I attended Words on the Street this Saturday in Lethbridge with my publisher, Dream Write Publishing. This was an annual event I enjoyed until COVID postponed it. So, this first in-person return to the book festival since 2019 was a joy. I reconnected with local authors and met new readers to my novels. To discuss my stories is always a fun conversation, as those who know my work, understand my ability to ‘flip’ ideas on their heads and give surprisingly twists and turns in my narratives.
As a reader I also took advantage of an independent bookstore’s weekend sale. The Purple Platypus in Castor, is jam packed with books and picking one or two is impossible. I left with a bag of books! More for my ever expanding TBR pile. (You know the problem all too well, I’m sure.)
Added to these were novels from three Lethbridge authors – Jenna Greene, Bianca Rowena, and Mandy Michelle.
So after I finish Fairy Tale by Stephen King I will have a difficult decision to make – which book do I choose first. Do any of these speak to you? Which one would you choose?
As writers we are used to juggling many writing projects at the same time or the complete opposite – nothing! (Although, I have to say my mind is crowded with ideas most of the time in MUSE central!)
These opposing states come with their own problems, each unique and as frustrating as each other. Firstly, ‘feast’ has us worrying which project to do first. Which one is the most strident in it’s demand to be written? Is it the right one to pursue? Will another story ‘vanish’ if we ignore it?
Secondly, ‘famine’ when ideas may be circling in our minds, but none of them ‘stick’ or have the ‘legs’ to form a longer narrative. Or there is a void. This is a frustrating feeling, leaving us grasping for elusive or fragments of ideas, or something to write!
So what can we do to organize the jumble or utilize a fragment?
Let’s look at the multiple ideas first. Write down as much as you can for each idea – lay them out on separate pieces of paper or word documents. Organize each idea into genre or categories and then plot, character or scene and any other components of each particular story you do have. Separating the stories in this way allows us to focus on them, if not objectively, as least with a clearer vision. Once you have them in an orderly list you will see which idea has the most content. Now, comes the difficult decision – which one do you pursue? It might not be the one with the most detail, but another that attracts you to it for whatever reason. Take some time to really dissect the new idea. Can you envisage the plot arc, the ending, the characters? If one starts to ‘grow’ within your minds eye, or the majority of the narrative reveals itself to you, then that is typically your direction.
Now comes the void. How do we spark our Muse? There are many reasons for this dearth of ideas, illness, relationship problems, work commitments etc. As a writer we know that the act of writing is not only satisfying, but a real need. Our creativity requires it. This is the time to look at those filed away short stories, or fragments of ideas. We always have inspirational quotes, sentences, even whole paragraphs, that have languished somewhere in journals, notebooks or electronic folders. Take time to read through these, after all we kept them for a reason. Utilize writing prompts – writing anything helps us get back on track. Fifteen minute bursts of writing from a word or picture prompt can refresh our minds, spark our creativity and set us on a new course. Your prompt response might only be short – a poem, a paragraph, even a word association list, or it can develop into something. I recently used an image of a dragon’s egg to spark my Muse. It was going to be a short story but grew and grew into a three thousand word story! You never know where an idea can lead, and that is the beauty of story writing.
How do you handle the sparse and dense periods of your writing life?
What obscure stimulus has sparked an idea for you?
How do you approach new ideas? Frantic notes? Plot arc? Character descriptions?
Have you experienced a story unwilling to stay quiet?
“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” Dee Hock
There are a number of ways that stories come to me, one is using writing prompts because they always spark ideas or images in my mind. Some result in a short story or, occasionally a poem, but others have become full blown novels.
I recently responded to the prompt below and the character emerged complete in my mind. I could see him walking along the sidewalk, and the effect he had on the people he passed. He may appear in a future novel – who knows. Some characters stay with me and after a time begin to demand attention. This one is mysterious and I am keen to know his backstory and his future plans.
Heads turned, chatter ceased and whispers began as the tall, dark clothed man strode along the high street. His focused gaze ahead, never glancing at the store fronts, or the recoiling of other pedestrians as he passed by. The summer atmosphere cooled as an ominous air pervaded his very being. The holiday town was used to many visitors but this one was different and dangerous.
