Interview: Rebecca Shelley

Rebecca Shelley is the author of Red Dragon Codex and Brass Dragon Codex under the pen name R.D. Henham. She has been writing books since she was old enough to hold a pencil. In 2001, she attended the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. She is the mother of four children and loves to go adventuring. She has a special fondness for dragons and fairies. For more information, visit www.rebeccashelley.com.

Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?

Before Odyssey I wrote two to four hours a day in the mornings. I wrote a few short stories but mostly worked on books. I think I had completed four books by the time I went.

What made you decide to attend the Odyssey Writing Workshop?

I had always planned for writing to be my full-time career and realized I needed further training to make it profitable. Also, I really admired Terry Brooks and his writing and couldn’t resist the chance to go to a workshop with him as writer-in-residence.

How do you feel your writing and writing process changed as a result of having attended Odyssey? What insights did you gain into your own work?

Odyssey really helped me improve the technical aspects of my writing. The terrific feedback from instructors and other attendees helped me see where my writing was weak and how I could fix it. Pre-Odyssey I wrote for myself with no concept of what an audience might want. At Odyssey I learned to write for the enjoyment of readers as well as myself.

Can you describe your Odyssey experience? What surprised you most about Odyssey?

I had a terrific time at Odyssey. I really felt like I belonged to a group, probably for the first time in my life. It was so nice being with people who loved books and writing as much as I did. I felt like I’d come home to a new family. I think that sense of belonging surprised me the most. I enjoyed the assignments, the lectures, and the critiques and came away feeling inspired to write more and better stuff.

When and how did you make your first sale?

Before Odyssey I had sold nothing. Afterward I sold a few scattered short stories (about one a year) to semi-pro markets, but short stories weren’t my main focus. I sold my first book to Mirrorstone in 2007. I had met the wonderful editor, Stacy Whitman, at a conference and sent her some of my work. I guess she liked it because she asked me to send her a proposal for a new middle-grade Dragonlance series they were planning. I sent her my ideas and outline for the book and she bought it. I was, and still am, incredibly excited about that first book, Red Dragon Codex, which was published under the pen name R.D. Henham. Since then I’ve also published Brass Dragon Codex in the same series and am excited about it as well.

What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?

I think my biggest weakness these days is getting easily distracted. Before I had my first book published I was so hungry for it I kept focused on the goal day and night. No matter what other work I was doing, the books and characters I was working on stayed in my mind all the time.

Now I find myself far too easily distracted. Real life seems to come crashing in too often and make it hard to focus and write. Today for instance. I sat down at my normal writing time, but then before I could open the file I had to get my e-mail, which reminded me I had to finish my daughter’s school registration, which I finally got done and then my son dragged me out to change the tire on his bike, and then I got back to my e-mail and realized I needed to do this interview. There went my full four hours of writing. I need to get hungry again, crazy-radical-over-the-top hungry to make my next sale, so I stay focused when I’m supposed to be writing and get the stories churning in my head even while I do the other things I have to.

You recently finished writing a young adult book called The Elves of Lincoln Jr. High, which features a half-elf half-human girl coming into her powers, and you’ve also written two of the books in the middle-grade Dragon Codex series. What draws you to write for the young adult market? How is it different from writing for the adult market?

I think I have a naturally direct, action-oriented writing style instead of a lush, introspective style. Back to the Future instead of A River Runs Through It you might say. It took me a little while to find the audience that really appreciated my style. Now I love writing for younger readers. It just comes naturally to me.

What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?

Stacy Whitman, my editor from Mirrorstone, has started her own publishing company, Tu Books. Here’s what she says about Tu: “Fantasy and science fiction, mystery and historical fiction–these genres draw in readers like no other. Yet it is in these genres that readers of color might feel most like an outsider, given that such a large percentage features white characters (when they feature human characters). It is the goal of Tu Books to publish genre books for minority children and young adults that fills this gap in the market—and more importantly, this gap in serving our readers. By focusing on diverse settings and characters in fantastic stories, we also open up worlds to all readers.”

I’ve taken this as a writing challenge, and I am currently working on a contemporary inner city fantasy with the main character a twelve-year-old black boy along with a good dose of dragons and fairies. I’ve spent over six months doing research for the book and have completed a very rough first draft. There’s no guarantees it will be picked up by Tu, of course, but it has given me a terrific chance to learn more about the people and cultures around me. I’ve enjoyed the project very much.


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.

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