Two little teacups and saucers sit next to a full French press of piping hot coffee. A fresh loaf of gluten free banana bread is filling the kitchen with a sweet aroma. We pour our coffee, slice the bread, sit down at my kitchen table, and begin. I love interviewing in my own home. There’s something special about opening your home, your nest, your mess, your place of creativity, to someone. It’s like saying, “Here’s a little piece of my heart! Have a seat!”
Well, this colorful creature fits right in! Sheila Nicole Avellino is currently sporting purple hair, dramatic, colorful eye makeup, and a slightly Bohemian-influenced outfit. Each day is new with this woman, every day a daring twist to the plot of her life story. I think she likes it that way. Leaving a dash of artistic flair to the sometimes grey world we live in. We know each other already, so after a few laughs and sips of coffee we dive right in with the first few questions.
Emy: “When did you realize you were an artist?”
Sheila: “It was really just a passion that hit me early on. Any time I had any sort of feelings for anyone or anything I had to draw that out to make it more real to me. If I was a fan of a story I had to draw that story out to make it real to my self. Then at some point, I started to depict that through how I looked, I guess. So with photo shoots and everything, I wanted to depict different characters and dreams that I have.”
Emy: “So how did that develop to bring you here? Because you definitely don’t just draw! You’ve done a ton of things! What led you to where you are now?”
She laughs and jumps right in.
Sheila: “I guess I’m really just kind of ADD about stuff! I guess I just wanted to do everything and basically go for the wow factor with all of it! So . . yeah, well what do you mean exactly?”
Emy: “When you started to love art and live art in your life, what were you most drawn to? What inspired you then and inspires you now?”
Sheila: “Anything magic based. I was never interested in anything like still life. I didn’t even study the historic painters, other than Van Gogh, because that really was not of any interest. Like galleries don’t interest me. I wanted to create something without looking at something else. Comic books were a huge inspiration for me because I loved anything that was impossible! So anything magic based! I liked faces too. So close-ups of faces, the way people’s eyes catch the light, noses, and freckles.”
She smiles cutely to herself, like she just made a joke. Seeing her in her natural element is like seeing a puppy with a new toy. Any questions relating to art, or creativity are met with twinkling, sparkly blue eyes and vibrant, eager answers. This truly is her passion, the thing that makes her heart sing.
Emy: “Where do you draw from more recently for your inspiration?”
Sheila: “Probably from books. It’s funny, I used to get in moods where I was depressed or sad, and it was always because it had been too long since I’d read something fiction, watched something fiction, or done some sort of art form. So Arel would always tell me, ‘You need to go watch X-Men and get your vibe back up!’”
Emy: “Who is Arel?”
Sheila: “My husband.”
She laughs. Ahh! She’s in love! Her cheeks are a bit rosy, and she looks almost too shy and sweet to be real, like a cartoon character.
Emy: “When did you two get married?”
Sheila: “October 27th of this year!”
She answers with clerk-like accuracy and 5-year-old enthusiasm. She is a character from one of her favorite stories, I am sure of it!
Sheila: “So…oh goodness, what’s today?”
She laughs again. I laugh. This is adorable.
Sheila: “October, March. 1, 2…We’ve been married five months as of today! It’s our five-month anniversary! So almost half a year. That’s crazy! Oh my gosh!”
Emy: “As a married woman myself, I know that getting married can completely change your life, so what have been the biggest changes so far?”
Sheila: “I guess being in a creative environment 24/7. I mean, my house had a lot of creative people before, but with Arel it’s like he puts everything below getting creativity done. Like yesterday the house was a complete wreck and I was like, ‘I have to clean it’ and he said, ‘No, you need to work on Sketch, that’s way more important. Don’t worry about the house right now, it’ll always be messy, but right now you need to get Sketch done.’ It’s amazing for me and that’s all the time, just having that support.”
Emy: “What is ‘Sketch’?”
