Born and raised in Columbus, OH, Sheila Williams recalls often getting caught writing stories about her daydreams when she was just a schoolgirl. This memory, as well as the literary and artistic passions of her parents—her father was a musician and avid storyteller—and stories told around the family dinner table were her first inklings of her interest in the writing life.
From these seeds planted in her childhood, Williams further developed her talent in high school, writing poetry, plays, essays, and articles for the school newspaper, and on into college at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, OH. There she followed a pre-law trajectory, majoring in political science with a minor in English under the notion that, though literature and English were her true passions, they would not offer a prosperous and secure career track. Nonetheless, her subsequent corporate career as a paralegal and her role as a wife and mother of two did nothing to curtail the deeper resonance of her love of writing.
Finding Her Voice
Poring over how-to-write-a-novel books, writing in the spare time she could find between her work and home life, constantly crafting and editing draft after draft of early book attempts, and using the numerous rejection letters from publishing houses not as discouraging indications of failure but as encouraging reminders to try harder, she eventually reached a breakthrough: “I found my own voice!”
When her first book, Dancing on the Edge of the Roof, was accepted for publication, Williams took the opportunity to transform herself into the artist that had been developing since her girlhood in Columbus. Interestingly enough, the book is about a woman who, after reaching a certain point in her life, decides that a complete transformation is necessary and moves to a different town in pursuit of a new beginning. “I realize that this was my opportunity to make a change and do exactly as Juanita had done in the book and dance a little on the edge of the roof—in other words, take some chances and see if I could get this writing thing going,” Williams says. “And with my family’s encouragement, I did that, and it really surprised me because it turned out better than I had expected.”
Life as a Writer
In time, she began to organize her life around mornings spent crafting new work and afternoons taking care of financial, promotional, and other clerical tasks associated with her books. Maintaining a strong work ethic toward her creative output has resulted in four books, a fast-growing group of avid readers, and new opportunities such as teaching. Dancing on the Edge of the Roof has been optioned for film, and Williams is involved in writing the screenplay. “In an adaptation for screen, one of the first things you have to do as a writer is get out of the way, because you really have to blow up the book in order to write the screenplay. What works in a novel does not work on screen. You have to be sure that you give enough information in the screenplay to tell the story but not infringe on the art of the director and actor or actress who will interpret the words. Basically what you are doing is putting the bones together so that you have a skeleton and then you back off.”
Williams describes the characters in her books as “ordinary people who have situations they must deal with, get over, or get away from.” Though they are stories about women, Williams finds that many fans do not think of her work as “women’s books.”
Williams first came to Kentucky to attend her last year of college at the University of Louisville. Her husband, Bruce Smith, was at the time stationed at Fort Knox, and the couple was married in Louisville. They lived in a variety of locations before returning to Kentucky in 1999. The couple lives in a Victorian house in Newport, in a “very interesting neighborhood filled with folks who do all kinds of things; lots of artists live here, lots of dogs and cats; our neighborhood has a good feel to it.” With their children grown, the couple has taken on two Shih Tzu dogs, Pancho and Cisco, and Williams jokingly notes that her husband wants her to write a book called The Adventures of Pancho and Cisco.