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Bio


S.L. Whyte

I was born in Minnesota and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. The third oldest in a family of nine children, I learned at a young age the value of hard work, innovative thinking, team efforts, and creativity. And survival of the pecking order! I inherited my love of story telling from my aunt, who was a professional storyteller on Mississippi steamboats. My parents encouraged me to explore my world—building backyard forts in the willow, playing on beaches and in woods nearby, riding city buses, visiting museums, and frequenting libraries—which fostered imagination and kept me entertained. I wrote short stories, poetry, and lyrics to songs throughout my teens. Diagraming sentences became a strange obsession in tenth grade English class. In college I studied vocal performance and public relations, still not knowing that writing would ultimately reveal my inner voice.

Two things that always take my breath away and make time stand still—my grandchildren and writing. I've heard it said that you know you're a writer when, no matter what else you're doing, there's a little voice in the back of your head that whispers, taunts, and sometimes screams, "You should be writing!" I used to think something was wrong with me (do other writers hear voices?), or that my life was out of balance (why do I allow everything else to come before writing?), or maybe I just didn't know how to enjoy the serendipitous moments that make life blissful (ironically, some of the greatest pleasures come in writing about those moments!). However, I discovered the voice is always there because I am a writer. It's a curse and a blessing. The grandchildren are only a blessing!

In addition to writing, I love to indulge in fine chocolate, gourmet ice cream, music—jazz, country, classical—camping, kayaking, Scrabble, flying kites, and my morning run along the beach. I dream of living in a tree house, mastering the art of photography, and riding a motorcycle when I'm ninety years old. I treasure holidays, reunions and fun times with my family. I've been married to the love of my life for 35 years and we have three grown sons, three daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. We live in a small town near the sea in the Pacific Northwest. It is my own Tir Na Nog.


Q&A


Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Where do you get your story ideas? And the characters' names?
Do you ever experience writer's block?
How long did it take to write "Finding Tir Na Nog?"
What is a typical day for you?
In addition to writing, what else do you enjoy?
Why do you write YA fantasy?
How does someone get a book published?

 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

A: A writer is not who I am but writing is what I love to do. I wrote my first novella in sixth grade. It was a horribly written story about a boy who stowed away on an airplane to Greece. I titled it, Good Grief, Gasped Garrett, It's Greece! Ugh! But I remember holding the finished product in my hand and thinking to myself, "Wow! I can write! I can imagine anything I want and make it into a story. This is exciting!" Throughout my teens I wrote short stories, poetry and lyrics to songs. I learned to diagram sentences in high school creative writing class and it fascinated me. I've kept a journal since I was 14 years old. Journaling is good writing exercise, and an excellent way to get honest with your self. Writing also requires vulnerability. Honesty and vulnerability can be scary, even outright terrifying! But published writers must be willing to stand naked (figuratively speaking) in front of critics, who may point out every wart, wrinkle and scar in your writing or as a person. Ironically, story characters with flaws are more believable and interesting. People with flaws are more relatable and more real. Writing is an opportunity to be a real character.

 

Where do you get your story ideas? And the characters' names?

A: Stories happen every day, all day, to everyone and everything, so I try to be observant and listen to what's going on around me. I use a notebook (or smartphone) to write down ideas that pop into my head. Usually those story ideas come with plots and character sketches, but sometimes with only a title. Eavesdropping is a great way to feel the flow of language; and watching people is a fun way to gather information. But I need quiet, personal space to write. Good writing takes practice. Great writing requires commitment to the craft and patience with the process. Excellent writing demands a mind free of distractions, a heart open to the unexpected, and a transparent soul. As for characters' names, I typically do a lot of research to make sure each character is given a name with meaning appropriate to his or her personality, especially for main characters. (Check out the Meet the Characters page.) Sometimes a name appears out of nowhere, like with Charlotte Louise McKinnley in Finding Tir Na Nog. This character is a person from the past who jumped into the story at a critical point in the plot. I stopped writing to sort of get to know her...see if she'd tell me her name. Then, within minutes, her name popped into my head, as if I'd known her a long time. A few days later, I suddenly remembered that my own grandmother and great aunt were named Charlotte! How cool is that? And here's another Twightlight-zone-Zen fact: One of my granddaughters, who was born after I wrote the book—but before my son or daughter-in-law read it—is named Charlotte. Likewise, neither of them knew then about my ancestor named Charlotte. Sometimes it's just meant to be. For fun, I often intentionally name minor characters after someone I know. I also invent names and words—like the word "Stelladaur".

