Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Interview with Shayna Matthews

Shayna Matthews

Shayna Matthews grew up in the past. Active in 18th Century Living History encampments since she was three years old, American history is in her blood. Taught to weave for her 13th birthday, Shayna was soon producing period rifle and accoutrement straps for reenactors, museums, movies and television. Successful as her weaving was, she always wanted to write. Close-knit ties with other reenactors educated Shayna beyond her years - she still loves to sit in darkened fields, illuminated by starlight and the flicker of a good fire, and listen. The wild tales told to her over the years from across the fire have only fueled her desire to write historical fiction.

Despite Shayna's love of 18th Century history, it is the lore of the American West that drives her forward, chasing dreams and writing stories. Her grandfather introduced her to Zane Grey at an early age, they passed his collection of novels back and forth for years, sharing in something special. She says the American West is the embodiment of human spirit - the freedom to survive and thrive on land as harsh as it is beautiful.

Shayna believes in fairy tales, and she says that her husband gave her one. A long-time reenactor himself, Shayna met Dave at a Pennsylvania longrifle show they had both attended for years. Having met at a gunshow, their first date was a tour of Gettysburg and eventually became engaged inside the White House at Christmas time. They married at a local plantation with the reception in a barn. They manage adventurous travels whenever they can, (Shayna's favorite pastime) spending a few weeks in Alaska, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. You are apt to find the pair of them gallivanting up mountains on horseback, floating across the National Parks in a hot air balloon or off-roading in a Jeep. Growing up in southern Pennsylvania, Shayna feels that the southwest is her true home; they hope to return soon. "For research" she says with a laugh.

Shayna now resides in Maryland with her husband and their son, Zane, and two cheery Welsh Corgis, Daisy-May Duke and Mason Dixon. Shayna, currently a cowgirl without a horse, can be found at her keyboard late at night working on one of several western novels set in Texas and in Arizona Territory. She has just finished writing her debut short story, The Legend of Venture Canyon, for Prairie Rose Publications.


