Shannon Muir’s fiction is both to entertain as well as explore issues of the the human condition and female identity, primarily with female protagonists. The genres she delves into in include mystery, fantasy, science fiction, as well as thought-provoking stories in contemporary settings.
I was wondering where you get your story ideas?
For New Pulp and Genre Fiction, I take a different approach than I do most other writing I’ve done. My contemporary writings that I’ve self-published are inspired by observation of things in live and then wondering what things might be like if the situation were tweaked. When it comes to the New Pulp and Genre Fiction, everything I’ve done has all been period pieces, so I can’t approach those from modern observation, but I can think about an item and wonder about a “what if?” scenario and follow it to its conclusion.
Let me illustrate this by breaking down the New Pulp and Genre Fiction stories I’ve had published so far with my primary publisher, Pro Se Press. “Tragic Like a Torch Song” in THE DAME DID IT was done for anthology with one premise, and that was I needed a female lead in a pulp action story. That’s a pretty broad canvas, so I looked at what kinds of things women could be doing at the height of the pulp area and knew entertainment was a large area. However, I’d written another story relatively recently with an actress, so I didn’t want to be quite that repetitive. Another area I really appreciate is that of music, and in college I started a still running program on our university jazz station dedicated to Women of Jazz. That got me thinking of torch music and torch singers and from there the starting premise was born, which also gave me a great opportunity to use my poetry background to do song lyrics for this story. I made her the daughter of a gumshoe to give her some knowledge for the action angle and for some character moments. The question is this story of one is what would happen if the daughter of a murdered gumshoe, who happens to be a torch singer, finds out the truth about his death and wants revenge.
The NEWSHOUNDS story “Pretty as a Picture,” based on characters and concepts created by Pro Se Press, needed a slightly different approach. For this, writers received what is known as a “bible” in the writing industry, outlined major character histories and basic guidelines for the world. In cases like these, which are also true when creating ideas for television shows, writers need to look between the lines and find one of those “what if?” moments that spring naturally out of the information provided. Through one of the character’s provided backgrounds, I noticed one of them had a daughter he hadn’t seen in years. From here, the question became “What would happen if this character ran into a woman he thought might be his long lost daughter?”, on which I built a premise for an appropriate plot that would allow this to occur. By the nature of my ideas the two female characters in the group play strong roles in it. In classic Pulp and genre fiction, this would have been less likely to happen. Since this is New Pulp and Genre Fiction, that gives leeway to expand on traditional expectations to a point, and also put me in my then comfort zone of writing with female leads. I’m happy to say I’ve since moved beyond that, but it helped as an entry point.
“Ghost of the Airwaves,” a single standalone short story release in the Pro Se Press Single Shot line, came about because I’d only had one story published with Pro Se Press and wanted to get more exposure for myself. Not finding any new anthology calls that met my interests, I noticed Pro Se Press had now-discontinued anthology magazine that was open to any story submission as long as it fit the genre. “Ghost of the Airwaves” basically is a wondering about a live action television script I did in college that received recognition through a college honor society, about a modern day radio DJ whose wife passed away and the obsessive fan that hides out to in the station to trap him on his Valentine’s Day broadcast. That story is still very near and dear to my heart, but I wanted to do something that was both a gender and a period reversal, but I was limited to what roles a woman would have in an earlier time period. That’s how my DJ became radio actress Abigail Hanson. The end result was that the magazine folded soon after it was submitted, but all submissions were considered for the Single Shot release format, but that took a year to happen.
You probably are noticing a pattern by now that my questions of possibility, no matter how much action surrounds the actual plot, actually are rooted in character. Sometimes I’ll use a scenario or situation as my springboard, but that is an exception for me, not a rule.
What is the usual process for your fiction writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m still not fully comfortable with what these terms mean, just as I wasn’t when I first encountered the term pantser in an interview I did in 2012. I looked at that answer and my thoughts haven’t changed in four years. Honestly, it depends on the book and how much power I have to change things up. When I’ve self-published my personal non-New Pulp and Genre Fiction projects, I am definitely a pantser because it’s my sandbox and I make the rules. That doesn’t mean I don’t go in with intent of what I’ll do, but I feel very free to go where the story leads.
When it comes to the New Pulp and Genre Fiction, I must be a plotter by necessity. These stories are done for publishers who approved a summarized version of the story first, called a proposal (when I’ve worked in television animation, it’s a similar process, but that document is called a premise). Either way, when the publisher accepts the proposal, you’ve agreed on a set story that must be done a set way, to get from an agreed upon beginning to its conclusion. In this case, stories must be outlined to make sure there is a solid roadmap to get from the major points. However, it doesn’t prevent smaller unplanned discoveries from occurring within the plotted scenes.
