You may not have heard of Shannon Kirk. I certainly hadn't before picking up a copy of her new book Method 15/33 from NetGalley a few months ago. I love discovering "new" authors. Well, new to me anyway. I was especially glad to have discovered this lady after I had finished reading the book.
It is a psychological thriller of the very best kind. I have reviewed the book and I will be posting that as well on Monday night but in the meantime, sit back and enjoy this interview with Shannon.
It is quite a long, in-depth interview so I have split it over two nights. Part 2 will come tomorrow night. The book itself is officially launched on 5th May. In the interview, Shannon tells us about her life growing up all over America. She also talks about writing, both her own and the writing that has influenced her over the years. She will also, of course, take on The Ten Confessions.
As is always the case with my interviews, go grab yourself a nice cold one, get some nibbles and most of all........enjoy!
COAF - So tell everyone a bit about yourself in general?
SK - I used to describe myself as a six-foot supermodel with superpowers, but now I lie and tell people I am what they see: a short brunette with vague, sometimes functional, mom powers. I keep the lights on by working as a lawyer.
I have two serious addictions that I do not try to curb: coffee and buying books. My husband is a medical physicist paddle-boarder, my son a basketball-loving eleven year old. We have two cats, Stewie Poe and Marvin Marquez, named after my writing influences. My son claims Marvin’s real name is Marvin Gardens, after the Monopoly property. We quarrel about this. When not working or writing or taking my son to basketball, I try to create seaglass sculptures. (Pictures below)
Random things about me: I wish I had gone to NYU film school, but I don’t know a damn thing about making films. I love to travel to new places. I can’t sing. I like only milk chocolate, white and dark can _ _ _ _ off. I’m anti-raisins. Why would you put raisins in anything? My ultimate dream day would be this: Get up, drink gigantic, perfectly-calibrated coffee on Italian coast in a villa perched over the sea. Write all morning to the sound of waves and Ray LaMontagne songs. Late lunch of Chianti, cheese, fried Zucchini flowers, and bread with my husband and son. Read out on the villa’s porch. Get ready for La Boheme, being performed at La Scala in Milan, by putting on a blood-red Valentino gown. Drive up to Milan in a black on black on black, assassin-style Audi.
COAF - I have counted about 6 different places (that I can see) you have lived in over the years. Why move around so much? Where is your favourite?
SK - So here’s the full list: Easton, Pennsylvania; Houston, Texas; Oswego, New York; Concord, Massachusetts; Raymond, New Hampshire; New Hope, Pennsylvania; Buckhannon, West Virginia; Queens, New York; Boston, Massachusetts; Riverside, Illinois (Chicago); Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.
Most of these places were from when I was younger and my father’s job moved us around quite a bit. He’s a Project Manager on major construction projects, such as nuclear power plants and waste water treatment facilities.
As for others, my post high school education had me in West Virginia, New York, New Hope, and Boston, for college and law school (I went to three different colleges, mostly St. John’s in Queens).
My favourite of all these places is my current residence, Manchester-by-the-Sea. It’s incredibly beautiful here, and I believe it’s inspiring for art. Matt Damon is producing a movie here right now, titled: Manchester-by-the-Sea. The sunsets and sunrises are mind-blowing. Seriously, your mind will be blown to see the kaleidoscope of colors in the sky over the water: purples into reds into pinks and sometimes orange too. Then there’s the water, and the sound that comes with constant rolling waves, and the sand down at our beach sings. The name of the beach is Singing Beach, for real.
So, yeah, it’s not hard to pick Manchester as my favourite, since it’s Heaven.
COAF - You practice law and are an “adjunct law professor” at Suffolk Law School. Quite a career and now you write. Is your life not exciting and busy enough as it is?
SK - Is life exciting and busy enough for me? Part of me wants to plead the Fifth to this, because frankly, I’ve got some ideas in my head to make it a bit more on the edge, but maybe I won’t go there right now….
Yeah, life is exciting and super busy. Often times I’m very overwhelmed and I’ve got no one to blame, but me. But the thing is, I can’t help but want to squeeze in writing. I can’t not write. For me, and I’m sure you’ve heard other writers say this, writing is not really a choice. There have been stretches in my life where I try not to write and focus on one job, but what ends up happening is I wake up in the middle of the night with some storyline or poem, sometimes a song, reeling around and around in my head like that centipede in the videogame that coils in and out and down the screen, going faster and faster and won’t stop until you shoot him to bits. Except for me, it won’t stop.
