Mainstreeter Questionnaire: Tanis Browning-Shelp

By Joe Paraskevas

Author Tanis Browning-Shelp at her home on Echo Drive. Photo by: Joe Paraskevas

Author Tanis Browning-Shelp at her home on Echo Drive.
Photo by: Joe Paraskevas

In 2014, the last time Mainstreeter readers heard from Tanis Browning-Shelp, the longtime resident of OOE was stepping down from writing the paper’s arts column. Browning-Shelp wanted to turn her attention to writing fiction and set about composing the first of a planned three-book series featuring a teenage heroine, Maryn O’Brien.

This past winter, Browning-Shelp, 53, launched that book – Crash Course – one of the first to be published by new Ottawa publisher Dog-Eared Books. A brisk story of how Maryn meets the challenges of bike racing and false accusations of sexual misconduct against her coach, Crash Course is clear-eyed and engaging.

The Streeter caught up with Tanis Browining-Shelp, at her home.

1. What’s the best part of seeing your first book published?

I love knowing that people—especially young people—will read my books. When I was young, books meant everything to me. I wanted to have that same impact on people with my writing.

2. Where did the idea for Crash Course come from?

I have always heard that when writing fiction, you should write what you know. I know the world of competitive sports. A writer/editor friend of mine suggested that if I were to write about that world, it would be a fascinating read.

3. How did Maryn O’Brien come together?

I know many driven young people and many families who support their kids in pursuing their serious goals. Maryn began as an amalgamation of the amazing teens I’ve known over the years, but soon came to life in ways I never expected. She took over and my pen just obeyed!

4. Was your goal to come up with a central character that could carry you through multiple books?

Yes, I wanted to show how hard it is to stay focused on meeting a challenging goal. I decided to place a different obstacle in front of Maryn in each book. My goal was to show her grow as a person through facing these obstacles head on.

5. How far along are you in the next book?

Book Two in the series will soon be ready for copy editing. We hope to launch it before summer vacation. I hope it makes it onto peoples’ summer reading lists!

6. Why did you turn to writing?

Writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do. When people can relate to characters and their stories, I believe they carry those people and their challenges/journeys with them for life. In a way, your creation becomes a part of them.

7. Typically, when do you write?

Every chance I can get. These days, I start writing once the flurry of morning activity (the usual chaos in a house with busy teens) ends and quiet settles on my home office. On a good day, I write from 9:00 to 3:00. Sometimes I continue into the evening after dinner and driving are done.

8. Where do you write?

When I am writing my first drafts of chapters, I like to write by hand. Ideas flow better when I put pen to paper. I sit in a comfortable, stuffed chair that looks out a window at the canal and write in a notebook. Once the editing begins, I work at my home office computer.

9. What’s the toughest part of becoming a writer?

For me, the toughest part was getting over my fears. I had been a communications writer for many years, but I had never created a book of fiction. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it well. And I was afraid that the ideas wouldn’t come. But once I got going, my fears went away.

10. How often do you float drafts to family and friends to read?

For this series, I had three main adult readers. Two of them received the chapters as I completed them. One read the books as a whole. I also had four young people read them. These people were a mix of friends and family. Once I had a solid first draft, the books went to professional editors.

11. When did you approach a publisher with a script?

I was keen to work with a Canadian publisher, but the options for unpublished novelists are limited. I first approached a Canadian company in March of 2014. They made some recommendations, but no commitment to publish.

12. How did you know it was the time to step forward?

I got the thumbs up from my manuscript readers. I felt the books were ready. I worked hard with my editors to tighten the writing. Once that work was done I was ready to launch Maryn O’Brien and share her with the world.

13. How quickly did you hear back?

Although Canadian publishers tell you in their submission guidelines that they can take up to six months to respond, the publishers I dealt with responded within two months.

14. Why did you turn to Dog-Eared Books?

It was a new, local initiative. The founder, Larry McCloskey (an established YA author) said that he believed in publishing good stories with positive themes. He not only thought my series was a good fit, but he also invited me to be a part of the venture of creating a small publishing house. Larry meant business. He was committed to publishing books in 2016.

15. How much respect from readers and big publishers do small publishers get?

It is still early days for Dog-Eared Books, but the feedback we’ve gotten so far has been great. People are impressed with the quality of the books. They like the stories and seem eager for more. If the books are good, the size of the press shouldn’t matter.

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