12/7/10 at 10:36 AM
I’d like to introduce you to Miss Sheryl Nantus, a successful published writer who is also unique in many ways. For instance, in Second Life, she is Sheryl Skytower, a small clockwork dragon with a cookie fixation. But there’s more. Sheryl has turned her NaNoWriMo projects into publishable novels. Her latest is "Wild Cards and Iron Horses", which she wrote while sitting in the CocoaJava Cafe, a Second Life bohemian coffee house in the steampunk city of New Babbage. Sheryl’s novel gives playful homage to some of the city’s quirks and folks, which adds to the fun.
As the builder of the CocoaJava Cafe, (which is now under the ownership of Mister Blackberry Harvey), I am of course tickled to pieces that my cafe helped to inspire this rollicking Steampunk style old west adventure.
["Wild Cards and Iron Horses" cover art by Kanaxa]
The official teaser for "Wild Cards and Iron Horses" reads thusly:
Their love rides on a spring and a prayer…
During the recent Civil War, a soldier risked his life to save Jonathan handleston—and lost. With the help of an advanced metal brace on his crippled hand, Jon now travels from one poker tournament to the next, determined to earn enough money to repay the man’s debt.
Prosperity Ridge is supposed to be the last stop on his quest, but his brace is broken and he needs an engineer to repair the delicate mechanisms. The only one available is Samantha Weatherly, a beautiful anomaly in a world ruled by men.
Sam is no fool. Jon is no different from any other gambler—except for his amazing prosthetic. Despite a demanding project to win a critical contract to develop an iron horse, she succumbs to the lure of working on the delicate mechanisms. And working with the handsome Englishman.
Like a spring being coiled, Samantha and Jon are inexorably drawn together. Sam begins to realize honor wears many faces, and she becomes the light at the end of Jon’s journey to redemption. The only monkey wrench is Victor, a rival gambler who will stop at nothing to make sure Jon misses the tournament. Even destroy Jon and Sam’s lives.
It’s not often one gets the opportunity to pick the brain of a clockwork dragon writer, but Primgraph reporters are known for their intrepidness. Armed with a bag of cookies, I managed to lure Sheryl in for a conversation about the craft of writing. It helped that she was suitably stuffed with those cookies and couldn’t run away till she digested, so we had quite the lovely chat.
I asked Sheryl about her early days. I was curious how long she had been writing. She nibbled yet another cookie, sighed happily, and replied. “Well, technically I've been writing all my life. Way back in the Middle Ages I got a little ditty called "Be Kinder To Your Binder" printed in a school collection when I was eight years old. It was about a binder who gets recycled into another binder and finds a new life. Recycling and Reincarnation. Talk about lofty writing, eh?”
Occasionally I struggle for a plot notion. I was naturally quite curious to learn what inspired the stories that Sheryl writes. She belched a bit of smoke, then settled down. "Usually my plots come to me from the classic "What If?" game we all like to play. With "Wild Cards and Iron Horses" I started off with the simple sentence of "What would happen if I had a mechanical brace on my hand? What could I do with it? Could I use it for crime…" and it went on from there."
She paused, fidgeting nervously, then added, "Not that I'm endorsing crime. Unless it's freshly baked cookies, in which case all bets are off."
Poor thing. I quickly changed the subject, exclaiming, "you wrote an entire novel in the CocoaJava Cafe! I can’t tell you what an honor that is for me. Please tell me why the cafe works so well for you!"
Her smile told me that I’d touched on a comfort zone. After looking around for more sweets, she replied, “I loved and continue to love writing in the Café because it's just such a wonderful place to hang out and let the creative juices flow – or just percolate with some fine coffee, tea or your delicious chocolates!” I promptly gave her a chocolate, and she continued. “I'll set up in the Café and wander off at times to get a cuppa tea in RL, popping back in to see how I'm doing. If I only wrote so much in RL as I do in SL…*laughs*”
Sheryl is a true New Babbager, evident in the inspiration she draws from the city. “The Café offers a great place to just sit and enjoy New Babbage” she says. “From the trams that fly on by (usually literally into the air and into orbit) to the "interesting" events at Brunel Hall it gives me a great setting to soak up some steampunk atmosphere and inspire me.”
