WRITERS TELL ALL
Matthew Turbeville: Hi Sheena! Before I get started on the novel, I wanted to hear about your background with writing—how did you start writing fiction, and how many novels did you author (or revisions gone through) before you published your first novel?
Sheena Kamal: Hi Matthew! My background is all over the place, but right before I wrote my first novel, The Lost Ones, I was working in film and television. Sometimes as an actor, and then sometimes on the production side of things. The aim was screenwriting, but it never worked out. The Lost Oneswas the first novel I attempted, and I wrote it in about eight months. I didn’t do much revising before pitching to agents. Once I had one, I revised it once and it sold. Then I did another revision for my publishers.
MT: Who are your favorite crime writers? What about your favorite writers in general? What authors shaped you during your formative years, and what book or books do you turn to if you ever get stuck in a novel, need a fresh way of viewing something, or just want to reread a book in general?
SK: I love Attica Locke, Liz Nugent, and Alison Gaylin. Writers in general… there are so many. My new favorites are Sally Rooney and Oyinkan Braithwaite. The book I turn to most often is The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. There’s something about the language in it that I find incredibly beautiful. It always unlocks something inside me, just by immersing myself in his prose.
MT: What is your writing process like in general? Do you write by hand or do you write on a computer, or some other way? Do you tend to write everything out at once or edit as you go? What are your writing habits like?
SK: I write daily, on my laptop. When I’m on the go, I usually have a notebook to jot ideas down in, but my handwriting is almost illegible, so not much is accomplished there, I’m afraid. I edit as I go, usually.
MT: I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but will you tell our readers a bit about what your new novel concerns, where we find Nora (if you think that should be given away), and for fun, how it ranks for you out of the novels you have published so far?
SK: Ha! It’s impossible to rank your babies. I think the ending of my latest Nora Watts novel is the best ending I’ve ever written, though, and for me there’s definitely something special about that. In No Going Back,Nora realizes a shadowy figure from her past is hunting her, and this threatens the life of Nora’s daughter Bonnie. Nora has to find him first, to protect both her and her daughter’s life.
MT: How did you come up with Nora Watts, and how far did you see her story going from the first book? Was there ever initially meant to be more than just a “book one”?
SK: Nora came to me one day as I was sitting in a television production office in Toronto. I didn’t set out to write more than one book at that time. I just wanted to see this idea to fruition. It was my first novel, and I wasn’t thinking beyond the task of getting it done. Once it was on submission with publishers, however, I realized it could have more life to it and I started to think beyond the first book.
MT: What do you think draws you back to Nora again and again? How did you develop her voice and learn who she was through your writing? How hard is it to catch a voice for a character, to grow a unique personality, and how does one character shape or mold to fit a story or character they might be attracted to or opposed to?
SK: I didn’t develop Nora’s voice so much as I followed it by instinct. That’s what draws me to her, really. I can always pick up her voice, so it’s very natural to me.
MT: What’s the hardest part about writing in general, and what’s the hardest part about writing Nora? Do you ever feel she takes the story in places you don’t want the novel to go? What are your favorite parts about writing Nora?
SK: Writing is a daily slog, isn’t it? But I love it and wouldn’t see my life any other way. Nora constantly surprises me, so writing her always feels like she’s taking the novel far away from the outline I’ve submitted to my publishers.
MT: What’s one thing you want readers to take away from your novels, especially No Going Back, other than a fun reading experience?
SK: Ultimately, I want them to be entertained, and love Nora as much as I do.
MT: What do you hope Noratakes away from the book?
SK: Oh, man. I want her to have some peace. I want her to be happy and start eating healthier. I want her to trust people more and do things that bring her joy. Obviously, these things aren’t going to happen, but I can only hope.
MT: Have you ever written something that’s shocked you, either about a character or even yourself? What is writing like for you as a personal journey?
SK: I mentioned this briefly earlier, but the end of No Going Backshocked me. I can’t really talk about it without giving it away, though. As for writing, it’s the tool I use to understand the world, and a huge part of my personal journey.
MT: Have you ever been emotionally struck or stuck during the writing process, and has there ever been a part of writing—a scene, a character, an event in a book—which has proven particularly difficult for you emotionally speaking?
SK: Yes, it’s all difficult emotionally speaking, because I write first person, present tense. At times it feels like things in the novel are happening to me. It’s just the way my imagination works.
MT: Say you had a super team of private investigators and ongoing series characters, recent or not. The Avengers of the crime world, say. Who would you put together and why and how would they fit together?
SK: I would have a crime fighting duo. Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and Lisbeth Salandar. I think those two would have the most deliciously antagonistic chemistry, and I would love to see a mystery unfold with those two at the helm.
MT: A lot of people attribute the quote about writing the book you’ve never found but always wanted to read to Toni Morrison. Do you feel you’ve written or read that book yet, and if you haven’t, what might that book be like?
SK: I think that about all my books, because they are so unique to me, my experiences and my worldview. And what I want to write about changes as I change.
MT: What are you writing currently? Do you have another work-in-progress ready, and how is your work responding to what’s going on around the world currently?
SK: I am polishing a draft of a novel to send to my agents. It should be ready soon. I think the landscape is going to change, absolutely, but since this book isn’t political—the crime it deals with is very personal—I think it will be fine. How my work responds to the current situation in the world will adapt as I understand the fallout of what we’re going through. But I’m not there yet.
MT: Thank you so much for speaking with us, Sheena. I can’t wait to see what comes out of the rest of your career, which I know will be explosive and packed full of tons of great books. I’m so thankful you’ve talked with us, and feel free to leave any lingering thoughts, ideas, or messages with readers and fans! Thank you again, Sheena.
SK: Thank you for having me! I wish you all the very best, and hope you stay safe and healthy.