Shayla Raquel – Author Interview

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book? (And specifically, why this genre?)

The 10 Commandments of Author Branding is an authorship reference book, according to Amazon categories, but I like to call it a self-help book for writers. Reference sounds so dry, doesn’t it?

It was NaNoWriMo 2018, and I needed a book idea. I was a few days late coming up with something, and I had just published my debut novel, The Suicide Tree. While I was at a coffee shop with my writers’ group (we do Saturday NaNoWriMo write-ins during November), it struck me to start compiling all of my articles, email newsletters, Facebook posts, and more into a Word doc. 

It just kept growing and growing. I knew then: This is my book. I need to help authors learn about branding, marketing, and authenticity. And so I did.   

What obstacles—either inner or outer—did you encounter while writing the book?

The Suicide Tree took me three and a half years to write. I was constantly battling with perfectionism. Thankfully, I learned my lesson (to some degree) with Commandments. In fact, that book was written, edited, and published in under a year.

I did, however, encounter quite the setback when I realized an entire chapter (Commandment IX: Thou Shalt Not Bear a Boring Book Launch) had to be completely rewritten in two days before going to the editor. Originally, that chapter taught authors about Facebook launch groups. I knew, though, that they didn’t work anymore. 

That meant sitting down in my recliner and writing an entire chapter from scratch. Funny thing is, that chapter gets the most compliments! 

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?

I’m currently finishing up a book of poetry entitled All the Things I Should’ve Told You. Out of everything I’ve written, this has been the most important to me. It’s me bearing my soul and talking about grief, love, loss, resilience, and anger. Almost every poem was written in the moment—in the moment of grieving the loss of a loved one, in the moment of falling in love, in the moment of dusting myself off and trying again.

These poems helped me get through some dark times, and they’ve also shown me the light. It’s my hope that these poems will guide others out of the darkness and into a brighter world.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? Why did you choose the route you chose, and what was that process like?

Oh, self-publish all the way! I’m too much of a control freak to hand my books over to anyone else. Plus, the waiting game is unbearable. I have a hard enough time waiting on a microwave minute, let alone two years after getting a deal. 

I’m a self-publishing mentor and have been working with indie authors for years. It’s a blast for me, and I wouldn’t want to go any other route. 

The process for someone who has done it for years isn’t tough. But for those who are new to it, it’s seriously like taking on a full-time job. There are so many learning curves! I’ve been blessed with a team who helps me publish high-quality books, so that certainly takes a load off. 

I also have the Pre-Publishing Checklist: A To-Do List for Indie Authors because so many of my clients needed a road map for the process. 

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing? (No need to mention names unless you and they are comfortable with that. We’re more curious about what your writing life looks like and who/what influences/supports you.)

Absolutely! I’m the organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society in Yukon, Oklahoma. In fact, the majority of my friends are writers. We organize workshops and conferences together; we attend conferences in Texas (road trip!); we go to coffee shops to write; we send each other writerly memes and quotes. I’ve said it before in previous interviews, but there is no doubt in my mind that my books wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for writer friends.

I think, yes, accountability is a part of success, but it’s this loyal support I get unlike any other from them. If I talk about a new book I’m working on, or if I tell my friends about ideas for workshops, they immediately cheer me on. And I do the same for them.

Find your people, my author friends. It will change you.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like? If not, how do you stay engaged in your writing projects?

No one has ever accused me of sticking to a routine. Ha! I’m kind of all over the place with my writing. The weekends and week nights (after 8 o’clock) are a lot easier for me. I get my coffee, a snack, my Bose headphones, and I get to work. I love setting a timer too, because it’s fun to see what I can accomplish in an hour. Or on the days when time is so limited, just 15 minutes of writing is better than none.

One thing that helps me stay engaged—and this is an odd answer—is ensuring my mental health is up to par. If I’m not exercising, eating healthy, staying in my devotions, and spending time with wonderful people, my mental health will deteriorate. And if my mental health is meh, then my writing is meh

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?

As I said, the book of poetry! But I am wildly excited about my first psychological thriller. It isn’t named yet, but I’ve been in research mode most of the year. This one . . . well, let’s just say it’s my magnum opus. 

For NaNoWriMo this year, I’m using this time to outline my entire novel using the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel method as my guide.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?

As a born-again Christian, I know God gave me the gift of writing, and I never want to let a talent grow stagnant. So I’m very grateful for that. When I’m writing, I do think there’s a spiritual aspect to it, because I am genuinely bearing my soul to the world. I don’t care what genre I’m writing in; there is a piece of my heart in my writing. 

You need to take that writing time seriously. Turn your phone on silent or leave it in another room. Turn on some rain sounds (I like rainfor.me). And for the love of Pete, leave your blasted social media alone.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?

I wouldn’t call it much of a life at all. Honestly. My whole life is centered on books. I think I would feel empty. I would always know something was missing in my life. A void.

Why do you write?

