Interview: Shannon McKenna

Hello, Nocturne Romance Readers! I am so pleased to have been given the opportunity to be interviewed by this site! My thanks in advance for the invitation.

NRR:How did you get started in writing?

Well, I do detail that on my website . . . but being garrulous by nature, I’m happy to recap. And expand, too, no doubt. I always dreamed of writing romance novels, because I enjoyed reading them so much. In fact, I craved them, particularly at low points in my life. I firmly sustain that there is absolutely no better way on earth for a woman to self-medicate the blues than a good rip-roaring romance novel. Whether it’s sweet romance, whether it’s sexy, whether is western, pirates, vampires, whatever, who cares, that bit is personal. 

The important thing is the life affirming transformative power of love. Better than chocolate, or any other drug. There were times when only reading romance got me through. Even when I was broke, and had to stand in the aisles of bookstores to read them. I read all of Jayne Ann Krentz’s collected works that way, plus all her titles under other pseudonyms. Elizabeth Lowell, too.  Of course, when I finally could afford it I want back and bought them all! They’re my comfort books now.

But I digress. I majored in English Lit in college, and floundered afterwards, knowing that I needed to be both an artist and self-employed, because being employed by others tended to not work out too well, with the very best of intentions. I temped for many years while singing was my main job . . . or rather, singing was my excuse for not getting a “real” job. And I would try to write in down times in my temp jobs. But it is very, very hard to get to that place in your head where you can actually hear a story and follow it and visualize it if you are not relaxed, and alone. And answering phones for an insurance office or typing up medical notes is not conducive to that. So I never got past chapter 1 of what ended up being my very first category romance, which I was hopefully aiming at Silhouette Desire, or Harlequin Temptation.  Until I went to Italy, which is another long story you can read about on my site. In short, I followed my heart to Italy, and in addition to my heart, I found long, solitary days in a place where I had no job or friends or anything to do with my time, and did not speak one word of the language.  

So I wrote! I finished that category romance! Harlequin did not elect to buy it, but I was fortunate enough to catch the eye of Hilary Sares at Kensington, who bought that book and then four more after it. After which, I was invited to write an erotic novella for an anthology with three other authors far more well known than I. After that, I wrote my first single title, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. And I was off and running. Learning as I went. 

NRR: You are the queen of steamy! How long does it take you to put together one of your novels?

Thank you for the title! I accept the crown with great pride!  How gratifying.

I remember reading somewhere a quote about a man asking a woman where he should touch her to thrill her, and she whispers into his ear, “touch my mind.”  That’s so incredibly spot-on, for me.  The sex is always subservient to the psychological and emotional issues between the hero and heroine. The sex reflects it, reveals it, develops it.  And they have to care about it. Passionately, desperately. Even if they’re trying very hard to play it cool, which they usually are.

And as far as how long it takes, well . . . it takes too damn long! My books keep getting longer, though I fight and struggle against that. From start to finish, it ends up taking me about ten months, allowing for some of the down time you have to factor in with a family to raise. What I do, process-wise, is to scribble pages and pages of incoherent, illegible dreck into my notebook, and then go through it and circle the bits that have some pop, or some weight to them, the ones that resonate in my head, and those are the ones that I develop and elaborate and riff on. I can tell a scene is going to be alive by how incomprehensible and scribbled over in every direction a scene is, full of arrows and stars and sideways writing and upside down writing, and on-the-margins writing, and between-the-lines writing. If it lights me up as I’m writing, then I know I’m onto something. Then I type it into the machine, and then I revise it. A hundred thousand times. 

I don’t know if it’s a good process. It is certainly an inefficient one. I am SO jealous of those lucky people who just tippety tap away directly into their computers and edit as they go, and pop, out comes a book in two month or less, and Bob’s your uncle. Not happening for me. If I sit in front of the computer to directly compose, nothing comes out. I just sit there. Type a word. Delete it. Type another. Delete it, too. I just gotta have a pen. A juicy, drippy black ball-point pen. It’s got to race across the page. I don’t care if it smears.

Sometimes it seems like speed is everything in this business. But I just grind along, as best I can.

NRR:What is your guilty pleasure?

Mmmm! That’s a hard one to answer, living in Italy, which is the home of so many guilty pleasures I can’t shake a stick at them all. Pizza? Fine wine? Awesome olive oil? 

I have discovered the delight of Charlaine Harris novels, and really enjoyed the series “True Blood,” although my husband was too faint-hearted to watch it with me. Too much blood for the poor guy. (good thing he doesn’t read my books, since I write them in English, and he does not read in English. Lots of blood in my books.)   And I really go for very fine Scottish shortbreads . . . I have a friend who makes the best ones in the world every Christmas, and I hoard them, shamelessly hiding them from my family. And there is a panificio here in the town I live that makes out-of-this-world focaccia and panzerotti, to be washed down with a nice cold Baffo d’Oro beer, drunk out of a plastic cup of course.  And tagliolini with frutti di mare. And big, fat ripe dripping green figs, so juicy and heavy with their syrup they’re splitting open right on the tree,  those just drive me wild . . . and I better not even go down this road, because it has no end to it. 

But you know what? I don’t feel guilty! I feel GREAT about enjoying all these things! Not necessarily when I try to button my jeans, but . . . well, never mind. Too much information.

NRR:What was the most challenging part of putting together BLOOD AND FIRE?

Wow. My books are across-the-board challenging for me on so many levels. (whine, whine.)  But what distressed me the most was how hard it was to deal with the back story. Which was, as usual, totally huge. Like, the size of Montana. The way the book unfolded, there were so many things that had to happen to the heroine before she could meet the hero. Pages and pages. I longed to get them together, right off the bat, so I could use their connection as momentum, fizz. But I couldn’t! Things had to happen first, to make the whole scenario even possible! Ack! My other possibility was to start with their meeting and put the whole shebang into flashbacks, recollections. But yuck. I mean, how many flashbacks can a woman read before she gets irritated? I’m already a dream-sequence slut. I had a beloved editor some time ago who was forever kicking my ass about my antique long prologues and my wacky dream sequences. So baroque.  So self-indulgent. That crazy Shannon . . . what will she think of next.

So I balanced it as best I could, but I had lots of angst about that massive back-story issue

NRR:What is a day in the life of Shannon McKenna like?

Oh, dear. Do you really want to know? I’m afraid it will wreck any mystique I might have if I admit this, but my life is a chaotic blur of little-kid management. I don’t even have time to notice that I’m in another country on most days, and an alluring, sexy, sensual, attractive country that everyone longs to visit. But who sees the gorgeous monuments or feels the breeze from the Adriatic when she’s busy loading the dishwasher? I’m out of my mind most days, just trying to find the time and space to work. In the place that I live, my writing is mostly regarded as a somewhat odd but more or less harmless hobby, and the fact that I make my living at it is totally irrelevant—I’m supposed to be cooking and cleaning and ironing underpants all day, or I’m not a good and virtuous woman. Fortunately, this does not bother me. I just smile, and play dumb. You’ll never catch me ironing underpants. No, sir.

NRR:Can you share with us the storyline to BLOOD AND FIRE? Of course, no spoilers!

Certainly!  I became fascinated with Bruno Ranieri when I wrote the preceding book, FADE TO MIDNIGHT, and he just jumped out at me and demanded his own story. But there was that haunting scene that Bruno remembers from his childhood, which was recounted from his point of view in FTM, which just stuck in my mind. The mafioso thugs who came to his great-uncle’s diner to abduct him when he was twelve years old, who ripped his dead mother’s necklace from his neck before Kev came down on them like an  avenging angel and pounded the crap out of them . . . gee, sounds like a story there, wouldn’t you say? Though I had no idea at the time what that story would be.

