, the way he'd seen Saint do.

It burned a bit, and wasn't the most pleasurable thing in the world, but Luis knew  it looked tough. At least it does when Saint does it. But then again...he took another drag on his quirly, reflecting.  Saint can make eating a cookie look tough.

It was a nice day. Luis was glad for the change of scenery, for the warm sun against his skin.  He knew that the only reason the Old Man had let them out of their chores was because they'd told him they'd be spending the day inside a schoolhouse. Although they'd been welcomed warmly, being inside said schoolhouse had been nerve wracking for Luis, and he was glad to be out. He'd been in school before, long ago, and had found it excruciating. Sitting in there today had made him unbearably nervous, had brought him back to a place in his past he didn't want to be. I don't know how Tommy ever talked me into this, he told himself, knowing the statement was a lie even as he thought it. He knew damn well how Tommy had talked him into it. He'd mentioned girls.

What three words would best describe Lily?

1. Over
2. Her
3. Head

What is your favorite scene in The Five Dollar Mail?

Well, I do love me some kissing scenes…I don’t want to put any spoilers in here, so I’ll leave it at that. Also, the trial was a lot of fun to write. I like courtroom drama, so that gave me a chance to indulge in a little of that for a few chapters. Thinking back, though, I’m probably fondest of the prequels. And while it’s hard for me to pick a favorite, I think I may like Red Haired Boy, which was stagecoach guard Wash’s back story, the best.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

The story has its bones in United States history, as it takes place in a Stagecoach/Pony Express home station in western Wyoming in 1860. While the characters are all completely fictional, their world is not. Many of them have backgrounds and situations that were inspired by real historical events. The Pyramid Lake massacre and the timeline surrounding it are very much actual events that took place. My characters must even abide by the contract employees of the company had to sign that read:

“I do hereby swear, before the great and living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors & Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language.  I will drink no intoxicating liquors; that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect, I will conduct myself honestly, faithful to my duties, and so direct my acts as to win the confidence of my employers.  So help me God.

Yeah. My boys fall a little short on that one. But Mr. Lynch knew that when he hired them.
 
Do you share any personality traits with Saint?

I have dug pretty deep for all of them, actually. I’d say Saint probably ended up with more than his fair share of my flaws and nasty habits. He and I share ethnicity and we both originally came from New Jersey. Lily wears my spectacles and like me, has learned to push through her awkwardness. Tommy shares my propensity to come home with bugs and mushrooms in his pockets. Rosie is me at her age, painfully shy and self-conscious. Storm has constant, sometimes warring dialog running through his head. Jesse often acts before thinking. Luis finds school as excruciating as I did. And since it’s Confession Time over here… Honey and villain Rob Yarl have what is probably closest to my own accent.

What kind of research was involved for The Five Dollar Mail?

I’m an American History buff, so I’d already had quite a bit of research (even though I was unaware at the time that that was what I was doing). I read a lot of books about the American West, the history of the Pony Express, medical technology of the time, Native American culture, weaponry, transportation and coach companies, etc, before I even started thinking about writing this story. And I live in the Southeast, and the only places I’ve been out west is Las Vegas and Texas. That hardly counts as useful, seeing as how the story’s set in Wyoming, so I had to do a lot of research on the geography and flora and fauna of the setting.

My cast of characters is very diverse, so then I had to study speech patterns, slang and vernacular from different cultures. Saint’s pretty easy for me, as are Honey and (I’m sorry to say) Rob Yarl. Those are the speech patterns of my own life. I don’t write accents, but I do write speech patterns. Fortunately for me, I’ve spent time with various people from all over, so I had at least a passing familiarity with some of the idiosyncrasies of different ways of speaking.

Do you have to be alone or have quiet to write?

No, not so much if I know what I’m writing beforehand. And I usually do. Once I know what I want to say, I can write pretty much anywhere, as long as people are more or less leaving me be. I need a little brain space to get started, but once I do, I’m okay with distractions. I have written more than a few chapters sitting in the lobby of an auto garage, waiting for my van to get repaired. I’ve written in the down time between visitors while running a booth at the local fair. I’ve written sitting in a camp chair in a crowded playground with kids bumping me and flicking water on me.

I reckon that means the voices in my head are pretty loud, eh?

What has been your greatest pleasure in writing this book?

