My guest author for this week is Alonna Shaw:
an inspirational woman with many talents.
Thank you Alonna Shaw (model, actress, artist, editor, and now author), for letting me pick a little piece of your brain.
Her debut novel is inspirational, magical, and beautifully written. It’ll make you laugh, cry, think, and get the warm fuzzies.
1. Eleven Sundays is your debut novel, what inspired you to write about this heartwarming story of love, loss, and redemption?
I was chatting with my mom about my fortune telling, albino great-grandmother when one of those prickly “chills” moments came over me. I knew something had registered, but it was sometime later that I realized the souplady character had been knocking at my writer-ly door. The other reason that got the Eleven Sundays ball rolling was my complete lack of being able to deal with loss—and I wanted to explore this.
2. How did you come up with the title?
You know that time right before you drop off to sleep?
I liked how Graham Nash of “Crosby, Stills, and Nash” described it in a HuffPost piece: “As with songwriting, that space just before you fall to sleep (what David Crosby calls ‘When the elves take over the workshop’) is most informative and often leads to the creation of a song.”
Well, I’ve trained myself to listen and make notes no matter how much I want to keep my eyes closed and tuck deeper into the covers. I don’t remember if it was a Sunday night or not, but I distinctly heard inside my head the words “Eleven Sundays.” I knew it was my title and my structure. It was a defining moment for my story and my novel.
3. Is there a message in Eleven Sundays that you want readers to grasp?
I think everyone can identify with hitting those “life speed bumps.” My characters are faced with evolving through those challenges by understanding themselves and taking risks.
4. Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
My experiences with risk do inform my writing. I certainly have plenty of “life speed bumps” to draw from, but what I wanted to do was create characters separate from myself so I could allow them to react in ways I haven’t or couldn’t.
5. Are the names of the characters in your novel important?
That’s such a funny question to me. When I write I don’t even like to give characters names. I’ll refer to them as “him” or “her,” sometimes “character A, B, C, etc.” At some point in the writing the characters evolve and are no longer nameless.
If so, why? I was particularly intrigued by the cat (Brownbunnykitty),
The cat character was soft and brown like a bunny, so no name, instead a description. I wanted to slip in some subtle animal behavior since that is a subject I’m quite passionate about. The cat character is symbolic of acceptance. Sometimes animals know us better (at a core level) than we know ourselves.
and one boy’s name (Newt).
I have a family member who we refer to as “Lizard.” I wanted to find something like that for the youngest of the boys. Aliens, the movie came to mind, in it the little girl was called Newt. I have an affinity for the inception of science… so Isaac Newton was another influence.
And of course, the Souplady.
She’s one of those people in the neighborhood who gets a nickname based on what they do.
6. With your acting background aside, have you ever read or seen yourself in a book or a movie?
Back in the 90s I really wanted to play the part of Rowan in Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. Instead—as an exercise—my writing partner and I adapted that book and part of the sequel Lasher into a screenplay. Talk about dedication, we worked full-time on it. Those were two really long novels.
7. Was there anything you found particularly challenging in the writing of Eleven Sundays? What was the hardest part to write?
Once I had gathered four notebooks full of scenes, character background, and other notes the idea of writing a novel wasn’t as daunting. Sitting down at the computer became an activity of going through my to-do list. I put these notebook puzzle pieces together and had a reasonable sh**ty first draft.
Going into the next draft, when I’d come to a place that said “write a scene that…”—those were the challenging “Uff-dah” moments What does this mean?—as my Norwegian grandmother would say.
8. Did you learn anything about yourself from writing this book?
- · I could actually complete a story on my own.
- · I could let go of my fear of structure. Structure is a friend, not the enemy.
- · Method acting wasn’t a waste of my time. The exercises I practiced in the past to develop characters as an actor, now help when fleshing out characters.
9. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your debut novel?
No, not in the novel. I would’ve put more marketing stuff into place before releasing it, but life was just too busy. My husband is helping me and we are slowly rolling some out now.
10. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I loved watching the boys as they evolved throughout the story.
Also, the last chunk of the book came to me first, hooked my heart, and was at the same time my favorite and most difficult part to work on because it stirred up too much emotion for me.
11. Are there certain characters you’d like to go back to. A sequel or spin-off?
Eleven Sundays is Annie’s story, so the sequel deals with the next chapters of her life.
12. Who designed the cover for Eleven Sundays?
I used a photo I took of some abandoned shoes out on Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. Then my husband helped me with titling since I haven’t learned Photoshop—yet.
13. You were recently featured in your hometown newspaper, how much impact does your childhood have on your writing then and now?
A lot. Thanks Mom! She taught me that dreams could come true if you work hard (be careful what you wish for). And growing up in small towns allowed my imagination to bloom.
14. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?
A jockey, then one of Jacques Cousteau’s marine biologists, then a photo-journalist, then an attorney (because they get to read lots of books).
15. If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
Boy, I’d be screwed since this is the career that came after the others (model, actress). I’d love to be an illustrator for children’s books. I’m an old-school paper and canvas artist.
Or a film director—there’s something to being in charge of the bigger picture and being social. Writers are in charge of the bigger picture but the work tends to be solitary.
16. If you could live inside the world of a book, which book would you choose?
As much as I love Edward Gorey, not his. I do kind of feel like Horton and a Who frequently.
17. Give your readers a couple of fun facts that they may not already know about you.
I had a paper route as a kid—on pony back. My version of the Pony Express.
To conquer my fear of heights I climbed to the top of the Hong Kong Conrad Hotel (61 floors) and looked over the edge—it didn’t work.
18. What makes you laugh and/or cry?
Beauty, kindness—in the good way.
Animal cruelty hurts my heart.
19. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers?
I appreciate any support to spread the word about Eleven Sundays. I love hearing from readers, connecting helps to balance the isolated life of a writer. I’m also branching out to travel writing with MyDestination.com. Their interview about me is here MyDestination
My first piece on The Point Reyes National Seashore goes live on May 8th. Point Reyes National Seashore
I’m a member of Indie Writers For Hurricane Sandy Recovery. We get books to schools and libraries damaged by the hurricane or other disasters such as fire. If you know of a school in need contact: Authors for Hurricane Sandy Libraries
Oh, you have one more question? Okay—which is my favorite of your books? Well, you are putting me on the spot… I love them all, but IF I have to chose: Night Passage and Awakenings: Secrets of a Brown Eyed Girl.
Thanks so much for having me on your NightWriter blog.
Blog: Alonna’s blog
Buy Eleven Sundays at: