Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Friend . . . Shelba Nivens!

It's a real privilege to have Shelba with me today! She has such an interesting writing journey: make sure you read about her "first" play plot!

AND she's giving away a copy of her local history book, "Early Settlers of the K-Springs/Chelsea Area" and a copy of "Abingdon’s Easter Drama Collection, #2"!

Did you receive a clear “call” to write, Shelba?  

Yes. When my husband Ken and I began working with the church youth group I wrote some of the program material and skits for them to perform. After a couple of years at this, I began to feel that God wanted me to have a writing ministry. But I said, “Maybe someday, Lord. Right now, I’m too busy ministering to people I can see to spend my time writing things that nobody may never read.”

We were in the middle of rehearsals for the annual Christmas play, when, one night after my husband was already sleeping, I became deathly ill. Too sick and too near paralyzed to wake him, I prayed, “Lord, I don’t want to die yet. I want to live to raise my children and grow old with my husband,” then a voice seemed to add “And write.”

I felt that this was a direct call from God, and an assurance that my prayer would be answered. A year later, I began to see my work in print in Christian magazines.

(I was diagnosed with a chronic immune system disease, which led to my writing a book as encouragement to other people with chronic illnesses. The book has not yet been published, but Diana (my agent) is seeking a publisher for it.)

How long have you known that you were a writer? Have you just loved writing all your life?

I’ve always loved words and stories. When I was in second grade our teacher told the class to write a play pretending we were some object. We had recently studied about the way liquid expands when it freezes, and I had heard a city aunt talk about having milk delivered to her doorstep. (Back then, it was always in glass bottles.) So I put the two together and wrote a “play” pretending I was a bottle of milk left on a doorstep one cold wintery morning, where I froze and ran all over the place. When the teacher chose my “play” as the best and had the class act it out, I knew I would be a writer someday.

So, throughout my school years, I wrote plays for my friends and I to perform and song lyrics for us to sing, plus poems and stories. I loved school, but refused to go on to college after high school graduation because I was too anxious to get my writing career started. (My three children were in school before I took some college classes.)

After high school I went to work for a newspaper – in the business office, but with dreams of moving up to become a reporter (I planned to take college classes in the evening.) Well, I ended up getting married before that happened, started a family and all I wrote for a few years was silly song lyrics for my children, and once wrote and directed a play for the P.T.A.

Under the question about a “Clear Call,” I told about my reluctance to give up the youth group (people I could see to minister to) and start writing things that no one might never read. Then I received what I believe was a definite call to write, the night I became ill and had to give up most of my church work and my job as a bookkeeper.

I might add to that, as assurance that God meant for me to write:

Only a few months after I began writing and sending out stories, poems, etc. to Christian and family magazines, I started receiving acceptances, more proof to me that God wanted me to write. Many of these stories were accounts of what God was doing, or had done in my daily life or lives of other women with husbands, children, friends and jobs. Some were short fiction. Some were geared to youth. I’ve not submitted much to magazines in recent years, while working on other writing projects. My latest magazine story, Chronic Peace was about the way God took me from a boring, going-no-place office job and set me on a new course as a writer.

About a year after I began writing again, characters and scenes for a Christmas drama began forming in my mind. With pad and pen, I sat under a tree in my front yard on a beautiful fall morning, and began writing. The very next Sunday, our pastor and new youth leader stopped me as we were leaving the church after service. “Shelba, we were wondering if you might write a Christmas play,” one of them said to me. “We know about what we want, but can’t find one in the bookstores.”

They began describing sort of what they would like to have, and I told them, “You may not believe this, but I just this week began writing a play that sounds like what you’re talking about.”

Our youth group staged the play at our church and at another church in the state. . (More proof that God wants me to write.)

Since that time, I’ve written (and directed) numerous plays for my church A few years ago, I put together a collection of them into book form. It won a First Place Award at Florida Christian Writer’s Conference and sold to Abingdon Press.

What is the genre you write in? Would you explain what it is?

So, throughout my school years, I wrote plays for my friends and I to perform and song lyrics for us to sing, plus poems and stories. I loved school, but refused to go on to college after high school graduation because I was too anxious to get my writing career started. (My three children were in school before I took some college classes.)

After high school I went to work for a newspaper – in the business office, but with dreams of moving up to become a reporter (I planned to take college classes in the evening.) Well, I ended up getting married before that happened, started a family and all I wrote for a few years was silly song lyrics for my children, and once wrote and directed a play for the P.T.A.

How do you spend your writing days? Do you set goals to reach a certain number of words per day? Can you give us a general idea of how long it takes you to write a novel?

I don’t set goals to reach a certain number of words or pages per day. I just write what I can – sometimes it may be a whole chapter, sometimes not even one page. I may struggle to write one scene off and on all day, then the creative juices start flowing about sun down and I’ll write until one or two in the morning. I write historical novels more than contemporary, so a lot of my writing time is spent researching on the web and in books. Besides dates and historical facts, I like to find personal accounts of events and feelings, like letters or journal entries from the Civil War, which I’ve found for the story I’m writing now that’s set during that time.

