Sharleen Nelson is an accomplished writer and award-winning photographer. Over the course of her 20+ year career as a journalist, she has written hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles on a vast range of topics. She has also served as an editor on a number of magazines in the travel, entertainment, education, science, and technology fields. She is a graduate of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and is currently employed as an editor and writer at the UO. She lives in Oregon with her husband, dog, and two cats.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I was born a storyteller. As a child I had a vivid imagination and I entertained myself by making up detailed stories—complete with plot and dialogue. It was like watching a movie in my head. I have always kept diaries and journals. What I love the most about writing is getting lost in the story. Writing it is the same as reading it except you are the one controlling the narrative. I love getting into that creative flow where you are so immersed in the story that time seems to evaporate. As a journalist, I write for a living, so I would say my biggest frustration is procrastination. I definitely write better under the pressure of a looming deadline.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
My first book, The Time Tourists was released in 2018. It’s sequel, The Yesterday Girl, launches this March. Both are available from GladEye Press, libraries, bookstores, Amazon, etc. The protagonist, Imogen Oliver discovers that she has an ability to walk into a photograph and time travel to that place. The universe fills in all the gaps in terms of appropriate period clothing. She turns her unique ability into a career as a private investigator. She can travel through time and find information or lost items for her clients. Of course, she also has a very complicated life to deal with when she’s not time traveling.
As for me, I earned my journalism degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon and for the past seven years I have worked for the UO as a writer and editor in the Department of Communications. Over the course of my 30+-year career I have worked on staff for a number of magazines in the entertainment, education, and travel industries and written for numerous publications as a freelance journalist. I am a photographer and I live in Oregon with my husband, dog, and two feisty cats. I enjoy reading, writing, and swimming.
3) What projects are you currently working on?
I just completed my second novel. I am planning a third in the series but will begin work on that after The Yesterday Girl launches.
4) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. The first one took nine years to write. Granted, I was also working full-time as a writer so only had limited time to work on it, but there is so much more to it than merely writing a story—research, plotting it out, planning it so that you end up with a cohesive story, it all takes time and brain power.
5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
No one likes rejection, but I try to look at it this way: Putting yourself out there is one of the bravest things you can do. Yes, you are vulnerable, and you open yourself up for both praise and rejection, but not trying is far worse than being rejected. Many years ago, my dad gave me a piece of paper listing all the times famous people had tried and failed, and it ended with the quote: “Don’t worry about failure. Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.” Jack Canfield. I have taped that up in every office I’ve worked in as inspiration.
6) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
I do not have a schedule for writing. That generally doesn’t work for me anyway. Sitting down and saying, ‘okay, I’m blocking out the next two hours to write’ will inevitably end up with me doing anything but writing—cleaning the bathroom, wasting time on the internet. I can’t force myself to be creative. Giving myself a deadline is the best motivation because I know that I have some squishy time there to goof off or be lazy—as long as I meet my deadline, I’m good.
In terms of outlining, I do now. When I first started, all I had was an idea. I semi-outlined it, but I wasn’t sure where the story would take me. The second book took much less time to write because I knew what I was doing the second time around, plus, the introduction of characters and their back stories were already established. All I had to do was send them off on adventures.
The first book took nine years. This one almost four years. But I would also add that a portion of writing a book is not doing the actual writing—it’s staring out the window at hummingbirds, rushing to get out of the shower or waking up at 3 a.m. to write something down before you lose it forever; it’s letting ideas percolate, telling yourself the story, and hearing the characters speaking in your head.
7) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
Absolutely not! It’s never too late to learn and be curious and create. My first novel was published in 2018 when I was 60. My second novel will be released in March, I’m 63. I know it sounds like a cliché, but age is only a number. I believe that if you write a good book, people will take notice no matter what your age.
8) Are you an avid reader and have you always been? What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? Who is your favorite author? What book are you currently reading?
Yes, I have always loved books. My mother used to take us to the library to check out stacks of books. My grandmother took care of me when I was a child. She was a retired schoolteacher, so she taught me to read when I was three. I remember loving fairy tales and ghost stories the most. I am all over the place when it comes to reading. I loved The Lord of the Rings. After my father died, I read War and Peace. I needed to get lost in something vast. Love Neil Geiman. I admit to being drawn to stories of the dark and the weird. I read a lot of Stephen King in my 20s. Didn’t love all his books, but for learning the craft of writing, King is the king of description. His character’s dialogue is superb and he can describe a character in one sentence. Amazing. If you want to learn how to write, study his novels.
9) The Pandemic was a challenging time for some writers and creative individuals but also for others it was time that they needed to focus on their creative passions. Which side of that spectrum do you fall on? Are there any lessons or nuggets of wisdom that you gained during the Pandemic that help you within your writing career? Did the quarantine stifle your creativity or did it make you even more driven to get things done?
I am an introvert by nature, so the pandemic didn’t alter my routine much other than that I was able to work from home. Not having to spend the time every day going to and from campus freed up more time for me to write, but I tend to write on the weekends anyway regardless. In general, although this has been a trying time, I think some good might come out of it in that people used the time for reflection, to look inward and re-examine their lives. It was a pause that allowed people to rethink how they wanted their lives to be. What was important? What wasn’t? I certainly came to appreciate some of the things I’ve taken for granted because of the pandemic.
10) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry as it is being represented today? Do you lean more towards traditional publishing or self-publishing as a preference? Does being a hybrid author interest you?
I think having more options is a good thing. Being able to choose how much control you want to have over your work is desirable for a lot of people. Being picked up by a large publishing house has its advantages too. They have the money and resources and connections to get an author’s book in front of a lot of people initially, but at the same time, they still expect their authors to promote themselves and their work. In my case, my husband and I own our small press and we are both professional writers and authors, so publishing my books not only serves me as the author but also serves our business.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
Writing is my passion, always has been. Being able to express myself well is a gift that I am so grateful for. And being able to turn that gift into a career makes it all the better. I have had the opportunity to interview so many fascinating people and tell their stories—from students to educators to artists, musicians, and actors and through them I have learned about so many things that I may not have known had I not spoken to them. When I was working on staff on an entertainment magazine in Southern California in the 90s, I interviewed actors and directors, including Mel Brooks, Morgan Freeman, Joel and Ethan Coen and one of the things I learned was that no matter how famous they were, they are still people who love to talk about their art and their craft. Doing something creative, whatever that may be, will always empower you to be a unique and authentic extension of who you are.