Sunday, January 19, 2014

Author Interview: Shannon Selin: Debut Novel "Napoleon in America"

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Shannon Selin is a Canadian writer of historical fiction. Her short stories have appeared in The Copperfield Review and CommuterLit. Her first novel, Napoleon in America, which explores what might have happened if Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from exile on St. Helena and wound up in the United States in 1821, is just published and is available on Amazon (link at the bottom). She blogs about Napoleon-related topics and other interesting things she has come across in her research at shannonselin.com.

Please share some of the best memories of your childhood

My father died last summer, so I have been thinking a lot about my childhood. My best memories are of family gatherings, when we had four generations together. There was lots of joking and laughing and eating and story-telling. Children ran around doing things they weren’t supposed to do, and my great-grandmother would tell my great-grandfather what to do, and he would sneak off to do whatever he had planned to do anyway. In the evenings the musicians in the family pulled out their fiddles and the accordion. We sang and my grandmother danced the Highland Fling. To a child, these reunions were magical: everything was right with the world, when you were there with the people you loved.

About your education

I have a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Saskatchewan and a Master of Arts from the University of British Columbia. I majored in Political Science, specializing in international relations.

What career did you plan during your education days

Initially I wanted to be a journalist. However, when I worked for the university radio station, I found that I was not comfortable interviewing people and did not like speaking on air. As an introvert, I preferred work that involved more library research and writing.

What languages you can speak and write?

English is my first language. Like many English Canadians, I can read and understand French passably well, but am much less fluent in speaking and writing the language. I studied Russian and Spanish at university, but through lack of practice have mostly forgotten them.

What is your biggest source of inspiration in life

Books.

What hurts you most in this world

People being cruel to others.

What is your favorite genre and why?

In general I like books that bring the past to life. I particularly enjoy books that were written before the mid-20th century, even if they were not written as history or historical fiction. They provide glimpses into worlds untouched by our present ways of thinking and writing.

When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?

I have written for as long as I can remember. I have poems and stories that go back to when I was seven years old. Writing has always been my favourite activity. There is no purpose, other than to amuse myself and feel at ease.

Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?

My short stories, based on little incidents in Canadian history, have been published in The Copperfield Review and CommuterLit.  My novel, Napoleon in America, will be published this month. The synopsis is:

What if Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from St. Helena and wound up in the United States?

The year is 1821. Former French Emperor Napoleon has been imprisoned on a dark wart in the Atlantic since his defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Rescued in a state of near-death by Gulf pirate Jean Laffite, Napoleon lands in New Orleans, where he struggles to regain his health aided by voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Opponents of the Bourbon regime expect him to reconquer France. French Canadians beg him to seize Canada from Britain. American adventurers urge him to steal Texas from Mexico. His brother Joseph pleads with him to settle peacefully in New Jersey. As Napoleon restlessly explores his new land, he frets about his legacy. He fears for the future of his ten-year-old son, trapped in the velvet fetters of the Austrian court. While the British, French and American governments follow his activities with growing alarm, remnants of the Grande Armée flock to him with growing anticipation. Are Napoleon’s intentions as peaceful as he says they are? If not, does he still have the qualities necessary to lead a winning campaign?

What are your future plans?

To continue writing fiction for as long as I can. I am working on the sequel to Napoleon in America.

What four top most things you take care of while writing a book?

1) That it is historically accurate, to the extent possible.
2) That it is tightly written, without unnecessary words.
3) That the story keeps moving forward.
4) That it is something I would want to read.

Your dream destination on Earth?

One of the places I would most like to visit is St. Helena, where Napoleon was imprisoned for the final years of his life, and where Napoleon in America begins.  I would like to travel there on the Royal Mail ship, before the island airport is completed, so I can see the approach from the water, as Napoleon would have seen it.

Your favorite time of the day?

Early morning, when few people are awake, the sun’s glow is peeking over the horizon, and the day is full of potential.

Your favorite book and why?

I have many favourite books. They change as I change, depending on the stage of life. One of my recently read favourites is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I love Waugh’s elegant prose, his richly drawn characters, the way he captures the glory and the sadness of a lost world, the bitter sweetness of nostalgia.

State your signature line/ tagline/ best quote

My tagline is “imagining the bounds of history.”

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