Who is that behind that mild mannered dental hygienist exterior? Read on and find out more…
If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes?
Oh, for that we must go way back. The seeds were sown long ago. Opening scene: We see a girl of 9 or 10 being tucked into bed for the night. Mother turns out the lights and exits, closing the door behind her. All is quiet in the dark room while we hear Mother’s receding footsteps in the hall. Then, there is a rustling as the girl fishes beneath the bed for something. Presently, we see it is a flashlight, which she switches on. The girl then takes a book (probably “Black Beauty”) off the nightstand and excitedly ducks under the covers with it. Fast forward to the next morning: the girl is asleep, the book is splayed open on the bed, and the flashlight batteries are dead, dead, dead. Take away point: An early love of reading fiction set the stage. Discovering Jane Austen decades later finally started me writing it.
What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?
Yes, they’re still around but, sorry, not much blackmail potential left. The first novel I wrote (The Darcys of Pemberley) was published in 2011. So it’s already out there for the whole world to see.
All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.
I’ve employed a variety of secret identities over the years to disguise my super-hero-ness. “Domestic goddess”, of course. Then there’s “Floss Lady” (the unassuming local dental hygienist), which gave me the added advantage of being able to hide behind a mask part of the time. “Mom” was a bit riskier, since (as anyone who’s tried it knows) the multi-tasking required to pull off this role implies that there surely must be super powers lurking just below the surface.
Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?
My fellow writers, and – dare I say it? – the voices in my head. Other writers, such as yourself, seem to have (and stand ready to generously share) impressive superpowers which I do not possess, chiefly advanced technical know-how. As for the voices in my head, they generally know where the story is going before I do. They are maddeningly stingy with this information, however, dispensing it on a need-to-know basis. That means I get only a bit at a time. They keep me guessing. They keep me inspired. They keep me writing so that I can find out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!
Where do you get your superpowers from?
No clue. It’s a beautiful, cosmic mystery.
Where is your secret lair, and what does it look like?
When I find myself in between missions, I like to hole up at a deluxe log cabin deep in the country where I have a special room I euphemistically call “my studio” (translation: my eldest son’s bedroom, which I appropriated for my own use the day he left for college). There, surrounded by books and art supplies of every description, stacked an average of 18” high, I am literally immersed in creative clutter. I hide from the world (or at least from housework), I recharge my batteries, and I plot my next move.
What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world-saving form?
I find regular power walks, frequent flights of fancy, and gourmet chocolate in moderation very helpful. Okay, so the chocolate doesn’t really even have to be all that “gourmet” and “moderation” is a completely relative term.
How do you insure that your superpowers are used only for good?
Following Jane Austen’s example, I always insist on a happy ending to my novels. As she said in Mansfield Park, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.” No matter how much trouble comes their way, the good guys always win in the end.
Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?
It’s a shape-shifter sort of ensemble that allows me to blend seamlessly into any situation in which I find myself. Wearing it, I can mingle equally well among peasants or royalty, listening in on their conversations and collecting information for my next book. BTW, the suit comes with one other useful feature. I ordered the 20/20 option – guaranteed to remove 20 pounds and 20 years from the slightly-past-her-prime wearer. It cost a little extra, but well worth it.
What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges you are faced with in your writing?
The insidious nature of various important but ancillary tasks (bookkeeping, social networking, research, promotion) that sometimes get in the way of doing the actual writing. Hmm. Maybe I should inquire about adding a time-expanding or self-cloning feature to my superhero suit. That should do the trick.
What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?
My current novel (The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, set to debut this summer) features Jane Austen herself as the heroine, drawing a parallel between events in her novel Persuasion and a previously unknown romance in her own life. What threatened to derail me were certain facts about her life – ones I wanted to find out but couldn’t, and also ones (such as her early death) which didn’t match up with the story I wanted to create for her. Then it dawned on me! It’s a novel! By definition, that’s fiction. Ergo, inconvenient facts may be willfully disregarded as necessary! Problem solved.
