It was with great pleasure that I was afforded the opportunity to interview one of my favorite humans, Shayla Raquel! Shayla just released her first book, The Suicide Tree on October 30th. If you haven’t snagged a copy yet, you should definitely go purchase it now!
Q1: At what age did you begin writing?
A1: The simplest answer is sixteen. However, I had a dozen journals by then that I had been writing in since age eight. I knew I wanted to become a writer at sixteen, though. In fact, I was in such a hurry to get to college to start writing that I graduated high school a year early.
Q2: Are there any authors or books that have had a positive influence on your life?
A2: Stephen King is always going to be on the top of my list. I read his memoir at sixteen (before I had ever read any of his novels). It gripped me. I wanted to be just like him: a full-time writer. Then, I started reading the classics and they, too, captivated me. They stole my heart. I thought, How can I write like that? How can I make someone think—really think about life? Specifically, the books that had a positive influence on my life are the Bible, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Quitter and Do Over by Jon Acuff, Bird by Bird and Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott, and 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists by Andrew McAleer.
Q3: What do you think is your greatest strength as a writer? What is your greatest weakness?
A3: Dialogue—easily. I think it’s simply because I never, ever shut up. I’m an extrovert and love to talk. I love to eavesdrop, and people watch too. It’s taught me so much about writing strong, captivating dialogue. My weakness? Fixing plot holes! I guess you could say I’m really good at creating them, though. That’s why it took so long to finish The Suicide Tree. I just kept falling into Plot Hole Canyon.
Q4: What is The Suicide Tree about and what inspired you to write it?
A4: Since anyone can read the summary, let me give you a different blurb. To me, The Suicide Tree is about embracing wild adventures, not letting your past define you, and believing in the impossible. It’s a story about friendship, new love, breathtaking places, delicious food, heroes and villains, and fighting for what you believe in. I was inspired to write it because I have always been fascinated with hackers, dissociative identity disorder, and Italy. So why not bring them together?
Q5: How long did it take you to write your first novel?
A5: A little over three years. It wasn’t until I joined (and became organizer of) the Yukon Writers’ Society that my novel writing took off. In fact, within six months of joining, the novel draft was done and sent to beta readers. The power of accountability is real. If you aren’t a member of a local writers’ group, I cannot stress enough how quickly you need to remedy that.
Q6: Do you have any advice for other authors? For example, things you would recommend or pitfalls to avoid. Did you learn these methods via experience or study?
A6: Stop comparing your timeline to another author’s. I’ve watched my author friends release two or three books a year while I sat with an unfinished draft full to the brim of plot holes. The more you compare yourself to someone else, the easier it’ll be to just give up—to think you’ll never amount to something. You need to focus on your goals, your deadlines, and your whys. And I have always been one who learns by her mistakes.
Q7: Do you think working as an editor and writing coach has better prepared you for your own writing journey?
A7: It has, yes. The only problem is that a professional editor makes for a terrible novelist. I’d spend so much time on the editing and rewriting that I couldn’t get past chapter 12. It’s difficult to turn off my inner editor because that’s my job. I’m grateful, however, that I was nitpicky. The last thing I wanted to do was settle for mediocrity. Had I rushed the novel, I wouldn’t have been happy with it.
Q8: Tell us a funny story about yourself.
A8: I can’t do math. Never have been able to. This weekend, I was in charge of making macaroni and cheese for a dinner for the homeless in downtown OKC. I had . . . miscalculated the amount needed to feed 90 people. It turns out, I only needed eight bags of elbow macaroni and two 5-pound blocks of Velvetta. After filling five large trays of the cheesy pasta, I now have four 5-pound blocks of Velvetta and . . . ahem . . . 16 bags of elbow macaroni left. Macaroni and cheese for 500, anyone?
Q9: What will you be writing next?
A9: I have been outlining a sci-fi thriller with a plot that centers on blood—but no gore.
Q10: Do you have a favorite quote, and if so, what is it?
A10: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” — Muhammad Ali
An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients.
Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books.
She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and The Suicide Tree. In her not-so-free time, she acts as organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society, volunteers at the Oklahoma County Jail, and obsesses over squirrels. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.
A hacker. His employer. Two dead scientists. And a past experiment that ties them together.
Knox Kevel receives the job of a lifetime when a mysterious man gets his charges dropped for cybercrime and hires him for an international job. His infamous parents, who created a cure for the Raven Virus, are dead and gone, but their decision to keep NovaVita from the world has taken a toll on Knox.
Swayed by quick money, Knox flies to Italy with his eccentric employer, Arlo Jenson. Knox must find the woman who experimented on Arlo and triggered his unpredictable personality shifts. But tension heightens when Knox discovers that Arlo knew his parents.
As the adventure unfolds, Knox falls for Arlo’s niece and finds himself in an even bigger mess when he comes face-to-face with the person responsible for his misfortune.