Attorney and Author Shannon Humphrey writes science fiction featuring heroic women and minorities. In 2013, Shannon released her first young adult fiction novel Hope Defined. As a fiction author, she was a Hedgebrook resident in 2018. She is re-publishing the Hope series in 2019, her series Skin Trials, and the upcoming Blood Republic series.
A graduate of the University of Arkansas, she was also a trial attorney, who fought for poor families across Los Angeles.
Author interview – Shannon Humphrey
When did you start writing, and why?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Maybe age 8 or 9, inside a bunch of colouring sheets I took from school, stapled together, and made my diary. My mom discovered it in my bed, told me to stop cursing in my journal, and she bought me a real one.
Writing was second nature. More natural than talking to people actually, and I love words—reading them, absorbing them, and processing their meaning and power. No one else can interfere with the bond between your mind and words. No other voices can interfere. No other opinions or objections can break in and force their will upon you. Reading is a very intimate process outsiders can’t disrupt, and so is writing. I’m very comfortable, in my element, when I’m doing it. If I’m writing a story I actually love.
At what age did you take yourself seriously as a writer?
Haha! Probably 42.
How long did it take you to write your first book?
About ten years. I started it in my early twenties before law school, and finally published in my early thirties, after I had been a lawyer for a few years.
What was your last book about?
It was about a genetically modified America, racially divided and only people of one race can be in the very top tier. But the main character does not realise this oppression until she herself makes a very stunning discovery about her place in the racial hierarchy.
What are you working on right now?
Blood Republic, an epidemic thriller with a twist.
What is your writing process like? Do you plot or do you just dive in?
I’m half and half. If I plot too much, I get discouraged and bored. If I don’t at least think ahead on some details, tension, and conflict, I get lost and stuck. Now that I’ve learned this about myself, I try to form a loose enough outline, with the fundamentals in place—opposing interests between characters, competing goals for the conflict, the beautiful layers of character that I love, a provocative concept, and then I try to apply what Stephen King recommends—put them all in a room and let them work it out.
What do you struggle with most as a writer?
Too much description and emotion to the point it can get sappy. And not enough tension or conflict. I really have had to work on that, and it can drag down pacing. So that’s my chief priority that I’m proactively addressing now. Oh! And of course, doubting whether I can make my books sell and have readers believe in me.
What advice would you give to writers dealing with the same or similar struggle?
When you get stuck, walk away. I know that sucks to hear. But it is the single most helpful thing that focuses my storytelling. Walk away. You might need to not see your story for a week. During this time, take a walk. Take a hike. Ride your bike. Play video games with your kids. I play PS4 with my husband. We argued last night over whose turn it was. Do some yoga. Asana Rebel is a fantastic iPad workout app that mixes yoga and pilates.
And then, read two other authors’ books in your genre. Even if you don’t finish it, try to read 25%. Sometimes when I go to bed, I put myself to sleep with other folks’ books. Learn what is working for other successful authors. Also, read a bad book or two.
When I do this and come back to my own book, I see it with new eyes. I can see where I had been so close to the story that I was repeating the same stuff, in different ways. The action and tension were sagging, and needed life. So, then I go for a walk or a jog with my headset, and a new conflict or source of tension comes to me that I didn’t think of before. There must be some research somewhere that physical activity helps the brain flow!
There is, actually! Dutch scientist Erik Scherder specialises in this! Not sure whether any of his work is available in English though…Anway, have you always had that struggle or has it changed over time?
Always had this struggle. I’m wordy and overly descriptive even when I talk. Can you tell from above? *hand over face emoji*
Do you prefer the term ‘writer’ or ‘author’, and why?
Author. I’m published. I’ve walked through the fire and I still am enduring the fire to become someone who sells, and who readers crave. But I don’t just talk about it, I do it, so dammit, give me my props!
Who’s your favourite author?
What’s your favourite book?
What’s your favourite book on the craft?
On Writing by Stephen King.
That’s one of my favourites, too! OK, last but not least, what’s the best writing advice you were ever given?
Say it shorter.