Entangled Teen has a new Literary Starlit on their hands, and her name is Shannon Lee Alexander. Unbeknownst to Shannon, I was given the chance to pick her brain for a psyche test. Entangled submitted her profile to me for evaluation to make sure she was stable enough to handle the effects of her sudden rise to fame.
Because of the nature of a writer’s work, I find it is imperative to do a psychological evaluation of each author I come across. I’m sharing this classified information with you for learning purposes only!
1. Have you ever read a book that changed the way you looked at life? If so, which book?
There are so many! All my favorites have changed me, but I’m going to mention one that isn’t actually a “favorite” book, but a book that really made me question the way I see the world, and the way I’m seen by it as well. David Levithan’s Everday asks the question, what makes you you? Is it the body you’re in? Or is it something inside? Or is it both?
A (that’s the main character’s name) wakes in a different person’s body everyday. He’s okay with his life because it’s the only one he’s ever known. But when he falls in love, and the girl has trouble with his being a “different person” everyday, he struggles to convincer her that what we are, is more than what we see. I had issues with the pacing of the book, but in the end, A’s struggle really had me thinking. I look at people very differently now, always trying to find that spark inside that has nothing to do with external, societal influences.
2. Is Charlie, the male MC in your book Love and Other Unknown Variables, the male version of you?
Ha! I don’t think so. First of all, math makes me a little queasy, or it did before I wrote Love and Other Unknown Variables. Now I have a deeper appreciation for it. Secondly, I LOVE books. In that respect, I’m a little like Becca Hanson, Charlie’s sister. I’d say each character in the story has a piece of me in him or her, but none of them are exactly like me.
3. Have you ever attempted to drink a milkshake using a Twizzler as a straw?
No. Twizzlers used to be my go-to writing candy until I discovered I’m gluten intolerant, and Twizzlers (inexplicably) have wheat in them. Now I munch on Swedish Fish, which would make terrible straws.
4. Do you have other works-in-progress that are inspired by your own real-life experiences?
Entangled just acquired a companion to Love and Other Unknown Variables. It’ll tell Becca’s story. I relate to Becca quite a bit and am still recovering from the loss of my own friend to cancer even six years later, soooo telling her story should be challenging and also theraputic.
I also have a college roommate story I’m dreaming about that is set in a crazy house like the one I lived in for a year. Two girls and three boys in a five-bedroom house made for an interesting experience (and no, no one ended up dating anyone in the house—not in real life anyway).
5. Were you inspired to become an author before the tragic event that resulted in Love and Other Unknown Variables?
No. I was a chicken. I did begin writing this story before my friend died. Watching her in be brave in the face of cancer and her treatment inspired me. She sat cracking jokes while nurses pumped her full of toxic chemicals, and I thought, now this! This is bravery. After watching that, it seemed silly to be afraid of failing to finish a little story.
6. If The Doctor landed in your backyard RIGHT NOW, what time period would you travel back to and explore?
You know, I’m actually pretty happy in my own time right now. With my crazy luck I’d go back and end up catching the plague or something. Although, if The Doctor could get us tickets, I’d go back to see the Beatles perform.
7. Have you ever wanted to dress up as a panda and chat-up strangers on the street?
Um, not a panda. Maybe a unicorn.
8. If you had written your debut book when you were 16, what would it have been about?
Probably something self-righteous. I was kind of intolerable as a teen. I don’t know how my parents survived.
9. Did you spend copious amounts of time honing your writing craft?
It took six years to get Love and Other Unknown Variables from the first draft to the bookstores. Each draft taught me invaluable lessons about writing, pacing, plotting, and character development. I’m not a formally trained writer, though. I didn’t take many college classes in writing—just what I needed for my English major and my teaching certificate.
But I’ve spent my whole life reading, and I think that has made a difference.
10. If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?
Find a critique group. A good one. And by good, I don’t mean that they have nice things to say about your writing. You need to find writers who will be honest with you. Writers who become just as invested in your story as you are, so they won’t let you take any shortcuts.
My writing group is called the YA Cannibals and our motto is We Eat Our Own. It’s easier to have a draft torn into a bloody pulp by writers who respect and love me than face rejection after rejection in the publishing world. My critique group is what took me from writing as a hobby to writing as a career.
11. Do you think it’s unfair that Mexican cuisine in northern states has a bad wrap?
I hadn’t heard of this injustice! I’m off to check my Mexican cuisine sources.
