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by Barbara Sheridan
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August 2001

Every Romance Reader's Fantasy!

LISTER'S POLL: We Want More............Fantasy Romance!

Sharon Shinn

Sharon Shinn has been writing since she was eight years old, although her first book wasn’t published until she was in her 30s. Most of her life has been about writing. In 1979, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and has worked on various trade and association magazines ever since. She lives pet-free and virtually plant-free in St. Louis, but she makes up for those lacks by having a wide circle of friends and what seems like a hundred family members with whom she spends most of her time. Between working and writing, there isn’t much time for hobbies, but she loves movies, the Cardinals, the Rams, 19th century art, and bad TV.

An Interview with Sharon Shinn

PNR: Sharon, what inspired you become a fantasy writer?

Sharon S.: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about eight years old, but I’m not sure exactly when I refined that to wanting to be a fantasy writer. Probably about the time I read Joy Chant’s “Red Moon and Black Mountain”! I’ve always loved to read fantasy, so that’s one of the reasons I chose to write it. I also like the grandeur and heroism you can achieve in a fantasy novel. The books can be full of magic, romance, courtly love, castles, great outfits, a chance to save the world…not too many other genres where you can combine all those ingredients.

PNR: You like to put ordinary characters in unusual situations. For example in "Heart of Gold" the heroine is a rebel through and through, but the hero is a mild sort of rebel at best. Though raised in his culture as a member of the submissive sex, he's forged a career as a scientist. Naturally he's expected to give it all up when he marries. Yet when he uncovers a plot to annihilate a race of people he's been raised to hate, he rises to the occasion and becomes hero material. In your new release "Summers at Castle Auburn", Coriel Halsing is the fish out of water. Tell us about her?

Sharon S.: One of my goals with Corie was to simply to make her appealing. I was noticing that in many of my books the heroines were reserved and withdrawn, partly because of this very fish-out-of-water syndrome you mention. Lilith in “Shape-Changer’s Wife,” Rachel in “Archangel,” Tamar in “Alleluia Files,” Laura in “Wrapt in Crystal” – all of these are women who have been somehow torn away from their ordinary lives and placed in dangerous or unfamiliar circumstances, and all of them have reacted by becoming a little hostile or certainly difficult. With Corie, first of all, I wanted someone who was happy with herself, easy to get along with, a little charming, a little naïve.

These traits work both for her and against her when she’s at Castle Auburn. Her colleagues should be the great lords and ladies, but instead, she makes friends with the servants and the guards. Yet shelearns enough about the ways of royalty that soon she is in danger of outgrowing her childhood home – of not fitting in anywhere. What I tried to do with Corie was make her strong enough, and determined enough, to be able to forge her own way wherever she went – to always find allies and friends, to figure out what she wanted, and to be happy with what she received.

PNR: Coriel is the illegitimate daughter of a deceased lord. She's lived a quiet life in a village with her maternal grandmother until her uncle, to fulfill a deathbed promise to his brother (Corie's father), arrives to bring her to Auburn for the summer and every summer thereafter. How is Coriel received at court? Does she enjoy her summers away from the village? How does she feel about returning home at the end of summer?

Sharon S.: Those are, of course, the key questions of the book! Anyone who has
lived any kind of double life will understand some of her conflicts. Say you’ve grown up in a small town but you go away to college at a private university in a big town. You quickly learn the speech patterns and mannerisms of your fellow classmates, but when you return home on Christmas break, you have to make sure you haven’t outgrown your family or forgotten what’s important to them.

Corie faces some of those same challenges. It is very important to her to always be in touch with her roots, to please her grandmother, to be able to return to her rural village – but almost in spite of herself, she begins to learn how to handle court intrigues. Corie truly believes that she could give up the royal life except for the contact with her sister, Elisandra…but I think she really enjoys the intricacies of court life more than she realizes.

PNR: Coriel is very natural. As you said, she comes from a simple village where she takes everyone at face value. She is inclined to do the same at the castle. She fancies herself in love with the handsome prince. She admires her calm, unflappable sister, Elisandra, and enjoys the company of her jolly uncle Jaxon and Prince Bryan's kind and sober cousin, Kent. What event serves at the catalyst for her awaking?

Sharon S.: Like many of us, Corie had always accepted the parameters of the life around her. Because things were a certain way, it did not occur to her to question whether that way was wrong or right. I think that is true for many people in our own society who may grow up with racism or sexism -- because that is what they see and what they know, it does not occur to them to question the system until something shocking occurs.