I’ll do enough research before I start writing to have a general idea of what I want to write. Then, during the writing process, I usually have to do more.

Tell us about your book. What is the spiritual message in it? What can readers expect to get from reading it? How and where can readers buy your book?

Both of my published books have been out for several years.

  • The drama book: Abingdon’s Easter Drama Collection, #2, has six short dramas for Palm Sunday and Easter to get young and old involved in ministry and to inspire the congregation. It is usually sold in Christian bookstores during the Easter season, and can be ordered from Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN and from other places listed on the web.

  • The local history book, Early Settlers of the K-Springs/Chelsea Area follows two pioneer families from Virginia, to South Carolina, then across Georgia and into Central Alabama. Descendants are scattered throughout the country – and in Australia. It has many old photographs and personal anecdotes, references at the end of chapters and an extensive index It’s purchased by individuals, libraries and historical groups from across the U.S and used in historical and family research and for enjoyment of people who like to read about our early settlers. It’s often quoted by other authors/genealogists and stories from it have been reprinted in other publications. Early Settlers…. can be purchased (sometimes second-hand from Amazon) and can be ordered by contacting me at calling me at 205-678-6217, or writing 245 Brandy Circle, Chelsea, AL 35043. First published in December 1981, it is now in its third printing.
Diana (my agent) has three of my book manuscripts: A NON-FICTION, written as encouragement for people with chronic illness, shares my story (I have lupus) along with the stories of several other chronically ill persons. It shares Scripture, other spiritual writings, personal interviews with medical and spiritual leaders. A HISTORICAL NOVEL is set in Creek Indian Country, central and east Alabama, and South Carolina from which many early settlers migrated to this area. It is encouragement and inspiration to NOT try to work everything out on your own, but to be patient and let God lead and direct your life. A CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE encourages readers to hope in the Lord when the present and the future look hopeless.

Where do you get ideas? Character names? Do you find your characters similar to you in any way?

My ideas for a story come from situations in my life or in the lives of other people, along with interesting characters and events in history, and from current world events, such as an historical I’m working on titled Peace Talk. Character names come from just searching my brain for names that seem to fit them. Sometimes I find that I need to change a name after I get to know a character better. In my latest, the novel I’m working on now, the story idea came from the history of an interesting place I visited and the people I met there, along with suggestions from an editor about the time in which to set it. My heroine’s name came from the name of the place. My non-fiction, which is with Diana, came from the life experiences (mine and other people’s) while living with serious chronic illnesses. The title came from one of the main characteristics of my illness.

I’ve not had characters that are similar to me in appearance or actual experiences. But they usually have some of the same “hang-ups,” and inner conflicts/problems – such as trying to be too independent, and running ahead of God to try to “work out” a problem or situation.

Do you ever feel like giving up? Most people don’t understand the stress, the work, and the joy of being a writer. How tenuous becoming a writer is. Do you care to share how it feels, what discouraging/encouraging times you’ve gone through?

Yes, I have felt like giving up at times. I think the worse time with this was when my young adult daughter and I were having problems, and I started to feel that I had been a terrible mother to her. And if I had been a terrible mother to her I had probably been a terrible mother to my two sons, too. And if I was a terrible mother, then I was also a terrible wife, a terrible daughter, sister, etc. and a terrible person. So, how could I write things to help other people, when I couldn’t even help myself?

I wondered, what will I ever do with my life now? All I’ve ever wanted to be since I was a child is a wife, mother and writer. But I found that I couldn’t stay away from writing, and for awhile everything I wrote was either prayers about this or questions and thoughts where I was trying to figure it all out, with the help of the Bible.

This was good therapy for me, and God showed me through it that Satan was putting a lot of these negative thoughts into my head. He showed me through the love and appreciation of family members (eventually my daughter, too) how wrong my thinking was. And He showed me that oftentimes it’s through our own problems that we learn to understand the problems of others and can help them.

Who inspired you the most?

It was my second grade school teacher who first encouraged me to write. But it would be really difficult to name one person who has encouraged me the most to keep writing. Unless I can list that one Person as God. Many people all through the years have inspired me: teachers, parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, pastors, my husband, children and grandchildren and people who ask me to write things or publish what I write, editors and other well-published writers, and last but not least, Joyce Hart and Diana Flegal at Hartline Literary Agency.

Would you explain how you “chose” (or were chosen by) a publisher? Do you just go “inny, minny, miny, moe?” Grin. 

When I first began writing, it was for magazines. If I subscribed to or obtained through other sources magazines I thought something I had written would fit, I would send it off to an editor whose name and address I found in the magazine.

Later, I discovered the book Writer’s Market and writers magazines. I spent hour after hour pouring over these trying to find just the right publisher. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t.

