First of all let me introduce you to the author herself:
SHANNON MCDERMOTT is the author of the fantasy novel The Valley of Decision, as well as the futuristic The Last Heir. She has written the Adventures of Christian Holmes, a series of humorous detective novellas, and Beauty of the Lilies and Summer Leaves (Sons of Tryas, I and II).
Shannon lives in the Midwest and enjoys coffee, novels, and history.
Here's a little about the novel itself:
Where the Black Mountains pierce the sky, they divide the south from the north, Alamir from the kingdom of Belenus. Belenus, the undying master of the north, commanded Keiran - the Captain of the Hosts - to conquer Alamir. But the Captain is deep in conspiracy, and he has his own plans.
The Valley of Decision is a fantasy novel, a saga of slavery, freedom, and choices.
Welcome to the Tales of Goldstone Wood blog! First of all, would you mind telling us a little about yourself? Hobbies, personality . . . tea or coffee?
Shannon: Coffee. I like tea, especially on cold winter nights, but coffee is my pleasure drink.
My hobby (yes, hobby) is reading: novels, history, political and cultural articles online. And my personality … these self-assessments are hard, but here goes: I’m quiet, and somewhat introverted; my ideal evening is good coffee and good music, while I devote time to writing and reading. On the other hand, I have definite opinions and I’ve been known to argue them. People who meet me may not see it, but my family knows that I didn’t receive a fiery Irish heritage for nothing.
What led you into the writing life? Were you always a storyteller? How did you get into publishing?
Shannon: I have been writing since I was little. It’s been an inseparable part of my life for so long, and I can’t imagine giving it up.
I got into publishing through my parents, who own a small press. They used to put out a publication for homeschoolers, and I ended up working in that: copyediting, researching, even some writing. (My YA detective fiction, the Adventures of Christian Holmes, began as a series for this publication.)
Tell us a little about your work! The Valley of Decision is not your first novel, right? What are some of your earlier publications?
Shannon: My first novel was The Last Heir, published five years ago, and a very different sort of thing from The Valley of Decision. It’s soft-core science fiction, a political thriller set in space.
I’ve also published a number of novellas as e-books. Beauty of the Lilies and Summer Leaves (I and II of the Sons of Tryas series) tell the story of the painting emperor and his wild younger brother. These are the most character-driven stories I’ve ever written. I also have two humorous detective stories out: Inspection and Sweet Green Paper.
Now tell us about The Valley of Decision! Where did the story idea come from? Is it part of a series?
Shannon: The Valley of Decision began with a kernel of an idea that I gleaned, I admit, from the Lord of the Rings. I had noticed that in those books, the Dark Lord’s slaves were always enemies. Occasionally pitied by the heroes, often deceived by the Dark Lord, yes, but always enemies. Instead of heroes coming only from the free nations that fought Sauron, I liked the idea of heroes coming from the enslaved nations oppressed by him. A slave revolt against the Dark Lord would have been tremendous.
But, of course, it didn’t happen.
Eventually I wondered if I could write the story where it did. I began reading folk tales, researching the legends that have been told and even believed in our world long before modern fantasy came into existence. The Fays and the hobgoblins and the Trow in my story are inspired by the old fairy tales. When I wrote the human characters’ interaction with the Fays, I always had the folk tales in the back of my mind. Everybody knew in those old stories that Faerie was not safe.
I wrote a prequel novella called The Sunrise Windows, and I’ve kicked around the idea of writing a sequel, but The Valley of Decision is very much a stand-alone novel.
Can you pick a favorite character from this new novel?
Shannon: In a close contest between Keiran, the Captain of the Hosts of Belenus, and Caél the right hand over the Hosts … I’m going to go with Caél. Keiran is the protagonist, and he was always fun to write, partially because of his rough edges. But with my villains on the one hand, and my rough-edged protagonist on the other, I needed a nice-guy character. I gave that role to Caél.
But he also had to be strong. He didn’t get to be second-in-command over the entire army without being a skilled warrior, and moreover a warrior who has actually, you know, killed people. Nor could he be timid and stand up to Keiran. So Caél ended up a blend of gentleness and considerable strength, both inward and physical.
