Find her at www.shannonleealexander.com
She is the author of Love and Other Unknown Variables as well as its companion novel Life After Juliet. Both are on sale now.
Have you always been a writer? Who/what first inspired you to write?
I’ve always been a writer, but I was never brave enough to admit, even to myself, that I’d like to make writing my career. Love and Other Unknown Variables is dedicated to the special woman who inspired me to be brave and dare to dream. My friend Em was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when we were 23 years old. She underwent treatment and the cancer went away for many years, but around the time my son was born, the cancer came back, as ovarian cancer often does. This time around, I went to the hospital for Em’s chemo treatments.
I was terrified, but when I stepped inside the infusion therapy lab, Em looked serene, like a queen on a throne, a beeping, humming throne with tubes and machines all around it, but still, she exuded a certain peace. What surprised me, and still gives me chills all these years later, was when the nurse came to administer the first round of heavy chemo, there was a tiny moment, a flicker in Em’s eyes, of fear.
Em quickly mastered the fear and told a joke to shake off the tension. I laughed. Her mother laughed. The nurse laughed. The room was filled with it. That was the kind of power Em had. She could always fill a room to overflowing with laughter.
And that laughter chased away the fear I saw in her eyes. Later, when reflecting back on that experience, I realized how ridiculous I was to be afraid of failing at writing a story, when my Em could master her much greater and important fears. I vowed to be brave like my Em. Six years later, Love and Other Unknown Variables was on sale in bookstores across the United States—all because my Em showed me how to be brave.
I tell this story frequently, but it bears repeating because it’s powerful. I’ve seen it shake listeners to their core. I’ve had them tell me that they want to try being brave, too. Most of us, I think, have a thing (or many things) we’re terrified of trying because what if we fail? Then what? Then we pick ourselves up and try something new. And we hope for the best. We always hope.
Did you know from the beginning of Love and Other Unknown Variables that Becca would get her own story, or did her story develop later?
Becca got a chance to tell her story because my editor asked an important question. “What happens to Becca?”
As soon as that question was posed, my brain was flooded with questions about Becca’s life and what it would look like with Charlie off to college and her on her own again. I didn’t plan on writing a companion, but I’m so grateful that I was given the chance to tell Becca’s tale in Life after Juliet.
While it is quieter than Charlie’s story, it’s just as important. It deals not in the heart-wrenching stuff of immediate loss, but in the act of putting one’s life back in order—a new kind of order because there is no going back to the before—after a loved one leaves.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Pantser. Outlines creep me out.
Are any of your characters inspired by people you know?
Not really, or rather, not intentionally. I realized after finishing Life after Juliet that Max Herrera’s artist father, Dezi, is very much like an old high school friend’s artist father, Bob Pittman. And Dezi’s studio was very much a copy of Mr. Pittman’s cramped studio in the room off the kitchen of their old house. It wasn’t intentional, and Dezi and Mr. Pittman are not the same man, but their hearts feel similar to me, and I guess I borrowed from my memories without realizing it.
Is there one book that first inspired your love of reading? If so, what book?
There are too many books! I do remember Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, and Where the Red Fern Grows as being seminal in my love of reading. Each of them made me cry. I remember being shocked and impressed that I could feel so much just from reading words on a page.
What is one piece of writing advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Get a good (and by good I mean tough) critique group. Everyone loves to be praised, but we grow from failure not success, so find people who will point out your writing failures and work with you to turn them into successes.
What type of research have you had to do for Love and Other Unknown Variables and Life After Juliet?
I had to do lots of math and science research for LAOUV. Math was not my favorite subject in school, mostly because I had a few mean math teachers who told me I was stupid. Charlie, the main character in LAOUV, loves math. In order to be sure I could understand the way he thinks, I had to do some reading on mathematical theory and physics, too. I really enjoyed it all, despite growing up thinking I was a math idiot.
I did less research with LAJ because I spent my high school years hanging out in the theater. That setting came natural to me. I did do research on welding, sculpture, and South American folklore. That was fun research. It was easy to lose many hours looking at beautiful scultptures and imagining how they were made.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I love to read. I also like hanging with my husband and kids around the fire pit, watching movies, or playing board games. I’m also into yoga. Admittedly, I need to spend more time on my mat though.
If people could only take away one thing from your novels, what would you want that one thing to be?
Do you enjoy book to movie adaptations? Would you ever want your novels turned into films?
I enjoy a good book to movie adaptation. I love the Harry Potter movies. And the Hunger Games movies were entertaining. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best movie adaptations I’ve ever seen. Normally, I’m pretty good about being able to separate the movie from the book. I try to enjoy the movie on it’s own and not spend the whole time picking it apart and pointing out all the ways it’s different from the book. They’re two very different mediums.
I’d be interested to see what a talented screenwriter, director, and cast would do with either of my books. I bet it’d be really strange though to watch something based off my work that isn’t actually mine.
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