Shannon Mullen Interview (See What Flowers)

How is everyone today? For this post, Shannon Mullen has kindly agreed to answer a few questions that may interest you guys. She is a lovely person and I hope to meet her in-person one day

Shannon Mullen, the author of See What Flowers, is a high school teacher and writer living in Toronto, Canada (yay, a local author!). She has worked as a teacher in Colombia, England, Nunavut, British Columbia, and Ontario.

See What Flowers, a novel about love and mental illness, is her debut novel. Go check her out at where she blogs about her teaching and travels

1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I have known that I wanted to be a writer when I was a young reader. I have a huge imagination and would get lost in books. When I was in Grade 1 my teacher nominated me to go to a “Young Writer’s Workshop.” I was very inspired and decided then that I wanted to be a writer. But I never really made time for writing until I was working as a teacher in London, UK and created a blog about my adventures in teaching and travel. Even though I filled my life with other things: sports, university, friends, travel, etc, the desire to write never went away. It has always been like this little voice inside me. It’s only in the last 5 years that I have been making it more of a priority in my life.

2. Where did you get the idea to start writing See What Flowers? Or what made you want to write the book?

I wrote See What Flowers after having spent 14 months living in the Canadian Arctic as a high school teacher, where the suicide rates are more than 10 times the national average. Mental health is discussed a lot up north and I had completed several trainings aimed at helping me recognize students and community members who might be suffering from mental illness and how to support them. When I came back “south” to Ontario, a couple of my friends were in relationships that were being negatively impacted by mental illness, particularly depression in men. So love and mental illness seemed to be hot topics of conversation amongst my friends and I found myself thinking about them a lot. The idea for See What Flowers came out of all of these influences.

3. Did you learn anything that surprised you while writing See What Flowers?

I was surprised by the prevalence of mental illness in society. One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime. So this means that all of us will likely be in a relationship with someone suffering from mental illness at some point, whether that is a romantic partner, a family member, or ourselves. For me, this statistic shows the importance of educating everyone on how to best support those who are experiencing mental illness, especially the importance of taking care of ourselves in the process.

4. As a writer and a reader, do you prefer stand-alone books or series?

I currently prefer stand-alone books. Lately, I have been reading a lot of travel memoirs and biographies as I am very inspired by how the average person can accomplish extraordinary things. When I was a teenager, I absolutely loved series. I can’t really think of any series I’ve read lately other than the Hunger Games!

5. Who or what inspired you to create the two main characters, Emma and Adam?

Emma and Adam are both combinations of people I know. Neither of them is based on only one person. I decided to give them traits and interests that I know well. For example, Adam plays rugby and works at a gym. I also used to play rugby and work at a gym. But this was more of a strategy to reduce the research and make the writing a little easier for me. However, I also found in some ways it was hard because I wanted the characters to have a little distance from me as well. I had to go back and change several scenes, or lines of dialogue to add more distance. Many people I am close to, think that Emma is me. While we are similar in many ways, she is definitely not me. She likes running and Sex and the City and Friends and is a very high achiever like me. She worked in the Arctic, like me. But her experiences were not my experiences and even though I wrote her thoughts, so they did come from my head, they aren’t “my thoughts.” Like the case with Adam, I deliberately edited Emma’s thoughts and actions to add some distance to myself.

6. Were there any challenges you faced when writing from the point of view of the opposite gender?

Yes I found writing in the first person overall very very difficult. I don’t think I will do it again. I found it hard to keep a consistent voice as I didn’t really “know” the characters until the book ended…so I made a lot of changes in the editing, to the point that I think I over-edited.

It was especially difficult for me to write from a male perspective. I had several friends read early drafts and provide feedback for Adam. This helped a lot. I also made notes of things that guys said to me or what I observed from watching some of my guy friends.

7. If you were to have a chat with one of the characters in the book who would it be and why?

I would really like to chat with Elijah, the Elder in the community at the end of the book. He has so much wisdom and life experience and has seen so much change. He grew up on the land and has seen how much life has changed in the Arctic, especially in the last 50 years. I was lucky that as a teacher living in Nunavut, that I was able to hear stories from Elders when they came to my classroom to speak with the students. It made me realize that we don’t take enough time to listen to what our elders have to say in the north and the south. They have so much wisdom and knowledge and life experience that we can learn from.  It’s only because of my experience up north that I have really started asking my Grandma questions about her life.

8. Are you currently planning or writing another book?

I did start drafting another book but have had a hard time making writing a priority. I have too many interests and am easily distracted. I know that to get it done I will need to put an intentional chunk of time aside for writing. It’s going to be quite different than See What Flowers and I’m excited to see how it unfolds.

I would like to thank the author for sending the book for me to read and for taking the time to answer the questions above.

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