With horror, theme can be even more important than other genres and you can get a theme that you didn’t expect. Shannon has developed her own way of finding her theme, and we discuss that in this episode.
Okay, so let’s move on and talk author stuff, and I think this is a great, uh, discussion, uh, on theme because we’re recording this in October and October’s a big team month with all the Halloween and horror stuff.
So, uh, before we get onto that, let me ask you a couple hard questions. You’re working on your second book, you wrote this first one. What are some things you’ve learned writing that first one that you’re doing different with the second one?
Shannon: Definitely don’t worry about the first draft. That’s a really hard one to get, um, okay with.
But don’t worry about the first draft. Just write it all out. When that muse comes calling, listen, sit down just right. Don’t worry about anything else. Um, The what readers liked. It was good to see what readers liked from my first book, and then knowing, okay, I can do this more in my second book and add it in there.
She. I don’t have a good answer for this one.
Stephen: No, that’s, that’s fine. And uh, I mean, you’ve only written one book, so there’s probably still a lot of things you’re learning.
Shannon: Uh, yeah, I just don’t, I’m still kind of feeling lost in the weeds a little bit . And
Stephen: that’s perfect too because, you know, the focus of the podcast is new authors.
Not someone who has, you know, New York Times bestsellers, I’m not gonna talk to Patterson. You know? Yeah. Talking to new authors and a lot of times new authors feel like, oh man, everybody else has it all together and know what they’re doing. And that’s not true. Just about every author I talk with, you know, is, is the same way.
It’s like, man, Like you said, the second book’s hard. Oh my gosh. You know, it’s not the easiest thing in the world just cause I, no. Yeah, and you
Shannon: think it’s, you think you’ll get that first one published and it’ll just be easy and you’ll be confident and you’re like, oh, I’m really a writer now. And no, that’s, that doesn’t make everything go away.
It’s still work and it’s still difficult. Yes.
Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. Um, so what, uh, when you’re writing, what software and services do you use? Do you have anything special that you really.
Shannon: I just use Google Docs. Okay. Um, sometimes I might pop it into Grammarly and just make sure I’m doing okay there. There’s a fun little, um, website Hemingway edits.
Oh gosh, I don’t remember that. But it’s based on Hemingway’s writing. You just pop something in there, it’ll tell you too many ad verbs or shorten your sentences. It’s just fun to. Um,
Stephen: to use and I use pro writing aid help, like you said, learning more, uh, you know, tells me what I did wrong and why, and it helps me improve.
I use it, you know, as alerting tool, not just editing. So, yeah, grammar is similar in that. Yeah. Um, So what are you doing? Uh, you said this came out two years ago, and I think that’s a great thing too, because a lot of people think, oh, I gotta get my book out and it’s gotta rise in top and I’ve got 30 days and Oh, I’m not a best seller and I’m done.
And but you, here you are two years later, you’re still working on it. So what are some of the things you’re doing to market it and what results are you seeing?
Shannon: I’m using Facebook. Getting the word out there and that’s going well. I really like the environment of Facebook. It’s very friendly and support.
I’m on Twitter, I’ll post things on there occasionally. Um, just talking with other writers, helping them promote their stuff, um, and share things going on with them. And then of course, people see you sharing that, and then they, they’re curious about you and they look on your page. Um, I’m a little bit of a recluse.
I’d love to be like a salinger type and just be a hermit writing, but you can’t do that anymore in this day and age. You have to put yourself out there, um, and be known and, and talk to people and get your book out there,
Stephen: right? Yep. So are you see seeing results anything better than something else?
Shannon: I, no, I don’t think so. Good Reads has been good. I’ve gotten a lot of more reviews on good Reads than I have on Amazon, so that’s been a great website, um, to share on there. Nice.
Stephen: Okay, well that’s something to pass on. And, uh, is this your first podcast or have you done others? Yeah,
Shannon: this is my first podcast, Keeping Mind.
