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Sharon Shinn Guest of Honor Interview at ArmadilloCon 2004

Two of Sharon's closest friends, authors Kay Kenyon and Louise Marley, ask her about her life and her work. How does she manage to find time for writing while having a full time job? How many "trunk books" she wrote until she got published? Why are mothers so terrible in her books? And many other questions.

Panelists: Kay Kenyon, Louise Marley, Sharon Shinn

Official synopsis: Two of Sharon's closest friends ask her about her life and her work.

My impression: I haven't read anything by Sharon Shinn. I can't bring myself to summon any interest in angel-based fantasy, even when its author is the Guest of Honor at the convention. Still, I always feel compelled to go to the Guest of Honor interview. As it turned out, some tidbits of the interview were interesting even to me. Those parts are presented in the short version of the interview. The rest of the interview is presented in the long version.


Both interviewers Kay Kenyon and Louise Marley are writers, and there seemed to be quite a few aspiring writers in the audience too. It is to be expected, then, that a lot of questions express curiosity about Sharon Shinn's path to writerly success. How did she pull it off? What steps did she take to go from someone who wrote 10 or so novels before selling one, to someone who has two books coming out this year and two books next year?

The questions acquire admiring and competitive undertones. How does she manage to find time for writing while having a full time job? How many hours a day does she write? Answer: 2 hours at least 3-4 days a week, often 5. "Well, if my math is right", Kay Kenyon follows up, "some weeks you are writing nearly, I would say, 10 hours. Now, my question is, how many pages are you getting in an hour?" Sharon Shinn: "I actually write by the numbers, so my goal in every 2 hour slot is to write 8 pages." The audience gasps in disbelief.

Sharon Shinn clarifies:

"Occasionally if I have a good day and am able to sit there longer, I can turn out 10 pages in a sitting. And this is after working all day. But it has to be a story that is so clear in my head that I'm not having those moments that we all have where we have to stop, and, you know, 'what color was his hair?' or 'should he be walking down the hall?'. It has to be some scene that's so vivid that I can keep going.

But some pages go better than others. For me, dialog goes faster, and exposition takes a lot longer. And so if it's an exposition scene or a travel scene -- oh God, those take forever. So it might be a little longer. But it's pretty close to 4 pages an hour.

Some of the interviewers' questions are intended to flatter. "Writing a novel takes a lot of confidence. Were you full of trepidation?" Or, another question from Kay Kenyon:

I just find your prose so smooth... I'm a little harder-edged, I guess, when I write, and I so admire this. You said you edit it two times per manuscript; but I'm wondering how much you comb the prose. How much the word, and then this word, and then one over here, and then read it out loud, how you achieve that minute level of kinda creamy prose.

Sharon Shinn plays it down. Regarding confidence:

When you're writing just because you want to write stories, I don't know that you need confidence to just... You got an idea in your head, and you want to get the idea out of your head. I guess it was... I don't know, like going to the mall. It was something you do because you felt like doing it. It wasn't that I was terrified, or anything. I got a little more terrified as I started doing it more seriously and hoping to sell something. There's kind of a brutal process there... but the actual writing of it, it wasn't scary."

She wrote her first novel at the age of 20 one summer when she was working as an intern at a government office, and there was nothing for her to do.

I was working at this office with all these government people who had been there for 30 and 40 years, and they had to hire a certain number of college students but they didn't have any work for them. So I sat there and wrote longhand a really dreadful novel. At the time I didn't tell people I was doing creative writing, so my coworkers would say: "what are you doing"? "I'm writing letters". I must have written hundreds of pages of "letters" during the course of this summer. That was the first book, which was by any standard unreadable.

She discounts her first 6 books as horrible or barely readable, yet each subsequent couple of books got a little better. Still, she has a lot of "trunk books", that is, unpublished work. Her goal is to reach the halfway point -- equal numbers of published and unpublished books -- and then start moving forward.

On achieving "smooth, creamy" prose:

My goal in editing usually is to cut. If I could, I would start with a page minimum, a word count, and would say "I'm gonna cut a thousand words." I don't do it quite that way, but especially in the later stages of editing: 'where are the extra words, where are the extra phrases, where are the extra paragraphs that I don't need?' I put too much down on the page and my goal is to cut it back as much as possible. And even so it's a very lush style. It's hardly spare even by the end.

