Interview by Brock Eastman
Featuring the Chicago World's Fair Mystery Series
Brock: How did you come up with the idea for this series?
Shelley: I began writing the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery Series after learning about the ‘White City’ that had been built for the 1893 World’s Fair. I was intrigued by the idea that a group of large buildings were carefully designed and constructed for an event that were never intended to last. For Whispers in the Reading Room, I wanted to write a novel focusing on two people living on the outskirts of Chicago society. The first two books focused more on parties and galas surrounding the fair.
Brock: Tell us about the main characters? Who are they, what makes them unique.
Shelley: The hero and heroine for Whispers were very different than my usual characters. The hero is Sebastian Marks. He’s a gentlemen’s club owner. He grew up in the streets of Chicago and educated himself. At first glance, he is everything polished and perfect. However, he is absolutely not what he seems to be.
The heroine is someone who is his complete opposite. Her name is Lydia Bancroft. She’s a librarian and is drifting on the fringes of polite society. She’s lived her life mainly in books.
Pretty much the only thing Sebastian and Lydia have in common are their love of books-and the fact that neither likes to do what is expected of them.
Brock: Give us one fact about each main character that no one else knows.
Shelley: Oh! Fun question!
For Lydia, she’s far smarter than anyone realizes. She’s also far more curious.
For Sebastian, no one knows that his mother was a prostitute.
Brock: In three sentences, what is this book about?
Shelley: There’s a recent string of murders in a run-down section of Chicago called Camp Creek Alley, where Sebastian Mark’s notorious club, the Silver Grotto, is located. When a wealthy gentleman dies right outside the club, everyone in the area is a suspect-including the owner of the club and one quiet librarian who wasn’t supposed to be there at all. Before the mystery is solved, four persons’ secrets are unveiled.
Brock: Do you outline the entire book before starting, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?
Shelley: For these mysteries, I wrote a pretty good outline of the story. However, my characters always dictate what happens. Often, they pull me into unexpected places! That, for me, is the best part about writing.
Brock: How do you believe this story relates to the lives of readers?
Shelley: Much of the book is about accepting one’s imperfections and moving forward through faith and perseverance. I think everyone, to some degree, makes mistakes at one time or another. I hope readers might find the theme of redemption and forgiveness to be meaningful.
Brock: What is your favorite genre to write for?
Shelley: I love to write romances, and that is my favorite genre read and write. I usually enjoy anything I am writing, whether it is about the Amish, a western, or in this case, a book set in the gilded age in Chicago.
Brock: How many books are planned for this series?
Shelley: There are three books in the Chicago World’s Fair Series. Each can be read as a stand-alone novel, though they are loosely related.
Brock: Any certain research required for the series, or is it all from your imagination?
Shelley: I did a lot of research for this series. I traveled to Chicago three times and visited with many people in both the Field Museum and the Chicago History Museum. I also read other books set during the time period and watched DVDs about the history of Chicago. Though there are several things that I made up in the novel, much of it is based on real places and events.
Brock: How do you strike the right balance in your book?
Shelley: For me, I like to write books that I want to read. Because of that, I try to have the plots be intriguing and fast-paced. I never know if I’ve succeeded until I hear from readers.
Brock: What do your readers think about your latest series?
Shelley: I’m happy to report that I’ve gained many readers who enjoy historical novels and romances but aren’t Amish romance fans. Some longtime fans of my books have been surprised by this series. I’m simply thankful that I had the chance to write these three novels.
Brock: Are you working on the next book in the series?
Shelley: Whispers in the Reading Room ends this series. I’ve already written The Loyal Heart, the first book in my next historical series. This series takes place in Texas right after the Civil War.
Brock: Are you a full-time or part-time author/writer?
Shelley: I’m a full-time writer. I write about 5 to 6 books a year.
Brock: How long does it usually take you to write a single book?
Shelley: I always write more than one book at a time. I usually write an Amish book in about three months and a historical in about 6 or 7 months. A lot depends on the deadlines! I write 10 pages a day, six days a week.
Brock: When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
Shelley: I started writing when I realized I had forgotten a book when I was at work one day. I knew I wanted to become a writer when I joined a writing organization. There, I realized that my fun ‘hobby’ could one day become a reality.
Brock: What was your favorite book as a teen or child?
Shelley: My favorite book was Alice in Wonderland. I loved the idea of going into a different world. I loved Gone with the Wind, too. That was the first book I remember that transported me to a different place and time.
Brock: Coke or Pepsi?
Shelley: Diet Coke
Brock: Soft shell or Hard Shell tacos?
Shelley: Hard Shell! This drives my husband crazy.
Brock: Favorite place to vacation?
Shelley: We love to travel and often go on cruises.
Brock: Favorite season?
Brock: Favorite hobby?
Shelley: Taking care of our dachshunds! We have two dachshunds that we rescued. I love to take them for walks. They sit in my office when I write.
Brock: Is there something you’d like to write but haven’t?
Shelley: I hope to one day write a contemporary suspense novel. I’ve started one several times. One day I’ll decide that it’s time to show my idea to someone else!
Author Website: shelleyshepardgray.com
Author Twitter: @ShelleySGray
Author Pinterest: Shelley Shepard Gray