The only New Pulp and Genre Fiction item where I’ve been a complete pantser was “Ghost of the Airwaves,” the short story I mentioned earlier. After creating the character of Abigail Hanson, and saying she would experience a similar plotline to the modern day story I’d previously done, everything else was by the seat of my pants to create that world. I’d love to do a full follow-up book to that story, which was always my hope once I discovered the new characters, but the story hasn’t sold well enough yet (hopefully because people just don’t know it is out there) or gotten any feedback so I’m not sure there’d be interest. There’s definitely a plotted tale waiting in the wings if enough people were. However, I’m still glad to have told it.
I suppose to a certain extent “Tragic Like a Torch Song” was a pantser situation, as I had very little criteria to meet for inclusion in that volume, none of which dictated any aspect of the plot. Still, in order to make sure I met the expectations of the anthology, I did need to pay strong attention that the plot stayed consistent.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
As mentioned, all the New Pulp and Genre Fiction is based on writing proposals to be accepted, often by parameters defined by the publisher since they have all been calls for items that the publishers either set the theme, or in some cases hold the rights, as in the case of NEWSHOUNDS where the characters and their world were developed by Pro Se Press and writers pitched stories to be written in that pre-defined universe (much like pitching for an animated series). In these cases, research must be done up front to see if the idea in mind is even viable enough to work, especially since as I mentioned earlier these pieces tend to be period in nature. As I outline, or even work on the full story, I continue to research as I go along. With my own writing, I do tend to go where the muse takes me.
With my own works, I tend to research less and write and let the Muse lead, unless I’ve found myself dealing with areas that are not modern day. I don’t like writing myself great stuff that just isn’t historically possible. I’ve stopped doing great, flowing scenes if the nagging historical concern is too great. I don’t’ want to waste effort just to have to toss something.
What is your daily writing time like?
Usually, I try to get up and devote the first hour of my morning to write as much as I can, or rewrite as much as I can, on whatever I’m working on. For the next six months though, this schedule may not be as daily as I would like. In addition to working a full time job, I’m also currently enrolled in my final marketing classes for my Certificate in General Business Studies with a Concentration in Marketing from UCLA Extension. This has allowed me to create a course of study that focuses specifically on digital marketing, with my electives being drawn from introductory courses to several programming languages, and marketing specific courses on areas such as social media, digital analytics, and brand management. This means my writing and my homework time will be in competition for the next little while. However, as a writer needs to know how to promote his or her work, I firmly believe it is worth the tradeoff.
Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision? If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
As much as I’d love to be a full-time writer, it’s absolutely impossible for me at this time, and I’ve made peace with the idea that it probably never will be, even though I originally moved to Los Angeles in 1996 with hopes that would be my full-time career. However, writing prose, animation, and other forms of content creation are definitely a business for me. I don’t treat it as a hobby and never have, probably because I dreamed of it as being my full time career when I was younger. Others may have wanted to be doctors, firefighters, princesses, super heroes, or other things. For me, the only thing I can ever remember wanting to be is a writer. The reality is, the industry has changed so much that with anyone able to provide content – be it self-published books or videos animated at small home studios and shared on YouTube – the whole nature of content creation and distribution has changed and evolved.
Can you tell us about your experience working with publishers, as well as in self-publishing?
Pro Se Press is the main publisher I’ve worked with. In terms of fiction, I’ve sold one story to Emby Press for their SUPER HERO MONSTER HUNTER collection, and years ago dealt with a startup called Foursided MFNA for a book ARIA KALSAN: MYSTERIES OF THE FUTURE which was a story based on a provided “bible” as I described in an earlier question. Also, I’ve published textbooks on the animation industry (that now appear to be out of print), and dealing with those kind of publishers is a completely different process. Also, I’ve done some self-publishing as I mentioned, but I believe I am best challenged – and better positioned for marketing – writing for publishers. While I have the skills to do things on my own, I also really like the accountability to others and the fact it provides new challenges.
