What a treat to interview author, screenwriter, writing coach Shonell Bacon. Shonell lives right here in my neck of the woods but we've never met. I've heard a lot of good things about her and look forward to the day we can meet at Starbucks and talk writing. In the meantime, enjoy the answers to her questions 'cause she has a lot of great information to share.
1. First, tell us about yourself and what you do in life.
Well, by day, I’m an English Specialist and mass communication visiting lecturer at McNeese State University, where I teach freshman composition, developmental writing, writing for the media, emerging media practices, and on and on.
By night, I am a writer and an editor. I edit manuscripts and screenplays for individual clients and presses. It’s been my side gig for about seven years now, and I could only do it because I love words and I love a good story. Right now, as a writer, I’m focused on screenplays. In the last year, I’ve had pilot place in a competition, a short script become a finalist in a competition, and am in the process of having another short script optioned. With these successes thus far, my excitement lies in the visual medium right now.
2) Tell us about your path to publication, how long you’ve been writing, how long it took you to publish, and how many books you have under your writing belt.
Around 1994, I became serious in trying to get published. I submitted a plethora of queries, synopses, sample chapters – received a plethora of rejections. In 2000, I met a woman online who was a writer, and we decided to write a book together – completely online via e-mails. For about six months, she and I sent chapters back and forth, and once we had a book finished, we got it edited and decided to self-publish. We didn’t have much money, but we had a good book, and demand was quick. We just didn’t have the money to print more books – lol. Luckily, Zane an extraordinarily popular author of erotica and the owner of Strebor Books liked our novel, LuvAlwayz: The Opposite Sex & Relationships and decided to publish it. Through Strebor Books (which is now a part of Simon & Schuster), I published two novels – in 2001 and 2003. In 2004, I had a short story published in a popular erotic anthology, and recently, several of my short stories have been published as e-stories through an up and coming publisher.
In addition to my fiction, I’ve also contributed and co-edited academic textbooks that are currently being used in McNeese’s freshman English classes.
3) You have a lot going on: writing, teaching, coaching other writers, and I understand you have some new ventures in the works. How many hours in your day? You must have fantastic organizational skills. How do you stay organized, productive and successful?
Rest assured, I stumble and fall just like everyone else, but what keeps me on my toes for the most part is my trusty planner, my slightly compulsive nature, and my need to see things crossed off to-do lists, LOL I really do believe in the adage, a place for everything and everything in its place.
4) Are you a member of any writers’ group—local or national--and if so, how do you think they help you?
Right now, I’m not a member of any groups because I spend so much of my writing and helping others to write in one-on-one sessions with writers. Having said that, I believe groups are invaluable. Writing is a solitary act; however, getting those words published takes networking. Writers need writers on their level to grow with, they need writers on levels above them to learn from, and they need writers on levels below them to teach.
5) What has been your biggest frustration within the publishing industry and how have you dealt with it? What gets you down and can stop you in your tracks?
Biggest frustration has been hearing that I don’t write “black” enough. More times than I care to count, I have been told that I write great stories with good character and on and on, but those same stories get passed-up for publication because they don’t read black enough. This, in the past, has stopped me from writing completely because I don’t know how to write any other way than the way I do. What has gotten me out of that fit of despair is embracing screenwriting. In a short amount of time, I have found people who appreciate the stories I have to tell and don’t base them on how they “sound” culturally but how GOOD they are.
6) Give us your best marketing tip and how much time do you spend marketing yourself and your work? Want to tell us what you think about the whole ‘branding’ phenomenon?
Branding is EXTRAORDINARILY important. I recently did a three episode stint on the online radio show TALE IT LIKE IT IS, where I talked about branding, among other things – you can hear the show at my site, http://shonbacon.com/listen. Just like a company needs to brand its product, a writer must brand him or herself. A writer needs a website. A writer should have a blog that is updated at least once a week. A writer should have a presence on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter – just some of the social networking sites. A writer should develop a mission statement for his/her writing career (one that is regularly evaluated because we all evolve and change), and then create a plan to see how online marketing/promotion can be used to support that mission. I recently wrote on mission statements at Blogging in Black [http://readersrooms.com/2009/02/17/what-is-your-mission-statement/] – my mission is in the write-up.
7) What do you dread the most when you sit down to write?
