When I sat down to talk with StarShine’s editor Sandy Lo, I was a little nervous. Interviewing someone who has accomplished so much at a young age: starting her own magazine, writing not only one novel but two and successfully self-publishing the first is a little daunting. Throw in the fact that Sandy is a good friend of mine and well, that makes for a very odd situation. But Sandy was a pro, despite the fact that most of the time; she’s the one asking the questions, not answering them!
On Writing and How Much of it is from her Real Life…
Sa’iyda Shabazz (StarShine): So Sandy, where did you come up with the inspiration for “Lost In You?”
Sandy Lo: I don’t think I was actually inspired to write that particular story. I was bored and I had just gone to my sister’s wedding so that’s why it started at a wedding. I was thinking about it and came up with this idea that this girl would meet a celebrity at a wedding, fall madly in love with him and it would change her whole life. But I didn’t really know who Cooper was at that point; she kind of just started to develop.
SS: What is your process? You start out; you have an idea so how do you then take it and make it into something that’s full length?
SL: I’m one of those write by the seat of your pants people. I don’t really write an outline, more like I’ll have a little idea or a little scene in my mind and I’ll just develop around it. Like right now, the series I’m writing… I had a dream about it and had that scene in mind but it’s not going to be for another five chapters. So I just kind of work around it. I don’t plan too much ahead. I just get little ideas here and there as I go along.
SS: So your characters are all very personable in the fact that they’re all very realistic. Was this a conscious effort or was this something you feel naturally comes to you as you’re writing?
SL: It’s a conscious effort. I’m not a fantasy writer, even when I am writing something that may be unrealistic or a little bit out of the ordinary I still want the reader to feel like the people are believable behind it or it won’t work. So I want my audience to feel like it’s real life, no matter how unbelieveable the situation the character is in may be.
SS: So you mentioned that you’re working on something new right now, can you give us a little more information?
SL: Well, some people know about “Dream Catchers” which is my next finished novel. That one I’m very, very excited about. So I’m taking a step back from what I’m writing now which is “The Covens of Cahill”, that is going to be a series, it has kind of a supernatural feel to it. It’s kind of about college students but there’s a coven of vampires and a coven of witches and they’re against each other. But I’m kind of stepping back from it to focus more on “Dream Catchers” and getting that out, but I still will be working on it in my free time. I’m very excited about it, its still very early in the process; I only have two chapters written. I have a lot of ideas though.
SS: So tell us a little more about “Dream Catchers”.
SL: I would love to. This one is…if I could pick a story to publish out of anything in the world, I would pick this story. I started it when I was nineteen and I’m twenty-six now but I stopped writing it for years. The first chapter was always so different from what I’d written, the style of it…and I guess it was kind of foreshadowing where my style would go because that was the only thing I wrote like that. Nothing else I was writing at that time stood out like that did. So eventually I realized that this is what I really wanted to write and I was nervous. It was so perfect to me already that I didn’t know if I was going to ruin it. But I’m glad that it only got better in my mind. I saw things very clearly and anyone who’s read it has complimented it a lot (Sa’iyda’s note: it’s true I was one of the very lucky people who got to read the story already) and felt as positive about it as I did.
SS: What made you feel like you had to write this story?
SL: When I started it, I was in college, so I was in a position where I was the main character Haley since that’s where she starts in “Dream Catchers”. I was trying to re-invent myself and evolve and try and go from a teenager to a woman so that’s where I was at that time and over the past seven years I became that woman, so I was able to write now from where I started to where I ended up and I saw where I wanted Haley to end up. And I really wanted to write a fun story. An escape kind of thing where dreams could come true. Kind of a let loose type of story.
SS: You said that when you started “Dream Catchers” many moons ago, Haley was someone you related to because there was so much of yourself in her. How much of yourself do you put into your characters?
SL: It’s kind of like every character is different. Like with Cooper I didn’t realize she had any of me in there until I finished it, but Haley…I kind of knew she was like me, but she’s also very different from me at the same time. And I think that’s what my goal is. To have a bit of me in all my characters, even the male characters. Jordan Walsh (the main male character in “Dream Catchers”) he’s in love with music and he’s a creative person…that’s me, obviously, in that sense. He also believes in people, in goodness and he also believes in bad stuff, too. He’s had a hard life and a hard childhood, which is truthful for me in some ways, so I think every character of mine has a piece of me, but they also have pieces of other people in my life. My cousin is a character in “Dream Catchers”. So is my brother. And people I’ve worked with over the years. That’s what I do; I look at the people around me, and when I’m writing, I see who pops into my mind while I’m writing a certain character.
