13 September 2006

Author Answers with Shanna Swendson

Shanna Swendson is this week's featured author.

She's the author of Enchanted, Inc., and Once Upon Stilettos. Her third book in the Enchanted series is due on shelves in April 2007. She's also written some essays in anthologies about topics from Battlestar Galactica to Pride and Prejudice. For more about her, check out her website.

WN: What's your writing process like from when you first had an idea to getting the novel published?
SWENDSON: It sometimes takes a long time for me to go from having an idea to actually writing a book. Usually, there's some spark of "what if" that goes off in my brain, but there's not enough to it to get an entire book out of it. That idea may later bump into another idea fragment in my head, and then if that happens enough times, eventually I've got something I can work with.
In the case of Enchanted, Inc., the initial spark of idea was that I wanted to read something that did for adult life and the corporate world what the Harry Potter series did for school and teen life. I couldn't find anything much like that, so I realized I'd have to write it. Meanwhile, I had this really old idea fragment in my head that had been searching for a story for years. Ever since my first visit to New York, I'd wanted to write a book that was an outsider's perspective -- a Southern belle from a small town taking on the city. Usually stories like that involve the small-town girl being overwhelmed by the city and how tough and mean it is, but my experience had been the opposite. The merest hint of a drawl and I could get anything I wanted there. The book ended up not quite going in that direction, but it did merge the idea of someone working in magic with my old small-town girl in New York story.
Once I have the basics of the idea, I do more focused brainstorming about what will happen in the plot, what kind of characters there might be, what problems the main character will have, what ideas and themes I want to deal with. I do some research into any specific subject matter I want to address (for these books, I read books on the business world, office politics and dealing with difficult co-workers) and visit the locations. After I have all that, I outline the plot and start writing.
With that first book, I wrote a full manuscript before I started looking for an agent. Now that I have an agent and publisher, I generally write three chapters and a synopsis, then when the publisher makes an offer and we go to contract on it, I write the rest of the book. I go through two major drafts, with some minor revisions in in-between drafts along the way. Usually I write the whole book, tinker with it a while, and then my agent tells me what's wrong with it, so I then go and rewrite a lot of it, then tinker some more before turning it in.

WN: Your Enchanted, Inc., novels are largely fairy tales - what's appealing about fairy tales to grown-up readers?
SWENDSON: I think a lot of adults -- particularly those who enjoy reading fiction -- have never really lost that child-like sense of wonder that makes them want to believe in extraordinary things. Meanwhile, as adults we know how tough the world really is, so it's nice to escape for a little while to a place where you can get what you want with the wave of a hand. I do have a little fun spoofing some fairy-tale conventions (in the third book in the series, I take on fairy godmothers), so I'm putting my own twist on fairy tales. I like playing with the idea of how some of these fairy tale things I sometimes catch myself wishing for would really work in real life.

WN: You've also written some essays on topics from Battlestar Galactica to Desperate Housewives... what are you discovering about pop culture from looking at these shows with a critical eye?
SWENDSON: The sad thing is that I've always looked at pop culture with a critical eye. I spend way too much time on Internet message boards dissecting TV series, analyzing their plot elements and themes, figuring out which archetypes the characters fit, and stuff like that (I really need a life). I do all kinds of literary analysis on TV and movies, just for fun. I somehow managed to luck into a situation where people are willing to pay me to do that. It's kind of cool to be able to start considering your hobbies -- the things you'd be doing anyway -- as a valid part of the workday. When I started working on the Battlestar Galactica essay, I'd jokingly moan, "I have to go to work now," as an episode came on, although I was actually eagerly anticipating it.

WN: What is your favorite word and why?
SWENDSON: I can't think of any particular word that sends me into raptures. If you ask the copy editors who work on my books, they'd probably say my favorite word is "just." I do a global search for "just" in every manuscript and eliminate it except where absolutely necessary, and the copy editor can still usually find it four times in a single paragraph.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
SWENDSON: That's another impossible question! When you read as much as I do, it's hard for any one book to have that much impact. It's more of a cumulative thing.
I'm also terribly fickle. Something may really set me off for a while, until I find the next thing.
If I absolutely have to choose something, it would probably be The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (or if I can't choose the whole series, The Silver Chair, since that's the first one I read). That series really sparked something in my imagination and made me want to tell stories like that. I read those when I was in sixth grade, and it was like someone flipped a switch in my head that turned me into an aspiring novelist. The books themselves weren't necessarily inspiring or life-changing in and of themselves, but the experience of reading them really did something to me, so I guess you could say they were life-changing.

WN: If you got stuck on a desert island with one of your characters, who would you want to be stranded with and why?
SWENDSON: Owen Palmer, from my Enchanted series. He's a super-powerful wizard, so he'd be very handy to have around. Plus, he's very cute and quite nice, so he'd be pleasant company. With a lot of uninterrupted time together, I might even be able to eventually figure out exactly what makes him tick.

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
SWENDSON: I know I should probably say something inspirational about never giving up or writing from the heart, or something like that, but the most helpful advice I've ever had as a writer was to make a list of twenty things when you're brainstorming a book, a chapter, a scene, or whatever. There's something about pushing yourself to go all the way to twenty that forces you to be creative. I've found that the first five things I come up with are the things that have to happen to keep the story moving, and the last five are the things that really make the scene come to life. That's become an essential part of my writing process, and it's a sure cure for writer's block.


Stacie Penney said...

This is a fab interview. That last question really is going to make me think.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Great interview!

Joshua Grover-David Patterson said...

I seem to recall you were looking for authors to interview. These are the names that come to mind, though a few of them are probably tough to get an interview with these days (or on these topics):

Neil Gaiman
Stephen King
Rob Thomas – before he created Veronica Mars, he wrote five books, two great, two good, and one just kind of okay. I highly, highly recommend Doing Time. However, I have my doubts he’d want to be interviewed about the books.
Max Brooks – wrote The Zombie Survival Guide and War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Joss Whedon
Brian Michael Bendis – (Hey, they write comics. Doesn’t that count?)
Chuck Palahniuk

Trish Ryan said...

Great interview - I love the "20 Things" suggestion. Am writing myself a post-it to try that when I get home :)

Also, the global search for "Just" is a fabulous idea. I should probably also do one for "like" and "really"!