Look out for part two, which will include a review of One Wrong Move, an excerpt, and Shannon is giving away TWO prizes. A copy of one of her books at each blog stop on her tour, AND a grand prize giveaway of a Kindle Touch! This is not to be missed.
Shannon McKenna is the NYT bestselling author of over ten action packed, turbocharged romantic thrillers, among which are the stories of the wildly popular McCloud series. She loves tough and heroic alpha males, heroines with the brains and guts to match them, villains who challenge them to their utmost, adventure, scorching sensuality, and most of all, the redemptive power of true love. Since she was small she has loved abandoning herself to the magic of a good book, and her fond childhood fantasy was that writing would be just like that, but with the added benefit of being able to take credit for the story at the end. Alas, the alchemy of writing turned out to be messier than she'd ever dreamed. But what the hell, she loves it anyway, and hopes that readers enjoy the results of her alchemical experiments.
Has living in Italy, and being surrounded by its beauty and joyous people inspired you towards any particular character in the McCloud Brothers series. If so, who?
First, before I answer, let me say thanks for your awesome lead-in, Sandra. I am just as appreciative in my turn, for the chance to hold forth about my books and myself on your lovely blog. You ask about hearing a snippet of my music? I have one all ready for you, on Youtube. This is a piece I recorded some years ago, when I sang with an Italian early music group called Calixtinus. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9llHfVBo_Ek&feature=relmfu And as far as putting me on the spot, hey, go ahead! Singers love the spot. It’s their natural home! But on to your question, about Italy and the McCloud series. The character that Italy most directly inspired would have to be Bruno’s Calabrese aunt, Zia Rosa. Zia Rosa is a composite of women I see all around me every day, and so is her awesome culinary ability, God bless her. (Lip smacking sounds.) Forget your hoity toity haute cuisine on big blank white plates drizzled with streaks of vary-colored sauce—I’ll take a big old cheap crockery plate of Nonna’s parmigiana, cooked with the family’s own olive oil, with a fragrant round of fluffy, crunchy, golden focaccia and a bottle of home-made red wine. (Wow, I'm thoroughly impressed, Shannon. You have a lovely voice and I so enjoyed listening to you sing! Thank you for sharing.)
People often ask why I don’t set stories in Italy. ULTIMATE WEAPON does have a very long sequence set in Italy, which was great fun to write, but in general, I tend to avoid Italy as a setting, because I know Italy really well after living here for so many years. Italy has such a powerful personality, it would be like introducing an intrusive character into the story, like a nosy mother-in-law. Italy does not stand passively back to be a graceful, sexy background setting. Italy gets in your face, and makes itself loud and ridiculous and charmingly obnoxious. Like Zia Rosa. Not quite right for the suspense genre, somehow. I can mix in Italy only in small doses.
How did the McCloud Brothers series come about? By this I mean, when you wrote the first book Behind Closed Doors (I was hooked from this one), had you planned on it being a series?
No, actually, at that point I was really innocent about all the tricks of writing romance. I just wanted the lonesome, brotherless, bereaved Seth to have a little help and someone else to relate to other than the heroine, so I thought I would introduce the FBI partner of Seth’s murdered brother. And then I gave that guy some brothers of his own, just for some texture, some snappy banter. And then, those guys started getting interesting to me. But at this point, I would do it deliberately, because I really like revisiting characters that I have already met and grown fond of, both as a reader and a writer. (I for one am so glad you did!)
As far as your characters names are concerned, how important are they to you? Do you match what you perceive to be a perfect name to the character you have within your mind?
I flail around before I find a name that feels right to me, and it would be hard to describe why one name seems better than another. I tend to prefer traditional names rather than fashionable names. I avoid what I think of as “romance hero names”, like Chance, Chase, Drake, Dirk. I also try and pick names that seem appropriate for the period of time that the character was born. You won’t find any of my heroines named Maddison, Britney, or Scout, or any of my heroes named Aiden, Brayden or Jayden. Those names say “little kid” to me. With my latest heroine, I went back and forth on Nina for the longest time, afraid it was too nasal, too “neener neener” sounding. But I kept coming back to it for some reason. So I finally just made an executive decision and stuck to it. Nina she was, for good or ill.
What about your titles? Do you think of them before the book is written, or after?
I have never named one of my books, not a single one! My editors have never liked my titles, but in all fairness, I never really liked my titles either, so thank God I have gotten help with that.
How much time, approximately, do you spend on research for each book?
Not as much as I probably should! I did loads of research for the first book, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. All that spy stuff was hard! I was on the Internet for weeks, studying various espionage devices! And I did quite a bit for the second one, too, learning about Erin’s archeological specialty of Bronze age jewelry and all that. But once I had book contracts and deadlines, I got scared and ended up concentrating desperately on just getting the stories down. Then I research all the details later, after I’m sure there’s a thru-line, beginning to end.