Stephen: How’s it going? It’s going great. I’m having a good, good time talking to you. This is great. Okay, perfect. So let’s talk about our main topic of theme and. So I think this is great cuz horror writers really have to get that down. You really gotta have that theme and the, the, the overall, what you’re trying to say in the book along with the, the atmosphere theme and at mm-hmm.
So why did you choose this topic and why is it important to you? It’s one
Shannon: of the most fun things about writing for me is injecting theme into parts of the story. And I feel like it can really keep you on track as an author when you’re getting lost and you feel like, oh, I’m just, he did this and he did that, and the writing’s getting boring and, and it’s not creative.
You think, where can I put the theme into this where, and infuse it with some atmosphere so it’s not just plain and boring. Prisoners of Stewartville. The theme in that is prisons. So there was tons of opportunities to make that feeling of imprisonment, um, come through in the book. When he is in his bedroom, it’s very cramped in his bedroom, sort of like a cell.
Um, and I just think that’s a great way to make the reader feel what you, you want your atmosphere to be. And what the story’s about is just dropping. The theme every once in a while, and maybe your theme is about abandonment. So you’re inner diner and a teddy bear has been left on a booth. Um, you know, and you’re not outright saying it, but you’re just creating these images and visuals for the reader that stick to your theme and atmosphere.
Stephen: And, and when you’re writing horror, how are you creating and adding to that atmosphere? What do you like to.
Shannon: Oh, I love riding. Horror is so fun. Just trying to get people’s heartbeat going a little bit or freaked out. Um, so I, you know, concentrate on feeling. Um, it’s, they say horror is a lot like romance.
It’s all about the emotion. You know, they’re two sides to the same coin. So just trying to get the reader to feel something. Through what’s going on, the shadows and the tension within each line or a noise over here. And that’s, it’s so fun. I don’t know if I do it well, but it’s fun to try . Well, it,
Stephen: it’s very different than a horror movie cuz that’s almost all visual with some sound.
And the me and my buddy talk about this a lot. The best horror movie. Use sound very effectively. Mm-hmm. , the ones that really only rely on visual, kinda, you know, mostly what they start getting is jump, scare after jump, scare after jump. Yeah. Well, that’s all they got. But the, the ones that really get that atmosphere and the feeling and how to build that in visual along with good sound and things, you know, little things or whatever.
Create the most atmosphere. Books are different. You don’t have sound at all. And, and just putting drip, drip, drip doesn’t, you know, help a whole
Shannon: lot. It really doesn’t. Um, speaking of sound though, we just watched the New Hell Razor. Yeah. And uh, I noticed that in the beginning of the movie we’ve got this heartbeat sound while she’s like, doing research.
And I was like, oh, the sound in this is great. Right.
Stephen: was, Yeah, I, I, I liked it. Uh, I wouldn’t say it’s a revolutionary reboot or anything. Uh, I didn’t think a whole lot of difference between that and the original stuff. Uh, but you know, me and my son enjoyed it. I watched Halloween ends last night, which I liked actually a lot better than I thought I would in that trilogy.
I didn’t like the middle one, but the n the last one put the middle one in a slightly different perspective for me, so,
Shannon: oh, we’re watching that tonight. So no spoilers.
Stephen: Send me an email, let me know what you think. All right, I’ll
Shannon: do that.
Stephen: So, um, What have you had any readers tell you, uh, when they’re reading it that, oh, I couldn’t put it down.
I had to keep going cuz it, it just had ’em so on edge reading
Shannon: it? Yeah. Uh, a lot of people said it was very fast paced. They read it like right through page Turner. Um, they loved it. Just, they loved the setting. They love the title of the book. They said it’s one of the best titles for a novel that they’ve seen in a really long time.
Wow. It just because I think when you’re reading it, you’ll see that the prisoners of stewartville are not just the people in prison. Um, there’s a lot of different types of prisoners and prisons in life. Um, and that comes through in the book.
