Friday, May 08, 2015

A Conversation with Thriller Writer Shannon Kirk

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Shannon Kirk

We are delighted to welcome author Shannon Kirk to Omnimystery News today.

Shannon's debut thriller is Method 15/33 (Oceanview Publishing: May 2015 hardcover and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with her talking about it.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the central character of Method 15/33. What is it about her that appeals to you as writer?

Shannon Kirk
Photo provided courtesy of
Shannon Kirk; Photo credit
Lara Keefe

Shannon Kirk: The lead protagonist in Method 15/33 is a pregnant 16-year-old. The thing that is different about her is she has an ability to "switch off" emotions, something akin to a clinical sociopath, except she does have the ability to "feel" things, to have emotion, if she so chooses. This ability is of course what drives the story, because when she's kidnapped, she able to divorce herself from fear, from doubt, from any hesitations, so as to meticulously plot an escape and revenge. What's appealing to me about this character is exactly this — how great it would be to navigate difficult situations by stripping out negative, distracting emotions that often cloud what is otherwise a clear path.

OMN: Into which fiction genre would you place Method 15/33? And do you find such categorizations helpful?

SK: I write in two main genres right now: literary fiction and psychological thriller. The one that is germane to this readership is, of course, the psychological thriller. I do think there are advantages to specifying within the broader category of Mystery/Thriller just what genre my books target. If I evaluate readership based on my own preferences, I do pay attention to whether something is paranormal vs. police procedural vs. psychological thriller. Personally, I'm more apt to go with the last because I like the story to be a mental one, a cognitive thrill ride. That's not to say I don't like police procedural, but the labels are helpful in filtering to exactly what I might choose next to read.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the book?

SK: None of the characters in Method 15/33 are based on anyone real. They are entirely fictional. But it would not be true to say that nothing is based on at least some shred of reality. I'm often asked how long it took to write this book. And it is so hard to answer this seemingly easy question. It's just a simple timeline, right? Well, not really. I think I've settled on the answer that any given book takes literally the author's entire life up to the point in time when he or she allows themself to say a certain manuscript is done. At least this is how it is for me. So much of Method 15/33 is the culmination of various bits and bytes of my experiences in life, memories, dreams, snapshots of places I've been, conversations I've overheard and recalibrated in my mind, travel, reading, and just basically sitting and daydreaming. So while nothing is strictly autobiographical, there are certainly scenes that are derived in some way from my life experience. For example, the quarry scenes. We had a quarry on our property growing up and I can say it was a scary place. One time my father planted a mannequin's head in a tree, didn't tell any of us, and I was duped into thinking it was a real head. That sort of scare sticks with you. The cats in the book, Stewie Poe and Jackson Browne, are real family cats. The tensions between the main character and her mother, a working trial attorney, are born out of my own maternal guilt in being a working attorney/mother. How I describe a courtroom as a "windowless coffin," well that's certainly how I feel about courtrooms. All of the scenes in Chicago are based on my actually having been there and seen those things. There are dozens and dozens of examples.

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process.

SK: Sometimes I wish I had a method, any organizational plan whatsoever. But I don't. I just start writing and eventually an outline comes into my head. I know definite scenes I'll want to happen, so I jump around in writing chapters, and will inevitably cut and paste whole sections around. With a psychological thriller, what I start with is a very basic concept about the main character: what is his or her life's demon? I go from there. With Method 15/33, her life's demon is her rare mental strength, which makes her somewhat of an outcast: the ability to control emotion. How does this "demon" aid or hamper her in terms of becoming a young mother? What about if she's thrown into a vulnerable situation, does that "demon" become a useful ability? In my writing process, I'm constantly asking myself an endless litany of "what if's" about the main character and her or his demon. The answers to these questions sometimes shape an entire plot, sometimes shape dialogue, sometimes a scene.

In my current work in progress, The Goatman Cometh, the main character's demon is "addiction" (she's addicted to stalking). I'm not personally addicted to stalking, and I'm not an addict, but I think most of us can recognize and empathize with addictive behavior and perhaps tendencies in our own selves to be drawn to certain things or actions or consumptions. So here, the writing process requires delving into the thought processes that an addict might have when faced with the one thing that created her addiction in the first place. In the most extreme way possible.

OMN: And where do you find yourself most often writing?

SK: My writing office is on the second floor of my old granite home. The walls are a light sea-green; my desk has a wood top with silver legs and sits in the rounded end of my home's turret, which faces a tree-lined street. If the weather's nice, I open all four windows. An old white radiator is behind my writing chair, keeping me warm in New England winters. One wall is filled with black and white photos of my family, along the top I have the following Proust quote painted in black: "Let us be grateful for people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." On the opposite wall is a periwinkle velvet couch and an antique armoire, which holds my many dresses and spiked heels. I write on a Mac.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a story, all expenses on us, where would it be?