 

Do you ever experience writer's block?

A: Not really. For me, writer's block isn't about staring at the blank computer screen wondering what to write. It's about blocking out distractions and demands, often self-imposed, on my time. However, when I wrote Finding Tir Na Nog, I wrote six to eight hours a day. It was a real irritation to leave my computer, for any reason. Laundry piled up, I stayed in PJ's all day, and dinner was always late, if at all. When I'm not in my novel writing zone, it's easy to get sidetracked with everything else, including Facebook, emails, business matters, or a zillion other things that may be important but tend to block creativity.

 

How long did it take to write Finding Tir Na Nog?

A: I jotted notes in my idea book for over a year. Then I did some outlining and plot-structuring. One morning in June of 2008, I woke up and said, "Today I begin the first chapter." I finished that chapter and then left the story for seven months to take care of some personal commitments that required my full attention. But I thought about the story constantly, and the characters haunted me. I actually wrote the book from February through May of 2009, writing five days a week, six to eight hours a day. It was a blissful time indeed! Then I set the manuscript aside for almost another year before I began to seriously edit it, which took yet another two years before it was ready to hand over to my editor. Did I mention writing takes practice and patience?

 

What is a typical day for you?

A: I wake up around 7:00 a.m., read for half an hour in bed, go on a run, grab some breakfast, and then handle business matters. I try to write at least four hours a day, more if I'm working on a novel. I usually tackle miscellaneous tasks and dreaded errands on Saturday morning, and then do something fun with my family the rest of the day. On Sundays I attend church and do things to refill my spiritual bucket and sense of creativity for the week ahead. Whenever possible, I don't write, blog or do business on Sundays.

 

In addition to writing, what else do you enjoy?

A: I love beach combing, camping, hiking, kayaking, and reading on my front porch, or anywhere. I adore young children. Teenagers fascinate me! I enjoy live theatre a great deal. I like to play Scrabble with my husband, who is a good sport when I use all seven letters in one turn, and usually win the game. I'm an accomplished vocalist and would like to record a CD of my original songs someday. I'd like to do some serious traveling, adventuring and go on a safari. Photography is a budding passion. I don't like malls; I prefer boutique shopping. I like talking on the phone with my sisters...I have six! I love taking naps but rarely do.

 

Why do you write YA fantasy?

A: Like I said, teenagers are fascinating. They are remarkable! The irony is they don't usually think they are anything special. Many kids live in very difficult circumstances, often related to family situations or consequences of giving in to peer pressure. Reading YA Fantasy is a great way to stay connected to imagination. I write fantasy to open up possibilities in the imaginary world—and also in real life. The Stelladaur Series is what I call Young Adult Transcendental Fantasy. In other words, it transcends the readers in such a way that they give themselves permission to believe the unbelievable. When that transformation occurs internally, solutions appear externally. I also write other YA fiction and books for children, sometimes under a pseudonym.

 

How does someone get a book published?

A: With the industry changing so rapidly, it's difficult to keep up with all the latest information. Basically it happens like this. First, write the story you want to write and not what you think will sell. Then edit it dozens of times. And dozens more. Next, learn how to write an effective query letter and selectively query agents who represent your genre. Keep writing and learn the craft. In the meantime, be tough enough to withstand rejection and humble enough to accept constructive criticism. The whole thing is somewhat of an arbitrary roulette game that seems to be spinning out of control. Self-publishing is gaining respect when done with professionalism and skill, so it can be a viable option. Most importantly, keep at it and believe in yourself. Like most things in life, getting a book published is a process, not an event.