Interview with author Shannon Leigh Rivera

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I am so excited to have Shannon with me this month because

1) she’s awesome

2) she saved me from having to come up with original content.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer.

Shannon, tell us about your ambitions for your writing career.

I am currently running a short story blog, which is super fun, but not so lucrative. As a mother of four, I would like to be able to do more for my family so I have been working hard to push out book one of my Rebels and Ruin series. Eventually, I would love to keep my short story blog running for my fans and other Indie authors (as a collaboration place), but I also want to get my first book out there. I have giving myself a deadline of 2017 to publish the first book. After that, I hope to be able to put out at least one book a year. I would also love to keep teaching. A lot of writers keep their skills and talents to themselves, but I love working with kids. They have such passion and creativity. My hope is to also keep teaching free writing workshops in the area I live in.

Awesome and noble, one of my favorite combinations. Which writers inspire you?

I grew up in the library and so I have basically read so many books that sometimes it is hard to decide which ones have really inspired me. Ann McCaffrey was one of the first Fantasy authors that I read as well as Ursula LeGuin. Both of these writers were, not just amazing storytellers, but women writers. It was inspiration for me that they were able to do what they did in a world and genre that was often male dominated. I also found inspiration in the works of classic writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mary Shelly, and Jules Verne and with more modern writers like Brandon Sanderson, Michael Sullivan, and Kevin Hearne.

Nice. So, what have you written? 

I only have one work published. The Selkie was a short story I wrote in college but never used in my writing workshops. It was an experimental piece that I entered into the Scribophile’s YA Seven Deadly Sins: Envy Anthology contest. It isn’t my favorite story, but it was a bit of a push for me, creatively, to see it published. I have another story that will be published in the fourth Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony Anthology and I also have plans to see my first full length novel published early next year. I also write short stories every week for my short story blog, sometimes in serial form and other in just stand alone. This keeps me writing on a daily basis. I received awards in high school for my writing but I did take a break from it during my time in the U.S. Navy. It feels good to be back doing what I love after a long break from it.

I can relate to that (not the Navy part, the having a passion but no time part). What are you currently working on? 

I am currently working on several projects. I have a short story series I am writing this fall which is Myth Reimagined. I am taking myths from different parts of the world and retelling them as they would be told in the Elven, Human, and Araconian worlds of my fantasy series, Rebels and Ruin. Each of these races in my book is modeled after a society in our world so it works out well for me.

I am also working on the second revision of book one of the Rebels and Ruin series. This is a seven book series that tells the story of Elves, Humans, and Araconians and their battles for supremacy over one another. It is a ‘mash-up’ fantasy series incorporating elements of modern fantasy, steampunk, Asian myth, science-fiction, romance, and action-adventure.

Sounds like fun. What drew you to write in this genre? 

What I love about fantasy, no matter the niche, is that it incorporates magical elements alongside the realistic. I could never get into realistic fiction because it felt too ordinary for me. I love the extraordinary and fantastical without being whimsical. Writing for the Young Adult and New Adult genre is more fun that the ‘adult’ genre because, while it is just as sophisticated as ‘adult’ novels, there is more of an open-mindedness in the YA/NA community. They also don’t need hard core death or hard core sex to sell the story. I think there is more of a purity of storytelling in the YA/NA world than you will find in adult only fantasy fiction.

*gets caught scribbling notes* Excuse me. That’s a very interesting insight. *puts notebook aside* Why don’t you tell us about your main character. What makes her special?

The main character in my series is an elven girl named Talshae. She is a slave for an Elven Lord named Yu Lee. She is a thinker, having been trained as a scholar for twenty years. But, she is also a spy and an assassin, trained by the rebel leader Wu Xi of the Court of the Black Crane. She leads this double life, trying to help overthrow the oppressive government in power in her country. But, Talshae hates killing. She prefers to use her mind more than her fists to get out of trouble. She has an uncanny ability to be able to find a way out of sticky situations with minimal damage. This makes her an asset to the rebel cause because she gets in and out of danger without creating more trouble.

Most people write assassins as these cold killers, but Talshae is different from other ‘assassin’ type characters in that she values life. This makes her more discriminate when it comes to completing a job or mission. She also has very few friends and so she highly values those whom she can call friend. This makes her loyal and stubbornly so. Sometimes that loyalty can get her into trouble. She is working to free her people, the faction of elves known as the Ki’taari that have been enslaved by another faction of elves known as the Dra’kar. Despite the horridness of being a slave, she doesn’t hate the other faction of elves like most of her kind do. Instead, she sees the individuals in charge as evil, hoping to take down the system with as little death as possible. She naturally tries to find the good in most situations.

