Today, we are visiting with middle grade author, Shawn Robinson. He’s here to talk about Annalynn the Canadian Spy, the first book in his fun spy series.
Welcome, Shawn! Tell us a little about yourself, please.
Oooh… this is a hard question! There is so much to say.
I’m a dad, a husband, and a coffee drinker. I am a Canadian and a Christian. I’m a man who loves to laugh, but I also love to see the depth of emotion and feel the pain and grief in writing. I dream a lot, but like to live in reality. I used to backpack (like… the serious backpacking where you throw a 70lb pack on your back and disappear up the side of a mountain), but I don’t do that anymore.
One of the defining moments of my life came a little over three years ago. I was strong and healthy, exercising vigorously and enjoying life. I was working as a pastor in a church, and I was preparing to pursue a Ph.D. One day, I woke up with a serious pain in my eye. A little over a week later, I was in an isolation room in the hospital with a viral infection in my brain and wondering if I would live to see my kids grow up.
While lying in the hospital, I began to write a book for my kids, thinking it might give them something to remember me by.
I hate to give spoilers, but I survived the experience. I have had to give up my goal of pursuing a Ph.D., I had to give up my role as a Pastor, I have not been able to return to backpacking, but I have continued to write and am just about finished with my fifteenth book (not all are published).
Kai: Holy cow, Shawn! That’s both tragic and wonderful. We’re so glad to have you with us, writing, and watching your kids grow up. Tell us about that book you started in such a harrowing time.
My latest book series is called, “Annalynn the Canadian Spy.” It’s aimed at younger readers (7-10ish) who like adventure and humor (or “humour” as we spell it in Canada). It’s about a 10-year-old Canadian girl who is hired to be a spy. She’s given absolutely no training and is sent on absurdly ridiculous missions. The book is perfect for reluctant readers who need a lot of adventure and excitement in a story to keep them going! The book gives a fun glimpse into Canadian humor and culture, but at the same time is focused first and foremost on giving kids a fun, exciting read!
You can find it at many online retailers:
Kai: We know what inspired you to write, but what inspired you to write about a young spy?
Annalynn the Canadian Spy was inspired by a young girl named Annalynn. I was actually chatting with a girl at my church and she showed me something she had received as a gift for Christmas. It was a kid’s spy gadget and later on my wife told me that the little girls was really “into spies.” We are pretty close with her family, and I realized it would be fun to write her a book about herself as a spy. My wife drew the original pictures, and I put it all together and ordered a copy for her as a birthday present.
Then… I got thinking about how much fun it would be to write it as a series! So… I did! Now it’s a six book set of short chapter books and packed full of humor and fun! Annalynn even gets to fly in her very own jet (which she really doesn’t know how to fly properly).
Kai: That sounds like so much fun! Okay, Shawn, now we’d like to get to know the author behind the spy adventures! Please share with us your top 3 answers to the following:
Top 3 character traits you like to add to all or most of your characters
a. One of my frustrations with a lot of characters in books and movies is that many writers tend not to know how to write a strong character without making them angry. The strongest characters in books are often angry, suspicious, demeaning to others and independent to the point where they can never ask for help.
b. I realized that I would like to have strong characters who have the ability to trust others and to laugh and enjoy life. Characters can feel pain and grief and sorrow, but I like to put joy there as well rather than anger. A strong personality with joy is so much fun to write!
a. I have found a lot of my main characters end up having a deep sense of determination. They may want to quit at times, but they push through. I think this is helpful for all of us, because we tend to want to be the kind of person who pushes forward through difficulties. Most of us long to be tested and prove ourselves capable of rising above the challenge. I like to give us characters that model this kind of quality!
a. I love the challenge of writing humor. Anyone can write out a simple joke with a punch line, but to create situations and events and odd circumstances that lead people to laugh is so much fun!
Top 3 favorite books (you didn’t write)
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
a. This book makes me laugh. Although… I find some of the humor crude and tend to skip those parts, Douglas Adams’ creative humor is really awesome!
2. Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
a. I read this book as a child and it continued to captivate my mind for years and years. It was frustrating for me, however, because I couldn’t remember the name of the book or the author. When I was in my 30s, someone told me the name of the book, and I tracked it down. I’ve read it now two or three times since and still love it. It is such an excellent book!
3. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
a. The challenge with LotR is you really have to work for the story. There are just so many pages filled with descriptions of this and that, but the story is so rich and deep.
Top 3 skills to hone for people in the writing business
1. Learn to see critique as a gift
a. I remember driving with an author once and I gently mentioned a character he had written that was a little hard to read because of the character’s speaking style. The other author didn’t seem to appreciate the comment. I was afraid he was about to drive us off the road and kill us both. It was quite terrifying.
b. I think it is crucial that writers learn how to take critique and not just accept it, but see it as the gift it is. I learn so much from people telling me that things aren’t quite right in a story. I learn very little from people who tell me the story is wonderful. :) When I look for beta readers, I look for those people who will not only be honest with me, but can do it in a loving, kind way. Those are the people you want in your corner! Learn to see critique as a gift!
2. Keep writing… just don’t stop!
a. I think writers need to set goals for themselves and reach for them. It is too easy just to plan to write, but never actually write anything. How many authors have a book inside them, but never actually put it down on paper… or computer? I will often set a small goal for myself to achieve each day. Often I will exceed it, but the goal helps me to at least get a little written each day.
3. Learn to write what you love and what you feel, rather than what you think people want to read.
a. In my opinion, some of the best writing comes when we can truly immerse ourselves in the emotion and passion of the story. If we can’t feel it… how can we expect our readers to feel it?
b. There are parts of my writing that drive me to tears each and every time I read through it. Other parts tickle my funny bone. If we can’t laugh and cry through our own writing, it’s difficult to imagine our readers laughing or crying.
Kai: Shawn, I truly hope this interview goes viral. Your outlook needs to be shared with the world and I’m guessing your books, too. I’m off to pick up my copy now. Thank you so much for visiting with us today. Where else can our readers connect with you?
I LOVE to hear from readers and from other writers! Wait… maybe you think I’m just saying that because I think I should say it. Let me say it again: I LOVE TO HEAR FROM READERS AND FROM OTHER WRITERS! I’m sorry for yelling. I just get passionate about that kind of thing. Did I tell you that I would love to hear from you?