Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Shannon Whitney Messenger

If you haven't already seen the news heard round the blogosphere, let me point you over to this post, because the news of the week is that SHANNON WHITNEY MESSENGER HAS A BOOK DEAL! And not just any book deal. We're talking a six-figure pre-empt, big-name-editor, OMG kind of book deal. Woo-hoo!!

I've read Shannon's posts for years. I've known her in person for more than a year. And let me tell you, when I heard about this deal, I was SO VERY happy for her. She's worked hard to get to this point and she has been so generous with her time for other writers and around the blogosphere.

But enough from me. It's time to hear all about this awesome new deal that she's been sitting on for five months! Yikes!

Okay, so first of all, HUGE congratulations on signing with one of the coolest editors ever. It took weeks before you could officially announce the news. How hard was it to sit on something like that?

Aw, thank you Sherrie. And weeks? Ha—try MONTHS! We finalized the deal back at the beginning of May. MAY! So it was really, really, really, really, REALLY hard keeping the secret for that long. But in some ways, it was also nice, because it gave me a chance to get used to working with my editor and power through all my edits with a lot less pressure, because no one knew what I was up to. Plus, I wasn’t totally alone in my suffering (at least for most of the wait). My friend, Natalie Whipple and I were both sitting on secret deals at the same time (yes—we spilled the secret to each other). So we had a lot of fun amusing ourselves with vague tweets with the hashtag: #codeword. I’m sure everyone who saw them thought we were weird, but we found it ridiculously entertaining. :)

Oh, that's too funny! So many secrets :)
So when you heard the great news, what did you do to celebrate?

I wish I could say I did something super exciting, but it all happened so fast (we got the offer on a Thursday and by Saturday we were accepting) that I was a little too shocked to do much more than stare at my phone, hoping it wouldn’t ring and I’d find out it had all been a big mistake. I think my husband took me to a celebratory dinner—but honestly, it’s all a bit of a blur. We did continue the tradition of commemorating landmark events with a new charm for my Tiffany charm bracelet, though. My husband bought me the New York taxi one, since NY is the publishing capital (and they don’t have a book one—what up with that T&Co?).

Maybe when you're as famous as Audrey Hepburn they'll make one for you. (And I have no doubt these books will make you famous, Shannon!)

Like you, I’m a huge fan of Brandon Mull. When you found out you would be working with the same editor as him, what was your reaction?

Absolute disbelief. All of the editors we submitted to were wonderful, but—I must confess—Liesa was someone I was really rooting for because I am a HUGE admirer of so many books she’s edited. So when my agent told me Liesa had come in with a pre-empt I had to let the words sit in my head for a minute before they actually made sense. Once they finally did, my next reaction was basically: OMG-how-will-I-work-with-such-a-rock-star-editor????  Fortunately, my agent set up a phone call between Liesa and I, and Liesa was so funny and friendly that she put me at ease right away. I knew after like five minutes (though we talked for almost two hours—it might have been a record!) that not only could I work with her, but that she totally got my book and would help me make it the best it could be. And I was absolutely right. Working together these last few months has been amazing, and I know for a fact that I could not have found a more perfect editor for me, or my writing.

Can you tell us anything about the novel?

I CAN! (Which is so cool, btw. I finally get to talk about my book!) It’s called KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, and it’s book one in a middle grade fantasy series launching Fall 2012. It's about a twelve-year-old girl who has always been different -- she's years ahead of the other kids in school and can read minds. She's always assumed there's some kind of logical explanation for her talents, but when she meets an adorable and mysterious boy, she finds out the shocking truth. She's never felt at home because she, well, ... isn't. There are secrets buried deep in her memory, secrets about her true identity and why she was hidden among humans, that others desperately want and would even kill for. And she must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world, before the wrong person finds the answer first.

Sounds awesome! I can't wait to read it!!
I know you studied screenwriting at USC. Do you have any finished screenplays?

Ha—um … yes. Though a better question would be: do I have any GOOD finished screenplays? To which the answer is a resounding, NO! I have one about boy bands (yes, really!) and one that’s kind of SLIDING DOORS-esque and then a few romantic comedies that aren’t nearly as romantic or comedic as they should be. I realized pretty quickly that my writing sensibilities were much more geared toward novel writing than screenwriting.

