Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.
Today’s guest is Shannon Schuren, author of The Virtue of Sin, releasing June 25th. Her short stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Big Pulp, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and The Binnacle Ultra-Short Edition, among others
Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?
Two, actually. The first was a vacation to Koreshan State Park in Florida, which is the site of an abandoned Utopian community. Many of the buildings are still standing, and I wandered around the grounds and took a lot of pictures and made notes for a story idea which I filed away and promptly forgot. Then a couple of months later, I had a very vivid dream that ended up becoming one of the first scenes in the book. It wasn’t until I was almost through the first draft that I found those old story notes. Of course, the plot of the novel bears almost no resemblance to that original idea, but the roots—closed community, cult leader, toxic patriarchy—are all there.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
Lots and lots of brainstorming and writing. And rewriting. And rewriting again. Honestly, I had a very hard time nailing down this plot. In fact, I originally thought the story might be dystopian. I abandoned that idea early on, mostly because the thought of building an entire society was too overwhelming. Little did I know that creating my own cult was going to be almost as hard!
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
The story changed from draft to draft. But I didn’t a firm plot in mind when I started writing. I began with the spark of an idea and a couple of characters, and just wrote. Had I plotted first, it might not have taken me so many drafts, but then I wouldn’t have had the fun of unraveling those plot twists! Lucky for me, I also have a fantastic editor who has a gift for zeroing in on the important plot points.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
Ideas come to me frequently, but whether or not they are novel-worthy is another question.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I do struggle with this. I’ve even started the wrong story a few times, only to abandon it a few weeks in. I’m learning to listen to my gut and go with the idea that I am most curious about. That’s usually the one that is going to keep me entertained and yield the richest story.
I have 5 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?
Up until this week, the answer was no. But we just adopted a kitten for my daughter’s birthday, and he is serious and adorable and quite curious about everything, so I foresee a writing buddy in my future!