MyCity Logan special guest Rhiannon D. Elton takes time out to speak to fellow author Shayla Morgansen about her books, including The Elm Stone Saga, and finds out what makes her deep insight into writing such a delight. Shayla, a teacher in Logan, is a fresh and exciting author.
Who are you? What makes you tick?
I’m Shayla Morgansen and I love stories about things that could be. I love spaceships, time travel, alternative worlds, magical powers and conspiracies, but mostly I write about witches living among us and how political issues of freedom, censorship, preservation of culture, public safety and the balance of power would play out in such a society.
I’ve also been a classroom primary school teacher since 2011, I have a Masters in Editing and Publishing, and now teach editing and publishing online at university.
What inspired you to become an author?
I have been writing stories as long as I was able, but my Year 5 teacher, Mrs Barry, was the one who told me she thought that’s what I’d be when I grew up. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that this craft that drove me was a job I could aim for. I saw no reason why I couldn’t, and have been working on it ever since.
Can you tell us a bit about your book/s you’ve written so far?
I have written four novels in a continuous series, The Elm Stone Saga, with two more to come out. The books are aimed at a young adult audience and are urban fantasy. I grew up reading Harry Potter and when those ran out, I wanted something else to read with a diverse cast, magical powers, political secrets, ambiguous morals and complicated relationships without revolving it around a high school love triangle or something. I didn’t like the trend at the time of seventeen-year-old female leads discovering their latent strengths and overcoming challenges, only to find their dream man to take care of them and keep them safe from future adventures. Having read those myself as a teen, I felt like young girls were being told that senior high school was all about finding their one true love, that being someone’s girlfriend makes them complete, and I realised I resented that message. My books are about men and women working together, relying on each other, growing together, challenging each other, and challenging others’ assumptions. I have mostly kept away from romance and focused on the many other fraught, intense, loyal and complex relationships people have in their lives.
In support of WIRES during the summer bushfires, I also wrote a short story called ‘Burned’, which is a prequel to this series, and released it as an eBook. Existing fans will enjoy the familiar faces but new readers have enjoyed the brief introduction to my writing style and story world. All proceeds continue to go to WIRES.
Do you have a favourite character?
All of my characters are, to a certain degree, fragments of my own personality or experience, but Aristea and Renatus, my two leads, are the two I love the most. Aristea, an Empath, is a mirror to the way I experience the world as someone who feels very deeply and suffers from anxiety, while Renatus, a magical prodigy from a shady family, is extremely driven to prove himself.
From where do you draw energy for each of the characters?
It’s hard to explain. They kind of speak to me, and I sit with their voices and concepts while listening to music or going for walks to let the ideas settle into a shape I can work with. Then I crank the music up to drown out distractions and get to smashing my keyboard. I don’t have any letters left on my keyboard – I’ve worn them off.
How do you come up with this remarkable story which drives the book/s?
A lot of it, I discover as I write. The stories rarely follow the direction I plan out – they grow organically as I work through them. I learn about the characters’ back stories, their motives, their fears and their priorities as the story unfolds. They don’t always react the way I expect. And this is a good thing! Stories I indulge like this always turn out better than the ones I try to force. I can fix stuff in editing, afterward, anyway.
Of course, my own experiences play a part in my creative process. As a teacher in Logan, I have met and worked with so many diverse and fascinating people, from prep-aged students through to their grandparents, and I think the empathy I have developed in that role has set me up well for writing outside my own experience. Every person you meet is a complex wonderland of values, talents, fears, dreams, beliefs and motives, and they all are trying their best to do what they think is right – book characters shouldn’t be any different.
Who is your audience, and how are you connecting with them?
My intended audience is international, female and aged 16-30, but thanks to the lack of romance I have found a rather more balanced split of genders enjoying the story from age 12 through to 60, and generally more local. I connect with my local audience on Facebook, my international and younger audience on Instagram, and with both through my website shaylamorgansen.com and my monthly newsletter.
What do you hope to do next?
I have many more books in the works! As I wrap up Aristea and Renatus’s adventures, I have a new paranormal thriller series launching next year, and I seem to be inching perpetually through my thesis. Mostly, I hope to just keep writing.