Let's start with you telling us a little bit about yourself, Shannon.
Shannon LC Cate has been writing about family, parenting, politics and religion since 2000. Her work has appeared on Babble.com, BlogHer.com, Literary Mama.com, VillageQ.com, in Adoptive Families Magazine, Gay Chicago Magazine and elsewhere. Her debut novel, Jack, is is an Editor’s Top Pick at Musa Publishing.
Shannon, her partner, and their two young daughters divide their time between Chicago and Urbana, Illinois.
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
People are often surprised by my age. I was born in 1970. People tend to guess much younger, which I am supposed to like, but which actually annoys me. I want credit for being this old and wise!
When did you start writing, is it something you've always been interested in, or did it develop later in life?
I was always a big reader. I studied English literature from college through a PhD, so I have done a lot of nonfiction writing about fiction. I have also been a freelance essayist and opinion writer for a decade. I began writing fiction about five years ago. It has been the most fun of all the writing I've done.
Has it been everything you thought it would be or not?
I don't have any set ideas about what writing should be. Like anything else in life, building a writing career takes a lot of work. Every day I sit down at some point and write. It's just life. I happen to enjoy it very much--both the process and the results. I have done a lot of teaching throughout my career too, and I especially enjoy engaging readers on topics of interest that arise in my writing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction.
How did it feel when you realized that your very first book was going to be published?
I was quite happy. I had several offers from small presses and was pleased to have a choice about which to contract with for my book. It’s a privilege to work with other professionals who believe in your work and are ready to help you make it the best it can be, as well as take the risk of putting their own name on it.
What's your favorite part of writing a book?
I enjoy every step of the process from brainstorming in the shower (my best thinking spot) to revising a manuscript to polished perfection. I think the essence of what I love about it is meeting a character and getting to know her really well as I write her story.
Do you get time to read for pleasure? If so, which books do you enjoy?
My favorite writers include Toni Morrison, Jeanette Winterson, Louise Erdrich and Sarah Waters. But I really will read almost anything as long as it is well written. Genre is less important to me than quality of language. I also like to use the recordings on librivox.org when I’m driving or doing chores around the house. I recently listened to the entirety of On the Origin of Species that way. I would never have taken the time to sit and read that, but I really enjoyed listening.
Are there any other genres you'd be interested in writing?
Everything I’ve written so far has been historical fiction, but I am currently working on a science-fiction novel set 500 years into the future. I also have plans for a time-travel story that will merge historical and fantasy.
Please tell us a little about your most recent release.
My debut novel, Jack, is a historical adventure. I wrote it with teens in mind, but people of all ages have enjoyed it.
The title character is a young man whose body is biologically female. Jack chose to “become” a boy after leaving an orphans’ home to live on the street. The phenomenon of girls or women switching genders in the 19th century is a historically accurate one and an interesting one. In some ways, you could call Jack a transgender man. In some ways, you could say he is almost a butch lesbian. But really, Jack and the historical people he is inspired by were neither of those things. They were something unique to that moment in time, in that culture, that didn’t really have a name. I sometimes call them “men with a difference.” But whatever you call them, I am compelled to write about them and honor them. If I was Lucy—Jack’s love interest—I would want to run away with him too!
What can we look forward to in the future from you?
I have a novella-length sequel in mind for Jack. But I am also percolating a novel about a contemporary lesbian teen who finds herself in Chicago around the time of the Haymarket affair. I am also planning to finish my science fiction story in 2014.
Anything you want to say to your readers?
Thank you so much for giving your time to my work. I’m glad it has an appreciative audience.
Shannon LC Cate's recent release:
Born a girl during the U.S. Civil War, Jack has been passing as a boy in the slums of Five Points, Manhattan since running away from an orphans’ home at age eight. He makes his living at petty thievery, surviving pocket watch-to-pocket watch until he discovers a talent for gambling. But by nineteen, Jack’s ambitions are beginning to outgrow his frayed clothes. He spends his days dreaming of striking it rich and finding his childhood sweetheart, Lucy, who left with her mother for the West four years ago. When the opportunity to steal a diamond necklace for a wealthy client comes his way he takes it. But finishing the job may require much more than he bargained for—especially since the diamonds are in the hands of Lucy’s rapacious stepfather, in a rowdy mining town in the Arizona Territory.
Excerpt from Jack:
It was nearly five o'clock and Jack was feeling hungry when a knock came at the door.
No one ever came to Jack's flat but Benji. He pushed his curls out of his eyes and stepped to the door, wondering who it might be.
"Evening, Jack." Molly stood in the hall, wearing her pink frock from yesterday's wedding and smiling.
"Evening," Jack said.
"You going to ask me in?"
"Sorry," Jack stepped back quickly and waved Molly into the parlor.
"Everything all right?" Jack asked. "Benji got away this morning?"
"He did," Molly nodded. "Everything's lovely."
They were both standing, but now Molly looked around her and settled herself onto the divan. "You have any tea?" she asked.
Jack pushed his hair back again. "No—coffee…"
"Coffee's all right," Molly said. "Or maybe rum? Brandy?"
"Oh—" Jack looked over at the cupboard in the kitchen. There was a small bottle of rum there, though he was almost embarrassed to admit it. But he retrieved it, and two china cups, and brought them to the divan.
"Sorry about the glasses…" Why was Molly here?
"I don't mind," Molly said, and took the cup he had poured for her. "Cheers," she added, touching his.
They both drank.
"Listen, Jack…" Molly smiled out of half her mouth and titled her head slightly. "There's something I've noticed about you."
Jack's heartbeat picked up. He stood and paced to the writing desk, pretending to check the sky for clouds.
"I suppose Benji's ship got off easy today. Fine weather," he muttered.
He turned around and faced Molly. She stood and stepped within an arms' length of him.
"You are not altogether what you appear to be, are you?"
"I don't know what you mean," Jack said, looking just past her left ear. She wore a small amber bangle there. It glinted subtly, flattering her warm complexion and light brown hair. He wondered why he had never noticed before that her ears were pierced.
"Yes you do," she said. "And I want you to know that it's all right with me—I won't tell anyone."
"But if you want to be a man—" She turned her face down slightly so that she had to look through her lashes to meet his eye. "There are things you need to know about women."
She reached up to push back his hair, which had fallen in his face again. "Such pretty curls," she murmured, "what a waste." And she sank her fingers into them and pulled his face towards hers.
He was kissing her before he knew what was happening.