Welcome to author Shawn McGuire who took time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.  

Describe your favorite writing spot or space.

That depends on which phase of the process I’m in. Studies show that changing location uses a different part of your brain. Outlining and brainstorming absolutely use a different part of my brain than writing.

Brainstorming is done in my office in the rocking chair with a journal and white board. (Lots of scribbling happens during that time.) First drafts must also be done in my office but at my desk. I don’t believe in writer’s block. If I get stuck while writing that means there’s a problem with the plot. Fixing it requires getting outside and walking through it. Reviewing the first draft means printing out the manuscript and scribbling notes in the margins as I read and that’s done in the sitting room in a really comfy chair or outside on the deck if it’s a nice day. Final edits are usually done in my office but anywhere that calls to me works at that point.

Describe your current writing spot or space.

I’m fortunate to have a spare bedroom that’s all mine. I painted it a wonderful green blue which is a soothing and creative color for me. It’s got a great window that looks out at majestic Ponderosa pines and plenty of wildlife. I have a large whiteboard on the wall where I’ve drawn and regularly add to a map of my village.

My desk is a six-foot-long solid core door painted white on sawhorses from Ikea. It’s huge, which is awesome. Cluttered though. I can always tell how deep into a book I am by how cluttered my desk is. I start clean and fresh with a book and it’s a disaster by the end. I’ve got a wall of bookshelves behind me to hold books and office supplies. Last year, I added a riser/converter so I can switch between sitting and standing which has been great for my back!

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I feel so blessed to be able to set my own schedule, which is Monday through Friday and sometimes Saturday. I get up at five because first thing in the morning while most people are still sleeping is my most creative time. If I really want to make progress on a first draft, I get up at four. I break for breakfast, write, break again to walk or do yoga, write some more, and then my writing day ends at four in the afternoon. At that point, I take an hour to catch up on emails and social media or any other pressing administrative work. I’ve recently decided to treat Fridays as admin only days. I get so involved with the writing, I neglect the business side of my business. And as a self-published author, there are definitely two sides to the business.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

From first word to published book is three to four months. If I’m working on the next book in a series, I’m already familiar with the characters and setting so the words come faster. The first book in a new series can take closer to five months.

What comes first for you, the plot or characters?

Usually the characters or sometimes setting. Then I work out a plotline to fit that person or place.

How do you select the names of your characters?

For my Whispering Pines Mysteries, naming the characters has been a lot of fun. The setting is a quirky village in the Northwoods of Wisconsin where most of the residents are Wiccan. I’ve given some of them unusual names such as Flavia, Reeva, and Tripp. Others are named from nature such as Briar, Ruby, and Violet. Sugar and Honey run the sweet shop. In contrast to all of them, my main character’s name is Jayne. I wanted her to stand apart from everyone else – Plain Jayne.

Names are important to me, so I do take time to choose one that really speaks to me. For my new series, the first book will release in January 2021, the main character’s name is Gemi. I didn’t have a last name for her, and it was making me crazy. Then one day I was driving around and saw a sign for Kittredge St. that jumped out at me. Now, she’s Gemi Kittredge.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

Dialogue. Women and men don’t speak the same. (No kidding, right?) Generally, women tend to use a longer, more descriptive, more emotion-filled style. Men, generally, say what they need to say and move on. My editor is keen to these things and will point out, “Men don’t usually use that word.” Fortunately, my husband is a good reference source for me and will always take time to answer my questions.

Can you hear your characters talking?

Absolutely. I almost always feel like they’re telling me the story and I’m dictating what they say.

Were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one? For how long?

I was. I started this journey almost eighteen years ago when my youngest son was about eighteen months old. I wrote while he napped. I published my first book in 2014 and in 2016 I decided to go full-time. When I took time to figure out that my two-hour-a-day job absorbed my entire afternoon—driving there, driving home, etc.—my choice was obvious because all I wanted to do was write.

How much time do you spend on research before starting a book? While writing?

My Whispering Pines series takes place during a single year. The Wiccan religion has some sort of celebration or ritual happening every month. It’s either a big even such as Samhain (Halloween) or Yule (Christmas) or a lesser but still important event such as an equinox or solstice celebration. If nothing else, they gather monthly for esbats or full moon rituals. That means I’ve got something Wiccan-related to research for every book in addition to finding creative ways to kill my victims.

I start my outlining based on what’s happening on the Wiccan calendar and then try to tie the book’s mystery to the event. Once I’m into the first draft, though, research can really slow progress, so I try to leave myself a note to “Research XX” rather than turning to Google right away. This is a more efficient use of time for me because sometimes the thing I might have spent an hour or two researching doesn’t end up making the final cut.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

A hummingbird. They represent peace, love, positivity, and harmony. And despite their size, they’re feisty little creatures who aren’t afraid to defend their territory.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Going to conferences and taking classes on advertising. Conferences have the benefit of not only teaching me something, I get to be with other writers. The energy from being with people who understand each other’s experiences without having to explain is huge. As for advertising, with so many books on the market now, it’s not an option for authors anymore. How else will readers find out about those new books they just have to read?

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I’ve always been a crafty person. I made my own clothes as a kid and while I don’t do that anymore, I need to always be creating something. My day starts early so by seven at night, I’m tired. I fall asleep if I don’t keep my hands busy, so I crochet or cross stitch. For one of my books, I had my main character weaving, so now I’d love to learn that. I love decorating my house, which results in a lot of paint cans in the basement! I’ve always loved cooking and baking which makes my husband happy because he likes to eat.

Being in nature—going on hikes or motorcycle rides—is high on my list. Gardening is fun but I hate weeding and that’s not fair to the plants. We’ve been looking at fifth wheel RVs lately. The thought of traveling around the country that way is so exciting to me. I can hardly wait.

What is your favorite childhood book(s)?

I read a lot of Stephen King and Danielle Steele as a kid. Yes, very different. Maybe that’s why I tend to blend genres.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Trust your instincts. Start by writing what’s in your heart. Work and work and work some more to make it shine. If the traditional route is right, never give up the search for the right agent. If self-publishing speaks to you, as it did to me, go for it. Just know that it is not the easy route. It’s a ton of work but when everything finally falls together, nothing is more satisfying.

Shawn McGuire loves creating characters and places her fans want to return to again and again. (She’s lost track of how many times readers have told her they wished they could move to Whispering Pines. Shawn does too!) She chooses topics for her mysteries she’s curious about. This not only makes research even more fun, it satisfies her desire to always be learning something.

Shawn’s first job at age thirteen was cleaning her dad’s offices. Writing has been a passion since that time, but she’d never thought it could be a career until later in life. To this day, she wonders how she thought all those books got on the shelves at libraries and bookstores! Until she figured it out, she worked at a pizza parlor, department store, as a receptionist, fast food manager, fabric store manager, and payroll manager. The best job she ever held, aside from author, was stay-at-home mom to her two sons, a position she held for eighteen years.

Where to Find Shawn McGuire & Her Books:

Website | Amazon | Audible | BookBub | Goodreads
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