SK: Italy. And then Italy. And then Italy. And Italy too. I am in-love with Italy. I couldn't imagine being paid to do research for a novel in Italy. That would be like not only being in Heaven, but God paying me to be in Heaven. Italy is gorgeous, the architecture, the art, the landscape, the food, the people, everything. There's so much color and flavor and history to be soaked in and used for a novel — in fact, maybe there's too much. Maybe I'd just wallow in so much perfection, I'd get nothing done. But my answer is still Italy.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

SK: The best advice I've ever gotten was that there are no rules. This is such useful advice to an unestablished author, given that there are so many articles and speakers out there sending out "don't do's," which in my opinion might be helpful down the road to when you're polishing a manuscript, but really serve, at least to me, to cobble the creative flow. So, best advice is, there are no rules. Just sit down and start and keep going until you can't go no more, and then edit. The harshest criticism I ever got was from a gentleman editor who I met with at a conference. He read an excerpt of a book I was working on, and granted I shouldn't have given him something in the middle of a novel (that's on me), but he sharply said it "wasn't working," and "made no sense," and then he very probingly searched my eyes and said, "this is about you, isn't it? You have some issues you're trying to work out in these pages?" It was judgmental and hurtful the way he said it, and it truly upset me. I had thought we were talking about the technical execution of my writing, and not my own personal emotions. But if I look back, perhaps his criticism was that the excerpt was too transparent, which would be a good point and constructive criticism. In any event, it was like a slap to the face or a kick in the gut.

OMN: Have any specific authors influenced how and what you write today?

SK: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is my all-time writing hero. His stories are incredibly visual and creative, and don't follow any particular template. They might seem rambling and scenes strangely strung together, which is the genius of his writing, because what he's really doing is portraying the multiple layers of how real life strangely unfolds. Life does not follow the Hollywood formula.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests?

SK: I love to pick seaglass on the Massachusetts' shoreline. There's actually quite a lot to be found. There's this one beach I frequent that used to host a magnificent hotel. This hotel apparently used to throw wild parties. A lot of the hotel's pottery still washes to shore, along with antique bottle tops worn down from decades and decades, sometimes more than one hundred years, of sea-salt and waves and sand. I use this seaglass to make sculptures, wiring them onto metal graph sheets with thin copper wire. My last piece took two-and-a-half years. It's five feet tall and two feet wide. I also like to paint comical portraits of cats with wild jackets. These paintings are terrible, but entertain my family. Both of these hobbies are immersive, lending me time to daydream about whatever novel I'm working on.

OMN: What kinds of films do you enjoy watching? Do any of these provide inspiration for your writing?

SK: I love films of all genres. My number one favorite film is The English Patient. My next favorite films are anything by Wes Anderson, most especially The Royal Tenenbaums. I don't think any particular movies inspire any of my books. I love The Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs, The Notebook, Live Die Repeat, The One I Love, I could go on and on.

OMN: What's next for you?

SK: I am working on a psychological thriller called The Goatman Cometh. Our main character suffers an unthinkable violent act when she's seven. Out of this, she forms an addiction to stalking, to living life on a razor's edge. She becomes a successful attorney, but still fights the demon of her addiction. Although she is later able to control the addiction, when forced to face circumstances surrounding a childhood trauma later in life, her demon quite literally comes to life. The premise is a play on the urban legend of the infamous Goat Man and is a theory that one invites the Goat Man into one's life by way of an inability to fight a demon. In other words, the Goat Man is a manifestation of a person's internal demon; and in this story, that is literally so.

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Shannon Kirk is a practicing attorney and a law professor. She attended West Virginia Wesleyan and St. John's Universities, is a graduate of Suffolk Law School, and was a trial lawyer in Chicago prior to moving to Massachusetts. She has been honored three times by the Faulkner Society in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a physicist, and their son.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk

Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk

A Suspense Thriller

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

Imagine a helpless, pregnant 16-year-old who's just been yanked from the serenity of her home and shoved into a dirty van. Kidnapped … Alone … Terrified.

Now forget her …

Picture instead a pregnant, 16-year-old, manipulative prodigy. She is shoved into a dirty van and, from the first moment of her kidnapping, feels a calm desire for two things: to save her unborn son and to exact merciless revenge.

She is methodical — calculating — scientific in her plotting. A clinical sociopath? Leaving nothing to chance, secure in her timing and practice, she waits — for the perfect moment to strike.

The agents trying to find a kidnapped girl have their own frustrations and desires. In the twists of intersecting stories, one is left to ponder. Who is the victim? Who is the aggressor?

Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk


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