Anna Sheehan's debut novel A Long, Long Sleep, was absolutely amazing. It was a cross between a post dystopian future and classic soft science fiction. In many ways it reminded me of some of Frank Herbert's and Alfred Bester's novellas. I had to find out more about the author, and thanks to contacts at Candlewick Press I was able to arrange to have Anna partake in my 20 questions with an author, profile and interview series. So without further ado here's Anna.
Thanks for giving me an excuse to talk about myself - everyone's favorite topic.
1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
I'm not sure. Crying into my pillow at night? No, I do have a technical degree in commercial goldsmithing, so I'd probably be making jewelry and selling it at Renn Faires and SCA events. But I'd still be writing, even if I couldn't make a living out of it. I'd go mad without it.
2. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you nurture that dream?
I always loved books, but I can't actually remember a time when I said to myself, "That's it. That's what I want to do." I remember that I wanted to be a writer from the age of at least sixteen, but I don't remember actually making that decision. I just started writing, sometime in sixth grade, and couldn't stop. Probably from the time I learned how to type, I was heading toward being a writer.
3. How many attempts did it take you until you got your first book picked up by Candlewick Press?
Let me check. What year is this? This is not my first book by any means - more like my twelfth. Lots of them weren't any good. I tried seriously for about five years to get an agent, which was a long and exhausting journey, but one I don't regret enduring. It's a hard road, but despite the costs and the tears I never once thought of taking another path.
4. Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors to your success in getting your first book published?
My mother, who let me live in her garage has always been my unfailing supporter, both financially and emotionally. She always believed in this roulette which I assured her would be my career. My darling goodman Drew had great faith and enthusiasm, which helped a lot. And to this I have to add the good taxpayers of the United States and Oregon, which enabled me to have health care, so that I didn't up and die before this book was finished.
5. What were some of your favorite authors or books that helped shape your writing style?
My favorites did not necessarily shape my writing style. But the first answer to any question along these lines has to be my goddess, the incomparable Diana Wynne Jones, whose recent death has deprived the world of such greatness. Her books dragged me from the dark so many times. Other writers who have influenced at least my life if not my writing include Douglas Adams, and the great William Shakespeare.
6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
I'm afraid that even after fifteen years of writing, I have yet to develop a pattern that always works for me. For some books, rough three page outlines have yielded bountiful fruit within a month or less. For others, long drawn out conceptual processes finally result in pitiful moth-eaten manuscripts which will probably never see the light of day. I think I'm still developing my writing process. In general, I have an idea which I ruminate on for several months. This idea can be a concept, a character or even a plotline. For A Long, Long Sleep the instigating thought was the idea that the interesting story of Sleeping Beauty wasn't how she was put to sleep, but what happened after she woke up. If, after some months the idea hasn't faded into obscurity, I sketch out an outline. Then I start writing. Strange things occur. Aliens pop up in lunchrooms for no adequately explained reason, until I get to the end of the book and realize, "Oh! That's why he was there." The process of landing an agent or an editor is sketched out much more efficiently in books on writing, so I'll skip that here. Eventually someone says, "Yes, I like this. I can't wait to sell it!" and then you let them sand out the edges until, between the two of you, you have something you can feel okay about inflicting upon the general public. Then you sit back in awe as arcane contracts arrive in the mail, and reviews with "stars" on them show up online and people you've never before heard of ask you to answer interview questions.
7. Do you use a playlist when writing? If so could you share some of the songs used when writing, A Long Long Sleep?
I can't easily write if the music I'm listening to has lyrics. I pay too much attention to the words. Most of what I listened to for A Long, Long Sleep were cello concertos from Yo Yo Ma or Ofra Harony. An indy band called The Changelings has a lot of sci-fi goodness to it that has been useful. The techno band Deep Forest and Phillip Boulding's harp I listen to a lot. But two songs stand out in my head as fitting: "Haunted" by Poe really captured Rose's state of mind. "Red Red Rose" by the Weepies somehow turned into Otto's theme song about six months ago.
8. One of the greatest strengths in your book is the characters, they are so solid and believable. The characters you create, are they reflections of people you know, composites of different people you know or entirely your creations?
Often an action or a statement is taken from someone I know, but the characters themselves are themselves. Rose surprised me by how nice she was - I think she is probably the nicest character I've ever written. It was a pleasure to spend time in her head. I ended up naming my milk cow after her, just because she was such a nice, sweet cow.
9. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?
I remember when I got to a certain point in the novel and Xavier had to dispel some unpleasant illusions Rose had had about her life. That was hard to write, because Xavier didn't want to do it. I remember him asking me in my head if I couldn't just kill him, instead, because it would be easier on him. When I basically said no and set down to writing it, I developed an actual allergic reaction. My eyes started getting all puffy and painful and tearing up, and it gave me a headache, and I couldn't write at all until the next night. I always thought it was Xavier punishing me for putting him through so much hell. As for their whereabouts after a novel is finished, I can't say. I always know what they'd do in a specific situation. If I'm writing a sequel, they have to stay in my head longer, of course. I have vague ideas of what they've done after a book ends, but I don't feel like I "own" them. If I decided to go back and visit a character I left five years ago, for instance, I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover they'd done things I hadn't expected them to do when I'd left the book.
