Graggonspeak March 2021: INTERVIEW WITH SHANNON A. THOMPSON

Apologies for March going up in April! Instead of our normal SFF short fiction and news chatter this month, we’re sharing an interview I did with Shannon A. Thompson in issue #139/Winter 2020! Things got busier than usual for my household these last few weeks. Graggon Keep may be finding a new location… that is to say, my partner and I are moving! At least, we’re looking to. Which has meant getting our home ready for the market. For the monthly article, this means I’ll be taking a hiatus from posting monthly SFF short fiction and news chatter for a while. I’ll still be posting here each month, but I’m likely to share the Quarterly articles in case you missed them. I might even throw in an old Philip K. Dick essay I wrote or something similar down the line. My apologies for the lack of new content. Hopefully, I’ll get back to it soon! When I do, we’ll have some fun stuff happening: An S&T contributors showcase and occasional Q&As with writers! Until then, I hope you enjoy this interview and the excellent book recommendations in place of the usual monthly banter.

— Austin Gragg

INTERVIEW WITH SHANNON A. THOMPSON

The Kansas City and its great metropolitan area is host to many creatives—and a surprising number of successful genre fiction writers. We connected with SFF author Shannon A. Thompson for a chat about her Bad Bloods series, upcoming works, and how the pandemic has changed the way she works.

Thompson was sixteen when she was first published. Her work has appeared in various poetry collections and anthologies, and her first installment of The Timely Death Trilogy earned a spot as Goodreads’ Book of the Month. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in English, emphasis Creative Writing. During the day, Thompson works at the Mid-continent Public Library system’s renowned Story Center as their program manager. It’s a real treat of an interview.

Austin Gragg: First off, how are you?! This year has been insane for numerous reasons. As a creative, did you have to make any adjustments to cope with all the crazy? What have been some of your favorite joy-inducing things lately?

Shannon Thompson: I am very lucky! I have been able to work for The Story Center mostly from home since March. That said, I definitely had to make adjustments during the lockdown. Pre-lockdown, I wrote about 10,000 words per week. Now I’m happy if I get 1,000 words down. The biggest struggle has been sharing my creative space with my work. I had to turn my home office into my literal office, so my concentration was slightly disrupted. To combat it, I’ve mostly been writing at the kitchen table or in the living room, whenever time and energy allows. Virtual write-ins have been my favorite! I like hopping on ZOOM with friends, chatting a little bit about what we’re all going through, and then getting some words down. That and re-reading my favorite books. I’ve been very nostalgic as of late. 

      AG: For readers not familiar with your work – where in your bibliography would you suggest they start?

      ST: If you love dark dystopian work, I suggest the Bad Bloods series. It’s a lot like X-Men, but darker (and set during an election). If you love paranormal romance, I suggest the Timely Death trilogy. It’s set in Kansas, which is where I mostly grew up, and there’s no vampires or werewolves. Just a new girl showing up in a small town with a big prophecy problem. (Did I mention there’s magical swords?) I also share writing and publishing insights on my blog at www.ShannonAThompson.com

      AG: Lots of writers point to their careers as a constant process of growth. I think it’s fair to say most writers want their next work to be better than the last. What two pieces of advice or realizations have “leveled-up” your writing chops or career?

ST: Writers are constantly growing—and I am no exception. Two of the more recent tips that helped me level up were: 1) Kill your inner perfectionist. I am always struggling with this, but I’ve been better about highlighting the parts I don’t like and moving on rather than getting stuck on the same scene for a couple days. Just. Keep. Writing. 2) Bring as many of your flashbacks forward to the present as possible. This was particularly important because ten years ago, when I was first getting published, flashbacks were encouraged, but not so much anymore. Editors really like to see the story in the present, and often the scenes you have in the character’s past can be utilized in a present story and it makes the story stronger.

      AG: Readers are often unaware of the revision processes. They only get the final product. What does your revision process look like? In your most recent novels, set in the Bad Bloods universe, is there anything your readers might be surprised to know was cut or existed in the first place?

      ST: My revision process is pretty extensive. First, I write more of a screenplay than a novel, and then I go back and add prose. I muscle through the first draft, sending a couple chapters here and there to betas as I move along. I mostly do this to see if there’s anything fundamentally flawed that I missed. Based on comments, I go back and finish a major rewrite. Then resend to betas. Rewrite. Rinse. Repeat. In Bad Bloods, there was a lot cut from all four books. In fact, there was so much material (because there are so many characters in the flocks) that I decided to upload some shorts to Wattpad as an extra for super fans to read. I encourage writers to keep what they cut for this reason. You never know if you’ll use it in a new version or if you can give it away to fans one day!