Your books not only incorporate romance (beautiful, hot and sensual romance), but you have a high amount of suspense, which at times has me in knots making me revert to the bad habit of biting my nails. I find that you really give your all, making sure that every aspect of a fight scene, a hostage scene or whichever one you are depicting is absolutely believable. Do you find any of these scenes hard to write?
I’m thrilled that you find them believable! I must admit, the action and fight scenes are by far the hardest for me, because I don’t know how to fight, so I have to painfully imagine the dynamics of the conflict, blow by blow, and then after I’ve seen it all the way through, describe it in a way that seems smooth and fast and dynamic. I go over those scenes over and over and over. Same with the guns and combat hardware. I don’t really know much about that stuff, so I often consult a dear friend of mine who is an awesome consultant, both on modern and historical weapons and warfare of all kinds, might as well plug his site right here: http://adamfirestoneconsultant.blogspot.it/ He is a gold mine. Actually, he is more like a fire hose of information. Check out the current blog post, about the soldiers of the Napoleonic wars. So, anyway, thank God for Adam, my weapons expert, sine qua non.
Can you share with us what a typical writing day is like for you, and when or where you write? Are pj’s sometimes part of your dress code?
PJ’s would definitely be my writing uniform of choice but for one thing—before my writing day can start, I have to deliver my children to their scholastic destinations, so I am forced to make myself decent. Before I had children, I would spend all day in my jammies. I’m trying to institute this new practice of getting up super early and writing before my family wakes up, but so many things can derail that—vacations, jet lag, late nights, sick kids, insomnia. I hope to get into a rhythm soon, since the school year is about to start. My ideal day would start at 5AM, so I can use that pure silent hour at the beginning of the day when the airwaves are not jammed and nobody is bugging me and the phone does not ring. I won’t even touch the computer, so as not to be lured by the Yahoo headlines, or the blogs, or the email accounts. I’ll just sit in my squishy chair and scribble into my notebook for an hour. Then there’s the lather of getting all the kids to school, and usually the errands and shopping happens then, and trying hard to get home in time to have a proper chunk of time for the next writing session, mid morning to midday. Then there’s lunch, which is sacred here in Italy, although I miss the time-saving American days of a quick sandwich. Then there’s another small chunk of time before it’s time to go get the kids at school, and that’s it, for my writing time. My friends who are mothers of older children tell me I’ll have all kinds of time to myself again, once my kids reach the stage where I’m so uncool, they can’t even talk to me. Do I look forward to that day? Hard to say. Depends on how much sleep I’ve gotten. One bummer I have discovered about the early morning writing is that it totally nixes the mellow adult evening TV or movie time, and I really love movies and those awesome TV series that they make these days. (Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, Heroes, Prison Break, True Blood! Awesome!) I really love filling my creative well with cinematic stories, but it ain’t happening if I have to get to bed by ten. Sigh. Life is a series of tradeoffs.
Do you ever set goals on how much you would like to write on any given day?
Oh, always! I am so envious of those prolific types who can pound out five thousand words a day! I think that I should be capable of doing two thousand, at least, but I unfortunately have this quirk that I have to handwrite first. I can’t compose directly onto a computer. I have to rough a scene out in ink before I can sit at the computer. So it’s like I have to write everything twice! To say nothing of the hundreds of revisions! Gah! Whine, whine, whine.
What would you say is the hardest part of writing for you, if anything?
Ahhhh. Your next question was ‘what is my favorite part,’ so I am going to combine these two answers into a single, seamless rant. (It’s your own fault, Sandra! You got me started! I love to hold forth about my artistic process!)The best part and the worst part are two sides to the same coin, like so many other things are. I tend to see the whole world this way, and certainly my own self. My best qualities are also my worst qualities. The best part of being a writer is because being a writer is like being a reader with a brand new book you’ve just got your hands on. There is that delicious thrill of knowing there’s a story to discover, and you have no idea how it’s going to go or what you’ll discover or the way it’s going to make you feel, and it’s this tingling, ticklish, marvelous feeling of infinite possibility . . . which is the same for the book you have not written! Who knows, it could be a masterpiece! It could be genre defining! A crashing colossal bestseller for which you will be loved and revered for all time! Generations to come will read it! College courses at Harvard and Princeton will be based upon your body of work! Grad students will write their thesis on your . . . oh, stop it, Shannon. Get over yourself.
