A blog for writers: Women and Adversity, Sheila Webster Boneham
Sheila Webster Boneham is a versatile writer with publications in a variety of genres including nonfiction, novels, short stories, poetry, blogs, narrative nonfiction and essays. She focuses on animals, nature and travel and is working on a book-length lyric meditation concerning the connection between people and dogs. Teaching writing classes and painting watercolors, colored-pencil sketches and oils are also part of her repertoire.
Sheila earned her MFA in creative writing from University of Southern Maine/Stonecoast program, her Ph.D. in folklore from Indiana University and has taught in the U.S. and the Middle East. Her interest in animals is evident by her 17 books concerning them. “Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals: A guide for Volunteers and Organizers” is highly acclaimed and has received rave reviews. “The Boxer,” “Brittany,” and “Golden Retrievers” are a few of her titles along with “Senior Cats” and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat.” Her recent mystery series, Animals in Focus, include “Drop Dead on Recall” and “The Money Bird.”
What’s the biggest obstacle she faced when she decided to be a writer?
Sheila: Inexperience and youth! I knew very young that I wanted to be a writer. Time was undoubtedly the biggest obstacle to shifting from being an academic writer, which is where I started serious publishing, to becoming the type of writer I aspired to be. During the years when I started to make that shift, I was teaching writing in universities in the U.S. and abroad, and/or working full time as an editor. That left little time or energy to write outside of those environments. I have to say, though, that both teaching and editing everything from hard science to feature articles taught me volumes about writing, so although at the time I itched to move on to my own work, I don’t regret the time I spent on the other side of those desks. Besides, I really love teaching, and I still learn from my students. I have to credit my husband, Roger, for giving me the freedom to write. He fully supported, in all ways, my departure from full-time employment to full-time work-that-I-love.
Question: Explain how you overcame the jitters writers experience when they contact an agent, editor or publisher with their first book.
Sheila: I don’t know that I had jitters, but I knew that I needed to learn the best way to present myself and my ideas if I hoped to secure an offer. I found several books and articles about preparing a nonfiction proposal, and followed their advice. I pitched my idea to three publishers. I never heard from one of them and another sent a form rejection. Then Betty McKinney, founder and publisher at Alpine Publications, made me an offer. “Breed Rescue” came out in 1998, won the Maxwell Award for Best General Interest Book from the Dog Writers Association of America, and stayed in print until Alpine published “Rescue Matters,” my updated book on rescue, in 2009. The best advice I can give any writer pitching a new idea is to learn the craft and the business, present yourself and your work professionally, and be persistent.
Question: What was the biggest obstacle you had to face when you chose to write your Animals in Focus mystery series?
Sheila: First, I had to learn to write fiction. I spent several years on the first book,”Drop Dead on Recall,” because I wrote it between nonfiction book contracts. (By the time it came out, I had 17 nonfiction books out.) Then I had to find an agent. I had never used an agent for my nonfiction, but I knew that I needed representation to approach most fiction publishers. Finding an agent was gruesome — much harder than finding homes for my nonfiction books. Finally I signed with Josh Getzler and then it took more than a year before we got a three-book offer from Midnight Ink. Even then, I had to fight for the integrity of my vision of the series in terms of the titles (I did manage to keep my original title), cover art, and even my protagonist.
Question: What is the biggest obstacle you face now?
Sheila: Time! Although I’m best known for my informational nonfiction about pets and for my mysteries, I also write literary fiction and nonfiction and some poetry. I always have several works in progress and way too many ideas for more. Right now, for instance, I have nine different essays, short stories, and groups of poems circulating with literary magazines, and a fourth mystery plus another novel, a narrative nonfiction book, and several short pieces in progress. It sounds scattered, I know, and at times I’m overwhelmed, but overall I find the variety stimulating. I also teach occasional classes and workshops, which I enjoy partly as a way of giving back to the community of writers and partly because I learn so much myself from interacting with creative people.
You can learn more about Sheila at www.sheilaboneham.com, www.facebook.com/swboneham, www.sheilaboneham.blogspot.com and www.writersandotheranimals.blogspot.com. Autographed copies of her books are available at http://sheilaboneham.blogspot.com/p/autographed-books.html