Today I’m interviewing Shayna Gier, author of Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse. Shayna is both an author and book reviewer who is just as dedicated to helping other authors promote their work as she is to promoting her own, and she very generously set out some time to answer a few questions. Here is what she has to say.
Tell me about the book. What inspired you to write it? What has the response been like?
Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse is a really fun book, at least the first 30 times you read it. I must admit that while I love the characters as much as ever before, after all the read-throughs I no longer find it as fun, but I highly doubt that anyone but me and my editor will ever read it to that point.
It’s about a young bartender, Marti, who is married and, due to an increase in medical costs and such, chooses to go off of the birth control shot. Within three months her body has still not returned to normal, and what’s worse is that despite having a series of negative pregnancy tests (once she figures out how to actually take the test correctly), her body is showing all the signs of pregnancy. To make matters even worse, between frequent trips to the bathroom and unexplained exhaustion, she’s definitely developing cravings, and not just for food. Despite her happy marriage to her husband, Spencer, Marti finds herself more and more flirting with the cute and young new bartender who has just joined the team… and her best friend, who thinks life is to short to stay with one guy, just doesn’t help any at all.
What inspired me? Basically, I wanted to write a book in which the doctors were all wrong. Around 1/3 of the way through the book Marti goes to see her gynecologist, to see if the tests are faulty. Dr. Duck (I love that name!) tells her she’s experiencing a perfectly normal “puberty” maturation, just a bit earlier than it usually hits women. This happened to me, only it took me over 500 dollars worth of doctor bills to be told that. In the meantime, I was searching the internet and trying to figure out what was going on. I ran into a ton of stories about people not finding out they are pregnant, despite frequent testing, until well into their 2nd trimester. Then, when I was told what was happening, about the effects of estrogen and how it controls both the puberty stuff and pregnancy, I looked into the science of what else estrogen does to women, and used that as a framework for Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse.
The response has been overwhelmingly good if you don’t include my inner circle. A lot of people find Marti entirely relatable and really enjoy the book. My inner circle goes either way – my friends love it; my family…well, most keep equating me with Marti and advising that I don’t drink when/if I get pregnant, or else are “disappointed with what (I’ve) made of (my) life” based off the decisions of Marti and her friends. They don’t seem to understand fiction is made up, or how the writer’s mind works, or any of that.
I can see that the book was a collaboration with another author. What made you decide to co-write it? How did the experience work for you?
I give Carissa Barker credit publicly, because if you saw my first draft (available on my website in the archives) you wouldn’t really recognize it. Marti started out as a teenager at Applebees. She was, of course, still going to struggle with pregnancy symptoms and the craziness of hormones, but that was really hard to write, even with her being 19. (I was 21 when this puberty thing hit me… and that was still really young.) So I wrote the actual story. Carissa is my editor, and was able to take my idea, and put it on the paper. It just wasn’t there in the first draft. It was apparent, to a point, in the second draft, and by the third and fourth draft we were working at what I’d consider a typical author/editor relationship. Before the final drafts started to show up, however, I commented to my husband that “I feel like a ghost writer. It’s my ideas, granted, and my words, but Carissa’s done all the work!” And so, in honor of all her work, I listed her on Amazon as having a collaborative part of the story. Because, really, she did.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How long had you been writing before you began to take it seriously?
I’ve always wanted to, and always have written something or other. My first “published” work was in kindergarten or first grade entitled Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk which was an assignment that everyone had to do, of course, but mine was good enough to get published in the district’s “outstanding literature” book they put together each year of the student’s works. So either everyone else sucked, or my writing was decent for y age even then. Take your pick.
After that though, I didn’t focus on writing until I was in 6th grade when I started turning out book after book (and starting even more) of fan fiction. Not yet confident enough to invent my own main characters, I thrived off writing my own Jimmy Neutron fics that were just as long as any young adult book at the time. (Now there’s more novels. But if you remember the days of Encyclopedia Brown, you’ll know what I”m talking about in length. I was good too. I didn’t think so, and I don’t know either, but others did. I actually received fan mail several times telling me how much they liked my stories. Some even follow me today as a writer. And, I suppose if I’m honest my fan fiction was at least a cut-above-the-rest of normal fan-fiction… I just compare it to now and squirm though.
After fan-fiction died off, I didn’t really pick up the pen (or computer as it may be) until I was 19 and my best friend, and then ex-boyfriend dumped me. That “caused” me to start writing Lilliana’s Story, and led to a bunch more incomplete works but that are now original fiction. Stuck in Estrogen’s Funhouse was the first to be completed and then published. I’m hoping that more of the current ones will make it to paperback and e-book as well… but at the moment I’m suffering a bout where my writing is painfully bad since my grandma’s death… so I don’t know if the others will make it or not. I hope so, because I love the characters so much!
Why did you decide to self publish? How has your experience been?
Honestly? I suppose there are two reasons. The most important is that I cannot stand the fact that publishers want you to literally sell your rights to them. I love the idea that my book would be read by more people, but there’s a cost to that. In my mind, I don’t care if I get 50 million dollars from having it cooperatively published, it’s not worth selling my ideas and giving up my rights. I understand “risk” to them if I should decide I want to give my book away all around the internet, but as a writer, if I decide to do that, that is my prerogative. I went to a book fair with a ton of authors recently, and they announced over the intercom that “All authors can buy their books at 20% off.” And that itself almost made me lose it. They freaking wrote it. Without them you wouldn’t have the book to sell. The least you can do is give them rights to their own work and give them free copies.
Now, I do realize that most authors are given a few free copies, but if you ask me an author should be able to ask for as many copies as he or she wants, whenever they want. Again, it’s their work. I shouldn’t have to pay for something that comes out of my own head. And with self publishing, I do call all the shots. And while I have to pay for printing, I do get free copies of my work for all intents and purposes. I just pay shipping and handling and production costs.
I’d say the experience of self publishing has been about what I expected. It’s hard to get your name out there, and to market your book… but it can also be incredibly fun! I love having all rights to my work, and while, yeah, I’d love to sell a million copies, I’m seriously just thrilled when I hear of another person that I didn’t know before reading my work. That is awesome. And I love talking to the readers after they’ve read it as well.
What advice would you give to any aspiring authors out there?
Write. Simple as that. Participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, or otherwise turn your inner editor off. Personally, I wouldn’t listen to “don’t talk about your work” because that drives me crazy. Tell people the general idea, and then when you find someone that is just as excited about it as you are, release it to them chapter by chapter as you write it. I find that writers tend to be needy. If I’m the only one excited about my work, it wears off. But if you have someone there to bug you with “what’s next?” and “You have more, right?” Then you find yourself excited to answer their questions and share whats in your mind, with them. This is great motivation to actually writing it down. Just, at least for the first draft, tell them that while you want happy-feedback, it’s not time for constructive criticism — or criticism of any kind — yet. They can tell you that when you’ve finished the first draft, if you feel comfortable with that, or if you ask for it along the way (say you are stuck and you want to know when they think it “went wrong”). Better yet, after the first copy, read it over beginning to end by yourself, no asking others about it while you do so. Take notes. What do you love, what do you think “um… did I really write that?” Were your characters’ motivations clear? Questions like that. Then, start revisions, when you are done re-writing the second draft, have the same person that read it as it was written read it. This is the ideal time for criticism if you elected to not hear it at the end of the first draft. After this, go on to editing and such. But I think that if you follow the above (and nothing tragic happens in real life) then you can easily see your dream of being published come true.