Please join me this morning in getting to know fellow Austen Author, Shannon Winslow!
Writing is such a challenging endeavor. What got you started on it and what keeps you doing it?
I’ve always loved books and reading, but I had no clue that I was a writer at heart until about ten years ago. That’s when, after becoming obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, I stumbled onto a sequel. “Yay! What could be better?” I thought. I had always wanted Darcy and Elizabeth’s story to continue. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the book was a big disappointment. It didn’t seem true to the original, and it didn’t match my vision of for what the sequel ought to be. So, I decided to try my hand at writing one that was. That’s how I got started. What keeps me going is that I’ve never had so much fun in my life! I’ve explored other creative mediums, but nothing else has ever so thoroughly captured my imagination and delighted my intellect as the challenge of writing.
What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone read them? Do you still have them?
My first serious effort at writing became my first novel, The Darcys of Pemberley. After months of work and some needed revisions, I got brave, went to a writer’s conference, and submitted the manuscript to a literary agent I met there. A couple weeks later, I got the call from New York that we all hope for. The agent loved the book and she wanted to represent me! I was an overnight success! Well, not really. It took a few more years before the book actually made it into print.
What made you choose to write in the genres/time periods you write in?
The decision to write a straight-on sequel to Pride and Prejudice naturally dictated the genre and era for my first novel. I stayed with the same for my second (For Myself Alone, an independent Austen-inspired story), because the language, manners, and sensibilities suit me. I know the Regency period was not all nobility and romance, but it lends itself well to the kind of stories I love most – those with a bit of a fairy tale quality. As an author, you can choose your level of realism more freely in a bygone era than in the present day.
I enjoy pretty much every aspect of writing, even rewrites and editing. But it’s the initial creation of the story that’s pure magic – starting off on the journey with a general destination in mind, and then seeing where the road takes me. For me, writing is a very organic process; the story has to evolve naturally as I go along, not be forced to conform to a rigid, predefined outline. I guess the thing I like least is research. It’s interesting, but it tends to slow me down. I’m cruising along and then “screech!” I have to slam on the brakes to go find out if they knew about cancer or used the word “explosion” in Regency England. Anything that takes me away from the writing itself is an unwanted speed bump.
If you write in multiple genres how do you make the switch from one to the other? Do you find it a welcome change, crazy-making or a little of both?
A little of both. After writing two novels a la Austen, I did make a complete departure for my third – a contemporary “what-if” story called First of Second Chances (not yet published). It’s about, of all things, a washed up minor league baseball player who’s given a world-class “do over,” the chance to go back in time to resurrect his lost dream of a baseball glory. It was a new challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But after spending so much time immersed in the early 1800’s, it wasn’t easy making the transition. Fortunately, I had my critique group watch-dogging me. They let me know when my words and phrases had wandered away from the 21st century and back to the 19th.
Even though I haven’t included any real historical characters and events in my novels, there is still a certain amount of research. In For Myself Alone, I needed to discover everything I could about breach-of-promise suits. Jane Austen’s novels (always my first resource) have nothing to say on the topic. Even though we usually think of it the other way round, what I found out was that these suits were, in the beginning, as often brought by men as by women. If a wealthy woman changed her mind, her jilted fiancé might very well sue her for damages (the loss of the money he stood to gain when they married). That surprising fact opened up lots of interesting story possibilities.
What do you do to keep all your research information and plot ideas organized and accessible?
Since I do much of my plotting and research as I go instead of in advance, the information goes directly into the story. I do keep some notes, but I can’t say that I have an organized system. Not my style, I guess.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Write, not what you know (as we’ve often heard it said), but what you love! You can learn what you don’t know, but you can’t fake a passion you don’t feel. I’ve never spent a single day in Regency England, but that’s where my heart is, and I trust it comes through in the writing. This also means not worrying about the latest trend. There’s probably an audience out there interested in reading what you’re interested in writing.
Tell us a little about your current project.
With pleasure! Return to Longbourn, the next book in my Pride and Prejudice series just came out, and I’m very excited about it! We’ve jumped ahead in time five years since the close of The Darcys of Pemberley, and it’s finally Mary’s turn to shine. Mr. Bennet has died, and the new heir to the estate is on his way from America to claim his property. That’s when Mrs. Bennet hatches her plan. The heir to Longbourn simply must marry one of her daughters. Nothing else will do. But will it be Mary or Kitty singled out for this dubious honor? When Mr. Tristan Collins turns out to be quite a catch after all, the contest between the sisters is on. I’ve always had a secret soft spot for Mary, and as I got to know her better, I discovered she had the hidden makings of a heroine. The question is, will she overcome the misfortune of being “plain” to find love and her own happy ending?
What’s up next for you?
With the new book now launched, I plan to pursue the publication of First of Second Chances. I also have an intriguing idea for a Persuasion tie-in taking shape in my brain. So many stories to tell; so little time!