Sharon Shinn (center), interviewed by Louise Marley (left) and Kay Kenyon (right)

Sharon Shinn (center), interviewed by Louise Marley (left) and Kay Kenyon (right). More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2004 can be found in my photo gallery.

The other interviewer, Louise Marley, admits Kay leaves all the hard questions for her to ask. Such as: How do strong religious themes crop up in Sharon Shinn's books? "I could even have thought, if I didn't know you, that you are actually a religious person, or that religion was something you felt strongly enough about", says Louise Marley.

Sharon Shinn says she has been viewed as a religious writer when her intention wasn't really to write religious stories, but to write stories about people who had strong faith.

I was sort of surprised when people started writing me and saying "I'm a Mormon, or whatever, and I love your books, ‘cause they reinforce my faith." So I think maybe everybody wrestles with issues of faith, and they can identify with characters who are wrestling with issues of faith. There's a God-shaped hole in somebody's heart. These people are often looking for religion or something to guide them. My books lay out my whole thoughts: how do you know, how do you ever know who the real God is? And so you have to go forward based on your best guess. But there's really no answers and I don't know the answers either.

Louise Marley.

Here's another theme that crops up, in particular in the book I read most recently. About mothers. You have some not very nice mothers in your fiction. They are either completely out of picture like that, or they are really manipulative to the point of being abusive.

Sharon Shinn.

Isn't that funny? It was a long time before I realized that I was kind of like a Disney movie, in that my mothers were always dead, and the ones that weren't dead were horrible. I've started this new series, and there's six main characters, mostly orphans; maybe one of two had a living father. What I really think is, I had a terrific mother who was extremely protective. And most of my books are sort of these quest books, where somebody has to go off and have some adventure and realize who they are. And my mother would never have let anyone leave the house on some kind of [adventure]. And you don't have to be in grave danger -- my mother would never let me in danger. So I think they have to be dead for this child to go off and have an adventure. (Audience laughs) And to some extent my aunt was the same way, fiercer than my mother. But that's one step removed, so you can escape an aunt a little bit more. I guess the other mothers had to be dead just so they weren't interested... didn't care if the kid went off and had an adventure."

Why does Sharon Shinn write fantasy?

I think those are the fun stories. They are the fun stories of adult literature, as opposed to, you know, regular adult literature, which maybe is people getting divorced, or people having a sad life. But with fantasy life you are having adventures. I'm running around doing fun things. And I think that's one of the reason it's so attractive."

The (more or less) complete Sharon Shinn interview

Kay Kenyon. Let's start off with the beginnings and how you got started. It seems that with a decision even in the first place to write a novel, is a really earth-shattering one. It's a life-changing decision, to me. I wonder how you came to it? Whether it was a long ramp-up in childhood, or some inspiration?

Sharon Shinn. I wanted to be a writer since I was born, pretty much. I wrote my first poem when I was eight, when I started writing. I wrote my first novel when I was 20. It was the summer I was working for the government and there was nothing to do. So I was working at this office with all these government people who had been there for 30 and 40 years, and they had to hire a certain number of college students but they didn't have any work for them. So I sat there and wrote longhand a really dreadful novel. At the time I didn't tell people I was doing creative writing, so my coworkers would say: "what are you doing"? "I'm writing letters". I must have written hundreds of pages of "letters" during the course of this summer. That was the first book, which was by any standard unreadable.

But for me, I always thought I was going to write novels. That was just the first one. I wrote a couple more after that, and a couple more after that. And then I started writing a couple of books a year.

Kay Kenyon. What do you [...] confidence to just sit at your place at work and secretly to be writing... Were you full of trepidation, or did you just walk in and say: "oh, I know [...]".

Sharon Shinn. Well, I didn't know if they were going to be published. When you're writing just because you want to write stories, I don't know that you need confidence to just... You got an idea in your head, and you want to get the idea out of your head.

I guess it was... I don't know, like going to the mall. It was something you do because you felt like doing it. It wasn't that I was terrified, or anything. I got a little more terrified as I started doing it more seriously and hoping to sell something. There's kind of a brutal process there... but the actual writing of it, it wasn't scary.