Since I’ve done the most with Pro Se Press, I’ll talk about them in a little more detail. I think the main reason I could become part of the whole New Pulp and Genre Fiction movement is their large number of anthology calls and their openness to considering new talent. There are other publishers in this area, but they seem to have only a few and well more established writers in their ranks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because they may excel at marketing a few prolific names well, and that’s great if so because we should all play to our strengths; I’m saying if so because this may not be the case, and I’m just conveying my own personal perceptions. Pro Se Press isn’t a large staff, but they care about what they do, especially the passionate and big-hearted Editor-in-Chief Tommy Hancock. His passion for his work pulsates through the whole brand and it shows, but you don’t have to take my word for it. When Tommy Hancock faced some major medical issues recently, the whole New Pulp fiction community rallied around him and created this incredible volume to raise money for him called LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION, which was put out by another publishing house, Airship 27. At the time writing calls were announced, my husband Kevin Paul Shaw Broden and I were weeks away from getting married so we totally missed out on being part of it in that way. However, each story has an illustration, and they still needed artists. My husband also does artwork in the pulp style, so ended up contributing the illustration that goes with Ralph L. Angelo Jr.’s “Against Fire and Stone” as part of the collection. I’m so happy that we both didn’t miss out on getting to help, as Pro Se Press and Tommy Hancock in particular has been important to both our careers. In Kevin’s case, not only has Pro Se Press published his first stories, but also gave him a first published cover opportunity as the cover artist for NEWSHOUNDS.
Though I had no direct involvement in it being made, I’m also thrilled to know that a story I’ve done is now available in audiobook form. NEWSHOUNDS, which contains my first published story for Pro Se Press, came out in early February 2016. I am so grateful Pro Se Press was willing to work with companies like Radio Archives to make this happen, and another reason I really appreciate working with them. While well aware the other New Pulp and Genre Fiction publishers have audiobooks, again this is a case of deciding that a book including new talent was worthy of audio production (the three authors are my husband, myself, and the better known name J. Walt Layne). I first developed an appreciation for audio books years ago when I worked as a temporary assistant in the division of the Braille Institute where readers recorded books on proprietary formats for those with vision issues. Now, great books can be available to those with vision issues and others such as busy travelers, on so many more topics now that they are much more mass market. That job was a humbling experience for me, because my storytelling experience up to that point had been totally thinking of visual mediums – video and print. It made me realize, to my humility, that entertainment was evolving in such a way that certain parts of society would be denied more and more storytelling. To that end, I am so glad to see the mass marketing of books in audio form. Storytelling must be accessible to all.
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
THE DAME DID IT is the current anthology I’m in. As I said before, it is a wide cross section of women in action stories. There are four in total, and in my personal estimation I’m the most medium boiled of the bunch, but that has to do with my style. Also, interestingly enough, I’m also the only female writer in the collection.
I’m still working on something that hopefully will be my upcoming new release in the near future, and that Pro Se Press has announced, so I’m going to address that here. As I’ve mentioned several times, the majority of projects I’ve worked on as a writer have had bibles based on other people’s intellectual properties (NEWSHOUNDS, ARIA KALSAN, and my work in television animation). Early this year, Pro Se Press announced that they will have multiple books out this year based on popular Midwest convention Master of Ceremonies Peter Pixie, and announced that I am one of the authors. I actually turned in my first draft of this late last year, but got a lot of notes to work on for it, which I am doing. Going back to what I said about accountability and new challenges, this is the first book I am doing expressly for the Young Pulp market. In some ways, my past background in television animation makes me a great fit for this, and in other provides challenges as approaches in prose pulp are very different. So while at its core it is right, there are some aspects I need to rework. It’s an amazing growth experience, and I’m thankful to Pro Se Press for providing it, but it does mean this book might take a while to show up. In that respect, I am very appreciative as well to Pro Se Press, and Peter Pixie for making the licensing deal, to create this opportunity for me to grow and stretch myself, and to be willing to be patient. Right now, the plan is for me to use S.E. Muir as the name on all my Young Pulp works, to help readers, librarians, and others easily identify my prose works geared at this readership.
Can you tell us about some of your other writing (fiction or nonfiction) and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
I spent ten years consecutively doing National Novel Writing Month, and the results of those works I’ve edited, expanded upon, and self-published as part of my own growing and learning curve. Most of those works are outside of my core works of New Pulp and Genre Fiction, and are not areas I intend to explore in the future.
However, there is one work I will point out as it potentially might interest some part of the readership. A friend of mine recently introduced me to the idea of a new genre term emerging called Country or Rural Noir. From what I understand the term itself may actually be coined as recently as 1996, though books that fit the theme have been cited as far back as 1682 (a suggestion is that THE SOVERIGNTY AND GOODNESS OF GOD by Mary Rowlandson could fit this definition), and other writers such as Flannery O’Connor and select works of Nathanial Hawthorne, William Faulkner, and even Louisa May Alcott are also mentioned as early precursors. It’s fascinating reading. The general accepted definition seems to be the upset of rural utopia hopes and dreams, exposing some sort of dark underbelly.
