June 1, 2005

GCC: 3 Questions with Shanna Swendson (and the first VIRTUE REPORT|)

Okay, today is a GCC day, when a guest author in my club of lady writers pops by. Let me say, I have 500 errands to run today, but I after I read Shanna Swendson's answers to my traditional 3 QUESTIONS, I added "go buy, ENCHANTED, INC" to my to do list. It's an AWESOME interview. She's funny and smart, and I want to read this book.

If you follow this blog, you know I read VERY eclectically. I would say maybe half of what I read is contemporary literary/commercial fiction by people living and writing right now: I like Michael Chabon and Haven Kimmel and Christina Schwarz and Cassandra King and Pat Conroy--that kinda thing. The other half of my reading breaks down like this: Maybe 20% of my reading is re-reading, classics by dead people I love and some contemporary authors I read over and over, 10% thrillers/mysteries (usually involving cops or lawyers), 10% sci-fi and fantasy, 5% Experimental fiction, and 5% Chick-Lit. I read 100 books a year, easy, so all told I probably buy/borrow/beg/steal/read 5 Chick-Lit books a year. This will be one of them. ANYWAY, here she is---bet she hooks you, too:

JJ: If you could have a magic power (just the one, mind) what would it be? Why?

SS: I thought about a number of things that would make my life a lot easier, but
I think the one that sounds most appealing to me would be to be able to
clean house magically. I'd love to be able to wave my wand or say the right
words and have all the dust disappear, everything rush back to where it
belongs, the floors to be clean, the dishes to wash themselves and the
clothes to clean themselves and put themselves away.

I'd love to live in a clean and organized house, but housework is so low on
my list of priorities that it never gets done. It would free up time and
energy if I could do it magically. (And, yes, I hear there are these things
called maids who will come to your house and clean it for you, but I'm the
weird kind of person who would feel compelled to clean the house before the
maid got there, so it wouldn't save me any time.)

JJ: Sci Fi and fantasy have historically been seen as something for
menfolks---You think about The Sword of Shannara, and you picture a
read-to-tatters copy of it sitting on the table of some gamer-geek guy
who spent his college years crouched in a basement, missing the Sigma
Poo Delta winter formal to roll 12 sided dice with his equally be-geeked
buddies, trying to make his saving throw against that dern balrog. (I
was probably down there with them, by the way, reading the back cover
and saying, "Hey, can I borrow this???") Chick-Lit, on the other hand,
is for what seems to be an entirely different species: women who almost
universally went to the winter formal, and in VERY nice shoes. So it
seems to me this hybrid you've written might have a very braod base of
appeal. You get the smarty-princess Chick-Lit readers, and you also hook
goobers like me, who play WarCraft and yet are still brought to tears at
the site of a pair of strappy Jimmy Choo's. Where do you fall on the
scale of Princess-to-Goober? I can only assume YOU must be some sort of
hybrid yourself?

SS: I like to think of myself as what I call a stealth geek. I generally look
like a Chick Lit kind of gal, with my extensive shoe collection and cute
clothes, but I'm a geek at heart. I do own a read-to-tatters copy of The
Sword of Shannara. I spent three hours last week waiting in line just for a
good seat (I already had tickets) for a sneak preview screening of
"Serenity," the movie spin-off of the Firefly TV series. I've flown across
the country to meet in person with people I met on the Internet while
discussing TV shows. I've even gone in costume to a Renaissance festival.

I suspect in my teen years I was more an outright geek, with no Princess at
all in me. I didn't date. My only date in high school was a mutual mercy
date to the senior prom (I hung out with a bunch of guys who were planning a
big group excursion to the prom, and there was one guy in the group who had
asked several sophomore girls, only to be rejected, so the other guys
convinced him to ask me so the whole group could go together). I spent my
weekends at home reading and attempting to write. When I went to college, I
was in geek heaven because I found a bunch of people just like me! We all
crammed into someone's dorm room to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation (it
was brand-new then, and we were so excited to have new Star Trek!). We went
to the movies repeatedly to see The Princess Bride, and could quote all the
lines. We had Star Wars marathons. I was still just one of the guys, though.

I think I started the gradual transformation to external princess/internal
goober while I was in college. I was majoring in broadcast journalism and
interning at a TV station, and all the reporters were chic and stylish. I
knew I'd have to look like that to get a TV job. Then I went to work in
public relations, where you also have to look pretty stylish. I cringe at
what some of my earlier attempts at style must have looked like. It's taken
about fifteen years of subscribing to Glamour to get to the point where I
don't feel like a fraud when wearing stilettos and a pencil skirt, and I
doubt I'll ever be a true fashionista.

