Shannon Schuren On Inspiration & Rewriting

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!

5 Things Not To Say To Writers... And 5 Things To Definitely Say

Last week I blogged about the first world problems of a published author. Yes, our live are pretty awesome. Are the easy? No. We’ve still got problems. They’re just not query trenches problems… and no, I don’t think any of us would ever trade it.

Today, I’d like to talk about things that are said to me… often. They aren’t bad things, or insulting things (although I do get those too, just usually not related to my writing). They’re just… things that I hear a lot, and I’m guessing other authors do, too.

Again, I don’t have a hard life. Consider this post first-world problems of a published author, part two.

5 Things Not To Say

1) You Still Publishing Books? Yes, because it’s my only form of income. I doubt lawyers, doctors, farmers or teachers are often asked if they are still in their chosen career path. But here’s the other thing - what if the author you’re talking to is on a downswing? What if they can’t sell another book and their publisher dropped them and they don’t have an agent anymore? That’s incredibly painful, and not something that’s easily spoken about.

2) How’s The Book Selling? If the author is traditional published, they probably don’t know. We typically get our royalty statements once every six months, and they cover the period of time three to four months prior to that. If they are self-published they have a much better grasp on how the book is selling, but… did you just ask how much money they make?

3) You Should Make Your Book Into A Movie. We all would if we could. A movie requires things like actors, set designers, directors, producers, recording equipment, editors, and probably a million dollars. Movie making is incredibly difficult, very expensive, and best left to the people that do that for a living. We’re writers.

4) I Have The Idea For Your Next Book. No, I have the idea for my next book. Sounds like you have an idea for a book that you’re excited about. You should totally write it.

5) I Love Your Work! I Illegally Downloaded It! Cool. What do you do for a living and is there a way I can reap all of the benefits of it without paying you anything? Let me know.

5 Things To Definitely Say

1) What Are You Working On? Authors are usually pretty happy to talk about our work in progress. This is a safe question because even if the author isn’t under contract or hasn’t sold a book in awhile - or even if they lost their agent - chances are they are still writing, and would love a chance to talk about their current project.

2) Are You Going to Write A Sequel To… Most authors are going to love the fact that you’re asking for more of their work. In my case, I get this question all the time about A Madness So Discreet. I don’t mind answering honestly - as of right now, no. This is because a sequel generally only nets about 40% of the audience of the first book, and A Madness So Discreet hasn’t really sold well enough for my publisher to green light a sequel. But - the fact that you love it makes me happy, and this gives me the opportunity to encourage you to tell your friends about it, in the hopes a sequel could be forthcoming. Word of mouth is still the best marketing out there.

3) Your Book Made Me Feel… Honestly, I love hearing this. I made you feel!! I don’t even mind if it made you angry, or sad, or any range of negative emotions. A couple months ago I had a girl walk into one of my signings and say, “Mindy McGinnis, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.” I loved it. She was seriously aggrieved with the ending of one of my books, and I told her what a huge compliment that is to a writer.

4) Will You Sign My Book? Yes. Always. Forever. Twice, if you want. I’ve had people walk up to my table with a stack of all my published titles, then apologize for asking me to sign them. Don’t apologize! This is the highest compliment that can ever be paid to me. You love my work! You bought my books! The absolute least I can do is sign them for you. Personally, I don’t mind if people approach me in public, either. Don’t hold all authors to this, but if you see me and you have a book on you (or nearby), yes, yes, I will sign it for you. Of course I will, thank you for asking.

5) You Probably Don’t Remember Me, But I Met You At… Honestly, no we probably don’t. We see a lot of faces. But, this is still an excellent thing to say to us because you’re telling us you care enough about us, or our work, to come out and see us more than once. We’re all busy. Making time in your schedule to come to an event is a huge compliment, and signings are notoriously dull for authors. If you met us before, tell us! Give us a little reminder of where, and while we might not remember you, we can probably still recall the event, and thank you for being enough of a super fan to support us by coming out for events!

The Saturday Slash


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The boys of Asotin are dying. Great hook!

The golden boy, the popular boy, the loner boy––one by one, they’re being found dead in the small Washington town. At first, their deaths are ruled accidental: nothing more than >dumb boys doing dumb things. I'd rephrase to something more like *teens doing risky / dangerous things. You've got an array of descriptors for the boys above, but are all they all actually dumb? But as more of them start dying in increasingly violent fashion, it becomes clear there’s nothing accidental about what’s going on in Asotin.

Athena Briggs knows the boys that are dying. You arleady stated it's a small town, so just knowing them isn't that indicative of an actual relatinoship. As Asotin High’s star wide receiver, she’s competed side-by-side with them her whole life. Are all the boys athletes? Even the loner boy? And as the biggest player in school, she knows most of them off the field, too. Biggest player like her size, or player like with relationships / hearts? With the athletic references that come before, it lends context to the word player, so you might want to use a different one. The first time I read it I thought this meant she was a huge hulk.

Lila Perez also knows the boys that are dying.Again, just knowing them might not need to be stated, I'd go into the how of it right away instead. As the smartest girl in the town, she’s tutored most of them at one point or another. And as someone who can’t ever leave a puzzle unsolved, she wants to know why so many of them are dying.

Athena and Lila haven’t ever crossed paths before.In a small town? And apparently they have a class together? But when an English assignment throws them together, they find out that they have more in common than they first thought––including an interest in the recent deaths, and in each other.

With the local police force completely out of their depth, Athena and Lila take it upon themselves to find out the truth behind the boys’ deaths. Soon, they find themselves emerged in the secret, privileged side of Asotin­­––one that’s far more dangerous than either of them bargained for. It’s up to Athena and Lila to bring the killer to justice, even if the lines between right and wrong aren’t so clear anymore.

IS THERE SOMEWHERE is a YA psychological thriller complete at 65,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Kara Thomas, and ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen McManus.

Overall, this is great. You've got an unlikely female crime-fighting duo, great comp titles and a good setup. Tweak some of your wording here and you're good to go!