Monday, January 3, 2011

Shauna Roberts the Author of the Epic Tale "Like Mayflies in a Stream"

Scribal Love Welcomes Shauna Roberts.  She is an author of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction.  Her newest work, "Like Mayflies in a Stream," is available from Hadley Rille Books. 

What is the name of your latest book?  And how did you come up with the title?

A major theme in the "Epic of Gilgamesh" is the brevity of life and the question of what makes a life worthwhile. My newest book, Like Mayflies in a Stream, is a revisionist take on the epic, and its title is a phrase used in one English translation of the epic.

What is this book about?  And what genre is this book in?

Like Mayflies in a Stream is a retelling of the "Epic of  Gilgamesh" from the point of view of the woman sent into the wilderness to tame a wild man. It takes place in the world's first city, Uruk, about 4,700 years ago. The book is historical fiction, although it feels somewhat like fantasy due to the alien setting and the writing style.

Who is/are the main characters?  And why did you choose them?

The arrogant tyrant Gilgamesh may be king of the largest city in the world, but his spirit is restless and undisciplined. He torments his subjects and yearns for someone who can match him in beauty, size, and strength. 

The elegant, sophisticated priestess Shamhat is a scribe at the temple of the goddess Inanna. She wants to free the people of Uruk from Gilgamesh’s tyranny, but fears the repercussions for her and her son of acting against the out-of-control king.

The innocent wild man Enkidu has lived since childhood with the gazelles and antelopes. Yet the future of Uruk hinges on him: Gilgamesh believes that Enkidu is the soul mate he longs for, but Shamhat thinks that Enkidu is the tool she needs to tame the king.

The laconic trapper Zaidu expects to spend his life in the desert trapping animals and selling their meat and skins. But his life turns upside down when he travels to Uruk to ask a favor of King Gilgamesh.

In the "Epic of Gilgamesh," Gilgamesh and Enkidu are the main characters, and Shamhat and Zaidu play bit parts. I wanted to examine the epic and its heroes from a woman's point of view, so Shamhat was a natural to be the main character in my book. I didn't intend for Zaidu to be such an important character, but his role as a catalyst kept expanding. 

What is the coolest or best part about your book?  (Any Favorite scenes, the world-building etc..)

For me, the setting—the beginning of civilization—is the coolest part of the book. We take civilization for granted. But for the people of ancient Sumer, a city was a brand-new and fragile thing. Like Americans after the Revolution, they were uncertain how long their new experiment could last, and they had to invent their society almost from scratch. The people of Sumer developed the basics of civilization we all take for granted today: writing, government, bureaucracy, metal working, sheep with fleece instead of hair, specialized occupations, monumental architecture such as ziggurats, and massive civic projects such as irrigation canals and defensive walls. 

My favorite scene is when Shamhat tries to teach Enkidu how to act like a human. Not only does it always make me laugh, but it also clearly reveals Sumerian values, which in some ways mesh with our own and in other ways are very different.

Do you have a favorite character in the book?  If so, why?

I love all the characters, even the bad ones, but Shamhat is probably my favorite. I have gotten so, so tired of the "kick-ass heroines" in vogue now. I wanted to write a woman who was strong without being rude, snarky, violent, or unprincipled. 

Is this book part of a series?  If so? What can we expect in future books?  

Like Mayflies in a Stream is the second book in Hadley-Rille Books' multiauthor Archaeology Series ( The first book, The Priestess and the Slave by Jenny Blackford, was set in 5th-century BCE Greece. New books this fall are Thrall by Kimberly Todd Wade, set at the dawn of human self-consciousness, and Song of the Swallow by K.L. Townsend, set in 13th-century China. 

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Not that I can think of. I was very happy with how it turned out.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I already knew a fair bit about ancient Mesopotamian history, but to show details of everyday life in a palace, a temple, and a private home, I had to do a lot of research. I learned a huge amount about life in Sumer, everything from burial customs to building construction to commodity money to irrigation.

Do you have a publisher?  And if so, why did you choose them?  