What important lessons have you learned along the way?
Lesson 1: You don’t have to worry about following trends or pleasing all the people all the time. You just need to reach out to the group of readers (and they are out there) who do connect with your stories and writing style. Lesson 2: If you’re passionate about what you’re writing, that will come through to your readers. If you’re not, they’ll know that too. So write what you love. Lesson 3: Writing fiction is the perfect cover for a person who has only a tenuous grip on reality and who likes to listen to the voices in her head.
What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?
Holding the first physical copy of my first published novel is pretty close to the top of my list. I also love doing book club appearances, and I had a great time at the JASNA AGM last fall. But I think the best moments have come via hearing directly from readers who have taken the time to let me know how much they liked one of my books. That never gets old. It’s always amazing to learn that something I’ve created has given hours of enjoyment to a total stranger. And now that person isn’t at total stranger anymore, but someone connected to me by a shared experience.
If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change
The only major change I would make would be to start writing sooner! Actually, I don’t regret my years spent doing dental hygiene. It was a great career for while I was raising my family. Now, it’s a wonderful gift to have been given something new and interesting to do at this stage of my life, something that has finally tapped into all my stores of creative energy. Writing is hard work but it’s very rewarding. I’m having a blast!
What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.
If writing (or you name it) is your passion, you should set aside time to do it, whether it pays off financially or not. But unless/until it does pay off financially, “Don’t quit your day job!” Creative work of any kind is a labor of love, but most people don’t make a living at it. I’ve been pretty lucky, though. When I started writing, I really didn’t expect it to go anywhere. I did it mostly for my own amusement. I told my husband it was my new hobby, and, when he caught me “wasting time” at it again, that he should be glad it was at least a lot cheaper than my previous hobby (reminding him of an embarrassing but mercifully brief period of insanity distinguished by bouts of compulsive shopping on e-bay). The fact that writing has turned into a legitimate second career for me is just a fabulous bonus. BTW, my husband has stopped asking me when I’m going to find a “real job.” Now that the royalty checks are arriving on a regular basis, he asks instead when I’m going to finish another book. Yay!
Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.
Hmm. “New” and “get it now” don’t work together for me. The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is new and exciting, but it isn’t out quite yet. I hope you’ll read Return to Longbourn (my newest book that is available) in the meantime. I’m thrilled with the way it turned out, and it has received excellent reviews! It’s my P&P sequel that follows after The Darcys of Pemberley, this one focusing on Mary, Kitty, and the new heir to Longbourn – Mr. Tristan Collins, the younger, far more appealing, brother of William Collins (deceased). It started as a classic love triangle before veering off in an unexpected direction. Thanks to those wonderful voices in my head that I mentioned earlier, the plot got a lot more complicated (and a lot more fun!), taking a distinctly Jane Eyre sort of turn. Think Mr. Rochester. Need I say more?
What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?
I’ll be writing several segments for the Persuasion 200 Project over at our Austen Variations blog in the coming months. I also have a contemporary novel that needs a little reworking, which I will be getting ready for publication. And then I have plans for a short story anthology. Killing off Mr. Collins (immortalized in my short story Mr. Collins’s Last Supper and in the opening chapter of TDOP) turns out to have been one of the most popular scenarios I ever wrote. Some people have even thanked me for doing it. Everybody seems to agree that Mr. Collins must die, but people have a variety of vision as to how it might play out. In my story, he chokes on a mouthful of mutton, proving that gluttony can indeed be a deadly sin. But other authors picture it happening quite differently. So I thought, why not give the people what they want? – an entire collection of creative ways Mr. Collins might have met his end. It will all be very tongue-in-cheek, you understand, so don’t pretend to be so shocked. Remember, HE’S NOT A REAL PERSON. And anyway, I don’t have a mean bone in my body… honest… just a slightly sardonically funny one.
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