Name: Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Age: I can tell you, but you will first have to sign the Official Secrets Act.
Where are you from: I was born in the Almada District, Lisboa, Portugal and raised in the American Midwest. The Pacific Northwest has been my home now for the last seven years.
A little about your self; i.e., education, family life, etc:
I am the only child of Russian / Portuguese parents, who came to America in the early 80’s in search of (and finding) the American dream. My childhood, being raised in a multi-cultural home was… interesting. Education was very important to my mother and she imbued in me a thirst for knowledge that, to this day, drives me. I attended both public and private (Catholic) schools and two universities. I currently hold a BASW, my teacher’s certification and I am working toward my masters in Sociology.
I met my wife, Christina Anne, in a bar of all places (it’s a long story; you’ll have to read my memoir for the rest), on my 21st birthday – a day that was both the worst day and the best day of my life. We have been together seven years and will celebrate our third wedding anniversary in October. Christina is more than just my wife. She is my lover… partner… mentor… muse… fellow traveller… soul mate… challenger… champion… and my forever.
My mother single-handedly raised me from the age of ten onward, until I went off to university. She passed away in 2008, after a prolonged battle with cancer. My father returned to America a few years ago, and while reconciliation hasn’t been easy, I am determined not to lose him again.
I currently divide my time between writing, teaching preschoolers, continuing my own education and keeping my wife, who is older by six years, on her toes. She is a staunch blue-blood Republican WASP – is that redundant? – I am a social Democrat with a bit of a conservative streak. To say that our home life is ‘interesting’ would be an understatement.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news:
I can’t say too much as it is still rather ‘hush-hush’, but I am working on a story for a dark (think horror, urban fantasy) femme fatales anthology.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
If you count journaling, I began writing around age six. In school, English and Writing were never first on my ‘dance card’ and the fact that I passed those classes is proof positive that there is a God. And that He has a sense of humor.
As an adult, I began writing as part of therapy; more often than not, not even sharing my words with my partner. Writing as therapy however, served me twofold. It allowed me to confront my past and begin rebuilding my life. When I finally grew tired of writing about myself, I turned my pen to fiction, seeing an opportunity to [hopefully] exorcise my demons by writing noir. I guess you could say that I began seriously writing about three years ago.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Oh, is that what I am? I have to remind myself sometimes. I think of Nicole Baart’s response to a similar question. I’m waiting for a ‘real’ author to sniff around me and say… “You’re not a writer!” It still seems a bit unreal to me at times. Even though I have been published in six anthologies to date as well as three online ‘zines – Literary Orphans, Pulp Metal Magazine and Pure Slush (a ‘counterpoint’ story with author Joyce Juzwik) and have appeared on ‘real’ writers blogs, I have moments where I will look in the mirror and ask myself… “Girl, what are you doing?”
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My mother. She has been gone almost five and a half years now, but we talk every day. She is my strength. She is my courage. All that I do… I do for her.
I’ve always loved a challenge. My mother raised me to face life head on… with compassion, strength and courage. So it was that when I first heard of NaNoWriMo back in 2011, I knew that I had to do it… this was the challenge I had to face… and conquer. This would tell me if I had what it took to be a writer. I had not previously written anything longer than 20,000 words. Most of my writing up to that point was flash fiction, less than 2500 words a story. To write 50,000 words in only thirty days, keeping in mind that unless it was complete brain vomit, that 50,000 was only the beginning… barely half of a novel… both excited and scared me.
My first book, currently in third draft, is my memoir. Several years ago, as part of my therapy, I began writing about what had happened to me in my junior year of college and other things in my life… coming out of the closet… my mother disowning me when she found out I was a lesbian… the kidnapping… the rapes… the torture… the attempt at suicide… meeting Tina and how she saved me… rebuilding my life… the passing of my mother… all of those things. Both Tina and my therapist said that I should write a book about what happened… that I should tell my story… the story of a survivor. The Rose, the Robe and the Road Back is just that.
My first book, however, was supposed to be something entirely different. It was supposed to be crime fiction. I had notes, an outline and everything all ready, waiting for the start of NaNoWriMo 2011. But something happened on November 1 when I sat down in front of Bella (my laptop, constant companion and keeper of my secrets) and instead of writing a story of murder and intrigue, I began writing my memoir.