Don’t hate me, but I dread nothing. When I’m actually sitting down with the task of writing, everything in my universe is aligned for that experience, and it’s – personally – one of the best experiences. I don’t worry about the story sucking (because the internal editor is OFF); all I worry about is getting the work from inside me to inside my laptop.
8) How did you get into coaching other writers? Did it evolve out of your teaching, and how does coaching affect your own writing?
In 2003, I taught fiction writing through McNeese’s continuing education department, and I met men and women of all ages that loved words and putting them together to tell stories. Many of those participants are a part of the Bayou Writers Group here in Lake Charles, LA. Teaching that class was my first setting in which I could express my passion for creative writing to a captive (lol) and appreciative audience. Since then, I’ve taught other classes through MSU, to include my Writers Boot Camp.
9) Do you have a critique group? How would you advise beginning writers about critiquing each other? If you don't have one, who were your early readers and how did they help you?
I don’t necessarily have a critique group, but I do have a circle of friends I’d trust my life and my words to. Oftentimes, admittedly, I’m so connected with a piece and it feels so “right” that I don’t go looking for them to critique my work; I look for an editor to clean it up. Whenever I write something different than the norm, I call up the circle of friends and send them material and a critique form I put together.
For beginning writers in critique groups, I would suggest having a form – a rating/discussion form. For the one I give to friends, there is a table where they rate story components like characters development, plot (to include conflict, obstacles, tension, resolution), dialogue, etc. And then there is a discussion section where they can elaborate on the ratings and explain WHY they rated the way they did and offer suggestions for revision.
My third year in the MFA/MA program at McNeese had the best critique/workshop group ever. It, for me, epitomizes what a group should be. Should have participants who loves stories and who want their fellow writers to have the best stories they can write. Every session should be about lifting the writer in the development of his/her craft.
10) Share some of your brainstorming techniques. How do you plot your books or are you a seat of the pants writer?
A lot of my stories come from images I see throughout the day. I wrote a piece titled “Empty Swings” after seeing a set of swings in a park. They were swaying though there was no breeze. The image pulled something in me, and a story idea was born.
Once I birth the idea, I’m a very analytical writer. I estimate a word count, think about chapters, consider a word count per chapter, and then I break out the note cards and write a scene per card. By the time I commit myself to begin actually writing the story, I have seen the story in my head a million times, and I have a well-developed outline.
Now, having said that, I must add that my stories never end up exactly like the outline. In the end, characters tell the story – not the writer. Once characters are alive on the page, they dictate how their stories will be told.
11) Where would we find Shonell Bacon on a Saturday night? With other writers, on the Internet or painting the town?
If I’m not at Joe Muggs at Books-A-Million having a chocolate-caramel latte, I’m at the laptop editing, spending time with my family, studying how effective the internet is for promoting and marketing one’s self, and yes – writing.
12) What is your very favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?
Two things – watch sports and listen to music. Music evokes the same emotions I receive when a story lulls me to the laptop. It soothes this savage beast and sparks me to write. I ADORE sports and before I became a teacher, writer, editor; my dream was to be a sports anchor for ESPN – any Sunday during football season or day of the week during baseball season, you can hear me commentating on the games just by walking passed my house, LOL I’m THAT vocal!
13) Where do you write—describe your writing space to us. What inspires you?
Don’t really have a “space” – I’m a floater. I usually have mood-setting elements. For example, I usually compile a “soundtrack” for the stories I write and put them on repeat while I write. My favorite movie is “Fatal Attraction,” and sometimes, I play that as background noise because it’s not something I have to watch, and the sounds are familiar to me. I like to have a cup of coffee on the left hand side of me, and usually, before I write, I pray, asking God to help my creativity flow
13) What's next for you? Tell us how to keep up with you and your writing, and anything else you want us to know.
A lot of things are up with me!
Writing wise, I am working on several screenplays – both feature-length and short – to submit to agents/production companies and to submit to competitions and interested parties.
I, along with my best friend, plan to move into the indie publishing business sometime this year and publish one of my novels hopefully by the year’s end.
I’m looking into podcasting – under the publishing company but have a show that features writing tips and the like.
And of course, I’m always editing and coaching.
To learn more about me, you can check out my official site (http://shonbacon.com/), my editing site (http://chicklitgurrl.org/), and my two blogs ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING (where I interview women writers – http://chicklitgurrl.blogspot.com/) and All the Blog’s a Page (a monthly blogging series in which writers talk about writing and its relation to various topics – http://alltheblogsapage.blogspot.com).