What made you decide to write a novel for middle graders?

Shannon as Rainbow Brite
Well, for one thing, I am totally in tune with my inner 12-year old (see picture at left!), so it’s a pretty perfect fit. I mean—you should see my toy collection. Middle grade was also the age range where I REALLY fell in love with reading when I was growing up, so when I started thinking about writing a book I was naturally drawn there. But this story was also not something I’d ever planned to write. I never thought I’d write something with such a complex world within our world, or such an in-depth mystery. But the characters popped into my head and they were so real and interesting that I couldn’t stop thinking about them, so I finally decided to write them down. Turned out to be a very good decision  :)

I’d say! Do you think your screenwriting background has helped you with writing novels?

It’s definitely helped with my character development and dialogue, since that is pretty much the foundation of a screenplay. But I guess the biggest thing I carried away from film school was to “think like a producer.” Every single scene, prop, location, and character has to be in the screenplay for A REASON—because it’s just too darn expensive when something ends up on the cutting room floor. We were taught to question the necessity of everything, and make sure that we tie every detail into the plot in as many ways as we can. And that’s definitely something I’ve carried over into novel writing, and I think it really helps to make each moment as interesting and powerful as possible.

Drawing by Shannon
Those are some great writing tips you sprinkled in there. In addition to writing novels, you are also an incredibly talented artist. Is it just for fun or have you ever thought of drawing for a living?

*blushes* Wow, thank you, Sherrie. And I actually did start out as an art major, but I switched away from that because I hate drawing on the computer (which is what so many of the careers in art now require) and because I am a REALLY slow artist. I realized that I would have to work ten times as hard as everyone else just to produce the same amount of work, and that didn’t seem like the most efficient career. So I switched my focus to writing—another decision that turned out pretty well :)

I know you and your husband met while you were studying screenwriting in college. Does he write also? Does he read your writing?

No, my husband is many awesome things, but he’s definitely not a writer, and he’s not much of a reader either. He’s only read a MUCH older version of my book (like, 5 or 6 revisions ago)—and keeps saying he wants to wait to read it again until it’s been printed, so he knows it won’t change anymore. But I don’t find that insulting because he doesn’t read anything else, either. He’s like a 10-year-old boy that way. If it isn’t a movie or a video game he’s really not all that interested. Le sigh.

Ha! I can so relate to that :)

So you write, you draw, you help organize WriteOnCon, you blog, and you attend conferences around the country... Do you also have a day job?

Thankfully, no. I was working part time until about a year and a half ago, but the schedule had kind of been killing me. So when I signed with Laura I decided that I was committing to making writing my career at that point, and I needed to take the leap. I quit the day job and hoped for the best, and I’m very, very glad that decision paid off. And I’m very, very grateful to have had a husband with a full time job to get us through the interim.

You’ve written some great posts about not giving up. How did you keep your mind off the submission process and just focus on writing?

It’s funny—whenever any part of this process gets stressful, be it intense revision notes, deadlines, rejection, whatever—I always find myself asking: WHY am I doing this to myself? But that question is actually what helps me get through, because I do have a reason. I love writing. I actually gave it up once, after I left Hollywood, and I missed it—bad! Sure, there are parts of this process that are filled with suckage and frustration. But there is also nothing more fun than watching a scene I see in my head come alive on the page. So whenever I start to get discouraged or feel like throwing in the towel, I do something to remind myself that writing is fun. I free-write a random scene with a favorite character just to play around a bit. No pressure for it to be good. No plans to ever show anyone. It’s just me and the words, falling in love with each other all over again.

When you started college, what did you think you’d be doing ten years later? How does this book deal compare?

Well, since I was at a very prestigious film school, I thought I was going to be a screenwriter. And while I wasn’t delusional enough to ponder who I would thank in my Academy Award acceptance speech, (okay, fine, maybe a fleeting thought had crossed my mind) I did think I’d have seen one of my movies on the screen by now. But honestly, seeing my book on the shelves—or better yet, in the hands of kids—will be way more rewarding. Hollywood and I were such a wrong fit, it’s almost laughable to think I wanted to work there. This is where I belong and I’m so glad I made the choices that brought me here. It’s certainly not perfect—nothing in this world is. But it’s totally my dream job, and I couldn’t be happier to have it.

