Wednesday, July 20, 2016

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sheila Hageman, Author

Sheila Hageman, Author
Sheila Hageman describes her newest novel BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE as a contemporary romance because it confronts issues today’s young women “go through when searching for love and self….like balancing love and career.” She cites interesting characters, humor, believability, and setting as important elements in a compelling romance—and, yes, maybe even some heroes and villains. 

Hageman started out as a stripper and nude model and moved on to become college valedictorian and eventually earning an MFA in creative writing. Today she is a wife and the mother of three children, an author, a yoga instructor, writing teacher, and Body Image Expert. In addition to novels, she writes poetry and non-fiction. She is just finishing a draft of her next novel.

Q: You’ve described BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE as contemporary romance. What makes it “contemporary?”

Sheila Hageman: I think of BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE as contemporary because the story takes place very much in our present time and deals with issues I believe many young women go through when searching for love and self. This is a great novel for readers who like to really relate to the protagonist and understand the same types of modern-day issues like balancing love and career.

Q: What are the most important traits to readers of a compelling romance? How helpful is setting to developing a romance?

Sheila Hageman: I go off of what I’ve discovered I enjoy myself as a reader. A compelling romance for me needs to have interesting characters that are believable, but are at the same time experiencing something unique and story-worthy. I like to be able to relate to certain ideas or themes in a romance, but I also feel the desire to stretch my imagination in some areas. Setting plays such an important role in romance because lush, sensory descriptions can make or break a story. Since I like understanding my setting on a personal level, I think I may need to go on some exotic trips in my near future!

Q: Why will readers care about your protagonist, Lizbeth? Is she someone we can all relate to? What makes her unique? Or is she an “every-person” character?

Sheila Hageman: Lizbeth is your “every-woman” for many young women. She deals with issues that so many modern American women face—body image, self-esteem and desire for a loving partnership. A lot of us strive for so much and want to have it all, and Lizbeth experiences these drives along with confusion on how to achieve all she desires. Lizbeth faces these issues even as a thirty-year-old, which I think is an age many women are facing a reevaluation of their lives. She is unique in that she is divorced and still trying to chase a dream of stardom at an age after which many people have already settled into their “adult” lives.

Q: How helpful is the use of humor to tell your story? Do you believe humor is an important part of a romance?

Sheila Hageman: Humor is so important to me in life and love that it is no surprise to me that I wanted to incorporate it into my first romance novel. Life is funny and I most definitely wanted my heroine to be able to laugh at herself and the situations she finds herself in. I believe that’s even a part of her evolution in the book—Lizbeth becomes more able to laugh at herself and the world. Not all romances need humor, of course, but I find many contemporary romances incorporate some level of humor to reflect its importance in modern life.

Q: Are there heroes and villains in BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE? If so, what are the attributes of an effective villain?

Sheila Hageman: I believe the ultimate hero in BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE is Lizbeth herself because she goes through the most growth in so many dimensions of herself and her viewpoints on important issues. Her best friend Janet also goes through a series of realizations about self and life, which I believe paint her as a hero of her own life. Lizbeth’s love interest Chip definitely has some villain-ish tendencies, such as blaming others for his flaws, at the beginning of the story, but evolves into his own hero. The one true villain that Lizbeth has to grapple with is a manipulating film director who truly does not change or grow in the story, but rather remains treacherous and pompous.

Q: You have published poems along with non-fiction and your current novel BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE. When is poetry suitable to express your topic versus novel-writing? How is writing fiction different from writing non-fiction?

Sheila Hageman: Great question. I find that I go through phases when I need to express very strong emotions in a short amount of time and that is when I tend toward poetry. I like writing poems to capture a fleeting feeling or a moment in time that I know is so delicate if I don’t grab it in some way, I may never have another opportunity to. Writing novels seems like a good way to dive into a theme or an idea that I want to spend a significant time with.

