Tag Archives: Minutes Before Sunset

An Interview with Shannon A. Thompson

23 Oct
Shannon A. Thompson's novel Take Me Tomorrow features a drug that makes its users temporarily clairvoyant. You can read the opening chapters here.

Shannon A. Thompson’s novel Take Me Tomorrow features a drug that makes its users temporarily clairvoyant. You can read the opening chapters here.

Shannon A. Thompson is the author of the Timely Death Trilogy, a YA paranormal romance series. The first novel in the series, Minutes Before Sunset, was a Goodreads Book of the Month selection. Her most recent novel is Take Me Tomorrow, a YA dystopian thriller.

In this interview, Thompson discusses her growth as a writer since publishing her first novel at the age of 16, stretching the conventions of the YA dystopian genre, and the role of The Odyssey in her new novel.

(To read the opening chapters of Take Me Tomorrow and an exercise on how to begin and end chapters, click here.)

Michael Noll

The chapters have real dramatic punch. Each begins in a moment of tension and ends with that moment ends. As a result, the chapters are often short and focused on a single scene. Do you structure them that way consciously?

Shannon A. Thompson

I never structure chapters to be a certain way. The breaks might change during editing, but I mainly focus on simply telling the story honestly and in the best way possible. In fact, I didn’t even realize that about the chapters until you said it. Perhaps that is just the way Sophia’s mind works.

Michael Noll

This is your fourth novel. The first one, November Snow, was written (I believe) while you were still a teenager. I’m sure it’s easy to see how you’ve developed as a writer since then. I’m curious what you think is the most significant way your writing has grown.

Shannon A. Thompson

I believe my writing has grown dramatically. It’s funny you bring November Snow up because it is currently being re-written for re-release in November of 2015, and even I can confess to the embarrassing moments (the endless moments) I’ve had evaluating the changes I want to make. My voice has become more concise, and my characters have grown in maturity and depth. I am very excited to see how far my stories have come over the past seven years, and I hope to continue growing for the rest of my writing life.

Michael Noll

The novel begins in the woods, with a female narrator running and throwing knives into trees. In other words, we’re in a world that owes some of its existence to The Hunger Games. Its dystopian world (with a tyrannical state apparatus) also sits firmly within the genre of dystopian YA literature. I’m curious how you view yourself as a writer in these genres. Some writers, like Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, take inherited creatures and stories and re-imagine them. Other writers—Suzanne Collins, to some extent—write within the genre without feeling the need to stretch it. What sort of writer do you consider yourself? Are you pushing at the conventions or working comfortably within them?

Shannon A. Thompson

Shannon S. Thompson's YA dystopian novel, Take Me Tomorrow, features a clairvoyant drug and an uprising against the oppressive State.

Shannon A. Thompson’s YA dystopian novel, Take Me Tomorrow, is set in a region around Topeka, Kansas.

Well, to be honest, I based the beginning off of my real life. I used to live on a couple hundred acres with my husky, Shadow (the inspiration for Argos) and I collect knives in my spare time. That being said, I strived for a more realistic viewpoint in my dystopian novel. The genre is saturated with almost unrelatable worlds, and although those are fantastically entertaining, I wanted Take Me Tomorrow to have a very close relationship with our current world because the themes very much coincide with societal issues of today, and I didn’t want the topics to be buried under a fantasy. Perhaps that is working comfortably within today’s lines, but maybe – in all honesty – it is pushing the conventions since the approach isn’t in dystopian literature as often. I leave that for the reader to decide. That being said, the sequel – Take Me Yesterday — reveals more about the world than the first book, and I am hoping it receives a contract in the near future. Too bad I don’t have tomo to know.

Michael Noll

The Iliad and The Odyssey are mentioned often in this book. To what extent do you look to those books and their monsters and plots, all of which remain freshly contemporary?

