I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Stoker, whose debut dystopian future young adult novel, The Registry, recently hit bookstore shelves. I found her to be smart, funny, and refreshingly down-to-earth. Please feel free to comment on the interview and ask your own questions, as I suspect Shannon might be checking in herself now and then.
Damian Daily: In addition to being an attorney and working for a university teaching ethical research, last year you were a featured bride on the reality TV show “Four Weddings.” This year launched the release your debut novel, The Registry, about a world where women are sold as brides into virtual slavery with no personal freedom or say in the process. Clearly, you have a very diverse set of skills and talents. I have to ask though… How did you go from celebrating your own wedding on television to creating such a dark version of marriage in The Registry?
Shannon Stoker: I had already gotten married when I started writing the book. I went from all the work of law school to studying for the bar exam, before moving on to the wedding planning. When I was done with those milestones, I needed something new to occupy my time, and I decided to try writing a book. The original idea was more about bridesmaids being horrible to the bride. I got about 20 pages into that first version before deciding it wasn’t working and tossing it out. Then the idea just sort of evolved into the final version.
SS: I guess you’d say new adult, contemporary romance, but this is the first book that’s been placed in that genre that doesn’t really follow a typical romance. It’s definitely not about your everyday high school girl looking for love. It’s much more serious than that. It’s really more about the audience. 17 to 25-year-olds were maybe the primary target, but I think readers as young as 13 would understand it. There also seems to be a lot of adult interest in young adult fiction.
DD: True. The dystopian future and darker aspects of this book definitely make it more serious, and I’d venture to say it’s also a coming-of-age story where the main character really evolves as an individual. I love the young adult genre, and I do believe it draws a broadly diverse audience, not just teens. It’s an emerging market where the rules aren’t really set in stone, and it allows a lot of leeway for stories to be told based on the authenticity of the plot and characters, almost in spite of their circumstances.
DD: What do you read in your free time? What are some of your favorite books and authors?
SS: I normally read a lot of horror books. I’ll read anything that’s got ghosts, dead people, or killers in the title. I like Edward Lee, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Mary Higgins Clark. Over the last year though, I’ve started reading a lot more young adult and romance, such as Sophie Jordan, Cora Carmack, Jennifer Armentrout, and J. Lynn. The last book I read was nonfiction, a true crime book called Lethal Marriage, about Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. I’m not a huge romance fan. It’s not my forte. I like blood.
DD: So was it more of a stretch for you to go into the romance genre than to write the darker portions of your book?
SS: Yes, I think writing the romance scenes were the hardest part for me. I was sometimes sort of snickering while I was writing them and trying to work through them.
DD: How much of your plot-lines, scenes, and character development is preconceived before you begin writing, and how much develops during the writing process?
SS: I like to keep it vague, but I need an outline. I think you need benchmarks, like knowing that you need to get from A to B, but not necessarily how you’re going to get there. That’s how I tend to do it.
DD: Would you please share an example of something that perhaps surprised you during the writing of this story?
SS: The characters of Frank and Alex weren’t planned out in advance. I knew I wanted Mia to see an example of what true love looked like, but they came about as I was getting into that part of the story.
DD: You chose to write The Registry using several different points of view, both protagonists and antagonists. Why did you choose that method, and how do you feel it lent itself to telling the story?
SS: Early on in the writing, I was having a hard time writing Grant and was trying to work in how Mia would discover that she was being trailed, so I decided to write a chapter from Grant’s point of view. He was probably my favorite character. He’s just so bad, and I was having such a good time writing him. Then about halfway through, I was liking how Andrew was turning out, so I gave him a couple of chapters. Then in my first round of edits, I added more from Andrew’s point of view, so he really came in later in the process.
DD: What advice do you have for other aspiring writers?
SS: The #1 piece of advice: Finish the first draft. I don’t know how many times I complained to my husband about it, thinking it was stupid or a bad idea, and he just kept encouraging me to finish it. If it weren’t for him, I would have stopped writing. You’re your own worst critic.
SS: I’m addicted to horror films. I like all things scary, but I also collect Care Bears and I have A LOT of Care Bear memorabilia. When I was in law school, my apartment was decorated with horror movie posters and my collection of Care Bears.
I’m also nuts about my dog. I don’t have any kids yet, but I treat my dog like my kid. He’s a grey terrier mix, and I sometimes call him my Silver Fox. His name is Nucky, named after the character in the TV show “Boardwalk Empire.” I watch a lot of TV, probably more than I should admit. My favorite show right now is “Banshee.”
I just bought a bike, and now all I want to do is ride my bike.
I tend to write at night. Even though I’m a morning person and can’t sleep in past 8:00, I find myself thinking better and wanting to start writing around 4:00 or 5:00. When I get really excited about one scene, you can definitely tell that was the case. When I go back to edit it, I find a bunch of typos. Everything else will read smoothly, but that scene will have missed words, as if I wrote it in short hand.
DD: So many young adult, fantasy fiction, and dystopian future books, such as Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures, The Host, Divergent, City of Bones, and Ender’s Game, are being made into movies these days. If The Registry were to hit the big screen, who do you envision playing some of the characters you created?
SS: For Mia, I would like Elle or Dakota Fanning. When I first started writing Grant, I was picturing Zach Efron. Now though, I think he would probably be a little too boy-next-door for how Grant turned out to be in the story. Of course, if or when that ever happens, some of the actors I’m picturing might age out by then, and new actors will emerge who might be a better fit. For Andrew, I pictured Shilo Fernandez.
DD: For readers looking forward to your future work, are there any hints you can provide about what is next on the horizon?
SS: I just got the second round of edits back for the second book. Right now it’s planned as a trilogy. I don’t know if I would go back to Mia and Andrew as characters after the trilogy is done, but I wouldn’t be against continuing in this world.
In the second book, Mia continues to grow. In the first book, she started out sort of only thinking about herself, and then she opens up to care about others. In the second book, she learns that not everyone out there is good. She’s learned to care about people other than herself, but that doesn’t mean that everyone deserves to be cared about. There’s room for her to grow a lot because she started out so sheltered, so it’s going to take a while for her to stop being so naïve.
I also got a lot more into Grant in my second book. You’ll learn more about what makes him tick.
DD: I find myself constantly pondering and exploring the topic of creativity. In a past blog post, I asked readers if they practice more than one form of art, exploring multiple venues as a means of expression, or if they have committed to one definitive medium, to the exclusion of all others. Besides writing, do you express yourself via any additional creative outlets? What are some of your other interests and pastimes?
SS: I sing, but I don’t know that anyone else would want to hear it. I have the world’s worst voice, but I really enjoy it. My husband will sometimes drag me to karaoke for fun, and I find that it doesn’t matter if you’re an awful singer. If you pick a fun song, people will be happy to listen to you. I’ll get up there and make a complete fool of myself. I’ll get up there and sing “Build Me Up Buttercup” or something really happy, and then someone after me will sing something like “Tears in Heaven.” That person will have an amazing voice, but the song just brings everyone down. I’m not trying to hone my singing skills. It’s maybe just a stress release, but I do love singing.