And THEN I discovered writer’s conferences. The first time I went to one, I felt like I had died and gone to Heaven. Grin. I began meeting a lot of editors and published writers at conferences and making contacts this way. I first met Joyce Hart at a writers conference (But that is another story, and I have already told too many long stories. You can tell by these how passionate I am about writing.)

Now, that you’re published, can you sit back and relax from the success you’ve experienced?

I always have too many things in the writing to really relax for very long at a time. And, for all the years I’ve been writing and publishing, I don’t feel that I’m a success. I feel that I have not done nearly as much with my writing after all this time, that I should have done.
  • Some of that comes from knowing that I can never do enough for the One who has done so much for me.
  • Some from wanting to reach more and more people for the Lord. Some because of that writing “itch” within me.
  • Some because I feel that the Lord just keeps on giving me writing opportunities. And to be really honest, since I was a child I’ve wanted to write and publish novels, and I guess I can never be satisfied until I am doing that. Oftentimes I have to remind myself of something I heard an editor say at a conference several years ago: “If you write (not necessarily publish) something that helps one person move one step closer to God, then what you wrote is a success.”
Do you mind telling us some of your likes and dislikes? Hobbies, interests? Where would you like to travel if you could?

  • I enjoy having my family come to visit and enjoy being here.
  • I enjoy the beach in early morning and late afternoon, walking, just sitting and enjoying the view or reading or writing. I like watching the sun set into the water and gathering shells.
  • If I had a real hobby, it would probably be history research and genealogy, but I have to be careful to not get caught up in too much of this.
  • I like drama,
  • old-time Southern Gospel music, big band and symphony with the horns, and acoustic guitar.
  • A trip to England and France would be nice, to see places where some of my long-ago ancestors lived.
  • I dislike loud twangy music.
  • I dislike clutter – but you wouldn’t know that by looking at my house. My biggest frustration in life has probably been trying to keep a neat house with chronic illness and writing.
Would you give us your blog or webpage so everyone can check it out?

Anything else you’d like to share?

Only that, if someone feels they have a call from God to write, or if that old writing “itch” just won’t go away, then don’t give up. Although I started publishing soon after I began sending things out to editors, I have certainly not had that much “luck” with everything since then. I have received many rejection slips through the years. Some of my material has gone out numerous times before it was accepted. Some has never found a publisher. And I believe that everything we write is not meant to be published in a book or magazine. Things I’ve written have been shared in a number of other ways – such as drama, program and newsletter material for my church. Sometimes something we write is meant for the writer personally, for someone else we let read it, or even for an editor who rejects it. I’ve had editors ask me to let them know if it is published.

So, writers might look around for ways to use what they write, other than through “publishing.”
  • I currently write a column (feature stories about our community’s people, activities, history) for our county newspaper, a prize-winning weekly. Read them at, “Lifestyles,” “Columnists.”
  • I’m available to hold writing workshops for small groups in Alabama and surrounding states (I have done this in the past in Alabama and Florida).
  • I am also available to speak on dealing with chronic illness and the way God can use it to help self and others. (My stories about my experiences and the experiences of other people with chronic illness, have been published in magazines, and an as-yet unpublished book on this subject is with Diana at Hartline.)
  • My book of local history is in its third printing and sells all across the country to individuals, libraries and historical groups. Two Birmingham television stations have interviewed me for news stories about local history and I’ve spoken on it to school and civic groups.

Thank you, Shelba, for joining me today. It's been a fun interview with you!

Let's hear your comments, readers, for a chance on one of Shelba's great books!


Donna Alice said...

And I believe that everything we write is not meant to be published in a book or magazine.What an interesting interview!

What great advice, Shelba! I enjoyed the interview and really took this to heart. Some of my best writing has been in letters to friends. (Know this because they have kept them and refer to them at times.) You never know what God is going to place in your heart that you need to share with someone.

Jeanette Levellie said...

How encouraging! Thank you both for taking the time to do this wonderful interview.

I would LOVE to win one of Shelba's books, especially the historical one. I taught History in a Christian high school for five years.

Happy Weekend,
Audience of ONE

Caroline said...

Thank you for the comments, ladies. I love it, Donna Alice, when a friend refers back to something I've sent her/him. Gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling that stays w/you.

Jeannette, history is one of my favorite subjects!

Best wishes to you both!

Linda said...

Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing your heart, Shelba.

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Linda Glaz said...

What a prolific writing career she's had. Good luck to her in the future as well.

Trinity Rose said...

I'm Not interested in winning a book right now.

Hi Caroline,
Thanks so much for commenting on my books. That is really great. Bethany House is always looking for new reviewers. Here is what they had in their last email message.

**** Help spread the word about this program! If you know anyone who would be interested in signing up to receive review copies of our books, direct them to!****

Hope that helps you.
Have a super day

Trinity Rose

Caroline said...

Thanks, Trinity! I'll ck it out! Enjoy your blog; that's why I visit. :)

Break Time!

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