For Bruno, as far as I knew, it was just a painful memory from his past, and a reason to worship his foster brother all the more. His mother’s death was chalked up as a tragic but banal incident of domestic violence. Hmmmmm.

So, here is the blurb I wrote for my editor, and thank you for your kind interest . . .

BLOOD AND FIRE – BLURB      By Shannon McKenna

We met Bruno Ranieri in FADE TO MIDNIGHT, the story of Kev McCloud, the last of the indomitable McCloud brothers. Bruno is Kev’s restless, hotheated, ass-kicking younger adopted brother from the loud and chaotic Ranieri family. With the help of Bruno and his other brothers, Kev has finally faced the monsters from his past, and emerged victorious--but Bruno’s got his own monsters to deal with, and lately, they’ve been circling around, closing in. And they’re hungry for blood.

Bruno’s been trying to keep it all together since his adopted brother Kev’s life exploded, leading to Bruno’s Uncle Tony’s untimely death. He’s been working hard at his business, keeping his nose clean, making money, trying to save his uncle’s restaurant—all while functioning with virtually no sleep, since the dreams from his childhood are back—terrifying nightmares that practically tear him apart, night after night.

Then Lily Parr sashays into the all night restaurant, wearing a black wig, a low cut dress, and a fifty pound chip on her shoulder, and blows his mind, in more ways than one. Like it wasn’t enough to be pole-axed by her ethereally seductive beauty, she’s also on the run from mysterious assassins, and she’s convinced that Bruno is somehow involved. Problem is, the second he touches her, he is involved—up to his neck, whether he wants it or not. And when violence explodes around them almost as quickly as the raging desire explodes between them, Bruno has to start wondering, weird as it seemed, if there’s something to her wild story—or if he’s just being used.

Lily Parr is desperate. She’s been a fugitive ever since her father’s death a month before in a mental hospital—ostensibly a suicide, but Lily knows in her heart that it’s murder. Her father tried to tell her the secret that had broken his mind right before his death, tried and failed, and right afterwards, Lily barely escaped a savage murder attempt outside her own New York City apartment. All her father had been able to give her was a name: Magda Ranieri, a woman who’d been murdered by her mafioso boyfriend twenty years before. It seemed like a dead end, but Magda had a son. Bruno Ranieri. 

Lily has finally hunted him down, hoping for clues, but didn’t bargain for what she actually finds. The sexiest guy she’s ever seen. Volcanically hot. Magnetic. Protective. Charming. Funny. She does not need such a stupid distraction, not with rabid killers hot on her heels. But she cannot resist him. Not for a second.

Bruno has left the heartbreak in his past behind him. The last thing he wants is to reopen those old wounds, but Lily ignites a hunger inside him that he’s never felt before, and he can’t turn his back on her desperate plight. Nor can he stop touching her. 

But a terrifying and unseen foe is right behind them, an enemy with seemingly endless power and resources. The faster they run, the harder they fight, the worse things get. Because there is a terrifying secret hidden in Bruno and Lily’s pasts, a secret that only the two of them working together can unearth—and their mysterious enemy will do anything to stop them from finding it.  Passion rages unchecked as they race against time to unravel the mystery, but passion is not enough. They need trust to find the key, or the evil from their past will overtake them . . . and destroy them. 

NRR:What can we expect to see from you next?

Well, one of the things you will discover when you read BLOOD AND FIRE, is that Alex Aaro comes to the fore. I got fascinated with him, in his turn. So the next book, which I am writing now, features him. Wish the heroine luck . . . Aaro’s going to be a real toughie to wrestle to the ground! The guy’s got issues, to put it delicately. 

Wish me luck, too! I’ll do my damnedest to make it good, because I am so grateful to all my readers for making this dream job, of writing romantic stories, possible for me. However much I may complain about it, it is so very excellent. So thank you all, for your interest in my books. 

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