Sheila: “Sketch is the novel I wrote at 16 and have been working since then to get published. We are hoping to publish it by this fall.”
Emy: “How old are you now?”
Sheila: “I am 20, as of a month ago. It’s crazy, my instinct is still to say 19.”
Emy: “Yeah, I’ll be telling people I’m 17 till the day I die. I don’t know why, but that’s the age that stuck with me.”
Sheila: “That’s my favorite age, that’s when I made Sketch because that was my favorite age! That was the year I met Arel and everything kind of took off for me.”
Emy: “Oh, so you were 17 when you wrote Sketch?”
Sheila: “No, I was 16! I was 16 when I wrote Sketch, but 17 was my favorite age and it was the age I was looking for because the years before 16 were the years I had just gone through so much, so to me 17 was going to be the new age. And so many books start with them younger, at 16, or at 18 where things are changing. So, I wanted 17 because it’s a year in between two big landmarks. I don’t know, it was a landmark for me.”
Emy: “What were those things you went through then, before you met Arel that made you want to come to a new stage of life and start a new chapter?”
Sheila: “Obviously past relationships…hmm, that’s such a hard question.”
Emy: “What advice would you give to younger women who are possibly still in that stage of life?”
Sheila: “I had an idea at that time in life and that idea was to write this book or make a painting and follow whatever it was I wanted to do and make that happen for myself. I guess the best advice I could give was when I was going through a lot I started to feel like I was losing my purpose and I am very purpose-driven, but I knew that God had a purpose for me, and I figured that purpose had to be in the creative field. So, if I lose track of my purpose I just go downhill. So I guess just finding that purpose, because God has everyone on earth for a reason. So what are you doing, and what does God want you to be doing? I guess that’s what really changed things for me, having purpose. I was home-schooled, so I had the blessing of taking a whole month of my schooling to just write and work on Sketch. A lot of people don’t have that.”
Emy: “Wow, your mom was totally on board with that?”
Sheila: “My mom was so on board! She’s the best. She was waking me up at 5 AM every morning, making me breakfast, going ‘You have to write Sketch!’ She was so supportive. She loved the story and she helped me edit it a month afterwards.”
Emy: “So let’s talk a little bit about how you grew up. You mentioned being home-schooled. Did you like that? What are your siblings like, etc.?”
Sheila: “Oh, I loved being home-schooled! I liked the freedom there because I would get my schooling done, but I would also have a lot of free time to be creative and my parents saw that that’s where I would be in life and they didn’t push college on me. In fact, they saw very little purpose in me going to college after I started publishing Sketch. I have five sisters! We are all very different and that was a lot of fun. I have a little dog named, Sam, he’s still at home…and two parents!”
Emy: “That sounds a little crazy, living with five sisters. Coming from someone who lived with five brothers, it just sounds really nuts! What were some of the crazy things that happened at your house because you had five sisters?”
Sheila: “We were all color-coded. So, my mom gave us each a color when we were born so she wouldn’t have to keep washing cups throughout the day and could keep track of us. My color was pink, so I had a pink cup, pink toothbrush, and a pink towel, and that’s how she organized all of us. Apparently a lot of households don’t do that.”
Emy: “That’s so cute!”
Sheila: “Yeah, we all had that. I don’t really like pink all that much, it was just my color. I thought it was the color I was born with when I was little! It was very motivating to have five sisters, in the sense that all of us had our own passion and our own drive, but it also drove us to do a little bit more. Like we had a huge musician in our family, and we didn’t think anyone else in our family would be musical until my younger sister just picked it up out of nowhere! There are two other artists in the family and one fashionista who drove us all to have our own sense of style. So it was very much a team of us all figuring out who we were as separate people, rather than us all just being this bunch of sisters.”
Emy: “That’s really surprising since one of the biggest complaints you hear about other women is they’re crazy!”
Sheila: “They are crazy!”
Emy: “How does that statement compare to you and your sisters?”
