Interview with Shayne McClendon

Published 2013-08-16.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in California on a Marine base but spent my childhood in many different areas of the United States. The majority of my memories are in Texas and Oklahoma. By eighth grade, I'd been to fourteen different schools in several states. There were years I changed schools two or three times.

It influenced how I think in general because I was exposed to many different people, from a variety of backgrounds, races, religions, and ages. There are a lot of "country" themes in my work because some of the positive memories were spent with my Aunt MeMe on her cattle ranch in southern Oklahoma. She was all "peach cobbler and sweet tea" - an interesting, kind, and beautiful woman.

Since much of my childhood was dark and terrifying, time spent working her gardens, baling hay, and so much more gave me a taste of "normal" that I didn't typically have.

I always regretted having to leave but knowing I would go back to visit again gave me the strength to keep going - to survive the despair of my daily life. It would mean time with MeMe, my grandfather (PaPa), and my grandmother (Nanny).

My writing is infused with those sorts of "silver linings" - people, places, or experiences that give my characters hope and the strength to survive the hell I tend to put them through.

I believe even small things can provide the fuel needed to fight, to survive, to thrive.
When did you first start writing?
I learned to read before I turned three and quickly added writing to my skills. I wanted to imitate the stories I read, the characters I loved, and use my imagination to take myself out of the life that I lived.

Reading and writing have been part of every stage of my life. From my earliest memories until this moment. There have been times when *words* were all that stood between my rational mind and insanity.

Primarily escapism at first, I devoured book after book then wrote what would now be referred to as "fan fiction" based on the characters I read about. After I started school, I began writing my own stories inspired by other people, words on a billboard, or even a stray animal.

I've always known that I would be a writer. It took me a long time to realize that it was alright for me to make it a priority in my own life. It took the push of being laid off - of losing a job for the first time ever - at age 39 to really make me fearless.

Fearless is the wrong word. I'm still terrified each and every time I self-publish.

No matter how my readers seem to love my work (which I am so grateful for), I always wonder, "Will this be the story that makes them think I'm not a very good writer?"

Writers...we are a outwardly confident and cocky bunch as we quiver in nervousness on the inside. Kind of like a chihuahua. I don't think that ever fully goes away - no matter how many books you sell.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote a lot of little stories as a small child. Some of them were fan fiction about characters I fell in love with in books. I wrote poetry...bad poetry...that rhymed. *snicker*

The first "story" that I felt had a beginning, a middle, and an end was written in first grade. It was called "One More Chance" and was based on a dream I had. Bear in mind, I wrote it around 1978. The assignment I was given was to write one thing I could do to help take care of the earth.

I went home, rolled paper in my old typewriter, and wrote a 12-page story about how the temperature had suddenly begun to rise all over the world and it got so bad that mankind had to retreat underground in order to survive. I talked about how many people had died before the underground cities were built, how famine and drought had cut down the population by the thousands.

The reason I gave was too many space launches. That we punched holes in our atmosphere and did it so many times that we were vulnerable to the sun. I didn't research the science, obviously.

I talked about our "second chance" to live more naturally and remember that our planet was really a big garden and without proper tending, no garden truly survives. There were only a few thousand people in each city and if you were a criminal, you were kicked out. If you abused your children, you were kicked out. If you refused to work and help grow the city, you were kicked out.

Everyone had three chances - but the sentence was final.

I still have the story, on yellowed paper, typed. I'm rather proud of it, actually.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I was rejected over and over again by "traditional" publishers and literary agents.

They told me, "We like what you write...we just don't know what it IS."

My work - referred to as survival erotica by my readers - isn't typical erotica. I have some mainstream themes (written after most of my "real life" stuff was rejected) but most of my work hits hot buttons of emotion. Yes, I include hot sex scenes in every published work...but it is just part of what happens in isn't the main focus.

The main focus is overcoming intense adversity, beating the odds of abuse and pain, thriving in the life you make for yourself. I talk a lot on my Facebook page about these themes. That no one has the right to hurt you. That you are strong enough to survive *anything* life (or the people in it) throw at you. That you are worthy of a fresh start and a happy ending - no matter what.

For many, many years - I've had something to say. As a survivor myself, I wanted to read about people who kicked ass and made it through. I was tired of flat female characters whining about how hard they had it and waiting for a man to "save" them while they did nothing to save themselves. I was sick of reading about men who had nothing more to offer than money or sex. I was tired of the same stories told again and again and again.

