Today on Artist Strong we welcome Creative Spirit Shannon Young. Shannon is a writer and shares a bit about her work and process with us today. Thank you Shannon for joining us!
Carrie: Hi Shannon! Tell us, where are you from and how did you end up in Hong Kong?
Thank you for having me on Artist Strong! I’m an American from Arizona. In 2010 I followed a man I met at a fencing club in London to Hong Kong. I did my semester abroad with Colgate University in London and he was in law school there. We hit it off and decided to try a long distance relationship. Two and a half years later, still going strong, I decided to follow him to his hometown, Hong Kong. The very next month his company sent him back to London, so I spent my first year in HK alone. In hindsight, I was lucky to have some time to explore Hong Kong on my own terms. He’s back now and we got married this summer.
Carrie: What triggered your decision to start your blog, A Kindle in Hong Kong?
I’d been an English major and then a literature teacher in the US. In Hong Kong, I didn’t have anyone with whom I could talk about books. I decided to start a book review blog to express my thoughts on what I was reading on my shiny new Kindle. I also noticed that there weren’t many people reading around me, in English or in Chinese, so I decided to record each book I saw in my “Bookspotting” posts. Eventually, the posts became a place to talk about my writing adventures and literary events. I still spy on other people’s books on the train.
Carrie: You have two writings out, a novel entitled The Art of Escalator Jumping and a memoir entitled The Olympics Beat: A Spectator’s Memoir of Beijing. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
The Olympics Beat was my first foray into digital publishing. I wanted to begin building an audience for an as-yet-unpublished travel memoir about my first year in Hong Kong. I’d also spent a few weeks at the Beijing Olympics with my dad and wanted to put what was still a vivid experience for me into words. This travel memoir was too long to be an article and too short to be a book, so it made a perfect digital short. Through it, I learned a lot about book promotion and made friends with some great book bloggers and China enthusiasts.
The Art of Escalator Jumping is a novel I wrote to get over my fear of fiction. After cutting my teeth on creative non-fiction, I was still nervous about actually inventing characters and situations. I sat down and did it when the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society held a contest for unpublished work between 40,000 and 50,000 words long. The near-novella length wasn’t too intimidating and it led to a book that was favorably commended by the judges, although I didn’t win the prize. Later, I gave a workshop for the Society about how to format and upload an e-book and published The Art of Escalator Jumping right there in front of a live audience.
Carrie: By the way, I absolutely love your cover design for The Art of Escalator Jumping. How did you decide on a cover?
Thank you! I chose the cover from GoOnWrite.com, where a brilliant and unassuming artist named James offers pre-made e-book covers. I loved the way the splashes of paint capture the themes of the novel, which is about an artistic young woman struggling to help her ambitious lawyer mother cope with a bout of mental illness. The characters are at odds, like the contrasting paint colors, and the mother in particular is almost out of control at times, but when you step back and look you still see healing and forgiveness in their relationship. There’s also an important scene that takes place at the Hong Kong Art Fair, so it seemed appropriate.
Carrie: What inspired your ideas for these projects?
I’m heavily influenced by place. Beijing during the Olympics was a highly stimulating environment. The Art of Escalator Jumping was inspired by the Mid-levels Escalator in Hong Kong, which is the world’s largest outdoor covered escalator. It’s a major commuting avenue unlike anything in the world, and it’s surrounded by shops, restaurants and galleries that represent snippets of Hong Kong life. It’s constantly moving people along, but you can also stop and peek into windows and people-watch as you travel up through the buildings. It’s enchanting, but people tend to take it for granted. Most of the action in The Art of Escalator Jumping takes place on and around this escalator. It’s certainly a niche project, but I wanted to see if I could build an entire story around this corridor.
Carrie: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
Well, after conquering my fear of fiction I started writing a post-apocalyptic adventure novel set at sea and I haven’t looked back. I’ve now planned a trilogy plus a prequel around this idea and I have written drafts of three of the four books. I’m hoping that the first book, Seabound, will be out in the world soon. It’s kind of like Hugh Howey’s Wool meets The Poseidon Adventure.