Would you like to ‘meet’ this character?
One prompt that resulted in a published book was my novella, The Rython Kingdom, which was actually a series of prompts that combined into the basis of the story. The prompts were – blue beads, a beast and a medieval town. You can read the full story (and its sequel if you want) here:
Another inspiration are dreams. And the reason, I have a small notebook on my bedside table. If I don’t write it down immediately, the dream dissipates never to be remembered again. The opening sequence of The Commodore’s Gift was a snippet of a dream that just needed to be used in a story. At the time, I had no idea that Owena, would become such a integral part of the story and evolve into it’s central character.
Do you have questions about my writing inspiration? Please ask on the comments, I will be happy to answer them all.
My daughter asked me to find certain photographs for her recently. As I went though hundreds of photos (not the digital kind either!) in this large tea chest, that belonged my Mother, it was quite apparent that the numerous family day trips and vacations all had one common thread – nature and wildlife. We went to zoo’s, safari parks, wildlife parks, and even family walks ended up at farms or in fields and forests. This interest has been passed down from parent to child and grandchild. It is a family interest to this day.
My narratives reflect this fascination, even if a location is ‘off world’ there are always references to the natural inhabitants of that world. In Ockleberries to the Rescue, although there are magical woodland sprites caring for forest animals, it is based on Earth. Each chapter allows a child to learn about a specific animal or bird on Earth. These sketch’s by J.E. McKnight illustrate some of the chapter headers.
In Clickety Click there is a hidden world within our own and in Creature Hunt on Planet Toaria there are fantastical plants and animals of my imagination. The initial spark for the story behind Creature Hunt was a chance encounter with this enormous mullein plant on one of my road trips. As can see it was taller than me! You will have to read the book to find out what character it plays.
In The Twesome Loop, an Italian olive grove is a fundamental part of the story. Olive trees can grow for hundreds of years and their gnarly trunks give them character. The story is set between England and Italy, two places I love very much, having lived in one and visited the other.
I used my new found knowledge of my new home, Canada, for the setting of my novel, Life in Slake Patch, which has a prairie location. And The Commodore’s Gift has my protagonists living in a forest cavern, while I take my readers back to medieval England in The Rython Kingdom and Rython Legacy.
As you can see the settings for my stories are as much a character as the protagonists are. It allows my dear readers to imagine the surroundings and the flora and fauna. I personally love discovering the natural world, while letting nature relax and inspire me. There is always something new to learn and see from a bug to a bison, from a flower to a tree.
1. How old were you when you wrote your first writing project? What genre was it?
That’s hard to say. I was writing short stories and designing cover art when I was in second grade. I was writing screenplays and making movies in middle school. I published poetry in college. I started writing my first novel, A Year Since the Rain, when I was in my late twenties, I guess. It was a magical realism novel, and it took a few years for me to finish it.
2. Do you have a favorite genre? What draws you to it?
I like contemporary fantasy/ magical realism because I think these genres allow for an interesting exploration of human experience. I appreciate the ways that realistic characters and settings are allowed to bump up against elements of magic.
3. How does your expression differ from your poetry to short stories to novels?
I look for poetic language in everything, so I try to find something poetic in narrative work as well. Obviously, it’s harder to keep this up for 70,000 words than it is in a page of poetry, but I still look for ways to elevate the diction of my prose with poetic language. With poetry, we’re talking about a stricter economy of language—more limitations based on form and so forth. As a rule, though, my poetry plays with narrative and my prose plays with poetry. I like to explore the marriage of different forms.
4. Magic plays a vital part in your stories – is it a fascination for you?
Like I said before, I think the incorporation of magic in otherwise real settings allows for an interesting exploration of human nature and human experience. If most of the setting and characters feel somewhat familiar, I think readers can buy in a little more. Also, I think the world is full of magic, right? We all experience wonderful and terrible things that we can’t explain. These inexplicable moments are a very human kind of magical experience. That’s how I see it, at any rate.