Shannon A. Thompson

Both of those stories are mentioned because Sophia really enjoys them. She has a daring soul and an adventurous heart, but the extent of their mention is explained more so in the sequel. That being said, I will point out one particular scene, which is a bit of spoiler, but in Noah’s bedroom, she comes across a statue, but she doesn’t recognize it. This has to do with Greek culture, and it also shows that – although Sophia reads – the government has censored a lot, especially in terms of photographs (hence why Sophia is fascinated by the paintings in Phelps’ mansion) so she doesn’t recognize what she is looking at despite the fact that she would be aware of it if she were alive in our world. Those are very small details that I inserted specifically for the readers who experience novels more than once and for the rest of the series because Sophia ends up on her own odyssey, and the adventure exposes – like you said – many monsters.

October 2014

 

Michael NollMichael Noll is the editor of Read to Write.

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An Interview with Shannon A. Thompson

3 Apr
Shannon A. Thompson's novel Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month for July. You can read the first chapter here.

Shannon A. Thompson’s novel Seconds Before Sunrise is the latest in the Timely Death series. You can read the opening chapters here.

Shannon A. Thompson is a recent graduate of the University of Kansas and the author of Timely Death Trilogy, a YA paranormal romance series. The latest novel in the series is Seconds Before Sunrise. The first novel, Minutes Before Sunset, was a Goodreads Book of the Month selection.

In this interview, Thompson discusses choosing Kansas over New York for her novel’s setting, when to write multiple points of view, and how to create a community of readers and writers.

(To read the opening chapters of Seconds Before Sunrise and an exercise based on how Thompson sets up the novel’s love story, click here.)

Michael Noll

I’m curious about the importance of place in the trilogy. It’s set in Hayworth, Kansas, which you’ve said is an amalgam of Hays and Ellsworth. This seems, on the surface, like an unusually specific choice for a paranormal romance. The genre states its interests in its name (paranormal and romance), and so the focus of your novels is obviously on the experience of being a shade and the love story between Eric and Jessica. The genre doesn’t really allow for long, lyric passages about place. But does that mean the trilogy could have been set anywhere, or does place matter? To take other examples, place definitely matters in True Blood and Harry Potter, but the American South and England also have much stronger literary histories than central Kansas. In other words, if you set any novel in the South, the reader will have certain expectations. Kansas is more of a blank page, so to speak. How does it impact or color the novel?

Shannon A. Thompson

Understandable question! In the first draft, The Timely Death Trilogy purposely did not have a set place where everything happened. This was because I wanted it to feel like it could happen anywhere, especially right outside your window. Then, in rewrites, I realized I wanted a place, but I didn’t want the stereotypical cities that many novels take place in right now (New York City, Chicago, etc.) I desire more of a “home” feel, something more people can relate to, so I knew I wanted a smaller town, and then I realized I hadn’t read many YA novels in the Midwest, especially fantasy or paranormal based, so I picked Kansas—more or less—as a tribute to the state I lived in during the time of writing the novel.

Michael Noll

The novel is told from two perspectives: Eric and Jessica. How do you know when to switch between them? Sometimes the chapters switch back and forth between points of view, one after the other, but there are also times when Eric gets a couple of chapters in a row. I’m especially curious about the chapters where they are together. How did you decide who got to narrate those chapters?

Shannon A. Thompson

Shannon Thompson's novel "Minutes Before Sunset" was a Goodreads Book of the Month in July.

Shannon A. Thompson’s novel Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month. Thompson discusses her approach to POV in the novel at her website.

I actually wrote about how I choose who was speaking on my blog here: Dual Perspectives: Should Characters Have Equal Time to Speak?

