Today we sit down for a 20 Questions session with author S.L. Shelton. He is going to tell us about his interesting background, his inspiration and share some of his work with us.
Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions:
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I was in my early twenties when I had a dream that my deceased grandfather took me to a book store to see a book that I had written. It’s been a goal ever since. Over the years I’ve had many book “starts”, but never wrote one for publishing until I sprained my ankle pretty severely after retiring. All the universe seemed to come together signalling me to begin writing in earnest. Scott Wolfe was the result.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
It depends on the sort of book. Espionage books take a good while to write compared to, say, a crime thriller. It took me on average 3 to 4 months to write the first draft on each Scott Wolfe novel, where as my most recent release (Hedged) only took three weeks. The technical detail threshold is lower so I can focus on the character personalities (my strong suit). I’m certain that if I were writing forensic/procedural crime novels, the effort level would go back up. But the thriller feel is central in my stories anyway so I prefer not to distract with the technical anymore than I must.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I wander around the house or property for days, getting my mind wrapped around the detail of the story. As soon as all the pieces click, I write until I’m exhausted or too hungry to continue, and then return as soon as those needs are met.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Nothing anyone would notice; I sit and have silent conversations with the characters in my head. These conversations would best be described as interviews. I chat them up and see how they respond. Once I’ve talked with them for a while I understand who they are and am able to convey them more accurately in dialog and narrative.
Q5) How are your books published?
I’m pure indie, though for the right deal I would go traditional. My point of view is that if I’m going to have to do all the promotion myself anyway, I might as well get the larger royalty for it. If the distribution and promotion from a traditional publishing contract would exceed what I currently enjoy when my books reach bestseller status, then I’d be more than happy to go that route.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Wow…I’ve never thought of where. They just come to me, sometimes three or four a day. I have more story ideas sitting around on post-its, napkins, and yellow legal pads than I could ever possibly write. Picking one would be the more challenging obstacle and that seems to be a mood issue.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my first book in my twenties, almost three decades ago. It was more an exercise in narrative and dialog than anything else and I would be embarrassed to have it published now. I guess I’m lucky I didn’t have access to self publishing tools at the time. It was really a horrible story. Fortunately, we all grow up and mature, and if we’re diligent, our skills mature with us. I wrote approximately five novels before actually deciding to publish, plus another thirty or more first chapters that never made it past the opening scenes.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I used to build furniture, but I’ve also been known to farm a bit, sculpt, paint, photography, travel, maybe even a little target practice (I enjoy both archery and firearms). Since my wonderful Gretel has fallen ill, though, I’ve spent the vast majority of my down time with her. In fact, the whole caregiver role change has me spending more time with her than writing. It was a difficult shift, particularly since writing was our source of income. But I’m grateful for the time I have with her. Writing will wait as long as it needs to wait, and if I’m able to cram in a chapter or two after she’s fallen asleep at night, then all the better.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
Frank Herbert’s Dune. It’s a bit dry by some modern standards, but to me it beautifully represents the power of the fiction author to encapsulate a modern issue (political or otherwise) and shape emotion around it.
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
My family is very pleased with my literary success. My mother rarely meets someone without sharing that her son is a bestselling spy thriller author. My friends, for the most part aren’t really aware of it. I don’t use my real name, so, there’s that. 😉
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
The most surprising thing I learned is that the longer you write a particular character, the louder their voice becomes in your mind. If you have several characters like that, you don’t even have to build dialog for them; all you have to do is give them a problem, then jot down what they say in response. It’s a little spooky really.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have written nearly twenty books, eight that are published. My favorite is always a tie between my first published book, Waking Wolfe and my most recent (whichever one that happens to be at the time). My most recent is Hedged, and I feel it is my best book, benefitting from my experience with each novel that came before it. But it is (as always) tied with Waking Wolfe…my first published love.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Listen to your characters. They each have personalities. If you aren’t sure what those personalities are, you need to spend more time, quietly listening to them, and watching them interact with each other and stimuli. Only when you know your characters as well as you know yourself should you even attempt to write the opening sentence in your story.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much?
How and what kinds of things do they say? I do get feedback, both in reviews and on social media. I have to say I like what I see and enjoy that the most common thread of complaint is that they lost sleep, unable to put the book down. A thriller author’s dream is hearing readers stay up too late reading your work.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience? Those who leave reviews…kidding (not really). I’ve found I have readers from all walks of life. The ones that make me happiest are the ones who say “Don’t normally read this genre, but WOW!”. I love a convert more than anyone else.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
Character depth and story arc. When you know how your character will react, it feels “right” when they respond to the plot. It’s only entertaining with depth and feeling. Build the most interesting characters you can, chase them out of their comfort zone, then throw rocks at them until the end of the story. That’s a good story.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to blow things up. So at an early age (too young if you ask me now), I joined the army and learned exactly that. I guess my dream came true so early that I had to find something else to dream about.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
Amazon. I am a KDP Select author, meaning I’m exclusive to Amazon for eBook distribution. My print books are also available through Amazon, but alternately (though for lower royalties ;), they are available in nearly all other outlets, including bookstores (for in store orders)
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
The following is a scene in which Scott Wolfe and former CIA Operative, Mark Gaines, are preparing to infiltrate a private security firm.
