Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Shallee McArthur

Hi everyone!

Before I introduce you to Shallee, I want to remind everyone that the deadline for my contest is this Sunday night. Don't forget! I only have one entry so far, so if no one else enters, Angela wins by default.

Anyway, on to our interview. Shallee is actually an old friend of mine. We met during our freshman year at BYU and ended up taking a creative writing class together (which she apparently took to heart better than I did, but more about that later). So, here it goes:

How did you get started as a writer?

The first stories I really remember writing were carbon copies of the ones from the Story Club in Anne of Green Gables. I wrote my first original story at about age eight: The Secret of the Crystal. It involved aliens, mountain caves, and of course, a secret crystal. I was sure it would make me rich and famous.

Who knows! It might someday evolve into something that WILL make you rich and famous.

Do you free-write or outline?

I started as a complete pantser, but have gradually gotten to the point where I outline fairly extensively before I can start writing. But once I dive into the story, it doesn’t always follow those outlines. My character arcs end up changing, my plot might take a few detours, and I might add new things to my world. I love the direction I get from plotting, but I love the creative explosions that come with pantsing.

Where did the term "pantser" come from? Does it have anything to do with the old "seat of your pants" saying?

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Depends. Sometimes I take a break to play with my son or read a book. Sometimes I plow on through, knowing I might have to toss some of the words I’m writing. Usually if something is wrong but I don’t know what, if I keep writing for a few more pages, I discover what the problem is.

You must have a lot more writerly endurance than I do. When I get writer's block, I have to set the computer aside and just mull things over for a while. Sometimes, that "while" can be two or three months, so I work on something else in the mean time.

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)

Usually my stories are so different that the characters HAVE to be different in order for the new story to work. I like to use the Color Code and Meyers-Briggs personality tests to help me figure out characters at their most basic, and I think that helps me keep my characters different.

I really liked your post about this, by the way. Very useful!

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

With reasons. J To me, if I want something to be believable, there has to be a reason behind it. I also try to make it natural to the character. I have a character relate to certain things that the reader would relate to (for example, having fun at a dance club), and then toss in an “accepting” attitude toward another aspect of it (the dance club has low gravity). The reader can accept it easier because the character, who they relate to already, is accepting it.

Sneaky! Instead of explaining or illustrating, you just pass it off as every-day humdrum!

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

Plotting. I know, it makes a lot of people cringe. But it really helps keep the pacing up. Scene/sequel outlining is a fabulous tool—each scene either has a goal/conflict/disaster setup or a reaction/dilemma/decision setup. They flow in a cycle and it keeps the story moving without (hopefully) slow stretches.

Another great post. This is one of those things you took to heart in Newell's class and I forgot.

How does your own life inform your writing?

I use quirks from people I know, bits and pieces of places I’ve been, lessons I’ve learned, and all kinds of things from my life in my writing. I think that’s why one idea can generate so many different stories, because people’s lives always inform their writing.

This is a great way to make characters more real. I love it!

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

I’ve been to BYU’s Life, the Universe, and Everything conference and twice to LDStorymakers. A-MA-ZING. I made great friends and learned more than I could put in this question. If you have a chance to go to a conference, do it.

I'm hoping to attend LTUE next year.

Who is your favorite author?

I have lots. I really love Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells. And Jane Austen, of course. J

No wonder we got along so well from the start! I love your taste in authors (yes, I do, in fact, like Jane Austen).

Favorite book?

The Giver by Lois Lowry will always be my favorite. It’s the first book that made me realize books are more than just words on a page—they can change you.

My wife and I still argue about whether or not Jonas (did I recall his name correctly?) dies at the end or not.

Favorite genre to read?

I’ll give anything a try if it piques my interest.

You're more literately tolerant than I am then. I get enough of real life everyday, so I generally don't want to read the more "literary" fiction. I need something that strays out of the realms of real life.

Favorite genre to write?

Science fiction! I love all the possibilities.

Here here!

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

I love playing the piano and guitar, hiking, and reading.

I love hiking, especially at this time of year!

What are three interesting facts about you?

I once hitchhiked in Africa—not my smartest moment. I have double-jointed ankles, so I can flip my feet completely backwards. In college, I got hit by a car while on rollerblades and got to ride in an ambulance (not a comfy experience).

The ankle thing sent a shiver of horror down my spine. No joke!

So, that's my friend Shallee. She's also an amazing novelist. Check out her blog here. Also, if you have a friend you'd like me to interview, I'm open to suggestions.



  1. Great interview, guys! :D I met Shallee for like a second at Storymakers. I wish I could have talked to her longer! Next year. :)

  2. I love the answer "with reasons". It's a great point--there has to be a purpose behind what the character is doing.

    Have you ever read the other two companion books to The Giver? Not to mention spoilers, but Jonas's ending is resolved . . . in a way.

  3. Thanks for the fun interview. I love reading Shallee's blog, too. :)

  4. Great interview. The ankle bit made me shudder as well since the only time I've ever seen it turned out not-so-good.

  5. Shallee is an inspiration (and we have such great taste in literature!). So glad I had the chance to meet her at a book signing. For Mr. Sanderson, of course.

    Another well executed interview, Reece! :)

  6. Thanks for the interview, Reece! :) I was "offline" last week when you posted, but I'll put up a link to the interview on my blog soon!

    I haven't read the companion books to The Giver, Golden Eagle. I'm a little afraid of them. :)

    And Reece, yes, the term "pantser" comes from "flying by the seat of your pants."