In a lot of ways, my self-published series THE WILLOWBROOK SAGA actually seems to fall loosely under the definition of Country or Rural Noir as I’ve come to understand it, or at least might be considered influenced by this genre. One reason I say loosely is that the term is usually applied to stories in this theme from rural Middle America, while my storyline actually revolves around the Inland Northwest where I spent my teenage years, from the pioneer era to the present day. In THE WILLOWBROOK SAGA, a group of people driven from the East, driven by ideals that clash with that of the American Dream, end up in the Inland Northwest and root themselves deep into the lives of a small farming town where they covertly build the society they want while creating the illusion to the rest of the world that they are not what they seem. The system largely involves the control of women in very specific ways. As the women’s liberation movement grows, so do the women’s attempts in this twisted town to find ways to be free of the town’s exploitative expectations. The series begins in World War II and will reach our own current present day once it is completely released. Originally based on a novel I wrote in high school as a simple, contemporary, teen pregnancy drama in the 1980s, THE WILLOWBROOK SAGA grew into a much grander life of its own through other tales based on the core characters as written for National Novel Writing Month. Since these books consisted of a lot of my early self-published efforts, I recently made the decision to collate the two prequel stories and first two books into a single compilation, with a cover by my husband, Kevin Paul Shaw Broden. The previously released Book 3, along with Books 4 through 6, I hope to have out by the end of the year and will be even closer to a noir definition than the current compilation, which is already a bit dark.
I look forward to take the opportunity to discuss exactly what New Pulp and Genre Fiction is all about, as well as how I came from my television animation background to be part of this movement, at Long Beach Comic Expo in Long Beach California. The event is February 20th and 21st, 2016, and I’ll be doing a panel with my husband Kevin Paul Shaw Broden. As of this writing, we’re scheduled in the Danger Room, S1 on Sunday the 21st from 1 to 2 PM, but as always recommended be sure to check the final con schedule. If you’re in the area, we’d love to see you there and be part of this great conversation.
As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
Never give up, but be flexible on your career path. As I said, I grew up wanting to be a full-time writer. Though I started writing poetry and prose stories in elementary school, once I discovered animation in junior high and learned people who can’t draw could write scripts to guide the artists, I made that my sole goal even though I clearly had talent and passion in other areas and genres. Over the years, as I’ve seen the business change, I’ve gone back and explored the roads not previously pursued and given them another look.
My favorite poem, by the way, is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” though it took years for me to really have that full appreciation grow. Early I related to it for what appears to be its surface meaning, of having two choices and taking the one less people might not, as emphasized by the line about taking the ones less traveled by. Over time though, I really looked at the poem lines, Frost points out repeatedly that the roads really have been worn about the same and that the speaker could come back but just doubts he will. It doesn’t mean the speaker can’t. The last lines are just affirming that it will be the speaker’s justification in the future to either praise or blame the state of the speaker’s life on the life choice. It doesn’t mean that we can’t go back and explore those other roads, unless we block ourselves from doing so.
Who is your favorite author, and can you recommend a book by that author?
My favorite author is J.R.R. Tolkien. I love the richness of his world building in creating Middle Earth, and while his characters are more archetypes in nature, he still makes it possible to care about their fates. In particular, my favorite book is THE HOBBIT. While not nearly as in depth on the epic mythological development as LORD OF THE RINGS and his other words, it is an epic grand adventure much like pulp is, with description and action favored over deep character scenes. However, the book ultimately resonates to me because of the amount of depth in its principal character, Bilbo Baggins. He was the first literary character that I identified with, and to this day find he resembles me a great deal. Bilbo lives in a comfortable life and when an unusual opportunity comes his way, he takes it with uncertainty and it changes his life forever. Because of interest in animation at a young age, and taking chances to actually attempt to contact the production companies behind the shows, I learned things and carved friendships as far back as junior high that matter to this day. When one of those friends referred me to come housesit for a short time in Los Angeles for a friend of hers, I took the chance and went with it. Though I could have easily come home and turned around, I chose to stay and in the summer of 2016 will have lived in the Los Angeles area for twenty years. Also, there are a lot of similarities between Bilbo’s character and my own, especially in matters of honesty and integrity, as shown in the plot points with Bilbo, Thorin, and the Arkenstone. For all the faults of the Peter Jackson movies, that thread is the best depiction of that relationship and its consequences I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen the animated film and the stage play.
The second part of your question asks if I would recommend a book by the author. I know many people find Tolkien difficult for the very reasons I enjoy his works, and that is understandable. I definitely believe it is worth the attempt to at least start with THE HOBBIT if one does want to tackle his works. It makes it easier to appreciate THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and acts as a bit of a primer to some of the world’s races and locations. Only tackle THE SILMARILLION or his other posthumous releases if you have a strong passion for the world building, as they are even less character driven than the better known works.