My first fiction novel came with the following year’s NaNoWriMo. It is also a work-in-progress, a contemporary crime fiction tentatively titled After the Tears. This is the sequel to my novella, This Will All End in Tears, which came this close (raises hand with thumb and forefinger almost touching) to being published in an anthology last year.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
One of my first mentors was Hollywood screenwriter Carole A Parker. Carole, who describes herself on her “That Killing Feeling” blog as “a hard-boiled noir dame” is a wonderful person and her writing has been a huge inspiration to me and influenced the style of writing I currently employ.
In fiction, I write primarily in shades of noir. I try to create a sense of place, something that the reader can readily identify with and characters that are right out of real life. They don’t always win. They bleed… they hurt… they fall in love… they fall out of love… they live… they die. With one exception, my writing is a reflection of what goes on around us every day… there is nothing ‘fantastical’. I’m not putting down paranormal / fantasy / sci-fi. I believe that what happens in those books is possible, but I write about the probable. Some of my stories are about ‘wild’ justice, which doesn’t have a happy ending for anyone. Some of my writing has a definite feminist slant… I make no apologies for that.
Another thing… almost every story I have written… I wrote the ending first. I put down on paper how the story wanted to end. Then I went back and wrote the beginning. From there it was just a matter of filling in the in-between until beginning and end met. Writing a story is like a journey. You know your destination. You know where you are leaving from and all the stops in between are the story.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The title, The Rose, the Robe and the Road Back, is a reference to a symbol (the rose) of my new life when Christina brought me to the West Coast, a connection between the past and the present (the robe), and the journey between the two (the road back).
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. No matter what happens… wherever your life takes you… whatever it takes from you… nothing or anyone can take away the person you were meant to be. Life is a cruel teacher and more than once she will leave you bleeding by the roadside, where you will either learn the lesson she is trying to teach you… or you will curl up and wither away. Do not let yourself be defined by others. You are more than the sum of the parts of your life. It is okay to occasionally be disappointed in yourself, but don’t wallow. Get up… keep moving. Whether you believe in God, some other “supreme being”, or fate… there is a purpose and a plan to your life. You owe it to yourself and to the family of man to live your life with purpose. And remember this… there is no such thing as failure if you try.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
To protect the innocent, I have fictionalized certain places and persons. Other than that, the events portrayed are entirely accurate.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The events are based on my own life.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life?
Flowers for Algernon, To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Expectations, The Deep End of the Ocean, In Search of Lost Time, Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, The Sound and The Fury… too many to mention here.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She was a strong woman, with strong moral convictions and a keen sense of justice. These are traits my own mother possessed and which she passed on to me. I have several living mentors, all wonderful authors and writers in their own right… Lily Childs, Richard Godwin, Vicki Abelson, Paul D Brazill, Carol A Parker, Joyce Juzwik, to mention a few… who have all been of tremendous support and encouragement to me.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just wrapped up Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy and am now reading Every house needs a balcony by Rina Frank and Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Jenny Milchman (Cover of Snow) and Jonna Ivin (Will Love For Crumbs, a memoir). In reading their debut novels, I am more than a little awed at the raw power, honesty, mystery and suspense, and compassion evident in these two women’s writing.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am currently finishing the first draft of a story for a new anthology (the ‘hush-hush’ one)… working on second and third drafts of my two novels… re-working This Will All End In Tears… a collection of my flash fiction (to be self-published under my pen name)… the sequel to Revenge Will Wait For Another Day… and a couple other short stories.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I don’t even have to think about that one. Vicki Abelson’s Women Who Write, a Facebook group of [mostly] women… incredible, remarkable and inspiring women, I might add. I have learned so much from them and they have been there for me through the highs and the lows every writer goes through. I can’t imagine doing this without them.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Not in the traditional sense, no. I don’t write for fame or fortune. I enjoy writing. At times I am tormented by the very act of writing. In writing, I can lose myself. In writing I can find myself. I write… because I can’t NOT write. To borrow a quote from one of my favorite writers, Jonna Ivin, which pretty much sums up why I write…
“I don’t write so that after I am gone, people will remember me. I write so that I can remember me while I’m still here.”
