Today, I’m interviewing Shannon Yarbrough, author extraordinaire. His latest book, DICKINSTEIN, is now available for purchase on Amazon and at other retailers, and will be live on Kindle today.
I’ve known Shannon for just over two years. He showed up at the grand opening of our bookstore, All on the Same Page, on October 1, 2011. My good friend LeAnn, who was helping us out that day, greeted him before the ribbon cutting and showed him inside. He and I had corresponded a few weeks prior, about his three books: Are You Sitting Down, Stealing Wishes, and The Other Side of What – all of which we carry here in the store.
A few months later, we talked about doing a writers’ seminar; that’s evolved into a monthly writers’ group that meets at the bookstore, an eclectic group who write in all genres and are, honestly, up and coming authors with some great books – stop in and check them out for yourself!
At any rate, Shannon has been an invaluable source of information and encouragement and I assure you, neither I nor the bookstore nor Rocking Horse Publishing would be where we/I/they are today if it weren’t for him.
Okay, enough of my maudlin prose, let’s get to the interview:
Tell us about your book background – you’ve worked in bookstores, yes?
I’ve loved to read since I was a child, but my professional background in books started in 1999 when I was hired as the assistant manager of Bookstar in Memphis, Tennessee. Bookstar was a chain bought out by B&N in the early 1980s, but they kept the name. Bookstar was unique for putting its bookstores in old historic buildings, particularly old movie theaters. My store was in the theater where Elvis Presley’s movies used to premier. The old concession stand was our checkout counter. The décor inside was art deco from leopard print carpet to neon lights on the walls. Our break room upstairs was the old projection booth. Needless to say, just the ambiance and nostalgia alone drew an interesting crowd and it was a fun place to work. We even still used the plastic letters on the marquee outside to advertise events. Sadly, the store closed in 2010 but I was long gone before then. I worked for the B&N college division in a medical campus bookstore here in St. Louis in 2004 which led to a position in book wholesale for a local medical book distributor where I still work today. I also ran a professional book review site for indie authors from 2007 to 2012 which is where I gained most of my knowledge on self-publishing and the indie book industry.
When did you start writing?
I have always been very creative-minded and started writing in grade school. I went to a K-8 grade school which put daily focus on writing. We were given black and white Mead journals at the beginning of the school year, and 30 minutes of each day was allotted to write in our journals. I usually filled three or four journals each school year! Our school also hosted an event called Young Author’s Day each year. We wrote and bound our own books to display at the event and then the festival was an all day celebration of storytelling, games, and festivities. So, some of my very first books were actually published before I’d even graduated 8th grade!
Tell us about your first three books.
My first book, The Other Side of What, was published in 2003. It is about a young man moving away from his home and discovering his sexuality as he meets new friends and falls in love. My second book is called Stealing Wishes and was published in 2007. It is a romantic comedy about an obsessive-compulsive coffee barista desperate to fall in love, or to at least find a date. My third book, Are You Sitting Down?, was published in 2010. It’s a dark psychodrama about a family whose members are each dealing with problems from the past but trying to overcome them to enjoy Christmas together.
And now, finally, tell us ALL about DICKINSTEIN – what gave you the idea?
Dickinstein is a Gothic horror mash-up blending the life of poet Emily Dickinson with the classic tale of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It all came about very oddly. In fact, it was not a book I had set out to write nor given much thought to even. I was on the way to work one morning in June 2012 and listening to the radio. It was the day the movie of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was being released and they were discussing it on-air. I had read the book the previous year and was intrigued in finding out what inspired the author to write it.
So, when I got to work that morning I Googled it. As many writers can relate, I got to thinking about what kind of mash-up I might do if I was to write a book like this. Frankenstein immediately came to mind because all of the focus has been on vampires or werewolves in literature over the past decade or so. With the recent zombie craze, most would think Frankenstein’s monster would fall into that category, and I probably would have agreed with that given what little I knew about the monster outside of pop culture.
So, I sat down and read Shelley’s book for the first time ever and discovered all of my pre-conceived notions were wrong! One of the themes is immortality obviously, and this led me to thinking about Emily Dickinson. I’d been a fan of her poetry since college, and themes of mortality play an important part in many of her poems. It seemed like a good fit. So I started researching Emily and taking notes on her life and people she knew, all while drawing a rough outline of my book in my head. When I finally sat down to begin writing the book, I pounded out the first draft in just eight weeks. The book just came so easily to me so I knew it had to be written.
Why did you decide to use a publisher, after three successful self-published books?
I actually shopped my second and third book to agents and small publishing houses but only got rejections or no replies at all. Unfortunately, the land of query letters is a waiting game and I just don’t have much patience. So, I learned about the self-publishing industry and I believe I got much better at it with each book, learning more and more along the way. I shopped Dickinstein to agents for several months before Rocking Horse Publishing was even formed, and probably would have self-published it myself had it not been picked up by RHP.
My main reason for still seeking out traditional publishing is to eliminate some of the demands that self-publishing puts on the author. You are not just the author and publisher when you go the indie route. Unless you have a hefty budget, you are often the editor, cover designer, publicist, marketer, and sometimes the distributor as well. Those are all hats you must wear and roles you must play to get your book into the hands of readers. And it takes time, and it’s time that as an author, you’d probably rather spend writing. So, putting my book in the hands of a traditional publisher helped eliminate some of that stress.
What’s your next project?
I have been working on a historical fiction piece for well over seven years now that I would like to finish. It’s a ghost story that takes place between present time and the Civil War era. I’ve toyed with it and tweaked it off and on for almost a decade now, but something was never right at the time and there was always a different story that wanted to be written. I think I’m now at a point where this story is ready to be told, so hopefully it will be my next book.