To summarize it, I let the characters dictate when they will speak. Since the first novel revolves around the Dark (shades), Eric spoke more, but the second book is focused on what it is like to be a human. Jessica speaks more because of her human background, but it’s a lot more even than the first novel. The third novel, Death Before Daylight, will expose the Light, but I won’t spoil it by saying who speaks more yet. 😀 

Michael Noll

On your website, you give writing tips, and one of them is to avoid inserting technology into fiction—no cell phones, Facebook, Twitter—because it will quickly become obsolete, as flip phones and MySpace have proven. But you also write that excluding technology is a moral choice. You write, “I want young adults to spend more time outside (or reading) and putting an emphasis on social media didn’t sit well with me any longer.” I’m curious how you balance this choice with the fact that social media and technology are becoming integral parts of our lives. Many people (especially teens) cannot use maps, for instance, but instead rely on the GPS apps in their phones. We check our phones constantly (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat) and even sleep with them. We almost certainly do not plan social gatherings or meetings as far ahead as we did when it was possible to go a day or more without talking to someone. Is it possible that at some point in the future, it will be impossible to write about human life without incorporating phones and social media? Will they become like cars–essential parts of a story?

Shannon A. Thompson

You have a very great point! Yes, technology is part of our everyday lives. However, I still think people will eventually turn away from certain aspects—like how the popularity of MySpace eventually went to Facebook—so I see technology as an unknown expiration date when included in novels. That being said, I see nothing wrong with including social media websites—I loved TTYL when I was younger—but it’s not something I will use in this particular trilogy. I might incorporate it into my future works, but I avoid it for now.

Michael Noll

Many writers (new and old, self-published and those working with publishers) tend to focus on their work but not on the business of publishing. What advice would you give about networking? You’ve been quite successful at building a following. Your author website has more than 14,000 followers. How do you find or attract your readers?

Shannon A. Thompson

I think it’s really important to have a website they can go to. Participate on social media, connect all of your sites, and be willing to understand how the social media changes overtime. Blogging has been my most successful platform. If you’re going to blog, I would suggest keeping a regular schedule with a focused topic range, but it’s more important to connect with fellow bloggers by reading and commenting on writers’ blogs like yourself. Networking is the key to finding fun and entertaining relationships with your readers. Overall, be engaging, entertaining, fun, and informative.

For my website, I began it in September of 2012 under the advice of Robin Hoffman, the Get Published Coach. I started reviewing books and movies, but then I slowly began sharing my story—how I got published and what I was planning on doing in the future. This was before I had my contract for my trilogy. I made sure to begin using a lot of SEO terms in my tags, and through the tags, I found blogs that spoke about similar topics. That’s how I found more writers and readers. Once I did that, I followed trends. For instance, I noticed my book reviews weren’t nearly as popular as my writing tips, so I dropped book reviews and did a long series of writing tips. I also started incorporating my contacts into my blog, which I still do today. On my author Facebook, I will ask questions that followers can answer. If I use their answer, I link to their blog. It’s a way to give back while encouraging a communicating and fun environment. It’s win-win. I honestly believe my every other day schedule is a huge factor, because trends slip majorly on the days I do not blog. Keeping everyone up-to-date is really vital to guarantee return. Having my blog connected with all social facets, so it automatically shares across numerous streams helps. My blog automatically posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Wattpad, and more.

April 2014

 

Michael NollMichael Noll is the editor of Read to Write.

An Interview with Shannon A. Thompson

15 Aug
Shannon A. Thompson's novel Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month for July. You can read the first chapter here.

Shannon A. Thompson’s novel Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month for July. You can read the first chapter here.

Shannon A. Thompson is a 21-year-old with two novels under her belt. Her first, a YA sci-fi thriller November Snow, was published when she was 16. Her latest work, the YA paranormal novel Minutes Before Sunset, was voted a Goodreads Book of the Month for July. Currently, she is finishing her senior year at the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in English (with a creative writing focus).

In this interview, Thompson discusses the idea of prophecy, what it takes for a college student to publish a book, and her strategy for using social media as a promotional tool.

(To read the first chapter of Minutes Before Sunset and an exercise based on how she sets the rules of the novel’s world, click here.)