The downside is that now I sometimes feel like I don't fit in anywhere. I
went to a science fiction convention earlier this year, and I looked like I
was in the wrong place with my high-heeled boots and low-waisted boot-cut
jeans and stylish sweater. But I still feel like the geeky girl with braces
and glasses when I'm in other settings. That's the plight of the stealth
geek, the person who looks normal on the outside but who's still a geek at

Oh, and my social life hasn't really improved much since high school. It
seems like all the nice, geeky guys were taken when I wasn't looking, and if
I ever meet a guy I'm interested in, I freeze, turn red and can't manage to
form a coherent sentence, so I end up playing it totally cool and pointedly
ignoring him, which isn't all that effective for conveying my attraction.

I'm not sure that the fantasy readership and the chick lit readership are
really that far apart. The real chicks are too busy out there having a
social life to read all that much. It's the goober girls who are sitting at
home, reading, and they usually read widely. The chick-lit lifestyle is as
much a fantasy to a lot of us as anything involving elves. I do think I'll
have a larger male readership than most chick lit novels. I've had favorable
reviews in fantasy and science fiction publications, including one by a male
fantasy writer, Charles de Lint, who reviewed the book as a fantasy novel
but mentioned that maybe there was a hint of Bridget Jones to it. (Ha!
Little did he know that he was reading chick lit!)

JJ: You sold your first novel two years out of college? HOLY CATS. Well
done, you. And now you are writing for Ballentine, one of the mighty
dozen in NYC. Quite a few emerging writers read this blog, so can you
talk a little about the process of building a career the way you have
chosen to do it?

SS: I don't know that I'd recommend that anyone else build a career patterned
after mine. I've had so many fits and starts along the way. When I sold that
first novel, I had no clue what I was doing. I'm now almost afraid to look
at that book. I should have bought up every copy offered used on Amazon or
eBay before this book came out so no one could find it and read it after I
became a little better known. I was so naïve, I felt like all you had to do
was write a book and send it in, and someone would publish it. I sold five
books relatively easily, and I'm sure I'd find most of them terribly trite
and sappy if I tried to read them now.

So it came as a rude awakening when I hit a big, ugly brick wall. My editor
left New York to go back to Colorado and become a park ranger (true story).
The line I was writing for folded. Suddenly, I couldn't seem to sell
anything. I went eight years without selling a book before I broke through
again and sold Enchanted, Inc. to Ballantine.

I think maybe if I could go back in time and do things over again, I might
have waited to try to sell that first book. I'd have tried to learn more
about the craft and about the business before trying to break in so that I
could have had a more consistent career path.

On the other hand, that first phase of my career was a good training ground
for this phase. I was able to learn how the publishing process works ahead
of time. None of those earlier books were that widely available, so this is
kind of like a first book for me. I'm getting the first book experience, but
with some knowledge behind me. I know now just how difficult it is, just
what the dangers are. This "first" book is so much more meaningful to me
than that real first book was.

My main advice to emerging writers would be to write your book -- that book
no one else can write -- even if it seems to be crazy. I almost didn't write
Enchanted, Inc. because I didn't think there was a market for it. I got so
caught up in the market idea and writing what it seemed like people were
buying, and none of those books sold. It was when I wrote something for fun
that I broke through. You also have to be persistent if this is really what
you want to do. Even though it got very difficult during all those years
without a sale, when I was flinging projects out left and right and racking
up all those rejections, I couldn't make myself stop. I felt like the next
one could be THE one, so I kept trying. It eventually paid off.


I like her. And Now...

I started to say, A LIVE REPORT FROM THE TRENCHES, but....ew. Considering we are talking about BUTT SIZE, that was just, ugh. It came out FILTHY somehow. So I will instead say, HERE IS THE VIRTUE REPORT:

Day one SUCKED! SUCKED, I tell you. But I was SO virtuous---you better shield your eyes lest my holy light blind you with its sweaty, sugar-free glow. I have a HEADACHE from no sugar. AND 1 day = 5% done! HUZZAH! And I already got up and worked out and ate a meagre and nutritive breakfast. Also, I would already like a Key Lime Martini, rim the glass with BEAUTIFUL SUGAR, K Thanx. HEH. And it is 9:17.

My first BIG CHALLENGE will happen THURSDAY, when I have 5 other couples over for POTLUCK and my vicious friend Pam brings her WORLD FAMOUS ECLAIR CAKE.

How did you do, oh my little tribe of the virtuous? TELL!

DISCLAIMER...I am NOT DOCTOR PHIL, out to save the collective big butt of Amerrica. Who is this about? Me. What is this about? MY JEANS! But I do want to say to anyone who blew day one, SO WHAT. Do better on day two. You do NOT have to start over, there is no penalty, you STILL get to wear the shoes you already bought. Just shrug it off and say, SO WHAT! You are pretty, you are human, you are going to try to do better today! RIGHT??? RIGHT! SO! We soldier on!

