Thursday, March 21, 2019

Sharon Shinn Interview - Echo in Onyx

Photo Content from Sharon Shinn

I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was eight years old. My first poem was about Halloween: "What is tonight? What is tonight?/Try to guess and you’ll guess right." Perhaps this inauspicious beginning explains why it took me till I was in my thirties to sell a novel. It occurred to me early on that it might take some time and a lot of tries before I was able to publish any of my creative writing, so I pursued a degree in journalism at Northwestern University so I’d be able to support myself while I figured out how to write fiction.

I’ve spent most of my journalism career at three trade and association magazines—The Professional Photographer (which, as you might guess, went to studio and industrial photographers), DECOR (which went to frame shop and art gallery owners), and BizEd (which is directed at deans and professors at business schools). My longest stint, seventeen years, was at DECOR. Many people don’t know this, but I’m a CPF (Certified Picture Framer), having passed a very long, technical test to prove I understood the tenets of conservation framing. Now I write about management education and interview some really cool, really smart people from all over the world.

I mostly write my fiction in the evenings and on weekends. It requires a pretty obsessive-compulsive personality to be as prolific as I’ve been in the past ten years and hold down a full-time job. But I do manage to tear myself away from the computer now and then to do something fun. I read as often as I can, across all genres, though I’m most often holding a book that’s fantasy or romance, with the occasional western thrown in. I’m a fan of Cardinals baseball and try to be at the ballpark on opening day. If I had the time, I’d see a movie every day of my life. I love certain TV shows so much that knowing a new episode is going to air that night will make me happy all day. (I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan, but in the past I’ve given my heart to shows all over the map in terms of quality: "Knight Rider," "Remington Steele," "Blake’s 7," "Moonlighting," "The Young Riders," "Cheers," "Hill Street Blues," "X-Files," "Lost," "Battlestar Galactica" can probably fill in the gaps. And let’s not forget my very first loves, "The Partridge Family," "Here Come the Brides" and "Alias Smith & Jones.")

I don’t have kids, I don’t want pets, and all my plants die, so I’m really only forced to provide ongoing care for my menagerie of stuffed animals. All my friends are animal lovers, though, and someone once theorized that I keep friends as pets. I’m still trying to decide if that’s true.


What was your favorite book as a child and why?
I had a lot of favorite books, but one that I still return to is The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. It features a small band of misfits and outsiders who come together to form a family of choice—and while they’re at it, they save the world. This speaks to me on so many levels. In many ways, it’s the prototype for my Twelve Houses series, which features a mismatched group of friends and enemies who become a family and go on to save the kingdom. I still reread The Gammage Cup once every year or two. It soothes my heart.

Has reading a book ever changed your life?
I’m not sure any book has actually changed my life, but there have been several books that I found so engrossing I almost forgot I was supposed to be leading my own existence. The first one was Gone with the Wind. The most recent one was Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife. It was always something of a shock to look up from the pages and remember where I really was.

In your newest series, UNCOMMON ECHOES; can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel?
The series consists of three interconnected stories that take place in the Kingdom of the Seven Jewels. High nobles in the kingdom are frequently born with “echoes,” creatures that look exactly like them and copy their every move, but have no will or volition of their own. The historical explanation is that, hundreds of years ago, the echoes were bestowed upon nobles by the triple goddess during a time of great chaos and violence, when lords and ladies were being assassinated at every turn. The reasoning was that if killers didn’t know which of several identical creatures was the real noble, they would be less inclined to murder. During the current age, echoes are really just a symbol of high status, and no one has more than three.

In the first book, Echo in Onyx, a noblewoman named Marguerite is on her way to meet the crown prince when one of her echoes dies. For complex reasons, she’s desperate to cover up this death, so her maid Brianna pretends to be her echo the whole time they’re at the royal court—but it gets harder to keep the secret when Brianna starts to fall in love with the king’s inquisitor.

In the second book, Echo in Emerald, a street urchin named Chessie has two echoes because she’s the bastard child of a high noble. Because she lives in a dangerous part of town, where it does you no good to be different, she pretends her echoes are really just two close friends that she always works with. She’s developed the unique ability to jump between bodies, so she can maintain the pretense that they’re really three separate people. But then, of course, she starts learning secrets about her own past.

In the third book, Echo in Amethyst, Elyssa has three echoes—but unlike most nobles, she hates them. Because she’s selfish and cruel, she tortures the echoes when no one else is around. What she doesn’t realize is that the pain has brought one of the echoes to life, and it is beginning to develop a mind and a will of its own. And it knows things about Elyssa that could ruin her.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Elyssa?
I’m not one of those writers who likes to spend a lot of time in the villain’s head. I’d much rather hang out with the hero and heroine, no matter how flawed and challenging they might be! But since Echo in Amethyst is told from the point of view of Elyssa’s awakening echo, Elyssa is on practically every page. While she is a genuinely bad human being, I was surprised that I could learn to empathize with her. I could understand how she turned into this tortured person and I realized her goal was the same as everyone else’s—to be happy. She just pursues that goal in a kind of horrible way.

Which character have you enjoyed getting to know the most over the course of writing UNCOMMON ECHOES?
Chessie in Echo in Emerald. She’s sassy and resourceful and cautious and funny, and it was so much fun to write in her voice. And because she goes to elaborate lengths to make her two echoes seem like distinct people, it was fun to write from the echoes’ points of view as well.

