And the Stars Falter: An Interview with Sharon Shinn

OhmygoshOhmygoshOhmygoshOhmygoshOhmygosh! Here is my interview with Sharon Shinn, one of my favorite authors of all time. Fantastic writer and all around good person. She is the author of the acclaimed Shape-changers Wife as well as the groundbreaking Samaria series. Her most recent books include the Shifting Circle series and the YA series, Elemental Blessings. I hope you enjoy Ms. Shinn’s insights into writing and storytelling. I know I did 🙂

sharon shinn

RLM: If you could no longer write (fiction OR nonfiction) what would you do
for a living?
SS: I’d probably starve, since I have no other skills. But I’d probably try
to get work in a bookstore or a library so I could at least be around
books. Failing that, maybe I’d be an administrative assistant, since I
tend to be really well-organized.

RLM: What was the first piece of fiction you ever sold for publication (of
any length)?
SS: The Shape-Changer’s Wife, my first novel.

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RLM: What does your writing process look like (from first inspiration to
finished product)? And how many hours a day do you spend writing?
SS: Inspiration: I have the germ of an idea and I think about it and think
about it and worry at it and put it aside and then think about it some
more until I have a pretty good idea of the story and the characters.

First draft: I usually start a new book in January and immerse myself
in it, writing as fast as I can. This stage is really sloppy, since I am
just trying to get the framework of the story down on paper. I’ll leave
sections blank, put words in parenthesis when I can’t find the one I
want but I don’t want to sit there five more minutes trying to get the
right one, and change character names and characteristics halfway
through without going back to fix previous mentions. The rough draft
usually takes four to six months.

Rewrites: I do two or three of these before handing the manuscript off
to my writer’s group and a few other beta readers. Based on their
comments, I do another pass before sending it to my editor, which is
usually no later than October of the year I started it. I will do
additional, but usually minor, rewrites at various stages in the
production process.

Hours per day: I have a full-time job, so I try to write a couple of
hours in the evening and a couple of hours on weekend days. I’m usually
happy if I can manage ten hours a week, but there are a lot of weeks
where I only manage four or five. Those weeks make me CRAZY.

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RLM: What for you is the most difficult part of the writing process? What is
the easiest?
SS: First draft is the hardest. It’s like opening a vein and dipping a
quill pen in the blood to get the words on paper. Easiest and most fun
is the thinking part before I’ve even begun writing!

RLM: What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong
influence on you or your writing?
I don’t have much time to read these days, so I have less time to find
authors whose work I love! I read mostly sf/f, romance, some mystery,
some mainstream, so in the past couple of years I’ve really enjoyed
books by Martha Wells, Ann Aguirre, Shana Abe, Mary Jo Putney, Kate
Atkinson, Louise Penny, Cheryl Strayed, Louise Marley, Kay Kenyon…kind
of a diverse list.

My biggest influences were probably Regency writer Georgette Heyer,
fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey, and Western writer Ernest Haycox. All of
them offer great world-building, strong characters, and romances at the
core.

RLM: What do you think most characterizes your writing?
SS: Strong character development. If you don’t like the main characters in
my stories, you probably won’t like the books. But I also always hope
that the writing is smooth enough and seductive enough to make it easy
for the reader to keep reading.

RLM: If someone completely unfamiliar with your writing asked you which of
your books they should read first, which would you suggest? Why that
one?
If they’ve never read ANY science fiction or fantasy, I usually suggest
The Shape-Changer’s Wife because it reads like a fairy tale, which is
something most people are familiar with, so they don’t find it scary.
Sometimes I’ll also suggest The Safe-Keeper’s Secret and its sequels,
because they too have a fairy-tale feel. Or Gateway, because it starts
out in the real world, which might help ground people who find sf/f
intimidating. If they HAVE read within the genre, I usually try to find
what other kinds of books they like and then figure out which of mine
seems closest in feel.

RLM: How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?
SS: I try not to get too focused on it, but it’s hard. Writers say that
they remember every word of the bad reviews and instantly forget all the
good ones. I’ve made a file of some of the wonderful letters people have
sent me, where they go into great detail about the reasons they like one
of my books, and I go back and re-read those if a new review has made me
feel particularly depressed.

