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Author Interview: Sarah Shipley

How did you become a writer?

I was born to be a writer. At one time (like all doe eyed teenagers) I thought I’d write the Great American Novel. I wrote for one of my College Journals and use stylized writing everyday when I work. I write hours upon hours, per day from limericks and fun puns to policy documents and speeches. I have been creatively writing for some time and it is interesting (and sometimes cringeworthy) to go back to stories I wrote years ago and see how I could change them today.

What inspires you to write?

Everything can be inspiring. I’ve been inspired by news stories, tweets, comics, kids and everyday banter between strangers. I’m inspired by the day-to-day moments of life. I like to take these ideas and flip the script, make them fun.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

My plot(s) always come from wanting to solve a problem. I ten build the plot and character set around that. When writing Off-Kilta Matilda I was volunteering with kids and I heard them say, “Math is Hard” and “I Quit” - I knew that I could help solve for this. I did some research, worked with teachers and students, wrote a NSF grant and built characters and a story that would get more kids to stick with STEM.

Could you share some of your challenges as a writer?

Time. Time is my biggest problem. I have an orage notebook full of story ideas and things I want to write about. I need to work in dedicated blocks of time and superfocus to write. I do this by taking Amtrak (the train is perfect for writing) or by getting a hotel so I can complete my work. One of my heroes is Peter Shankman, he wrote a book on the plane flight to and from Tokyo. He purposely put himself on a plane so he would have no distractions. Though I don’t have the ability to travel to on a whim Tokyo (yet) to write a book, Amtrak, Hotels and hotel lobbies are the ways I can focus and create creative content.

Tell me about your protagonist. What's your favorite trait and/or weakness?

Off-Kilta Matilda is my ladybug that has mismatched spots on her wings. She starts off the story with self doubt and ends up a leader. I love that she learns persistence.

How does your antagonist create conflict?

The conflict happens when the other kids at the school make fun of Off-Kilta Matilda. She runs away and does not know how to deal with the bully bugs at her school.

What are your current/future projects?

Off-Kilta Matilda and the Prime Number Club is my current focus. But I have notebook s) full of ideas outlines. I’d bet it has 50 different stories in there! In the current future I’d like to write a tongue- in-cheek book about fundraising (I’ve been fundraising and working with nonprofits for over 20 years). This would be a funny take on lessons learned. I’ve started the outline for a picture book about an old house and I’d love to write a book about children who start their own business. I’ve got tons of ideas!

Do you have a routine you follow when writing?

Get up. Plank until coffee is done. Write for 10-12 hours. Repeat.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?

I’d go back to when I was 19 and tell myself that life has twists and turns and everything will be fine. I’d also tell myself that it turns out you are fabulous at math and have dyscalculia, you will find workarounds and this will make you resilient and creative.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Write. Write. AND write some more. I’m a big fan of getting the words down on the page and taking it from there. Often I find that people are afraid to start with a blank page so I’ll write a foul limerick about whatever the subject I’m tackling that day, that gets my brain active and I can get started.

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with you?

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