Sunday, March 18, 2012

Interview with Shannon Muir

Tell us about you.
I'll be as brief as I can but this will be a challenge for this question. I originally started becoming interested in writing when my elementary school teachers wanted to feature my work in the major exhibition they had at the Pearl City mall in Hawaii when my Dad was stationed there in the Navy - I had a poem featured in 5th grade and a short story in the 6th grade. In particular, we wrote stories in class from our spelling words every week and my teacher read the best ones to the class, and I constantly got picked. That was why I started writing, when I saw that people of authority respected what I did. This course I stayed with all the way through undergraduate college where I got an undergraduate degree in English-Creative Writing.

But that's only half the story of myself as a writer. As a teenager, I fell in love with the idea of writing for animation. I don't know how I figured out you didn't have to draw to write for animation. Over my teenage years, I began to build correspondences with a couple of professional animation writers who gave me feedback on my ideas for the series they were on, and eventually became equipped with sample scripts and bibles to begin to understand show development. Our local university - where I started taking classes my senior year of high school - wasn't equipped for doing animation but one of the instructors had experience working in Los Angeles as a writer and I did several directed studies with him in live-action writing to learn basic craft while also getting an undergraduate degree in Radio-TV Production and Performance.

In 1996, I moved to Los Angeles, where I came to learn over time that working in animation production was as fun as the writing, and I worked on several series over the years. A Japanese company looking for Western writers gave me the chance to write several television scripts for them that were translated back to Japanese for a series called MIDNIGHT HORROR SCHOOL, that never really found a niche in the US. I would be contracted to write two textbooks on the animation industry. Meanwhile, in the background, I never quite let my creative writing go. Since 2005, I took on the challenge of doing and completing National Novel Writing Month ("NaNoWriMo") to keep from getting rusty. The majority of those first drafts comprise what will be books in the Willowbrook Saga, which started off with the release in February of 2012 of EVERYTHING CHANGES. I finally started releasing these for two reasons: 1) with the expanse of indie self-publishing, I had more control about content and release; 2) having found myself unemployed for a stretch of time, it became a way to stay active and hone my skills while finally being able to devote the time needed to edit and package the material.

Tell us about your book.
EVERYTHING CHANGES starts off the Willowbrook Saga, a series of books that follows two young women as they grow up from the late 1990s through about present day. Willowbrook, a fictional town in eastern Washington State very loosely modeled on where I grew up, is a place where a past of agriculture and pioneer medicine collide with a town moving forward in state of the art commerce and healthcare. With the changing times have come changing ideas that lay hidden in the dark for many years which these two families will begin to bring to light. The struggles they face both privately and publicly become the bedrock the story is built upon.

What inspired you to write this particular story? 
I initially came up with most of these characters when I was a lot younger, and still living in the town that inspired Willowbrook. Over the years I've continued to grow and expand their world, and with my own maturity has come the ability to explore larger themes about family, relationships, and expectations. As I mention in the book, I don't necessarily agree with everything that this Saga will cover, but part of the journey of writing is going outside of our comfort zone.

What can readers expect when they open your book? Give us something that isn't on the book blurb.
Upon opening the book, readers will find one young woman named Angie who suspects her life isn't normal but doesn't quite know in what way dealing with the ramifications and fallout when tragedy makes her suspicions apparent. The choices of her older sister in the wake of these revelations affects her existing friendships, revealing what really matters. She also makes a new friend, Cherie, who it appears has a wonderfully stable home but as the Saga progresses it will be clear that Cherie's family has it's own problems that Angie may not be immune to.

Where do you get your ideas?
I'll see something go on around me in real life, maybe something on the news, or sometimes just off the top of my head. Usually I'll wonder "what if?" or "why is that?" about the subject or situation, then I'll totally take that kernel of whatever it is and then twist it however I need to explore what I find fascinating about it. It's never a matter of taking something "from the headlines" and changing the minimum amount needed to tell something. It's got to be my take, my angle, on it.

