Sharon Shinn is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Shuddering City. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In the city of Corcannon, everyone has a secret. Madeleine is planning her wedding to Tivol, but she’s really in love with Reese. Jayla has become the guardian of a child named Aussen, but she knows that Aussen possesses a mysterious and dangerous power. Brandon is a temple soldier keeping the enigmatic Villette a prisoner in her own home, but finds himself risking everything to keep her safe. Pietro is pretending he’s surprised every time the city is wracked by tremors, but he’ll do anything to stop the devastation. Even Corcannon itself has a secret. It’s built on a lie, and that lie is about to come tumbling down.
What’s Sharon’s favorite bit?
In my new book, The Shuddering City, there’s a pivotal scene between a wealthy sophisticate named Villette and an open-hearted young soldier named Brandon. She’s been imprisoned for mysterious reasons by the priests who serve the powerful upstart god Cordelan. He’s a guard for Cordelan’s temple, but he’s from the island region where most people still pray to the ancient water goddess Zessaya.
As their part of the story opens, Brandon has recently arrived at the mansion where Villette is being kept under house arrest. He has been warned that Villette will try to win him over so that he’ll help her escape, so he knows he should be wary as she asks him questions about his family, his affections, and his dreams. But he can’t help himself. Her mix of light charm and deep wistfulness fills him with a desire to protect her, comfort her, and distract her. So one night as they happen to be alone in the walled garden of Villette’s compound, he tells her stories about his island life. Eventually, he pulls out his amulet that shows Zessaya in one of her twelve formal poses. Villette takes the amulet from his hand, studies it by moonlight—and swallows it.
I was nearly as surprised as Brandon.
Let me back up a bit. In the classic debate between plotters and pantsers, I come down hard on the side of plotting. I spend months thinking about a book before I write down the first sentence. I might not know every detail of a story before I start writing, but I know how it starts, I know how it ends, and I have imagined at least three or four critical scenes down to what the characters are wearing.
My setting and my storytelling tend to evolve together, so a new plot point will often cause me to solidify a world-building element that might not have seemed too essential before. In fact, I will frequently begin with a middle-of-the-book scene that has crystalized for me, and work forward and backward to develop the rest of the story. How did my characters get to this point? Why are they happy/terrified/astonished/devastated that this has occurred? What kind of groundwork do I have to lay to get them here? What will they do next?
While I was still in the planning stages of The Shuddering City, I had already figured out who Brandon and Villette were and how their story intersected with the narratives of three other point-of-view characters. I knew all about Cordelan and how his relatively recent arrival on the scene had disrupted the power of the ancient goddesses. But I hadn’t given too much thought to Zessaya and her arch-rival, Dar.
So when Villette swallowed that pendant, it made me think.
Why would she do that? Was it simply an act of pointless defiance, or did Villette really think Zessaya could in some way protect her from Cordelan? And—wait—if Zessaya could protect Villette, could she also protect another vulnerable character, a small child who desperately needed to avoid drawing Cordelan’s attention? And how exactly did this protection work? And what about Dar? Whose side was she on in this centuries-old battle between the gods?
I turned these ideas over in my mind long before I started writing. That scene in the midnight garden ultimately informed every other part of the story, down to the denouement and the coda, in ways that were both obvious and subtle. As I began putting the book down on paper, I continued to be grateful that Brandon had thought to show Villette his amulet—and that Villette knew just what to do with it.
Sharon Shinn has published 30 novels, three short fiction collections, and one graphic novel since she joined the science fiction and fantasy world in 1995. She has written about angels, shape-shifters, elemental powers, magical portals, and echoes. She has won the William C. Crawford Award for Outstanding New Fantasy Writer, a Reviewer’s Choice Award from the Romantic Times, and the 2010 RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. Follow her at SharonShinnBooks on Facebook or visit her website at sharonshinn.net.