IndieView with Shannon Mullen, author of See What Flowers

After finishing the first draft, I realized that the writing was more emotional, more honest, and more impactful when I put more of myself into it. So during the editing, I added bits of personal experience to add depth and emotion to the characters. 

Shannon Mullen – 3 August 2017

The Back Flap

All that remains is a note: “Gone to get pancakes.”

Her 30th birthday party’s over, yet it’s the happiest Emma Watters has ever been. Life couldn’t be more perfect. She’s an emergency room doctor and shares a home in Toronto with the love of her life, Adam Davison. The next morning, Adam is gone.

Emma’s shocked. At first, she decides that Adam’s having an affair and scavenges through photos on Facebook, trying to identify “the other woman.” But as the days pass, Emma seeks out help from the Toronto Police and floods social media with pleas for assistance. Where’s Adam? Has her life become an episode of Breaking Bad? Has she been dating Walter White all along?

Wild, beautiful, and terrifying, See What Flowers is a thrilling depiction of love’s attempts to survive in the face of undiagnosed mental illness. Set in the hectic, cosmopolitan cities of Toronto and Vancouver, as well as against the harsh, rugged landscape of the Canadian Arctic, it’s a raw and compelling journey towards understanding, forgiveness, and, ultimately, escape.

About the book

What is the book about?

See What Flowers is a contemporary fiction about love and mental illness.

It begins with Adam Davison waking up in Vancouver, Canada, with no idea where he is or how he got there. Meanwhile his girlfriend, Emma Watters, is at their home in Toronto, searching desperately for information about Adam’s whereabouts.

Through alternating “he said/she said” personal narratives, See What Flowers, tells the story of a young couple’s journey to accept and understand how undiagnosed mental illness has impacted their relationship.

When did you start writing the book?

I started writing the book in March 2015 after an image of a man waking up in jail with no memory of how he got there came to me while I was riding my bike while on vacation with my parents in Arizona.

How long did it take you to write it?

It took me about 6 months of full-time writing to complete the first draft and another year and a half of spurts of editing to polish the manuscript.

Where did you get the idea from?

The initial image: of Adam disappearing from and ending up in a jail thousands of miles away from his home, is loosely based on an experience that one of my friends had. However, the story starts with that image and then was created by interweaving research with my imagination. I wrote it after working as a high school teacher in the Canadian Arctic, where suicide rates are more than 10x the national average, so I was hyper-conscious of the devastating impact that mental illness can have on relationships.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

Yes I struggled with how much of myself to put into it. At first I wrote very afraid and tried to keep a distance between the characters and my own lived experiences. However I gained confidence as I wrote. The ending is set in the Canadian Arctic and definitely contains the strongest writing in the novel. After finishing the first draft, I realized that the writing was more emotional, more honest, and more impactful when I put more of myself into it. So during the editing, I added bits of personal experience to add depth and emotion to the characters.

What came easily?

Motivation. I was surprised by how determined I was to finish a draft. I had taken almost a year off teaching to complete the novel and gave myself permission to focus on writing during that time. While I was writing, I knew that I would have to find a teaching job in September, so I was very invested in finishing before then. Otherwise, I probably never would have finished.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

While the characters are fictional they are based on a combination of my own experiences of people and life, as well as research. People who are close to me definitely think that I am Emma. While Emma is very similar to me: she likes to run, she’s a perfectionist, she works in the Arctic, and she’s a go-getter. She isn’t me. To be honest, I think there is as much of “me” in Adam as there is in Emma. How can there not be? Both characters came out of my own mind and imagination! Elements of my friends and myself are present in all of the characters in the novel, but the characters are more fictitious than real.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

Reading memoirs written by writers who had had experience with mental illness had the greatest influence on my writing and character development, particularly Marya Hornbacher’s Madness: A Bipolar Life, and Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. When I started writing, I had also just finished reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which probably influenced the alternating narrative style.

Do you have a target reader?

The target reader is women in their mid-late 30s or early 40s.