Stephen: And, and that part of your theme there too, did you have the theme when you started, or did you kinda discover it as you wrote and adjusted your writing?
Shannon: discovered it. Probably about four chapters in. I was like, okay, I think I see where this is going. I had my title ready and then it just went from there. And once you have that theme, it really carries the book forward for you as a writer, um, knowing, okay, I need to make these certain things happen because it’s the theme of the book.
This is what’s going on with my charact.
Stephen: I agree. I I’m the same way. I know a lot of people say, oh, you know, I outline everything and I come up with my theme so I can, and I’m like, man, I, I have now do that. Maybe I’m not good enough, but maybe it’s just my thinking and style. I gotta kinda get the story before sometimes I even discover what the theme is.
Yeah. And yeah, and a lot of times I’ll go back and adjust and change things. Um,
Shannon: Exactly. Yeah. You can just write the first draft and then figure out what your theme is and then go in and start dropping that theme in the rewrites and the final drafts. Absolutely. And it’s, it’s really fun to do .
Stephen: Yeah. I’ve, I, for me, I’ve discovered that the editing process is much more aware.
My writing and creative writing comes out, uh mm-hmm. , whereas I have the story, I have the idea, I have the actions. But it’s that editing where I can figure out what my theme is and interject that, and then do the atmosphere, the, the thoughts, the uh, the sounds, the feelings, the visual, add that in afterwards.
Definitely. Uh, I think that’s the better place to add it in, but that’s what works for me.
Shannon: Yeah. And I know they say, what’s that like sometimes blue curtains are just blue curtains, but I think if you have your theme in mind, it does come. Subconsciously, I had a reviewer say about a scene Oh, and the atmosphere they built right here, and the theme was perfect.
And I was like, oh, that was totally not on purpose. And I wish it had been, but I think when you’ve got that in the back of your mind, it does come out, um, in the writing.
Stephen: Absolutely. And, and I, I agree with you horror, especially romance, but it, you know, it fits in a lot. Thrillers. Like, I don’t know if you’ve read Lee Child, uh, Reacher books.
I’ve seen the movies. Okay. Um, well the Amazon show is much better than the Tom movies, so
Shannon: I was gonna say that I loved Tim Reacher. That was perfect. He was
Stephen: absolutely perfect. And it’s much closer to the books. Uh, but the books have a totally different feel than when, like when I read a King book. One of king’s better qualities, and I’m sure we could discuss all of his bad qualities.
And, uh, there’s a lot of people that think he’s not as good a writer as he, he gets the money for, but one of his good qualities is, is really drawing you in and, and fleshing out the world and the characters you really feel for those characters. That’s where he sets his mood and then his themes come out through those, uh, bits by bits, sometimes a little too.
and that, but action and suspense. Thrillers, like reacher, I don’t get that as much. Themes, you know, really don’t get a whole lot of, cuz they’re all similar and atmosphere. It’s not as much, it’s more just the action itself. So, you know, you really got to look at your, um, atmosphere for horror. And like you said, love and horror.
They’re kind of the same thing, just. You gotta have a good theme cuz that’s what pulls people in. Just trying to do a flasher movie as a book is gonna fall flat unless you’re getting something in more in there.
Shannon: Yeah. And I think it’s hard, like king can sometimes there’s his criticisms, but the thing with horror is it’s the unknown that’s scary and it’s the mystery that it, that’s exciting.
And then once you kind of get to the end of the book and you find out you. What the monster is or whatever it may be. And the mystery is kind of being solved. That horror feeling kind of goes away, can kind of feel a bit like a letdown. It’s very hard to, once you know what something is, oh, it was a book fell, it wasn’t a ghost or whatever.
In real life, you know, it’s kind of gone. That magic. Yeah. So that it’s difficult in horror.