Posted by joshilyn at June 1, 2005 10:01 AM

I reported last night, not that you ever read my blog anymore. ;)

What a GREAT interview! I think the thing I like MOST about your blog is that through you and the folks you interview I'm learning that novelists are not, in fact, a superhuman species from Alpha Centauri. I mean, y'all are still MUCH COOLER than me, but I love the mundane details and seeing how even those who are successful struggle with all kinds of stuff. Very cool.

Posted by: Mir at June 1, 2005 10:39 AM

My report: I ran yesterday despite being Capital-G-Grumpy. Also I made nutritious dinner of skinless chicken burgers. And I made a yummie brocoli salad that everyone hates but me. BUT I was very sweet-hungry and so I ate several small colored marshmellows. Fat free though. Little fluffs of goodness I say.

Great interview. I have bought many books that I've seen here on your blog and loved them ALL.

I have a question I would like you to answer. How do you find the time to read?? Are you just a speed reader? Because I have a dreadful time staying focused and reading....

Posted by: Heather McCutcheon at June 1, 2005 11:30 AM

I am working up the guts to diet with you, but I'm now menopausal and fighting the B*tch effect. Ladies please buy stock in Tylenol PM when you get that far, sleep is now the most important thing in the world, okay not that important, but it ranks up their after God, Ducky, kids - grans, and ICE CREAM . Okay so the first four take no effort.
Love the interview with SS, your suggestions are going to make me book poor, but my authors are not producing at as fast a pace as I need, so no free reads at the moment. Enchanted, inc. will come right after The Avatar by Ivar Tarizi that is a Peggy Tibbetts suggestion, and she's got great taste.
Ugh, okay day one began with oatbran, blueberries, cinnamon, and a banana. Oh that is my normal breakfast. But it is high in fiber.

Posted by: Cele at June 1, 2005 12:45 PM

Day 1 was 95% successful, eating to make Dr. Agatston proud, power walk with half of it UPHILL (pant, gasp, wheeze) and ending the day with a Yoplait yougurt. Which has sugar. But it was yogurt, not ice cream. And not a speck of flour. Today has also begun well. Thanks for the push and good going, you!

Posted by: Dara at June 1, 2005 2:34 PM

Day One went okay until 8 p.m. when this huge peanut butter sandwich YELLED at me from the kitchen COME GET MEEEEE!!! Then, of course, the MILK started yelling and oh well.
of the size 16 butt
a pure disgrace

Posted by: Jilly at June 1, 2005 2:44 PM

Day One went okay until 8 p.m. when this huge peanut butter sandwich YELLED at me from the kitchen COME GET MEEEEE!!! Then, of course, the MILK started yelling and oh well.
of the size 16 butt
a pure disgrace

Posted by: Jilly at June 1, 2005 2:44 PM

1) The book sounds good. I need to check this one out!

2) First day of Virtue. Bleah. Virtue sucks. But I'm trying. Lots of water in the Big Blue Glass. A steep-hilly sweaty walk after supper. No bread. No 'taters. Nothing fried. No candy, cookies, ice cream, or coconut cake (sob). I ate a lot of fruit, which is sugar, but not refined sugar and if I didn't have it you would have been hearing about my rampage on the national news. So.

Today was grocery shopping day and I stocked up on an assortment of Virtue-approved foods and avoided the candy aisle and the counter in the bakery section where they give you a free cookie. Is it really only Day 2? REALLY??

Posted by: DebR at June 1, 2005 4:27 PM

PS...It is 4:34 PM and I would gladly mug a little old lady for some nachos right now.

Just had to share that.

Posted by: DebR at June 1, 2005 4:35 PM

I used to think authors had to be superhuman or from another planet. Even though I always wanted to be a writer, I never thought that was something you could do. Being president or an astronaut seemed like more attainable careers. Now I know that very human people can do it (I mean, if they'll let me in, anyone can stand a chance). Then again, there are plenty of people who think I must be from another planet.

I'm trying to ignore this whole virtue thing. I'm in the first week of a book release, so I need to maintain a healthy blood chocolate level in order to cope. But good luck to everyone else!

Posted by: Shanna Swendson at June 1, 2005 6:05 PM

OK I'll join you (as I finish off the last of the cheap white merlot). I was good the rest of the day. Exercise was field day at school, those 2nd graders really made me chase a lot of soccer balls! And a couple of walks.

I really loved the interview, and that's why I'm joining your 20 days of virtue. That, and I need a new pair of shoes.

Posted by: Patti Hermes at June 1, 2005 11:50 PM

So I didn't play along yesterday officially, but did pretty well by eating reasonable stuff for breakfast, no sugar in coffee, sushi for lunch (very little rice), and no Lemon Drop. Your timing is impeccable because we are supposedly training for a 5K (me) and a triathlon (Mr Boyfriend) so June 1 was the first day for no more crap-eating. So far today I've been good. But the day is young yet. And there are peanut M&Ms *right across the room*. (I hear the drums of Mordor as I write this.)

Posted by: Julia at June 2, 2005 12:43 PM