Kay Kenyon. I hear a lot of anxiety at this convention about starting out, and "will I be able to do it" and "how complicated is it", so it's interesting to know that others don't start with that sense of trepidation.

Kay Kenyon. Did you read a lot of fantasy and science fiction growing up, and is that what inspired you to start?

Sharon Shinn. I've read some science fiction and fantasy. I read Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein, and a couple of other fantasy writers whose names escape me now. And when I was 19, I started reading a lot more -- Anne McCaffrey, and Patricia McKillip, and Joy Chant.

A voice from the audience: Who is Joy Chant?

Sharon Shinn. She wrote "Red Moon and Black Mountain". I read it when I was 17 or 18. If you haven't read it, you'll like it. It's really a great book. It's a wonderful book. And she's got 3 or 4 other books that are newly (?) and wonderful, but that was 20-some years ago. I don't even know if she's [...] anymore.

But I think the reason I write fantasy is just that's the way my mind goes. I think those are the fun stories. They are the fun stories of adult literature, as opposed to, you know, regular adult literature, which maybe is people getting divorced, or people having a sad life. But with fantasy life you are having adventures. I'm running around doing fun things. And I think that's one of the reason it's so attractive.

Kay Kenyon. I understand that you have a lot of what in business is called "trunk books" -- a lot of unpublished work. When I first learned it, it really surprised me, because of how accomplished your writing is, so how bad could it be? So you have a large number of books that have not been published, and I'm wondering, was it discouraging to write that many and not have them published?

Sharon Shinn Yes. (Laughter in the audience). I think it is [...], but especially once you start writing -- probably most people aren't just writing for themselves; maybe some people are, but I think in the back of your head it's always "oh, wouldn't this be great if I could sell this book and be a famous writer?" And I have still, I think, more unpublished than published books. My goal is to reach the halfway point and then start moving forward.

Voice from the audience (question was inaudible)

Sharon Shinn. Yes, I do. But you have to keep in mind that I wrote my first novel when I was 20, and it's horrible, and then the next 3 are readable, but they're not good. And then there's a couple that are a little better. And a few that are a little better. Personally I think that books 7 or 8 could have been published. Didn't happen that way.

It's kind of like exercise, actually. Your first time to run a marathon, or your first time trying to learn how to do yoga, you're not gonna be very good at it. For me, I started fairly young, and it took me a long time to be good at it. The ones that are published are better than the ones that aren't published. But there are a couple of unpublished ones that some day I would like to go back to and polish them up a little bit and see if I can sell them. And of course, when I'm really famous and dead [the publisher might want to publish them]. I'm looking forward to that. (Laughter in the audience) Or maybe my nephews or somebody will benefit from it.

But yeah, it's really discouraging, because it took me a long time to get an agent, and before I had an agent, I would send out some submissions, and you don't hear anything, and you don't hear anything, and of course, you picture these people at the publishing house: "Read this book that just came in over the transom, I'm sure you'll like it." You picture them all talking about you, which I don't think is really the case; and I mean one publisher had my book for 2 years before they rejected it. I would call every 6 months, when I nerved myself to make the call, ‘cause it's kind of scary, and: "Oh yeah, yeah, I haven't read that yet". Or "Oh, I read it and I like it, but my boss has to read it". Two years! That was discouraging. But I just kept writing.

Kay Kenyon. Just in the psychological dimension of all this: was there something that sustained you? Did you struggle, did you have things to fall back on to keep you going?

Sharon Shinn. Well, I thought about not doing it. There was a number of times I thought "this is never gonna work out", but for me -- and we talked about this the other day -- writing is sort of compulsion. I think even if I never got anything published, I would probably be writing down stories, because they are in my head and that's how you get them out of your head: you put them on paper. I think I probably still would have done that, but it would have been harder to justify the time I spend doing it. You start feeling kind of crazy after a while.

But I have a very supportive group of friends and family, and I would write a book and photocopy it, and then hand it out to select friends. And everybody was like "Oh, I want this book!". And they seem sincere.

Kay Kenyon. A lot of people ask about the day-to-day life of a writer, because it's the essence of what you do. It's not all glamorous signings and being a guest of honor at cons. So the way I'll frame this question is: you have an impressive body of work. I don't know how many of you (addresses the audience) know that she also has a full time job. So my question is, how in the world do you find time for writing?