So I might as well get the words out in the free minutes I have in the daytime.
In my free time, I write anywhere and everywhere possible I can. Like right now, I’m in a chair I dragged into a hotel bathroom while my husband and son sleep in our room, on the Charleston, South Carolina leg of our vacation. My coffee is sitting to my right on the edge of the tub and my feet are propped up on a brick wall so my legs form a desk for my laptop. It’s always like this for me. I scrape time and space together to write, and frankly, if I could afford to be a full-time writer (DREAM), I’m afraid I wouldn’t know how to manage outside of this scraped-together, duct-taped, and fractured life I’ve been living.
COAF - What the hell is an E-Discovery Counsel?
SK - The “E” is for Electronic. “Discovery” is just a phase of litigation—it’s when each side shares relevant documents and information with the other side—here, “Electronic” documents or data. “Counsel” is just another word for lawyer.
Think of all the scandals where politicians and sports stars do or say something really dumb in text messaging or email. Got an example in your head? It’s not hard to find an example. Text, IM, Email, all that, they’re electronic evidence, and the example you’re thinking of, very well was needed for some litigation or investigation that came out of the politician’s or star’s stupidity. Perhaps the example is of cheating, so the subject text messages, for example, would be used in a divorce case.
There’s work in making sure such electronic communications/evidence are preserved and “collected” in the proper way, the “forensic” way, so that important metadata and other information are retained and the communications can be authenticated—i.e., proven real and good enough to trot in front of a jury.
Now extrapolate this example to the corporate environment—think of all the communications and data sources, such as databases and complex servers, cloud storage, etc., that a worldwide company might have to preserve and collect for its various litigations. That’s what I do.
COAF - Everyone in your family seems to be very successful artists in their own rite. Did this come from your childhood? Your parents seemed to have been very encouraging in your creative side.
SK - I’m no different than most anyone who claims to have grown up in a strange and eclectic environment. It’s all in nostalgia and in how we describe our past—the pieces we choose to define ourselves, to tell to others. But, yeah, there are parts of my childhood that in looking at them in hindsight, I think make it pretty obvious that I was influenced early on to seek out art. We grew up mostly in Raymond, New Hampshire, in a 1780 center-chimney colonial that used to be a stagecoach stop; half of it burned down a long time ago. Story goes that in that fire a baby died, and so, my mother and a couple of my brothers and some house guests have claimed to see a “Red Lady” roaming our house. We’ve concluded she must be the mother of the baby, forever trapped in search of her child. I never saw this Red Lady nor have I ever confirmed the story about the fire or baby. The point is, this is the kind of house I grew up in, and the stories didn’t end there, not by a long shot.
My Father has one hand. The tragic thing is, he lost it when he was 17, literally on his way to architecture school. Imagine that. He lost his dominant hand. In High School, he would paint elaborate scenes for the school’s plays. I’ve seen his early work, it’s incredible. He taught himself to write and draw with his remaining hand. He convinced us when we were young that he was a one-handed alien from a planet called Shubondalay and that we were his hybrid human-alien children. He sticks with this story to this day. He’d do alien magic tricks and present gifts—and we believed he conjured them from his planet to land in one of the one million antique baskets my parents had hanging overhead from exposed beams.
Bob Dylan was a constant required course on nearly every long car ride. And verbal novels my father has never actually written were required listening between songs. Such suspense-capades as The Toolinator, Button Man, Dear Deer, and on and on and on and on.…and on….
My mother is an incredible artist, but she’ll never admit it. She can paint anyone under the table and can design from her own head amazing felt creatures. I have one of her rainbow felted mermaids in my china cabinet that is worth about $10,000,000 to me.
So yeah, hard not to want art in your life coming out of this environment. And what is life without art? Pretty awful, if you ask me. It would be fluorescent-lit cubicles with no posters; long nights with no novels; walls with no paintings, just plaster is all; unlit corners with no sculptures, just dust. No songs. No thanks.
Let me plug the legit artists in my family: my brother Adam, a sculptor: his website can be found here. And my brother Mike, a musician: his website can be found here.
COAF - Moving on to the writing – why writing? What influenced you to take this direction?
SK - I’m sure some neurologist somewhere knows the answer to this question from a biological standpoint. As for the emotional reason, it is a high for me to write. I can lose eight whole hours to writing and think it’s been twenty minutes. For me, I’m not sure what else could give such a wonderful and free escape. I don’t think anything in particular influenced me in this direction, it’s just always been this way.
