Since I spent several decades as a freelance writer specializing in technological subjects before I ever even thought about writing my first book, I am always interested in other writers with similar stories.
I first came across Shauna Roberts when checking out some book awards. I noticed that her book Claimed by the Enemy had won two different writing awards … so I decided to get the book and find out more about the author.
Melanie Rockett: You have quite a long history of writing, first as a professional science & medical writer and then as a fiction writer. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Shauna Roberts: I was born in Dayton, Ohio, and grew up in nearby Beavercreek, Ohio. As far back as I can remember, I loved reading, animals, music, and digging in the dirt. I didn’t have enough talent to become a musician, so I studied anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) as an undergrad and Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) as a grad student. I finished during the Reagan years, when academic jobs were as common as hen’s teeth, so I worked for a few years at science magazines and then was a freelance science and medical writer and editor for more than 20 years. I’ve lived all over the country and am now in Southern California, but I consider New Orleans my true home. I enjoy reading; gardening; playing and listening to Medieval, Renaissance, and folk music; and doing yoga and bellydance.
Melanie Rockett: After so many years of professional writing, what prompted you to start writing novels?
Shauna Roberts: I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was a kid, and I wrote my first short story in about second grade. But because my aunt was a fiction writer, I knew how much hard work it involved and how long it took first to get published and then to make a name for oneself. So I dabbled in fiction off and on, always figuring there was plenty of time later to fully throw myself into it. Then in 2000, my 70-year-old mother, who took excellent care of herself and had quit smoking about 1965, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died five months later. The idea of having plenty of time later to write was revealed for the fiction it was: Instead of being two generations away from death (my grandmother was still alive then), I was suddenly the next generation up.
While still freelancing fulltime, I wrote a short story a month for a year, trying out different points of view (POV), different types of characters, different genres of stories, and different voices. Then I felt ready to start a novel. And I did.
.Melanie Rockett: Claimed by the Enemy is your second published novel. It is a historical novel set in ancient times, which you have an affinity for. Can you tell us a bit about the book and how you conceived the plot and setting?
Shauna Roberts: I’ve completed four novels (and have some partial ones); Claimed by the Enemy was the fourth one I wrote and the second one published. I’ve loved ancient Mesopotamia (today, Iraq and part of Syria) since I was a teenager. The idea that the basic building blocks of civilization we take for granted got their start in Mesopotamia fascinated me. (Today we know that some aspects of civilization, such as monumental architecture and the invention of writing, also occurred elsewhere at the same time or even earlier.)
I’ve always been most interested in the Sumerians, who invented the cuneiform system of writing and lived in Mesopotamia before the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. But after teaching a university extension class on the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” I was looking for another Mesopotamian topic for the following year’s class. I started researching Sargon the Great (also known as Sargon of Akkad and Sargon the Conqueror), who created the world’s first empire. The more I learned about this man, full of contradictions and ahead of his times in some ways, the more I wanted to know about him.
In Claimed by the Enemy, Sargon never actually appears on the page, but his presence is felt throughout the book in every terrible event, every ominous rumor. I have three other books planned that take place around the same time. Sargon will appear often in at least one of those books.
I was living in New Orleans (but I had evacuated and was safe in a hotel) when Hurricane Katrina hit and the federal levees broke and flooded the city. Claimed by the Enemy translates the experiences of the people of New Orleans-displacement and homelessness, death of the weak and elderly, mysterious disappearances of some people, dispersal of citizens in all directions, the building of a new life on the remnants of the old, instant friendships based on mutual loss, creation of new social groups and “families” while grieving the people who were no longer around, acceptance and living with the pain of the destruction of one’s beloved city-to the people of Eridu. Eridu was probably the first city in the world; it certainly was the first city in Mesopotamia. But Sargon’s conquest of Eridu devastated it.
Over the undercurrents of grief and loss and recovery, Claimed by the Enemy is a story of adventure, palace intrigue, family ties, trust and deception, and love. The heroine is Nindalla, a princess of Eridu who married the crown prince of Susa (in western Iran). The hero is Ur-sag-enki, a former farmboy from Eridu. They meet when he helps her give birth right after Sargon’s forces conquer Susa (and kill Nindalla’s midwife and unkind husband). They quickly bond because of their shared heritage and shared loss-until one of Ur-sag-enki’s secrets comes out: He is now a soldier in Sargon’s army and helped overtake Susa. Yet it soon becomes apparent that in the post-conquest chaos, Ur-sag-enki may be the only person Nindalla can trust and vice-versa.
Melanie Rockett: I suspect that your years of professional writing and copy editing instilled certain work ethics and routines. Are you a methodical writer who works out plot and characters ahead of time. or do you just write and make sense of it all in the editing phase? ”
Shauna Roberts: I almost always start knowing the setting and/or a core idea and then create main characters that fit the time and place and illustrate aspects of the core idea. I also generally know where the story or novel starts, what happens in the middle, and how it ends (or at least a set of possible endings). Then I turn off my internal editor and start writing, plotting ahead several chapters as I go so that I always know where I’m headed.
When I finish, the book is a mess. That’s when I step back and think about it. What themes and metaphors run through it? Which should be strengthened and which should be taken out? What is the “moral” of the book? How did the characters’ personalities develop as I got to know them better, and how can I show those personality traits from the beginning? Has anyone behaved out of character for the time and place, and how can I fix it? Does anyone behave inconsistently from scene to scene? Do minor characters hog the spotlight? Do the major characters get introduced early enough? Does my time line make sense? Do any of the scenes take place in a “white room” (that is, without any setting details or description to ground the readers and let them experience the same sounds, sights, and smells as the POV character)?
Then I go back and fix the problems. In every round of revisions, I also cut useless words and phrases, revise sentences for clarity, and deepen the POV. I do many rounds of revision until I don’t know how to make it any better.
Melanie Rockett: You seem to be on a roll with a series of books. What will we see from you next? Do you work one book at a time, or do you work on different phases of multiple books?
Shauna Roberts: I often work on more than one book at a time. Currently I am writing a contemporary romance short story for an anthology and working on a nonfiction writing book and finishing up an audiobook of a fantasy novelette. When I am done with the short story, I need to finish another story (historical fiction set in ancient Nubia) that’s overdue. After that? I have several novels in mind, have been researching all of them, and started writing a few. Day to day I change my mind about which novel I’ll work on after I finish these two stories.
AWARDS for Claimed by the Enemy
- Winner of the 2014 National Readers Choice Award for Novel with Romantic Elements for Claimed by the Enemy
- Winner of the 2015 Romancing the Novel Published Author Contest in the “Ancient/Medieval/Renaissance” category for Claimed by the Enemy
You can follow Shauna Roberts:
on her website at ShaunaRoberts.com
on Twitter: @ShaunaRoberts5
and on her Facebook author page
Be sure to sign up for Shauna’s newsletter to see what she is currently working on and for publishing updates.