The event that really shakes Corie up is her uncle’s capture of the young aliora girl. For the first time, she sees that something that seemed inevitable to her is brutal and shameful. Being Corie, she instantly becomes passionate about the issue. And also, being Corie, she ultimately decides to do something about it.

PNR: How does the plight of the Aliora affect her, and her view of her uncle and the others who own them?

Sharon S.: Freedom of choice becomes a very important issue for Corie personally when she decides that she will be responsible for how she lives and whom she will marry. Once she wants freedom for herself, she can’t bear to think of other people without freedom. And, of course, since she sees her own sister caught in the trap of a loveless marriage, she becomes doubly interested in setting other people free. But I think even without these corollaries, Corie would have come to realize that slavery was wrong and she would have worked against it.

It is her relationship with her uncle that is one of the most complex in the book, because she DOES love him, yet she hates what he does. Elisandra helps her come to terms with that dilemma, but her feelings are only really resolved when he, too, comes to question the institution of slavery.

PNR: As Coriel grows in age, wisdom, and experience, she is learning that appearances can be deceiving. She feels disillusionment about her uncle. It isn't long before she realizes that all that glitters is not gold. Tell us about Prince Bryan?

Sharon S.: It seems to me that most women have known someone like Bryan… someone who is charismatic and seductive but essentially heartless. It is easy to be attracted to someone who is charming and beautiful, especially when that person seems to be interested in you in return. Figuring out what lies beneath the gorgeous exterior is the key, and sometimes it takes maturity, and sometimes it takes paying really close attention, and sometimes you’re lucky and the guy does things that are so dreadful that you can’t possibly overlook his flaws anymore!

By the end of the book, Bryan is pretty irredeemable, and I did that on purpose because I wanted his end to be acceptable. But I think in real life, most Bryans are a little more complex – and some of them can perhaps be saved – but most of them are best avoided.

PNR: Kings of Auburn traditionally marry woman of the house of Halsing. Corie's sister, Elisandra, is betrothed to Bryan. What are the two sisters' feelings about this?

Sharon S.: Of course, it’s hard to know what Elisandra thinks about anything! I think she knows more quickly than anyone what a bad person Bryan is. In the early stages of the book, when there is still some political maneuvering to be done, Elisandra has some hope that the marriage will not come to pass; but when it becomes inevitable, she is prepared to take the most drastic measures. As everyone eventually learns, Elisandra can take care of herself.

I don’t think Corie is ever in love with Bryan as a mature woman. Mostly she has a crush on him the way a teenage girl has a crush on the cute guy in her class, or the way smart, mature women have a crush on handsome movie stars. She doesn’t really know him. Therefore, although she envies Elisandra her “good fortune” in being engaged to the prince, she doesn’t feel really primal jealousy. It’s more the way some of us felt about Tea Leoni when we learned she was going to marry David Duchovny.

PNR: Coriel, as the daughter of a lord, is also expected to marry well. Does this fit in with her plans?

Sharon S.: If Corie were the sort of person she was supposed to be, she would be grateful for the chance to marry well and become mistress of a large estate. But because she is so determined not to be forced to do anything anyone tells her, she refuses to marry Lord Hennessy. She is luckier than her sister, and the other fine ladies at court, because she really does have an alternate skill and lifestyle to fall back on. If she lived at the court year-round, if she had no skills at all, she would have no choice; she would have to marry where she was told.

PNR: Everyone in Auburn seems to have a face to suit every occasion, except one. Tell us about Kent Ouvrelet.

Sharon S.: Kent is basically the opposite of Bryan. He is a good man who struggles to find ways to be better – unlike Bryan, a bad man who finds ways to exploit his badness. He is a thoughtful man, an obedient son, a skilled diplomat – and he is willing to sacrifice his own chance at happiness to save Elisandra. I like his flashes of jealousy when he thinks Corie is flirting with Roderick, because they show he is not perfect – he does have unworthy emotions now and then that he can’t control. He also lacks ruthlessness – even though ruthlessness may have helped him out from time to time -- but that fact serves to make him more human and real.

PNR: The injustice she sees around her finally spurs Corie to take a daring action which finds her banished from Auburn. Does she miss that life, or is she content to take up her life in the village? Does she still fit in?