5.How did you create the characters in your World of Muses Universe?
A lot of my characters are just conflations of real-life people. There are no direct translations of real people, but I definitely mine real life experience for characters.
6. Are there messages in your stories for your readers? What are they?
Absolutely. These messages vary, but I think that mostly I want readers to consider their relationship with the world, with other people, with creativity, and with their own experience. I’m not prescriptive in my messaging. I just want a reader to think.
7.You combine music with poetry/stories – how did this idea/collaboration begin?
I wanted to write a story that would explore creativity and the different goals artists might strive toward. I settled on musicians and visual artists (because, again, I don’t want to write things that are too close to home). When I decided to write about musicians, I started teaching myself to play guitar. I wanted to understand what I was writing, and I wanted to be able to describe it in an organic way that would provide the narrative with a realistic texture. In the long run, I fell in love with the guitar and started writing songs. I even wrote some of the songs from that novel. It’s a cool experience to play these songs at live readings. I think it lends an air of legitimacy to the story.
8.Has your teaching influenced your writing?
I’m not sure that teaching has had a direct influence on my writing. I’ve never written about a teacher or even students. I actively try to avoid writing stories that would hit too close to home in that way. So, I guess in my attempts to write stories from outside of my experience as a teacher, teaching has indirectly influenced my writing.
On another level, though, I do teach literature courses. Reading these classics with my students offers me a great refresher in these stories. I think reading and analysis of stories is incredibly important to a writer, so the fact that this is my job gives me ample opportunity to dive back into those stories from time to time.
I think that my writing has probably influenced my teaching, but that feels like a whole other conversation.
9.Has your MFA course in Creative Writing changed how you write?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned from the MFA is how to better discipline my writing. I have a better sense of how planning and outlining can help streamline a project. The MFA program also forced me to read and work in genres I was less comfortable with, and I think all of that experimentation is good for the process. We could all do with a little more of that experience with discomfort.
10.Do you have a message for your readers?
This is an interesting question. I’m not sure that I’ve ever considered the prospect of speaking directly to the people who read my books. I’ve long considered the writing to be the final word in my part of the conversation. Once a reader has read my book, I’m interested in what that reader has taken from that experience. So, I suppose if I could say anything to the people who read my books it’s this: Thanks! I hope you found something to enjoy.
12. Do you have a blog? Where are you on social media?
I don’t really have a blog that I keep up with consistently at the moment, but people can always catch up with me on social media. I’m @ThatShaneWilson just about anywhere you might care to look.
Shane Wilson is an award-winning author of magical realism and low fantasy. His two novels, A Year Since the Rain and The Smoke in His Eyes are available through all major retailers. He has also published short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. He maintains a blog that focuses on a variety of topics including topics in publication.
Shane has a Master’s degree in English from Valdosta State University and has taught English at community colleges in Georgia and North Carolina. He has been te
Shane Wilson is a storyteller. No matter the medium, the emphasis of his work is on the magical act of the story, and how the stories we tell immortalize us and give voice to the abstractions of human experience. His first two contemporary fantasy novels as well as a stage play, set in his World of Muses universe, are currently available.
Born in Alabama and raised in Georgia, Shane is a child of the southeastern United States where he feels simultaneously at-home and out-of-place. He graduated from Valdosta State University in South Georgia with a Masters in English. He taught college English in Georgia for four years before moving to North Carolina in 2013.
Shane plays guitar and writes songs with his two-man-band, Sequoia Rising. He writes songs as he writes stories–with an emphasis on the magic of human experience. He tends to chase the day with a whiskey (Wild Turkey 101) and a re-run of The Office.
Shane’s novels are A Year Since the Rain (Snow Leopard Publishing, 2016) and The Smoke in His Eyes (GenZ Publishing, 2018). Shane’s short story, “The Boy Who Kissed the Rain” was the 2017 Rilla Askew Short Fiction Prize winner and was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. An adaptation of that story for the stage was selected for the Independence Theater Reading Series in Fayetteville, NC. More information about Shane can be found at: Shane Wilson Author