Shawnee Small calls herself a jack of all trades, but has certainly mastered the art of writing wonderful new adult urban fantasy. Since she published her first book Watcher, it has made Amazon's bestsellers list, including #1 in New Adult/College Fantasy, #1 Paranormal Suspense and # 1 in Urban Fantasy. As our author of the day, Small chats about how much blood, sweat and tears go into writing a book, talks about her days in the goth scene and reveals how Poesy Wharton was not initially planned to be the main character in Watcher.
Please give us a short introduction to Watcher
Watcher is the first book in my new adult paranormal series, The Shining Ones, which takes place on Tybee Island, Georgia.
The main character, Poesy Wharton, is a small town waitress whose life is predictably normal until a stranger named Adam Walker drifts into Paddy's Bar and Grill where she works. Unable to resist his quirky, English reserve and the strange tingling that plagues her every time they touch, she finds herself drawn to Adam even against the advice of her two best friends, Birdie and Haylee Jane.
When bad things begin to happen including the brutal murder of another local waitress, Poesy finds herself caught between the man she wants and a secret world that could take away everything she knows and loves.
Watcher was your debut work, what was the experience like?
Equal doses of euphoria and hysteria.
I'd written a slew of short stories both in college and while active in the UK goth scene in my 20s and 30s. But a novel is a very different beast. An 80,000 word manuscript is a daunting task, and if you've never written a piece that long, it's easy to lose sight of things that a more seasoned writer may already have under his belt.
As an example, Watcher was originally 128,000 words in its first draft. By the revised edition, it was right around 80,000 words. I got caught up in the psychological numbers game thinking, "How on earth am I ever going to get to the end?" In reality, authors end up putting in filler that ultimately has to get ripped out. We sweat out blood and tears to write the thing then end up throwing half of it away. Some days I think it's a sign of madness, but you never stop learning from your mistakes. It's humbling.
You used to live abroad. How did that inspire you to write urban fantasy?
Even when I was little, I was absolutely fascinated with everything English. Castles, ruined abbeys, monsters, misty countryside with faerie woods, and tales of druids and stone circles. That whole pagan element utterly enthralled me as a kid. I don’t think it was surprising at all to my family when I got my English Literature degree and then moved there. England just resonated with me. The culture, the people, and the land. An understated resilience that no matter what happens, things carry on as they always have. Plus, you can’t help but appreciate the mysticism that is pervasive in just about everything.
Tell us a bit about the Goth subculture of the '80s and '90s. In which way has that time affected your writing?
I think being in the goth scene at that time taught me two fundamental things – what it meant to be an outsider, but also paradoxically, what it meant to belong. Unlike today, goth wasn’t mainstream. It didn’t show up on TV shows like CSI or in stores like Hot Topic. It was fringe for the most part. You walked down the street and people stared or shouted abuse. So you stuck together. And in doing so, you became part of something bigger than yourself.
Yes, there are the subculture parts like the music, fashion, and literature. Everything black. Embracing the sublime. Having an appreciation for the darker side of life, and things that lurk in the shadows. But beyond that, for me, it was really about a sense of unity and being okay with being different. I think that probably bleeds over into my work.
Why did you pick a small town as the backdrop for your story?
I grew up in one. I understand the quirks. Small towns are fascinating in how they work, how people commune with one another. There is an intimacy to a small town that can’t be replicated in a major urban environment. A small town has a personality of its own that is reflected in the actions and attitudes of its inhabitants. I especially love small Southern towns for their deeply entrenched traditions and social hierarchies.
Let's talk about your main character, Poesy. How was her character conceived in your mind? And did she turn out exactly the way you imagined her initially?
This is the first time I’ve said this, but Adam’s character came first. In fact, when I began writing Watcher, it was supposed to be Adam’s story and was told from his point of view. But as I started writing, I felt like I couldn’t write from a male perspective, and that he’d end up being very effeminate. It caused me a lot of initial angst.
Poesy came after watching too much Dr. Who. I wanted Adam to have a companion like Rose Tyler. Working class and resilient. Somehow relatable. As I started to flesh out her character, I quickly realized that her story was taking over. So I went with it.
Ultimately, I think Poesy has turned out the way she needed to be for the story to progress. Looking back, it’s hard to say what my expectation was. Watching her change as the story gets darker - I’m okay with where she’s going. What’s happening to her is brutal. She doesn’t always make the right choice, but she’s human after all. We all have flaws. She’s no different.
