Mandy Eve-Barnett's Blog for Readers & Writers

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Interview with Tsara Shelton…

September 7, 2015

Tsara reading

What inspired you to write your first book? 

As a little girl I wanted to be a writer and a mom when I grew up. I have four sons who have given me all the reason in the world to learn important things. Including, following up on my passions. I’ve always been writing, but I had never actually finished anything until about ten years ago. My boys were sleeping and I sat up all night writing a screenplay. It was intoxicating! I’d never wanted to write a screenplay, a novelist is how I’ve always imagined myself, so perhaps that’s why it got written so easily. I wasn’t in my own way with fears and intense desires. Anyway, writing and finishing that screenplay encouraged me to write and complete articles and short stories. One day someone commented on an article I’d written, “Collect articles into a book.” His comment was kind, but more than that, it planted the seed of an idea. Over time that seed grew into a true idea for what is now my first book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up.

How did you come up with the title? 

I borrowed the title from a song on my mom’s Crazy to Sane CD. In her song, Crazy to Sane, she has the lyric “spinning in circles and laughing to myself” which I’ve always liked. When I asked myself why I liked it the reason was largely visual. It’s fun to imagine! But also it’s because I find myself always learning the same lessons over and over in life, but with more experiences and bigger understanding. So I wrote an article “Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself” which sort of examples one of the big ideas I try to present in my book. As we grow up we are consistently learning from ourselves; the world offers us ideas and perspectives and we then take them inside ourselves to evaluate them. Too many of us don’t do this with enough purpose or clarity, leaving us open to eagerly—but uncomfortably—adopt the beliefs and assumptions given to us by others. However, with the vision of spinning in circles I imagine collecting images and colors from the world, but using myself as a center to discover my own interpretations. My own passions and beliefs. The subtitle is equally important to me. A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up reminds me that our lives are a collection of stories and that we have the pleasure of slowly growing them. Of telling our stories with more and more understanding and knowledge, but also of accepting that everyone is different and that their stories are equally valuable even when they are drastically different, or even opposed, to our own. Because when we look at the stories we believed about ourselves when we were young, they often are not how we would tell the story now. We often don’t agree with our old selves, and this is beautiful to remember. Because we weren’t evil or stupid or wrong when we were younger, we were just different. This can serve as a beautiful reminder not to judge others as evil or stupid or wrong. Just different.

Is this your first book? How many books have you written (published or unpublished)?

This is the first book I’ve published.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 

I’ll admit that there are a few messages I’d love readers to walk away with. The value of diversity, the gift of forgiveness, the intelligence behind kindness, the ability we all possess to discover answers in darkness. But if I am to choose one message that I hope comes across with clarity it is this: The power of storytelling. Every time we tell our loved ones about our day, every time we seek to solve a problem, every time we write a comment on social media, we have the power to choose how we narrate and frame the story. If we set out to prove that our lives are horrible and hard, and that the world is terrible and cruel, we will tell that story. If we set out to prove that our day was a challenging delight and the world is consistent and filled with greatness, we will tell that story. Our world is shaped by the stories we tell. There is so much power there!

How much of the book is realistic? 

The book is made up mostly of true stories from my life. So it’s pretty darn realistic to me! There are three fiction short stories in the book as well. They, too, are realistic.

Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life? 

Most of the characters are people I know but I never try to imagine what they think or who they are inside, so they are introduced always from my point of view. I have many family members who are on the spectrum of autism so I spend a lot of time imagining what it must be like to live in a world that feels and behaves so differently, but the key word is imagine. The stories in the book are mostly true stories, based on events in my life and how they shaped me (molestation, poverty, teen parenting, autism) but even the fiction stories are strongly based on true events from my life.

Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?

Because most of my stories are true, I could almost skip this question. But the main character in my short story Better Than Me” intrigues me. She is not like anyone I know and it was a unique experience, writing her story. She sort of wanted to talk through me. I have a strong affection for her; she’s happy but has such low self-esteem. On the one hand I want to tell her to stop thinking so lowly of herself, on the other hand she seems so happy I feel like I should learn something first, but I don’t exactly know what.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? 

Yes! There is a typo in the introduction, I wrote poor when I meant pour. It drives me batty! Other than that, no. There are other typos in the book but that’s purposeful. I argue that it’s important to honor the person we were, the mistakes me made, and know them as steps in a beautiful direction. The direction of who we are now. And so, I left a few mistakes. But I didn’t intend to have them in the introduction. A nice reminder that it’s easier to forgive our faraway mistakes, I guess!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? ‘


What do you enjoy most about writing?