Sharon Shinn. It's that obsessive personality kicking in again. I'm pretty regimented. I work pretty much from 9 to 5 in my day job and I'm pretty clear about quitting it. I almost never work overtime, and I work from home, so it's pretty easy to quit early from time to time. But there are times when the job requires a little extra work, but it's rare. And then I unless I'm doing something else that night, I write from 5:30 to 7:30 every night. And on weekends I try to get like a 2 hour block every weekend. I do have occasionally social life, so I can't do it every night. 3 to 4 days a week would be my minimum that I try to get some writing done, and there are weeks that I have been able to write 5 or 7 days a week.

And I just keep doing it. I mean, to me it's an obsession. Once I started a book, I have to finish the book, and I want to finish the book as quickly as I can, so that means writing and writing. It's not very comfortable -- I think some people feel that way about exercise. I have a friend who, she is a runner, and she hurt her foot. She couldn't stand it. She had to find other ways to exercise because she's addicted to the exercise. To me, to some extent, it's an addiction. It's a compulsion. Not necessarily to be recommended.

Kay Kenyon. Well, if my math is right, some weeks are writing nearly, I would say, 10 hours. Now, my question is, 10 hours a week -- how many pages are you getting in an hour.

Sharon Shinn. I actually write by the numbers, so my goal in every 2 hour slot is to write 8 pages. (Gasps of disbelief in the audience)

Kay Kenyon: 8 pages?

Sharon Shinn. And occasionally if I have a good day and am able to sit there longer, I can turn out 10 pages in a sitting. And this is after working all day. But it has to be a story that is so clear in my head that I'm not having those moments that we all have where we have to stop, and, you know, "what color was his hair?" or "should he be walking down the hall?". It has to be some scene that's so vivid that I can keep going.

But some pages go better than others. For me, dialog goes faster, and exposition takes a lot longer. And so if it's an exposition scene or a travel scene -- oh God, those take forever. So it might be a little longer. But it's pretty close to 4 pages an hour. But that's also really rough. The way I write is I just sit down and keep typing. And then I go back -- when the whole book is done, I go back and edit. And then I go back and edit again, and go back and edit again. So what I've written in those 2 hours might not be very good. As long as it's not too bad. But sometimes it needs a lot of editing.

Kay Kenyon. I still think, even though you are saying it's rough material, that it's remarkable output. You're aware of how rare that is? I do know that there are a number of writers in the field who have that [...], but I have to say they are not very [good].

On to the next question. Here is a question about characters. Your books are very character-driven. I'm wondering whether your approach... You can have a lot of planning and agonizing whether the personalities are gonna be hard to get on the page, or whether it's more natural and organic? Emphasis on character, I wonder how much craft is going into...

Sharon Shinn. I don't know about craft: I put a lot of thought, analysis. Really, for me, I spend a lot of time thinking about my books in the course of writing them. So I would say, sometimes, probably never less than a year and sometimes as much as five years before I sit down to write a story. I spend time thinking about them, living with them. It's hard to explain, it's like getting to know your neighbor or something. And then by the time I sit down to write about them, they're usually fairly clear in my head, kind of personality they have. But I don't know that I sit down and say, OK, I want this person to have this kind of flaw, so I'm gonna do this. I don't do that so much.

Kay Kenyon. There is always a clear sense about protagonist in your books, and I find myself sinking into these people's psyche, and I identify strongly with them, and I think that is a wonderful ability, because [...] people read for a story of a person. I thought there might be some secrets. But no, she says [...] Darn. It was very interesting for me to hear this, cause I'm a very planning-oriented person, and it's an inspiration to see that somebody doesn't need to.

A question from the audience (Inaudible)

Sharon Shinn. No, I do that. And they are always talking about how plot should come from character. That is really true for me. I have a character who start this on fire, so you have to put her in a situation where she wants to burn something down. (Sharon Shinn and audience giggle.) That is really how I work: I do start with a character a lot first. But sometimes they grow up together: here is this action, what kind of character should I have to be doing that kind of action? So it is pretty organic, I guess, very intertwined.

