Shilah Ferr: A Teacher Worth Her Weight In Gold

Q. What inspired your leading character?

April Schweiter was inspired by the life and times of me! I grew up in northern New Jersey with my brother and sister and attended a regional Catholic high school. The description of Bishop Haag High School is the exact way I remember it. It was beautiful and unique in that it had those three buildings on the campus; the Mansion, the Carriage House, and the traditional school building.

Although a work of fiction, April’s Heart follows the basic outline of my life, and most of the things that April Schweiter does and goes through actually happened to me. I did climb in and out of my bedroom window, I did vote for myself for captain of the cheerleading team, my mom was probably bipolar, a disease not diagnosed back in the 70’s and 80’s, my parents did split up the night I got caught in bed with my boyfriend, and I was taunted in front of my face about someone who cheated on their girlfriend not realizing at the time that it was me!

Q. What inspired you to write this particular story plot or theme?

I always wondered if I had a book in me, and forever tried to figure out what it would be. Starting in 1977 I kept diaries and scrapbooks for every single school year through college. I knew there MUST be some great content in there! Once I had the idea to take all the relationships I had back in the day and roll them into one guy, one boyfriend, I had my plot! The theme is the angst and difficulty of young love, and learning and growing throughout the years.

Q. Do you read the same genres that you write?

Yes I often do. Romance is my preferred genre to read, although I have enjoyed many books throughout the years. I love a good angsty story, so I sometimes read YA fiction as well.

Q. Is there a type of music or white noise you listen to while you work? How did you get the rights to the Spotify music links contained in your ebook?

I listen to rock and roll, often classic rock while I work. Sometimes the perfect song would come on to include in April’s Heart! And if you include just thinking as part of the work, I would listen to music while on my daily power walks and find inspiration in lyrics. I hooked into ideas I thought were sexy or provocative and write them down when I got home.

The Spotify music links embedded into the text of April’s Heart are free 30 second riffs. Just enough to get the jist of remembering the song and jam to it for a moment, then easily get back to the text. If you want to listen to the whole song, you’d have to login to Spotify. I just love the links, I think they’re a lot of fun. There is an index of songs in the back of the book with the live 30 second links as well.

Q. How long have you been professionally writing?

April’s Heart is my debut novel and I wrote it in 2019. Once I had my premise of turning the events of several boyfriends from back in the day into one lifelong relationship, the book just flowed out of me. It was so much fun to write! It only took me about six months for the first draft. I wrote “the end” on July 4, 2019. I’m not sure I’d call myself a “professional”, I don’t feel like one, but I sure have learned a lot, and that’s always a good thing. I am really a professional school teacher! Shhhh!

Q. What is the best part about publishing? Do you self publish?

I published April’s Heart in January 2020 with KDP. I am not in a position to dump a lot, or almost any money into what, at the time, seemed like a pet project. I really just did it for me. I figured I would just publish the ebook, my real baby, and leave it alone. The paperback came about because so many people asked for it. In fact the paperback came out a few days ahead of our scheduled launch of the ebook for January 21, my husband’s birthday.

The best part about publishing? If you mean the best part of the process, my husband and I had a lot of fun editing the manuscript. I know that sounds weird but what we decided to do was for me to read it aloud to him. He hadn’t read it at all till then, and it was a blast laughing over it, crying even sometimes, as we fixed it. We would stop and talk about our teenage years, it was an emotional ride even for him. He told stories of heartbreak, and crazy things he did with his friends. I couldn’t believe I was hearing stories I hadn’t heard before after all these years of marriage!!

We read it aloud twice. We deliberated over every word way beyond our read aloud sessions. Every word had to be purposeful. It’s amazing how changing one little word makes a huge difference. We wanted to say more with less, and kept that in mind always.

Q. What do you wish to accomplish with your writing?

I just wish for as many people to read it as I can convince to do so! It’s a fun page turner, an easy read, and many people have left in their reviews that they enjoyed how it depicts high school, the eighties, the difficulties and crazy emotions of young love, problems with friends, and being a teenager trying to figure out life. I hope tons more people read it. That would be an accomplishment!