COAF - Take us through your process for a story. How do you start it and follow through to the final product?
SK - I wish I could say I had a pattern. With Method 15/33, I thought of the first line and also knew I wanted to do something different with a sociopathic main character. I did not use an outline, I had no clue where the story would take me. I’d sit and just write out chapters in no particular order and eventually, things gelled and became clearer. There’s a menacing character who is introduced about a third of the way through. That character was someone who, on that particular day of writing, just popped in my head and so I went with him. The entire two-thirds of the book has him as one of the main obstacles for the protagonist, and I had to go back to the first third of the book and rewrite some things to work him in. This is just an example of my process, I guess you’d say, which if I had to label it, I’d call it organic. Whether this is the right way to write or not, I work best like this. When I’ve tried to work out a detailed outline in advance, I feel constrained and can’t get into any kind of groove.
With Heavens, coming out next year, I started with a very vivid dream that formed that book’s entire concept and a key, recurring scene, which first appears about a third of the way through. I wrote that scene first and then wrote chapters around that, again, much in the same process as Method 15/33.
The sequel to Method 15/33, which I’m working on now, is much the same way, as are a couple of other works in the hopper.
None of these manuscripts have been a sole project in any given time. I work on multiple storylines at a time, which jumbles—and slows—the process even more. So I guess I don’t have a process. I sound rather disorganized now that I answer this question.
COAF - How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you carry a notebook with you everywhere or write stuff on the back of your hand?
SK - Yes. I have a red notebook in my purse. I add random bits and thoughts to “notes” on my iPhone and iPad. I jump out of bed in the middle of the night and either reach for my bedside notebook and pen or run to the computer. I email myself. I write on napkins and receipts. Here’s an example from a recent business trip where I didn’t have my notebook and had to jump out of bed:
COAF - What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
SK - Time. Finding time. For me, nothing in writing is more difficult than finding the time.
COAF - I suppose practising law you need to be ultra-precise. Is this where you get Dorothy’s precision from in Method 15/33?
SK - I guess, maybe. I have never really thought of it. There are a few scientists, medical-type folks in my family, and they can be rather precise and literal with directions and in constructing just about anything. So I’m sure they, along with the excruciatingly painful procedures I must try to abide by in my profession, played some role in the main character’s ordered way of thinking.
COAF - Method 15/33 is certainly a thrilling ride but also has some gruesome and harrowing scenes. Did you find these easy to write?
SK - Honestly, yes, they were easy. What was hard was calibrating when someone reading certain things would think I’d gone too far—the quarry scene I actually toned down a little from its original form. But here’s the thing: I’m not a horror movie watcher or reader. I scare very easily. When we first bought our home in Manchester, my husband went to Vegas on a business trip. I convinced myself either an intruder or a ghost was in the bathroom, it being a new house with new sounds and all, and worked myself up so much that I woke my then eight year old to come sleep in my bed, put a frying pan under a pillow for possible defense, and called my mother in the middle of the night—she was two hours away. I was thirty seven at the time. Basically, I’m a huge wimp. But as for the more harrowing scenes in Method 15/33, I obviously know they are 1,000% fiction, so it’s hard for me to be scared or worked up about them.
COAF - Can you tell us if any of the characters in the book are based on people you have come across in your profession?
SK - Everyone in Method 15/33 is absolutely fabricated from thin air. I suppose if I dug deep, there are certain aspects of characters that were subconsciously formed from compilations of people in my profession and elsewhere, but piecing all that together would be so difficult to reverse engineer at this point.
COAF - Do you think there will ever be a Method 15/33 / 2 (the sequel)?
SK - Yes! I’m working on it now! The subtext of Method 15/33, which I’d like to be the first of three books, is the formation of random bands of vigilantes, how their distinct stories come together. A main theme, of course, is the strength of women. And a minor theme is how victims react differently to abuse/terror. Look at the kidnapper’s response to his own abuse/terror vs. the main character’s. And then, what is to come to Mozi, Lui’s brother? How does the main character spend the rest of her life, after where we leave her in Method 15/33? Does she ever find out who else was involved in her kidnapping, is there a larger enterprise? These are questions I’d like to explore in Book II (working titles Asbury Grove or Plan V) and Book III (working title, Mozi).
So there you have the interview, Part 1.
Please come back tomorrow night for more wise words from Shannon where she continues to talk about Method 15/33 and her writing in general. She will also be answering the dreaded "Ten Confessions"