by Amna Gillani, South Asia Blogger jaBlog!
Sharon Shinn is an American science fiction and fantasy author. I recently got the chance to interview Sharon about her writing style and the perks of being an author. Describing the bittersweet journey of a writer, she is a really inspiring personality who has great tips for us junior authors. She is the author of several series and stand-alone novels and has won awards such as the William L. Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel.
To start with, for someone who hasn’t read your books, can you tell us a little about your books and their intended audience?
About half of my books are alternate-world fantasies and half are science fiction (though not very heavy on the science!). They tend to be very character-driven, so if you don’t like the people, you won’t like the books. I think of them as escapist fiction—something that sweeps you away into a different time and place so you can forget about real-world problems for a while—but I do include some serious themes. For instance, a lot of my books explore what it means to be different in some fashion. I tend to feature strong female protagonists and I generally include a love story.
I don’t usually write with a specific audience in mind, though several of my books were published as Young Adult and most of them are suitable for a YA audience. Judging by the mail I get, about a third of my readers are teenage girls, a third are women of all ages, and a third are men.
Do you base your characters on real people? Is there a favourite character? Why?
I don’t base whole characters on real people, though I often will incorporate characteristics of people I know, or even actors and actresses that have a look that seems to suit a character I’m writing about. For instance, I had Naveen Andrews in mind when I was writing the character of KetDu’kai in General Winston’s Daughter. In the Elemental Blessings books, the character of Queen Seterre is somewhat based on a woman I used to work with…but since it’s an unflattering portrait, I’ll never say who!
As far as a single favourite character…oh, I’m not sure I could narrow it down! But I admit to a great fondness for the whole group of six in the Twelve Houses series. Those are the ones I would probably most want to hang around with, except that they’re always getting into trouble.
What are the best part and worst parts about being an author?
There are a couple of best parts. Coming up with an idea and figuring out how to make it work—solving a specific plot problem in a way that feels elegant or fun—that can produce a state that’s close to euphoria. That’s one of the best parts.
The other best part is meeting fans at conventions or getting letters from readers who tell me how much my books have meant to them. Some of them will talk about a specific time when they were enduring illness or a bad breakup or some other stress, and my books helped get them through. Those moments are really awesome and make me feel like I’ve done something that truly mattered.
The worst parts…slogging through the middle of a book when it’s not going very smoothly. Some days the writing just flows from your fingertips like it’s being dictated by a brilliant wordsmith. Other days the words come out syllable by syllable, letter by letter. Being 50,000 words into a book that I know will be 120,000 words or more can be a fairly daunting place to be…I know there is SO MUCH MORE work to be done. But I remind myself that that’s how I feel every single time I write a book and once I make it through to the end I’ll be really happy.
Do you think all your hard work paid off? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
You know, there was a time when I wasn’t sure all the hard work was going to pay off. I’d been writing pretty steadily for 15 years before I sold anything, and I started to think writing was just always going to be this weird little hobby that took up all my free time and didn’t offer much in return. But once I sold my first book, I kept on selling, and I realized that those early years were NOT a waste of time. They enabled me to become a good writer, a good storyteller, and someone who understood the process of how to actually finish a book. I’ve now sold more than 25 books, so I think I’d have to say the rewards have been worth the work!
In ten years…I don’t know. I’d hope to have sold ten more books. I don’t envision too many other big changes—for instance, I don’t think I’ll move to Hollywood and try to start writing movie scripts. So I would expect the next ten years to be pretty similar to the last ten. Which is not a bad thing.
Do you carefully plot your books or do you go with the flow? How does this affect your editing process?
I loosely plot, though I generally don’t write outlines or synopses unless my publisher asks for one. Mostly I keep major plot points in my head, then I start writing on page one and aim for the first major plot point. And once I reach that one, I aim for the next one.
But serendipitous moments will occur and I always stay open to those. “What if SHE went to the house instead of HIM? What if he DIDN’T fall into the ocean?” What happens most often (to me, anyway) is that minor characters who are just there because I need someone to open the door suddenly become more interesting. They end up with detailed backstories and their personalities have some influence on the outcome of certain scenes. I’m always delighted when someone else in the book steps up and starts waving his or her hands.
My editing process is always pretty extensive anyway. I tend to write messy first drafts—I’ll change characters’ names, hair colours, ages, personalities, motivations halfway through and not go back and revise anything until the whole book is written. To me it’s pointless to revise early scenes until the first draft is done, because things keep changing as I progress. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I can see more clearly how all the early details should fall, and then I go back and clean everything up.
Got any advice for the aspiring writers out there?
Keep reading. Pay attention to how other authors use words, tell a story, touch your emotions, and keep you turning pages.
Keep writing. Don’t just write when you feel inspired, because inspiration will only take you so far (like, less than a chapter). Commit to finishing a book, and then finish it, even if you hate it sometimes (and you’ll probably hate it sometimes).
Find some critiquers. These should be people who love to read, who have a sense of grammar, and who will tell you the truth, but in a nice way! They should offer constructive criticism that actually improves the book, rather than saying “I loved it” or “This sucked.”
Don’t get discouraged. It can take a long time to write a book, and it can take an even longer time to find a publisher. You can’t guarantee that you’ll sell a book just because you write one (or two or ten), but you can guarantee that you WON’T sell one if you never write one.
Find your own voice. Write what YOU would want to read. Always do it for love, instead of money. And once you’re successful, try to reach back and help other people who are just getting started down the same path.
If you have never read any of Sharon Shinn’s books, Amna recommends starting with the novel Summer at Castle Auburn.