Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A
I feel a responsibility to tell the truth as I experience it. –Shannon LC Cate.
We’re happy to welcome Book Country writer Shannon LC Cate to the blog. Shannon’s debut novel, Jack, is forthcoming from Musa Publishing in September 2013. She’s also been writing about family, parenting, politics and religion since 2000. We sat down to talk about Book Country, the writing process, and getting published.
Nevena: Congratulations on selling Jack to Musa Publishing! Can you take me through the publishing deal?
Shannon: I had submitted Jack to a handful of literary agents. (I workshopped my query here at Book Country.) Three requested the manuscript in full and one of those wanted a revise and resubmit. I did the revision but still got a final “no thanks.”
At that point, I decided that I could put Jack on the shelf and keep moving on, or I could aim for a small press. I have always adored small presses anyway, so I browsed around to find a few that looked promising. I submitted Jack to four of them and got three acceptances! That felt good.
I still wished I had an agent (and will be looking for one again in the near future), but I worked very hard to research what a good publishing contract should look like, and Musa offered me the best one. Musa also had a good reputation at Writer Beware, and I liked the quality I sensed from Musa’s website. So although Musa did not offer a paperback edition of my book (they are an e-only press), and the others did, I chose Musa.
I have been nothing but 100 percent happy with my choice ever since. Make that 110 percent.
Nevena: Seems like you did your homework! What inspired you to tell Jack’s story? Why should we read it?
Shannon: The only reason anyone should read the book is that it’s a lot of fun—if I do say so myself! It’s an adventure story that has been in my mind for many years. Jack begins as something of an artful dodger character in Five-Points (a rough, immigrant neighborhood in nineteenth century New York City) and gradually grows into a high-stakes gambler and gentleman bandit.
The twist, of course, is that Jack is something other than strictly a man. He’s a trickster and that’s part of what makes him fun and romantic. I wanted to tell his story because if I was a girl in the nineteenth century, he’s just the kind of person I would have run away with!
Nevena: Sounds really intriguing! Let’s talk about the writing process. How did you go about doing research for the book?
Shannon: You could say the ten years I spent doing a PhD in American Literature in the period in which Jack is set was research. Sadly, I doubt the royalties will pay off my student loans!
But on the little things that come up in a manuscript, I do sometimes fall down the Internet rabbit hole. There’s a post on my writing blog about the hours I spent trying to determine the proper train schedule for the characters to take out of a fictional town in the Arizona Territory.
I also love poring over images from the period and in the various geographical settings of the book.
Nevena: How did the book transform during the revision process?
Shannon: The agent who asked me to revise was kind enough to give me feedback that would make the book stronger. I added about twenty percent to the story, fleshing it out and lingering over certain things that I had passed over too quickly in my first draft. (A lot of writers overwrite. That has never been my problem. I underwrite!)
I am really grateful to the agent for her help, even if she didn’t take me on in the end.
Nevena: You’ve posted your novel Eden on your website. This is an interesting approach to sharing your work with readers. What made you put the book online and what has the response been?
Shannon: Eden was my second novel and also got a few manuscript requests from agents but no real bites. I had shelved it somewhat wistfully, wondering if I might return to it someday.
In some ways it’s similar to Jack, in that it’s about queer Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I thought perhaps if people read and enjoyed it, they might take an interest in buying Jack when it comes out.
So far, I have had a small but dedicated group of consistent readers. About ten percent of them have donated to the site, too, allowing me to purchase original art to illustrate it.
Once I get the edits completed on the story, I plan to release it as a self-published book as well, so that folks who fall in love with it online can buy it between covers if they like.
Nevena: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
Shannon: One of my goals for 2013 is to get a solid draft finished of Liaison, the story I began workshopping here at Book Country too long ago!
That project has morphed from one back-burner experiment to another…to another. I was getting a lot done on it, then along came Jack edits and my Eden project, and the poor thing got sidelined again.
I think it deserves some front-burner attention, but it’s very different from my historicals. It’s a space opera. I have no trouble jumping between editing Eden and editing Jack, but leaping forward 600 years is more of a challenge, so it’s waiting again.
After Liaison, I have a long-planned time travel/historical young adult novel about a contemporary butch lesbian teen who finds herself in Chicago around the time of the Haymarket incident. It will probably have to wait until 2014, but I am excited about combining my science fiction and historical fiction love in one project!
Nevena: How do you juggle writing and life? Do you have any good time-management strategies to share?
Shannon: I wish! Sometimes I write after my kids (8- and 6-year-old girls) are in bed at night and revisit what I wrote in the morning while they are eating breakfast and whatnot. But we homeschool, so quiet time is scarce in our house.
I have discovered I can buy time by letting them watch Dr. Who. But that’s not exactly a time-management strategy; it’s more like benign neglect!
Nevena: Haha, at least it’s good quality television. And I have to ask: Why are you on Book Country?
Shannon: I’m on Book Country because the AWESOME Colleen Lindsay said I should be. Trust Colleen. She knows what’s good for you.
Nevena: Aww, we all love Colleen. I was really intrigued by one of the discussions you started on Book Country about the misogyny in Avatar and other futuristic sci-fi and fantasy stories. As an artist, do you feel a responsibility to create a better future?
Shannon: I feel a responsibility to tell the truth as I experience it. That’s what the old white guys who have had a stranglehold on speculative fiction for eons do, right? My truth is different from theirs. In my world, women and girls are the center of the universe. Boys and men can be terrific sidekicks, of course.
I don’t write to create politically correct Utopias. It’s conflict that makes stories interesting, after all, and it’s the mix of good and evil that makes characters real. But my interests, my passions, and my actual lived experience are going to lead me to tell stories about women, girls, and queer people of all genders (and often of mixed race, as well). Those are my people. They are the cast of my inner and outer worlds.
What frustrates me is being told there is something “unrealistic” about this. There are many angles on the same story. Mine is one. It’s as real as the better known ones.
Nevena: No single group of writers should have a monopoly on truth, so thank you for that. Is there anything else you want to share with the Book Country peeps?
Shannon: I want to thank the BC members (including, perhaps especially, some of the old white guys—you know who you are!) who have helped me so much in learning about the genre I’m writing in. I have found the feedback on my writing here to be extraordinarily helpful. Whether I have taken someone’s advice or not, every bit of it has been helpful, because every bit of it is a window on my work from someone else’s perspective. I prefer feedback from people who aren’t my “target audience” in fact, because while my writing will necessarily leave some people out of some loops (all writing does—nothing is truly “universal”), I do want to appeal as broadly as I can. Because in the end, I think my stories are a great ride and I’d like to invite everyone along.
Nevena: Thank you Shannon, for showing us a glimpse of your truth. Good luck with Jack and all of your projects.
Connect with Shannon on Book Country and follow her on Twitter @ShannonLCCate. You can also read a serialized version of her previously unpublished novel, Eden, online. Visit her writing blog at ShannonLCCate.com.