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Shelly was gracious enough to answer all our prying questions. Thanks, Shelly!
Why do you write in your genre? What draws you to it?
I love mythology and folklore and felt I could use that to enhance a shape-shifter story. The genre also meshed well with my personal writing style and sense of imagination. I basically wrote the book I had been wanting to read.
What research is required?
For my books a great deal. Since I chose to focus on the mythology of shape-shifters in cultures around the world, I first had learn about them. I spent a week researching Himalayan cultures and folklore until I found something I could use and build from. I read about the myth of the Pari which are seductive female mountain spirits that if angered can shift into the form of a snow leopard and attack. I drew up a plot that revolved around the hypothesis that if the Pari were real, how did they come to exist? I researched methods of bacterial transmission and eventually came up with the idea that if shape-shifters throughout history were caused by an infection, it would have to be difficult to catch, otherwise everybody and their grandmother would be a shape-shifter. That was how I decided to make the infection come from a thermophilic (heat loving) bacteria that only lives in hot springs around the world. You can't catch it from another shape-shifter, but you can inherit the condition from your parents. This method of transmission gives rise to the many different mythologies of shape-shifters that have evolved from every culture on the planet. As Dr. Rae Hales, my heroine surmises “if the Pari are real, doesn't that mean they could all be real?”
Name one thing you learned from your protagonist.
Learn to let go. I learned this from Nawang Wangdo and Kai Tenzin. I personally have some control issues (not of other people, but of my own life.) I gave them to several of my characters as well to make them more fully rounded three dimensional characters. It was actually quite therapeutic to write the book where these characters learned to let go and to truly understand that what will be, will be!
Any odd or interesting writing quirks, habit or superstitions?
Before I started writing Tasting Fire, I watched all my Russell Wong movies again. He was the physical model for the character of Kai Tenzin. Is that weird enough?
Plotter or pantser?
I'm a plotter. I have to have an outline, I may diverge from it during the course of the writing, but I can't write from nothing. My books are also heavy on mythology and folklore, so I have a ton of research that I do beforehand.
Look to your right? What's sitting there?
My T.V. and beyond that in the hallway is an oil painting I did of my grandparents from a snapshot taken in the 1940s. My grandfather was a professional magician and in the painting my grandmother has some sort of guillotine device around her neck. I believe he used to have a blade that went through the device. Well, Grandma is 96 years old now, so he obviously knew how to work the trick correctly.
Anything new coming up from you? What?
Yes, I've start writing the second book in the Tasting Fire series. It revolves around the Naga, an ancient race of snake kings and warriors that were and still are worshiped in parts of India. Many families in India still claim descent from the Nagas. The story will take place about thirty years after the events in Tasting Fire.
Do you have a question for our readers?
If you could belong to any race of shape-shifters out of mythology, which one would it be?
“My name is Kai Tenzin. I was born in a village high in the Himalaya mountains of Tibet.
I am a Pari. My people are born with the ability to transform into the animal you call the Asian Snow Leopard. The Pari have been among you since the dawn of human civilization. We have seen humanity at its worst. We have watched from the safety of our mountains, as human tyrants unleashed their destructive fury and let the blood of the innocent flow freely over the land. For centuries we have cowered in fear of what horrors the human heart would unleash upon us if discovered. We always strived to know the animal within us, but we always considered humans to be the true beasts. We feared you and did not wish to know you.
I am guilty of that crime more than any others of my kind, and yet, I personally have seen human compassion in action. When it does happen, it is an act of such profound beauty, that the darkest place in the universe, namely, the human heart, can not hide the infinite luminescence that shines forth. You have it within each and every one of you to be a shining flame that brightens the darkest night. We should have had more faith in that. I should have had more faith in your humanity and my own. Instead, I chose to help my people to continue to hide in darkness.
We stole from you the chance to know us and hid where only hate and fear can grow. For that I apologize and can only ask for your forgiveness. I stand here today, humbly begging you for a second chance. If we possess the courage, together, we can open our hearts to each other.
It's funny, I never wanted to be a writer! In 7th grade English, we were given an assignment. We were told to write an original poem and turn it in the next day. I was determined to turn in not a good poem, but a great poem. I spent the whole night working on it instead of watching my favorite show, The Waltons. (Hey! it was 1980.) I turned it in the next day. Apparently, I succeeded a little too well and was accused of copying it from a book. (1980 remember, no internet yet). The teacher stated and I quote "this is too good for a seventh grader, where did you copy it from?" Well, I didn't write for 30 years after that. In my 40's, after a life changing move to rural Nevada as a caregiver to my father, I realized I needed a way to earn a little money on the side. I did some research on the internet and read all about a certain little book, about a certain little college student and a handsome billionaire with some ahem! (issues.) I decided after reading that book, I could do that, and Tasting Fire was born. I'll admit it's been strange revisiting a talent buried deep inside for so long, forgotten, but apparently not lost. It's been an important journey and one I am quite thankful for and excited to see where it takes me.
P.S. Mr. Jordan, I really did write that poem!