SS: Do you think that in the future you may write a character that is almost exactly like you?
SL: I’ve wanted to do that. I’ve wanted to write my memoirs before. I’ve also wanted to write a fictional version of my life so who knows…that could be something. I would love to do that. But it’s hard to open yourself completely like that. You know that people are going to know it’s you and pick apart your life.
SS: In all of your stories, the main character goes through some type of major emotional transformation. Is that something that you set out to do, or is that something that reflects your actual life?
SL: It’s a little bit of everything. I like coming of age things, I like things where you can start in one place and end up on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I like open-minded people and I think to make a main character open-minded, you have to show them from one end to the other and show how they turn out and how that affects them. Even if it’s something that doesn’t change. I think that generally people are who they are their whole life but they have to discover themselves. My goal with my characters is to have them discover more aspects of their personality and not be close minded.
On StarShine, its Eighth Anniversary and Beyond…
Sa’iyda Shabazz: So StarShine is celebrating its eighth anniversary this year. How does that feel?
Sandy Lo: I’m very excited; I can’t believe it’s been eight years. I started it as a fluke when I was eighteen. I just wanted journalism experience and before I knew it I was backstage at concerts and interviewing my favorite celebrities so I’m excited that we’re still going strong. It’s become such a big part of my life. It’s been one of those life altering things; it’s made me who I am and it’s such a big part of me. Even my novel writing–It’s given me the courage and the connections to actually follow through with it and believe anything I want and set my mind to.
SS: Some of those connections include groups like the Backstreet Boys who were an influence on your novel “Lost In You”. How did that all come about?
SL: Well, I’ve been a fan of the Backstreet Boys since I was fourteen and it’s always been a goal to interview them but I never thought that it would be a recurring thing. I thought I’d meet them once, hopefully get a couple of questions in and that would be it. But I’ve been very fortunate to have made friends with a lot of the people surrounding them. To know Denise Solis (AJ McLean’s mom, who is also a staff writer for StarShine) she’s been an inspiration to me and has really been a mentor especially as a strong woman and a writer herself. When she came out with her book “Backstreet Mom”, I reviewed it and interviewed her and then came up with the idea for an advice column because she’s a life coach. The next thing I knew she’s writing regularly for StarShine. Through that, I’ve become close with the people around the Backstreet Boys which has helped me see them as regular people–they are husbands, and sons, and brothers. I wanted to translate that to people somehow. Writing an article, doesn’t get to delve to deep into that. Without creating a fictional boy band of my own, it was kind of hard. If you sell them as a celebrity, people don’t take them seriously as real people. So through Sound Wave (the boy band in “Lost In You”) I wanted to show celebrities, even fictional ones as real people.
SS: What’s next for StarShine?
SL: Hopefully we’ll have many more years going strong. With the support that we have from everybody; the industry, our fans, readers, the stars…you can always expect that we’ll find new artists and the artists that fans want as well in there. We really want to expand to more movies, actors, fashion…just more inside scoop on the entertainment industry as a whole.
SS: To wrap up our interview, what advice would you give to someone who came to you and said “I really admire what you’re doing, how do I do that?”
SL: I would say if you want to be an author just keep writing. Ask for people’s honest opinions of your writing. A lot of people won’t tell you because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Just make sure they’re being truthful because if it’s your career, you want to make sure other people like your writing. Of course you write for yourself but you need to develop a style and the only way you can do that is if you keep writing. It took me a long time before I was comfortable enough with my style to let other people read it. I’m not claiming to be the best writer, but you will keep getting better if you keep writing. Find anyway that you can get your stuff out there. Some people release it online, through newsletters. Also you could do self-publishing. That’s what I did with my first novel. You never know what you can do but successful authors didn’t know it either when they started. If you want to be a journalist, just start out small. Start reviewing on blogs and look for things online. There’s always little positions, even if it’s unpaid; just an intern position, get your name out there and make as many contacts as possible.
For more information on Sandy Lo and her novels, go to: www.sandy-lo.com.