Kay Kenyon. I have a question about the style [of] your prose. I just find your prose so smooth. I'm a little harder-edged, I guess, when I write, and I so admire this. You said, regarding editing [that it doesn't come out] first time always that way, but you said you edit it two times per manuscript; but I'm wondering how much you comb the prose. How much the word, and then this word, and then [that one] over here, and then read it out loud, how you achieve that minute level of kinda creamy prose.

Sharon Shinn. It kind of depends on a passage. Some passages are better than others from the beginning. My goal in editing usually is to cut. If I could, I would start with a page minimum, a word count, and would say "I'm gonna cut a thousand words." I don't do it quite that way, but especially in the later stages of editing [I look]: where are the extra words, where are the extra phrases, where are the extra paragraphs that I don't need? So for me, I start out... I put too much down on the page and my goal is to cut it back as much as possible. And even so it's a very lush style. It's hardly spare even by the end.

I kind of like very lushly, poetically written stories. We were talking about this in the writers workshop earlier today, and some people were saying very brief prose is better, and other people were saying, no, the more beautiful language is better. I have fondness for the beautiful language myself.

(She mentions a book "Cold Comfort Farm", where the heroine puts asterisks by the paragraphs that she considers the most beautiful, so there are paragraphs of, say, 1 or 2 asterisks. It's a satire, but Sharon Shinn says that sometimes when she’s writing and there is a specific scene that she wants to be beautiful -- angel flying by night over the mountains or whatever -- and she wants it to have more power, she deliberately makes that more beautiful. And every once in a while she thinks "OK, I went too far here -- this looks like 4 asterisks."

Kay Kenyon. My question is about romantic elements in your work. Relationship elements in your novels are so strong in your books, I'm wondering if you ever thought about writing romance?

Sharon Shinn. I have. I actually wrote one a year or so ago, but it wasn't very successful. It was a contemporary romance and I haven't read that much contemporary romance at that point, and my agent sent this long list of [changes to make], and I just didn't bother. But now I've been reading more contemporary romance, and I'm thinking I might try it again. I don't know. There's a lot of paranormal romance these days, there's more contemporary romance, there's a lot of ways to go with romance. I think it's 50% of book sales, or at least paperback sales, it's a pretty high percentage. (After a correction from the audience:) All fiction? Okay. So there's clearly people reading it, and people more enjoying it. And I think, yeah, I have romantic elements, I ought to be able to figure this out. But I think that failed contemporary romance is among my unpublished books. So I think it was one of those things I tried and I'm still working on the exercise. I haven't gotten it yet.

Kay Kenyon. A follow-up question. Would you publish in the romance field if you did that, or would you do a crossover novel that would be romance with fantastical elements, or...? How does it really work when you do two genres? Do you straddle, or do you go... in the bookstore do you...?

Sharon Shinn and audience laugh.

Sharon Shinn. I don't know. I thought about if I were to start writing contemporary romance, I would do it under a different name, to make it very clear that it's two very different things. Plus, how many books can come out under your name in any one year? This year I've got two books, and next year I've got two books coming out, and then after a while people think [they would like to read somebody else]. But if there was a different name, they wouldn't know. (Everyone giggles.) So, it had crossed my mind to do that. But I think at the moment I don't know how much time I've got to pull yet another project. But someday I would want...

Louise Marley. Kay makes me ask the hard questions. Sharon, "Wrapt in Crystal" and "Samaria" series, there are some really strong religious themes in those books. I could even have thought, if I didn't know you, that you are actually a religious person, or that religion was something you felt strongly enough about. So I'm curious -- actually, I know the answer already -- how do those religious themes crop up in your work?

Sharon Shinn. It's actually kind of an interesting question because I think I've been viewed as a religious writer when it wasn't really my intention to write religious stories. My intention was to write stories about people who had strong faith, and how they got [...].

For instance in the Angel books there is a strong religious element, but if you follow it too closely, you've got a spaceship instead of a God. I was sort of surprised when people started writing me and saying "I'm a Mormon, or whatever, and I love your books, ‘cause they reinforce my faith." And that surprised me, actually -- I got a number of letters like that. So I think maybe everybody wrestles with issues of faith, and they can identify with characters who are wrestling with issues of faith. And I think it's a huge part of most people's lives. There's a God-shaped hole in somebody's heart. These people are often looking for religion or something to guide them. Angels and [...] my books lay out my whole thoughts: how do you know, how do you ever know who the real God is? And so you have to go forward based on your best guess. But there's really no answers and I don't know the answers either. I don't think I've answered it.

