Welcome back! For this week’s author interview, I’d like to introduce Shannon Connor Winward. Shannon is a widely published author of poems and prose, with work appearing in such publications as Strange Horizons, The Pedestal Magazine, and Flash Fiction Online, among other venues.
Recently, Shannon and I discussed fairy tales, writing rituals, and her upcoming plans as an author.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I was a very creative, weird, dramatic kid. I’ve always had an overactive imagination and a passion for the macabre. I started to focus on poetry and stories when I was about eight; by ten I’d decided to be the next Stephen King.
King will always have a special place in my heart (The Stand changed my world). I also love Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman (esp. Anasi Boys), Juliet Marillier, George R. R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Lamott, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue. I don’t get to read novels as much as I used to because I have a toddler and an Aspie vying for my attention, but I’ve started Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and it’s wonderful.
I am a big fan of your poem, “Snow Waiting,” that appeared last year in Gingerbread House Lit. What was the inspiration for this piece, and do you expect to do any more fairy tale retellings in your future work?
Thanks! Actually I wrote “Snow Waiting” for a magazine I like that was holding a fairy-tale themed-contest. I don’t know what made me think of Snow as a foster kid, but I like twisting our expectations of fairy tales, gender roles. Snow White is exploitative. It’s all about Snow’s looks, what people want from her. She’s just a pretty victim. My Snow is also tragic, but I tried to give her a little edge. She’s probably going to get her heart ripped out, but I like to think she’ll survive.
Obviously “Snow Waiting” didn’t get picked for the contest, and I shopped her around for a while before finding a home with Gingerbread House. Sometimes that happens, a piece gets rejected until finally someone says “YES WE LOVE IT” and it turns out to be the perfect match. I was really happy with the reception “Snow” received there. The artwork they chose for her is just stunning.
I went through a spell where I wrote quite a few fairy tale revisions (I was in love with a librarian who was in love with fairy tales). My poems “Bride Gift” and “Fallen” are other examples. It’s not my primary focus but, yes, I expect I’ll write more. It’s a really fun genre to explore. A lot of my work is also myth- and folklore-inspired.
Is there a certain genre that’s your favorite?
My tastes are pretty eclectic. I like stories laced with fantasy (high or low), magical realism, genre-bending, interstitial stuff. Mythpunk. Character-driven sci-fi. I like creepy and weird but not (necessarily) grit and gore. Or not *just* grit and gore. I don’t love genre for its own sake. I’m interested in the psychology of characters, the human condition, stories with heart. I like books that leave you weeping at the end, like you’ve just found (or remembered?) another piece to the puzzle of life, the universe, and everything. I prefer stories that make you better for having read them. That’s the kind of story I hope to write, too.
Do you have any specific writing rituals? And is your approach different depending on whether you’re crafting prose or poetry?
I need lots and lots of head space to write. I need my kids to be quiet (preferably sleeping or out of the house) and nobody can talk to me. I need a cup of coffee or a cigarette (if I’m smoking that year), something to channel the energy through my hands, because otherwise my thoughts tend to get log jammed. I find lighting a candle helps, too.
The only difference in the process of writing poetry or prose is that poetry is faster. I can work on a poem or two before I get interrupted and have to change a diaper or make a phone call. Fiction requires that I maintain the mindset much longer; if I stop, I have to work very hard to find my way back in. So it can take me years, decades even, to be done with a short story, unless I enter a sort of manic state where I ignore everything and everyone until the project is done. Which happens. Thankfully, I have a very supportive (and long-suffering) spouse.
Out of your published pieces, do you have a personal favorite?
My poem “Session,” which appeared in The Pedestal Magazine, is a definite favorite. It was my first professional poetry sale, and it’s sort of a signature piece about the anthropology of the psyche. It’s very representative of how I write and what interests me.
For fiction: “Babycake”, which just came out in Gargoyle Magazine, was super fun to write. It foreshadowed the birth of my daughter, as I was pregnant when I wrote it and didn’t know it. My science fiction story, “Ghost-Writer”, was inspired by a book by scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, who suffered a debilitating stroke to her left brain hemisphere. That story has a lot of my heart in it. It was anthologized in Heiresses of Russ : The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction 2015 (Lethe Press), which was a real honor. I’m also looking forward to “She Is”, my quirky take on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, with the gods playing a table-top RPG in Hades’ basement. That’s coming out soon in Stupefying Stories.
Where would you ideally like to see your writing career in five years?
Well the last few years will be hard to beat. I’d really like to see my novel published. I’m still waiting to make that love match with the right press, but I think once I do and I’m able to hold that book in my hands, it will be a very meaningful milestone.
I’m also working on a book-length collection of poetry and prose, a memoir about living with mood disorder and raising a child with mood disorder and autism. I hope to have that completed and published in five years and be travelling with it, reaching out to other families, advocating. The landscape for our kids can be pretty bleak.
I’d like to commit to a second novel (I’ve got several in the running but I keep getting distracted). In general, I hope that in five years I’m still writing and making money and making a difference in my communities.
Big thanks to Shannon Connor Winward for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at her website!