Sheila: “Um, we don’t…hmm, there were hard times, but we all grew out of that in the sense that each of us had a rival with another sibling at some point, but we all came in pairs, too. So, my two older sisters were a pair, then me and my older sister were a pair, then my two younger sisters were a pair. So we had each other’s backs, but then the younger pair would always have a dispute with the older pair about wanting to be older and that was the crazy part. But there wasn’t a lot of that between everybody. There were fashion disputes a lot.”
Emy: “What did those look like?”
Sheila: “Well, it’s like this, my older sister has a great sense of style, but she can never quite grasp my sense of style. There was a time in my life where I think I wanted to fit in and be just like her and eventually I found my own trail and wanted to look like my artwork, or stand out more than blend in. She still laughs at it every once in a while because I’d have a really funny sense of style. She was the fashion police of the family. So Lord help my other sisters!”
Emy: “So, what would you describe your style as?”
Sheila: “The [VV styled] photos were actually surprisingly fitting since I never really wanted to fit in. I wanted to stand out. I was so fascinated by X-Men and the mutants being the outcasts, because I liked their little community and I liked thinking that they were different form everybody else. So I liked the aspect of the photo shoot being kind of monstrous in the sense that you’re something else; you’re something completely different from what you normally are. And I’m happy with myself. I don’t want to be different, but I just like the idea of portraying a difference.”
Emy: “How does that come through in your every day style then?”
Sheila: “That’s really hard to say because I have so many styles, and I go through phases. I go through so many phases. It used to be a lot different. I was very into pirates, vintage, steampunk. I actually grew into fashion now, so I fit in a little bit more. Just finding funny things, like funny-looking bracelets, or crazy vests that just look like they don’t belong in the scenery. Even the way I do my makeup, I like almost looking freaky I guess. I just know I’d always try to look really different. I used to go out dressed in full pirate get-up, just because I was really inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean at the time, so I wore it. I just dress in whatever inspires me.”
She fashions herself as a new character, a new culture, a new dramatic statement each and every day. Her wardrobe is a wonderland of daring possibilities. I’ll bet if you watched closely, you could develop a feel for her latest character by her wardrobe.
Emy: “Would you describe yourself as an outgoing person?”
Sheila: “I’m more of an introvert. I’m really good at communicating with people, not great at public speaking, but good at communicating. I like being around people, but I get worn out by it.”
Emy: “What is a day in the life of Sheila?”
Sheila: “It’s hard because my day in the life just completely changed from what it would have been six months ago! Well, I wake up next to my handsome husband and I get jumped on every morning by my husky. She jumps right in the middle of us and cuddles with us until we take her out. Arel usually starts working, or he makes the coffee or makes breakfast. Whatever he doesn’t do, I normally do. Then I read for like an hour with my coffee. Then I generally go to the nearest coffee shop and work on Sketch for four or five hours. By that point we’ll have some of our good friends come over and go to the tobacco shop, or play Call of Duty on Xbox or a board game, and end with games like Wild Solitaire or Risk and be back at our house with coffee. That’s how my days have literally been . . . read, write, be with people. It’s just been such a blessing. I am looking for more work now, though. A few weeks ago I was working on Avellino Studios work a lot or on my tablet doing graphic design work for hours and hours. And then, we’ll watch ‘Avatar: The Legend of Korra’ . . . just Arel and I. That’s our show.”
Emy: “You mentioned ‘Avellino Studios.’ What is that?”
Sheila: “Avellino Studios is a company my husband started when he lived in Northern Virginia. So we pretty much do short films. We work on movies. We jump on sets. We do promotional work and motion graphics. Recently we’ve taken on a bunch of interns and two employees…and then, well I guess you don’t need all this… Avellino Studios is a film company that my husband runs! I like rabbit trails!”
Emy: “You’re so cute! I don’t mind at all if you go on rabbit trails! What is it like having a husband who runs a film company?”
