This week, a hearty welcome to fellow Writers of the Future winner, Shauna O’Meara.
Stuart: Thanks for dropping by, Shauna, and congratulations! Introduce yourself. What can you tell us that might surprise your friends?
Shauna: I come from country Australia. I adore spiders, insects (especially native bees), molluscs and plants and, in another life, might have been an entomologist or botanist. I also have a longstanding fascination with parasitic diseases, though strictly-speaking, my friends do know about this since most of them have been subjected to my specimen jars of ‘worms’.
I’m worried about the deteriorating condition of the natural environment and am concerned about some of the futures that might emerge from climate change, human overpopulation, resource shortages, genetic patenting, economic crises, world bee decline and technologies like genetic engineering (especially of infectious diseases and crops), coal-seam gas mining, bionic implants, internet dominance and virtual reality. As such – if only to get my own head around the big questions – these are the territories I tend to explore in my writing.
Stuart: Wow. That’s a lot to think about. Is that what got you into writing?
Shauna: I have always been into ‘story’ and ‘politics’ and why characters act and interact in the complex ways they do, from my earliest memories of the ‘adult’ story lines present in “Astro Boy” (1980s), “The Animals of Farthing Wood” and the “Animated Adventures of Batman”, but the book that really captivated me and made me want to create worlds of my own was Richard Adam’s: “Watership Down.” The way he presented his rabbits as creatures that could be depicted as having personalities and a ‘culture’, whilst still being essentially rabbits and not just rabbit-shaped humans, made me want to emulate his skill with my own characters.
Stuart: Very astute. And how have you evolved since?
Shauna: I hang out, online and in-person, with a super-generous group of speculative fiction writers (several of whom are past Writers of the Future winners and several of whom have even managed to make a living out of this passion called writing) and have been getting my work critiqued by them for a while now. Their feedback has helped me improve in the show-don’t-tell department and to choose my descriptions more precisely and succinctly so as to avoid great swathes of descriptive waffle and exposition. They have also helped me better understand how to achieve suspension of disbelief and characters whose motives and decisions make sense.
I have also become broader in my reading and, consequently, more daring in my writing and the topics I tackle. I have discovered that, while I always thought I would write fantasy, having read mostly fantasy in my formative years, it’s been near-future science fiction and imagined-future politics and the societal and ethical dilemmas thrown up by technology, population and climate change that I am finding most interesting to both read and write about.
Stuart: I agree. Reading outside your genre is important. As is standing ideas on end. My first novel started from the thought “What if global warming was saving us from something worse–the next ice age?” And I fooled around with that idea for far too long to mold it into a story. How about you. Are you a pantser or plotter?
Shauna: I am a plotter when it comes to character and spend a lot of time working out exactly ‘who’ each character is from the outset so that I know in advance the kinds of things they will do and say in any given situation.
Stuart: That’s very interesting. I’m just the opposite. My characters mostly pop up fully formed. I just know them. But I have to plot out the world I’m going to send them through.
Shauna: I am also a plotter when it comes to world-building and the rules of the world – because I feel you need to know what the limits and challenges of your world are first and where a good story might occur in the midst of all that world-building before you can then plunge your characters head-first into it.
I try to plan the major plot-points my characters are heading for (a brief outline), but then I usually leave the stuff in the middle up to a bit of pantsing. I need some pantsing to make me excited about ‘what happens next’ and keep me writing.
Stuart: I understand. Where’s your writer’s cave?
Shauna: I currently rent a fully self-contained bedsit, not much bigger than a hotel room, with a circular wooden table covered in chipped blue paint for my laptop, an alcove for my TV and another alcove for my scanner, camera and graphic design stuff. It’s close-living, but homely, with great views over the Brindabellas (our local mountain range) and a flourishing herb garden by the front door that perfumes the house when it rains.
Stuart: Sounds nice. For readers in the US who might not know, a bedsit is a rented private room or suite with shared kitchen, bath, etc. It’s a sensible, economical way to sublet a pre-existing structure, but is less popular in the states where we’re all “rugged individualist” about everything. I like the idea. Writerly recluse I may be, but we American’s don’t have enough community these days. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies, Shauna?
Shauna: I would have said drawing, but you said ‘unusual,’ so I’m going to say that I can warble like an Australian Magpie – to the point I’ve even had birds call back to me. I’ve won wine before with that trick.
Stuart: Sweet! I’ll nag you to do that when we’re walking down Hollywood Boulevard. You can be the magpire. Tina Gower can drop by with her monkey call. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Shauna: Farscape and Planetes.
Stuart: Good answer! Farscape I know. Planetes, I had to look up. I’ll have to find that for my daughters. They adore Manga and K-pop. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Shauna: Aww…just one?
Stuart: Yes. Sorry. I don’t make the rules. Well, yes, I guess I did actually ;-).
Shauna: Travelling long distances sometimes bugs me because it feels like I am wasting valuable time ‘getting there’ – so the ability to teleport would be high on the list. I would also like to be able to go completely without sleep so I could put that unproductive third of my life to good use creating.
Stuart: Life is too short for dawdling. I’d like to have that on a suction cup projectile I can fire at other cars while driving. Do you dream about writing?
Shauna: While I’m awake, all my dreams are about writing, but when I actually dream, I have crazy adventures I can seldom remember in the morning, interspersed with those horrible dreams you get about being back at uni and confronted by an exam paper you can’t quite make out, but that you know for sure you haven’t studied for.
Stuart: Yes well, in my case, I call that last category “memories.” Moving on… When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Shauna: A collection of My Little Ponies, who I used to recast as the various rabbits from Watership Down (don’t ask … My-Little-Ponyrabbit fan-fiction is complicated).
Stuart: Yeah, toys used to be more open-ended (and they should be). But even growing up, we never used anything the way it was intended, and our lives were richer for it. I’d have strapped bottle rockets to the ponies and my then astro-ponies, but your thing’s good too.
Shauna: Being a pub-kid, I also, at one time, had full access to an original 1980s Donkey Kong game table, making it, by default, mine. My dad used to take bets that no-one could beat me on the machine. I’m still waiting for my cut…
Stuart: Neat. I remember those. When I was little, there used to be Mrs. Pack-man tables at the pizza places. It was terrific because anyone could learn the game in a second and groups could play together while waiting for the food. If you adopted a unique wardrobe tag, what would it be?
Shauna: Being Australian, probably an Akubra (the rabbit-felt hat in my photo) and a caped, oilskin Driza-Bone greatcoat with lots of brass buttons.
Stuart: Nothing beats the classics! And capes are definitely cool. Would you like to share a quote?
Shauna: I have always lived by the Confucian saying, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It has long governed the way I think about work and ambition and what I want to do with my life. I love what I do now for work, but I think that, if I can achieve my next goal – to make enough from writing and art that they can become my full-time pursuits – I will finally have achieved the very essence of that quote.
Stuart: Very wise indeed. Well thanks Shauna . It’s been a pleasure, and I can’t wait to see your wardrobe in person at the workshop in LA.
Shauna: I am really looking forward to meeting you and all the other winners of Writers and Illustrators of the Future, as well as all the writing mentors and teachers and staff at WotF and Galaxy Press. I am hoping to learn a lot and have some fun and make some great new friends.
You can check out Shauna on the web at theshaunacorner.wordpress.com and on Facebook and Flickr.