What inspires your work? Where do you turn when you need a renewal of inspiration?
Shannon: Just about anything can provide inspiration. An excellent book or movie leaves me wanting to reach such heights. Sometimes things in my own life leave me thinking, and then wanting to write about them. Everywhere you turn there is something to provoke a thought, an emotion, an image or an idea.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any place to turn when I need new inspiration. I mostly work through those dry spells. Sometimes that means pounding through a scene I’m not particularly interested in. Other times it means writing notes on the story, sometimes doubt-filled notes about what I need to change and what I’m doing wrong.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?
Shannon: My least favorite part of writing is when I need to bridge the gap from point A to point B, while doing set-up work for points C and D, and I don’t know how. It’s worst, of course, when I descend into doubt-filled notes about what I need to change and what I’m doing wrong.
My favorite part of the writing process is finishing the polished draft of a scene in my computer. I write everything by longhand first, and it’s a longish process for me: First, make my notes; then, write the scene in a notebook; then, transcribe it into the computer, polishing and revising as I go. So when I finally finish, I have a satisfying sense of completion.
If you were forced to pick a single favorite author, who would it be?
Shannon: I’d choose G.K. Chesterton, reluctantly edging out the great C.S. Lewis. Chesterton is the most versatile author I admire, writing everything from poetry to novels to apologetics to cultural and political essays. He’s fascinating, even when he’s wrong. He is also the only poet whose work I really love, and the author I find myself most often stealing fr— I mean emulating.
What are you actively writing right now?
Shannon: I am writing a sci-fi novel called The Shameful Years. (Title taken from a Chesterton poem, by the way.)
There’s an old sci-fi trope about colonies being abandoned by the mother planet, for some reason or another. There’s also an old sci-fi obsession with Mars. I decided to revive both of these old ideas, but with a modern twist. The people on Mars are abandoned because Earth, in the wake of the Great Collapse, decides it simply can’t afford to provide food for them.
I also decided to give full attention to both sides of the abandonment – not, as is often done in such stories, only to the forsaken colony. So I have two storylines running alongside each other, Earth and Mars. I think it will be unique. I’m trying hard to keep it from being unique-bad.
Would you share a short snippet from The Valley of Decision?
Shannon: With pleasure:
THE VALLEY OF DECISION
The Trow kindled a flame in the fire-pot and then shared the fire with three torches. Then he turned back to Keiran. “I told you that Belenus does not come here. He does not deal with us as he deals with your kind. He does not take us from our mountain, or rule our homes, or try to possess us. But he demands our labor. He demands our skill. He sends orders to give him what he wants—tools and ornaments and weapons. We are smiths, tall man. Artists. His trinkets—they do not please the artist in us.”
Keiran was still confused by the Trow’s behavior, but this amused him. “He has such bad taste, Kobuld?”
“No. The Fays, they know what beauty is. But you cannot please the artist while you insult the Trow.”
Keiran had always known of the use Belenus made of the Trow, but not until now did he really care. “Does he pay you?”
“He protects us.”
Kobuld’s tone was heavy with irony, and Keiran understood. He wondered if anything existed that Belenus would not exploit.
“It has been thus for centuries. The Trow are weary of Belenus’ yoke. But I think that even we do not hate it as you do. You have suffered much more.”
Keiran studied the Trow’s ugly face—and trusted him. “We are slaves, every one of us. Even I am. Our land, our work, our bodies, our children—all belong to Belenus. It’s a yoke of iron that we bear. Who would not hate it?”
“No one. But who would do something about it? That, tall man, is a much more discriminating question.”
“Are you saying I would rebel against Belenus?”The little Trow looked him in the eye and slowly nodded his old head. “I think you would. That is why I brought you here.”
Thank you for visiting today, Shannon. It was great to learn more about your work, your inspirations . . . and to glimpse that intriguing snippet of your novel!