Michael Noll

You very deliberately set up the rules of the novel’s world in the first chapter: The town is in denial of very plain truths, and yet the narrator would like to join the townspeople’s simple lives–but something prevents him. How did you approach this chapter? Did you set out to establish the mentality of the town and the main character, or did you write the novel and work those things into the first chapter through revision?

Shannon A. Thompson

The first chapter is actually one of the parts that remained remarkably the same during the editing process. I purposely set up the rules so quickly, because they end up being very different from what they seem. As many readers have found out, the “prophecy” idea is not a preordained fate but rather a twisted illusion of choice, identity, and questionable fate. Because of this ultimate change, the beginning was initially set up. In regards to the protagonist, Eric, he is probably more rigid in the ultimate version–a little harsher on the world than he originally was–but I enjoyed it, because his changing from the beginning to the end meant more with his extremities being stretched even further.

Michael Noll

We also learn the basic mechanics of the world’s supernatural elements: the characters can appear and vanish and move quickly across distances. Young members of this community are given guards, either to protect them or protect the world from them (it’s not yet clear in the first chapter). These are crucial details for readers to understand, and it’s important to establish them early, but it’s also important not to stop the story in order to explain these things. You avoid this problem by working the details into the narrative. How did you balance the need to get the story moving with the need to show the reader what the characters can do (which is likely a big part of the book’s appeal)?

Shannon A. Thompson

I balanced them more in the editing process than in the originally writing process. This happened because I had a better understanding after I’d spent so much time with the world and the characters living within it. A good example of this is reflecting on the word count: the first version was 136,000 words, but the published version is less than 80,000 words. This is important, because I was still discovering some of those rules while I wrote the first version. In the editing process, I was able to incorporate those elements sooner.

Michael Noll

Many high school and college students dream of being writers, but you’ve actually published two novels. How were you able to make the jump ambition to actually completing and publishing your work? How do you make time among all the things that typically distract young writers: social life, social media, school, family?

Shannon A. Thompson

Shannon Thompson's novel "Minutes Before Sunset" was a Goodreads Book of the Month in July.

Shannon Thompson’s novel Minutes Before Sunset

Honestly, I believe anyone can make the jump, as you put it, but it requires a lot of sacrifice. I don’t go out on the weekends or watch a lot of T.V. I write–but I also love writing, so this is a beautiful opportunity for me. In terms of making the decision to do this, I’d have to talk about my past. I started writing, because my mother was a writer, and she encouraged me to in order to cope with nightmares and night terrors. She suddenly died when I was 11, and I faced mortality at a young age. I realized that I had to spend my life chasing my dream, so I began immediately, and I had my first novel published in three years. November Snow is dedicated to her, but Minutes Before Sunset is dedicated to my late roommate, Kristine Andersen, who died in October of last year and our other roommate, Megan Paustian. In a way you could say that my passion pushes me forward, but deaths in my life have caused the first shove that turned into the momentum that began it all. However, if I had to give advice, I’d share my mantra: write with passion; succeed with self-discipline.

Michael Noll

I teach at a university, and I often hear faculty lamenting and/or praising our students’ use of social media. The lamenters believe that students are wasting their lives on tiny screens. The praisers believe that students may one day translate their online connections into beneficial ends. I’m curious about your use of social media. It seems like you’ve been successful in creating an online presence for yourself not just as a person but as a writer. Your blog has more than 8000 followers, and Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month in July. What’s your social media strategy?

Shannon A. Thompson

I like to believe my social media strategy is simple: be available and help others. My website provides a lot of writing, editing, and publishing tips, because I want to help other writers, but I also want to help other artists in general. My ultimate dream isn’t to be a famous author. My dream is to be able to open an affordable art school that connects students with innovative artists within their media. I believe I have connected with so many others over the Internet, because I try to help them, and I’m always reminding people they can email me at any time if they have any questions about the industry.

August 2013

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Michael Noll is the editor of Read to Write.

