10 questions with Sheila Busteed
I'm not exaggerating when I say that I was born to be a writer.
When I was about seven years old, I attended Brownies. One day, our group was working on an arts and crafts project. However, instead of following the instructions and creating some sort of macaroni-glued-on-construction-paper design, I grabbed the closest writing implement and began scribbling on the paper. By the time my troupe leader discovered my deviant behaviour, I had composed a whole poem -- and it rhymed, too! I can still recall the surprised look on her face. Instead of scolding me, she told me to take home what I'd written and show it to my parents.
That was the day I became a writer, and I've been walking that path ever since. I've dabbled in it all: poetry, lyrics, short stories, novels, essays and journalism articles. The possibilities for creations are as boundless as my imagination, and that makes for a very fulfilling, challenging and artistic life.
For years, I'd wanted to become a novelist. In fact, it had been a life goal of mine almost since I started writing poetry. When I was eight years old, I decided I would become a novelist before I turned 30. Back then, such an age seemed very old to me, so I figured it would be easy to achieve something so great within that time frame. But those years flew by and, in January 2012, I realized I was running out of time to fulfill that goal of being published. So, I hunkered down that year, dedicating all of my free time to the creation of Sunsets in Oia. Then, in November 2013, my dream came true at the age of 28. Since then, my life has been about balancing my book's promotion and my preparations for Novel No. 2 with working full time as an English teacher in South Korea.
What do you like most about being a writer?
I love the fact that I can string together a bunch of words and create something meaningful, something substantive, something that can touch people's hearts, minds and souls, and it will hopefully stand the test of time. I get to take nothing but ideas in my mind and turn them into something real that I can hold in my hands. Writers are artists in that regard, wherein we achieve a sense of immortality through our creations. I love that sense of reward after being knocked about and challenged by a writing project. For me, that's what it's all about. If other people read my writing and connect with it, I feel like I've achieved something magical.
Do you prefer a specific genre for reading and writing?
I'll read almost anything I can get my hands on, provided the writer demonstrates skill and creativity. If you can make me laugh, cry, think, or disappear into another place or time by reading something, then you're worth my time. As a writer, I try to learn tricks of the trade every time I read something.
As far as my own writing is concerned, I'm a big fan of adjectives and details. I want to be able to describe something so well that you can see, smell, taste, hear and touch it in your imagination. To do that, I need to feel connected to my subject, to be passionate about it. Other than that, I don't think I have any limits regarding subject or genre. I'm a very curious person and I enjoy the challenge of trying something new.
Is there anything (drink, food, writing tools etc.) that you can’t write without?
When I was writing Sunsets in Oia, certain things were very important to ensure the ideal writing situation. I was actually in the Greek village of Oia while writing the first draft of the book, so I was surrounded by inspiration. I'm pretty old school, so I prefer to write the first draft of a project by hand. So, I had plenty of comfortable gel pens and a thick, leather-bound notebook to write in. I also had a smaller scribble pad of storyboard ideas with me, as well as a dictionary and thesaurus. With those materials, I sat out on the veranda every day at the villa where I was staying and wrote for hours. There was beautiful Greek music playing and I was sipping tasty local wine the whole time. With this ideal set-up, I was able to pump out three-quarters of the first draft in the 10 days I spent on the island.
What inspired you to write your novel Sunsets in Oia?
I first visited the island of Santorini in 2008 as part of a Mediterranean cruise I was taking with my family to celebrate my parents' 25th wedding anniversary. I only spent one day on the island but instantly fell in love with it. That day, I promised myself I'd find a reason to return as soon as possible. Jump forward to January 2012 when I was sorting through ideas for my debut novel. I knew I wanted it to be a romance story with an element of travel and adventure. My mind settled on Santorini almost instantly as the ideal locale for my love story. In that way, I was killing two birds with one stone.
I'm a huge fan of music and had worked as a freelance music journalist since I was 17, so deciding to create a main character who's a musician was a natural choice. But I worked hard to make her seem normal despite having achieved a level of fame in her professional.
I'd also been influenced by the news and my journalism background. I wanted my whole story to seem as real as possible, so tying it to real-life events like the global economic crisis and the Athens riots helped anchor my fictional characters in reality.
As an avid traveler, is there any place you’d love to use as a setting?
My next novel will also be set on Santorini but take place during an ancient part of its history. I love historical epics and am so far enjoying the research process. I think writing this next book will be a wonderful challenge, blending historical fact with interpretation and imagination.
I'd also love to set a future project in New Zealand. I've yet to visit that country but have felt drawn to it for a long time. Additionally, I think another future project will be influenced by my time here in South Korea. Asian culture is fascinating, and there are so many beautiful places here and within a short plane ride. As I spend more time here and travel around Asia more, it will likely inspire yet another creation.
Any favourite books and authors?
I loved reading Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks. It had me laughing with every single page. I'm also a huge fan of Edward Rutherfurd's work, and have enjoyed reading Chuck Palahniuk's books, too. Back in university, I read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, which really stuck with me. I also really enjoyed Daniel Quinn's Ishmael and William Morris' News From Nowhere, two classics that really got me thinking. And, of course, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for J.R.R. Tolkien and William Shakespeare.
If you were sent away to a deserted island, what 5 things would you take with you?
I would bring a gorgeous and skilled lover with me, our pet dog, an acoustic guitar, a good knife, and a sailboat. With those five things, life on a deserted island would be pretty sweet.
How do you balance your writing life with your professional and/or personal life?
Right now, I'm focused on my teaching career but I still have plenty of spare time to play with, so my hobbies and writing get a fair amount of attention. By living in South Korea, I'm not distracted by things like western TV shows or drama stirred up in my old circle of friends. That stuff is very far away, so I get to focus on meeting new people, having new experiences, and writing new stories.
Balance is important for me, but life in Korea is much more spontaneous than in Canada, so I can't always follow a strict writing schedule. Instead, I try to chip away at my to-do list a little each week while allowing for some delays if an interesting opportunity or adventure comes my way.
Do you have any advice for other authors or aspiring writers?
It's important to plan a novel. Do your homework first before you sit down to write the first draft. Know who your characters are, what their story is, and how you want it to end before you put pen to paper. But also allow for unexpected inspiration that hits you in the moment.
You must know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and your motivations as a writer. Trust your instincts and find your rhythm so you can let that first draft flow out of you. Don't edit along the way -- that's for later. Allow yourself to make mistakes at the beginning, knowing that there will be several drafts before you truly finish. Make sure you turn to several people you trust to serve as editors, and give them different responsibilities. Use their strengths and insight to help your writing become stronger.
And, of course, follow your passions. If you don't like what you're writing about, it'll show in your work. Write for the love of it instead of appealing to the lowest common denominator in an effort to just push product. Royalties are merely an added benefit to a life as an author, and becoming a bestseller isn't exactly a realistic goal. Write because you love writing, and focus on creating something that others will respect. If you can do that, then a dedicated fan base will follow.
About the Author
This contemporary adventure romance story follows Selene Doherty, a professional musician in the midst of a personal crisis. After losing her parents in the Athens riots, Selene retreats to her bequeathed summer home on Santorini. While there, she sparks an unexpected romance with a childhood friend, who helps guide her through the tragedy and discover a new path for her future.
Sheila is a big music aficionado and an avid traveler. She currently lives in South Korea and works as an English teacher.
Please visit www.sheilabusteed.com for more information about Sheila Busteed and Sunsets in Oia. Its "Bookstore" page has links to all of the retailers, and the "Blog" page is updated regularly for your enjoyment.
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