What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? 
~I love to explore new places, whether they be an hour down the road or across the country. You never know who, or what, you’ll meet around the next corner. I love that. My husband and I took a trip to the southwest a few years ago - five states in seventeen days. It was a trip of firsts for me. I am dreadfully afraid of heights, and yet we took a hot air balloon ride over Arches National Park, rising with the sunrise. Fear left me during the duration of the flight, until we geared up for the landing. Wind was blowing crossways at 13 mph, driving us steadily closer to the mountain. The landing was rough, but exhilarating. Over the course of the same journey we went horseback riding to the top of South Mountain in Arizona, off-roaded in rugged terrain where we found dinosaur tracks, rode a jet-boat along the Colorado, and climbed 50’ ladders scaling sheer cliffs to explore ancient ruins. A personal coup for a gal terrified of standing too near the edge. I would do it all again in a minute.
What adventure would you like to have that you haven’t done yet if money and skill were no problem?
~If money and skill were not an issue, I would start traveling with my family, and only stop long enough to write my stories - The American West, first, and I’ve always wanted to explore Nova Scotia, Scotland, Ireland and Italy.
Who are some of your favorite authors?  What commonality do you see in them? 
~ I grew up reading westerns. My grandfather has a full collection of Zane Grey novels; when I was young, he lent me Riders of the Purple Sage. That was the end of me - I was hooked. We shared every Grey novel he had, along with Louis L’Amour, Larry McMurtry and other western greats - I adored that kinship with my grandfather. I still do...our love of westerns is something we share apart from the rest of the family. As far as commonality, I don’t think a writer can help but to be inspired by their favorite literary greats. Zane wrote a great deal about the landscape, he loved the land...he lived it. I share that same passion and respect for the land, as well as for a way of life which is merely a distant memory now. As long as there are writers like Mr. Grey, and raw, tough men who work from the land, it is a life which will never be forgotten.
I believe color says something about a person’s personality.  What’s your favorite color?
~ Oh, my favorite color. Hmm, I suppose I’m fickle when it comes to color. I could not choose just one shade. I love jewel-tones; royal blues, brick reds, emerald greens, and the rust-reds of the American desert. Of course, sometimes a woman just needs to add a touch of bling to her wardrobe, I never go anywhere without turquoise and silver jewelry and the occasional rhinestone, just for a little extra ‘spirit’.
If you could have a do-over life, what one thing would you do differently?  What would you do again?
I think each of us have our struggles and mistakes we wish we hadn’t done, or had handled differently. It’s a part of life, learning from our mistakes. I was very fearful amongst my peers as a child, my school career from grade school on up was miserable and I did my level best just to survive each day; I could not find my voice, nor the courage to stand up for myself. I drifted, and even changed school districts, but only managed semi-average grades due to my inability to handle the stresses of childhood bullies, taunts and ridicule. I was different, I understood adults, not kids my own age. I was labeled an easy target...something which I have changed since, I assure you. I look back at the girl I was and I wish I could help her face her demons, find her strengths and help her shine through the awkward years. Those are the years I would do differently.
     As far as what I would repeat? The early years of our living history encampments. I grew up reenacting history since the tender age of three - the lifelong friends I made are still precious to me, some of them closer than family. Living for a week in tents, weathering heat, cold, wind, rain and sun in a field with other like-minded reenactors, dressed in period clothes and cooking our meals over campfires...swapping stories while musicians tuned their fiddles, banjos and guitars...they were the grand days. I would give anything to do it again, in the old days, where our friends are all still with us, and share our life-long stories and laughter over a fire together, and maybe...pass around that jug of homemade grog...
What is your writing process from conception to finished MS?
This question makes me giggle. Oh, I fear other authors would gasp at my loose “process” when it comes to writing. Ideas just sort of hit me...usually when I’m in the shower - what is it with hot water loosening random thoughts from your brain? Once the seed of an idea is planted, I focus on the people. I start going through old western encyclopedias in search of names, and jot down the ones that speak to me. I write and rewrite, rearranging them until I have THE ONE...the name of my character. Once we have introduced ourselves, I immerse myself into the reading and researching for the historical aspects of the story. For my short story, “The Legend of Venture Canyon”, I didn’t even bother to write an outline. I just wrote. I get close to my characters, until I can see them in my mind, they guide me through their story, and it works. Usually. I do write outlines for longer novels, but I find them to be a necessary burden. My finished work is never very close to the actual outline. Each scene, chapter, and each story is a learning process, a brand new slate...I am a firm believer in characters “swaying” the direction of a plot - if it works, I go with it. I have been known to “black out” while writing a scene. When I come to, I have finished writing an entire chapter, and no recollection of writing any of it. It never fails to surprise me, for none of the words are what I initially intended...usually they’re better. Ha, I wish it would happen more often!
