Interview with Shannon Caster, Runner Up in the 2008 Spring Flash Fiction Contest
Interviewed by Jill Earl
Shannon Caster has been writing since she first found her mother’s manual typewriter at the age of seven. Back then, all her stories started with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Luckily, Shannon has found new openings for her stories. Her work has appeared in such publications as Highlights for Children, Ask! Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and Pockets Magazine. Shannon is currently perfecting her young adult novel, which is sure to capture the perfect agent’s attention.
When Shannon is not taking care of her husband, two kids, three dogs, and calico cat, she enjoys volunteering, reading, and enjoying the sights of Portland, Oregon. To find out more about Shannon, visit her website at www.shannoncaster.com.
Click on the link to read Shannon's touching story, “Remembrance”, then come back and join us as we sit down with her for a chat.
WOW!: Congratulations on being a runner-up in our Spring ’08 Flash Fiction Contest! How are you feeling about it all?
Shannon: First of all, I want to thank everyone at WOW and Seal Press for organizing and sponsoring the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. It’s an amazing opportunity for authors to show off their talents.
The entire experience has been a thrill ride for me. When I first heard I was a finalist I about fell out of my chair. So when the news came that I was a runner up, I had to have my kids help me off the floor. It’s been a huge honor and I’m glad I took the leap and entered the contest.
WOW!: We’re glad you entered also. Not only was your story wonderful, it held such emotion! Can you tell us about the inspiration behind “Remembrance”?
Shannon: The idea for “Remembrance” first came to me after a very scary experience with my son in which he started choking and I had to give him the Heimlich. During the entire ordeal the world stopped and the only thing that mattered was hearing my son take a breath. I was fortunate to have my husband there and I kept wondering what I would have done if I’d been alone? Would I have been able to stay calm? What if my son had gone limp? That’s when I started playing around with the idea for “Remembrance.” Next thing I know the main character is on the side of a busy road, fighting to get her child out of the car seat, and nobody’s there to help her.
WOW!: No wonder your story was so powerful! I believe your piece serves as a good example of writing about what you know. I also think that it’s interesting that in your piece you show that adoptive mothers have maternal instincts. What made you take this direction in your piece?
Shannon: Both my mother and I were adopted as very young babies, so we’ve shared a lot of stories over the years. My mother used to talk about how she sometimes wondered if she had that “maternal instinct” or not. Let me be the first to tell you, I wouldn’t be here today if my mother didn’t have an extra dose of maternal instinct. As a toddler, I had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic I was given at the hospital. Right after the doctor left the room, my mother grabbed me and chased the doctor down saying I didn’t look right. A few moments later I was in anaphylactic shock. I was a magnet for dangerous situations as a child and somehow I survived it all—thanks to my mom’s material instinct she worried so much about.
WOW!: Thanks for sharing that, it really adds an extra element to your piece. Let's turn to your writing preferences. Do you prefer nonfiction or fiction or a combination of both?
Shannon: I write both fiction and nonfiction. Most of my nonfiction is centered around science and history pieces for children’s magazines and educational stories for teachers. I love research, so writing nonfiction is like play time for me. When it comes to fiction, my audience is primarily young adults and adults. I find it rewarding to write fiction, but it’s harder for me because the answers aren’t black and white. I never know where my character will take me until the end.
WOW!: Isn’t it fascinating how sometimes our characters won't let us--the writer-- know what they--the character--is up to? I'm curious, you did a fantastic job with your entry, is this the first time you’ve tackled flash fiction? If so, did you find it easy or difficult?
Shannon: This was the second flash fiction piece I’ve written for an audience. I’m always writing short humorous stories for family and friends, but those pieces are much easier to write. You don’t have to worry about getting in all the essential background pieces because everyone knows Uncle Troy jumped off a rope swing and landed in a blackberry patch when he was younger. I find when I write flash fiction, I end up cutting twenty percent of what I’ve written, then have to add ten percent to make sure I didn’t miss an important connection.
WOW!: That’s great advice for those of us wanting to try flash fiction out for ourselves. How about you? What kind of writing makes you sit up and take notice?
Shannon: Writing that tugs at my emotions. If you can make me laugh out loud at the doctor’s office, wipe tears from my eyes at the library, or make me scream when someone knocks on the door, then I’m hooked. If you can do all three in one novel, then I’m buying copies for my friends and family.
WOW!: What about books? What kind catch your eye and why? Do you happen to have a favorite one and/or author?
Shannon: Looking at my bookshelves, I’d say the list of what doesn’t catch my eye is shorter. I love books—picture books, middle grade, young adult, adult fiction and nonfiction. My husband has a rule about how close my growing collection of books can get to the fireplace in my office. Maybe I should close my office door so he doesn’t have to worry so much?
My all time favorite picture book is Tuesday by David Wiesner. What’s not to love about frogs flying around a town late at night? My favorite adult author has to be Iris Johansen. I can’t get enough of her Eve Duncan forensic sculptor storylines.
WOW!: I hear you on the growing book collection situation! I’ve cut back on adding to my collection---sort of. You bio mentioned that you're currently working on a young adult novel. Can you share a bit about it?
Shannon: I’d love to! The story is about sixteen-year-old Eva Van Patterson, a fashion savvy, technology obsessed ghost, who has been waiting eighty years for her boyfriend to come home. To pass the time, Eva occasionally meddles in the affairs of those living in her home. But who can blame her? If you have access to a cell phone, why not reach out and text someone? So when fifteen-year-old Nikki, a girl who sees and hears ghosts, moves into Eva’s home, the tables quickly turn. Nikki begins prying into Eva’s past, forcing Eva to reexamine her life and death. In order for Eva to be reunited with her boyfriend, she must live out her dreams, discover the secrets surrounding her untimely and embarrassing death, and address the one fact she’s avoided the past eight decades: Is her lost love still out there waiting for her?
WOW!: Sounds like you've got another great read in store for us! Since you've got quite a bit of experience under your belt, what kind of advice would you offer aspiring women writers?
Shannon: Find your true voice. In sixth grade, I thought writing was about spelling, grammar, punctuation and paragraphs. Wait, handwriting too! Whew, Mrs. Baker would be so proud I remembered the proper way to make a capital cursive G. But it wasn’t until after college when I was teaching writing to my students that I realized the heart of the story is in the voice. How we tell the story is just as important as the story itself.
WOW!: Finding and maintaining my true voice in my writing is one of the things I find myself struggling with and you’ve offered some great advice on tackling this.
I noticed in your bio that you truly have a menagerie in your home with three dogs and a cat. I love animals myself. What are your pets' names?
Shannon: Menagerie, I like that. Sounds more sophisticated than zoo. Our akita is named Yumi and our basenjis are Osiris and Zaire. The cat is Avvy, which is short for Avalanche.
WOW!: Avalanche! How in the world did you come to name your cat Avalanche?
Shannon: Avvy came by her name honestly. As a kitten she was a little white ball of fur that tumbled off everything she tried to jump on. Jump on couch, tumble down. Jump on bed, tumble off. She looked like a little snowball rolling down the hill, the one that starts an avalanche. The name seemed to fit her perfectly. Thankfully, over the last thirteen years she mastered the art of jumping. Now she teases the dogs with her acrobatic leaping feats. I had a dog named Fluffy as a kid (and one named Precious). Mom's choice, not mine. I knew then I needed cooler pet names when I grew up. :-D
WOW!: That's quite the tale, pun intended! Thank you for your interview, Shannon, it was delightful getting to know you better. We’re looking forward to seeing more of your writing in the future. Best of luck to you!