What makes Talshae special is that she can see the good in others that they can’t see in themselves. She is a uniter and people naturally flock to her, but she has a hard time being a leader or being loved by others. She prefers to let others lead, thinking that she isn’t worthy of love or respect. She also has suppressed magical abilities, like most Ki’taari elves do, and this revelation forces a lot of change in her life and the life of those around her.

A shame she can’t run for president. How much research have you done for your writing?

A lot of my stories are based loosely on myth, so I have had to do extensive research into world myths over the last few years. I also do a lot of research on weapons and fighting techniques, though my time in the military helps with much of what I write. I tend to use my own knowledge acquired during my time in the Navy to help me craft more realistic stories. I worked in military intel and a lot of things that I studied involved governments and military. Having that experience means that I don’t have to do as much research on that end.

Interesting. To what extent do you try to broaden your audience? In other words, what role does diversity play in your writing process?

I am a mixed American and my children are mixed. My oldest daughters are ¼ Chinese and my younger children, from my second marriage, are ¼ Filipino and Japanese and Pacific Islander. For me, diversity is important because, especially in fantasy series, there isn’t much of that. Elves are usually European and humans are typical European, and other races are typically, yes, European. I understand the roots of a lot of these types of stories are based off of old European myths and legends, but that doesn’t mean I can’t twist the old to make something new. I wanted to create a world that I felt represented, not just myself, but my children as well. For me, making the world extremely diverse was not an option. This means, I hope, that I am able to reach out to a wider audience and include more races and religions and ideas that incorporate a wider range of views and opinions.

I like it. When you get a writing idea, what is the first thing you do with it? 

Typically I write them down in an idea notebook. If it has to do with something I am currently writing, I get it down on paper and then try to develop it a bit more (paragraph or synopsis or something along that lines.) If it is a good idea but I am working on another project, I will write it down and then come back to it later, when I am done with whatever it is I am working on.

You have more self control than I do. If you could have dinner with three authors (living or dead), who would they be and why? 

Ursula Le Guin- she is a genius and I love the way she wrote her protagonist, Ged (from A Wizard of Earthsea.) I would love to tap into her mind and ask her questions about character development and myth.

Kevin Hearne- he is a really amazing storyteller who creates some serious but funny stories. But, he is also very knowledgeable, especially with myth. I think it would be great to ask how he came up with Atticus (from the Iron Druid Chronicles). He also writes a lot about food, so I am sure we would eat somewhere fantastic.

Shel Silverstein- one of my childhood heroes, need I say more!

No indeed. Book the table with a plus one for me. Do you have a soundtrack you write to? 

YouTube channels The Prime Cronus and Versus make these killer soundtracks with emotional writing music. Most of these songs can be found in trailers or tv commercials or video games. They are my go to soundtracks for writing. In fact, they have mixes that will go on for 2, 5, and even 10 hours. I like to think of them as my accountability soundtracks. I don’t like writing with music that has words, because it is distracting.

I agree. Any tips for aspiring writers? 

Enjoy what you do. Don’t let the noise of other people telling you there is no money in writing or you will be a starving artist keep you from doing what you love. Believe in yourself, keep an open mind, and never stop learning. Writers are never done perfecting their craft, so never settle into thinking you don’t have anything left to learn. I went back to school thinking I was already a great writer only to learn I had a long path ahead of me. I realized that I will never stop learning and growing, and that was worth the time I spent in the military to pay for my degree. Write every week, but don’t be afraid to walk away from a project and get some downtime doing other things. Make friends with other writers you trust, both head of you and behind you in skill and in their careers. Be a mentor and let yourself be mentored. And most importantly, never stop writing!!

Great advice. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Shannon.

Shannon Leigh Rivera is a full-time writer, teacher, and writing mentor for middle and high school students in the East Tennessee area. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction Writing, graduating Summa Cumme Laude from SNHU in June of 2016. Not only is Shannon a Navy Veteran, she is also a homeschooling mother of four children, ranging in ages from 9 to 16.

When she isn’t teaching her own children, she facilitates a NaNoWriMo Youth writing course for middle and high school students as well as overseas and edits a youth newsletter for a local homeschool co-op. She has one story published in the YA Anthology Seven Deadly Sins- Envy and another story due out in the four Seven Deadly Sins anthology this fall. She is currently working on several projects, including Book One of her YA Asian-Steampunk Fantasy Series- Of Rebels and Ruin. She releases a fantasy story every Friday on the Fantasy Fiction Fix section of her blog as well as news, writing tips, and collaboration works with other published and upcoming authors. You can find more of her work at shannonleighrivera.com.

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