Kay Kenyon: Don't you think that sometimes you tend to bring up the things, things that are key themes and issues in your life, and they come out in your work whether you intended them or not? There must be something in your subconscious that you are also taking a close look at?

Sharon Shinn. Oh yeah, I think everybody sort of thinks about the universe and how it's put together and who is in control. I don't think you can really be alive and not ever wonder, is there a God, what shape does God have? I think as far as my own religious beliefs... everything is equal, the molecules of the tiger and the molecules of the tree, and the molecules of the spaceship are all equal on the horizon (?). That probably comes as close as anything to how I really feel. I do believe in the sanctity of everything. So, yeah, I guess, sometimes you are working it out even when you're not planning to. But in my daily life, everyday, it's not something I'm thinking about all the time.

Louise Marley. Here's another theme that crops up, in particular in the book I read most recently. About mothers. You have some not very nice mothers in your fiction. They are either completely out of picture like that, or they are really manipulative to the point of being abusive.

Sharon Shinn. Isn't that funny? It was a long time before I realized that I was kind of like a Disney movie, in that my mothers were always dead, and the ones that weren't dead were horrible. I've started this new series, and there's six main characters, mostly orphans; maybe one of two had a living father.

What I really think is, I had a terrific mother who was extremely protective. And most of my books are sort of these quest books, where somebody has to go off and have some adventure and realize who they are. And my mother would never have let anyone leave the house on some kind of [adventure]. And you don't have to be in grave danger -- my mother would never let me in danger. So I think they have to be dead for this child to go off and have an adventure. (Audience laughs.) And to some extent my aunt was the same way, fiercer than my mother. And I have a couple of fierce aunts, [although they are] pretty good people. But that's one step removed, so you can escape an aunt a little bit more.

And I guess the other mothers had to be dead just so they weren't interested... didn't care if the kid went off and had an adventure.

Louise Marley. "The Shapechanger's Wife" was your first sale, right? And that was recently reissued, in trade paperback? I haven't actually seen it. Tell us a little bit about how that work came about and how it felt?

Louise Marley or somebody else. I have not had experienced it as you had, I only have two half-novels, but I cannot imagine what it felt like to write all those books and then have not only somebody finally buy one, but have it be really an enormous success. This is like something [to dream about]. You sit and fantasize when you're really pissed off at the world: "Just you wait. When my book hits it big, you're all gonna be sorry then." Do you think you [...]?

Sharon Shinn. I was so grateful when I was looking at it. The Shapechanger, even the story I had in my head a long long long time. It was originally a poetry cycle I wrote in college. It's eight poems. I don't know how many people have read it here, but the cycle itself and only two characters: a female character and a wizard who turned her into a woman from a tree (?). And then I wrote it as a novella, so it was 75 page story, and I brought in a third character, a magician who falls in love with the woman, and the evil magician who becomes more evil. And it was one of the things I sent to my agent after I had him for a while, and he said "This is great! You have to make this a novel." But it was only 75 pages, and I had to add 125 pages of material, and I wasn't sure I could do it, because the novella was very poetic and very richly detailed and had a very specific fairy-tale type of tone. "Man, I'm not sure I could write another 125 pages of this".

I was terrified of ruining it, but I was really happy with it when it was done. So, it's still a very long process. And then, once I sold it, it was 15-18 months before it was in print. So, I mean, it was such a long process, that it kind of desensitized to the wonder just a little, but it's still a wonderful... and had already sold a second book before it came out in print. So I did, when I got my first box of [...] copies, I have a photo that I took of the books in the box, and [my friend who lived in Houston and I], we went to a big bookstore there, and there's a picture in the book on the shelf that she and I took. (Everybody chuckles.)

So I mean, yeah, to this day, every time I pass a bookstore I have to walk in and see if they have my books. It hasn't worn off, the fabulousness of it.

