You! GUYS!!!! As you can see today we have the lovely and wonderful Shannon McKenna guesting with us! Whee!!! I mean, does she really need an introduction? (I say no, but if yes…) She writes romantic suspense – and Out of Control and Meltdown are two of my most favorite romances ever! Shannon is also a total sweetheart and I’m super excited to welcome her back to ALBTALBS!!!
Hello, and thank you so much, Lime, for inviting me onto your site! I’m so very excited to be guest posting on the birthday of this lovely blog! And thank you, as always, for the very fun and unique questions. You have a marvelously twisted mind. Please take that as a compliment. One twisted mind to another.
What is the strangest/most twisted thing you’ve Googled for a story?
I’m kind of nervous about my Internet search history, to tell you the truth. I’m sure the nature of my Googling has put my name into a file somewhere in some government agency, and maybe more than one. I’ve read about dirty bombs, I’ve looked up the places where one might buy radioactive thermal generators abandoned by the Soviets after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I’ve pondered the pros and cons of pulverizing the Strontium-90 for my bomb (the pro being, you kill way more people with your bomb, the con being, you kill yourself, too.) I can rattle off a winning recipe for a fertilizer bomb, and tell you how to rig a cell phone to detonate it. I could even tell you how to make a bomb out of a bag of flour. The kind you make cookies with! And put to it, I could probably make a Molotov cocktail, but I hate getting gasoline on my hands. Now, ahem. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get some sugar cookies and a nice cup of decaf tea with honey and cream, and put on my bunny slippers. (Hey, NSA, if you’re listening! It’s just fiction, I promise!)
What kind of interesting people have you met doing research? Along those lines, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever learned doing research?
Oh, it’s hard to choose! Everyone is interesting if you look closely enough. But the first person who springs to mind was this man I met some years ago, a Kung Fu master who was half German and half Sicilian, who was also a criminal who had spent a good long stint in a tough prison. He told me that he never slept more than two hours a night, particularly not in prison. He got all the rest that he needed doing about four or five hours a night doing kung fu forms. I’m not sure if he was just really exceptional, or crazy. Kind of hard to tell sometimes! But oh, my God, the man was superhuman when he did Kung Fu. He looked like your normal middle-aged man, around sixty, but when he started to move, you realized that he was at a whole other level of perception of time and space. Fascinating. A little scary, too.
And to answer the question of the most interesting thing I’ve ever learned—well, it’s that any discipline that I’ve ever tried to fake being expert at, even superficially, is absolutely fascinating and could absorb me for a lifetime. Like the poem says, hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise. In Behind Closed Doors, my first book years ago, I started learning about surveillance devices, and was just gobsmacked by the technology, the possibilities. And that was fifteen years ago! Imagine, if I tried to research that book now. It would all be brand now, and exponentially more complicated and sensitive. So very cool.
Have you ever based any of their stories in factual events/crimes?
Not directly, but here are always hints and echoes of what’s happening in the world, and in my neighborhood, too. Sometimes re-reading them reminds me of things that happened around here years ago that get woven in. For instance, while I was writing Ultimate Weapon, Tam and Val’s story, some young local boys fell into an ancient cistern that was designed centuries ago to collect rainwater. It was deep in the countryside, far from anyone, thirty meters deep, and bell shaped, so there was no way for them to climb out. The story had the worst possible ending, I regret to say, and it really touched and saddened me. So at one point in the book, without ever consciously meaning to, Val ended up crawling through an ancient abandoned sewer system on an old estate somewhere in Eastern Europe, and he ended up dangling from a rusted-out ladder rung, one-armed, legs flailing, over one of those deadly oubliette-like cisterns.
One doesn’t have to dig too deep for scary stories, or fodder for nightmares, and the world is full of evil that requires men and women of courage to fight for it. I always dreamed of being a superhero/dragonrider/ringbearer/etc in my bookish youth, because the world needs heroes! Just like the world needs happy endings. There are just too damn many sad ones.
Which of your characters would you most like to be?
That’s a tough one, because I think I kind of AM all of them, or at least aspire to be! But the one that I have the most emotional complexity with can only be Tam Steele, the heroine of Ultimate Weapon. She’s been there from the very first book in the series, making snide comments over my shoulder about everything I wrote, said, did, thought. I got curious about her from the very beginning of Behind Closed Doors. Tam was the most difficult and problematic heroine I have ever dared to write—a bad Bond girl crossed with Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. She is a mysterious, dangerous figure with hidden scars and an unfathomable agenda, and I was as fascinated with her as I was terrified of her. If she ever met me, she would take one look at me and see all my insecurities, weak points, dull spots, the ways in which I’m not completely honest with myself, and instantly dismiss me as not worth her time. To say nothing of what she would think of my clothes, shoes and level of physical fitness. But let’s not even go there.
Why would I create such a scary bitch and make her the heroine of my book, you may well ask? I asked myself that question for years, dancing around it as her character slowly took form in all the other books in the series. Since I hadn’t thought of her as a heroine in the earliest books, I had followed no rules or conventions when dreaming her up. I’d been bound by no romance genre expectations. Heroines usually have to be likable, at least. It’s sort of a rule. But Tam is a rule-breaker. Some way into the book, I realized I was writing about my own shadow self, a bad girl that I secretly wanted to be. Powerful, crafty, smart and fearless, unabashedly sexual, not giving a shit what anyone thought of her. So free. Apologizing to no one, ever. An outlier and an outlaw. But how to make this scary, almost god-like creature human enough to write a love story for her, and give her a happily-ever-after? That was a hell of a question that took a whole big scary, hard-to-write book to answer! And Tam still gives me, and all the rest of the McCloud Crowd, no rest. “I spare no one, as Sam here will soon have cause to know,” she says, in the last book of the series, In For The Kill. My meek and timid side REALLY wants to be Tam, particularly when someone cuts in front of me in a line at the grocery store.
Kaetrin, I am desolated to disappoint you! But I have no current plans to write any books about Zan’s brothers at this time. I’m playing with a bunch of different new ideas. I’ve come to understand that my readers fall into two camps, those who love the paranormal elements in the last few McCloud books, and those who hate them and want straight romantic suspense like before, no funny stuff. So, I must figure out how to write faster, and try to do both, because I really like both, and I love all my readers who appreciate the McKenna vibe. I wish to serve both groups well, with books that delight and satisfy! I’m dreaming up two different series. I am keen to try some self publishing, but I still want to enjoy the advantages of a publishing house’s support as well, so I aspire to be what they call a “hybrid author.” I’m dreaming up a series now that features, as heroes, a group who as young people were swept up into a secret experimental program in which they were being groomed with implanted techno-enhancements to be super-agent/soldiers. They realized just in time the criminal lengths to which their experimenters were willing to alter them, and banded together to rebel, and escape. Now they’re all adults, with new identities and lots of complicated issues because of their enhancements and their problematic special abilities—to say nothing of the looming menace of their nemesis, the powerful secret organization from which they fled. That’s my more paranormal flavored series idea, and I’m having great fun with it! I could go any number of wild directions. which means, freedom, scope, and wild, outrageous plots by the handful! My idea of heaven
Thank you so much, Lime, for the fun questions and for the hospitality of your lovely blog on its fourth birthday! I wish everyone a lovely winter, with lots of tea or cocoa sipped in front of a crackling fire while reading something juicy and fun that you never want to end.
And just so you all know, the very last book of the McClouds & Friends series, In For The Kill, comes out on January 27! It’s Sam and Sveti’s story, and it finishes out the series with a big loud bang and a shower of colored sparks. So check it out, and enjoy!
So, what questions do you have for Shannon?