Are you a planner, panster or both?
~A planner? No. I write outlines, but rarely stick to them. I write by feeling and inspiration, which, let me tell you, gets me backed into a few literary corners, don’t get me wrong. But I love to research the historical background of each story. Even if I don’t use half of it, I’ve learned about it, and that’s so important. I think readers can tell when a writer is full of it - whether they really ‘feel’ a time and place, no matter whether they’ve been there or not. History inspires me, sparks my fire to write about it...I mean, just think about it...writers love stories, so do readers, obviously. And what’s history if not a vast selection of personal stories that make up our very own lives? So, I would call myself an “inspirational researcher”, if you don’t mind the term.
How did you research for your book?
~I am always researching. I believe my research began long ago, when I began grabbing up every book I could find pertaining to the west. My husband and I both grew up participating in 18th Century Living History encampments, it’s how we met. I have been sleeping in tents, cooking meals over campfires and wearing the period clothing since I was three years of age. When history becomes such a large part of your lifestyle, delving deeper into the why’s, when’s and how’s of day-to-day lifestyle becomes a given. You never learn enough, and in writing, it becomes evident. I will be working on a scene and stop to think… “wait, how would they do this?” and then off I go, digging into my ever-growing library (Amazon loves me) or typing little-known oddities into Google Search.
What is your all-time favorite movie?  TV show?
~I’ll watch rerun after rerun of Big Bang Theory. Love me some Bang, and I grew up with FRIENDS, so I’ll turn old episodes of that on to keep me company while I tackle the dreary old housework. 
Movie? Easy. Lonesome Dove. It has become a philosophy of sorts to me. It is an epic story - raw, truthful, full of grit and unyielding, if sometimes disheartening, determination.  Figure out what you want, dig in your spurs, and you do it - even if you have to bust a few noses in the process. Doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, as long as you believe in it. You follow your dreams, and you do it. Live life, it’s too precious to take for granted. As Gus McCrae says, “It ain’t dyin’ I’m talkin’ about. It’s livin’.”
How important do feel writing workshops are to any writer?
~I don’t feel I am a good judge on the topic of writing workshops. I have not taken one, myself, to date. I have heard well known authors rally behind the idea of workshops, and others who abhor them, which leads me to think they are an individual thing - a little like pineapple on a pizza. It’s not that pineapple is a bad thing, but pair it with pizza, and it’s an acquired taste. Strange, foreign and overwhelming to some, a perfect blend of ingredients to others.  Whatever an individual’s opinion on writing workshops, (or pineapple pizza,) there is always more to learn; to teach and to be taught, in writing as in everything. Nowadays you have the internet, if you can determine which sites are to be trusted as truth, and how many of us have seen those “Dummy Guide” and “Complete Idiot’s Guide” books...the titles may make you feel a little chastised, but there is valid information in them, I’ve flipped through a few in my day. I think the bottom line is that one can only get better with practice - and a lot of it - and if you pair that with talent and a driven willingness to learn by whatever means you choose, you are setting yourself up for success.
If you could learn one new skill, fear and money no deterrent, what would it be?
~One new skill...oooh, good one. Ahh, only one? Well, I have always admired my mother’s talent to paint realism. Me, I paint with words. I’ve been known to draw stick figures which manage to fall flat, if you’ll pardon the pun. I would love to draw and paint the scenes in my head, and be able to illustrate covers for my own books. Because no matter what you write, you can’t convey to someone else, the detailed photographs within your own mind. Aside from painting, I’d love to be able to play guitar, and be blessed with a singing voice, instead of the screech-owl with a head-cold sound effect I obtain when I sing now. Ahh, if only! Don’t worry, I won’t be trying out for American Idol anytime soon.
If you had a million dollars to donate to any one charity, what would it be?
~Oh, there are so many worthy charities to choose from! But, I believe, for me, it would come down to Wounded Warrior. My husband is retired military. I have merely tasted the worries of a military wife, for my husband was never sent overseas while we were together, though I knew there was always the possibility. Our soldiers do not get enough gratitude for their sacrifices, nor do their families. They put their own lives, loves and freedoms on the line for Family and Country. Every single day. I cannot imagine what these brave men and women have endured, nor do I wish to. I have walked the halls of military hospitals, and I have never exited those halls without tears rolling down my face, and an even greater respect for our beloved soldiers, both active and retired.
What advice would you like to give to an aspiring writer?
