The Book Riot Live Interview: Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl, photo credit Caren Ann CorleyNisi Shawl is the author of Everfair. Find out more about her here

Q: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Option B: Pantser. I just start writing and see where the story takes me.

Q: Got a favorite superhero?

The rather obscure Isis, from the 1970s DC comic series; also, I really dig Wonder Woman.

Q: What’s one thing you want people to know about your book?

I want people to know how delightful it can be to immerse themselves in Everfair; even the painful parts hurt so good. [Editor’s note: I can verify that!]

Q: Do you know your Hogwarts house?

Pretty sure I’m Ravenclaw. Of course, as a member of Ravenclaw I would scorn to take any test purporting to tell me.

Q: You can take one (and only one) book with you on a 4-day trip where there are NO BOOKSTORES. What book do you take?

A nice, thick one: Middlemarch, maybe, because that’s the book that taught me what a novel is. I’m sure I could learn something more from it.

Q: Favorite album or band to listen to while writing?

Depends on what I’m writing, natch. I have a bunch of different Pandora stations featuring electronica, Blue Note jazz recordings, movie soundtracks, classical guitar: songs without words.

Q: What’s the story you wish someone else would write, so you could read it?

The story of how we get from here to Heaven on Earth.

Q: Chunky or smooth?


Q: What are you reading right now?

The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue. First 25 pages are gorgeous and strong.

Q: What book do you wish more people had read?

Oh, I could name you a whole store full of those. Even the bestsellers I love didn’t achieve full market saturation. Maybe Mama Day, by Gloria Naylor, since it meant so much to me personally. Or Samuel R. Delany’s Empire Star; most people start out with Dhalgren, a much more difficult book. These titles are still in print! There’s still time, people!

Q: Which comes first in your process: plot or character?

Usually character. Plot derives from a character’s desires.

Q: What genre have you never written in but want to?

TV scripts. I hear the people who write TV scripts get paid on the regular.

Q: What’s the most surprising thing you learned in the course of writing your most recent book?

Oh, when I found there had been Chinese railroad workers imported into the Congo who fled Leopold and took up residence in the neighboring countryside! Never expected that! I got so excited! I had to include their story in Everfair when I found that out.

Q: What’s your least favorite question to get as a writer?

“Where do you get your ideas from?” I mean, come on, where *don’t* I get them from? That’s why I’m a writer, dude.

Q: What was the worst job you ever had? The best?

The absolute worst job I ever had was lifting tatties. For the non-Scots among us, that’s harvesting potatoes. Literal stoop labor. A digger went through the field upending row on row of dead potato plants; we women (all women) scrabbled in the cold mud and tossed the potatoes in bushel baskets wedged between our feet. No standing upright for hours at a time. The third day I couldn’t walk down the stairs to catch a ride to the work site. That was it. I was in too much pain to show up and formally quit.

Best job? Probably teaching writing to 5th- and 6th-graders at a week-long multidisciplinary workshop called Water World. I did that nine years in a row. Teaching is so fun! It’s basically performance art–you get to be a rock star all day!

Q: What question do you wish you could ask your readers?

Did you get it?”

Q: What do you know now about publishing that you wished you knew when you were first starting out?

How long traditional publishers take to get your work in readers’ hands. It can be *years* between the day you finish a book and the day it shows up at retailers.