Welcome to author Shannon Symonds who not only writes mysteries about living close to the sea but lives there herself.
Describe your favorite writing spot or space.
I have a few. I live by the ocean. During long winter nights, I write by the fire. In the summer, I have taken my laptop to a picnic table or log to watch the ocean and surfers for inspiration. And most often, I write in the crowded chaos of my six kids, their spouses, and my grandkids, I get some amazing plotting done. Murder can be a family affair. They all love to help me kill people.
Describe your current writing spot or space.
Right by the fire, finally eating dinner at 9:41 PM. Lost in time, writing a book.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
For a short time, I had all day to write. Right now, I have a wonderful and flexible day job.
I get up and study or find my spiritual center at 5 am.
I run on the beach at 6 am. While I run, I work on the plot and let the characters talk.
Then, if I am lucky, and my shower is short, I can get in a few minutes of writing and business before work.
Sometime during the day, I call my mother, who is losing her eyesight, and read what I have written to her. She is an influential critic and reading aloud helps me edit my work. I never, ever work on Sunday.
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
If I’m working a full-time job, I can plot a story in a few days. A good plot allows me to write it quickly. Then it takes another week for edits.
I plot carefully. Once the book has a plot and is going, the characters take over and I just have to keep up with the story. While I pump the story out, my mom, adult kids, and my new granddaughter, Sahalie, give me great feedback.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Two. One is very personal and for my kids when I’m gone. It’s called The Journey. It’s about a time when I was a single mother of five and had no idea where our journey would take us.
The second book is a fantasy that won’t leave me alone. One of the main characters has down syndrome, like a family member. He is a hero in the story.
Do you write under a pseudonym? If not, have you ever considered it?
I have written under a pseudonym—well, partially. My daughter and I published around a hundred self-help articles for Deseret Digital Media as Belva’s Girls. They syndicated many of the articles. A few still live on the Family Today website. After you asked this brilliant question, I searched the web for an old article and found one. But! They have put our names on our work and it has taken on a life of its own. 5 Great Ways to Ruin Your Teen’s Life is somewhere online.
What comes first for you, the plot or characters?
First, the genre or theme of the story. Then the character arc, followed by the plot. However, if you give me a word or prompt, my mind will go straight to the characters and I can hear the dialogue.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I really wrestled with the name of my favorite character in my debut novel. I changed it twice while writing it. It was about an advocate who helped survivors of abuse. She was a survivor and still doing her own healing. She needed as much saving as the survivors she worked with.
One day, my beloved sister, who was my favorite editor, called me and named her, Grace. The title became Saving Grace. The title was later changed by the publisher, but not Grace’s name. I showed my sister the published book the day before she passed away from cancer. I dedicated it to her.
My main character in Murder Takes a Selfie is named after a biblical queen who sacrifices everything for her people. Some of the other names came directly off my genealogy charts or my family tree. I am also inspired by the names of great villains. All serial killers need 3 names.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Not much! Okay, maybe the way guns work or anything mechanical that they may use in the story.
I pattern them after my sons, cousins, and brothers. My son is a fabulous writer who has yet to be published. He is also a veteran. He always has great input for my characters.
Can you hear your characters talking?
Yes! When I write I don’t see the page. I see a movie and hear my characters. My hands type it. I feel it when I make a mistake before I see it. I know what the plot is, but I have fun hearing the characters chat and sometimes make a mess of my plot!
Were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one? For how long?
Everything I do in life is part time. Family comes first and mom is my full-time job. After my family, my day job wrestles for my attention with my author job. Soon, I will be able to write full time, but I will always put family first and keep Sunday sacred.
How much time do you spend on research before starting a book? While writing?
If there is anything that I am not deeply familiar with, I will research it before it goes into the plot. For example, in one of my previous novels there was action while at sea. I love deep sea fishing and anything on a boat, but I hadn’t worked on a boat. My son was a ship’s captain and crewed on a large or luxury charter boat that fished for tuna. I spent time interviewing him. We went to the boat, met the owner, took a ride, and measured the place the body would hit the floor and the victim would hide. Murder at high sea was plotted with my son, and parents, two dogs, a few kids, another sister, and his friend while on the boat.
What kind of research do you do for a book?
I will make sure and update my knowledge about police procedure. I am lucky to have a few law enforcement officers among my kids and friends.
I have a BFF who is a pharmacist and love my copy of “A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie” by Kathryn Harkup!
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A white bird. I would want wings to soar on as I watched the world go by. I love people watching. I would sit in the pine trees and watch the characters and conversations around me.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I like to run—slowly! I spend a great deal of time “seeing” my stories unfold while I run. Also, the fact that I can be lost in a story in a room full of complete chaos. However, I can only edit in silence. If the house is empty, I have to put on music that fits the story. Murder Takes a Selfie’s playlist is full of Celtic Cafe tunes and Lauren Daigle’s song, Rescue.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
$130 for a used MacBook Pro, refurbished by an unknown man in a store in Tigard, Oregon, and shipped to me. I checked him out. He’s legit. I wrote 3 books on the old computer. I was barreling through the 4th book and reading my progress daily to my sight impaired mother when she lost patience and made me go to Costco for a new Mac Air. She was tired of waiting 30 minutes for my little computer to boot up! Thanks, Mom!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to be with my family. Together, we kayak, play on the beach, hike, bike, crab in Nehalem Bay, clam wherever we can, and make some outrageously large (but safe) bonfires on the beach. I truly am an expert s’more maker.
Do you ever Google yourself?
Yes! Once, because I wanted to know what stores were carrying my books. Many years ago, when I worked a little more dangerous job, I googled regularly because I wanted to stay under the radar or totally offline. I didn’t surface until 2009, when my youngest child made me join Facebook before she left for college.
What is your favorite childhood book(s)?
Anything by Agatha Christie. No lie.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Again, no lie. My Scriptures.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Because you are a reader, and your tribe is the book lovers, your writing will be acceptable to most of the tribe. Don’t be afraid. Leap. If they don’t like your work, they aren’t your tribe.
How many more books are in the By The Sea Cozy Mystery Series?
As many as my Mac Air can keep up with. To date, 4 are ready to go and the 5th is in progress. The possibilities are limitless. I hope you love the little town and all the characters as much as my real little beach town and family do.
Shanon Symonds writes in an old house by the sea, where her 6 children, their children, and 30 or 40 of her closest relatives, and their dogs come and go constantly. She loves laughter, a good mystery, running on the beach, deep sea fishing, and bonfires. Her all-time favorite job at church was Girls Camp Activity Director. Shannon worked for over 20 years as an Advocate serving survivors of abuse alongside law enforcement, as a home visitor supporting new mothers, and on other causes she is ridiculously passionate about. She will tell you, “Love sprinkled with laughter really is the answer, it always was, and it always will be.”