For my first post as a staff blogger here at Luna Station Quarterly, I am delighted to present an interview with self-published author, Monica Shaughnessy, whose work spans a wide variety of areas including children’s books, YA, New Adult, and Adult Fiction, often with a science fiction or paranormal bent. When I asked Monica some searching questions about her work and her advice to new writers, here’s what she had to say …
KC: You have written in a variety of genres and for a variety of readers of different ages. Who is your favorite audience to write for and what is your favorite genre?
MS: I love writing for both adults and kids, and I don’t think I could pick between them. Same with genre. It may seem like I’m all over the place, but my projects have commonalities that may not be apparent to the casual observer. For instance, my middle grade, Doom & Gloom, and my YA, Universal Forces, both rely heavily on science and are firmly in the geek category. Doom & Gloom is superhero fiction and my other YA, Season of Lies, is superhuman fiction. I could go on, but you get the idea. Each of my books has elements of the other. So choosing to write only for one audience would kill my creativity!
KC: Your YA novel, Season of Lies, deals with the paranormal in a way – your main character has unusual gifts. What gave you the idea for that story?
MS: Season of Lies is hard to classify, isn’t it? Some have called it paranormal, some thriller, some urban fantasy. In the end, it’s about a girl born with an unusual number of receptor neurons, far more than the average human, and they allow her to synthesize sounds, smells, and kinesthetic details on a superhuman level. (ack! science again!) I first got the idea for the book after reading a poem by Rumi – “An Evolving Course.” Here is an excerpt:
So humankind is a being led along
An evolving course through this migration
Of intelligences, and though we seem
To be sleeping, there is an inner wakefulness
That directs the dream.
The main character, Robin Calloway, is part of a new “evolving course” of humans. It’s only by tapping into her inner wakefulness that she’s able to realize her full potential after, you know, solving a murder, escaping certain death, and facing her fears – the small stuff.
KC: I know you’ve been recently working on a series of novellas told from the point of view of Edgar Allan Poe’s cat and explaining (from the cat’s perspective) the inspiration behind some of Poe’s best known works. What was the inspiration for this series? How difficult was it to write from the perspective of a cat?
MS: After crafting dialogue and a number of folklore poems for white tail deer in Season of Lies, writing from the perspective of a cat was a cinch! Okay, to be honest, the Cattarina Mysteries books aren’t easy to write. She doesn’t understand most things humans say and humans definitely don’t understand her. So the story must contain several layers of meaning: what the cat knows, what the humans know, and what the reader knows (by cobbling both together).
As for inspiration, it usually comes in a flash, after I’ve stumbled upon a little known fact, a unique disease or condition, a scientific conundrum, etc. I’d been kicking around different concepts for a cat cozy when I learned that a tortoiseshell cat named Cattarina had owned Edgar Allan Poe at one time. How could I not write this story? Several months later, The Tell-Tail Heart was born. It follows Cattarina and Poe during Poe’s time in Philadelphia, and gives a fanciful explanation of how The Tell-Tale Heart came to fruition.
KC: As well as being a writer, you also offer editing services to other writers. What are some of the common problems new writers face with their manuscripts and what advice would you give someone embarking on their first novel or short story?
MS: Over the years, I discovered my knack for story construction, and I now offer developmental editing on the side. I think my sense of plotting is more finely tuned because I studied and wrote screenplays before I turned to books. If you want a lesson on structure, watch a movie. Novelists may disagree, but when you only have 120 pages to move your character from Point A to Point B, you have to be tight, tight, tight. As for beginners, the most common mistake I see in plotting is lack of focus. In other words, the story starts out as one thing, and then turns into another. Or it’s not really “about” anything. Or it starts strong, and then runs out of gas by mid-point. All of this could be helped by one thing: outlining. It’s not sexy advice, but it works.
KC: You initially embarked on a traditional publishing career and then turned to self-publishing. What are the pros and cons of self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing?
MS: I spent a lot of time running the traditional gauntlet. I’m glad I did, because it gave my writing time to mature. I think I would die if some of my early work found its way to Amazon! Yet the traditional path takes time. A lot of time. I once received a rejection TWO YEARS after submission. Having an agent helped, but that still didn’t land me a deal. So I finally decided to advance my own career, forgoing industry permission. Self-publishing, however, is not for the faint of heart. You must be a self-promoter and in some cases, a shameless self-promoter. You must be a jack-of-all-trades. You must accept risk, because there’s plenty to go around. But I firmly believe the future belongs to writers with readers – no matter the format, no matter the publisher. The faster and sooner you can gather them, the further ahead you’ll be with your career. If I hadn’t struck out on my own, I’d still be peeking in mailboxes with my fingers crossed.
KC: What are you working on now? Where can interested readers go to find out more about your work?
MS: I’m hard at work on the second book in the Cattarina Mysteries series, The Black Cats. It chronicles, you guessed it, Eddie and Cattarina’s adventures leading up to Poe’s great work: The Black Cat. I hope to release it this summer. A third book is planned, along with a visual readers guide and a short story describing the genesis of Eddie and Cattarina’s relationship. This series is my most ambitious project yet.