Sheila: “It’s really difficult, considering that he is so entrepreneurial, so he’s always got a new idea and I always feel like I’ve got to keep up with this all the time! It’s such a blessing because he pretty much works from home, and I get to have him all day almost every day. Being a filmmaker, he’s very different from other filmmakers and men, since his motivation is very much about teaching people. Recently with a film podcast, he’s been teaching anyone who wants to know how to do this. So he’s very inspiring in the sense that he just wants to help people, but he’s also brilliant because he knows what he’s doing and he’s really good at it. He is the hardest worker I’ve ever met. He’s so confident, always like ‘It’ll be fine, it’ll be good.’ He’s always working on his other projects. He doesn’t mope around. He’s always saying, ‘I’ll do this and this and this to make this happen.’ He’s all about passive income. I feel like a lot of peopled don’t have such a motivated husband to keep your spirits high. I don’t have to tell him to get out of bed and work. It’s more like him telling me, ‘Sheila, time to get up!’ “
Emy: “You have all kinds of creative energy in your house. You’re a writer. You’re husband’s a filmmaker. You’re fashionable. You’re bringing in interns, etc. How do you find balance in your life? Do you feel like you live a balanced life?
Sheila: “It’s just whatever comes. I’d like to come to a place with a little more balance, but something new comes every day. Every day is a battle to stay focused, because I’ll be working on Sketch and get a great new idea for something. I go on all sorts of rabbit trails with my thoughts, just like I do my talking! I could definitely use more balance in my personal work life. I take joy in being very productive. The issue is sometimes I’ll spend all day just being distracted and trying to get focused. That’s a huge, huge challenge for me. I just need to stay focused. My biggest thing is sitting and editing Sketch because it’s such an intimidating editing process. But when you have good people to motivate you and good friends, it’s a lot easier than I give it credit.”
Emy: “What are some things we should definitely know about you?”
Sheila: “One of my big goals for Sketch is I want so badly to move into a house on a mountain, like a wood cabin. It doesn’t have to be huge, but I want it big enough to breed my husky and have babies! Right now we are living in a tiny apartment, and I’m not organized. But I really like a clean house, so that’s a big goal. There was something else too. Something I really wanted to do if Sketch got big. It was a huge dream of mine, hmm.”
The woman has so many dreams she can’t keep track of them! What a lovely way to live. She texted me later and told me that that dream was to be a kickstarter fairy, supporting independent artists in their goals.
Emy: “So, you’re saying that those are goals you’d like to reach if Sketch got big enough that you could pay for that?”
Emy: “ You said you wanted to have babies! Is a family really important to you?”
Sheila: “Yes, I want to have a big family. I will never get Sketch done if I have kids, so I’m just trying to get that done first. Because I know the commitment there. I think it is important for people to know that I am not just writing Sketch for the Christian community, but more for everybody. Sketch is a dark, but edifying story that raises a lot of questions. I’ve heard it called philosophical before. Stuff in it is really just meant to get people thinking and see a merciful aspect in life. Umm, I want twins! I want twins so bad. My favorite colors are mint and white, I really like white. I love clocks. My husky’s name is Pippa. I’ve broken sixteen bones. I live on coffee. I love all things winter, Christmas, and fall. I think I’ll enjoy summer this year. I’m ready for summer because all the winter and Christmas festivities have passed, but I want to hold on to them! And I’m a fall girl. That’s my favorite season. I got married in the fall!”
Emy: “You started to tell us some specifics on why you wrote Sketch. Expound on that a little.”
Sheila: “My goals for writing Sketch were to write edifying stories for young adults because nowadays you just get crap out of the young adult section that really does nothing for your brain. So I wanted to create something that would be edifying in the sense that there’s nothing, ahhh! Haha, write that down, ahhhh!”
Emy: “Would you say that you are writing what you want to read?”