I approached Hadley Rille Books when I first heard it would be starting a series of books set in archaeologically interesting time periods. I've loved ancient Mesopotamia since I first read Samuel Noah Kramer's History Begins at Sumer as a teenager. It was a dream come true to research and write about this time.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Romance writer Lynna Banning. She encouraged me to stop thinking about writing fiction and start actually doing it, and she told me how much I could learn by joining Romance Writers of America, which I hadn't considered doing because I wanted to be a fantasy and science fiction writer. She was 100% right. Lynna also answered my questions about publishing and continued over the years to encourage me to pursue my dreams.  

What books are you reading now?  

I always have several going at once. Currently with bookmarks sticking out of them are three nonfiction books:

 • The History of Money by Jack Weatherford
 • From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend by Valerie Estelle Frankel
 • Write with Fire: Thoughts on the Craft of Writing by Charles Allen Gramlich
and three novels:
 • Thrall by Kimberly Todd Wade (prehistoric fiction)
 • Stranger by Zoë Archer (paranormal romance)
 • Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie (YA fantasy)

What are the current writing projects that you are working on?

I am revising and polishing several short stories so that I can submit them for publication. I'm also writing a few new short stories and am about to start another historical novel.   

Do you write full time?  If not, do you hope to do so one day?

I have been a full-time writer and editor since 1986—but most of that time I was doing medical and scientific nonfiction writing. This past spring I cut my client list down to one small newsletter so that I could concentrate on fiction writing with the hope of one day making a living by fiction writing alone. 

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I loved to read and was strongly encouraged by my aunt Janet Louise Roberts, who gave me many books on a wide variety of topics. Aunt Janet also published more than a hundred romance novels, my grandfather had published a nonfiction book, and my father worked for a while as a newspaper reporter, so I grew up thinking of writing as a career like any other. When I got my Ph.D. during the height of unemployment during the Reagan years, and jobs for anthropologists were few and far between, I needed a new career direction. Writing appealed to me, so I looked for writing and editing jobs.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

My biggest challenge by far is that I have several chronic illnesses. Keeping focused on my writing is difficult while juggling frequent lab appointments, doctor visits, and trips to the pharmacy and dealing with fatigue, confusion, and memory problems. The memory problems particularly interfere with writing fantasy and historical fiction because it's important to stay true to the details of one's imaginary or historical world. I compensate by keeping all my research books and printouts close at hand and using lots of Post-It notes. 

Do you have any advice for other writers seeking to get published for the first time?

1. Make a list of your life's priorities. Then jot down how you spend your time each day and compare that with your priority list. If you want to be a writer, writing should be near the top of your list of priorities, and you should also spend more time on writing than on low-priority activities such as dusting and recreational shopping. I know people who say they want to be writers but waste their evenings watching television or playing video games. That's a lot of hours down the drain, never to be retrieved for something worthwhile! If you're too tired after work to write, you can at least jot down story ideas; outline a story; make character sketches; research markets; read grammar books, writing books, or books in your genres of interest; or do chores to free up weekend time for writing.

2. If you want to be published, find a way to get feedback on your writing. Few people learn to be a publishable writer in a vacuum, and unfortunately nowadays editors who reject your work usually don't say why. By befriending other writers and would-be writers, you can learn from their experiences and knowledge, get emotional support from people with the same goals, and get reactions to what you have written so that your writing can improve. 

3. Schedule, schedule, schedule. Put writing on your do-list like any other task.

4. Make time to exercise. It increases blood flow to the brain; decreases anxiety; increases endurance for long stretches of writing; and holds at bay that nemesis of the desk-bound person, weight gain. (I was a medical writer, remember.)

5. Start each writing session with a ritual. For example, you might recite a mantra, make a cup of tea, light a scented candle, or freewrite for five minutes. After a while, the ritual becomes a quick and easy way to switch your brain into writing mode and overcome anxiety and the resulting reluctance to start writing.

Wow that was some great advice!  Thank you Shauna for Dropping by.

You can find Shauna on the web at:

My Website:
My blog:
My publisher:

Places to get my book

Hadley Rille Books, hardcover and trade paperback:, hardcover:, trade paperback:, Kindle:


  1. Shauna is not only a talented writer, but also an inspiration to all those of who know her. Thanks for a great interview with a wonderful woman!

  2. Thanks for interviewing me. It was fun!

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