Bad Bloods shorts can be found here: https://www.wattpad.com/247771899-bad-bloods-prequel-how-to-read-these-stories)

AG: YA has become much more than its label. In fact, most YA readers aren’t young adult, but adults. How do you think about your audience when you write? What do you think are the greatest strengths of the YA category? Do you have any predictions for the future of the category?

ST: I definitely keep my audience in mind while writing. I’m of the mindset that teens should be prioritized in young adult fiction, even if adults are the ones picking it up. It’s one of the reasons I’m a big advocate for new adult fiction to finally have a place—or for young adult fiction to be for 18-25-year-olds while a new “teen fiction” category is born. That said, it’s hard to say what is “meant” for any particular age category. Some have told me Bad Bloods is too dark, but I wrote the very first draft when I was 13. Teens are a lot more aware of the dark places in society than many want to admit, and we need a better range within the category for young people to explore and feel comfortable. That said, one of the strongest aspects of YA is how progressive it has been, particularly over the last ten years. I predict this will continue! I think you’ll also see YA authors, including myself, branching out to adult fiction or other age categories as the market continues to shift.

AG: The Bad Bloods universe is ripe with conflict—the bad blood protagonists’ very existence is illegal. Many SFF works have played with this “policing human existence” theme. Afterall, injustices like this are very real in the world. People of color and members of the queer community face similar threats constantly. In November Rain (which kicks off the Bad Bloods series)Serena isn’t human – at least in the eyes of society.What was the hardest thing to get right with this theme? What inspirations helped you flesh out this in-world conflict?

ST: Like I said above, teens are very aware of the world they are growing up in, and I wrote the first draft when I was very young. In my case, I came from a pretty chaotic home. I moved around the country 15 times before I was 15. More importantly, my mother died of a drug overdose in our house when I was 11. There was a lot of darkness in my life, and when you are a child that comes from a part of society that adults don’t want their child to be exposed to, you get pushed to the fringes of society with all the other children who are also suffering for various reasons. You become family. This concept is probably where bad bloods—abandoned children not seen as human—coming together to live and survive was born. That said, I’m also white, so I have a lot of privilege. Once I learned to hide my past, I could navigate more easily. It came quite naturally to write about a young girl who wasn’t allowed in spaces, only to be let inside the privileged space for her face alone—as is what happens to Serena in Bad Bloods. In Daniel’s case, his character focus is more about depression and suffering from a childhood tragedy that was out of his control. Also very natural to me. Honestly, I could break down the meaning of Bad Bloods forever. It’s very close to my heart, and I’m grateful it’s out in the world.

AG: Do you write or read with music on? What do you love to listen to and does music influence your writing?

ST: I write in silence, but I also write with music! Right now, I’m obsessed with Agnes Obel. While writing the first Bad Bloods duology, though, I loved “Murakami” by Made in Heights and “Black Crown” by Silent Rider and Camille Corazon. During the second Bad Bloods duology, Violet preferred Gin Wigmore.

AG: Is there a book or short story that changed your life or the way you see the world? If not, what book pilgrimages have you gone on? What did you learn?

ST: Everything I read affects me in some way. I particularly remember reading the Daughters of the Moon series by Lynne Ewing when I was very young, and loving it because the girls dressed up in makeup and glitter, and it was their armor when fighting ancient Greek monsters. Though I’m not one to dress up, I realized you could have tough girl characters that also loved dresses. Meg Cabot’s books were very similar. She had a bald female character, another who rode a motorcycle. Her girls were tough but vulnerable, and I just felt so seen when I read those books. On a side note, the stereotypical “bad boy” turned out to be a situation of bad timing and circumstance, rather than the actual bad boys being written about at the time. Reading those books made me dive deep in how I can make sure my characters are real and fresh. As a writer, I strive to consider all my characters and what they are offering the reader when I am creating them.

AG: What can we be on the look out for from you in the future?

ST: I’m currently writing adult science fiction and fantasy, so I’m hoping I get to share my first adult novel with the world one day soon! One takes place in space (and there is monsters)! The other is a dark academia monster murder mystery. I’m very excited about them both!

AG: If you could meet any writer, living or dead, for a dinner where they’d be 100% honest with you, who would you meet and what would you ask?

ST: Cassandra Clare or Meg Cabot! They’ve both had such great influences on my work (and my life), and I would love to just talk to them about anything and everything. Their characters always pop off the page without sacrificing the storyline, and that’s something I deeply admire. It’s a delicate balance! Also, I’d love to just thank them for writing. Their works have gotten me through a lot of hard times, and that is priceless.

Thank you so much for having me on!

I encourage anyone and everyone to reach out to me via www.ShannonAThompson.com or Twitter @AuthorSAT. I have cats!