Olympics West Senior Living Community in Tumwater, WA is home to some of the most interesting members of the Greatest Generation. Among our residents they have teachers who have schooled generations of children, doctors who have treated a plethora of patients, pilots who have soared in the clouds, and scientists who have explored the unknown. The Olympics West community is a true melting pot where people from all walks of life join together to make an amazing community. One of our celebrated residents is Shirley Soper, aka S.I Soper. A trailblazer who overcame gender bias to become a prolific author. Read on to learn more about her incredible life.
S.I. Soper – Author, Adventurer, Trailblazer
“We interrupt this broadcast” – four little words that created a panic and birthed a future writer.
On October 30, 1938, Orson Wells was on the radio reporting the invasion of New Jersey by aliens from another planet. Listening with captive attention was a little girl with a huge imagination. The images and emotions that were painted by the words flowing from the radio were spellbinding. And though all her family gathered around that radio, spellbound by the story, they “knew it wasn’t real”, remembers Shirley Soper. Knowing the truth, however, didn’t dampen the excitement of the moment. In the years to come, Shirley would look back on that evening and declare that her life as a writer, and an adventurer, and a trailblazer was born. Today, at 90 years old, she is still cutting new trails.
Born in rural Washington State, Shirley spent much of her childhood moving from one home to another with her parents. “We moved a lot, and I found it hard to make new friends” she recalls. In order to combat the loneliness, she became both a people-watcher and a storyteller. Becoming a “student of people” became her hobby and would prove quite valuable in her career as an author.
As a budding author, one of Shirley’s first defining interactions happened very early in her career. She wrote an article about the town, Clint Eastwood, where the actor was mayor. In the town where people supposedly could not eat ice cream outdoors for fear of leaving a spot on the sidewalk. Shirley thought the rules and regulations in that town were simply ridiculous and so she wrote about it. The article caught the attention of a man who ran a militia group and he thought that whoever wrote the article would be a fantastic addition to their militia group! He called Shirley and asked to speak to the author. When she responded with “that’s me, I wrote it”, he yelled “but, you’re a woman!” in disgust and hung up on her. It was then that Shirley realized – understood, that her being a woman could affect the success of her writings. Faced with such blatant misogyny, Shirley became S.I.
As S.I. Soper (Shirley’s intentionally gender-neutral nom de plume), she has published in Western, Fiction, and Science Fiction categories. Throughout her 50+ book portfolio, the connecting thread among all her writing is the human experience. Whenever she is asked about the diversity of her genres, Shirley calmly explains that “Science Fiction is just like Western. It’s people, just set in the future”,
Many of Shirley’s Science Fiction writings deal with the interaction of an us-versus-them conflict. Whether with otherworld beings on Earth as in Psychodoor, a parallel Earth on a different plane as in Erith or a dystopian civilization as in Agony Junction, the twists and turns on which Shirley takes the reader are both fantastical and relatable. In Loving County S.P.S (with a continuation of the cast from Agony Junction), the characters’ journey from safety and security through events that call into play their most expert survival tactics, depend on their abilities to lean on – or defeat – others. Shirley’s development of the characters and the locations in her Sci-Fi novels present a kaleidoscope of literary layers, each working in tandem to perfectly form the imaginative worlds she has created.
Shirley’s Western novels are equally as complex. Writing with detailed grace and style, Shirley skillfully brings alive the images of the Old West, with dusty stagecoaches, warring tribes, and feuding landowners such as Hot Metal: A Western Story and Home Remedy. Not a purist, Shirley isn’t opposed to melding the Westerns with the Fantastical as in the case of Not So Innocent Bystanders, a novel centered around Logan, a water-witch.
Central to all of Shirley’s writing is the depth of her character developments. “Yes, most of my characters are based, in part, on people I’ve known”, however, she would never divulge who they are! Shirley spends time creating the characters’ backstories, their values, their flaws, and their aspirations. This understanding of each character on an almost cellular level allows Shirley to portray them on the pages so they are relatable on a more intense level.
Shirley does the same with her settings. The fantastical ‘Essex Street People Sanctuary’ in Agony Junction is a perfect example. The gritty and desolate compound comes alive with its microwave fences and draconian establishment.
Her well-developed imagination has led to many prophetic inventions. In the early 1970’s Shirley interwove themes into her works such as ‘no face-to-face interaction’; a reality that we are witnessing in 2020. As a young writer, she even developed a green skinned alien with pointed ears. Dr. Spock came along many years later.
To say Shirley has had a wonderfully full life as a well-loved writer would only be half of her story. A world traveler, Shirly has explored the furthest reaches of Africa and South America, she has visited Europe, and swum off the South Sea Islands. She has traveled by ‘train, plane, car, bus, ship, mule train, camel caravan, and wagon train’. Her travels have taken her all over the US, Canada, The Yucatan, and Mexico. And she has ridden a mule down into the Grand Canyon four times (two of the trips were 62 years apart!) Through all these travels, Shirley was able to confirm what she had already learned as a child – people are people wherever they are.
That’s not all. Her business career was equally as gratifying. For over 23 years, Shirley worked at IBM in both Human Relations and Business Development. She brought her extraordinary writing abilities to her role at IBM, as well, creating many writings for the corporation during her tenure.
And then, as if that weren’t enough, Shirley went back to college – and became a 49-year-old co-ed!
The lesson to be learned? “It’s never too late to start a new dream”, declared Shirley.
So, what’s on the horizon for this unstoppable force? Shirley has two novels currently in production. Both were slated for publication this summer but, due to COVID, they have been delayed until the fall. And she’ll start on another book shortly with many more to come after that.
One wonders what ever happened to the man who slammed the phone down on Shirley so many years ago. We do, however, know what happened to the women he disparaged. She grabbed the golden ring of success and is having one incredible adventure of a life well lived.