Getting to know myself and to tweak me. Regardless of whether I’m working with fact or fiction writing feels like I’m disappearing into more of me. While I’m there I look at my thoughts and ideas differently, and I tweak them. It’s addicting for sure!

What age did you start writing stories/poems?

I’ve been writing stories as long as I can remember. Even before I could write I would think in stories. Narrating and creating backstories for the trees, the cars, the dolls, even my morning bowl of cereal.

What is your favorite part/chapter of your book/project?

I don’t have a favorite part. Well, maybe I do. I loved being able to write the acknowledgements section and give gratitude with volume. That felt really good.

What is your favourite theme/genre to write? 

I am addicted to reading literary fiction. My stories tend to match that genre, even when they aren’t fiction. I’m almost always grappling with social commentary and the human condition. I have to force myself to remember to add plot! This is one of the reasons I haven’t finished my first novel. The plot is quiet and I need to make it louder. I will, though, and it will be wonderful!

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?


What book are you reading now? 

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? 

Hmmmmm….. I just finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and it pretty much rocked my world. So, perhaps him. You know? I’m really glad you asked that question because thinking about my favorite authors I can’t help but notice I haven’t taken the time to explore new authors in quite a while. Not cool! I’m going to search for some fresh voices this weekend.

Do you see writing as a career? 

I believe I do. My sons are growing up and mostly moved out of the house so I plan to spend most of my time writing. It’s remarkably like making more children! But the word “career” seems wrong. Maybe because it feels more like a passion or obsession.

boys and Tsara picDo you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food?

Oh ya, I nibble! I especially sip (coffee) but I also nibble. I love mixed nuts, cheese and crackers, pieces of chocolate, and romaine lettuce. But mostly, coffee.

Do you have any odd habits or childhood stories?

My habits don’t seem odd to me, but I’ll let you and your readers be the judge. I dance. I sing. I dance and I sing a lot. When I walk to the store or get up from my desk or stroll through the organic produce isle, I dance and I sing. Some of my sons are totally embarrassed and some of my sons join me. I have no idea what strangers think because I’m busy dancing and singing!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Living in my car, writing books, staying in campgrounds, visiting family, writing more books, staying in hotels, going to concerts, writing more books and magically having enough money in my bank to do all of this without worry of how.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

As I mentioned, plot. I always have a story in mind, a journey I want the characters and audience to go on, but the fun for me is in thoughts and feelings and justifications. The most consistent feedback I get about my screenplay, CARHOPPING, is that the stories and characters feel real and important, but my through-line—my plot—is lacking. I know this, but I struggle to fix it.

What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline?


Have you ever hated something you wrote? 

I’ve been embarrassed of things I wrote. I read them now and just want to sink deep into myself and never come out. My writing used to be so desperate, so begging to impress. But I haven’t ever tried to delete or otherwise get rid of it because, as I try to say in my book, I believe they are steps in a beautiful direction. The direction of self-discover and unmasking a passion.

What book do you wish you had written?

There are a few! Most recently it was A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

What is your best marketing tip?

This is kind of like asking a babysitter for their best parenting tip. I have marketing opinions, I know people who are good at marketing, but I don’t do it much myself. However, I do believe that being authentic, patient, and stepping outside of your comfort zone often (as I recently did when I was interviewed on a podcast) is key. There are many marketing paths and they all take consistence and hard work, so I suggest choosing them organically. What feels like something you would enjoy learning about and doing? Do that, and know that it will take time. Be prepared, however, for that phone call or email that might give you a big push! If you aren’t prepared, you may miss it or mess it up. So, ya. Be yourself and be patient and do what you love. Kind of cheesy, huh?

What genre is your next project? What is it about?

I’m working on a novel, literary fiction. It’s about four young brothers who go to a party in the woods one night when mom asks the oldest to babysit. The oldest son is pissed off, certain that the girl he cares about will find another guy if he’s not at the party, so he makes his brothers come with him. But once they’re there, and the drinking, drugs, and sex becomes something different for each brother, and the autistic twelve year old goes missing, all four brothers have to find each other and head home, different now. Changed somehow in both good ways and dangerous ways.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?


Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up was released in March and I’m growing slowly prouder of it. The feedback I’ve gotten has surprised me and surpassed anything I ever dared to hope for. Honestly, I’m humbled and moved beyond measure. It’s also given me a newfound energy for leaving reviews for others authors! We sometimes forget how our small contributions can be of unmeasurable value.

How do we find your books, blog and bio?

The easiest way to find my book and blog and bio would be on my website:

Social Media:


Twitter: Tsara here:

Blog at