Who is your greatest inspiration?
This is always a complicated question. I definitely have respect for the writers who have helped and mentored me over the years, including the instructor I mentioned from college who passed away several years ago. Looking over my whole life though, my greatest inspiration I think would be my Dad. Even when he needed to be critical of my writing, he helped me grow. He taught me a lot about standing up for what you believe in, integrity and staying the course, stuff I've had to do a lot over the years.

Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite author of all time is J.R.R. Tolkien. I really enjoy reading science fiction and fantasy, though I tend to primarily write about contemporary real-world fiction. My thoughts are that since I both live in this world, and write to explore our world, reading then becomes escape to other worlds. I've tried writing science fiction and fantasy, but there is a lot more involved because of the world building needed to make a completely new society credible, so ultimately I end up doing less of it I think.

What is your current project?
At the time of this interview, my major project is to keep the Willowbrook Saga in full motion. Book 2, DOWN TO THE ROOTS, I am looking at a May 2012 release; Book 3, FILL THE INNER CIRCLE, most likely will be in July 2012, and is the first manuscript originally drafted in National Novel Writing Month.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
I feel my greatest accomplishment has been to be able to experience doing so many things - fiction, poetry, animation scriptwriting, and the textbooks - and enjoy doing it all. If you have a choice, it is best to not do something that you don't enjoy.

Have you experienced any setbacks for your writing along the way? If so, will you share with us.
Most of what I'm gravitating towards writing is in a field where it is highly competitive anyway, in a time where getting in with traditional publishers is getting harder and harder. The Willowbrook Saga in particular is an example of this, as I've had first drafts of later books in the series around for years but due to job restrictions as well as the market was never in a position to try and market them. Once I became unemployed and a new job wasn't calling for some time, indie self-publishing became the way for me to remove the barrier and feel productive. I made some mis-steps for sure with my earlier books, but everyone does as they learn. A plus from doing the books however was that they became a calling card for my formatting expertise and I have made some money formatting other people's ebooks who are also good seasoned writers but new to the ebook arena. I still have some setbacks to overcome as I make all my own covers, and while better than some, I know they don't quite stand on par yet with top-notch materials yet - which may turn away some people from looking further. I'm hoping that the more I learn, the better I will get, since I do have the basic skills. It's about looking for the silver lining.

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?
When I was a teenager first making contact with animation writers, one of them told me in the first letter she ever wrote me that succeeding as a writer was a matter of "persistence, luck, and talent," with the last being talent and know-how to grab new opportunities as they arise. Years later, in an online column I did for a website called Digital Media FX, I also addressed someone who thought it was more fate (meaning the opportunities drop in your lap) than luck (which to me is more a matter of those opportunities coming along and you need to know how to grab them). So my biggest advice would be to grab opportunities, no matter how small or even if on the surface they don't seem directly on the path you are trying to go. See what you can take from every experience to see how you can make it strengthen your writing life.

Are you a panster or a plotter?
If I understand your question, which I think is asking do I fly by the seat of my my pants or outline first, it actually has varied based on the book. In truth, even the ones I have outlined generally seem to morph a lot along the way when it comes to my self-published books. When I've done books for others, like my textbooks, in those cases I do hold fast to the previously agreed on roadmap. In indie self-publishing, I have the power to change my mind if I see a better way.

Tell us 5 random things about you the person, not the author
1. : My favorite foods are Mediterranean but I've never visited that part of the world, much less Europe.
2. : I've worked on television series geared at every age group except adult prime time.
3. : I was the founding host of a program called WOMEN OF JAZZ on a 10,000 watt jazz station during my undergraduate college years, but I still struggle with public speaking.
4. : I was not born in Cheney, Washington (on which Willowbrook is loosely based) but proudly consider it my hometown; I was actually born in southern California.
5. : I'm still struggling to learn to cook, and some days see parallels between the "recipes" for successful writing and cooking.

Where to connect online

What format does your book(s) come in?
 Kindle and epub for most titles, a few Kindle only, and a few in print 

Where to buy
Amazon
Smashwords