Writing fiction and non-fiction feel so different to me. When I write memoir or personal essays, I tend to do a lot more mental brooding and less quick writing. At the beginning of an idea that feels like it needs to be explored through the personal, I will write quickly, but the connection-making and theme-building can come slowly.

Fiction has felt more free-flowing and less directed for me. I tend to be able to write quicker and with less stress when I have that space between my reality and my characters.

Q: Did you write BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE solely to entertain readers or did you embed a message or two as well?

Sheila Hageman: I definitely embedded my messages! The writing of a romance began as a writerly challenge between my writing friend and me. We wanted a break from the sometimes heaviness of memoir to write something lighter. As soon as I began, my main character quickly revealed to me that she was struggling with similar issues I have struggled with and have written about in memoir form. It seems like my deepest concerns for people and the world often emerge in my writing.

Q: How important is credibility or believability in telling your stories? How did you make your protagonist and her story credible?

Sheila Hageman: Believability is very important for me as a writer. I want to create characters and story that although they may be nothing close to a reader’s experience, they still ring true emotionally. I trusted my own experiences in life to create a believable heroine with real-life struggles and experiences. Although some of what Lizbeth goes through might seem exotic to someone who has never experienced city-life, I hope that readers will be able to envision themselves in similar situations.

Q:  What’s next? Will you write another novel?

Sheila Hageman: I’m happy to say I am just finishing a rough draft of another novel, which would be best described as a crazy mix of humor, sci-fi, romance and erotica. I just went full-on write-what-makes-me-happy for this one.

I’m also working on a few potential next memoirs.

Q:  Tell us about Sheila Hageman. What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you like to do to relax and have fun?

Sheila Hageman: I have three young children, a husband and a full-time job, so I am never not busy. It’s an exercise in madness that I can get any writing done at all. I love yoga; I’m actually also a certified yoga teacher. Right now, I work at Berkeley College in White Plains, NY, as an Academic Mentor, which means I get to spend a lot of time coaching and inspiring students. I also love teaching writing and work with clients one-on-one on their memoirs-in-progress.

About Sheila Hageman

Sheila is the ultimate survivor and risk taker—she’s a former stripper and nude model who became her college valedictorian, a yoga instructor, a writing teacher, an author, a mother and a Body Image Expert. She lives with her husband, three children and three cats in CT. She is an Academic Mentor for Berkeley College. She has taught writing at University of Bridgeport and Housatonic Community College.

 She has a novel, BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE, out June 24, 2016, from 48Fourteen. Her memoir, STRIPPING DOWN, is a meditation on womanhood and body image. Her Decision-Making Guide and Self-Discovery Journal, The Pole Position: Is Stripping for You? (And How to Stay Healthy Doing It), Every Day Create, December 2011, helps women to further value their own identities through their quest to understand their motivations for stripping.

She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College, CUNY, where she also graduated as valedictorian with her BA in English. She blogs about her stripper past, motherhood, body image and other women’s issues at or you can visit her website Sheila has appeared on numerous TV shows including Today Show, ABC News, NBC News, and as an expert on Bill Cunningham and Anderson Cooper. She has been featured on Salon, Yahoo, Mamalode, Mom Babble, Say It With A Bang, She Knows, Role Reboot and The Huffington Post.

BEAUTIFUL SOMETHING ELSE is a contemporary romance with smarts and humor.

Lizbeth, an outwardly-confident but overly self-conscious thirty-year-old, is spurred on by her New Age friend, Janet, to trust the Universe and ask for what she wants in life—to land a starring role, lose five pounds and find herself naked with a man. The stars seem to be aligning for her, but not exactly in the way she meant.

A chance encounter with a film director at Grand Central Station may be her lucky break, but the New York City actress is blindsided when she is fired from her bill-paying waitress job, and she must decide where her true values lie. Should she take a position as a “pretend secretary” for a handsome, but holier-than-thou chiropractor and healer with questionable morals to pay her rent?

While Chip Duncan woos a potential investor for his new healing center, he fights his romantic urges for Lizbeth. She finds herself falling in love with Chip’s caring, healing heart, but she’s equally frustrated by his greed and dishonesty.

Can Lizbeth resolve her body image issues and find a clear path to satisfaction in career and relationship? And will Chip realize in time that Lizbeth is the woman for him before he blows off her love?

“DO YOU HAVE A MISSION statement for your life?” Janet asked as she pushed a frazzled bunch of red curly hair from her face.
            “A what?” Lizbeth grimaced slightly before biting into her gooey tuna melt on wheat bread.
            “You know—a statement that sums up what you want from your life, or like, a guiding sentence to propel you forward.” Janet nibbled her egg white Western omelet and stabbed at her buttered wheat toast with a fork. “Hmm, I guess he forgot I wanted dry toast.”
            Lizbeth knew her friend was into new-age stuff, but she hated it when Janet assumed everyone was into it.
            “Um, why would I need a, a what? A life statement?”
            “Lizzie, I think creating a greater life purpose could move you out of this slump you seem to be in.”
            Ugh, here she goes, Lizbeth thought. Ever since her friend met a psychic healer, everything had to be about auras and chakras and now…life missions.
            “Excuse me? Excuse me?” Janet tried once again to get the waiter’s attention. Marnick’s was short-staffed—only two waiters for the entire restaurant on a Friday afternoon.
            “Oh! Did no one bring your toast yet? I’m so sorry; one of the waitresses had to put her dog down today, and well, you know how women are about their pets.”
            Lizbeth wasn’t sure if he was being snarky or sensitive or…
            “That’s all right. I’m fine. You know what? Don’t worry about it—a little butter is good for you.” Janet smiled in her sweet, all-knowing way. Lizbeth silently prayed that Janet wouldn’t mention her friend who claims to talk to dead animals.
            As the waiter retreated, Janet took a gerbil-sized munch of the lightly buttered toast. “Hmm, maybe I should call Bill, the pet psychic, to see if he can pick up any messages for the waitress.”
            “Janet, please, can we stick to our original subject? I can only take so much spacey stuff a day, you know? I imagine you already have one of those life mission thingies all typed-out and framed somewhere.” Lizbeth tossed a pickle chip into her mouth. She’d asked for extra, but only three came on her plate; she certainly wasn’t about to ask for more pickles now.
            “Well, yes, but not typed. I wrote it in calligraphy and hung it next to my bathroom mirror so I see it every morning. It helps me stay focused.”
            Lizbeth thought there might be some inherent good in being focused. In having personal goals. But she liked living by the seat of her pants, following her emotions and living in the moment. Lizbeth caught herself. Who’s the new-agey one now?
            “I don’t know what my life mission is. How does one figure something like that out anyway? Wait…what’s yours?”
            “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” Janet whispered and laughed, her eyes crinkling at the corners.

At twelve years old, everything changed for me with the discovery of my estranged father’s porn collection. Found locked away in a corner of the basement, the glossy images ignited in me an unrelenting desire for attention and adoration. I lost sight of my dream of being a writer and became obsessed with exercise, working out every day for hours and barely eating. I became that which I thought men adored—a stripper and a nude model.

Many years later when I discovered my mother had breast cancer, I was faced with who I had become and what I had used my body for. I quit stripping and returned to college to graduate as valedictorian; I also became a yoga teacher through which I learned how to take good care of my body and not be obsessive in my looks. I began writing again and then went to graduate school for my MFA in Creative Writing. At that time, reflections on my past as a stripper permeated my thoughts as I took on the new roles of mother, caregiver and wife. While helping my baby daughter take her first steps, I nursed my mother through the final stages of breast cancer and truly faced who I had become and who I had been.




A few of Sheila Hageman TV Appearances:

NBC CT News, April 2012, Interview on Stripping Down 

CT Style on ABC CT News, May 2012, Author Interview 

Twitter: @SheilaMHageman

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