An Interview with Author Shaila Patel
Today's bitch was my internet friend for months before we finally met in person. I managed the social media for SE-YA Book Festival and Shaila was one of their authors. I don't want to hurt the feelings of the other 39 authors, but Shaila was my favorite. Shaila is a social media QUEEN. If she weren't already working four full-time jobs, I'd recommend she let people pay her to do their social media.
I asked the festival higher-ups if we could recognize Shaila for how hard she worked to promote SE-YA online. Because we had been referring to her as Shaila the Queen of Social Media, we went with it, bought her a crown and presented it to her at the festival's opening dinner. The picture of Queen Shaila is at the bottom of this post. I love this woman, and you should all read her book. Meet today's bitch, Shaila Patel!
What do you do and what is the name of your book?
I was a pharmacist for several years after graduating college and then became an office manager for a pediatric office. My nights and weekends (and mostly all of my headspace) are dedicated to writing. My published book is called Soulmated, a young adult paranormal romance, and I'm currently shopping my adult romance around to publishers—where the major conflict has to do with black market prescription narcotics. (And my mom thought I was giving up my pharmacy degree. Ha!)
When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I wrote my first short story as an assignment for Mrs. Galloway's fourth grade Language Arts class.
I. Was. In. Love.
It was a five-page, front-and-back, hand-written in pencil, action-adventure with pirates, treasure, and a lost key. My only regret in life is that I don't have a copy of it! I didn't really put the passion I felt while writing the story into perspective until my senior year of high school. That's when I knew I wanted to write a novel someday. My parents, however, didn't believe writing was a lucrative enough career, so off to pharmacy school I went. Getting published happened eventually, so I have no regrets.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
The best piece of advice is to not compare yourself to other authors! It's hard not to—believe me—but every author's success story is so different, that if you spent all your time bemoaning how your career isn't taking off like XYZ author's, you'll spend more time crying in your coffee (or whisky—take your pick) and not enough time writing and selling your books.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you write?
The biggest lesson I've learned is that good storytelling is about balance. Too much or too little of any particular element might not make for a terrible story, but it won't make for a great one. While reading someone else's work, or even editing my own, I'll notice when there's too much dialogue, description, or internal monologues, and realize that the scene isn't balanced. It works the other way too. Sometimes there's not enough description or reflection, and it somehow takes away from your experience as a reader. Too little of something is often harder to spot, unless it's a glaring error, but I've learned to trust my gut instinct. If it feels "off" then something is usually wrong with the scene, and I start my editing by looking for those imbalances.
What would you do with two more hours a day?
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?
My biggest sacrifice has been time with my family. Working what amounts to two jobs has been tough on family time. My son is an older teenager, so I don't feel as neglectful as I would have if he were in his elementary-years. I'm lucky if he lets me chase him around the kitchen for a hug. (He eventually relents, in case you're wondering.) I've learned to optimize what time I do have with him though—like when he's my captive in the car ride to school. Muahahahaha.
What is your greatest success, or something you’re most proud of?
I'm proud of my positive attitude. Looking back at my life, I don't think I'd have accomplished half as much as I have without a can-do spirit. Sure, sometimes I jump in unwisely with both feet, but at least I've tried. Without trying something, I've already failed. I'm a firm believer in "if there's a will, there's a way."
Do you have a morning ritual that helps you set the tone for the day?
Yes! Get up before anyone else, have a bowl of cereal and a hot cup of tea, and let my mind absorb the peace and quiet before the chaos begins.
How do you decompress at night?
I decompress by reading. If I don't want to get wrapped up in a new book (and lose sleep), then I'll reread a favorite scene of another. It's the only way I quiet my head before laying down. Sometimes I even use it as a treat for getting my work done.
What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?
When I'm stuck, I recognize that in the majority of those times, it's related to my mood. If I'm not feeling it, then no matter how hard I try, I'm not going to get it done. Life's too short to waste time fighting something that a break, a different task, a nap, or a meal might help. Sure, I do suffer from guilt for putting off a task, but not to the point I give myself an ulcer. I see being "stuck" as my mind craving something—rest, food, an outlet of a different type. If I don't fight it, I can usually get back on track pretty quickly.
What does self care look like in your life?
Taking the time to enjoy the solitude—whether it's an afternoon locked away in my room with no noise, a hike through our local nature preserve, or reading a book with a mug of something warm between my hands. My quiet time revitalizes me, but I also feed off the energy and excitement of being with people. It's what I loved about being a pharmacist. It's a heady feeling when patients come to the pharmacy and are relieved that their "favorite pharmacist" is there to chat with. I get the same rush at a book signing where I get to meet readers. Those interactions feed my soul, but my quiet time heals all the frayed edges from being pulled in so many directions.
Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?
My mother. She's a tiny wisp of a woman, but as Shakespeare said, she is fierce! She'd be perfect to play a wise woman from any fantasy novel. The insight and advice that comes from her always leaves me in awe. Knowing that someone like her supports me unconditionally is an incredible source of strength for me.
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?
I don't watch much TV anymore, but through all the years I'd obsessively binge watched TV, my favorite has to be Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Yes, I'm a trekkie!) There was always so much hope in each episode—hope that it could be done, that life would go on, and that somewhere in the universe life did. The science fed the little nerd in me, the writing taught me about drama, and the diversity just plain made me hopeful.
Oh, and my favorite snack is chocolate or anything with caramel.
All photos courtesy of Shaila Patel