My guest today is author Sally Ann Sims. Sally, thank you for being here today.
Sally: Thank you for inviting me.
Can you tell us about yourself and your background? What do you currently do outside of writing?
I’m passionate about the natural world, conservation science, writing, and art. My heroes in high school were Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Vincent Van Gogh. I really started getting interested in fiction writing in college when I stumbled on the novels of French-Canadian novelist Gabriella Roy. Soon after, I switched majors from plant and soil science to English. I don’t remember much about the plots of those novels but the intensity of emotion, setting, and symbolism really resonated with me. And so I began a many-decade journey of learning how to write novels.
Outside of fiction writing, I’m very interested in wildlife conservation and climate change adaptation. I earned my Master of Science in Conservation Biology four years ago. It seems I had to go back and finish the science degree! I do consulting work on biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, and community resilience. It’s very meaningful to me to work with all different kinds of groups that are interested in looking for common ground, common values, and helping people and nature thrive and adapt to climate change. Most recently I’ve been co-facilitating a planning group whose goal is to educate the public on sea level rise in coastal Virginia, USA. It’s an engaging mix of cultural and science organizations that are looking for new ways to communicate and engage folks on a major climate change issue affecting people, wildlife, and places in the Chesapeake Bay.
I’m also an artist who enjoys painting, drawing, and exploring printmaking.
What books have you written, and what are their genres? What audience are they aimed at?
In spring 2015, I published Halt at X: A North of Boston Novel. My first published novel, it falls into the category of mainstream fiction or you might call it literary suspense. My audience is male and female readers who are interested in character- and plot-driven fiction. I see it as a mainstream-genre hybrid, with elements of suspense, thriller, and romance. It is also the only novel I know of with a sympathetically drawn philanthropic fundraiser as the protagonist. Horse people are another group of interested readers because the protagonist, Lucinda Tyne Beck, takes on rehabbing a starving ex-racehorse while the rest of her life and career unravel. With themes of courage, persistence, redemption, and recovery, it appeals to a variety of readers.
What prompted you to write what you did? Where do you get your writing inspiration? What message(s) do you want readers to take away?
I think I’ve been most inspired to write by reading other authors whose work I greatly admire or find elements of their storytelling that inspire me. These folks include M.L. Stedman, Margaret Atwood, Alexander McCall Smith, Anne Tyler, Jane Urquhart, Lilian Jackson Braun, and Rita Mae Brown.
What prompted the writing of Halt at X? I started out envisioning a book about women’s relationships and horses. I was going to call it Boomer Horse Club, but after I wrote a scene with Lucinda and Tori and the thoroughbred Lady Grey the book took on a much more serious and emotional tone. Once I found out Lucinda was a fundraiser, I wanted to communicate with people who had no behind-the-scenes experience of the philanthropic world about what an intense world it is, full of all the greed, altruism, best intentions, and emotional blinders prevalent in other high-stakes workplaces. And I thought it would have great dramatic potential to have Lucinda at odds with her boss, the president of a college, with the soul of the institution at stake.
One reader of Halt at X said to me at a Book Club discussion recently, “You were in my room!” As a writer, that was great to hear. She had similar experiences as the characters and situations in the novel, and she thought the story felt like I was in her house and experiencing her life. What I try to give to readers is the emotional resonance of complex characters that evolve and situations that they can both relate to yet might never imagine being in.
What challenges did you encounter in bringing Halt at X to print? How did you overcome them? Do you have some advice for new authors?
I usually weave in several subplots into my novels so keeping them logical and meaningful was a challenge through the several drafts of the book. I also needed to really tighten up my scene crafting and working with novelist and professor Mark Spencer was of immense help in this challenge. I published Halt at X myself. It took quite a bit of time to understand the process, find all the right professionals to develop the kind of high-quality paperback and Ebook I wanted to produce for readers, and learn all about the relevant business and technological changes happening in the publishing world now.
My advice to new authors would be to remember why you love to write as you take on the challenge of writing and polishing work that you believe needs to be out in the world. Get a lot of feedback and ask for help where you need it along the way. Filter the feedback and understand what will help you develop your craft. Also, develop a thick skin and a flexible mind.
Do you write short stories, articles, or have a blog? Where can we find them?
I write novels, essays, and poetry. I have a blog that folks can read on my website or on Goodreads. It’s been on a bit of a hiatus during the last year while I’ve been working on my second novel. I’ve been more active recently communicating with readers through a newsletter. Readers can sign up for my newsletter at www.sallyannsims.com.
I’ve also had personal essays published by the Christian Science Monitor. They can be read (even by nonsubscribers) at:
What do you find the hardest about writing? The easiest?
The hardest: Sitting still once I start to write! The easiest: Generating ideas for novels. The challenge for me is culling them to the ones I feel the most compelled to complete. You’ve got to sit a long time with a novel idea, and you want it to be something that inspires you from beginning to beyond the time you finish writing it.
What’s next for you after Halt at X?
My next novel is titled Yellow Sky, Emerald Sea, which I expect will be out in 2017. It’s set in 2018 during the run up to the 80th anniversary of the Hurricane of 1938 in Rhode Island, USA. The protagonist, the portrait artist Vieve Clough Beale, arrives back on the Weekapaug Coast in the run up to the anniversary of the storm with storm wreckage of a different sort. She’s accompanied by Jack West, her ready-for-anything terrier mix.
Vieve’s uncle goes missing soon after she arrives, and she must deal with her childhood nemesis who crosses her almost every which way she turns. Soon Vieve is pulled into a hurricane commemoration project with a very intriguing and attractive acrylic artist, and the stakes grow as the town is plagued by corruption at a granite quarry and dangerous happenings at an old fort on an exposed peninsula hit badly during the hurricane of ‘38. The story is packed with hurricane history, Native American archaeology, intrigue, suspense, passion, corruption, romance, a ghost or two, and a couple of unexplainable meteorological happenings.
What special thing about yourself would you like to share with readers?
I just really want to say how much I appreciate readers. It means so much to be able to meet and talk to readers, and I’m very much heartened that—despite news to the contrary—readers still read and savour mainstream/literary-style fiction. Read on!
How can we follow or contact you?
Author website: www.sallyannsims.com
I like to keep in touch with readers, future readers, or just interested folks through my Newsletter. A quick sign-up link is on my website.