And on the dark side, there’s the cringing fear that this time it’s going to be piece of absolute steaming crap, and that just because you’ve done it before is no guarantee you can do it again . . . in fact, you’ve almost certainly lost your mojo this time, you’re burned out, circuits blown, well bone dry, and you were probably only a one-book wonder after all—or a ten book or hundred book wonder, depending on where you are in your career. It makes no damn difference. The fear is the same, of being judged and found wanting. So much of the process has to be faced through this debilitating fog of fear and self-doubt. What a stupid drag. What a waste of energy. How I wish I could trick myself into skipping that part. It’s just dumb. Every day’s writing is all designed to find a way to short circuit that fear and just get to work and write anyway.
But for those brief, fleeting times that I get into the right headspace where it flows, and I’m not blocking myself, it can be the most wonderful feeling on earth. This excitement, the wondering where it’s going to go, the surprise, the discovery. I’m grateful to be doing something that is constantly challenging me.
I have quite a few ‘favourite’ authors, authors whose books I will read time and again, yourself included. Who are some of your favourite authors, and are there any particular genres you enjoy reading?
There are so many. Where do I even begin? I love historicals, fantasies, sci fi, as well as romance. I have even loved some Westerns, like Lonesome Dove. I’ve read the Tolkien trilogy, Jane Eyre and the Anne of Green Gables books more times than I can count as a child, and I keep rereading them as an adult, too. I love Guy Gavriel Key, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Thomas Perry, Stephen Hunter, Lee Childs. In terms of romance authors, the most important for my formation and discovering what I really liked in a romance novel were Elizabeth Lowell (remember the “Only” books, anyone?), Jayne Anne Krentz in all her many incarnations, and Linda Howard. Anne Stuart and Lisa Kleypas came later, but I enjoyed them just as much. I read lots of Georgette Heyer as a girl. And I just love, love, love the Diana Gabaldon books, both the Outlander series and the Lord John books. I just read The Hunger Games trilogy, and enjoyed it hugely. (The movie, too! I was in America when it came out, and I was so excited to be able to see it in English!) I’m a Harry Potter freak. I was a voracious reader before my kids were born, reading four or five books a week. I haven’t had that kind of time since I became a mom, but bit by bit, I’m carving out a little time here and there. On my last plane trip to see family in America, I actually managed to read a book on my Kindle while my kids both watched movies. I am so excited for the beginning of this new era! I read a debut novel by S.G. Redling called “Flowertown,” a gritty futuristic style thriller. Absolutely fabulous, I highly recommend it.
Shannon, I’ve read on your site that you will one day write a book about your adventurous life, and you have said that it would be a sharp-edged comedy. What do you think would be an appropriate title for it? We won’t hold you to it!
I’ll confess—the ridiculous title I came up with years ago is a play on the title “Under The Tuscan Sun.” I fantasized about calling my book “Under the Puglian Thumb,” just for fun. But I’m in no hurry to write it, now. I’ve relaxed into Italy a lot more now than in the old days, so the way things are done here no longer baffle or annoy me quite so much as they used to. The process of living as an expatriate is a process of constant surrender. Once I realized that Italy was way bigger than me, and that nothing here would ever change just because I didn’t approve of it, I started to relax. (With a few exceptions. Don’t get me started on the post office. Or on Southern Italian drivers.) Besides, I’m not really a memoir kind of gal . . . I’d rather write more sexy thrillers! (I agree!)
What is the one thing you would like to share with authors whose work is rejected by publishers time and again?
I would remind them (though it never helps much) that the opinions of the people reading the slush pile are totally random and arbitrary. And that many people recently have self-published their rejected manuscripts and made real money at it. Some huge piles of money. Some, a decent living. Some, their gas or grocery money. All of those options are fine. I would congratulate them for having seen something all the way through to the end. I know how hard it is, to thrash through something and then put it out there for the world to judge. I would remind them that they are heroes, to be brave enough to do that, and to keep doing it in the face of rejection. And I salute them for it.
Last, but not least, is there anything you would like to say to your many, many fans?
Oh, yes, you bet there is. I want to say, thank you, for receiving my stories and making them part of your imaginary landscape. What a strange and crazy miracle that is, that I have met hardly any of you in person, and yet we all have this intimate connection. I am honored to have been read by you all.
Shannon, thank you. It seems inadequate, but for the life of me, I can’t think of anything else to say. Actually, I can, lol, because after receiving your replies, I sat here laughing. To achieve the right dose of humour in books, the author has to have a pretty good sense of it too and you do. It totally comes across in your answers. Thank you!!
Thank you right back, Sandra! It’s been wonderful to visit your blog!
Thank you right back, Sandra! It’s been wonderful to visit your blog!
YOU CAN READ AN EXCERPT, MY REVIEW AND ENTER FOR SHANNON'S GIVEAWAYS, WHICH INCLUDE BOOKS AND A KINDLE TOUCH HERE!