Writing Superheroes: Shannon Selin

Is that Audrey Hepburn in War and Peace? No it is a superhero! Read on and find out more…

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If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

My writing originates from reading – as soon as I could, as much as I could, wherever I could. My dad was a history teacher, so our house was filled with books, and our small town prairie library was my home away from home. At school, I kept a novel open inside my desk to read when the teacher wasn’t looking. I loved reading so much that I always assumed I would write my own books someday. Early efforts included a book of poems for my parents when I was about six years old, and a fable about how the skunk got his stripe when I was seven. Once I grew up, the need to make a living and raise a family had to come first. So I worked at jobs that involved a lot of non-fiction writing, and continued to write creatively on the side: poems, short stories, plays and novels (at least seven of them, in various stages of completion). This was all necessary practice. Fragments exist in dusty boxes and inaccessible computer files.


All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.Shannon_Selin

The person all the neighbours think is a gardener, but really just enjoys being outside and eating fresh berries and tomatoes.


Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My husband. He makes me laugh, he removes all doubt, and his hugs ease all pain.


Where do you get your superpowers from?

Reading, my dad’s love of history, and the good fortune to have been born a writer.


Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

A study in the basement, next to the laundry room, carved out of a space the former owner fitted out as a second kitchen. My filing cabinet sits in the space between the cupboards where the stove used to be. Plants. Computer. Pens and paper. Lots of books. Dictionary with spine coming off. Large print of Napoleon dictating his memoirs. Kid crafts. Vacuum cleaner. Rubber duck.


What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

Jogging, swimming, cycling, reading, and lots of research. Since I use only actual historical characters in my fiction, I try to ensure that what I write is true to their personality, as best I can discern it. Wherever possible, I let them express their thoughts in their own words.


Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

An airy white gown with an Empire waist. Something that lets me fit into the early 19th century when I travel back there. Think Audrey Hepburn in War and Peace.


What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

Perfectionism. Wrestling with a scene or a phrase long past the point where it’s doing any good. Also, getting lost in the research. And finding enough time to keep up with writing both my fiction and my weekly history blog.


What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

Perfectionism, as per the point above. I am my own worst critic. I finally decided to say “it’s good enough,” and tell myself I can make the next novel even better.


What important lessons have you learned along the way?

Just sit down and write. You will make mistakes. Learn from them and keep going. Some people can be nasty, but many more are kind. There are a lot of Napoleon fans out there.


What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

Meeting descendants of the characters in my novel, and putting them in touch with one another. Visiting Malmaison and Fontainebleau, where Napoleon used to live. Discovering that our local university library has a letter written by Napoleon, and being able to hold it. Finishing the novel. Seeing the book in print for the first time. Hearing from readers who love it.


If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

I wouldn’t change a thing. I had to go through everything I went through to have produced the book I did.


What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

Be what you want to become. That clears away all the excuse-making.


Napoleon_in_America_cover_lowresTell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

Napoleon in America imagines what might have happened if Napoleon had escaped from exile on St. Helena and wound up in the United States in 1821. It’s based on the legend behind Napoleon House in New Orleans. In the words of a reviewer, it’s “a fantastic read for fans of French history and those who like ‘what if’ kind of stories; any fan of Napoleon will want to read this, too, and imagine a world where this might have happened. Those new to speculative fiction should give this a try – it’s dangerously addictive!”


What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

I am writing the sequel to Napoleon in America, which continues Napoleon’s North American adventures. I also blog about Napoleonic and 19th century history on my website. Sample posts include “Pirate consorts: Marie and Catherine Villard,” “How Pauline Bonaparte lived for pleasure,” and “What did Napoleon like to eat and drink?” I’d be delighted if your readers wanted to check it out.


Thanks for the fun interview, Maria!




 You can find Shannon at:

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