Interview with Prolific Author Shirley Bahlmann

Shirley is a wonderful person. What can I say? I met her when I first entered the LDS literary scene and she welcomed me with open arms, literally. She is a great support for literacy, new and old authors, friends and family. She is a treasure who rules her roost from a small town in Central Utah. From her website we learn:

“My stacks of journals, road shows, plays, and skits attest to the fact that I’ve been writing all my life, but I finally got past the “fear” when I came home late one winter night after selling skin care at a home show and my youngest ran out on the snowy porch in bare feet and diaper, calling, “Mommy! Mommy!” I realized then that I wanted and needed to be the one staying home to take care of my family, so I began to write with a vengeance. Even though royalties don’t yet compensate for a part-time job, and I wouldn’t recommend relying on writing to pay the mortgage, all I know for myself is that my soul hungers to write like a body hungers for food. I write every day except Sunday, and I don’t write after my boys get home from school. I’m too impatient to wait for the Muse. I just begin, and she gets curious and comes to look over my shoulder! “

Enjoy the interview:

1. What prompted you to become a writer?

I’ve always loved to read. As a child of nine, ten, and eleven, I used to hide in the closet and read whole books at a time, books like “Born Free” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” I wrote my first novel when I was 10 years old, just because I wanted to. It ended up being 25 pages long.

2. What is your genre and why did you choose it?

I’ve tried very hard to choose only one genre, yet I have ideas for so many kinds of books that it’s difficult to settle on one. I wrote true pioneer stories because I’ve always been fascinated by old houses and the people who built them and lived in them. Even as a child, I find myself staring out the back window at old shells of houses by the side of the road, wondering who built them, what they were like inside, and why the people left. I’ve written novels because they’re so much fun to create. I’ve written informational books because I find the information fascinating. I’ve written children’s books because I have so much “kid” still inside of me.

4. Tell me a little about the books you’ve written.

My true pioneer stories, a collection of five volumes so far that all have the word “Odd” in the title, are written in first person so you actually feel like they’re happening to you. I’ve had readers tell me that I portray the pioneers in a way that they can imagine them as their next door neighbors. My novels are mystery/adventure novels, probably because I love Sherlock Holmes (I have his complete collection) and even when I’m driving someplace unfamiliar, I sometimes go the less traveled route or try turning down a street even if I’m not sure that’s the way because I’m always up for a little adventure. The protagonist in these novels is no Barbie doll stereotypical heroine, either, but a large lady who still manages to fall in love and have some heart-thudding adventures along the way.

I wrote two books for a lady who died and came back to life; one about her travels through heaven, and the other about events she saw leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. I wrote those because I was touched by some of the events she told me about. I also wrote a dairy diet book that is fun and informative because, well, I like ice cream. I also wrote a YA novel about two boys who disappear into a grave. Their cousin tries to get help, but when no one believes him, he goes into the grave after them, not knowing what he’ll find or if he’ll come out alive. I’m currently working on a parable titled “Detours” and polishing a novel titled “Elder Brother” as well as working on a book with a man who was blinded in both eyes in freak accidents thirty years apart. Because of his blindness, he’s begun a yearly camp where people with handicaps can ride horses, fish, have a boat ride, a train ride (on a small gasoline powered engine train), hay rides, perform in a talent show, and generally do things they wouldn’t normally have a chance to do. I find him very inspiring.

5. What do you have on your website and why did you choose those particular topics?

I have writing tips because I like to share what works for me so other writers can perhaps find a bit of inspiration that might help them get their stories out, I have reviews so people can see what others have to say about my books, I have a biography (but it probably won’t help people figure out what makes me the way I am… that’s a mystery!) and I have a listing of my books, complete with sample stories or chapters so readers can get a sneak preview of what’s in store for them.

6. What advice do you give to those struggling to become published?

Stop struggling. One of the problems I see over and over with beginning writers is that they think they have to make everything so perfect. Some of the stuff I read is so sterile it makes my eyes ache. Do some writing every day just for the fun of it, and let your personality out. Read books on how to write. Implement the advice. Go to writers conferences. Enjoy the writing process along the way. Keep submitting. Use Tristi Pinkston’s advice to strive for 100 rejections for each piece you submit. Then celebrate your accomplishment. Look at all you’re doing in putting your work out there. Write for the joy of it, let yourself play with the words, be open and teachable, and good things will happen.

7. Who are your favorite authors and why?

I was spellbound by Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” when I was fourteen. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a favorite because he wrote great mysteries, Agatha Christie for the same reason. I like Victoria Holt’s earlier stuff, but I read one of hers that was just too mean (and stupid, because the woman who was taken into the man’s bed didn’t want to be, and after she had his child, he came back and said he really loved her and SHE MARRIED HIM. I never would have, after what he’d done! It made me mad!) Anyway, the ones of Victoria Holt’s that I liked were probably because of the historical setting and the adventure and, yes, romance. (Although I don’t generally like romance books, hers were more life-or-death situations.) I also like Denys Cazet’s “Minnie and Moo” books because I think they’re hilarious, and Barbara Parks “Junie B. Jones” because I think they’re funny, too. There are many others, but I don’t think there’s room to list all of them.

8. Is it difficult to maintain your standards as a writer in today’s market? Why or why not?

Not so far. I’ve published in the LDS market, and haven’t had any issues with my standards. I do have aspirations of national publication, and believe I will achieve that one day in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I deal with rejections just like all the other writers out there!

9. How does your faith play into your writing?

Since I was enamored of reading and writing from such a young age, I believe it’s something I came to earth to do. You know, some people were meant to be prophets, some were meant to be doctors, some were meant to occupy bodies with physical or mental limitations, as mortal houses for their perfect spirits. Well, I’m supposed to write.

10. What is your funniest memory in recent years?

Going to a fast food place late at night with a friend (after a convention) and telling her about the time my children were with me when we ordered hamburgers. They urged me to tell the counter person a fake name when they asked who the order was for. My kids laughed and snickered when the name “Bonnie” was called, and I went up to get the food. So she suggested I give a fake name again. The counter guy was an energetic teenager with a permanent smile, and when we told him I needed a fake name, he regarded me thoughtfully, blonde hair and all, and said, “How about Juanita?” I countered with, “Better make that Tall Blonde Juanita.” By the time our food was ready, the place was filling up with hungry customers who’d been to the same convention, and with a flourish, the counter man called out, “Order for Tall Blonde Juanita.” Every head in the place turned to watch me sashay up to the counter and scoop up my little paper bag. We still laugh about that night. (To make the story complete, my friend’s pseudonym became Short Stumpy Ramona.)

Learn more about Shirley at her website, www.shirleybahlmann.com.