There you have it imps . . . folklore, slave uprising, Fays, hobgoblins, and Trows. What more could you ask for in a fantasy? Be sure to enter your name in the giveaway and let your friends know about this story and fun opportunity! And feel free to pepper Shannon with questions about her work and writing and favorite coffees . . . and promises to go pick up the next G.K. Chesterton work you can get your hands on. a Rafflecopter giveaway
So I find that the hardest part of writing is distractions and obligations. I LOVE writing, but always seem to have it on the back burner behind cleaning, family, kids, errands, and so on. What do you do to keep writing on the front burner? Do you ever give yourself word counts goals or deadlines?
This sounds soooo intriguing!!! What is your method of breaking writer's block?
That's so cool! I always love the stories of slaves of evil rebelling against their masters. :)
It's fun that you were inspired by The Lord of The Rings when wondering what it would have been like for something to happen differently. Me too! (Mostly, why couldn't he have given any of those tortured elves in the Simarillion a happy ending?)
What do you think defines an epic story?
Do you like plain or flavored coffee? Thanks for doing a giveaway.
What's your favorite hot drink?
Hi, Charii! I rarely give myself word counts or deadlines, but I set other goals. One, I make it a priority to write every day. Two, I'll set goals based on where I am in my writing. "Today I'll finish my notes on the next section of the book." "Today I'll finish this scene." "I need to fill [so many] pages in my notebook."
Some days are more productive than others, but as a rule, I keep writing.
Thanks for your comment, Rosalie! When I have trouble writing, I concentrate on the story and try to bring out the next part of it. Sometimes I have a hard scene and I just need to keep working. Other times I find there's some flaw in one of my ideas or the way I was handling it. When I correct it, my writing flows much more smoothly.
I guess, to put it briefly, I break through writer's block by writing.
Hi, Hannah! I know what you mean about The Silmarillion. The final victory came too late for nearly everyone.
I think epic is a matter of scope - not just beyond the ordinary but also beyond the individual. You need a sense that the heroes are contending for something far beyond themselves, that they are fighting for the cause of the right and the world will be a darker place if they fail.
Thanks for commenting, Caitlyn! I usually drink plain coffee (sometimes with flavored creamer), but I like flavored coffees, too. If coffee were less expensive, I'd buy the flavored variety more often.
Glad to see you, Galadriel! My favorite hot drink is a mocha or latte from Starbucks - one of the spice lattes, to be specific. A pumpkin or gingerbread spice latte is about equal to a mocha, but a vanilla latte is clearly inferior.
The Valley of Decision sounds very interesting. In fact, all of your stories's premises sound interesting! :D Thank-you for sharing with us. :)
Do you prefer to read sci-fi or fantasy? Which do you prefer to write?
This book sounds quite interesting.
What on earth is a Trow though????
Are you a plotter or a pantser with your writing? -- do you figure out the story beforehand or just jump in, guns blazing? So to speak. ;)
(Also, this is entirely irrelevant, but I have to mention that one of the code words this time for me to type in and prove I'm not a robot is "Outlaws". Hmm...)
Hi, Georgina! I don't really prefer sci-fi or fantasy above the other. Both are excellent in their own way. Sci-fi premises come more easily to me, but I enjoy writing fantasy, too. What I would really like to write, if I can get an idea for it that truly sparks, is science fantasy.
Thanks for your comment, Jemma. The Trow are, in Scottish folklore, a small, fairy-like race that lives underground, amasses treasures, and loves music. In my own telling, they're also famously skilled smiths.
Hi, Deborah; thanks for the question. I start a new story with a very broad outline, and throughout the writing I stop to "plot". I need a plan to write, but often it's a very sketchy plan, and a lot emerges, changes, and disappears in the writing. In fact, I just finished reconstructing my outline for the second half of The Shameful Years.
Both this book and the book you're writing sound awesome! Definitely going on my TBR list!
What's your favorite part of being a writer? (Not to be confused with favorite part of the writing process, which Mrs. Stengl asked.)
Thanks for your comment, Sarah.
My favorite part of being a writer ... well, I guess the writing. Bringing a whole story, with its people and its places, to life is challenging but satisfying work. It keeps me coming back to the blank page, even when it's hard to fill.
Nice one I liked it. All the best.
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