Who I Am

First, in the interest of being honest, my name isn’t really Sherelle Winters, nor is it Anma Natsu.  Those are my pen names, my writing personas.  They are the me that has the confidence to do a podcast on writing despite not being a successful one myself.  The me that has the balls (figuratively speaking) to dive into indie publishing with no real idea of how well she will do and still learning what she’s doing.  The me that isn’t a deluxe edition introvert (just the basic model) and is out there talking and writing and blogging at anyone who will listen or read. The me with a much more interesting name. 😉

I write under the two names, sort of.  See, I started as Anma Natsu.  It’s a name that reflects the heavy amount of influence from the Japanese storytelling techniques and tropes found in manga, anime, and light novels, found in my first three books.  However, as time progressed, I realized I felt myself being limited by it, limited to stories set in or around Japan, and that it would imply a certain niche for my books. 

So I decided I needed a new pen name, hence the birth of Sherelle Winters!  Sherelle is part of my actual middle name, a name given to me by my late mother, giving me a way to pay a bit of homage to her with my writing as she was my first and biggest fan.  Winters just sounded good with it and keeps the seasonal theme started with the Anma Natsu name.  For the most part, all my books will now be released under this name, but I wanted to keep the Anma Natsu name for the three books already released under it, and any potential heavily Japanese influenced or set works in the future.

With all that said, who am I?  Well, I’m a woman on the north side of 40, and despite said age, I still like to spend an inordinate amount of time playing video games and other fun “immature” stuff versus being a “grown-up” (or so people say – I say I’m enjoying life!).  I have three mildly spoiled fur babies and a wonderful sweetie who not only tolerates my writing but actively encourages and even nags me if I’m being lazy.  Originally from Durham, the fourth largest city in North Carolina dontch’a know, I moved to the Bryan-College Station area of Texas in my early 20s, desperate for a change to kick-start my fallen apart life. While I’m almost always on the “wrong side” of the usual views on just about everything, I love it here.

Oh, BTW, I’m also verbose as hell and occasionally known to just not shut up when I’m excited and I like who I’m talking to…probably should have warned y’all of that sooner, eh?  Suffice to say, we’ll be here a while…

…a Reader

I am a reader, a voracious reader.  No exaggeration, in 2012 I read over 500 books.  Most years I read 200 easily.  Not that I don’t love writing, because I certainly do, but if there was one thing I think I’d just die if I lost the ability to do, it would be reading.  I can’t remember a time I wasn’t a reader since the very earliest years of my childhood have long been wiped from my memory.

What I do remember is being in elementary school.  My dad would walk me to the public library, or drop me off there, depending on his route.  He was a driver for the city buses (and continued doing so until he retired a few years ago), so I often would leave school and either get on his bus and ride around with him until he got off, or ride the bus and get dropped at the library when I was old enough to go on my own.  When he’d pick me up, I’d have the limit a kid my age could get – 35 books – waiting with me.

Man the librarians’ faces before they got used to me…they’d remind me I only had them for two weeks, all that stuff.  Suffice to say, they all came back read, some even twice.  I had a few favorites that I’d get a lot, like Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Lad: A Dog from Albert Payson Terhune, and while I mostly steered towards animal fiction and non-fiction, man did I love me some Encyclopedia Brown!  I was for all intents and purposes an only child.  I whiled away my time reading, watching TV, and spinning stories I told myself and, when alone, acted out.  From Lassie to Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers to Macgyver because I read and watched above my age often, I would create my own stories in those worlds.  Talk about the original fan fiction 😉

As I got older, I started scribbling my stories down, but I was flaky.  I did and still do have bouts of “butterfly syndrome” or as may be more popularly known these days “Squirrel!”  So I’d jump from story to story like a Mexican Jumping Bean on the floor.  I was also a seriously anti-social child, with one friend in 4th or 5th grade, then none until the end of middle school, and even then I could count them on one hand with fingers to spare.  So fiction, both read and creative, were my companions, and would be my go-to place when I was feeling hurt, lonely, scared, happy, excited, you name it.

When I had my own money, it went to my two loves, books and junk food (the latter not as healthy a love to have for sure).  By the time I had my first apartment after high school, I had several hundred books.  When I moved to Texas at the age of 23, I sold off most of my meager furnishings, but the books came carefully packed halfway across the country.  Whenever I moved, the one thing that was not an option to come with me was my library.  Yeah, I don’t get many volunteers to help me move anymore…

…a Web Developer

For most regular folks, living kind of requires some regular income, and for me, that comes from being a web application developer (i.e. I make web sites).  I love writing, but I also love coding and I have no plans on stopping even if I ever could make a full-time income from my writing.  I would, and have, coded even without it being my job.  Seriously, I spend 90-100 hours a week in front of a computer, either at work or home and other than the probable damage to my eyes, it makes me happy. My web skills are all primarily self-taught using books (in the old ages) and web tutorials (these days).