10. What current projects are you working on or are in the back burner in some stage of development?
Oh, I haven't finished revisiting Sleeping Beauty. As a faerie tale, that one is rife with inherent difficulties. After all, the world doesn't stop just because one person is asleep. I like exploring alternate histories, so I've experimented with some fantasy pirates. A lot of what gets published depends more on other people than one would think.
11. What were some of your favorite books and authors when you were younger?
12. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
I'm going to combine these two questions, because I read "above my grade-level" as a child, and I still haven't grown up now. Diana Wynne Jones, of course - I'm particularly fond of Hexwood, Dogsbody and The Lives of Christopher Chant, but all of her books are inherently good. My favorite Shakespeare play is The Tempest, because you aren't sure exactly who the villain is. I grew up on Sherlock Holmes and C.S. Lewis. Oh, and anyone who hasn't read James Thurber's Thirteen Clocks is missing out, royally.
13. One of your books is available in electronic formats (Via NetGalley) but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
Oh, le sigh. Well, to start with, e-books aren't illegal distribution, and of course people can read the way they want to, though I personally hold deep affection for the actual bound and printed word. The discussion of author's royalties and the process of distribution when it comes to the electronic marketplace fortunately rests on wiser heads than my own. To turn to illegal copies. The ancient Irish king Dairmait ruled "to every cow her calf, to every book its copy." The story is that the Irish held copywrite so sacred they would even go to war over it. But piracy of intellectual property has been going on forever - hence the necessary ruling. The Pirates of Penzance was written because Gilbert and Sullivan's plays were being pirated so mercilessly in America they hadn't a prayer of stopping it without resorting to legal production trickery. The theft of intellectual property has been going on long before torrents and the internet, and will go on long after these technologies become passe. In the end, I'm not in control of it. I'm going to write my books, and hope people read them, and if they read them, that it makes some difference in their lives. If this results in me earning money, that means I can write more books. If someone wants me to write more, they should pay me for what I've already done so that I can afford to write more. That's all there is to it.
14. Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you have do so are have someone do so for you?
I'd be more worried if I was going the independent route. I think Candlewick has teams in place for this.
15. Completely off topic but what TV shows or movies do you enjoy?
This is not off topic. Story is story is story. The medium may be different, but I watch a lot of movies, even outside my chosen genres, simply because it is an easy way to absorb story, dialogue and scene structure. I'm an avid Doctor Who fan, have been since I was six years old. (No, I don't have a favorite Doctor. Name one, and I'll tell you what I like about that one.) I watch a lot of British television, actually. I love almost anything by Jim Henson, and most of George Lucas, particularly (for both of them) the movie Labyrinth. I have a model of the Enterprise on my wall. I have a great deal of respect for Tim Burton. I recently became quite addicted to the movie Megamind - probably because he was blue, like Otto, and a science geek with no social skills, keen fashion sense, and great taste in music. I like geeks.
16. What advice would you give to teens today, to your readers, what gems of knowledge have you gleaned in life that you would pass on?
Oh, hang in there, it gets better! Honest! Just survive. Enjoy what you can, but mostly just make yourself get through, jump through all the hoops, until you're safe and secure and can be who you want to be. No one can stop you then. But this all comes out in my books, really.
17. Do you have plans to have a personal website, blog or twitter account by the time your book is published later this year?
I'm working on it. I address envelopes with a quill pen and I'm still writing on WordPerfect, so these things clearly go slow for me.
18. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
You know I never took any higher education, so I'm sure your university professor is right. How to think is a very worthy goal, and it is something most people in general don't choose to do. I rather regret not getting a degree, but I couldn't justify going into that much debt for a piece of paper that wasn't going to help me do what I wanted to do. A degree in writing doesn't mean I can write. Having written books people want to read mean I can write. I just kept writing books, and reading books on how to write books. Not everyone can do that on their own, and most people are more socially active, so I highly recommend college for those people.
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
Big ones. Is there a "Complete Collected Works of Charles Dickens"? I'll take that one, even if it was the size of an elephant. Same with Shakespeare and Jane Austin and Conan Doyle. Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci series would hopefully fit only one book, so I could add the Dalemark Quartet, too. And could someone squeeze Ranma ½ into anthology form? Oscar Wilde? James Thurber? This leaves me only one left, huh? Douglas Adams' More Than Complete Hitchhikers Guide! And I'm still heartbroken over leaving my Poe and my Nix and my Yolen and the rest of my library. Stop torturing me like this!
20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?
Give up. You aren't good enough, and there's far too much out there anyway, so you'd only be an drop in the ocean. I say this, because everyone will be saying this to you obliquely, and you'll be saying it to yourself. If you can't look me in the face and say, "Burn you! I'll never give up!" don't bother. For those who didn't burst into tears or stalk away, I'd follow up by saying, "Good for you! One story can change the world for one person. If you can change the world, help one person through a tough time, it doesn't matter how much hell you have to go through to do it. Do what you love. Don't let fear or discouragement even touch you."
Anna proclaims that in youth she swam in books, studies acting and Shakespeare. She won an award for her first novella at the age of 15 in high school. And from reading her first novel, it will not be long until she is winning awards again. So Thank you Anna for answering some questions for the readers at Book Reviews and More.
Books by Anna Sheehan:
A Long Long Sleep (2011)
Author Profile Interview with Anna Sheehan