I can answer that question without even thinking about it: the people I’ve met. I’ve met so many amazing people, been gifted with such wonderful friendships. Along with telling the story, I’ve shared some personal things with my readers, and the support and kindness I’ve been shown along the way has more than once moved me to tears. I started out writing for myself, but now I write for them. My greatest pleasure in writing is in the pleasure of my readers. It sounds flip and corny writing it out like that, but it’s absolutely true. It’s what keeps me going.

My readers are amazing. Completely unbidden, they’ve contributed fan fiction and fan art. It’s just an indescribable feeling seeing my world through someone else’s eyes like that.

In fact, once I figured out my readers liked to write, too, I held a writing contest. the winner, Jenna Reid, will be featured in the first two books, and possibly the third. She wrote two pieces of fanfiction. One of them was the first place winner and the other piece she wrote just because she wanted to do something incredibly kind for me after a hard week. And I have a short stand alone story another extremely talented reader, Erin Sackett, and I came up some time ago. Not sure where that’s going to go yet, but it’s going to go somewhere. Really, my readers are amazing people. It bears repeating.

Do you have plans for a new book?  Is this book part of a series?

Yes. The online format is roughly a thousand words a chapter, updated once per week. The first book will be the first hundred chapters (more or less, depending on where we ultimately break it) and the second book will be the second hundred. I’m already planning on book three for a nice, neat little trilogy. The books will contain the artwork from the site by artists Liezl Buenaventura and Diego Candia, and some never-before-seen artwork from Three of Swords artist Melissa C. Zayas. And another book cover is currently in the works from Diego as we speak. The artwork is a huge part of FDM, so that is definitely something that will be carried over from the site and expanded upon.

What type of heroine do you like best?

I like a heroine I can relate to. I do not care much for these flawless, beautiful, naïve women waiting to get swept off her feet by the hero. There are millions of women out there and only a tiny minority of them look like someone off the cover of a romance book. I like to read about real girls, real women. Real women can be awkward and have mousy hair and glasses. They can be self-conscious or have bad tempers or have crushes. They can throw a kiss or throw a punch. They can don armor and ride in and save the day.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

It’s a time and place that is terribly romantic and exciting. The land is fierce, wild, deadly, and beautiful. It seems to me that people who existed then had the edges of their lives sharpened by their environment -inspirational natural vistas which often became the backdrops for cruel, random violence. It must have felt like living on the ragged edge of the world. To me, it’s a stark metaphor for the ephemeral beauty of life itself.

And, you know, manly stubbly guys running around wearing vests and cowboy boots.  There’s something to be said for that as well.  ;-)

This seems like a good place to talk about the Romance aspect of The Five Dollar Mail. I think the Romance genre has been unfairly ghettoized by the media, often repressed in public, and generally targeted by a certain amount of literary snobbery. I mean, I’d be hard pressed to find a show on tv or a movie out there that lacks any romantic angle in it. We all love us some romance, don’t we? And I don’t mean just women, either. And yet, for all our hardwired hunger for romance, an entire genre gets marginalized as fluff.

And yet with that said, I don’t call The Five Dollar Mail a “Romance” book because I have disregarded the traditional Romance formula so much that frankly, if someone is out there looking for a straight, predictable romance story in the classic style, FDM ain’t it. FDM may not appeal to Romance purists. Romance FANS, on the other hand, the sorts of people who are currently tuning in every week, are clearly on board for this style of “Western Historical Romantic Adventure.” And that’s who I’m trying to appeal to.
Why did you choose to be an Indie writer and would you choose to self-publish again?

While I am not going to sit here and say I’d refuse if some big publishing house came up and offered me a whole lot of money for my work, I am actually interested in Indie publishing for its own sake. Frankly, there is nothing about the process of traditional publishing that appeals to me. On the other hand, there is quite a bit about Indie publishing I find enticing. I like the idea of having control over my work, of having control over my own marketing. I didn’t start writing because I wanted to write something some else might like to sell. I have a strong desire to tell my stories and be creative the way I want. I was writing long before anyone was reading my work.

Maybe the short answer is that I’m a control freak. That’s certainly a possibility.

So as for that big publisher offering me a check? I’m not saying I wouldn’t take it. But I’m not saying I would, either.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

The poem Berryman by W.S. Merwin. The whole thing. I actually cried when I read the last two stanzas for the first time.