Sharon S.: I think Corie would truly have managed to live in the village for the
rest of her life if that was the option that was presented to her. She is strong-willed enough to do what she thinks is right, let the consequences be what they may. She can live with those consequences. She can make her peace with her actions, if they are the right actions. I think, if her circumstances had not changed, she would have stayed in the village a while, and maybe moved on to a different village or a small town somewhere nearby. Ultimately she would have met some unusual man – another lord’s bastard, perhaps, or an actor, or someone with a touch of his own magic – and married him and been reasonably happy. Corie is not the kind to wallow.

That being said, she would always have kept in touch with her court friends, I think – and she would never have lost touch with Elisandra. So she would always have kept some connection to the court, and she would have always missed it a little bit…more than she would ever have admitted. But she would have managed just fine with her new life.

PNR: I don't want to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say everyone gets exactly what they deserve. You've written about Angels, Shapeshifters, Magic, and Science Fiction, you just written a poignant fantasy set in a fictional medieval setting. Do you feel that variety is important to keep readers coming back for
more. What's next for Sharon Shinn?

Sharon S.: I like to write in a variety of styles and genres because I read in a
variety of styles. I’m not sure the variety is what keeps readers happy – I think it’s more to keep me happy as a writer! I like the challenge of coming up with a new setting or a new voice. For one reason, if you always write medieval fantasy, you always have to use a certain vocabulary. If you write futuristic science fiction, think of all the new words that suddenly become available to you!

Nonetheless, I think all my books have certain hallmarks in common. I tend to have very strong heroines who are rarely at the mercy of the fates. Even if things happen that they cannot control, they always strike back and they fight for their own happiness. I also try to create a strong supporting cast of memorable characters, each of them animated by believable passions. My goal is to create heroes and heroines that are both necessary for the book to proceed. I don’t want the love interest ever to be a mere adjunct; I want it to be a crucial part of the story, and crucial to the life of the other main character.

Certain themes crop up over and over again in my books -- the woman torn from her roots, as I mentioned before; the two lovers who seem so different, yet become so complementary; the search for or revelation of a character’s true identity; the fight for justice; the triumph of love. So even when I cross genres, these are the sorts of themes you’ll always find in my books.

What’s next? Next spring I’ll have a new book out called (tentatively) “Jenna Starborn.” The best way to describe it is as gothic space opera. It reads like a 19th century novel, and it was way fun to write.

After that – yes, I have just finished writing a new angel book. So many fans have asked for another one, and I had a really good idea, so I went ahead and put it on paper. I don’t think it will be out till 2003. At the moment, I’m calling it “Angelica,” and it contains the story of Susannah the Stolen, who is briefly referenced in both “Archangel” and “Alleluia Files.” After that…I don’t know. I have an idea for a new series, and I’ve thought about writing a straight romance, and…the ideas just keep coming!

Sharon Shinn




Buy it now!

Ace Books
April 10, 2001
Trade; 368 pages
ISBN: 0441008038


She was a girl...

...with a talent for witchcraft and a taste for adventure.
The illegitimate child of a royal lord, she longed for a man who could never be hers. And she lived for her summers at Castle Auburn...

She was a woman...

...who has grown accustomed to standing alone.
What she once loved, she has lost. Where she once saw joy, she now sees terrible injustice. And at the castle where she once lived in peace, she now walks in fear for her life...

Other SF&F Titles

Ace Books
Reissue Edition
April 3, 2001
352 pages
ISBN: 0441008216

Trade Pb.
Ace Books 
April 3, 2000
359 pages
ISBN: 0441006914

Nominated for

Finalist: Best Fantasy/Magical

Buy it Now!

Ace Books
Reissue edition
(April 3, 2000)
352 pages
ISBN: 0441007147

Ace Books
July 1999
ISBN: 0441002617

Samaria Trilogy

Buy it now!

Ace Books
Reissue edition
April 1997
400 pages
ISBN: 0441004326

Buy it now!

Ace Books
Reissue edition
May 1997
256 pages
ISBN: 0441004040

Ace Books
May 1999
432 pages
ISBN: 0441006205


Featured in this Issue:

Interviews with :
Karen Fox
Holly Fuhrmann

Tanya Huff
Sharon Shinn
Lois McMaster Bujold

All book synopsises are copyrighted to the authors/publishers.

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