Louise Marley. OK, so we mentioned several times how slow this business is, and for those who have been submitting things you've already discovered that. It's painfully slow. We're all waiting, waiting, waiting all the time. So tell me, Sharon Shinn, the editor of Biz Ed (?), if I submit my article to you, how long you're gonna make me wait? (Audience snickers.)

Sharon Shinn. Yeah, it's really bad. [As an editor of a trade magazine, I get submissions all the time.] We tell people [to expect a response in] six weeks, and we forget! We lose track of a manuscript, and if you sent it electronically, we may have accidentally deleted it, or whatever. Or if it comes into your inbox, I don't know about you guys, but I get 50 emails a day [...]. So people will follow up: "Hey, what about that manuscript I sent?" "Oh yeah! We've been reading that." Then you have to dig it out, you know. It's really bad. So I have a little sympathy for the editors who get all the stuff in the slushpile and can't get to it. I mean, we aren't getting anywhere near the number of submissions they are getting, and we can't keep track of them.

The remaining part of the interview was not recorded on tape, so it is less accurate than the previous part.

Louise Marley asks about similarities between "Jane Eyre" and Sharon Shinn's novel "Jenna Starborn". "How did you get away with it?"

It's not clear whether Sharon Shinn answers the "how did you get away?" question, but she admits: The experience with "Jenna Starborn" was really polarizing. Some people loved it, some hated it. It was written in 17th century voice, which is my real voice. I have to force myself not to use it. But in this book I could pull out all the plugs and let my prose flow.

Sharon Shinn on "Heart of Gold". In "Heart of Gold" there are two different races. The color is different: blue and gold. I was thinking how you can have completely different societies living in the same space. I work in St. Louis. There are black port workers and white professionals, they share the same space but they live very different lives. I was trying to create characters who were trying to understand each other and their place in the society. They were trying not to fight their society, but make their place in the society, and that was the conflict.

Louise Marley. What are you working on now? What's coming out next?

Sharon Shinn. Next year is the first book of a new series: "Mystic and Rider". It's a traditional fantasy. A group of people are on a mission to help their king. It's a very character driven fiction.

Louise Marley. Are you going to write another angel book?

Sharon Shinn. My plan is not to. But people ask me it all the time and get sad when I say no. My plan was not to write the two last angel books. I was done with angels after the third book, but I really liked the last two angel books that I did. So I can't say I'll never write another one. But not for the next 2 years while I'm working on other series.

Louise Marley comments about Shinn's fascination with 19th century writers, and asks what are her favorite writers in general.

Sharon Shinn. Yes, I know "Pride and Prejudice" by heart, I know "Jane Eyre" by heart. These days I read contemporary romance writers. I read some mysteries, a lot of Dorothy [...] I like westerns. In fact, I consider "Wrapt in Crystal" to be a western: a gunslinger comes to town, all that.

A voice from the audience. Given that you have a number of books in the pipeline, and that you meditate and mull over a story for as many as 5 years, obviously you have more than one thing on your mind at the same time...

Sharon Shinn. I can't really explain it, but it's like watching many favorite television shows at the same time. Some characters appear, then go away for a while. I have a very visual way of thinking about them. It's like I watch them to interact.

I never look at an outline when I'm writing. I never go back and check things I didn't want to forget. If I forgot them when I'm writing, they're forgotten.

A voice from the audience. What about short form?

Sharon Shinn. I have a novella this year, and I might write another one, but I still don't consider short form my strength.

A voice from the audience. Did you have a chance to meet Patricia McKillip, one of your favorite authors? I was wondering what she might be like.

Sharon Shinn hasn't met her.

Kay Kenyon. I was wondering if there's something you long to write but haven't written yet because of marketing constraints?

Sharon Shinn. If I long to write it, I write it. I wrote some books that my editor didn't want to buy, and other places didn't want to buy either. My agent has a story about me on his website. It's about me although he doesn't say it. But since I'm a fast writer, I can write a book that will sell, and a book that I really want to write.

A voice from the audience. So what was the book about that no one wanted to buy?

Sharon Shinn. I call it the teleport book. It's a mixture of SF and mystery. It takes place 50 years in the future when teleport is the most popular way to get around. Because I live for teleport! I think if it happened, it would be great.

Also, I have an unpublished book about paranormal romance. Maybe it will never be published, but that's OK. I had fun writing it, I got it out of my head.