Poesy’s friends, Birdie and Haylee Jane play an important part in this book. Why did you find it important to place so much emphasis on their friendship?
Family is what you make, not necessarily what you’re born into. A lot of us can relate to this. Just because you share blood with someone doesn’t necessarily mean you share a bond beyond that. It’s like that for Poesy.
Her mother, Ellie, killed herself after Poesy was born, her grandmother who raised her has died, and her father, Joe, is estranged from her. She is effectively alone.
Except for Birdie and Haylee Jane. The three of them have stuck together through everything to form a family. Those bonds are strongly forged because they aren’t together out of some sense of familial obligation. They are together by choice. That’s pretty powerful.
You published Protector (Book Two) only in February, even though Watcher first appeared in February 2012. Why this long hiatus?
I get asked this question a lot. Especially by readers who worry about how long they may have to wait to get a series ending. The short answer is that I had some major health issues that needed to be sorted out. Added to that, I re-wrote large chunks of Watcher, which then meant I had to throw away the half of Protector I’d already written. Neither of these things was pleasant. I lost a lot of time that was beyond my control, and had to make peace with that. The good news is that my health has recovered, and the rest of the series is happening very quickly. Betrayer should be out January 2017. Destroyer, the final book, is scheduled for June 2017.
Does it ever happen that, while you are working on one book, the idea for the next one starts nagging at the back of your head? If so, how do you deal with this?
Yes. And it’s a pain. I don’t multi-task series. I just can’t do it. It’s too much stuff to hold onto, and I think books can suffer for it. I know there are authors out there who will work on multiple books with multiple universes at once, but that’s not me. That’s not how I roll. I get very caught up in the world I’m creating, and there isn’t room in my brain for another one.
The problem is that the ideas still come, and they are persistent. In fact, I’m struggling with that currently. I’m signed up to write an anthology paranormal romance piece for a book coming out in April 2017. It’s only supposed to be 20,000 words, but as I start thinking about it and how it’s going to work, I get more invested in the characters, and the next thing I know, I have a 70,000 word book outlined. An unexpected novel that wants to be written. Like right now. In the middle of final Betrayer edits. It’s highly frustrating, but part of the job.
Do you have a set of rules for your world? Is there a process you go through that helps define these?
For now, I write contemporary fantasy so my job is easier than say that of a high fantasy author who is creating a massive world with lots of infrastructure and clearly defined systems for magic, creatures, societies, etc.
Having said that, and without giving too much away, I did need to create rules for the paranormal side of The Shining Ones series. It was important to me that any supernatural powers or creatures could be explained to a certain degree through current scientific theories. I spent quite a bit of time reading about quantum physics. I’m also married to a seriously brainy software engineer who reads that sort of stuff for fun. It’s not abnormal in our household to have a discussion about string theory over breakfast. In that way, I feel very lucky. I get to hash out these ideas with someone who can give me solid scientific insight. That goes a long way in making it easier and quicker to establish what is possible and what’s not in my worlds.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a veritable jack of all trades. This is both a boon and a bane as my family can attest to. I’ve been a web developer, games producer, reflexologist, massage therapist, book binder, stained glass artist, 3D cake designer, and that’s probably the short list.
What was your greatest challenge when writing Watcher?
Not knowing what the hell I was doing. Seriously. I think I was quite arrogant when I set out to write Watcher – I loved to read, I had an English Lit degree, and I’d written lots of short stories. How hard could it be?
Wrong. So dead wrong.
Writing a novel is like an endurance race, or a trial run in The Hunger Games arena, I’m not sure which. It’s not waving a magic fairy wand and “poof” you’ve written the most beautiful thing ever. My books are birthed out of sweat, tears, and too much caffeine. Half the time, I want to punch my muse in the face. Being a writer is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
What are you working on right now?
I’m finishing up on the final edits for Betrayer, the 3rd book in The Shining Ones series right now. It’ll be out January 2017. Destroyer, the final book in the series, should be released sometime around early Summer 2017.
I’m also working on a paranormal romance story that will show up in an anthology in April 2017. It may or may not spawn a standalone book for next year as well. It’s too soon to say, but I’m leaning that way.
So next year, we will definitely see the end of The Shining Ones series.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best place to find me these days is Facebook, but I’m also on Twitter, Goodreads, and my blog, which can all be found at the links below:
- Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/shawneesmallofficial/
- Twitter - https://twitter.com/shawnee_small
- Website - http://www.shawneesmall.com
- Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/author/shawneesmall
- Goodreads - https://www.goodreads.com/shawneesmall