I have here today local author Shawn McGuire, author of The Shadow Thieves of Rouen and writer/podcaster for Mission Geek. Shawn was kind enough to allow me to interview him for Bibliotropic. And so without further ado, let’s get down to business and see what makes Shawn tick!
I know that The Shadow Thieves of Rouen is your first published novel. How long have you been writing in general, and what is it that first inspired you to go for broke and get your work published?
I’ve always enjoyed writing but I made my first focused attempt at writing something in grade 9. I wrote a fantasy novel but I kind of shelved it because I was a teenager and lazy. In grade 10 I had a short story due for english class and I hadn’t done anything the night before it was due. Again this was because of the lazy teenager thing. So instead of making something new I took the beginning of my book and the end of my book and mashed them together with some stuff in the middle and handed it in. My teacher, Mrs. Mary Marshall, loved it so much she called me in after school with my Mom and told me that I should get the short story published and finish the book. For the third time lazy teenager syndrome struck and I did nothing with it.
I guess that was my first inspiration but more recently I have been inspired by Brett Rounsaville and Andrew Mayne. Brett has always wanted to make a comic so he put up a kickstarter and raised the money to do it on his own. Andrew wanted to write sci-fi so he wrote it and published it on his own and has been very, very successful with it.
Self-published books such as yours tend to have mixed opinions about them. Some say that self-published books lack quality, while others promote self-publishing as a way to get your work out there without the wait-time of traditional channels. What was it that drew you to the idea of self-publishing in the first place?
I wrote my book in a very specific way so that people who are new to the fantasy genre would be able to get into it. It’s a novella. I think that makes it less daunting to get into. A 400,000 Robert Jordan tome is a hard pill to swallow for someones first foray into reading fantasy. I didn’t go deep into the magic system or the political machinations of the time because I didn’t want to scare off the new fantasy readers. Even the 99 cent price tag is meant to create a low barrier to entry.
These are things that I can only do because I’m self published. You yourself picked up on things that I did, specifically the length, and questions it. I recently had a book interview with Adam Curry and he picked up on the odd length as well (however, he dug the length). A traditional publisher would likely have forced me into making a full length novel and adding stuff I don’t want to add until book two or later.
Following up on that, what would you say to the naysayers who insist that traditional publishing channels are the only true way to go and who look down upon self-published works?
I look at self publishing as the independant live music of books. When you go see a local band play a live show you know there are going to be problems. The drummer is going to show up late from his job as a waiter, the sound guy is going to trip over a lead cord and unplug the bassist, etc… Despite all those issues you still go see them and have a great time because the music is awesome.
Self publishing a book is the same way. Sure the editing might not be the best or the formatting is weird or the cover is from a google image search with some words put on using Microsoft Paint but it’s still awesome because it has a good story.
I think writers have lost track of why they write. It isn’t about getting the big cash advance, it’s about producing something that people will dig.
I know that some of the characters in The Shadow Thieves of Rouen are heavily based on people you know, right down to the names. While it’s definitely far from uncommon for authors to do this, it can create snags when you want the characters to do something that the person wouldn’t, or vice versa. How difficult did you find working with these constraints?
I put people in there who helped me with the book as a form of payment. I had no idea if I’d ever sell any of these so I didn’t know if I could pay my editors and illustrators. This was my form of payment. I told them in advance though that I wasn’t going to keep them true to their real life counterparts. I had one character whose situation I was a little worried about writing but I spoke to the characters real life counterpart and sorted it out.
I didn’t really keep anyones personality intact, except for Grand General Nick Delony who is based off my best friend Nick DeLong. You know the person Melissa was based off of and she isn’t the same at all.
Which of the characters in The Shadow Thieves of Rouen was the most fun for you to write?
I started answering this question then realised I was basically listing off every charcter. It’s a hard question to answer because I only write fun characters. If I don’t like writing a character, I don’t include them in the book.
If I absolutely had to pin down one Character I’d say Chelsie. She is kind of a free character in that I can make her do anything I want. I suppose I can make any character to whatever I want but it just feels right when it’s Chelsie.
Interestingly enough, I enjoyed writing the females more than the males. I don’t know why but I did.
A lot of writers tend to be big readers. Is this true of you, too? Do you find what you’ve read in the past has had much impact on your writing now?
I almost exclusively listen to audio books but I listen to them all the time. So yes, I suppose I am a big reader. I don’t think any one author or book has influenced me in any significant way. There are things in my writing, such as my blow-by-blow fights, that have probably been impressed upon me by other authors but none in specific.
If there’s one novel, any novel (other than your own, of course) that you would recommend to just about anyone, which novel is it, and what makes it so great?
My recommendation is going to sound really pretentious but it’s such a good work I think everyone should read it. War and Peace. It’s a really daunting task but the payoff is immense.
And last but certainly not least, what advice have you got for the aspiring writers out there?
Get a good Editor. I don’t consider myself a very good writer but I do think I’m a good story teller. A good editor will turn a good story into a good book.
Thanks, Shawn, for taking the time to answer all of my questions. It was very much appreciated, and it’s great to have been able to make contact with a local fantasy author!