Kathleen McClure writes character-driven sci-fi and fantasy for fans of out-of-this-world adventures, featuring tarnished, wise-cracking heroes readers love to spend time with. When not writing, parenting, or experimenting in the kitchen to varying degrees of success, she creates themed displays using the rainbow flamingos in the front yard. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, The Longest Shard.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Longest Shard is about.
From the beginning, my elevator pitch for Shard was, “The Shawshank Redemption meets It’s a Wonderful Life.”
What inspired you to write about someone who spent six years in prison for a crime he didn't commit?
As both reader and writer, I’m fascinated by characters, and that includes where they’ve been, what they’ve done, which lives they’ve touched.
Whether someone comes to Shard as an established Gideon Quinn fan, or is dipping a toe into the world of Fortune for the first time, Shard gives the reader a deeply personal view of Gideon’s journey through the crucible of the Morton Barrens, and how that journey helped form the man who emerges onto the stage of Soldier of Fortune.
Tell us more about Gideon Quinn. What makes him tick?
A sense of constant outrage tempered by an appreciation of the ridiculous, all overlaying a gaping need for family.
Why do you write sci-fi and fantasy? What drew you to the genre?
I think it’s in my DNA. I don’t remember ever not being a huge sci-fantasy geek, the swashbucklier the better.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Not too much of a secret, but I was a theatrical fight choreographer in one of my prior lives. These days, when not writing, I force new neural tracks to form by creating tableaux with a set of yard flamingos.
The Longest Shard is part of a series. Can it be read as a standalone?
Yes! Because it is, first and foremost,The Shawshank Redemption meets It’s a Wonderful Life.
How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
While this book delves into a specific time in Gideon’s life, several events in Shard have been alluded to in the Gideon Quinn Adventures. And because I love connections, every single book in the world of Fortune carries at least one of several threads weaving through the other stories. A reader doesn’t have to catch the thread to enjoy the book(s), but if they do, it’s just that little something extra.
Have you always known you wanted to be a writer? What inspired your debut?
I was telling stories in my head from very early childhood (sci-fantasy of course). In fact, I often got in trouble because I would be living quite fully in those stories during school hours—but it took until after my kids were born and a friend convinced me to join Nanowrimo that I figured out I could tell those stories to other people.
It wasn’t a quick process, as one might guess by learning that first Nano was in 2004, and I didn’t publish Soldier of Fortune until 2015.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
All the time.
And ninety-nine point nine percent of those times, the character’s right.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plan your entire story out before writing, or does some of it just "happen" along the way?
I have tried both, with varying levels of success/stress.
At this point, I’d say my brain tends towards a hybrid approach. My best, most organic work, happens when I’m writing from the character’s point of view, discovering the story through their lens.
That said, I do like to give the character, and the story, a little structure to jump off from, so I often have at least the bones of the plot and the world roughly sketched out.
This is the most arduous for new characters in newly created worlds, because it takes me time to grow a place, and to populate it, but eventually it gels, and I can slide in more easily.
Your readers say that your books are fast-paced, keeping them riveted throughout - how do you pull this off?
I am so glad to hear them say that!
Partly I think it’s the deep point of view thing. If I’m fully immersed in the character as I write, there’s a better chance the reader will also be immersed, which keeps them turning the pages. Following that, I have gotten better at editing the non-essential bits.
I’d also be remiss in not mentioning the value of beta readers. Mine are AMAZING, and were especially helpful in finessing Shard’s timeline, so a lot of applause due in that direction.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
That’s tough, because for me, I don’t “start” new books, per se, not like taking off cold from a starting line.
It’s more that, no matter what book is in progress, I’m always thinking about all of my characters, and what they might have to face next. And since all that thinking includes noting down ideas (or bouncing them off my partners, if it’s a co-written book), by the time one novel is off to the editor, the next is already forming on the page. It’s a constant cycle, so I’m hardly ever faced with the complete void of “oh no, what do I write about now?"
Do you have any interesting writing habits?
Well, I’m one of those writers who prefers to draft in longhand. I find it soothing, and easier to slide into the story. I also, when there’s a deadline looming, have been known to hide in the back seat of my car to get the job done. It’s a strange and miraculous location, but only really useful during the temperate months (I live in Texas).
What is an average writing day like for you?
I don’t have an average writing day. I’ve tried, but Life has other plans, so I write when and where I can (and assiduously avoid the internet, which is where dreams go to die).
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently working with one of my partners, Mr. L. Gene Brown, on The Libra Gambit, which is the second of our Zodiac Files spy-fi series. We’re posting that on my website, a chapter a week. Once it’s finished and gone through formal editing, we’ll remove the book from the website and officially publish it.
While that’s happening, I’m sussing out the foundations of Fortune & Glory with my other partner, Kelley McKinnon, and my next Gideon Quinn novel, Fortune’s Architects.
I am also, very slowly, building out the world of an urban fantasy series I’m looking forward to living in for a while.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
For the moment, all my novels can all be found on Kindle, but the web-novel, The Libra Gambit, continues to be posted weekly on my website kathleen-mcclure.com. The website is also where people can find my dream casts (the actors I’d love to see play my characters on screen), deleted scenes, and random short fiction. I’ve even started posting recipes from MacGuffins’ (a tea shop in the Fortune novels that features such dishes as Man in the High Cassoulet and You’re Going to Meet a Tall Dark Ranger cookies). I don’t have much of a presence on social media, but can be reached via the contact page on the website.