What are you reading now? Why did you choose that book

I’m reading The Elfish Gene by Mark Barrowcliffe. I chose that book because I am a ginormous nerd.

Which authors and books have most influenced your writing style?

Though I don’t know how similar I’d consider my own writing to any of my influences, there are authors I pay very close attention to. In no particular order, Steven King, Larry McMurtry (the Lonesome Dove books in general, and Buffalo Girls in particular), Joe R. Lansdale, (particularly the so called “Hap and Leonard” series and his work on the comic Jonah Hex).

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

I think I started one when I was about twelve. I used to carry around a ratty yellow notebook I wrote in. It was a pretty big work, considering I was twelve and writing it in pencil on college ruled paper. I have a crate of stories, mostly terrible, that I’ve written since, and one huge toe-stubber of a novel I wrote with a friend back when rocks were soft. To give you an idea of how long ago that was…it was printed in dot matrix.

Do you believe in writer’s block? Has it ever happened to you?

Yes, and yes. But I usually can get rid of it by writing something else. And if that fails, publically announcing “I’m not writing this week” usually banishes it completely.

Have you ever literally deleted or thrown away a book you’ve written?

No, and I probably should. Because there’s some terrible, and I do mean terrible stuff floating around with my name on it. 

Green River in North Carolina--internetbrothers.org
Favorite place?

A particular unnamed rapid in the Green River (the one in North Carolina, not the one in Wyoming) in the late afternoon, when the sun turns the water into white feathers.

Best Christmas present?

Big blue Wonder Woman coffee mug from my six year old daughter.

Favorite author?

Mary Oliver. Does that count?

Favorite smell?

Dirt

Favorite series?

Earth Two. It’s old. What? Don’t think of it as Science Fiction, think of it as Wagon Train.

Favorite movie?

Last of the Mohicans

Favorite dish?

Leftover eggplant Parmesan sandwich on cheap, white bread. Room temperature, slightly squashed.

Favorite color?

Green

Favorite quote?

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"-Mary Oliver

Your best trait?

Sometimes I’m like Saint.

Your worst trait?

Sometimes I’m like Saint.



The Book


Five dollars to mail a letter seems like a lot of money to shy farmgirl Lily MicMillian. And when she's hired by Old Man Lynch as a cook for his stagecoach and Pony Express station, she finds out why it's so expensive. Dropped into a whirlwind of rowdy men and boys, fast horses, and frightening conflict, she inherits more than a busy kitchen and a pile of dirty laundry. She inherits an unlikely band of brothers, a motley collection of rounders, miscreants, and troublemakers, all of whom are in sore need of someone to keep them in line.

The Author
I have a great love of all things western stemming all the way back to my father watching Wild, Wild West when I was a toddler. My first remembered drive-in movie as a small child was Support Your Local Sheriff, which my parents and I went out to see (actually, they watched it, and I played in the back seat, but I do remember seeing it.) I am now a graphic artist, a naturalist, and a folk musician. And I like to write. And I still love westerns! 


Where can your readers find you?



Twitter: ReginaShelley1


Is your book in Print, eBook or both? It will be both when it’s released.


 An Excerpt

Chapter 1: Welcome to Green River

Nobody knew what she looked like, but they all had opinions. And Saint had been hearing them, over and over, for the better part of the evening. Blathering on like idiots about the newly hired housekeeper. He ignored them as best he could, turned up the lantern wick, and tried to read his threadbare hardback of Little Dorritt. No use. The chattering voices flying around the warm dimness of the bunkhouse buffeted his concentration like a dust devil kicking up in his face.

Saint sighed and shook his head, half in amusement and half in exasperation. He genuinely liked the men and boys he shared the bunkhouse with, but he had to admit to himself a little peace and quiet would have been nice on occasion. Still, sharing quarters with a pack of youthful, noisy mates was not anything new to him- coming from a large family, he had quite a few siblings back east. And just like home, he was the second oldest of the pack.

“She even has a pretty name. Lily. I bet....I bet she’s blonde.” Tommy offered in his flighty, breathy way of speaking. The young, brown-haired Pony Express rider lay staring dreamily into the dim shadows above his bunk, no doubt seeing some statuesque Nordic goddess hovering in the rough-hewn rafters. The lamplight twinkled on his silver spectacles as he rolled over and lifted his head. “Jesse’s blond, and...well, you know...she’s he’s sister.  I bet she has hair like his. Only clean.”