How to Set the Rules Your Characters Must Live By

13 Aug
Shannon Thompson's novel "Minutes Before Sunset" was a Goodreads Book of the Month in July.

Shannon A. Thompson’s novel Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month in July and tells the story of two young adults trying to balance their supernatural gifts with a desire to live in the human world.

Every story has rules. In comic books, the superheroes have certain powers and not others. In horror stories, monsters can be killed only with silver bullets or certain chants. In romances, the heroine falls for certain kinds of men and not others. Pam Houston wrote a novel titled Cowboys are My Weakness. The rules of the novel are announced before you even open the book. Every story ever written or told must announce the rules it will play by.

The trick, as a writer, is to show those rules without disrupting the narrative. Shannon A. Thompson sets the rules clearly and quickly in her Young Adult/Paranormal novel Minutes Before Sunset. You can read the first chapter here. 

How the Story Works

Once you’re aware of how stories set the rules that their characters must live by, you can’t avoid seeing it’s done. Whether the fiction is genre or literary, the need to impose boundaries and limitations on characters is the same.

Here’s an example from the title story of Ethan Rutherford’s excellent new collection The Peripatetic Coffin. The story’s about the crew of a Confederate submarine trying to break the Union blockade of the port of Charleston:

“On deck, we had an unobstructed view of what Augustus had dubbed our Tableau of Lessening Odds. The Federal blockade was stupefyingly effective. Union canonships patrolled the mouth of the harbor, just out of range, and sank anything we tried to send through with the insouciance of a bull swatting blackflies. At night, they resumed the bombardment of the city. High, arching incendiaries, numbering in the thousands, painted the sky. You felt the concussion in your chest.”

The world is imposing clear boundaries on the characters: literally, a blockade with cannon balls and bombs. At no point in the story will the characters be able to act as if these impediments do not exist.

But the boundaries and rules can be mental as well as physical. To see how, read these two excerpts from Shannon A. Thompson’s novel, Minutes Before Sunset:

“It was Independence Day, and I stood with my family on Willow Tree Mountain. They called it Willow Tree Mountain, but, in reality, it was Willow Tree Hill, and the town denied that reality.”

Here’s the second excerpt:

“I moved my foot closer to the edge of the hill. I wanted to ride the wind down to the crowd. I wanted to dance and smile. I wanted to throw my arms in the air and listen to the exploding fireworks. I wanted to run around in endless circles until I fell down from exhaustion. I wanted to enjoy everything.

But that couldn’t happen. It was impossible.”

In these two passages, we learn the fundamentals of the story: the town has an Ignorance-is-bliss attitude. The narrator would like to join the smiling townspeople, but, for a reason that will be revealed later, he’s prevented from doing so. This mental and physical limitation defines his character and determines how the story will move forward.

The Writing Exercise

Let’s practice setting the rules, using Minutes Before Sunset as a model:

  1. Choose a character and a world for that character to inhabit.
  2. Define the world with a single adjective: happy, sad, fearful, proud, bored, etc.
  3. Free write about that adjective. Your goal is to find an image of the world or the people in it that demonstrates the adjective, if possible without actually stating it. The image will set the rules for the world. Future descriptions of the world should adhere to this early image in some way. So, in Minutes Before Sunset, the town’s denial of the supernatural elements in its midst is suggested by the fact that it calls a hill a mountain. In Gone in 60 Seconds, the stovetop burns out of control to suggest Kip’s lack of control.
  4. Now, free write about the character. How does he/she feel about the image you just created? Try to find an action that suggests the character’s attitude toward the world. For instance, in The Hunger Games, the fact that Katniss sneaks through the fence in order to hunt suggests that she’s willing to break the rules to protect her family. Thus, the big event at the end of the first chapter—volunteering for the Games in place of her sister—feels like a natural extension of her character, of the attitude that we’ve already witnessed.

Good luck and have fun.

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