I’ve done this since I made my first website way back before I was even 20.  Yeah, I was making websites before most people really even knew about or used the Internet, back when CGI/Perl was hot and PHP was a brand new language.  Damn, now I feel so very old… Anyway, I love my job, and really, programming is an often-overlooked creative outlet.  I guess to non-coders, it just looks like a bunch of WTF, but for me, it is a beautiful narrative that paints a picture, much like stories.  And I like to talk about programming, teach about it, etc. I’ve even written user guides that people like! *gasp*

…a Writer

As for the fiction-side of the coin, as I said earlier, I’ve been scribbling since middle school and maybe even elementary as I often wrote little fantasies in my diary.  A diary I still have around here somewhere…must remember to put instructions in my will to burn it unread upon my demise.  Back then I wrote some hideous poetry, seriously you do NOT want to read it, and my stories were dark pieces mostly where I killed off the bullies around me delightfully painful fashion or penned romances like the ones I was already reading and probably shouldn’t have been.

At no point back then did I have any real thoughts about or desires to be “a writer”.  I just did it for fun and never shared those things with anyone.  Much of my childhood has faded with age, but I suspect I was inspired in part by Jo March from Little Women, who poured her fears, hurts, dreams, and hopes into her “scribbles” while refusing to conform to society’s ideas of who she should be. Back then, writing was my escape, much like reading.

The only brief moment professional writing entered my head was in high school when we had to teach our class something for English.  I picked dogs, which I loved, and brought my puppy to class as I talked about how to raise and train dogs.  Yeah, for that one 45 minute class I went from being a social outcast weirdo to being the most awesome person in school because dogs break down a lot of social barriers and make even bullies act regular for a while.  So with my teacher’s praise on the actual book that went with the presentation, I briefly thought about it.  I kept that thing for years before realizing the world was full of dog books by folks smarter than me, a multi-time college drop out, and with much more experience than two dogs (both of whom sadly had very short lives).

So like most childhood dreams and toys, I eventually got older and my fiction writing mostly went away to something I did once in a blue moon then forgot about.  I got my writing outlet with blogging, writing copy for my never really finished websites that was mostly non-fiction research, and writing reviews.  It was here that I truly discovered my love for coding and for many years it along with sporadic painting and photography fulfilled that creative drive inside me.  But the writing never went away.  At my peak, I had like three or four sites going on, one with multiple topic sections.  I was always writing, writing, writing, even if it was all non-fiction.

Then I heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short…NaNo for shorter).  When I heard about it, back in like 2005, it was too late to start.  But it stayed in the back of my mind and the next year I gave it a whirl.  Now for those who don’t know about NaNo, the quick tagline is that participants spend 30 days (i.e. the month of November)  and no more writing at least 50,000 words of a novel – a new novel, no revision.  That first year I didn’t “win”.  I only wrote 24,000 words.  But, I wrote 24,000 freaking words!  That was more words than I’d probably written in my entire life for a single fictional work!

Then, two years later, I actually reached “the end” on a novel (just shy of the 50k mark!).  You may have heard my scream of giddiness back them.  The following year I did get over the 50k mark, “winning” NaNo, and I’ve continued doing so.  Even now, all these years later, the first drafts of almost every one of my full-length stories have been written during NaNo.

…an Indie Author

Now, after I got that first novel done, I did start thinking of publication.  I joined some writing groups, got feedback, learned how the publication business worked and got discouraged.  It would take me a few more years to get serious about it, a few more years during which I got some more novels under my belt, connected with other writers, met my sweetie, and the indie publishing scene took off.  The more I learned of indie publishing, the more I knew it was what I wanted, needed to do for my stories.  The whole thing with traditional publishing has always been a turn off for me: querying, getting an agent, the lengthy and inexplicable timelines from acceptance to release, the low payout, and most importantly, the loss of control.

With the traditional scene, you have no say in the title, the cover, marketing, format, price.  Heck, publishers can (and have) demand you change a character’s name, gender, or the entire story before they will release it, based on their idea of marketability.  For some, it works and I am happy for them that it does.  But for a control-freak like me, it just sounded like such a nightmare!  So it’s indie all the way!!  While it hasn’t always been easy and I haven’t yet hit “success,” I still would never go trad because I always want to be able to write the stories I had in me to tell, 100%.