Where were the scars? Where was the ugly underbelly? Where was REALITY? When I was unable to find examples, I decided to write my own. Publishers and agents didn't think it would sell.

I've proven them wrong. I will continue to prove them wrong. I'm die-hard indie to the end.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy for me, not only as a writer but as a human being, is having a reader tell me, “I related so much to this story or this character.”

My characters are damaged. They have been hurt. They are scarred if not outright broken. Still, they fight – no matter what happens – they fight to make it through bad situations. They don't make excuses or place blame...they fight to save themselves.

To know that the stories and people made up in my head directly and positively impact the life of another person - who could ask for more than that? A single ripple can change someone's future. If one person who's been hurt or abused is helped by my words, that means I've changed the world in a small way.

That is huge. That is fulfilling. That is what makes me keep writing.
What do your fans mean to you?
To tell you I love my readers is much like drinking watered-down wine. It does nothing.

You have to understand that I didn't start my Facebook page as a marketing tool. I was heartsick from losing my job, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to support my three kids, and no one wanted to publish me.

I started my page as a way to ask people, "What do you think?" I thought I'd get a few people to talk to about writing, possibly other authors, who could tell me what I was doing WRONG.

Instead, I ended up with thousands of people who told me what I was doing RIGHT.

I've been told many times that I share far too much with my readers. That I open myself up to ridicule, invasion of my privacy, and make myself vulnerable. Those people are right to a degree. I have stalkers. I have people who have publicly and privately blasted me with awful things to say about me personally, rip apart what I believe in, and basically tell me I'm going to hell for the things I write and post on my page.

As of this interview, I have more than 25,000 followers on Always the Good Girl. My page was started in March 2012. In all this time, through all these people, I've had to actually ban less than 20 people. That is a small percentage, a tiny price to pay, to reach everyone else. To have the chance to connect - maybe even help - such a vast number.

My readers come from all over the world, from different races and religious roots, from many socio-economic backgrounds, political beliefs, and of all sexual orientations. I have a huge male following for a female erotica author - almost 40%.

What that tells me is that I'm doing something right. I'm connecting with people as a human being. As a fellow survivor. As a creature of the universe who believes in positivity and practices it.

Do I love my readers? God, yes. It is so much more than that. Words like gratitude, peace, and encouragement have to also come into play. There just isn't enough time to write how I feel. There never would be.

Without readers...words mean nothing. They do not exist. With every word they read...they validate my existence.
What is your writing process?
I have ZERO "process" and trying to make one seems to be counter-productive. Anything can inspire a story. A sign, an animal, a phrase in a song, an image I see...I never know.

I sit down and have no idea other than the small fragment in my brain. I start to write...and write...and write. When I begin, I do not know the characters' names, where they've been, or how the story will end. All I know is the fragment.

Yesterday, I sat down with a single thought in my mind as I woke up: pressure. I sat down and wrote 3,000 words of what will be a novel. I don't know further than what I've written. The only constant is that I cannot leave my characters unfulfilled. They must find their personal path to happiness. I insist.

I've attempted to force my thoughts in a specific direction and when I do, the story flow stops. When I let go of the control, it comes back again. I've written almost 200 stories this I know it works.
How do you approach cover design?
I hate having people on my cover. You'll notice that the few times I've shown a person, it is limited - maybe the lower body holding a guitar or legs in cowboy boots. The one exception to my "no faces" rule is "Revenge" - only because I found a model who fit the main character in every single way (who also happened to be the photographer I hired).

I've read stories before and when the characters are described, I flip to the cover and think, "That is nothing close to what I pictured." I hate that. Let me use my imagination! There are hundreds of thousands of romance/erotica novels featuring bulging men's chests, sculpted abs, a woman's butt. Boring...

I don't want to be like everyone else.

Generally - I choose an abstract image that speaks to the overall theme of my story. Sometimes they are complex (such as my cover for "Obsession") and others they are simply fun (such as "Being Delightful") - but they must be clean and stunning without being too "busy" which will take away from the print. I buy every photograph in the largest size available. It is worth the investment.

My best friend and writing partner puts together the final cover after we talk direction, decide on a tagline, and find a photo that says what we want it to say. I have never been disappointed in the end result.

