It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Sophie Shulman, author of This Is a Safe Place.
About Sophie Shulman:
Since I was a child, I’ve been an avid reader. My imagination often ran wild, but the stories in my head didn’t make it to paper until college. I began writing my first novel and published several short fiction and nonfiction in various online and print literary journals. I am still a voracious reader and have settled into the mystery genre in my writing.
About This Is a Safe Place:
The gate was built to keep danger out. But what if the danger was already in?
The suburban gated community of Eden Village is a safe place, they are told. Enclosed by a thick stone wall with only one way in and one way out, it promises refuge from the violence, crime, and uncertainty of city life. The application process is extensive and the rules are strict, but for fearful residents, it’s a small price to pay to live in a community that hasn’t seen one instance of crime in fifty-five years.
To celebrate its crimeless history, residents participate in The Breach, a one-day annual event in which one person is anonymously assigned to carry out a harmless crime. This year, someone has broken into Gus Mercer’s cottage. It’s a simple crime but for one unusual detail: a riddle left by The Crook that hints of a more sinister intent. As a security guard elected detective for the day, Tom begins to follow its clues, encountering more riddles that reveal residents’ darkest secrets—including his own. Later that evening, Tom realizes that the break-in was a diversion from a much more serious crime: kidnapping. Battling The Association’s reluctance to disrupt the sense of safety and the increasing evidence that Eden Village is not what it claims to be, Tom must uncover the truth and confront his own chilling past to find the missing child before it’s too late.
Author Interview with Sophie Shulman:
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- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell my younger writing self to trust the process. I’ve learned that writing can feel like a rollercoaster – sometimes I’m totally and completely immersed in the story and the ideas are flowing like a raging river in winter; other times sitting in front of my computer feels physically painful. Learning to roll with these times and trust that it will all come together has helped my writing tremendously – and also, my life.
- How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
For my first novel (The Shadow Pact, available as an ebook on Amazon), I self-published simply to make it accessible to friends and family. I didn’t market it or share the news beyond my immediate social circle, mainly because I thought I could do better and wanted to focus on the next one. But with This Is a Safe Place, I am taking on the marketing full-force. I hadn’t realized how much of a business being an author can be. Writing is such a solitary activity for me, but sharing the final product is anything but! It’s a tough process, being a self-published author and building a readership from the ground up. But it has also been so rewarding! As I begin writing my third novel, I will definitely carry this experience with me. While the writing process may largely feel the same, I know what’s coming – and I’ll be better prepared! I’m also constantly learning via feedback from my readers, which I love.
- What does literary success look like to you?
This has shifted for me as of late. My ultimate definition of success as a writer was to land a literary agent, get a book deal with one of the big five publishers, and then make the New York Times bestseller list. And perhaps that still is the big dream. But I’ve also learned to define success along the way. Finishing my book was a success. Handing my parents a physical copy was a success. Selling the first 40 copies was a success. I think it’s so important to make smaller goals along the way – and celebrate them!
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
For The Shadow Pact, it was my first foray into the world of research. I needed to know more about undercover work and you can only do so much online sleuthing. I remember I was so nervous calling the San Francisco Police Department; I thought that my request was silly in comparison with what they deal with on a daily basis. And, at the time, I still didn’t consider myself a true writer. But, I forged ahead and was surprised at how positively my request was received. I met with an undercover DEA agent in a local coffee shop. He was beefy, heavily tattooed, and, honestly, I was terrified. But he was SO NICE! He answered all my questions and learning about his career, which I previously had no clue about, was incredibly interesting. A lot of what I learned during that interview made it into my book. I also recently interviewed a local detective for my third book and he, too, was so kind and willing to help.
- Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Absolutely! The most magical part of writing for me is the moment when ideas and connections seem to come from thin air. There is a lot about crafting a story that is intentional – it has to be, in order to get it done! But it’s important to leave room for the magic, because it will always show up. For example, I’ll be writing one scene I already have mapped out and then – bam! – suddenly, I’m writing about something I didn’t think about AND it connects to something that happened in a previous chapter. The mind is a remarkable thing; if we leave room to receive what comes, it’s pure magic.
- What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
When I first started writing this book, it was set in a remote and somewhat fantastical village in a foreign country. It was a special kind of place not really rooted in the real world. When I sent the draft to an editor in the UK, I knew something was off and he confirmed it. It just didn’t work, for a variety of reasons. In his feedback, he mentioned that it reminded him of one of those exclusive suburban gated communities – and that was the inspiration I needed to fix the issue. Also, I had been working on this book for a couple of years, struggling with finding the time (and the energy) to complete it. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and quarantine gave me the time and drive I needed to finish it.
- Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
I’m currently working on my third novel, which is also a mystery. Last year, I accompanied a friend to look at a house he was considering buying. It was a mediterranean-style cottage that needed quite a bit of work. As I toured the house, I was struck by the melted colored wax on the windowsills and the drops of paint on the hardwood; it turns out, the place used to be a daycare. That, along with my own desire to purchase a fixer upper, served as the spark that ignited my story.
- How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?
So, so many – and I hope they never stop coming! One idea I’m ruminating on was inspired by a Netflix show I recently watched. It’s a reality show that brought 10 couples from the UK to Alaska to compete to own a remote cabin/property. It made me think: What if someone put an ad out to find the perfect buyer for his remote cabin? What if the cabin and property were absolutely magical and, for the right person, would be a total dream? And what if the seller had an ulterior motive for bringing people to his cabin? Or what if the potential buyer had an ulterior motive? For now, I’m letting these questions live in my mind, trusting that at some point, more ideas will unveil themselves.
- Who is your favorite author and why?
My favorite author is currently Mark Edwards. I discovered one of his books and devoured it in several days. Fortunately, he’s written quite a few books and all of them hook me from the very first page. When I pick up one of his books, I know I’m in for a great, page-turning read! If you haven’t heard of him, check out Here to Stay and The Retreat.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a child, I really wanted to be a singer. More specifically, I wanted to be Britney Spears. Fortunately, that didn’t pan out.
To learn more about Sophie Shulman, here’s where you can connect with her:
- Website: www.sophieshulman.com
- Instagram: @words.to.write.by
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/Sophie-Shulman-692745861572331