Tag Archives: Seconds Before Sunrise

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.

How to Write a Love Story

1 Apr
Seconds Before Sunrise is second book in the Timely Death series, a Young Adult paranormal series by recent University of Kansas graduate Shannon A. Thompson.

Seconds Before Sunrise is the second book in the Timely Death Young Adult paranormal series by Shannon A. Thompson.

I once heard a critic claim that love stories are more difficult to write today than they were for Shakespeare. The obstacles that Shakespeare depended upon—class, feuding families, the fate of stars—have mostly been removed as possibilities, at least in America.

So, if class isn’t an option, how do we put obstacles between lovers in a story other than “he’s just not that into you?” This is a problem that genre literature, especially genres that deal in fantasy elements, handles well. The new YA paranormal novel from Shannon A. Thompson, Seconds Before Sunrise, perfectly illustrates two great ways to complicate a relationship. You can read the opening chapters here.

How the Story Works

I don’t necessarily believe the critic is right, but the idea that class is no longer relevant is still an interesting one. It’s certainly true that when class conflicts appear in fiction, the battle is often quick and decisive. For example, in the film The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway’s character questions the importance of choosing between two identical belts (in other words, questioning the industry itself). In response, her boss not only says she’s wrong but also insults her clothes as lumpy and unfashionable, saying that they must come from “some tragic Casual Corner.” After that, the movie never questions the class divide again.

So what are other ways to complicate a relationship? This passage (the beginning of Eric’s chapter on page 10) from Thompson’s novel illustrates her approach to complicating a love story (and the approach of many novels that incorporate fantasy elements):

I shoved my head into my locker and breathed hoarsely. It was the first day of school and sitting next to Jessica was already killing me. I wanted to talk to her, hold her, be with her—anything really—but I couldn’t. If the Light realized who or what we were, she’d be killed, and there was nothing I could do except stay away.

“You okay?” Jonathon asked, his voice squeaking through the slits of my locker.

I leaned back to stare at the blind artist. I wouldn’t believe he was Pierce, a powerful shade, if I hadn’t known his identities myself.

“I’m dealing,” I grumbled, unable to keep eye contact as Jessica passed us.

She flipped her brunette curls as she playfully hit Robb McLain’s arm. Robb McLain, with his sparkling teeth, gelled hair, and playboy personality was the perfect jerk.

The narrator and Jessica are in love, but the powers that be are keeping them apart—in this case, the “powers that be” are actual forces with actual special powers. Jessica’s memory has been wiped (though not completely) and other characters are in disguise. In other words, Thompson has invented an obstacle that does not exist in the real world. But she has also added a more realistic obstacle. Though the plot depends on paranormal activities, it’s grounded with a staple of love stories: the beautiful and charismatic, yet so-wrong-for-her, rival.

The Writing Exercise

Let’s introduce complications to love story, using the passage from Shannon A. Thompson’s novel Seconds Before Sunrise as a model. In order to introduce those complications, we first must do the following:

Choose the relationship. It can be a relationship between lovers, of course, but that isn’t the only option. Every story has pairs of characters who develop a relationship with each other: brothers, siblings, parent/child, friends, co-workers, or teammates. All of these relationships work the same. The story is often driven forward by the forces that push these characters together and then pull them apart.

Choose the force of attraction. The most obvious is love. But characters can also be brought together in other ways: their shared history together, duty to a cause or each other, an event like a funeral, or some external force (boss/teacher forcing them to work together). In stories, this force is often clearly identified: “I could never leave her because _____.” Or, “Now, we had no choice but to work together.” Now, we can introduce the force that will disrupt the relationship. There are many ways to do this. Here are some of them:

Forces that can disrupt a relationship:

  • Forces of Class: These are forces whose power comes from differences in social standing: wealth, race and ethnicity, and position within a power structure. Wealth complications, though less common than in the past, still exist in fiction, especially historical fiction. So, The Notebook initially disrupts its characters’ relationship (just before World War II) by having Allie’s parents call Noah “trash.” Romance novels do this all the time: the tycoon’s son seducing the maid. Complications due to race/ethnicity might seem less common (or, again, confined to historical fiction), but they are still used (as in this beautiful story by Tiphanie Yanique). And, relationships in science fiction and fantasy stories (between different kinds of aliens) often mirror realistic stories of racial/ethnic differences. Complications due to power imbalance might be easier to use: bosses and employees, teacher and student, mentor and mentee, player and fan, soldier and civilian, or legal immigrant versus undocumented immigrant. In short, any policy or tradition that grants one person greater power than another is ripe for use in a story.
  • Forces of evil: It’s often useful to say, in a story, that if two characters get together, the bad guys will kill one of them. This is what Thompson does in Seconds Before Sunrise. It’s also the complication used in most adventure stories, like these two favorites from my childhood: Romancing the Stone and The Princess Bride.
  • Characters in disguise: Shakespeare used this a lot in his comedies. Characters—particularly female characters—would disguise themselves, often as men, and go unrecognized by their beloved. The question you must ask yourself is this: why must the character go into hiding? Are they in danger? Are they balancing multiple roles? Are there parts of their lives that cannot be revealed or discussed? The disguise can come in different forms. They don’t always make a beautiful person less beautiful. The story of Cyrano de Bergerac does the opposite by disguising looks with wit.
  • Irreconcilable differences and incompatible goals: This is used by romantic comedies a lot (she’s too serious, and he jokes all the time; she has a career, and he’s a Playboy). It’s also the basis of many domestic dramas. Answer the question: what would make it difficult for these characters to live together, to stand being around each other?
  • External Events: Many stories use external events that separate the characters (soldier shipped off to war, kid left at home over Christmas). The event can also be more intimate, such as the onset of a disease. The film Away from Her (based on Alice Munro’s story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”) disrupts a relationship with Alzheimer’s, to devastating effect.

Now, you can choose a rival.

Three ways to choose a rival:

  • Pick someone poorly suited as a love interest: This kind of rival is often the complete opposite of the other love interest—beautiful and popular instead of ordinary-looking and nerdy or uncool in some way. Even though the rival’s qualities at first seem appealing, the character who falls in love with him/her eventually realizes the rival’s “true” qualities. This is what Thompson has done: “Robb McLain, with his sparkling teeth, gelled hair, and playboy personality was the perfect jerk.” This kind of rival often creates a plot whose focus is on revealing the rival’s true personality.
  • Pick someone similar to the other love interest: What if the rival isn’t easy to hate? What happens if I love So-and-so, but she falls in love with someone who is just like me, but not me? This kind of rival creates a plot whose focus is on the other person (me) finding ways to distinguish him/herself.
  • Pick a random person. The scary thing about finding your beloved in love with someone else is that it may mean your beloved is far different than you thought. A random rival (someone whose qualities are neither good nor bad, just unexpected) often creates a plot whose focus is revealing the beloved’s true personality. In other words, it shows that the other person (me) has been pursuing someone with whom he/she is poorly matched.

This may seem like a lot of information. In a nutshell, all you need for a love story is an attraction, a disrupting force, and a rival.

Good luck!

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