The cover is the first thing a reader sees. If your cover is bad, it stands to reason that your writing won't be so good either - that is how readers think. You have to set a standard and hit it time and time again.

That means investing in cover design you can be proud of and asking someone to read your work. An editor or at least that brutally honest friend that no one invites to parties anymore. You never should have asked her opinion about your butt and those jeans. If she thought your kid was "just precious" at the exact moment they were picking their nose. Or how she felt about your Elvis-inspired den.

My best friend is that person for me. She will tell me if my butt looks triple actual size - and if my writing sucks. Every writer needs that - and we have to toughen up to listen to what they have to say. She stops me from doing stupid things.

Cover design is much like curb appeal. If your yard and driveway are filled with children's toys, lawn equipment, and trash cans rolling around - no one wants to even imagine what's INSIDE the house.

My covers = excellent curb appeal.
What do you read for pleasure?
I write erotica which means (when I have time to read) I read a lot of other erotica authors. I stay away from "contemporary" erotica (since that's my personal field).

Authors that write historical erotica (such as Robin Schone) or paranormal erotica (such as Lora Leigh and Emma Holly) are my favorites to read for pleasure. Less explicit but oh-so-good are books by Jennifer Ashley, Karen Marie Moning, Gena Showalter, Jacquelyn Frank, Kresley Cole, and Nalini Singh. If I love a series, I will gobble up everything I can obsessively.

I love mystery/suspense and enjoy anything by James Patterson.

Naturally, the classics hold a special place in my heart. "Jane Eyre" is the book I've read most often with "Pride and Prejudice" a close second. There are far, far too many to list but Vonnegut, Dickens, Tolkien, Alcott, Bradbury, Christie, Hemingway, Twain, and Steinbeck are a few that immediately come to mind.

The first non-children's book I read was when I was four-years-old. It was "The Black Stallion" followed immediately by "Treasure Island". My second grade book report was done on "1001 Tales of Arabian Nights" and in third grade I freaked out my classmates by choosing "Watership Down" - if it was in the library, I considered it "appropriate" for my age group. When my own children came along, I happily skipped through "Harry Potter" and sadly forced my way through "Twilight" - to check out what they were reading.

What may surprise many of my readers is my love of horror. Edgar Allan Poe started my adoration of the genre, Stephen King solidified my devotion as a lifelong fan, and Dean Koontz proved that it was possible to terrify yet leave me hope which puts him at the front of my personal preference.

I could talk forever about books. Reading them and writing them. *HAPPINESS*
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I received a Kindle for my birthday and promptly downloaded the complete collection of "Sherlock Holmes" for free from the classics library. I now have several hundred books that I don't have to either store or dust. It's convenient when I'm forced to leave my house (which I keep to a bare minimum).

I can't do anything useful on my phone. It does stuff - I just don't know what and the buttons are small and I hate touch screen. I can barely text. Trying to read a book on it makes me laugh maniacally.

My personal preference is my computer setup - my beautiful laptop is connected to a huge second screen where my eyes don't have to strain and I have access to a full-size keyboard and mouse. It is fast, easy to read, and gives me more flexibility (yes, I obsessively monitor Facebook and email).
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I admit that I'm a tad bit obsessive. I write (on average) between 18-20 hours per day. I do this mainly because I love to write. The other reason is that I'm building a business - and that means long hours for little pay. Just like a restaurant, a video rental store, or an art gallery - you have to build your brand, deliver products that have perceived value, and keep your customers happy.

That does not happen overnight.

However, I do have hobbies and interests. *GRIN*

Reading is my second love to writing and I can easily absorb an entire series of three books in a single day. I'm picky about what I read and rarely like what is considered "popular" - I fully confess to being a book snob. If you draw me in and don't deliver, I will curse you.

I love to cook and can make just about anything. I don't fry food often despite my "country" upbringing - I'll make chicken-fried steak, slow-fried potatoes, and honey cornbread once or twice a year. Mostly though, I love fresh ingredients baked or grilled and served up with lots of color, flavor, and aroma.

I love being outside but never when it's hot. I have a horrifying fear of snakes and burn quicker than bacon cooks. Camping, hiking, and simply *being* outside are wonderful...with layers of clothing and a thermos of hot cocoa coffee.

Photography is something I deeply adore but I rarely find the peace to just wander. Someday - I'll take out my camera and capture things that move me again.

Mostly though...I write. It is what I was born to do.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author or publisher.