KATIE: Shelbi, welcome to the Underground. I know a little bit about the story behind Virulent, but will you recap for our audience what prompted you to write the book.
SHELBI: It's really a fantastic story. I teach high school in a very diverse, urban school in Portland, and at the time I was teaching a reading class for at-risk 9th graders. We did a unit on dystopian/apocalyptic fiction, which I thought would be really high-interest, but I had this one student, Kevin, who was not engaged. We got into a back and forth discussion about one of the books and he goes, "Wescott, I bet even YOU could write a better book than this."
And I replied, "Okay. I'll write you a book. Will you read it, then?" I told Kevin to make a list and from that list, Virulent was born! It took me his entire high school career to finish and decide to publish the story I wrote. When Kevin was a senior, he was a student in my Creative Writing class, and when I gave him a copy, it was a really special moment.
KATIE: That's an amazing story. What was the hardest part about writing Virulent?
SHELBI: I've learned a lot about writing since I published Virulent. I think the hardest part was not knowing where to stop. The first three chapters of the 2nd book were originally in the 1st book...I didn't want it to be too much of a cliffhanger, but I couldn't tell what would feel satisfying. Also, I was writing this book as an experiment, while teaching, running a business, and raising two young kids. That's the hard part for most authors! I'm not alone in having to juggle various hats.
KATIE: The teenage dialog is so authentic. Did you use real students as the basis for your characters?
SHELBI: Yes, I absolutely did. I can be a bit self-deprecating about my own work, but that's one thing I take a lot of pride in: authentic teenagers. I really try to listen to my students, immerse myself into their world, study what they are struggling with and how they interact with each other, and then I walk that into my fiction.
KATIE: What made you decide to publish Virulent on Amazon?
SHELBI: It was an easy decision.
Several years ago, I wrote a piece of literary fiction and did the query thing for a long time. No luck. Then I spent an entire year trying to get this really special-to-me short story published. I must have submitted it to every single literary magazine known to the world. It's still one of the best pieces I've ever written...but what good does it do anybody unpublished and unread?
I knew Virulent could gain a readership -- I knew it could benefit from the wave of other popular science-fiction/dystopian fiction. (And I knew I could publish the full trilogy in a single year...a feat.) I read and read and read what Amazon could offer; researched every article I could find. I have a friend who works in Amazon Publishing and she answered my questions and put me in touch with some successful indie writers who went on to sign with Amazon's imprints. The message was clear: Amazon was the real deal.
KATIE: What can we expect from the sequel?
SHELBI: Well, not that it matters, but The System (Book Two) is my husband's favorite of the trilogy. He is very adamant about this. It was the easiest book of the series to write -- the story was clear and I knew where I needed to take my characters. The end of Book Two is a horrible cliffhanger and I'm so sorry. But the good news is that Book Three is out, too! So, there's no waiting involved. In the most spoiler-free way, I will say: that if I were a reader of the series and didn't know what was going to happen next, I'd be beside myself with angst with where I leave these characters.
KATIE: When you aren't writing, what are you doing?
SHELBI: Reading, designing birthday invitations, teaching, publishing a school yearbook, chasing around two crazy-amazing children, and watching more television than is safe for human consumption. (And movies. We love movies.) Oh, and I collect and play board games. We own over 205 different table-top games, vintage and modern.
KATIE: Thanks for joining us!