~For aspiring writers, I relate to their desires, struggles and dreams, for I am still “aspiring”, myself. I am on my way, celebrating my debut short story entitled “The Legend of Venture Canyon” for the Cowboys, Creatures and Calico anthology from Prairie Rose Publications. What I would say to others like myself - those who dream of writing what you love, of seeing your name in print? Write. Write with passion, write every day. Join a few online writer’s groups, talk to successful writers, but write. You’ll probably have to grow thicker skin, something I am still working on! I have had so much advice...usually unsolicited...thrown my way, not to mention the thoughtless comments… “Oh, you want to write a book. About what? Really? Is that even popular anymore?” I have heard them all. Don’t get discouraged. Get indignant, if you want, and write a rendition of these dream squashers in a scene to be killed off at whim, but don’t ever get discouraged. Maintain that drive, that fire that spurs you to write. You are creating entire worlds! Every story is deserving of being told, and no one else can write the story meant to be written by you. Don’t be afraid to dream big - and work your fingers raw chasing that dream. What some may laugh off as unrealistic, is merely an opportunity worth chasing. Best of luck on all of your endeavors, I congratulate each of you on what you have achieved thus far.
Did anyone mentor you or help you along the way?  Please tell us about your mentor and what you feel they contributed to your writing career. husband. He is my support system. I remember sitting down with him over dinner, five or six years ago now, and telling him I wanted to start writing novels. Just like that, and I was nervous. I don’t know why, because he loved the idea. He’s been my sounding board, my strength and support through all the trials of a writer. We bounce ideas off of one another, he knows my characters, he reads my scenes, chapters, stories, and edits with the mind of a logical historian. He grounds me. If something is terribly cliche, I get it back in red pen, despite the ever-present danger of a writer’s meltdown and a huff off to pout. He can’t escape, but he tells me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear, and I love him unfailingly for that. I could not imagine going through this obsessive journey of mine - writing stories, epic novels, without him holding me up when I waver and championing me when I get it right. I’m a lucky woman to be married to my mentor!
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
~I don’t know why, but I find this is to be the toughest question. So many people have shared genuine words of wisdom over the years, it’s hard for me to think back to just one, or of who said what. However, one comment an old friend once said to me was not necessarily advice, as it was an observation. And it is one which has stuck with me.  They said: "You have a very old soul…it's ancient. Every time I see you, I look in your eyes and wonder what it is you're searching for." I was in my early teens at the time, and his comment startled me. It isn't often, after all, that someone tells a fifteen year old they have an ancient soul. I still contemplate the shrewd observation of that friend, and I can only ascertain that he saw something beyond the normal struggles of teenage angst. I wish I would have thought to question him further about what it was. What on earth did he see in me to voice such a strange observation? Whatever it was, I took it as a compliment then as I do now.
If you could live anywhere in the world you wanted to, where would it be? (Language is no barrier)
~Oh, this is an easy one! Given my love of landscape, the west and my artistic raising (my mother is an artist, my father a blacksmith and a wood carver, and I am blessed with a multitude of artistic friends) - my answer is Sedona, Arizona. My first and only trip to Arizona, to date, left me breathless. The moment we drove into Sedona, tears sprung to my eyes. I had an overwhelming feeling of “coming home”...I was in love. It is a very powerful place, spiritual in rugged beauty, a place where new adventures await every turn, and a community which celebrates true art, both in nature, and in painting and sculpture. Someone recently told me, “picture yourself in your dream. If you want to live in Sedona, hang a picture of what you envision your home to look like, amongst the landscape, and look at it every day, a hundred times a day. Put yourself in that picture, you’ll be surprised how things begin to fit together, pushing you steadily onward toward that long as you believe, and work at it without despair.” Suffice it to say, I have several photographs of Sedona and the surrounding region on my walls.
Where do you write? 
~With the three of us, plus two dogs and a plethora of hobbies and interests, we have outgrown our little home. My writing desk is nestled between the kitchen and the couch, my back faces the television. It’s tight, but when I write, my mind is not at my desk. It is in the old west, where I am in 1880s Texas, or Arizona, or Utah. These are the locations of my current work in progress novels.
How much time do you devote to writing each week?  Do you have a day every week that you take off?
~With a nearly two year old boy running amuck in our household, writing time is quite precious. My job, first and foremost, is devoted to my son. His nap-times present me with a daily dilemma - do I nap? Clean the yogurt off the furniture? Applesauce off the cabinets? Or do I sit down, block it all out, and write? Usually, I attempt the latter, although that is often when the phone will begin to ring off the hook. So my primary writing time is between 10pm - 1, 2 or 3am, depending upon when the caffeine fails me. I write best in complete solitude, no tv, no music, no phone. I usually manage to steal a few hours of late night solitude every evening, no matter what. Writing takes determination and drive, I don’t like to lose “focus” by allowing too much time to pass between writing sessions.
What is a genre that you have not attempted that you would like to try?
~Hmm, this is a difficult question for me - historical western fiction is my passion, I adore immersing myself in the midst of it every day. But, I do have a rather unusual plotline on the back burner for a western novel set...well, I cannot give it away, now can I? Let’s just say I could be persuaded to weave a little light fantasy/sci-fi into my stories. Mystery is another great genre, and it is one that I enjoy sprinkling throughout my work.