About Writing

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

My writing process is so chaotic. I am a binge writer for sure. Most of my ideas come to me when I’m doing something other than writing, like walking, biking, running, cooking, etc. When I sit down to write, I try to connect these new ideas to what I’ve previously written. As much as I wish I could, I cannot follow a plan. The story develops organically, as I’m writing.

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

No. Absolutely not. I cannot even write an outline for an essay. I’m actually a high school English teacher and I tell my students “everyone else is going to tell you that brainstorming and outlining are crucial…and this is how you do it…but I don’t write that way and it is okay if that way of writing doesn’t work for you either.”  But I can’t follow a recipe when I cook. I try to but I just can’t. I am the kind of cook that adds a little bit of this and a little bit of that until it tastes good. That’s basically my writing process. I just sit down and do it with no real plan and see what happens. Sometimes the end result is terrible. And sometimes it is fantastic.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

I edit as I go. Since I’m such a spontaneous, impulsive writer, if ideas aren’t coming when I’m trying to write, I won’t be able to advance with my writing. So if ideas aren’t coming, I don’t want to waste time. So I re-draft and edit previous sections.

Did you hire a professional editor?

Yes. My brother Pat edited the entire manuscript from the initial draft to the final stages. He is an editor for a magazine so is a ‘real editor’. I hired him so that I could stay accountable to meeting my timelines. I was also so insecure and lacked confidence in my writing, so he really supported me and encouraged me as I went, much like a personal trainer. I really wouldn’t have finished the book—or even started, without him.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

I actually listen to talk radio. I find it gives me a enough of a distraction when my mind wanders or when I lose focus so that I don’t get sucked into other distractions like compulsively checking my Facebook or Instagram (although I still do that from time to time).

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

Yes, I submitted my work to agents. Since I’m Canadian, I mostly submitted to agents in Canada, and there aren’t as many agents who accept unsolicited manuscripts as there are in the US.

What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher?

I decided to self-publish because I believe that my book is worthy of publication and didn’t want it to remain as a file on my computer any longer. It is quite scary for me to self-publish as I don’t have that stamp of legitimacy or worthiness that a traditional publisher gives. So I have to have a thick skin about the whole thing and remind myself that in the end, I published for myself, and if readers connect with the book in some way, then that’s just bonus.

Was it a particular event or a gradual process?

I always kept self-publishing as an option but it took me about a year to work up the courage to do it. I had to get over my self-doubt and fear of failure and come to a place where I was proud for writing a book, something I always wanted to do.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?

Professionally done. I ran a contest through I would highly recommend this route to other writers thinking of self-publishing their books. My experience was very positive and it was a cost-effective way of having many different designers from around the world pitch cover designs. I had over 100 designs to choose from. The woman who designed my cover is actually Croatian!

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

Uhh….winging it….and definitely learning what I should have done….one of my brothers is a publicist, so he has helped me tremendously. (But also scolded me for all of the steps I should have considered!) But I’ve contacted book bloggers, am doing some readings at cafés and libraries, have hosted giveaway contests, so I’m learning as I go.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

If you want to write, write. If you want to publish a book, publish a book. Don’t attach your self-worth to whether your book is successful or if it becomes a best-seller or if it gets good reviews. Do it for yourself. Writing is a process. The next book might be even better. You will never know until you try!

About You

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Ottawa, Canada.

Where do you live now?

I currently live in Toronto, Canada, but since graduating from Teacher’s College in 2009, I have lived in England, Colombia, the Canadian Arctic and Northern British Columbia.

What would you like readers to know about you?

I love travel and adventure and take every opportunity to explore the world and learn about new people and cultures. I blog about my adventures in teaching and travel at I’m also halfway through a PhD in Sociology at the University of Ottawa.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on marking independent studies and getting ready for exams! (My day job sometimes gets in the way of my writing). In the summer, I intend to write some short personal essays and promote my novel. I anticipate that I won’t start another novel until I am done my PhD.

End of Interview.

For more from Shannon, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.

Get your copy of See What Flowers from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

One response to “IndieView with Shannon Mullen, author of See What Flowers

  1. Patricia Ahearn

    This is a great review. I read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it, despite being significantly older than the target audience. An amazing first novel!