Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Shannon McGee and I’m the author of the YA High Fantasy books Of Gryphons and Other Monsters, and Of Dragon Warrens and Other Traps, books one and two of the “Taryn’s Journey” quartet.
My books center on Taryn, a young shepherd from the Carpathian Mountains, in the fictional country of Somerlarth. We follow her as she is taken from a seemingly idyllic life with her parents and twin brother, and plunged into a world of fighting, monsters, and romance.
You can find an excerpt from book one, as well as all sorts of bonus content (including social media links) at my website www.shannontmcgee.com .
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
I get the most inspired from traveling. I love to see the beautiful natural places this country has to offer. Particularly I love to go camping in the woods with my dogs. By the end of any trip I am always ready to jump back into writing. I think cooking over a fire, hiking mountains, getting away from wifi—those things are perfect for putting me in Taryn’s head.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in a story is not know where you want your characters to end up by the final chapter. For the most part, the conclusion of the series is the last time your readers are going to see your characters. What do you want their last glimpse to be? After the battle has been won your characters have changed from the who they were at the start. Can they go home, or do they no longer fit there? Have things settled down, or is there still a lot of work to be done? These are things you need to ask yourself as your working out your book.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
The first time I had the chance to describe what I was working on to a friend. I said I was writing, “A story of gryphons and other monsters.” The title stuck. Now the titles of my first series have a format—the main monster from the book + the issue the characters are contending with. A format helps keep the titles cohesive, so when I have a larger backlog, readers will be able to quickly find the books that go with one another. For my next series I’m planning on taking a significant item from each book and working it into the title.
As to covers, my first and biggest tip is that people shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… but they absolutely do. Invest. Next to your editor the biggest investment you can make into your book’s success is your cover.
I know minimalist covers have their own appeal. They have a tendency to attract a broader audience and are less likely to come across as niche and scare people off.
Personally, I’m a fan of the covers that depicts a scene from the book itself. I think they’re more fun, and they’re going to attract exactly the kind of person who will enjoy what I’m putting out.
I searched the internet, compiled a list of people whose work resonated with me, and then I sent my top choice an email, detailing what I wanted done. She named her price, and I paid it.
That’s my second tip: don’t barter with your artist. You’d hate for someone to barter with you over your book price, right? Don’t do it to other creatives.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Negative feedback is important to me specifically during the publishing process. Because I want to produce the best product possible, I have several rounds of beta reading between editing sessions. During that time, I’m open to all thoughts on what isn’t working in my books.
(So much love and appreciation to anyone who is with me during that process. I have sent many an all-caps text asking, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH IT? I WON’T BE MAD. PLEASE. JUST TELL ME WHAT SUCKS!”)
After publishing, on my best days I don’t look at reviews at all. Good or bad. By the time I’ve published one of my books I’ve been grappling with my own anxiety and ego for a minimum of twelve months. I know their strengths and their weaknesses, and the internet holds the confirmation of all those biases, good and bad.
When I can’t help but look, well, I’m human. My feelings get hurt, and then I get mad. I think everything from, “That was so mean? How hard would it have been to just keep that thought a thought?” To “Well where’s your book, if you’re so smart?”
When I get through the emotional reaction though, the conclusion I most often come to is this: the people who are criticizing because they really want to help wouldn’t want me agonizing over their comments, they’d want me to take the feedback and move forward. The people who are just wanting to be nasty… they’re not worth my time.
The best I can hope for as an author is that someone loved my book enough that I inspired them to write. The flip side of that is they hated my books so much that they produced their own incredible work, just to show me how it’s properly done. Which I will then also get to read. I win either way.
We’re all just adding to the creative well in some form or other, through inspiration or frustration. There are people out there who actually hate my favorite author. The woman who inspired me to write. It’s all subjective.
Ultimately, I believe in practicing gratefulness. I’m so glad I can continue to grow in this craft that I love. I hope I can always have the clear-sightedness to see ways in which I can improve in the future.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
One of the best bits of writing is connecting with other creatives. I love collaborating with Sandara Tang on my covers. She is an incredible artist and whenever I send her excerpts and (truly terrible) sketches, and she hands me back a piece that she might as well have plucked from my brain it’s so incredible.
I’ve also found so much joy working with beta readers. More than once I’ve been asked if two things were connected, and I’ve delightedly told them “No, but now they definitely are!” It’s fantastic.
The worst part of the writing process is going to sound silly, but it’s that only I can write my books. As the author I know exactly where my characters are going. I know what they need to do, I know what battles they’ll fight and who is going to fall in love or off a cliff… But I don’t get to read any of it unless I buckle down and type it out. Oh, the agony.
I think something that has surprised me in completing my books is how many opportunities I’ve been presented with to share and talk about my work. Six years ago, I was thinking, “Someday I hope I become a writer.” Today I’ve sold out at conventions and spoken in several schools—including my old high school. Sometimes it still feels surreal, but in the best possible way. People are really letting me do this? They’re letting me live my dream? They’re asking me to live my dream? Wild.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I write primarily for myself—the stories and types of characters I want to see. The most important thing for me is that I walk away from my work knowing I did the best I knew how to do. However, part of that is being online and interacting with other people, becoming aware of who feels left out, especially in fantasy books. I do try to be conscious of those groups and voices and I try to include them, not to serve them necessarily, but to make a world that is more realistic in its inclusivity. To do better work. Because for me, so much of writing is about making connection, and it’s not impossible, but it’s harder to connect with work in which you don’t see yourself.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
I have music playlists for each character, and sometimes I’ll just close my eyes and listen to them. I’ll let their story play out like a movie in my head, and sometimes that will show me something new. I’ve also been known to attempt drawing scenes from my books, or free drawing the characters and seeing if that sparks something. Sometimes just the act of doing a different form of creativity from what we’re used to helps strengthen our creative muscles.
What are your plans for future books?
Taryn’s Journey is a quartet, so it follows that I have two more books coming out. Book three, “Of Manticores and Other Goliaths” is slated for Autumn 2020. The final book “Of Phoenix Fires and Other Rebirths” is tentatively set for Summer 2022.
In these final two books of Taryn’s Journey the stakes are higher than ever. She’ll come head to head with more dangerous monsters, and her own past.
As I mentioned previously I do have my next series in its early stages of conception. I’ll be taking a side character from Taryn’s Journey and delving into who she is and how she fits into the larger political games of Somerlarth and the surrounding lands. I’m excited to go from writing about commoners to writing more nobility.
During that time, I’ll also be releasing a short story—the backstory of one of my favorite characters from Taryn’s Journey. That book will go into how she became a mercenary and her rise to commander. I’m slowly accumulating notes and scenes, so I hope you’re as excited as I am!
After all of that… Well, I think I’ll be ready to take a step out of high fantasy for a while. I have a few contemporary works set aside which I’m itching to work on. So, we’ll see how that works out—I hope you all enjoy!