Skyler Rankin has been in love with writing since her teenage years when she used to write stories for her friends. After many years of writing non-fiction, she has turned her attention to the fiction stories that first enticed her into the world of writing. Currently, she lives in Kentucky with her family and her furbabies, two cats, and a dog in her woodland cabin where she gardens, does crafts, and of course, writes. In an interview with Woodland Media, Skyler said she was ‘born to be a writer,’ which she described, with a slight smirk, as more of a neurosis than a career.
Skyler typed her first novel on a manual typewriter that was missing a few keys.
“Yes, it was a nightmare. A friend gave it to me to help me get started, and I thought it was the most wonderful gift I’d ever received. I had to keep moving the keycaps around to depress the levers to type to keep from hurting my fingers. It was a pain, but it was still faster than writing by hand. It was more than just a typewriter to me. It meant someone else thought my writing was worth reading, and that made me happy.”
Despite having a lifelong love of writing, Skyler worked in education for more years than she wants to admit.
“Like most of my fellow indie writers,” she explained, “I worked a day job while learning my craft in my spare time. In a way, writers are similar to struggling actors who work a day job while working toward their big breaks.”
With multiple writing projects in different genres under several pen names, Skyler is just now getting started in writing suspense thrillers and mysteries. She also writes YA paranormal books under the name Skyler. Why did she wait so long to delve into suspense, thrillers, and mysteries?
“I’ve been in love with mysteries since I was a kid watching Scooby Doo cartoons, and I grew up reading Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. In many ways, mystery and suspense were my first loves. Even though I adored the genre, I was also intimidated by it. Why? I think it’s because of the meticulous attention to detail mysteries require. Unlike many other genres, good mysteries require writers to be mindful of minute details and to balance revealing those details in such a way as to conceal them in plain sight. It’s a huge challenge. I really want my readers to be entertained enough to hang onto every word but still be surprised when secrets are revealed. I still get intimidated just thinking about it, but I felt it was time to give it a shot.”
So Skyler is giving it a shot, literally and figuratively, with her new series in the works. The series focuses mostly on murders set against the backdrop of the Kentucky bourbon industry. She’s not saying for now how many books will be involved in the series and chooses instead to focus on the story and allowing it to unfold in however many volumes it may need.
Skyler lives with her husband, daughter, dog, and two cats in a cabin deep in the woods where she finds much of the inspiration she needs for her books.
Skyler receives quite a few questions from her readers and has shared the most frequent ones here:
1. Why do you use a pen name?
Lots of writers use pen names for different reasons. For me, it’s just way of creating a new writing persona…kind of like an actor taking on a new role for a film or a play. When I take off my ‘real’ persona and put on my Skyler persona, I can mentally set aside my day-to-day responsibilities and focus on the writing. It’s also a way to silence my inner critic. It’s much easier to write without fear of criticism from friends and family when you write under a pen name. Criticism is a good thing in that it helps you become a better writer, but it’s not necessarily something you want following you around all day at work or at a family picnic.
2. What are you working on now?
I just finished a new novella for an anthology with Southern Owl publications entitled Baked. Aside from that, I’ve spent the last year (yes, year) plotting out my new suspense series, and I’ve just begun writing the first book, Barrel Proof.
I’m also doing audiobook work for a dear author friend, Viv Drewa.
3. How did you become a writer?
I was born that way. I’ve had a love of books, reading, and writing for as long as I can remember. Like most writers though, it’s been a long road getting here. It takes a lot of work to achieve your writing goals, especially while working at another career, but if you love writing, you’ll do what it takes to make it happen.
4. Where do you get your story ideas?
Most of my ideas are triggered by something I read about or experience in real life. My imagination takes over, and it blossoms into a story over time. I’m always thinking up ‘what if’ scenarios in my head. I carry a small notebook to jot down ideas as they come to mind.
5. Who are your favorite writers?
I read a lot and across a wide range of genres. It would be difficult for me to pick a favorite writer because I have so many. The kinds of books I enjoy the most are the ones that grab you from the first page and don’t let go. I like stories that have some structure, of course, but I don’t like formulaic writing. I get bored and stop reading when stories become repetitive or where characters and events don’t advance the plot within a reasonable amount of time.