10:15 a.m. on Saturday, February 12th—Baynebridge Headquarters, Charlotte, North Carolina
The back of Mark Gaines’s van smelled like a men’s locker room after summer football practice. “How about those little deodorant green tree thingies that hang from your mirror?” I asked after several minutes of silence.
He ignored me and continued to shoot overlay video of the front of Baynebridge Headquarters. We had spent most of the morning reconnoitring the facility in hopes of finding a covert way to gain physical access to their servers.
“I bet you could get a discount if you bought them in bulk,” I added a few seconds later.
“Are you going to sit there and complain about the free use of my equipment and man hours or are you going to finish scanning the EM signatures?”
“I wasn’t complaining about the equipment or man hours,” I muttered.
The parabolic amplifier I was using to detect electronic signals inside the building was old and unwieldy—it was part of a collection of nearly antique electronic equipment that Mark had stored in his safe house at the edge of town. All of it dated back to the late nineties or early two thousands.
“Shit,” I muttered as I reached over to manually unbind the tracking motor on the dish for the tenth time.
“It never does that with me,” Mark said.
“When was the last time you used it?” I asked, accusing.
He tipped his head down for a second in thought before frowning and refocusing on his video display. “Stop complaining.”
“That’s what I thought.”
He paused the record function on his video sweep before turning to me. “I had nearly forgotten what a joy you are to be around.”
“Wait until I break your nose again,” I replied under my breath without looking up from the data feed.
“What was that?”
“This scan is almost done…it’s looking like they’ve got everything buttoned tight as skinny jeans after Thanksgiving.”
He chuckled. “That’s what I said before you came down.”
I sat back, frustrated—there was no Wi-Fi, no external porting into the building, even at the guard shacks, and all the operational and personnel files were now behind a BRE Cryptography-managed firewall—unbreakable in the short time I had available.
I got up from my cramped space before climbing past Mark to get out of the van. The cool, crisp, fresh air was a most welcome relief, and I began to feel better after a few deep breaths.
Mark got out a few minutes later and leaned against the truck before lighting a cigarette. After he had taken a few drags, I reached out for it.
“We’re going to have to find another way to track the guys who’re holding Bailey’s kid,” he said, handing me the cigarette. “You aren’t getting in there without a major assault.”
I took one long inhale of smoke before handing it back to him. “There’s got to be a way,” I replied, muted, lost in thought.
“You’re wasting your time,” Mark said. “You’d have better luck trying to hack the phones so you could turn on the GPS function.”
I shook my head. “No time. At the rate Combine is moving money out of Europe, we’ll lose all tracking on it soon if we don’t find the account owners.”
He shrugged as he tossed the half-smoked butt on the ground and stamped it out under his toe. “We’re wasting time trying to figure out how to get in there.”
He climbed back in the van and closed the door, leaving me alone with my thoughts. Under what conditions would someone off the street have access to second-floor offices? I asked myself. Who gets upstairs who isn’t an employee?
I rubbed my face in frustration as if increasing circulation there might create inspiration. Non-employee…non-employee.
I shook my head. “Janitors? Repair men?” They’d all have to be cleared.
I banged the back of my head against the van.
“What?!” Mark yelled from inside.
“Get in here and do your damned job or I’ll hire another tech to do it for you.”
My head snapped up as genius struck. I slid the door open and climbed into the van.
“What?” Mark asked as I rushed back to my computer.
“I need to see if their website is more accessible than their admin systems.”
“How would access to their website help us?”
“Hold on,” I said as I probed their Internet server cluster. For the most part, the server was pretty secure, but there was a spam filter that had its own IP address—one I was familiar with. “Bingo!”
I slipped into the system and used a command line data insert to one of the web server’s SQL databases. “I have an appointment with HR on Monday,” I said as I erased the entries from the log before backing out of the connection.
I smiled. “Job interview.”
He shook his head, smiling as he returned his attention to his video screen. “Don’t use me as a reference.”
“Jeez… save a guy’s life and still all he remembers is the beating you gave him.”
About S.L. Shelton:
S.L. Shelton is a passionate, fact spouting former techie and soldier who is constantly at odds with his need to kick the legs out from under those who abuse their power (Political, Economic or Super). He lives on a tiny little farm on the banks of a tiny little river in the northwestern part of Virginia, where his semi-secret identity is somewhat protected on three sides. Despite deep misgivings about writing on subjects close to his own life, he has penned a series of books about a similarly broken, similarly gifted young man who similarly doesn’t have a clue when to stop and re-evaluate life decisions.
Before building his career in the computer field for nearly two decades as a developer, designer, trainer, and a CEO, he had the honor of serving in the US Armed Forces in several roles, most involving explosives of some sort. After selling his successful micro empire in 2011, Shelton retired to his study which he hasn’t left since. On most days he writes, but when left alone and to his own devices, breaks his troll like existence long enough to sneak into the sunlight and fire a weapon or two, snap a few pictures or pick some vegetables from his wife’s prized organic garden beds.
Though his climbing days are behind him due to injuries (several to the head), he was an avid rock climber, having climbed for decades since his teen years. His three children are grown and living very adventurous lives of their own.
Waking Wolfe is the first novel in the Scott Wolfe Series, followed by Unexpected Gaines, Danger Close, Wolfe Trap, Harbinger, and Predator’s Game. Book 7 in the series is scheduled for release sometime in 2016.
Connect with S.L. Shelton:
And WordPress: wolfeauthor.wordpress.com