RLM: I know you have probably been asked this before, but how did the idea
of the Samaria books first come about?
SS: It’s been so long ago that it’s hard to remember! I started working on
Archangel in the early 1990s, and at that time there was renewed
interest in angels in popular culture. A pagan friend of mine talked a
lot about angels; a friend had an encyclopedia about angels that she
would share with me; Touched by an Angel was on TV. I mean, they were
part of the zeitgeist. Meanwhile, I was in a community choir and we were
singing Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” so that marvelous choral music was in
the back of my mind and sounded exactly how the angels would be singing.

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RLM: Who is your favorite character from any of your books/stories and why?
SS: Probably Senneth. Because even though she has so much power, she is
sometimes frighteningly vulnerable. And because she is fighting so hard
to do the right thing. And because she will go to any lengths to protect
the people she cares about. And because she has the coolest friends. 🙂

RLM: How about your least favorite character?  What makes them less
appealing to you?
SS: Coralinda Gisseltess. Because fanatics are always scary to me.

RLM: What do you do to improve your craft (besides constant writing)?
Conferences? Classes? Writers’ Group?
SS: I think constant writing is a big part of it. Constant reading is also
essential (which is why it makes me so sad that I don’t have much time
to read these days!) I also like to read interviews with other
writers—that always gives me insights.

I do belong to a writer’s group. I don’t know if belonging to a group
improves my craft, but it sure improves the final outcome of any book I
write for publication!

RLM: You’ve recently entered the trend of writing about
werewolves/shapeshifters. How do you think your shifter books differ
from the many others on the market?
SS: I think in most of the other shape-shifter books, the shifters have
supernatural powers (strength, speed, healing, etc.) and my characters
don’t. For my characters, shape-shifting is more of a
liability—something they have to work around or even conceal. It puts
them in danger. It means that they, and the people who love them, are
always afraid, even of the most ordinary interactions.

RLM: Though most of your books have an element of romance, they don’t
feature the graphic sex included in the majority of mainstream romances
(both paranormal and straight fiction). Why did you decide to take this
more discreet route when writing about the relationships between your
characters?
SS 🙂 I write the kinds of books I’d like to read. With some exceptions,
I don’t particularly enjoy reading graphic sex. It makes me happy to
know the characters are having great sex but I don’t really want the
details.

RLM: Still Life with Shapeshifter is your latest book to hit the shelves. If
you had to do it all over again, what would you change in it?
SS: This may seem weird, but once I’m done with a book, I never think about
it again. I mean, I DO think about it—if I’m writing a series, I’ll go
in and look up some detail in a previous book, and sometimes I’ll even
pick up an old book and reread it just for pleasure. But once it’s done,
I never do any mental editing. I don’t think about things that I did
wrong. I know JK Rowling is now wishing Hermione had ended up with Harry
instead, but I just don’t have those same sorts of revelations about my
own books.

RLM: Give me a weird or fun fact about one of your books/stories.
SS: I think of Wrapt in Crystal as a Western. The hired gun is imported by
the equivalent of the rancher’s association to stop the bad guy from
shooting up the town. He has a relationship with the powerful town
madam, and the local cowgirl has a crush on him, but he falls in love
with the cool and collected rancher’s daughter. At the end he rides off
into the sunset.

RLM: Sum up what you’ve learned as a writer in four sentences or less.
SS: You’ll run out of enthusiasm and inspiration by the end of chapter
three. Keep writing anyway, or you’ll never finish anything.

RLM: What’s next on the horizon from Sharon Shinn?
SS: This fall, the third Shifting Circle book comes out. It’s called The
Turning Season. Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Royal Airs,
which I’m tentatively calling Jeweled Fire. That ought to be out in
2015. I’m working on a graphic novel with First Second—I’ve turned in
the script and we’re just beginning the art phase. No idea when that one
might see the light of day but so far it’s been loads of fun.

To learn more about Sharon Shinn, visit her website.

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