Aside from Elyssa, which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
That’s kind of a tough one, since none of the characters have major roles in all three books. Brianna is in the first two books, and she does grow a lot—she goes from being a wide-eyed country girl to being a competent business woman living on her own in the royal city.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I think it would have to be receiving some amazing letters from people who tell me, in explicit ways, how my books have helped them through difficult times. One woman said my books gave her a sense of home when she was homeless; another one said that she felt herself recovering from an illness when she read a scene about a healer bringing someone back to life. I can’t even describe how moving and humbling it is to hear such things about something I’ve created.

What book would you recommend for others to read?
The best nonfiction book I’ve read in the past decade is Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. It’s so compassionate and wise. The most enjoyable genre fiction I’ve read in the past year has been Martha Wells’ Murderbot series that begins with All Systems Red.

If animals could talk, which would be the rudest?
Well, I don’t know, but cats can be pretty rude even without words, so I’m betting they could be really sarcastic if they could talk.

Which incident in your life totally changed the way you think today?
This might seem minor, but it really helped me reframe my thought processes. I was riding in a cab in NYC, and the driver just remained so calm despite all the chaos and the other drivers driving like crazy people. I asked him how he could be so peaceful, and he said, “I used to yell and curse and shake my fist. But then I realized, the other drivers couldn’t hear me. They couldn’t see me. They didn’t care that I was angry. The only person I was hurting was myself.” I try to remember this any time I’m in a situation where I’m starting to have an emotional overreaction. The only person I’ll be hurting is me.

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
When I was about 17, I was visiting a neighbor’s house to feed her dog while she was out of town. I was in the kitchen when a man burst through the door and grabbed me. I thought he was a home invader who was going to kill me. Turned out he was the neighbor’s son, and he thought I was a burglar. I don’t even remember how we straightened everything out, but I know I was terrified. The good news is that I learned I would fight back in such a circumstance. I scratched him hard enough to draw blood and screamed loud enough to draw the attention of the backyard neighbors.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Arriving in Haworth, England, late on a stormy night when I was traveling with three friends. It had been a long, exhausting day and we were all in bad moods. We turned the corner and saw that perfect little village laid out before us, the street lights glowing in the rain, and we felt like we’d come home. We booked the last rooms in an ancient bed-and-breakfast (haunted, so our hostess told us) and had dinner at the pub next door, and suddenly we were all happy again. We spent the next couple of days exploring the house where Charlotte Brönte and her siblings grew up, and hiking across the moors. We never wanted to leave.

What are 4 things you never leave home without?
Lip balm, a toothbrush, a water bottle, and my phone.

The Uncommon Echoes Series. Echo in Emerald. Book Two.
Echo in Amethyst, Book Three.

1. “You’d be surprised at how willing ordinary citizens are to gossip about their neighbors,” he said. “I’ve never yet had to resort to torture and threats because people are always eager to tattle on their friends.”

2. “Healing isn’t the same as forgetting,” I said. “It’s just a way to live with pain.”

3. “Even if you can’t be together—even if you know it won’t have a happy ending—you have to be grateful for love every time it’s in your life. It’s so rare and precious. It’s something you share with one other person, and no one else understands how you feel or what you have. It’s like a language that only two people will ever know, and you can’t ever be sorry you learned it, even if you never get a chance to speak it again.”

4. You never have any control over your luck. You never know when it will gather you close with a reassuring whisper or fling you away with a jeering laugh. And the longer we were in Camarria, I feared, the more fickle our luck would become.

5. It’s always a bad sign when someone wants to meet you at midnight under a bridge in a dicey part of town.

6. I had learned in the hardest way possible that information is the wickedest weapon there is; I knew that trust was a luxury I simply could not afford.

7. The minute the lock was set behind us, we fell into a desperate embrace, clinging to each other as if we were drowning, pressing together so tightly you would have thought we were trying to meld into one person. Six bodies and a single soul. It was, for a brief time anyway, more possible than you might have thought.

8. Nothing moved, not in the spangled heavens above, not in the brooding landscape below. Nothing in the entire vista was awake—was alive—except me, the echo standing at the window, staring out at the world as if it had just been created that very night, and just for her.

9. “What I truly want?” she said, and now her voice was mocking. “Are my only two choices violent rebellion or a loveless marriage? How could any woman pick between such attractive alternatives?”

10. For the next few days, I felt like my skin had taken on an extra layer, a thin sheen of crushed diamond that sparkled with a sensation that was either scalding heat or numbing cold. I couldn’t tell. I just knew that I almost gasped every time I touched some new material, whether it was the velvet of a rose petal or the silk of bath soap. All my senses were on high alert; it was like I could hear a low, continuous murmur all around me, all the time, from every argument and whispered conversation of every single soul residing in the palace. I could stand at the window and look down at the street and read the denominations of the coins in the hands of passersby. I was so alive. I could see and feel and hear everything.

From the national bestselling author of Jeweled Fire and Royal Airs comes the latest novel in the Elemental Blessings series.

Leah Frothen has returned home. But she can scarcely catch her breath before she is summoned by regent Darien Serlast, the man who made her a spy. Leah is reluctant to take on a new assignment, but Darien has dangled the perfect lure to draw her in…

Leah finds she enjoys the challenges of opening a shop catering to foreign visitors, especially since it affords her the opportunity to get to know Mally, the child she abandoned five years ago.

But when the regent asks her to spy on ambassadors from a visiting nation, Leah soon learns that everyone—her regent, her lover, and even her daughter—have secrets that could save the nation, but might very well break her heart.

You can purchase Uncommon Echoes Series at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SHARON SHINN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive an Audible Copy of Echo in Onyx by Sharon Shinn.


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