I couldn't be happier for you, Shannon! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and once again, CONGRATULATIONS!! Maybe next time we meet up at a book festival, it'll be ARCs of YOUR book we're holding up :) 

Shannon Messenger may have studied film and television production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, but she was always a bit of an odd fit for Hollywood. Her screenplays were about boy bands and stuffed animals coming to life and lonely tumbleweeds finding true love, and her professors never quite knew what to make of them. So after a year trying to find her niche in television, she finally discovered that it made much more sense for her to try writing books for children. After all, she still watches cartoons, regularly eats candy or cupcakes for lunch, and cannot sleep without her bright blue stuffed elephant named Ella.

She currently lives in Southern California with her amazing husband and an embarrassing number of cats. KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is her first novel, book one in a middle grade series launching Fall 2012 from Simon & Schuster (Aladdin). She is also one of the founding members of WriteOnCon, a free online Writer's Conference for kidlit writers. You can find her online at her personal blog, Facebook, or on Twitter.


Stina said...

I can honestly say, this is the first author interview I've read the entire thing for. :D

This sounds exactly like the novel my daughter will love to read . . . once she gets older. I'm especially excited it's going to be part of a series. :D

Congrats, Shannon, on the awesome news.

Beth Kephart said...

I am so happy — for everyone involved. This sounds like an utter dream.

Laura Pauling said...

That was a great author interview! Thanks to both of you! I loved all the pictures of Shannon at Disneyland next to Aladdin signs!

Anne Gallagher said...

Congratulations again Shannon, it's a fairy tale dream come true.

Excellent interview Sherrie! Mad skills here. I love the openess of the friendship between you. Something you don't see in a lot of interviews.

Matthew MacNish said...

ShaNaNaNa! Shannon rules. That is all.

Karen Harrington said...

Congrats again on this great news, Shannon. I loved hearing about the journey!

Angela said...

Congratulations Shannon! So excited for you!

JEM said...

I love Shannon! Great interview, thanks for sharing.

Tere Kirkland said...

Awesome interview, Shannon, Sherrie!

LOL, Shannon, my husband is the same, but he totally wrestled my Nook away from me so he could read The Death Cure first. So I guess he's more like a 14 year old boy. ;)

Thanks, ladies!

Shannon Messenger said...

Wow, thank you so much everyone! Your support is seriously amazing. And thank you so much for the awesome interview, Sherrie. I think you're the first person to officially label me an "author." Awesome! :)

Unknown said...

Congrats Shannon! What an inspiration. Great interview and it answered all the questions I would have asked. Thanks!!

Kristan said...

Haha, like Stina, I don't usually read entire interviews, but Shannon's voice was so real and easy, and her answers were so honest (and reminded me of me!), that I couldn't stop.

Thanks for sharing her story, and her story behind the story! They're both wonderful.

And congratulations, Shannon!

Kristen Kittscher said...

Inspiring interview, Shannon! Thanks to you and Sherrie. Really looking forward to the KEEPER OF LOST CITIES.

P.S. My husband and yours should get together, it sounds like...

kathrynjankowski said...

Sounds like an intriguing book. Thanks for the interview and big congrats to Shannon!

Krispy said...

Yay again for Shannon! Thanks for the interview!

bfav said...

So excited for Shannon. The series sounds amazing. Great interview Sherrie.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

BEST. POST. EVER!!!! Shannon is one of my favorite people--online AND real life (and I've never even met her!). Good news will never get much better than THIS!!! :-)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

This is one of the most interesting, fun interviews ever. Is it because it's Shannon and Sherrie? Well, yes, because they're awesome. Congratulations, Shannon. Can't wait to read this story.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Aw, thanks, Tricia *blushes*

I'm glad you're all enjoying the interview. But honestly, Shannon is probably the easiest interview I've ever done. Maybe since I know her and I was so dang excited about her news :D

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