“Nah.” Wash snorted his tone dismissive as he sat on the edge of the bunk beneath Tommy’s, rubbing grease into the seams of his worn work boots. As the oldest man in the bunkhouse, he often played along with mock authority. “Nah, lads, she ain’t blonde. She’s got black hair, so she does, dark like secrets and magic. And bonny brown eyes.” He held up his hands, one with the greasy rag in it and the other wearing the boot and outlined the dream girl’s form in the air with exaggerated curves. “Aye, and a curvy lass, too, so she is.”
Tommy smiled happily. “Well, I don’t really care how...well, I just hope she can cook…”
Lights the Storm Peltier rolled over in his bunk and stared across at Tommy, his black eyes popping open in an exasperated snap. His long fall of blue-black hair draped across his face like a shroud, and he apparently didn’t see fit to brush it aside. “That’s the first intelligent thing either of you’ve said all night.” He mumbled through it’s sheltering darkness. “Will you two shut up already?”
“Ha.” Tommy’s hazel eyes gleamed with merriment at his bunkmate. “Listen to you. You aren’t...eh...fooling anybody, you know. You’re just as curious as the rest of us. Admit it.”
Lights the Storm’s direct gaze and sharp cheekbones gave him an air of seriousness that the younger riders respected…usually. Tonight, however, his eyes were dulled with exhaustion and annoyance and the boys were too wound up to notice.
“Go on. You’ll feel a lot better.” Tommy persisted.
“Go to sleep.” Lights the Storm shushed him, closing his eyes. “We have work tomorrow.” He blew out his candle and fell silent, clearly hoping the rest of the riders would follow suit.
He’s not the only one... Saint took a firm grip on his book and tried to focus.
“So. Saint.” Tommy continued, ignoring Peltier and focusing his attention where it was nearly as unwelcome.
Saint sighed, dragged into the conversation against his will. Tommy is a lot like a cat, he thought silently. Always wanting to sit in the lap of the least willing person available. He reluctantly peered over the top of his book and fixed the young express rider with what he hoped was a dark, foreboding glare.
The boy continued, obliviously, “What do you think she’s like?”
Well, so much for that tactic. The rangy stagecoach driver blinked his eyes before tucking them firmly back into his book.
“C’mon, Saint. Aren’t you Eye-talians supposed to be experts on women and such?”
“Hell, Tommy, I don’t know. I hear she’s got six nipples. Alright? And teeth under her skirts. How ‘bout that?”
Lights the Storm snorted in disgust, his voice muffled. “Oh, that’s a hell of a thing to say.”
Wash put down his boot and picked up the other one. “Miss Lily McMillain might as well have teeth under her skirts, eh, lad?” He laughed. “The lot of you should’ve heard the threats and oaths Jesse warned Saint with before he went on his mail run. ‘Don’t mess with my sister. I’ll kill ya if ya mess with my sister.’ It was almost funny, it was.”
“He sounded like Old Man Lynch warning us off Fiona.” Saint smirked, remembering his boss’s tirade. “First day on the job, we have to hear the boss going on and on with ‘ My niece is the housekeeper here and I’ll kill the first one of you sumbitches that messes with her. Blah blah blah. Geez, you’d think we were in the House of the Vestal Virgins or something.”
“It would be great if she was about...uh, however old Fiona is...” Tommy mused, ignoring him. “Or... even younger! What if she was my age?”
“I am up before dawn tomorrow.” Storm snapped, swinging his legs down out of his bunk and dragging a pair of pants after him. “I am just going to ask Luis, alright?” He hauled his trousers up and pulled one suspender up “He was here when she showed up. He needs to turn in anyway, and maybe then you’ll all shut up and let me sleep.”
He shuffled out the door, disentangling his hair from the lone suspender over his shoulder and muttering swear words in French as he went.

 

2 comments:

  1. It's great having you with us here today Regina! The book sounds like fun and I really like the cover.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, MK, for having me here and for your kind words! And thank you for your kind words about the cover...Diego did an amazing job on it, and I am particularly pleased with it. :-) This interview has been a lot of fun for me!

    ReplyDelete