Q. What advice would you give your younger self about this chosen path?

I would tell myself to pay more attention to the people trying to help you and steer you in the right direction. I’d also tell myself to start sooner. My book turns one year old while I am turning 56! But, on the other hand, it took all those years for these ideas to come together, as well as the maturity to have the nerve to write such provocative and controversial content. After all, April and Mitch are pretty young to be doing what they do. (drinking, smoking pot, sexual activity) Even at my age I was sometimes afraid of what people would think and had to often pull myself up by the bootstraps and tell myself to be brave and “just put it in there”, which became a little mantra of mine!

Q. Do you fall into the author cliché of having depression and/or anxiety?

The only time I’ve experienced true depression was right after I graduated college and faced being dumped by the guy I thought I was going to marry. He was going to chiropractic school and I had an outward physical manifestation of depression in that I had strangely developed unidentified pain/arthritis in my hips, knees and ankles. Isn’t that weird?? At the time I did not know it was depression that brought on those symptoms, but it was.

These days I experience anxiety for sure, some of it relating to being an author, as in being afraid of what people would think, or if the whole thing was stupid. Some of the best advice I got was from an author friend who told me that there is NO book that is EVERYONE’S cup of tea. There will always be people who don’t like it. It is pointless to try to please everyone. That, of course is such an obvious fact, but when he verbalized that to me, it really hit home and changed things for me. I accepted the fact that there would be those that do not like April’s Heart and it made it easier to “be brave and just put it in there”!

Q. What do you do to support the writing community?

I’ve learned a lot and started out slow, but as I’ve made friends on Facebook, such as yourself, and joined groups of like minded people, I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of putting myself out there and getting involved. I’ve started leaving reviews, which I never did before, added books to my TBR list and joined some parties. I chime in on online conversations where I feel I can contribute, and try to contribute some of my own content as well, but I don’t seem to get much of a response from others when I do. But I’ll keep experimenting and pushing my comfort level.

Q. How are you balancing writing, everyday life and this health crisis?

I am a school teacher and the closing of school for good in March was a shock to the system. I worked extremely hard all spring to reach and educate my students, it wasn’t easy. We all became much “tech-ier” than we’d ever wanted to! With the time boundaries of the traditional school day eliminated, I found myself preparing lessons or meeting with groups of students into the evening! The school day lost its parameters. There hasn’t been much time for writing, although I have started my second novel, but it’s a slow go for sure! Any extra time has been used in promoting and marketing, or learning about promoting and marketing, for April’s Heart! I do hope to get moving on that manuscript though.

Q. How has the COVID-19 Pandemic affected you?

As this was my 30th year of teaching I was going to retire at the end of the school year, but did not. Thousands upon thousands of people were losing their jobs across the country, and I actually had one!! It did not seem like a good idea to walk away from such a good job just because I wanted to. There was really no pressing reason to force me to retire, so I didn’t and I will continue to teach in my current position for at least one more year.

As for quarantine time? My husband and I handled it pretty well. We made sure we had fun along with dealing with the pressures and problems it presented. We started taking a selfie of us every single Saturday night to mark the time. We’ve got a slew of them now. They are funny to look at. Early spring in the house, to now outside on our beautiful deck this summer. I am not sure what to do with them, I’m still thinking about that.

Q. Do you watch TV shows? If so, which ones do you like?

Part of the reason April’s Heart got written was because my husband started working nights. That’s when I would write. It made me realize the only reason I watched TV was because we were doing it together. Once he wasn’t there, I didn’t care to watch TV by myself. But, during quarantine it was fun to pick shows to binge watch the entire series. Some of our favorites were Stranger Things and The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel. Now we are watching Star Trek The Next Generation from the beginning, even though we watched it back in the day! We watched lots of movies to, like Blinded By The Light about a boy being influenced by the music of Bruce Springsteen. What a soundtrack!

Q. Fins, Feathers or Fur? What is your pet of choice?

I have had cats (one at a time) my whole life. We are the current staff to our elderly cat, Shadow, who, in his old age has me making his his food of chicken and pumpkin in my mini food processor! Baby food all over again!

I had a parakeet when I was a teenager. I never kept it in its cage. It met its demise when a boyfriend gave me a cat for Christmas! Since my writing is filled with vignettes from my life, I should include that in my next novel!! Ha!

Q. Coffee, tea or both?

I drink both. I like flavored coffee like hazelnut or French vanilla with almond milk creamer. But as I am an avid dieter, constantly watching my weight, I drink Matcha tea. It has antioxidants and enhances weight loss because it speeds up you metabolism.

Discover more about Shilah Ferr by clicking on any of these links and reading her book, April's Heart.

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