Interview with Linda Johns, Authorlink.com, Fall 2004|
Authorlink: What was it like to take Enna, a supporting character from The Goose Girl, and turn her into the main character of her own tale? Did you feel you already had a good grasp on her from her friendship with the princess?
Shannon: I did have a good idea of her from Goose Girl, but of course, characters always evolve, especially when you allow them the center stage. It was great fun, like visiting old friends. It was also very stickyóI knew readers would be attached to the characters from the first book and have a very specific idea of how they thought they should turn out, but I had to tell the story that felt just right to me.
What drew you to Enna in the first place?
Ani, the protagonist of Goose Girl, was a challenge to write. At first she was so timid, withdrawn, sheltered, and she had to struggle to face head on her adventure and succeed. It was important to me to tell Aniís story, but afterward I longed to write someone very different, someone who would seek out problems, dive head first and worry later, someone with astounding self confidence. Enna, though she had a very small part in Goose Girl, stepped forward and demanded attention. I thought she would be fun to writeóand she was! Though, of course, her story ended up different than I imagined initially. They always do.
What are the different challenges you faced with your two fantasies Ė one a retelling and one an original tale? Did you feel there were more constraints with a retelling?
Not as much as you might think. Before I write, I have a slim outline of major story events, whether I come up with those on my own or repurpose them from folklore. That part of writing isnít the hardest part for me. No matter what the story is, making it work on the page that is the struggle. I mean, every single sentence has to work. Every word! Who chose this crazy profession anyway? Even so, Goose Girl did require more drafts, more initial thought, more care, mostly because it was my first visit to the world it is in and first introduction to the characters, but also in part because it was important to me to deal justly with the tale.
Ennaís power with fire is intriguing as she struggles to control it. Itís as if the power is outside her and within her simultaneously. How did you flesh out this conflict so that readers can empathize with Ennaís inner struggles and how she deals with the outside world?
Very carefully! It took many drafts before I was satisfied with it. Ennaís relationship with fire rode on the back of her own character arc, which is the essential oil of the story. I felt like I was wrestling with the power of fire along with her as I tried to get her story told. It felt tricky to have a main character who makes mistakes and does some bad things, too. I want to have a protagonist a reader can empathize with, but also tell a true story. Perfect heroines with only the best intentions and best outcomes ring false, besides being a boring read.
Did you face any struggles of your own when writing some of the darker, violent scenes of battle and fire? Or the romance?
When I was writing the first draft, I had to leave Enna captive in a tent for months while I returned to edit Goose Girl. My thoughts kept returning to her in sympathyóIíve got to get her out! It was such a relief when I could return to that book. Yes, the violent scenes were hard for me. It is a balancing act to know how much detail to put into describing death and war. I certainly didnít want to let horrific detail overwhelm the story. Thereís no need, to my mind, and I donít enjoy reading gratuitous detail. At the same time, I want the war to feel real to the reader and to be honest about itóitís not just a hero-making device but a devastating fact. Iím terrified of war, and I felt it would be deceitful to candy-coat it, present it as fun and adventure and no more. As for romance, there were two scenes that really made my heart thumpóone with Finn, one with Sileph, but both in tents. A lot of tent time in this book! They were fun to write.
What draws you to writing fantasy?
I like to read fantasy. When I was a kid, I got a bored with books like "Mandy Moves to a New Town" unless it was "Mandy Moves Objects with her Mind!" I was thinking, "Yeah, yeah, girl gets her period and is embarrassed, but doesnít anyone have ESP?" Iíve never grown out of my love of fantasyógood fantasy. Iím not sure why. Maybe I should ask a therapist.
The worlds you create seem grounded in emotion, so that even in the fantasy world, the reader feels comfortable. Enna is multidimensional, but she also feels familiar, like a friend. Could you comment on how you create and then grow your characters?
Thank you. My hope always is to write a book that is a story about real people and that even readers who say ďI donít read fantasyĒ will enjoy. I feel like my characters grow organically, though I certainly employ my fair share of authorial manipulation. Initially, I have a vague idea of them, and then I start writing to discover more because I believe a character is what she does. I need to see what she says and does before I know her fully. My characters develop tremendously in rewritesóyou might not recognize some of them in my first drafts. When I feel uncertain about one character, I write a scene between her and another that I know well. Ennaís and Razoís relationship was very clear to me, very easy. He wasnít originally going to be in this book, but I liked him so well with her he just slipped in, and Iím so glad now. I canít imagine the story without him. I often know my characters best by the relationships they have with other people. Thatís a very grounding examination for me in character building. I never base characters on real people, but I often base relationships on reality. Ennaís and Isiís relationship, for example, is modeled on my relationship with my best friend, and facets of my relationship with my husband make it into all the romantic relationships I write.
What advice do you have for fantasy writers in terms of plot and characters?
Advice, huh? Well, itís tempting to let the fun, fantastic details pull you away from the characters and the core story. But whether youíre writing fantasy, mystery, contemporary, teen angst, Christian, horror, or any other subgenre of ďstory,Ē every story should feel real, plausible, at hand. I write fantasy because I think in fantasy and love reading fantasy, but I donít think of myself so much as a fantasy writer as a storyteller. We tell stories, we let the characters express themselves. Whether they do it in outer space or high school doesnít always seem relevant. So I suppose my advice would be, whatever you write, just tell the story. At least, thatís what I guess. Really, I donít know enough about anything to be doling out advice.
Can you talk a little about working with your editor to polish and tweak your work? (Anything you might want to say about collaboration, revising, or working with a critique group?)
I love my editor! A good editor is worth her weight in gold, and double that if sheís petite. With this book, I sent her my fifth draft, and we spent a year going back and forth every three months or so. At each reading, she would send me a letter detailing her thoughts, and as the book improved, the letters got shorter and shorter. Sometimes she just confirms for me a problem I suspect, which is always helpful, but other times she catches things I would have missed. She never tells me exactly what to change or how to do it, but points out a draftís weaknesses and then is always available to bounce ideas off of. How lucky am I? I seriously owe her a foot massage.
Anything I should have asked?
My hair color is natural, but I did just add highlights.
Can you comment on your next project? Any other news or anything you'd like to share?
Iím currently in my fifth draft of Princess Academy, a YA fantasy unrelated to Goose Girl or Enna Burning. After that, Iíll be returning to Bayern because Razo has a book of his own. Heís such a good kid.