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
That would have to go back to when I was a very little girl. I remember sitting with Mama in the parlor, watching her while she wrote in her diaries. I was fascinated by the whole process… by the ritual Mama made of writing. I wanted to do that. I wanted to hold a pen in my hands and fill blank pages of paper with the words that were in my head, just as Mama did.
In my early teens, my best friend Talia and I discovered the forbidden world of pulp – forbidden because Mama strenuously disapproved of our reading magazines such as AHMM and EQMM – “Proper young ladies do not read such things, Veronica!”, and would confiscate them whenever she caught us – and would talk about how one day we would write stories like those. Unfortunately, at that time, Writing and English and I were barely on speaking terms, despite Sister Emeline’s patient tutoring.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us
Besides the current projects I mentioned earlier, I am also working on story ideas for this year’s NaNoWriMo. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say the story revolves around Erin Jovanovićh my lesbian vampire character. And it may or may not also feature Paul Brazill’s werewolf character, Roman Dalton, PI.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Dialogue. I have rare days when I can write a piece of dialogue with such ease… good dialogue… that I want to cry. More often than not, dialogue is one of the most edited elements in my stories, trying to find just the right tone and mood. I have scrapped and completely rewritten stories because I could not get the proper feel in the dialogue.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Oh, that changes. I think it is as impossible to have only one favorite author. Like clothes and the seasons, we ‘grow’ into new authors. If you ask me who currently is my favorite author… that would be Nicole Baart. Nicole has a deep love and compassion for man and a unique understanding of the human condition. Her novels are a rich tapestry of unforgettable characters, flawless plots and some of the most compelling storytelling I have ever read. Nicole writes from the heart, captivating her readers as few other writers of her genre can.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
For locales outside the continental United States, I travel only as far as Google or a friend’s email.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Damn! I knew I was forgetting something!
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Reliving some of the events and putting them down on paper for others to see. I’ll be perfectly honest here… I had a couple of setbacks (my therapist could probably retire just from what I pay her) and more than once gave serious thought to scrapping the whole damn thing. But, I also had a couple of major breakthroughs, so in the end, it balanced out. The pain was worth the revelations.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
You can’t bury the past… no matter how hard you try. And… in the final analysis… giving up is not an option.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Forget what you thought you knew about sacrifice… writing will teach you the real meaning of sacrifice. The story you think you want to write and the story that is inside you are not always one and the same. Don’t try to fight the story inside you… let it out… set it free.
We all have experiences… crosses to bear… burdens to carry… that determine to a certain extent how we live our lives. Those things that influence my writing also allow me to put them in some perspective. For me, it’s all part of a process. Find your process and follow it… don’t fight it.
We write what we see… we write what we do… we write not to be alone.
We spend our whole life trying, with varying degrees of success, to be more than the sum of the parts of our lives. That is human nature.
Writing allows us to be more than the sum of those parts.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Good and evil aren’t absolutes and truth and justice are not always two sides of the same coin. I hope that I have conveyed that in my stories
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Reading, running, camping, hiking, photography, beachcombing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I don’t watch broadcast or cable television. I do have Netflix, however. I am currently watching The X-Files, Fringe, Doctor Who, Midsomer Murders, Lie to Me, Sherlock, The Walking Dead, Damages, Wallander, Caprica, Battlestar Galactica, Foyle’s War, Orange is the New Black, Continuum and Once Upon A Time.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music:
Nana’s, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian. Autumn colors. Classical… the structure and the discipline of classical music are important to the writer in me.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Well, I would need another outlet for confessing my sins and performing penance, so I would probably become a nun.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website?
My author’s site is currently under construction. While waiting for the dust to settle, I can be found at – http://veronicathepajamathief.wordpress.com/ and http://veronicathepajamathiefwritespoetry.blogspot.com/ . Some of my photography can be seen at – http://veronicathepajamathief365project.wordpress.com/about/
Thank you for having me, Fiona. I enjoyed this very much.