Sheila: “Yes. I mean it’s dark in the sense that an unmerciful death would be. I’ve heard it compared to Harry Potter a lot. I mean, I haven’t read all the Harry Potters. That wasn’t really the goal for Sketch, but I’d say it’s no darker than the Harry Potters. Sketch is very full of magic, but I want people to look deeper to the point of the story and not just see the magic in it. I am a Christian, and I have a strong personal relationship with Christ as His daughter. I believe that’s what being a Christian means, to have that love and that merciful knowledge, to talk to Him. It’s my personal relationship. I think since He knows us all separately, every relationship is different. Most of the time I spend with God is just me talking and talking and talking, and that’s just the best to me. I think there is relationship through creativity, as well.”
Emy: “What are some other random facts about you?”
Sheila: “I am obsessed with music of all types. I don’t really have a specific genre. When I write I search on Spotify for a new playlist. I listen to a new playlist every day. Music all the time! Traveling. I love to travel. I’m a homebody in the general area, but when I have a chance to I love to travel. Trains! I love trains, that’s my favorite place to write! I wrote my second book in Chicago. I like sour gummy worms and sour candy in general.”
Emy: “Your second book?”
Emy: “You have another book?”
Sheila: “Yes, I have the sequel to Sketch written. I took a train to Chicago to write it, but I wrote half the book in Jamaica during our honeymoon. Anyway, I traveled to Chicago and traveled the city to write half the book, took pictures everywhere I would go. I don’t like to write about anywhere I haven’t been, so that was a great experience.”
Emy: “Did you go to Chicago to write about Sketch being set in Chicago?”
Sheila: “It was one of the big purposes. My sister lives out there and Arel was working there at the time, so I surprised him. But the main purpose my family sent me out there was to write. I really didn’t see anybody, because everyone in the house worked all day. So everyday I would have the city and this great, gorgeous, white apartment to work in all day with lots of coffee. So I was literally trapped all day with nothing to do but write. It was fantastic.”
As a writer myself I am considering the sheer joy of a brand new city for inspiration, one you don’t live in, with no responsibilities, except the joyful expectation of what you will write next. With lots of coffee. And writing on a train? Who doesn’t want to write on a train? What an adventure life. I’d take a walk in her shoes.
Emy: “What are the places you want to travel to?”
Sheila: “I’d love to go London. A lot of my family is from Italy and Germany, so I’d like to go there. Arel’s family used to own an island off of Italy which they don’t own anymore, but I’d still love to see that. I want to go to Russia. So bad.”
Emy: “Why Russia?”
Sheila: “I love the language, I have friends out there. I love the architecture of Moscow. Mostly because I am a huge fan of the language. I speak it conversational, so I could speak conversationally in Russia. So I could learn more, I guess. I want to write the third book in Europe, so I hope that by the time I write the third book I have the means to travel to Europe. And Japan. I’d love to go to Japan.”
Emy: Is there anything else we should know about you?”
What else is there to ask?! I’d say we’ve documented quite a tale as it is! An author, a dreamer, a traveler…what’s next?
Sheila: “Umm, give me a moment. I’m really good at Call of Duty.”
I laugh. She laughs,
Sheila: “I kill all the boys. Arel won’t play me anymore! Umm, I’m good at rock wall climbing. I like singing with my sister. I like road trips. Whenever I have coffee, I like having something sweet, anything that goes with coffee. I really like tomato soup. Anything pumpkin flavored. I like drinking my coffee in teacups and saucers. I feel very ‘Downton Abby.’ If I ever watch Downton Abby, I drink something with my teacups and saucers. When I do watch it, or ‘Call the Midwife’ I always have that. I love anything vintage. That’s another thing, I love history. I really like science, too. I hate math; I’m really bad at math. I took a placement test in high school to see what career I would be perfect for, and I got astronaut! Not expecting that, but apparently I could have been an astronaut!”
Our coffee cups are empty. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground in our short time of interviewing and I think of Jo March from “Little Women,” saying “I could have been a great many things.” She’s not an astronaut, but I am already amazed at what she is and even more excited to see what she is to become.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . . Sheila Nicole Avellino.