The Serious Questions
I’ve always loved books, and I’ve always entertained myself by making up stories in my head. When I was about 12, I realized that if I wrote down the stories in my head, I’d have a book. That was when I decided I was going to be an author.
Tell us about your current work in progress.
I’m currently working on book 3 in the Fairy Tale series. I’ve written a draft and am now working on revisions.
What do you do to cure writer’s block?
I make lists – lists of things that can happen next, lists of what’s going on with each character, lists of what the villain wants. Eventually, this either untangles the problem that’s blocking me or sparks a new idea.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m kind of both – the worst of both worlds! I can’t start writing a book without having at least a basic outline, but then I never know what a book is really about until I’ve written it, and then I end up doing a lot of rewriting to fix it. But it varies by series. I was much more of a plotter with the Enchanted, Inc. series and with my steampunk book, Rebel Mechanics. These nicely followed my planned outlines, for the most part. The Fairy Tale series is a lot more nebulous. I can’t even seem to tell what’s really going on until I’ve written a draft, and these books defy outlines. I can’t see the end until I’m almost there, and I can’t seem to do any kind of detailed outline more than a few scenes ahead.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I usually disconnect my laptop from the Internet (I know I don’t have the self-discipline for Wi-fi) and go somewhere else in the house to write. I have to have a cup of tea. When I’m writing a draft, I reward myself for each page with a dark chocolate M&M. That’s how I can see my progress – I count out M&Ms for my page goal for the day, and I let myself stop writing when the M&Ms are gone.
What is your favorite book? What about favorite book to movie adaptation?
It’s hard to pick a single favorite book, but the one I usually come up with is To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny but still kind of serious science fiction novel about chaos theory, as seen through time travel, but it’s also a Victorian comedy of manners with a dash of mystery and romance. Every time I read it, I want to crawl inside it.
Probably my favorite book to movie adaptation is Stardust, based on the Neil Gaiman novel. I loved the novel and dreaded the movie because I wasn’t sure they could do it justice, but it’s now one of my all-time favorite movies, and I watch it at least once a year. It’s very rare for me to love a book that much and love the movie even more.
What was your favorite fairy tale as a child (or maybe it still is!)?
I’ve always loved the Cinderella story. I like that out of all the fairy tale heroines, she’s the one who goes out to get what she wants. Plus, there’s a makeover. It’s a very hopeful story, with the idea that no matter where you are in life, you can rise above it (and then the people who were cruel to you will be sorry).
What is the best piece of writing advice you NEVER followed?
I can’t think of anything. I’m usually open to trying just about every bit of advice at least once to see if it works for me.
Tell us about your journey to publication. What was it like?
I’ve had a very up and down career. I’m one of the lucky few who sold my first novel, to the second publisher I sent it to. I sold four more books pretty quickly. It seemed so easy! And then I hit a long dry spell, during which I couldn’t seem to sell anything. I tried so many things, sent so many submissions to editors and agents. I was getting pretty depressed and found it discouraging to even try writing. But then I was at a conference and chatting with an editor, and I mentioned this wacky story idea I had that I was afraid no one would be interested in. She got really excited, gave me her card, and said she wanted to see it. So I went home and wrote the book that became Enchanted, Inc. That editor didn’t buy it, but it ended up selling to Random House. But then after four books, they didn’t want any more in the series, and I thought it was all over. I wrote more books and proposals that didn’t sell. The Japanese publisher of the Enchanted, Inc. series asked if there would be more books, so I wrote more for them, and my agent convinced me to self-publish them in English. That started my career up again, and it meant that when I couldn’t find a home for the Fairy Tale series, I just self-published it. Meanwhile, I sold a young adult steampunk book that’s coming out this summer in hardcover. So you can never rest on your laurels in publishing and feel like you’re set for life, but at the same time a setback doesn’t have to mean it’s all over.
This series came from an image I had pop into my head of a woman in a rather retro flowery dress walking a bulldog down a city street and disappearing into the mist. I came up with a couple of different explanations behind the image and wasn’t entirely happy with any of them. Meanwhile, after my publisher quit buying Enchanted, Inc. books, editors who loved the series were asking to see something else from me, but they weren’t happy with anything I sent, saying they wanted something more like Enchanted, Inc. I revisited that mental image, and this time I found the story in it, with some similarities – the small-town girl from the south in New York – but with a different mythology, drawing on fairy folklore. It starts as essentially a Tam Lin story about rescuing someone from captivity by the fae, but with sisters instead of lovers. The primary heroine is a ballerina, which sounds unlikely, but dancers have to be incredibly tough and fit, so they should actually make great action heroines. I’ll admit I was also being a bit snarky because I was creating a story that couldn’t use the stereotypical urban fantasy cover of the tattooed chick in black leather. Instead you get a dainty, very feminine ballerina (who just may be tougher than most of those urban fantasy chicks. She’s just more polite about it). This series has been very tough to write, but I love the characters and their world.
The Random Questions
Chocolate for eating, vanilla for scent
Dinos or dragons?
What psychic power would you want?
Telekinesis – move things around with a thought. That should make housework easier.
Favorite Disney character?
I’ve always been a bit in love with Prince Philip from Sleeping Beauty
Somewhere with trees, water and hills or mountains, for a lot of hiking during the day and sitting by a fire and reading at night.
Tomatoes: Fruit or veggie?
I know they’re technically fruit, but I use them as a veggie.
Morning Person or Night owl?
Neither, really. I can’t stay up late enough to count as a night owl, but I don’t get up early enough to be a morning person.
Favorite Book Ever:
To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis
Favorite Movie Ever:
The Princess Bride
Music Earworm of the Moment:
I sang a solo in church a week ago, and that song is still stuck in my head, driving me crazy.
Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about. Her contemporary fantasy Enchanted Inc. series has been published around the world. She just launched a new contemporary fantasy series, beginning with A Fairy Tale, and her young adult steampunk fantasy Rebel Mechanics is a July release from Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers. She’s also contributed essays to a number of books on pop culture topics and spends too much time discussing television on the Internet. Visit her web site at www.shannaswendson.com.