Interview with Mary Shotwell, author of Weariland

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?

I wrote Weariland not only for myself but for my teenage nieces. I wanted the protagonist to be relatable to them, which steered me to write Young Adult. In addition, I’ve always enjoyed fantasy and sci-fi, and that is where my imagination leads me.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

I grew up with six siblings and working parents. No one had much time to read to me, so I yearned to learn how as fast as possible. I wanted to know the stories behind the colorful covers of the books at the library. Once I learned, I couldn’t stop. I had the freedom to explore wherever I wanted with whomever I wanted.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?

Currently I write Young Adult, in what I call “light” fantasy. It’s not as heavy as, say, Lord of the Rings, in terms of descriptions of familial hierarchies, landscape, etc. I have to write scientifically for work, so I enjoy the complete opposite end of the spectrum to exercise my creativity.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

Even though I write light fantasy, I try to be as real as possible—make events realistic, or if they’re beyond our realm, make reactions of characters to the fantastical world realistic. I like to think my writing is clean and fast. Not much of a “fluff” writer. My scientific writing experience keeps me in line there.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? 

Ugh. Cutting out whole characters and chapters. I sent the manuscript off to agents, and I received feedback from one or two that recommended I cut out a side story following a reporter. I ignored the feedback at first, and queried more agents. I repeatedly received advice to stick to Lason’s story more and less to the reporter’s part. Finally, I gave in when an agent from Writers House said the same thing, but gave me details as to why, in addition to in-depth feedback elsewhere. I had to cut my reporter out, and it hurt. It was the right decision, but it still aches thinking about it.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?  What impact have they had on your writing?

Michael Crichton! I love how he incorporated the realistic with the fictional. I read in a brief bio that he wrote 10,000 words a day. Although I strive to have his pacing, clarity, and imagination, I realize I probably won’t if it takes 10,000 words a day. That’s crazy.

What did you find most useful in learning to write?  What was least useful or most destructive?

Planning. Having all the character attributes, character paths mapped out, and action in each chapter makes writing incredibly smoother. Some have said, “As long as you wrote today, then you were successful.” Rubbish! I wrote mostly “off the cuff” for about 25,000 words of Weariland and it took forever. I changed my mind, I went down blind alleys, and it was exhausting. When I got serious and mapped out the story, I was able to finish.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

Part-time. I write less when it’s part-time, since I prefer long chunks of time per sitting. I can remember what I already wrote and who was doing what to move forward more efficiently (2000-4000 words a day). I get that time in the summer, and get a taste of what it feels like to write full time for a few weeks (it’s wonderful). During the school year, I only have nights to write, which results in 300-1000 words per day, and I don’t write everyday (*gasp*).

What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

Too many to list all of them. My first real job was as a server and party hostess at Chuck E. Cheese’s. I worked as an undercover buyer of cigarettes to fine stores if they didn’t card me, gave campus tours as an undergrad, and substituted K-12. All experiences aided in getting to know people. Working with kids and teens helped in characterizing that demographic in writing.

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’m finishing a dystopian YA novel in which the protagonists are brother/sister. It takes place in the distant future (as most dystopian does) and explores the evolution of humans when the smartest minds seclude themselves from the rest of society.

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.

I anticipated a question by people who read both the book and one of my earliest blog posts. In the post, I write about my history with my sister. After writing Weariland, I wondered if readers would ask, “Is the character of Nicholas a reflection of your sister?” The answer is No. Perhaps subconsciously, but I didn’t plan him to be an interpretation of my sister and our relationship.

What book do you wish you could have written?

I changed this to book and/or screenplay here. The Boxtrolls and The Lego Movie are so clever, in both surface story and deeper levels. I also wish I had written The Nightmare Before Christmas. It is genius, and I would have worked with the amazing Danny Elfman.

How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

I take names seriously. I Google girl/boy names to get ideas, but often I pinpoint a region and time period to get appropriate names. I’ve also taken a character trait and jumbled the letters or sounds. For instance, Ruban is a red rabbit, and I found his name by picking letters from ‘auburn’.

What do you want your tombstone to say?

Hard to say, but the question made me think, How cool would it be to have ‘To Be Continued…’

Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?

Has someone already said Hogwarts? Ever since seeing Dr. Zhivago, I’ve wanted to visit Russia. Perhaps not in the current political climate, but then again, the past hasn’t offered many better times to travel the country.

abouttheauthor

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Mary grew up in northeast Ohio, so it was only natural for her to pursue a degree in marine biology. After studying dolphin behavior and estimating great white shark populations, she earned her Ph.D. in Biostatistics in Charleston, South Carolina. It was there, during the arduous dissertation process, where she had the idea to write a book.

With Alice and the crazy characters from Wonderland staring her down from her bedroom poster, Mary envisioned what that fantasy realm would look like in current day. Creative writing served as a natural escape from technical writing, wedding planning, pregnancy, and job hunting.

Mary is excited to debut Weariland (Merge Publishing, 2016), a novel introducing Lason Davies, a teenager who learns about her family’s past in a world once called Wonderland. She currently resides in Tennessee with her husband and three children.

Aboutthebook

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Lason is haunted by the last words of her murdered relative as she and her mother fly to England for the funeral. The crime is a sensation, but the clamoring reporters and news photographers aren’t the only ones interested in their arrival.

As Lason copes with the family loss, she encounters a mysterious stranger. He hails from Weariland, a dreary world once known as Wonderland. Lason wants to confide in her mother, whose long-repressed family demons have resurfaced, along with her erratic behavior. Convinced she’ll find answers about her grandmother’s death, Lason takes the leap to help the stranger, leaving her world behind.

Lason’s mother wakes to find her biggest fear realized—Lason is missing. When the murder investigation turns up traces of unknown black goo and pictures of a giant creature, she believes in her gut something out of the ordinary truly is happening. And it’s not the first time a loved one has disappeared.

As her mother confronts the past she so desperately tried to forget, Lason must navigate through an unpredictable realm, encountering colorful, fantastical characters and discovering her family’s elusive history. Ultimately, she must rely on her courage to brave it alone when her guide is captured, along with her only chance to ever getting home.

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