I first discovered Shelley Adina’s books while perusing Amazon and read her Magnificent Devices Series. An incredibly fun, well-written series with a flawed and interesting heroine who ends up living with children and chickens (more on that later), I was hooked. I started following her on Twitter and Facebook, and we chatted a bit. If you’re not familiar with her, she has not only published Steampunk, but contemporary romance, YA fiction, and Amish women’s fiction under the name Adina Senet. She holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, where she teaches as adjunct faculty. She won the Romance Writers of America RITA Award® for Best Inspirational Novel in 2005, was a finalist in 2006, and in 2009 was a Christy Award finalist.
Two years ago, I was delighted to find out that she would be attending Clockwork Alchemy (A Steampunk Convention) where I was the Guest of Honor. We had dinner and discussed everything from crowdfunding to book covers. It is my pleasure to introduce to you, Shelley Adina (a.k.a. Adina Senft).
Madeleine Holly-Rosing, Fanbase Press Contributor: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Shelley. You write in multiple genres. Do you have a favorite or does each one serve to stimulate a different part of your brain?
Shelley Adina: Excellent question! Well, as you can tell by my inability to stop—the Magnificent Devices books are up to 16, with more to come!—steampunk is my favorite. It offers me a huge canvas to paint on, with characters larger than life, yet who are people you’d want on your side in a scrap or a conversation. Jane Austen once said about her own work that it was “the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush.” The Amish books I write as Adina Senft are like that—the whole story may take place within a square mile of Pennsylvania farm country. A totally different approach. And the project I’m working on under a different pen name differs completely from both of those!
MHR: I really enjoyed the character of Claire Trevelyan in your Magnificent Devices series. How did you develop her character?
SA: That young lady dropped into my life fully formed, it seems. For me, a new project begins with a “flash”—a vivid image that tells me this story is really going to happen, and it’s going to happen now, so grab a pen. I saw a “flash” of a Victorian girl in a vehicle being set upon by ruffians outside the Aldgate underground station in Whitechapel. Who was she? What was she doing there so beautifully dressed? How did she steer that vehicle? And what happened to her afterward? That book became Lady of Devices, my MFA thesis, and kicked off the whole grand adventure.
Of course, she has to find her way from being a sheltered viscount’s daughter to the queen of the London underworld to an engineering student. She learns and makes mistakes and offends people and grows. She’s not perfect, but I think her compassion and sense of justice see her through many a scrape. And people like that about her.
MHR: Do you find you have many of the same themes running through your books?
SA: Oh yes. In one of the classes I teach in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University, I talk about a writer’s core story. It’s the thing that’s so important to you that no matter your genre, you write it again and again. My core story is: Woman breaks out of the cage of other people’s expectations. Whether I’m writing steampunk, Amish, mystery, or romance, that theme runs through it.
A second theme in my books is the strength women find in their female friendships. The review site Fangs for the Fantasy once said, “It’s another element I love about these books; from Claire to Gloria to Alice to Lizzie and Maggie to Lady Dunsmuir, the women in this series generally like and respect each other. Other women are not required to be lesser—weaker, more cowardly, less intelligent—in order for Claire to be awesome. She is not an exceptional woman, she is an awesome woman among awesome women.”
MHR: I’m going to ask what many interviewers ask, only because many new writers want to know the answer. What is your day-to-day writing process? And please be as specific as you can.
SA: Not a problem! People ask me how I can possibly write six releases a year, run a copy editing business, teach, do a PhD, and still survive. I tell them, “I used to manage executive time for a living. Managing myself is easy in comparison.” So, here’s my day:
9am to noon Manage the business: accounting, marketing, interviews like this one, dissertation work
Noon to 1pm Outside with the chickens for walkabout in the garden
1 to 4pm Writing, with a minimum of 1,000 words a day, 7 days a week
Evening School work or TV or sewing projects or reading
MHR: I read your blog on the first review of your manuscript for your PhD in creative writing. That was rather terrifying and inspirational all at once. Now that you’re done with the first review, what’s your strategy for your next one?
SA: The next milestone is the confirmation review in April, which will take me from the MPhil where everybody starts to being a actual fledgling PhD candidate. I need to produce twice as much writing, plus the opening chunk of the nonfiction portion of the dissertation. This is going to be a very busy winter.
MHR: Do you feel writer’s retreats are important? If yes, which ones would you recommend?
SA: You must have read my blog post on the retreat I recently did in France! Retreats aren’t for everyone, but I’m all about getting the work done in a new setting. If you like cruises, I recommend cruisingwriters.com. The group retreats that Margie Lawson puts on are really good. Both of those will really kickstart your writing. Nowadays my favorites are with my own mastermind group, or with the Corsettes, the women I write the Corsair’s Cove paranormal romance series with. There is something about taking time away with people of like mind that I really love.
MHR: Okay, now on to the chickens. I remember being very surprised at all of the different types of chickens in the Magnificent Devices series and thinking, “Wow, she knows a lot about chickens.” Then, I saw on Facebook that you raise them. Can you tell us why you think chickens are so special and why you prefer them to a traditional pet like a cat or a dog?
SA: Don’t get me started—I can go on all day! Suffice to say that a chicken is as intelligent as an 18-month-old human child, which means they can learn language. They have all the emotions that people do—love, jealousy, fear, rage, contentment. This is why factory cages are so heartbreaking to me. All my birds are rescues, and the first thing I do when I get them is teach them their name. They learn that in a day. Then it’s on to at least a couple dozen phrases and words that the whole flock has learned over time. Each bird knows not only her own name, she also knows the names of all the other birds. So, I can say, “Tetra, go see Pippa. What’s she got?” and Tetra will toddle over to see what Pippa has to eat.
People call me the bird whisperer, but it’s not that. Birds operate on patterns—of behavior, of speech, of activity. Once you observe the pattern, you can work within it to gain the bird’s trust. Then you become part of its life.
It’s not so much that I prefer chickens to cats or dogs, because I grew up with the latter. Well, okay, I do. I’m a bird person. But my husband is allergic to pet dander, so chickens are a good choice. Plus there’s the whole egg benefit.
MHR: You have a new release coming out called Selwyn Place. Can you tell us a bit about that?
SA: Selwyn Place, as readers might remember, was the family estate of Lady Claire’s late fiancé. Had she actually gone through with the wedding (which I doubt), “of all this she might have been mistress,” to steal a line from Austen. Here’s the back-cover copy for the novella:
A country house party. A broken friendship. A debt that must be paid in blood.
When Lady Emilie Selwyn invites Andrew and Lady Claire Malvern to her very first country house party, Claire is delighted to offer her help—until she discovers that Peony Churchill is also on the guest list. But in supporting one friendship, perhaps she can repair another, and the rift between herself and Peony might be mended.
But when Andrew and Claire arrive at the manor, an unexpected guest is among their number. A guest with violent connections to an old crime in Claire’s past. Revenge might be a dish best served cold, but Claire will not allow anything to chill dear Emilie’s first foray into society. Even if it means that the Lady of Devices must come out of retirement once again ....
MHR: Fun question… What is your favorite dinosaur and why?
SA: I’m not really a dino person, but it would have to be the Sinosauropteryx, because she has feathers! You can read about her here.
Shelley's social media may be found below.