What is the name of your latest book?
The White Dress, the Autumn Leaves
And how did you come up with the title?
My working title for a long time was “The White Dress,” since that’s a crucial image from Meredith’s precognitive dream. However, I was worried that that title would imply that it’s just about a wedding. The autumn leaves is another important symbol in the story, and adding that to the title rounded it out.
What is this book about?
It’s a story about love, and grief, and subtle magic. Jack and Meredith meet and fall in love at a week-long Pagan festival and that part of the story is very sweet, very romantic—and very spicy. But the story has a tragic element; Meredith has had prophetic dreams, and she dreams her own death. A grief-stricken Jack finds his own way to the magic that crosses the veils between worlds at a Samhain ritual.
And what genre is this book in?
The White Dress, the Autumn Leaves is primarily an urban fantasy, though it blurs genre lines a bit. It’s romantic, but it’s not a romance—the story is too tragic for that, and a romance novel, by definition, has a clear-cut happy ending. That being said, the book follows Jack and Meredith falling in love, and at times it’s as spicy as an erotic romance. It’s a very sexy, sweet story yet also has its darker elements and deals with grief and loss.
Who is/are the main characters?
Meredith is attending her very first Pagan festival, and Jack is a member of a band called Morrigan’s Edge. He and his band mates are performing at the festival. Meredith has led a fairly sheltered life; she survived a childhood illness and eventually she had to disown herself from her overprotective parents just to go to college. Jack looks like your typical bad boy in a band but he’s genuinely a kind and respectful guy. Meredith is painfully shy but Jack helps her to come out of her shell.
And why did you choose them?
I actually I had Meredith’s dream in my early twenties and it haunted me for months. A lot of my stories come from haunting, intense dreams that I’ve had. That’s actually how I came to write my nonfiction book, Dreamwork.
I wrote the first (very short) version of this story as a homework assignment for a creative writing class at that time and then put it aside. I decided to turn it into a full novella and almost nothing exists of that first version of the story, other than Meredith’s dream and how it plays out.
When I had the dream, it played through three times; the first time I was the girl, experiencing it first person. The second time, I was her lover, trying to save her. The third time I watched it from above/afar in the third person. So when I awoke, I had experienced that tragic, horrific moment three separate ways. When I have dreams like that, I almost always end up working them out in fiction somehow; the deeper it gets me, the more I want to explore it.
What is the coolest or best part about your book? (Any Favorite scenes, the world-building etc…)
Meredith’s dream—and how it plays out—is definitely the most haunting aspect of the story for me. When I think about that dream it’s still a punch in the gut. And the scene where Jack is at the Samhain ritual dealing with her death still raises the hairs on the back of my neck; I barely felt like I was writing that scene. It just came through me.
On a lighter side, probably my favorite little moment in the book is when Jack and Meredith are at the festival together. He’s cooking steaks on a grill and he keeps getting distracted by flirting with her and burning the steaks. I wrote that scene after I’d written everything else; I had thought the story was done. I don’t even know how I came up with it, but when I re-read the scene it still makes me laugh. It’s definitely the moment where the characters came alive for me; they really wrote the scene for me, I was just typing.
Do you have a favorite character in the book? If so, why?
I have a hard time choosing between Jack and Meredith. I definitely identify more with Meredith—at her age, I was really shy like she is. But, Jack is probably more my favorite character. I always have a soft spot for characters that endure the really difficult things. Jack is very much a tragic figure in this story. He’s sweet, he’s romantic…and I really feel for him.
Is this book part of a series? If so, what can we expect in future books?
This book isn’t precisely part of a series, though Jack has a cameo appearance in another novella of mine, A Winter Knight’s Vigil. It’s possible Jack may make appearances in some future books, as I have a number of stories that are paranormal romances and urban fantasies that take place in the same general world. My story Werewolves in the Kitchen takes place at a Pagan retreat center just outside of Chicago called SpiralStone, and I’m finishing up several novels that also take place at SpiralStone. Jack lives in Chicago, so who knows…he might show up there sometime.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I really wrestled with how to handle the tragic element of this story. I’m a new author, and my first two books are both paranormal romances, so I didn’t want my romance readers to pick this book up and think it had a happy ending and get really disappointed. If I had a dozen books out in several genres, I might not have been so heavy-handed about Meredith’s prophetic vision of her own death. As it is, I felt I had to make it clear in the blurb, as well as the first pages of the book, that the story was tragic. If I had more urban fantasies out, I might have let that part be more of a shock to the reader.
On the other hand, I also think there’s something to be said for the sense of impending doom. In one of my favorite novels, Moreta by Anne McCaffrey, fans of the Dragonrider series already know the ending before they’ve picked up the book—Moreta and her golden dragon die while saving Pern.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Sometimes you just have to write the story that needs to be told and not worry about the neat boxes of fitting it into a genre. If I’d made this a romance novel that would have betrayed the story. If I’d taken out some of the focus on their romantic relationship, that also wouldn’t have told the story I wanted to tell. While there are always challenges to publishing and promoting a book that blurs genre lines, sometimes it’s really worth doing to tell the story that needs to come out.
