The Virtues of Hard Work and A Thick Skin
There are few joys in life to compare with discovering a new author, one whose inventive imagination, writing skills, and grasp of character combine to produce a fast-paced and entertaining book. Indeed, one of the few things I can think of to top that thrill is to find out that the author has written six previous SF novels. This was the predicament I was pleased to find myself in this month while interviewing S.L. Viehl and reviewing her latest book, Bio Rescue (New York: ROC, 2004).
S.L. Viehl is one of several pseudonyms employed by Sheila Kelly, who has released 26 books since her first novel was published in 2000, including seven SF novels as Viehl. And no, that's not a typo - that's 26 published books in four years. Reading Sheila Kelly's biography, I'm inclined to compare her with Janet Evanovich, a romance writer who has crossed genres into the mystery field with the very popular Stephanie Plum series. Both Kelly and Evanovich have created strong, capable and independent female characters who also make mistakes and suffer self-doubt. They are, in short, very real and sympathetic characters, even if they happen to be surgically enhanced hybrid albino aquatic aliens!
Sheila Kelly must be one of the thickest skinned and hardest working authors writing today. In the nine years prior to her first sale (the SF novel Stardoc; New York: ROC, 2000; PBO), Kelly wrote 14 romance novels and received over 1000 rejection letters. Interestingly, she attributes her early rejection and current success to the same reason: lack of contact with other professional writers. On the one hand, without professional contacts, Kelly's manuscripts inevitably wound up in publishers' slush piles - huge stacks of unsolicited manuscripts that are almost universally doomed to rejection. It eventually took a friend with contacts in the publishing field to get one of Kelly's science fiction manuscripts (as S.L. Viehl) in the hands of an actual editor, who immediately bought two of her novels.
On the plus side, Kelly's status as a self-taught novelist has freed her from the arbitrary limitations and conventions that many authors operate within - to "color outside the lines" as she says in an interview with Rick Kleffel
Kelly was absent the day they told authors to only work in one genre and only on one book at a time. Her work schedule often includes three or more different books in as many different genres.
Make no mistake - Sheila Kelly's writing will not appeal to all SF fans. Some have complained that her science sometimes falls short, others that her aliens are too human; and still others have characterized the books as SF-lite. Of course, SF readers are, by and large, highly opinionated, accomplished nit-pickers (present company included). Kelly knows the odds of pleasing all of the people all of the time and doesn't have time to waste on the attempt. She writes to please herself, and that's just fine with the growing number of her fans.
Following is my interview with Sheila Kelly.
TD: How do you see the relative importance of character versus plot in your writing, and does this change depending upon the genre in which you are writing?
SK: Personally I connect better with people versus events or circumstances; it's the same when I'm writing. My characters are the messengers and the message, while the plot is more like a vehicle for them and the reader. I love a powerful, fast-moving plot, and I work hard to make the ride worthwhile for the reader, but it's always the characters that make any novel come alive for me.
TD: In the four years since your first publication (Stardoc; New York: ROC, 2000), you have published 26 books under five names in five genres, including seven SF novels set in the StarDoc universe. While some of this output is explained by a backlog of books written prior to your first sale, this is still an impressive achievement. As an author, what are the risks and benefits of simultaneously working on multiple projects in different genres?
SK: The greatest risks to a multi-genre writer are probably mental exhaustion and an inability to maintain publication quality in your work. It's difficult enough to write and sell a single novel per year; you have to be wired a little differently to write and sell eight novels per year. If you can handle the speed and pressure, however, you generate a great deal more income - enough to quit your day job and write full-time - and you have a better chance of rapidly building a large and diverse readership.
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark