Alumna Writes a Resource for Grieving Families While Earning 2 Degrees
Michelle Shreeve ’15G ’16G was a child when she lost her mother, and resources were limited for young families coping with the death of a parent. This experience fueled her desire to help others deal with similar grief, and through her love of writing, she addressed what hadn't been available when she needed it most.
While she earned an MA in Creative Writing and an MA in English at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), she worked on the manuscript for "Parental Death: The Ultimate Teen Guide." In 2018, Rowman & Littlefield published her book as part of the "It Happened To Me" series for teenagers.
In this interview, Shreeve shares more about her writing journey, thoughts and inspirations.
Have you always written?
Yes, since I was little. I had two poems published in a hardcover book when I was just 12, and I have often written fiction stories for fun, as well as compiled unique lists of research for nonfiction writing.
I landed my first newspaper advice column by pitching an idea in my early 20s. I have been published consecutively for the last 11-and-a-half years nationally and locally, and in various formats such as academically, movie reviews, book reviews, journalism and more.
What does your writing process look like?
I get ideas all of the time and run with them. Each piece I work on is different, and I don't always have the same process for each one. It also depends on what I am working on – an article, a research paper, a book, etc.
Sometimes if I am working on a book, I run with whatever part of the book draws me in. I write first and worry about edits and organization later. I wrote my first novel in my mid-20s that way and have decided this year that I am going to start shopping around for a publisher for it.
For bigger projects, including the novel I wrote, I had a master list of the characters, settings and more to keep track of everything.
I also get ideas regularly that I might work on in the future, so I have a binder with all of my ideas compiled. Sometimes I get inspired to work a little on one of them, and I take it as far as it will go. I have quite a few pieces written or almost finished that I have just been storing, waiting for the right time to decide how and when to publish it.
What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge for me is the time I spend compiling book proposals for publishers. It's tricky enough to carve out time to write when you work and have a family, but adding proposals that will often get rejected (how the business goes) can be discouraging at times because of how time-consuming they can be.
It would be easier for authors if there were a one-size-fits-all way of submitting book proposals, but every publisher requires a unique proposal. So, trying to find time to write a proposal is my biggest challenge. I just keep plugging away, and I pick other authors’ brains and do research to stay on top of what is going on or what is new in the publishing field.
What has the road to publication been like for you?
I actually landed my book contract while I was working on two master's degrees simultaneously here at SNHU. Not to mention, I was married, working full time and freelance writing for a few companies on the side to help build my writing resume and portfolio.
The whole process was stressful and was not easy because I was a first-time author navigating uncharted waters, but I also had to write two thesis projects. At times, it felt like I wrote three books at once. Somehow, I managed to complete the book and have it published while also maintaining a 3.8 GPA for both master's degrees, and I was able to stay on top of my full-time job and freelance jobs.
Thinking back to when that all happened just a few years ago, it's crazy to think I somehow managed all of that, but I am thankful I was able to pull it off. The experience taught me a lot about myself, that's for sure.
Why did you decide to earn two master’s degrees at the same time?
I did both degrees because I wanted to challenge myself as a writer and a student. I wanted to maximize my learning while at SNHU and take in every piece of knowledge that I could.
I did it at the same time because while I was working on the first degree, I learned I was allowed to take two degrees at the same time, and I didn't want to stay in school longer than I had already been in (I completed four degrees in eight years). I wanted to start a family but wanted to finish my education first.
How do you market your work?
I network a lot, and that is actually how I landed my book contract. I used to write for free for a national publishing platform for about eight years. I found a unique niche while on that platform that drove tons of authors and publishers to me as I was actually helping to market them.
Upon doing that, I came across my publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, and I saw the ("It Happened To Me Ultimate Teen Guide") series that my book is published in. I noticed they did not have another unique niche I was experienced in. So, I pitched my idea to the editor, and we started working on the proposal.
A little while after that, I signed my first official book contract. Through all my years of writing for free, I met a ton of authors and publishers, and that's how I market my work to this day – through word of mouth as well as cold and warm pitching and target marketing to audiences in need of my book.
Since my book is about navigating life after a parent dies when a child is still dependent on them, my target audience is families. So often, my pitches go toward schools and libraries, which are where those in need of my book can find it.
What inspired you to write 'Parental Death: The Ultimate Teen Guide'?
When I was 9-years-old, my mother died. This was back in the 90s, and so there weren't a lot of resources available for families trying to navigate life after a parent dies when a child is still young and dependent on them.
Growing up, I sort of became a mentor for other parentless kids and later an advocate for the importance of resources that are needed for grieving families. I've been writing nationally and locally about the issue since 2009, and even completed my MA in English thesis on "How Bibliotherapy and Writing Therapy Can Help Kids Navigate Parent Loss."
I basically wanted to write a reference book that my family could have used when my mom died. I didn't want families to struggle like my family did after my mom died due to a lack of resources. I'm still not done writing about the subject. I want to write more fiction and nonfiction parentless books to flood the market so future generations have resources about this difficult topic.
What do you wish you knew when you first started writing?
I always heard that being a writer was hard, but I didn't realize how hard until I started rolling with it. What's ironic is the writing part is always the easiest (for me, at least). The hardest part is the editing, the approval, the deadlines (and) the publishing process. Just writing, simply writing, is the most enjoyable and most natural part for me.
I also wish I fully understood the magnitude of what a lot of rejection feels like. I will admit, getting rejected a lot can take a negative toll on you. It makes you second-guess your worth and skills. It took me a while to grow (a) thick skin, but now I welcome rejection as a way to try and turn my writing up a notch.
Who are the authors that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
The main author who has inspired me is children's author Jim Gigliotti. He is an author from the award-winning nonfiction series, "Who Was/Who Is” (the bobblehead books of Penguin Random House). He has written several books, mostly sports-related and mostly for children over the years.
He is also my uncle. I have always respected him, and I have always looked up to him. I am honored that my uncle is part of a children's book series that was on the New York Times Bestsellers List for over a year. I hope that one day I, too, can be on the New York Times Bestsellers List for a children's book I write – not for fame, but because I wrote something that reached and positively influenced many children.
My uncle inspires me because he is making a difference in children's lives, getting them excited to read, which means he is improving literacy and educating them with facts and research about important people in our society. He is also my late mother's brother, whom I know my mother would be very proud of if she were still alive today.
If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch as he wrote this inspirational book on living life to the fullest as he was dying. It makes you realize that life is precious and that we should not take it for granted.
“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett as I am truly inspired by how the character of Skeeter bravely wrote a book to bring awareness to (the) unfair treatment of African American maids back in the 60s.
“Lost in a Book” by Jennifer Donnelly as I am a huge Beauty and the Beast fan, and she continued this beautiful story and surrounded it with more Belle and her library of books.
Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.