Shannon McDermott, a homeschool grad, is a Christian author of speculative and detective fiction. Her futuristic novel The Last Heir is available in paperback and Kindle. Her detective short, Sweet Green Paper: An Adventure of Christian Holmes, is available on Kindle. From December 1 through December 3, The Last Heirand Sweet Green Paper are FREE! She also recently released a novella Beauty of the Liliesand its sequel, Summer Leaves, to Kindle.
Homeschooling Teen is excited to feature this exclusive interview with Shannon McDermott!
Please tell us a little about yourself:
What was your homeschooling experience like?
My parents constructed a reading-based homeschool. There were other elements, naturally – the occasional field trip, the occasional video. My parents tutored my siblings and I on math, of course, and I can still remember my mother gathering us around to teach us from the papers she’d collected in her binder. But for the most part, we read – read science, read history, read literature. We read about grammar, good manners, and musical instruments. Our education was essentially book-oriented, and I think we benefited from that.
Can you name some of your favorite books, subjects, hobbies and/or interests as you were growing up?
My first “favorite book” was Green Eggs and Ham. I moved on to Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Mandie mysteries, the American Girls series …
My favorite subject was usually English (my mother believed in assigning essays and creative writing), though History competed with it. My single favorite high school course was a history of the Christian church written in the nineteenth century.
Hobbies and interests – aside from writing and reading, not many. My brothers and sisters and I liked to make up stories and play them, and often we invented our own games. (As children can. “Detective” never did involve any challenging detective work.) We filled our backyard with imagination, back in the day.
What aspects of homeschooling did you like the best?
I liked the reading. I liked the informality: My equivalent of science class could be done while lying in bed. I liked the fact that, the earlier you started and the harder you worked, the shorter the school day was.
In what ways did homeschooling prepare you for what you are doing now?
It immersed me in the world of books, and fueled my writing with all sorts of creative writing assignments – with feedback from my mother, with all her editing talent. But I suppose the biggest effect homeschooling had was getting it into my head, from the beginning, that there’s a way besides the one most people take.
Tell us about your books:
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
When I was eight I wrote a poem for a school assignment that so impressed my parents, I decided to go on writing. I remember, one evening at the dinner table, telling my mother, as she served fried potatoes, that I wanted to write a book. My mother – to her enduring credit – nodded solemnly to my eight-year-old declaration.
How old were you when you published your first book?
Twenty. That book was The Last Heir – which, for those who care, is available free on Kindle Amazon through Tuesday.
Can you briefly describe the steps it takes to go from a manuscript to published book?
As self-publishing and e-publishing join traditional publishing in a sometimes chaotic mix, the steps to publication may vary wildly. No matter how a book is published, however, three things have to be done:
- You need to find some method of publication – whether submitting your manuscript to a traditional publisher or an indie press, whether self-publishing with a printing house or just releasing the book in e-format. Essentially, an author needs to do his research and decide what he can do, what he wants to do, and what he is willing to do.
- The book must be edited. If your book is accepted at a publishing house (mainstream or indie), an editor will be, as they say, provided. If you self-publish, you could do it yourself – but I recommend against this. Every novel benefits immensely from the perspective and judgment of another person. It is best to hire a freelance editor, or an author with an editing service.
- The book will need a cover design. Again, at publishing houses they will take care of it for you. In self-publishing, you will have to either create your own cover, or else hire someone else to do it. This decision will hinge on your pocketbook and your talent as a graphic designer.
What makes your stories unique and different?
I suppose that they’re the only stories that come from my point of view, and formed by my experiences, interests, likes, and dislikes. It is part of God’s infinite creativity that He makes every person unlike all other people.
Who I am makes my stories what they are. My interest in politics shaped The Last Heir. My Irish heritage – more, my attachment to my Irish heritage – is reflected in the fantasy world of The Valley of Decision. My sense of humor is, naturally, the humor of my Christian Holmes stories.
Which author(s) would you most like to emulate?
I’ve read many authors who had traits I wanted to emulate. I’ve admired Tolkien’s prose when it becomes so lyrical it’s poetry; I’ve admired C. S. Lewis’ powerful symbolism, both obvious and subtle; I’ve admired the emotional power of Andrew Peterson’s stories, and the vividness of Anne Stengl’s characters.
But though other writers show me the sort of excellence I strive to attain, I don’t think in terms of emulating them. My goal is not to become the writers they are – that, I cannot do – but to become the writer I can be. As Neil Gaimin said, “[Tell] the stories that only you can tell — because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.”
Please tell us some more:
What other projects or activities are you involved in? What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m involved in blog tours and book promotions, principally those hosted by Prism Tours and the CSFF [Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy] Blog Tour. I’m also beginning to find my way in the communities on Goodreads and CrossReads.
Spare time – reading, often reading to review, sometimes history books. I keep up with my favorite current-events authors online; I also – I confess it – keep up with a few comic strips online. I enjoy good television (Epic was just epic) and music (such as Andrew Peterson and Caedmon’s Call, though the taste for these musicians is sadly deficient in my family).
What are your future plans and aspirations?
To complete the edits for my novel The Valley of Decision and put together a fun and effective roll-out for its publication next spring.
To establish a successful writing career.
To see a Broadway show, on Broadway.
To go to Ellis Island with my dad, who would enjoy it even more than I would and who could remind me which great-grandmother emigrated from Belgium and which emigrated from Ireland.
Where do you draw your inspiration? Do you have any secrets for developing creativity?
I draw my inspiration from things I read, see, listen to – anything that strikes me with an idea, an image, or an emotion.
Developing creativity – I suppose I do that by working on what ideas I have. If I were to decide I wanted to write about, say, dragons, I would develop that by looking at the idea from different angles, by asking the questions that need asking. Are the dragons sentient or animal, good or bad, a feared terror or a hidden presence? And the humans who cross paths with them – are they knights looking for it, unfortunate wanderers who stumble upon it, or one eccentric person with an eccentric reason?
What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?
Above all, seek God as you pursue your path. If you have a gift of writing, it’s because He gave it to you for His reasons. Only through Him will your writing be what is meant to be.
Second, pursue what interests you have – whether it’s science or politics or painting or baking. Writing is intellectual outgo. The intellectual inflow comes from life and the world around us.
Third, read. Read what you like, read what teaches you, read the sort of thing you want to write.
Fourth, write and write with commitment. Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. I won’t say the ratio is the same, but writing also requires work; inspiration alone won’t carry you home. I wouldn’t advise anyone to write so many words a day or a month – unless you’re working under a deadline from a publisher, I think the pressure is more likely to hurt than help – but I think writers should be committed to writing every weekend, or every day, or every other day.
Any closing thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
God has a purpose for the gifts He has given us. As we walk with Him, He will fulfill it. His fulfillment may not be what we imagined, or even what we wanted. That’s a truth we all come face-to-face with sooner or later. But when we own His right to do as He pleases with His own work, when we trust His goodness and the love that He has for us, we will know that what He does is better than what we wanted. David once sang that God writes all our days in His book before any of them come to be. God is the Author of our stories – the first, and the finest, Author of all times.
From December 1 through December 3, my first novel The Last Heir and my detective short Sweet Green Paper are available for free download from Kindle Amazon. If you would like to get in touch with me, please visit my blog, my Facebook page, or my Goodreads profile. –Shannon