Stephen: Very, very. And like you said, once you’ve, I think that’s why the best horror movies. Focus and show the monster. Mm-hmm. , even with si or the, the special effects and stuff that we got now when they focus on the monster and you see it in full light, it loses a lot of that.
The best ones, I mean, a good example is Cloverfield. You don’t really see, you see bits and pieces of the monster, you know? Um, yeah, and, and like werewolf movies where they like close up and you watch ’em transform. It never comes across as scary. No, it could. Uh, I think other tricks that the movies use make it better.
Like the, uh, Disney Plus were Wolf by night that just came out. They didn’t show him transform. It was a shadow.
Shannon: Yeah. And I think that was
Stephen: a great show. It was, it was very good. Uh, I love that one. Um, and I think in books, I think King has discovered very much what gets people, you know, wanting to keep reading and like on the edge, like, oh.
He does fall flat a lot of times with the ending of, I don’t know if it’s just how he describes it or whatever, but it seems like everything up to that point is super. There lot times, like you said, the endings kinda like, oh, that’s all it was.
Shannon: Yeah, I was a spider .
Stephen: I was just thinking that too. Um, but I was also thinking, uh, um, uh, the, under the dome, I was like, what?
It’s okay. I give the big universe other world thing, but it’s aliens with a cup on the ants and where the ants. I’m like, ah. It just, oh yeah. I, I.
Shannon: The premise of his books is always so great. Like, oh, okay. I, I read Dome and it, the premise just seems so interesting. But yeah, the ending, yeah. We don’t have to go there,
Stephen: But it sounds like people like what you did with yours, theme and atmosphere and that, do you have, um, Any suggestions? I mean, where did you learn to get a good theme and atmosphere? Are there any craft books, any learning videos or any courses by particular other authors that helped you?
Shannon: One of my favorites, um, I’m still not gonna say his name right.
Chuck Pich. Yeah. He wrote the 36 craft essays, um, for writing. And it was so helpful. I loved, he talks about theme a little bit, um, bearing the eye, just it’s rules that you wouldn’t think of. It’s not the standard rules. It’s more out there and it was really helpful. Um, I read Stephen King on writing. I just look up articles.
I’m always trying to learn more, you know, I get stuck and I’m like, I need help. And I’m googling writing advice all the time. Okay.
Stephen: All right. Good. Great. All right, well, uh, I, I appreciate the chat and the talk, Shannon. It’s been great. Uh, writer on here. I don’t get a whole lot of those, uh, so that’s fun for me.
Uh, before we go and close up the, the podcast, do you have any last minute advice for new.
Shannon: Just. Because I was so,
Stephen: you should copyright that. You could use it the way I think somebody did . I think that’s a 19. Yeah. Okay. I’m sorry.
Shannon: Um, but yeah, I didn’t, for the longest time, it just seems so hard. I wanted to be a writer and, and it seems like an impossible dream.
And so I tried to do other stuff and I didn’t do great at that stuff either. So I was like, well, if I’m not gonna do great, I might as well not do great at writing. And you know, I love doing it. And I actually. Fail at that. I’ve got stuff out there now, so just do it. If you love writing, just go for it.
It’ll work out better than you think. I
Stephen: agree. Uh, I had another author, uh, tell me that I’m one of those people that jumps off the cliff and builds my wings on the way down. Me, me too. I’ve embraced that and I love it. So yeah, that’s, Right. Well, Shannon, uh, thank you again for chatting with me today about your book.
Uh, and I will let you know when this goes live. I hope you, uh, had a great time.
Shannon: Oh, I did. It was, I was terrified, but it was great. I really enjoyed this. Have me on again when I get better and have had more practice answering questions.
Stephen: I like to have people on a second time after they’ve got another book or two out and see how things are going and how it’s changed.
So, perfect. I, I do love the fact that the horror writer was, So .
Shannon: Yeah, well that’s, you know, part of the, part of the job. Great. All
Stephen: right. Great. Thanks Shannon. Thank you.