We had the good fortune of connecting with Shari Lopatin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shari, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born and raised in Phoenix, Ariz. as the daughter of two teachers who moved from Queens, N.Y. to Arizona in the 1970s. My family is Jewish and we tend to be liberal, which made me a liberal Jew growing up in a conservative, Christian state and neighborhood. I was the diversity within my group of friends.
I feel fortunate that my friends accepted me for who I am, but even with that acceptance, I always felt like an outsider to an extent. I was also a weird, quirky kid who looked younger and more immature than everyone else. I blinked excessively, wore thick, oversized glasses, was hyperactive to an extreme, and laughed nervously when talking to others. For this, I dealt with bullying throughout my childhood.
I found escape in writing. To this day, my parents tell me I’ve always had a wild imagination. That imagination allowed me to lock myself in my room and lose myself in my stories.
Now, as an adult, I find myself identifying with those who operate outside the social norms of society. Much of my writing revolves around such characters. Besides my fiction prose, my personal essays, social commentary, and poetry evoke themes of “the other.” I like writing about ordinary people who experience extraordinary circumstances, but within those ordinary characters, readers will always find something that makes them different.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
For me, writing is a calling, and I like to dedicate myself to telling stories that matter. This might mean writing a novel that ties into modern-day social issues, crafting personal essays that open people’s minds and hearts, developing social commentary pieces that generate important discussions, or elevating another person’s story through a journalistic piece. I think it’s so important to be real in your writing. People connect through stories of the human condition, and that can only be conveyed through authenticity.
Today, I’ve worked for 15 years as a professional writer and editor. I began my career as a daily newspaper reporter, but the Great Recession forced me to leave journalism and move into corporate communications. That was a hard transition, but ultimately, I learned more skills to improve and expand my writing. I also continued freelancing for publications like Phoenix Magazine and the Arizona Republic.
My greatest accomplishment, however, is the publication of my debut novel in May 2018: “The Apollo Illusion.” It’s a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology, and it takes place in Arizona. As a writer, the launch of a book is always nerve-wracking, but I was happily surprised that it has maintained a consistent 4-star rating on Amazon and Goodreads. The e-book version even made Amazon’s Dystopian Fiction Bestseller’s List in August 2019!
Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned throughout my writing career is to be persistent, never give up, and if possible (emphasizing the “if possible”), make your own success when others won’t give you a chance. When I graduated college, I had no connections and could not land a staff reporting position unless I had published clips. So, I lived with my dad and freelanced for free to build a portfolio. Then, once I secured a job on a newspaper, I had to leave a few years later due to the Great Recession. I therefore continued freelancing for magazines while working full-time in corporate communications. Later on, I wrote a book and pitched it to many literary agents, only to be rejected. So, I did my own research, founded my own publishing company (BookBooks Publishing LLC), and published “The Apollo Illusion” myself. It became a success and I even had an interview on Good Morning Arizona about it.
Today, I’m still going. I recently launched an e-newsletter on Substack called, “Rogue Writer,” where I write about anything and everything encompassing the writing life, including social commentary, writing tips, and personal stories. I aim for the discussions to have depth, and to always be real with my readers. Of course, I am also writing my next novel. More to come on that!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite spots in the city? Hmmm, good question. Well, for ice-cream, there is a delicious, little, family-owned place in Laveen called Scooptacular, right off 51st Avenue and Baseline. I lived in Laveen for seven years and this ice-cream parlor opened the same year I moved into the neighborhood. Their ice-cream is the best, even better than Cold Stone!
For Mexican food, I would have to recommend the Barrio Café off 16th Street in Central Phoenix. The food isn’t only delicious, but the ambiance is moody, intimate, and relaxing.
For a cool hangout, I would recommend anyone spend a few hours at Changing Hands Bookstore in Central Phoenix off 3rd Avenue. The vibe is chill and anyone can relax, read, or chat with others at the First Draft Book Bar.
For hiking, South Mountain has some amazing trails on the South Phoenix side, as well as the Ahwatukee side. When I lived in Laveen, my boyfriend and I would hike the Kiwanis trail on South Mountain, which can be accessed from Central. The best time to go is on a Sunday, when the preserve has Silent Sundays.
During the holiday season, a great date night would be Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden. Honestly, it’s beautiful, it’s romantic, and you get to spend time outdoors.
Finally, every fall, Ballet Arizona puts on a few free shows outdoors called “Ballet Under the Stars.” The locations of performances vary year to year, but how can one resist free ballet? I grew up as a dancer and it was my first love before writing, so my boyfriend and I try to make these performances when we can.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
More than anything, I want to give a huge shoutout to my dad, Jerry Lopatin; my mom, Jill Lopatin; my sister, Rebecca Lopatin; and my longtime boyfriend, Oscar Barrascouth, Jr. These wonderful people have been my rock when it comes to my writing. They have always supported me and encouraged me. My dad and boyfriend are probably my biggest fans, my mom encouraged me to get my college degree in journalism, and my sister was my first audience/readership when we were kids. She also painted the imagery for the cover art for my first novel, The Apollo Illusion.
Additionally, my high school English teacher, Rachel Prince, was a huge influence by introducing me to poetry and believing in my abilities when I did not. Always respect and thank your teachers!
Other: Sign up for Shari’s newsletter, “Rogue Writer,” https://sharilopatin.substack.com/welcome Buy “The Apollo Illusion,” https://www.amazon.com/Apollo-Illusion-Shari-Lopatin/dp/0999782711
Photo credits for headshot and desk portrait: Oscar Barrascouth, Jr.