CONTEST ALERT!! Shayna will be giving away an ebook copy of Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico, Vol. 1 to a commenter. Be sure to include your email address in your comment to enter.

Prairie Rose Publications
The Legend of Venture Canyon
~by Shayna Matthews

Deception, my pet, is always our Master

In the traveling show, deception is Master. But for Marah, deceit was merely a means of escape. All she needed was a fool willing to fall into her hands. She never meant to fall under the power of a mortal cowboy. Unfortunately, the show must go on…no matter what the cost.

Chasing legends for a small-town newspaper has its pitfalls - and some stories are best left alone. But when your job depends on interviewing the unwell, you do what you must. It is All Hallow’s Eve, after all.

Marah’s world revolves around trickery and deceit. She is destined to dance for money, for no man has ever successfully freed her from the traveling prison. Some have tried, and failed. No one wants to become part of the show. No one.

Venture is a man who abhors lies and deception, but sometimes curiosity can take hold of a man, in very forceful ways.
With an assignment like this, don’t be surprised if you get far more than you bargained for. Some people don’t know how to die.


            “Tell me about Cowboy,” I whispered. Only part of the woman’s face was visible in profile, shadows masked the rest of her and her chair. I didn’t dare speak any louder, nor did I wish to repeat myself. She heard me, I knew she did, for the shadow twitched. Her glazed expression seemed to soften.
            Vacant eyes, I thought. Never before had I seen eyes so devoid of soul. She never turned them loose from the dreary window, and I was glad of it.
“Cowboy...” she whispered, and giggled. The sound rang through the emptiness, echoing in my ears like little secrets best left unspoken.
            I wanted to be shed of this nightmare. To be home, or safely tucked within the sanctuary of my writing desk. Not here...anywhere but here!

“He will come,” she said, interrupting my musings of escape. “You will see. They will all see! Then, they’ll be sorry.”

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Sarah J. McNeal said...

I think I enjoyed reading your bio. best of all. What a wonderful experience to be surrounded by re-enactors recreating an historical battle.
Girl, you're a talker--and I liked that. Your detailed answers to the questions really helped me know the real you.
I wish you every success and happiness.

Unknown said...

Hi Shayna! Great article. You did much better on the Q&A than I did.

The thing that struck me is your do-over, standing up to bullies. I had to deal with them in school too.

It is good to get to know you better, and so nice to talk with you. Best of luck.

Shayna Matthews said...

Hi Sarah! I am so glad you enjoyed my interview! Thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of it. Face to face, I am quiet - behind a keyboard? Different story! ;-) The reenactments have definitely molded me into who I am today, I hope to pass that gift down to my son. Thank you for your kind wishes!

Shayna Matthews said...

Connie, thank you very much for reading! I hope we may continue to get to know one another as fellow authors and friends. My do-over, yes, painful years, and yet you learn so much from them. If only you could go back and write a letter to yourself as a kid, right? Best of luck in all of your endeavors as well!

Unknown said...

Hello Shayna, interesting interview and blurb. I also enjoy history and researching for a book. good luck with all you do.

Unknown said...

Awesome interview, Shayna! I loved your story, Venture Canyon!
Sounds like you live what you write. Your hobbies and interest mirror the lives you write about.
I know it must have been tough to deal with the bullies and no child should have to grow up with that, but that made you who you are and that is someone pretty special.
I think we are going to be reading your stories for years to come!

Shayna Matthews said...

Hi JoAnne, Thank you so much for reading my blurb and interview, so glad you enjoyed it. Another history & research lover, wonderful! I find researching often helps me untangle from many sticky corners I manage to back myself into. You are officially entered into the free e-book contest, we'll be choosing a random winner tomorrow night. Best of luck to you in your endeavors!

Shayna Matthews said...

Hi Kat! Thank you for the lovely comments, and I am so glad you loved "The Legend of Venture Canyon" - the story is quite close to my may not have heard the last of "Venture". Yes, I do feel I live a great deal of what I write, with embellishments, of course. That's the grand thing about fiction. ;-)I have many epic novels and grand stories up my sleeve, I truly hope you will be reading much more from me in the near future.