I also compiled and edited an anthology of creative non-fiction by expat women in Asia called How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? It will be published by Signal 8 Press this June, so I plan to spend time promoting it, along with the 26 writers who contributed stories of their lives in Asia.
Carrie: I noticed you are part of a writing group in HK. How do they help your creative process?
I have one group that meets every Tuesday night just to write with company. I find it extremely useful to have other people around me working on creative projects. It keeps me focused and off of the internet (mostly). It also guarantees that I’ll spend at least three hours a week writing even when my day job and social life get busy. My other group gets together over food and wine to read and give critiques of each other’s work. They are a smart bunch, and it is so helpful to step away from my work and see it through the eyes of other readers. I take notes furiously based on their feedback and keep it in mind when I revise.
Carrie: What advice do you have for other writers who want to develop a community and support network?
It is great to have writing friends who can keep you accountable and encourage you. To find them, I recommend attending book events, such as literary festivals and readings, and joining local writers’ societies. Writing can be an isolating activity, but if you go where the writers go you will likely find a few people who are also feeling isolated. I also recommend doing National Novel Writing Month. You can use the regional boards to find meetups that could grow into new writers’ groups. If there’s nothing in your area, you can always start it and see who comes out of the woodwork!
Carrie: What strategies do you use to help yourself when you feel “stuck?”
Outlining is extremely useful for me. When I feel stuck and want to look away from my work-in-progress, it’s usually simply because I’m not sure what should happen next. If I work out the basic story in advance, this is less likely to happen. When I do get stuck or distracted, sometimes it’s just a matter of writing a few bullet points about what needs to happen in the scene or chapter and then the sentences start flowing again. I prefer to do all my writing on my laptop, but switching over to a notebook and scribbling notes for a little while can also help jump-start my work.
Carrie: Do you use goal-setting in your career as an artist? How so?
Yes, I love a good checklist. Sometimes I make them for the month, sometimes just for a day if I’m feeling overwhelmed by small tasks. I think it’s important for your confidence to set and achieve goals regularly, which is what makes checklists useful. I also make them for projects (complete draft X, send to beta readers, revise, etc.). I like planning out my steps as far in advance as possible. For my overall career, I have bigger goals and a few if/then scenarios worked out in my head. Plenty of things can change, but it helps me to know approximately what I want to accomplish.
Carrie: How do you think vulnerability affects artists/creatives?
I think vulnerability ebbs and flows. I’ve been at this long enough to receive plenty of rejections (or non-responses), but I’ve also received glowing feedback. Sometimes both things arrive in the same day–or even in the same email. Artists may get used to the high highs and the low lows, but we are still sending our work out to be judged on a regular basis. We are, in that sense, always vulnerable, but it affects us differently depending on our state of minds, expectations, and even our own confidence in a piece of work at any given moment. We have to continue opening ourselves up to this judgment and making ourselves even more vulnerable if we ever want our work to make an impact. If we try too hard to protect ourselves, no one will ever read/see/hear/experience our work, and the work we create will be weaker because we are closing ourselves off from the highs and lows.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
My Kindle! The best way to become a better writer (apart from sitting down and doing it, of course) is to read good writing. I read in a wide range of genres and regularly find creative inspiration and challenges in the virtual pages. I also read books on writing and the business side of publishing, but usually novels are more helpful. I’m grateful that e-reading technology took off right before I moved abroad because I can still get any book I want no matter where I am.
Carrie: How do you define creativity?
Creativity, to me, is the act of trying something new, of experimenting, of learning. When you make something, you are essentially teaching yourself how to make it. I have no idea how to write a travel memoir or an adventure story or a book about escalators. But in doing those things, I tried new writing strategies, experimented with different genres, made mistakes, and experienced flashes of inspiration. In short, I learned how to create.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk about my work a bit!
Thank you Shannon for your time! Want to learn more about her work? Be sure to visit Shannon’s Blog, A Kindle in Hong Kong.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What do you do to help yourself be accountable for your writing and how do you garner feedback from others? Share it below!