Do you have a publisher? And if so, why did you choose them?
I have a few publishers that I’m working with. Most of my fiction and nonfiction is published through Jupiter Gardens Press. I’ve enjoyed working with JGP and what initially drew me to them was the nonfiction they were looking for.
Specifically, the nonfiction I write tends to deal with leadership and personal and spiritual transformation work. I also teach Pagans how to facilitate more effective, professional rituals and ceremonies. Most modern Pagan and Earth-centered traditions don’t have access to seminaries and so are self taught. JGP was looking for nonfiction dealing specifically with how to facilitate rituals and ceremonies without without burning sage or incense to accommodate participants with allergies. That is very much in alignment with my values as a facilitator, and that became my book Spiritual Scents.
Actually, I really enjoy writing actual Pagan rituals in my fiction. In A Winter Knight’s Vigil and The White Dress, the Autumn Leaves, there are rituals that are similar to the types of rituals I actually facilitate for the Pagan community. A lot of paranormal romance and urban fantasy focuses on the big flashy rituals with the pentacles and the blood, but I try to write what actually happens at rituals. Or at least, the type that I host for my community.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Though I’ve never met her and she’s now passed on, I’d say Anne McCaffrey. I’ve always loved her work, and she blazed a trail for women writing in the fantasy and science fiction genre. Her Pern series is definitely one of my biggest inspirations as an author, and the story Moreta still makes me cry.
Janny Wurts has inspired me both in the scope of the type of fantasy I hope to publish, but also Janny gets to do her own covers. Most authors don’t. So that inspires me a lot given I’m a graphic designer and artist and I like having the option to do my own covers.
What books are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading some nonfiction, but when I can take a little break I’m going to devour some works by some of my favorite paranormal romance authors. Maybe some works by Emma Holly, Angela Knight, and Jory Strong.
What are the current writing projects that you are working on?
I have a paranormal romance about a vampire coming out soon called A Fading Amaranth. Nathaniel’s been a vampire long enough that he’s just going through the motions of life; he’s starting to wonder if he can keep going. When he meets Alexandra and rediscovers some of his passion, his muse. Alexandra hasn’t been able to be with anyone for years because of her psychic abilities, but she can’t hear Nathaniel’s thoughts. They start to fall for each other, but, there are complications…aren’t there always?
There’s a Faerie monster in the city, and one of the city’s magical guardians is hunting Nathaniel down since she assumes he’s a predator like most vampires. Nathaniel and Alexandra have to decide what they’re willing to give up, and what they are willing to risk, to be with one another.
I’m also working on a couple of books that take place at the same retreat center as Werewolves in the Kitchen, and I’m just about finished with a story about a sexy wereleopard and a woman with oracular truth-speaking magic who is under a Faerie curse. So lots of good stuff cooked up!
Do you write full time? If not, do you hope to do so one day?
The answer to that is, sort of. I’m writing fiction and nonfiction, painting, and also traveling and teaching full time, though I’m not making a reasonable living at it (yet). Right now I’m living rent free while I help my mom to get her house fixed up so she can sell it. I have reduced my expenses and I live pretty austerely so that I have the time to launch my career as a writer. It’s definitely a goal of mine to make an actual living as an author, though at the moment I make more money selling my artwork and doing graphic design work. But—I’m also a new author, and it’s a process, so I’m pretty optimistic.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My parents both worked in a bookstore when I was a kid, so I grew up reading and reading and reading. In third grade I wrote a weird little science fiction story, and I think that’s where I really decided I wanted to be a writer. Before that I’d sort of written and illustrated these fantasy stories about unicorns but they didn’t have any kind of a solid plot. By the time I was twelve I had started writing my first science fiction novel. Of course, it wasn’t very good, but I learned a lot about writing and after that I spent almost all of my free time writing.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes; usually it’s that moment where I don’t know what’s happening in the story. I might be struck by creative lightning and write an amazing scene, and I know what’s going to happen sometime after that—I might have even written it—but I don’t know what happens in between, and I’ll get stuck on that. Or I know the whole middle of the story but not how they got there. What I usually do is put the story to the side for a while and work on something else. Sometimes I just can’t force it. Other times, I just power through. Sometimes I just have to switch over and work on some paintings or nonfiction writing for a while to get clear before I can return to the fiction.
Do you have any advice for other writers seeking to get published for the first time?
Keep writing. Your writing will get better. Start to learn about the publishing industry, take workshops, attend writer and editor panels and talks, but keep writing. The first stuff you write might suck, but keep at it and learn everything you can. Also, don’t self publish your first book. Or your second book. Or your third. Learn the industry first, and take advantage of the edits you get from your publisher. I learned so much from the editing process!
Shauna Aura Knight is the author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Her newest work is the urban fantasy the White Dress, the Autumn Leaves. Her work is inspired by myth, magic, and the darkness we each must face.
Thanks Shauna for Dropping By!
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