Because I can’t not write. 


Shayla Raquel is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, “The Rotting” (in Shivers in the Night), The Suicide Tree, andThe 10 Commandments of Author Branding. In her not-so-free time, she acts as organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society, volunteers at the Oklahoma County Jail, and obsesses over squirrels. She lives in Oklahoma with her dogs, Chanel, Wednesday, and Baker.

Train Wreck: When Your Writing Retreat on the Train Goes WAY Off the Rails – Part Two (The Planning)

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

As promised in my last post, I want to share my experience of the Rhythm on the Rails Writing Retreat to Vancouver, BC that went way off the rails.

I’ll start by saying that my ROTR retreat to Vancouver was my first overnight retreat. I had decided it was time to branch out from the one-day train retreat I did last fall to Seattle and give one a little further out on the west coast Amtrak line a go. Vancouver, BC seemed like a great place to start.

I spent a lot of time scoping out locations for activities that would align with the topic for the retreat: The Heart Chakra and Antagonists/Supporting Characters (content from my Writing Through the Body™ method). I wanted to be mindful of finding locations and sites that wouldn’t require a lot of travel time within the city. I also wanted to provide everyone with ample alone time to explore in Vancouver because I know we writers LOVE our alone time, and getting out to take in unfamiliar sights is a great way to freshen our perspectives and our writing practice at the same time.

If you’ve planned a retreat of any size, you know that this part of the process is a bit like playing a chess game. You think ahead, strategize, anticipate all the possible needs of your participants and all the possible things that could go wrong, with the number one goal being to give them an experience that will get them closer to their desire – in my case: to make progress on their books.

I wanted to find a way to visit ALL the parks in Vancouver but quickly realized that wasn’t realistic given time constraints and travel time, so I landed on Queen Elizabeth Park as a location for one of our group activities. I figured with it being the highest point in the city, it would be a nice reprieve from the bustle down below on the afternoon of our first full day there.

We were scheduled to arrive at the King Street station at 11:30PM on a Thursday. Amtrak offers only one direct trip from Portland to Vancouver, BC, and it seemed the best option, given that all the other trips going that direction required a transfer to a bus. Writing on the bus was not what I was offering, and to be honest, it didn’t sound appealing to me at all. So, I figured it wouldn’t be to my participants either. I wanted us to have the full eight hours up and back to write on the train… that was the point of the entire trip, after all.

Because I wanted to give everyone a chance to sleep in the next morning (Friday) and revel in a slow start to the day, especially after our late arrival the night before following an eight-hour train ride, I planned two activities at Queen Elizabeth Park for Friday afternoon, as well as dinner at Chambar, one of Vancouver’s top restaurants, for Friday night.

For Saturday, I planned an open day for participants to explore the city alone or together and/or wander off to get some more writing done. Saturday night, our last night there, I planned another group dinner at Joe Fortes, another of Vancouver’s highly recommended restaurants.

(I knew that at least two of the participants had dietary restrictions – as do I – so I was sure to find restaurants that would allow for substitutions and make accommodations for those who needed it.)

When searching for lodging for us all, I wanted to find a hotel within walking distance of many of Vancouver’s top sites and attractions and that would not require a lot of costly travel time for those who wanted to venture further out. I also wanted to keep the overall cost down and keep the focus on the writing rather than bill the retreat as any kind of “luxury” experience. The “luxury” was about being able to experience immersive writing time on the train.

This proved to be a challenge. I looked at a few large Airbnb rentals, but the 30-minute travel time back to the city for all the rentals available at the time that would accommodate us all was more than I wanted to tack onto our days, and I thought this would, again, create more cost for participants. It would have also made transportation to group activities trickier.

I found that, despite my planning this retreat several months in advance, I couldn’t find hotels with enough vacancies for all of us (I was hoping for a max of 10 and a min of six) that were within what I thought was a reasonable price range.

I finally found a hotel that seemed to fit all the requirements needed for the retreat, so I reserved a block of rooms and included information about it on the website for the retreat.

With all the planning details taken care of, I could now advertise the retreat and plan for the virtual pre-trip class I would offer on the content – The Heart Chakra and Antagonists/Protagonists.

I had hoped for a minimum of six writers. I got four, and I was happy with this because it was, as I said, my first overnight retreat, and I knew all the people who were going: two were clients, one was a person I knew from networking who had referred one of my clients to me (they are friends), and the other had gone on my last one-day train retreat to Seattle.

Knowing the people who would be going, having some already-established mutual respect and familiarity between me and them gave me a sense of security about executing the retreat.

All seemed well. And it was… until we reached Vancouver, BC, at 11:30PM on that Thursday…

To learn about what went wrong – even before we had made it through the customs gate at King Street Station in Vancouver – read The Execution, my account of our time in Vancouver.

In the meanwhile… as always, I’m sending you mad writing mojo.

Bright blessings and creative courage,

Johnnie
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