6. What is your writing process? Do you write every day?
I usually start with an idea and spend a lot of time thinking about it, adding to it, and developing it. I create an outline and try to work from that most of the time. However, I have written some books as a ‘pantser.’ That is, I’ve flown by the seat of my pants on them. I wish I could write every day, but it’s hard when you also have a day job and family obligations. I squeeze it in when I can. I’m also guilty of having too many irons in the fire at a given time, which makes it hard to write on a consistent basis.
8. Why did you choose to be an indie writer instead of going with a publisher?
I’ve published books as an indie and under small publishing houses. I’ve never worked with a large company, and I don’t have the patience to work with one. It’s a grueling process. Many writers pour their lives into their books and send query after query over years and years and never get a nibble from a large publisher. I’ve done some of that, and it’s a soul-crushing process that I don’t care to relive. With the advent of the Internet and electronic publishing, the process it much easier.
[Does that mean you would not work with a large publisher?] Of course not. If the opportunity arose, I would probably do it, but for now, I’m enjoying the freedom that comes with independent writing. Naturally, there are tradeoffs regardless of which route a writer chooses. With a publisher, you have more support and usually more financial backing. As an indie, you either need to do it all for yourself or hire help. However, if you really want to get your stories out there, indie publishing is by far the quickest and surest way to get that done.
9. Will you read my manuscript and give me your opinion?
I wish I had the time to do this, but unfortunately, I don’t. If I offered this service, I wouldn’t have time for my own writing.
10. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I would say the best way to learn is to read a lot. Read the genre you’re interested in writing, and also check out other types of books. This is the best way to learn what you like and don’t like in literature and can help you create your own new and different voice. If you can, take a class in creative writing or do some self-study. I just finished an online course from the Bluegrass Writing Project at Eastern Kentucky University this semester, and it’s a great experience to learn with and from other writers.
There are some excellent resources out and about to help you refine your craft, and many of them are free or low cost. Do some Google research with keywords in your genre, and you’ll find some good ones. Writer’s Digest is an excellent place to begin, and here’s another of my favorites: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/ Learn the “rules” for the genre you want to write, but don’t be afraid to develop your own style as well. It’s easier now than it has ever been to become an indie writer by using the publishing platforms available through Amazon, Smashwords, and others. Go for it!
19. Do you read your email?
Most of the time, I do read my email. I try to respond to as many as possible, but answering quickly is something I can’t promise.
20. Is it true you also do voice work?
I do! It’s a lot of fun. I started out with a promotional recording for fellow writer Jerry Pociask for his book, End of Life. It was arranged through Southern Owl Publications and produced by Woodland Media Creative Services. My second project was an audiobook for author Viv Drewa entitled Owl of the Sipan Lord.
So that’s exciting! Can we listen to it online?
Absolutely. It has been published on the Woodland Media Youtube Channel. Remember, it’s a drama piece, so it appeals to a different audience. If you want to hear a sample of what my first production sounds like, you can listen on the Youtube channel.
21. Do you have hobbies other than writing?
Yes! I think it’s important to get away from writing every now and then. It helps me clear my mind and can help with writer’s block too. I enjoy time with my family and my pets. I’m learning to play the cello, and I participate in a local strings group and a choir. I also enjoy crafts, especially felting. It’s wonderfully therapeutic. Writing is a solitary profession, and many of us are introverts who prefer to spend a lot of time inside our own minds. Getting out and living life, however, is essential to improving your writing.
22. So, how do you support yourself while writing?
I have a day job working in education administration, and I do the odd ghostwriting job from time to time.
23. Do your friends and family give you flack about the time you spend writing?
Well, sometimes. It used to be a lot worse. While writing my first book, I would sequester myself in a room behind closed doors and write from sunup into the wee hours of the morning. It was rough on my family. Then, I read an article by Stephen King where he basically said writers needed to get over themselves and stop that. He recommended writing where your family is. I started doing that, and it was hard at first. Every time I’d get interrupted, it was like someone throwing ice water over my head. Now I’m better at it, and my family is happier.
24. Is there anything else you would like to say in closing?
Yes. Whatever you want to accomplish in your life, be it writing or something else, just start doing it. There will be people who will tell you that you can’t make it or that you’re not good enough. Just smile politely and continue working on what makes you happy. Sure, there’s a chance you may fail, but if you don’t make an effort at all, you most certainly fail. Do it in moderation though. I’m not suggesting that anyone chuck all their loved ones and belongings and head off for a boho writers’ colony to create the next War and Peace. Take reasonable small steps, and live a balanced life. You may achieve your goals, or you may not, but at least you’ll be living the life you choose and dreaming the dreams you want.