Amazing a writer can get anything done with all those fun distractions! I became curious about her “real life” writing space, and asked what it was like. “Ooh… well, I've got quite a few. At home I have a desk with a million books on the craft of writing about to topple over on me and cover me forever, or at least until the archaeologists disinter me in a few centuries. When I'm out I'll creep into a corner at my local Barnes & Noble with a large chai and bang away at my laptop until it screams for mercy. Or I'll be at a Panera Bread with another chai and some shortbread, nibbling away.”
I chucked at the thought of her nibbling habits carrying over in both worlds. “In RL I look much like my SL avi.” she said, patting her robust belly.
With so much to inspire her, I wondered if she ever experienced ‘writer’s block’. I asked her what she does the words just aren’t flowing well. She stopped staring at the truffle jar long enough to answer. “I usually go away and read- anything. Nonfiction, fiction, manga, play Zyngo… er, never mind that last one. I know some people say to fight through it but I find it more frustrating to write crap and KNOW I'm writing crap than to just walk away and catch my breath.”
“Sheryl”, I queried, “What inspires you? What causes you to drop everything (including your search for more sweets) and write?” She would have blushed if she could have, and brushed a few cookie crumbs off her metal scales, before speaking. “A story that demands to be told. In "Wild Cards" I started off with the premise of a man needing a metal brace to be able to use his hand. Then I extrapolated as to *why* he'd need to use his hand so badly. Then *how* he got the crippled hand. Then the hopeless romantic kicks in and I start running.”
On behalf of you, dear Primgraph reader and hopeful writer, I dug deeper into the craft of bringing a novel to reality. I asked Sheryl pointedly, “I’m sure our readers are a curious about your methods. Do you write from an outline, simply let the words flow and see where they go - or does your writing style take another form?”
I had to repeat the questions twice, as she’d spotted a cake in the far corner. Once I’d cut her a generous slice, she settled down happily and resumed the conversation. “I usually start with where I want the story to end – if that makes any sense. I come up with the characters and what I want/need them to do and then set them loose in the world I've created. They may zig and zag at times but they usually always end up where they should be in the end. Usually.”
This of course led to the wondering if any of her characters had ever surprised her. She nodded vigourously. “Definitely! Gil Grassfeathers in "Wild Cards" started off as just another street urchin but he tugged on my hair and stomped on my feet and got himself a whole supporting character credit.” We both chuckled knowingly as she added, “Sort of reminds me of some *other* street urchin in New Babbage, if you ask me.”
Sheryl has successfully harnessed the power of NaNoWriMo writing, and I wondered what advise she might have for others who like to participate in this annual tradition and hope to become published themselves one day. She finished her last bite of cake and gave the empty plate a forlorn look before replying. “Chug on through the first draft then relax. Catch your breath and start editing *after* the New Year has started. Don't even think about submitting it to an agent or a publisher until six months have passed.”
I got her another slice of cake, which inspired her to offer more encouragement. “And NaNo novels *do* sell. My first novel with Samhain Publishing, "Blaze of Glory" was a NaNo Novel and "What God and Cats Know", presently out with Lyrical Press, was another NaNo Novel. So you can sell these works – but not without putting in the time to edit and polish to the highest degree.”
Our time was running out... as were all the sweets in the Cafe. “This has been a lovely chat. Do you have final thoughts, Sheryl?" She giggled and said, “I luvs cookies. Donations always accepted at my residence or shop in New Babbage. And I'm sorry for stealing all the chocolate beans from the Café.”
You can visit Sheryl at her website, and find samples of her books, "Blaze of Glory" and "Wild Cards and Iron Horses" at the Samhain Publishing website - and don’t forget to look for "What God and Cats Know" at Lyrical Press. Amazon and Nook users can also get samples of Sheryl’s books as well!