Author Interview With Shawn Speakman

Posted: April 7, 2015 in Author Interview
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Shawn Speakman

Shawn –
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I have a great passion for books, and have found that I very much enjoy talking to the amazing people that can create these books.

RS: I want to congratulate you on beating cancer. That must have taken great will and determination, which speaks to your strength of character. Did your decision to write and publish The Dark Thorn, the first installment in the Annwn Cycle series, come out of this trying period in your life?

Shawn Speakman:  In a way.  This requires a much longer explanation. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2001, a much tougher fight than my 2011 diagnosis for Hodgkins. When I finished chemotherapy in 2001, I decided then that I wanted to do what made me happy.  And writing has always made me happy.  I asked Terry Brooks –whose website I have managed since 1996 — if he would look over some of my work. He saw enough in it to mentor me through THE DARK THORN. I still believe if I had not been diagnosed with cancer in 2001 that I would not be writing today. Not as a professional, at any rate.

RS: You currently have more novels in the Annwn Cycle series scheduled, as well as several short stories. This seems incredibly organized and thought out. Did you already have all of the story arc planned out before you began The Dark Thorn?

Shawn Speakman:  Questions lead to answers which lead to larger questions.  That’s how the craft of writing and world building works for me. The first book introduces Richard McAllister, a spiritually and emotionally broken knight who guards a portal that leads from Seattle to Annwn, a world like Avalon from Arthurian legend. I knew I wanted to tell his life story over the course of my Annwn Cycle. Therefore, there is about five or six years between each novel. If I have the chance to write seven novels, I’ll be sincerely happy.

Before I finished THE DARK THORN, I knew where I would go in is sequels. Five years into the future for each one. The first book establishes Richard, his origin story. The next two books, THE EVERWINTER WRAITH and THE SPLINTERED KING, will take him from 35 to almost 50 years old. I want to look at how we age and how our major life situations change us over the decades. Kind of like how we saw the Harry Potter kids grow up but instead we will see Richard and other characters over decades. Those two sequels are fully outlined and I am currently writing THE EVERWINTER WRAITH as well as writing an Annwn Cycle short story for the forthcoming anthology, UNFETTERED II.

The world itself is rich with history. Celtic mythology, the history of Britain, and the history of the Catholic Church lend themselves well for idea mining. I have way more stories — especially short stories — that I can probably tell. It’s not a bad problem to have!

RS: Often times, making a dream come true requires action. You launched grimoakpress.com, a small publishing company, to publish The Dark Thorn and its sequels as well as the fantasy short story anthology Unfettered. Was it always your intention to launch a publishing company?

Shawn Speakman:  It was not. Not even close my intention. As I mentioned before, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins in 2011. At the time, THE DARK THORN was making its rounds in New York City with various agents and editors. It was an exciting time. People were genuingly interested in the book, a kind of hybrid between the works of Terry Brooks and Jim Butcher. Then the diagnosis happened. I was angry and heartbroken and angry and angry some more.

I was angry for reasons that might not make sense. I had beaten cancer before. I knew I would do it again. I had little fear that I would lose my life to cancer. But I lacked health insurance.  I had repeatedly been denied coverage from insurance companies due to my pre-existing cancer diagnosis and treating the second cancer was going to financially ruin me. Right when I was thinking about buying a home, settling down, having children, etc. My future had turned upside down in a single afternoon.

That’s when Terry Brooks offered to write me a short story, something I could sell online to keep the bill collectors at bay. He didn’t stop there. He told me to contact my other writer friends. So I did. That’s how the short story anthology UNFETTERED came to be.

Due to the quality of talent in UNFETTERED, I knew there would be a lot of publicity featuring my name. So I pulled THE DARK THORN out of NYC and decided to package it at the same time as UNFETTERED.  It has turned out to be a smart move.

And in a twist of fate, to publish those books and end my medical debt, I had to launch a small press.  Grim Oak Press is that business. More will be coming from Grim Oak Press in the future, especially UNFETTERED II in October 2015! All proceeds from that anthology will go toward alleviating medical debt for other writers and artists, my way of giving back for the generosity shown me.

RS: I have to say, I very much admire where you are in life; webmaster for the amazing fantasy authors Terry Brooks, Naomi Novik, and David Anthony Durham as well as authoring your own fantasy series and freelancing for suvudu.com. I will geek out for a moment and say that web development is a career goal of mine, and writing a growing passion. I have been in IT for 14 years and have finally realized what I want to be when I grow up — I want to be you! Okay, I want to be me, but you have shown a light on the path I want to take. How did you get to where you are now? Was all of this a goal or did it just develop over time?

Shawn Speakman:  It definitely developed over time. A lot of tenacity.  A lot of not having shame.  A lot of luck in that I never could have forseen getting cancer — twice even — and how that would shape my future.

For people who wish to write or make a dream a reality, I have a philosophy.  Never give up.  I have been told ‘no’ far more times than I’ve had people say ‘yes.’ That’s where the no shame comes in. I have no shame when it comes to asking people questions — complete strangers even.  I approached Terry about being his webmaster.  I approached the writers in UNFETTERED to submit stories.  I approach writers every week about stopping by my book business, The Signed Page (www.signedpage.com), and signing books while touring through Seattle.  I let people decide if they want to work with me.  And in doing so, I’ve been told ‘no’ alot.  But the yeses have given me a career.  The trick is learning to treat rejection as a step toward the dream, not a step back from the dream.

RS: You have a LOT on your plate! How do you maintain your passion for writing under all the time constraints?

Shawn Speakman:  It’s difficult. I learned time management very early on.  I force myself to write at least 500 words a day, no matter the other things I have going on.  I write those words in the morning before other things can infringe on my time. There are days when I can write 2000 words if I have nothing else going on and I work hard at making that happen.  Thankfully, I burn out around noon or one in the afternoon, so that leaves the rest of the day doing other things — either other work or opening a book or playing a game with my fiance. I believe in balance. It’s the only true way to be happy!

Ebooks copies of Shawn books can be found here. Follow him on Facebook and @shawnspeakman!

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Dark Thorn Cover

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