12. Was it difficult for you to filter your experiences through a male character in LAOUV?
Charlie and I have both lost someone we love and that sucks. I don’t think it matters what gender you are. Heartbreak is heartbreak.
13. You did such and EPIC job writing from a male POV for Charlie in your book; how did you get inside a guy’s head so perfectly?!
I’m lucky in that my characters generally show up well formed in my head. If I’m patient and listen carefully, they’ll tell me everything I need to know. It’s like Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” That’s how it was for me writing Charlie.
That and the dudes in my writing group called me out whenever I let a “guy” moment get away in the story.
14. There’s a nasty conspiracy theory that says researchers have found the cure for cancer but are pressured by drug companies and the medical field to keep it under wraps since the treatment of cancer is a billion-dollar industry; do you think there is any truth to that theory?
If there is, and I find the bastard that’s holding out on us, I’m cracking skulls.
15. There are SO MANY flavors of Oreos on the market now that I’ve lost track. How do you feel about Nabisco’s decision to branch out from the original Oreo flavor?
Before my gluten intolerance, I was a Double Stuff girl. I’ve got to say, I’m not at all sad that I can’t try some of these crazy new flavors. Watermelon? Really?
16. HOW did you develop/research the math/science elements that made this story so unique and so darn clever?! I mean, it all flowed so wonderfully. It’s hard to believe that you weren’t a math or science whiz in school.
When writing, I was amazed at how much math and science I actually knew. I used topics I was already familiar with as starting points for my research.
I spent a lot of time online and at the library doing research for Love and Other Unknown Variables. I read From Zero to Infinity by Constance Reid, which was instrumental in helping me understand the concept of infinity from a mathematical point of view. Prior to that, I tended to see it like the poets that Charlie dislikes so much. Actually, everything in her book was interesting, and reading it was my first hint that perhaps math wasn’t as unreachable for me as I’d always thought. It’s amazing how one teacher in my early years completely derailed me by making me feel dumb in math class.
Online, I followed some great Tumblr blogs to get started; visualizingmath, proofmathisbeautiful, and sciencesoup were the most helpful (and mathprofessorquotes made me giggle). I also read online articles and blogs from MIT professors and students. After pouring over some mind-boggling theory, I would reward myself and watch a Minute Physics episode (or ten) on YouTube. I love them all, but the one on Schrodinger’s cat is really adorable.
The thing about research is that for as much as I did, only a 10th of it shows up in Love and Other Unknown Variables. And I’m okay with that. It isn’t a story about math and science. It’s a story about Charlie and Charlotte. It’s my hope that the math and science aspects of the story become like part of the setting, quietly buoying the characters, but not overtaking the spotlight.
17. If you could live the life of any famous female character from history or another novel for ONE DAY, who would you choose?
I’d be Elizabeth Bennett, but only on a day when she gets to kiss Mr. Darcy. Mmmm. Darcy.
Okay, now it’s time for the SPEED ROUND! The next section is meant to be similar to the Family Feud speed rounds. I will list some words/phrases and you are to answer them with the first thing that pops into your head when you read them. Ready? Set. GO!
Twilight or Hunger Games?
Chris Hemsworth or Johnny Depp?
DING! DING! DING! Time’s up! Thanks so much for participating in my random interview. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. Can’t wait to push your book into the hands of EVERYONE I KNOW and watch them fall in love with it as much as I did. Thanks again!
After thorough examination of the evidence provided and much deliberation over Shannon’s mental state, I have diagnosed Shannon with acute intelligence of the brain with a slight aversion to colorful snacks. Her well-developed answers regarding the psychological analysis reveals an obsession with writing and a fixation on popular science that poses no immediate threat to society. Shannon’s answers to the speed round questions reveal a propensity to hoard attractive men, and characters that show up “well-formed’’ in Shannon’s head suggest an insatiable addiction to cat-memes and Legos. In conclusion, despite Shannon’s abnormal palate and tendency to hoard information and attractive male actors, it is my expert opinion that she will be able to handle the fame associated with the release of her new book, Love And Other Unknown Variables, and is not a liability to Entangled Teen.
Shannon Lee Alexander is a wife and mother (of two kids and one yellow terrier named Harriet Potter). She is passionate about coffee, books, and cancer research. Math makes her break out in a sweat. Love and Other Unknown Variables is her debut novel. She currently lives in Indianapolis with her family.
Regina, who also goes by “The Doctor”, is from TEXAS. She is a musician by day, and moonlights as a Psychoanalyst and freelance writer. She likes to gush about her favorite books and ask authors awkward questions.