Conversations Magazine, March/April 2024

Conversations Magazine, March/April 2024

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A. Shane Etter: Writing What He Loves and Sharing It with the World

by Cyrus Webb

It's been amazing for me to watch author A. Shane Etter come into his own and make a name for himself as a storyteller over the years.

He first came to my attention in 2013, and since then it's been a pleasure to not just call him one of my favorite storytellers as well as a friend.

In 2018 he released his newest book A BRAIN IN THIRD PERSON II: The Return of the Bad Penny. In this conversation we discuss the journey, what it's been like to do what he loves and what you can expect from Bad Penny.

Shane, what has it been like for you to continue the story of Bad Penny in the new book A BRAIN IN THIRD PERSON II.?
I didn't really plan on Brain turning into a second book, and especially when it's built around a bad guy. The ending of the first book surprised me, and I knew there had to be a second. I think it was pretty interesting writing a second book about an evil character and an antagonist rather than protagonist. And I think that in itself is unusual---I can't think of too many people who have done that, except maybe Thomas Harris the Silence of the Lambs books.

Really good point. The book that we discussed our last time, A War in the Bronx, is a different type of book than those who have read some of your other work like Mind Dwellers and Bottom Dwellers. Is that what keeps writing exciting for you, Shane? 
I read a long time ago that every book that's ever going to be written has been written already. So I think we all emulate other stories, and another writer friend of mine said to me one time that bad writers copy and good writer steal. And I thought that's about as deep as I get, but like I said every story that's ever going to be written has been written.

And so all we can do is put a different spin on an old story is what I think. And that's what I've tried to do, and I don't know where I come up with different ideas. My next book is about a 60-year-old writing professor at Oxford University, whose been murdering people for 40 years with a sword concealed in his walking stick, so that's different. So Brain's about serial killers, and I guess all mine follow a theme that there's a thing about serial killers and drug dealers. I see some sort of connection between those if other people don't, but anyway that's okay if they don't.

One thing I like about your books, Shane, is that you have characters that are multi-dimensional. Definitely in the Brain books we see that, so let's talk about the main character Pennington Wentworth. I mean how did Pennington come to you? 
It was based on my own experience of having a stroke and personality change, because of that brain damage in my own experience from my stroke. I thought of a character who was brain-damaged in his case---Pennington’s case---a car accident which caused the traumatic brain injury. And I thought, okay, where can I start this character, and how far can I take him in the opposite direction to make it even a more compelling story.

And he started out as a meek, mild-mannered,Yuppie with neat hair, perfect hairdo and manicured nails who was a vegetarian. And after his brain damage he was literally changed overnight from how I just described him to a meat-eating, tattooed, long-haired, foul-mouth serial killer. But it grew out of my own experience.In fact the name of the book A Brain in Third Person came from me saying one night to someone my brain and I disagree on things all of the time. I talked about my brain in the third person all of the time, like it's a different entity. And I went "Boy, that would be a great name for a novel," and so I came up with the name of the novel before I had any idea of what the book was going to be about really, or where it was going to go. I just came up with the name of it right there.

Appreciate your sharing that story with us, Shane. And that goes to how you use Facebook, sharing your writing updates and even locations with us. I've heard authors say before that writing can be pretty loney. Do you find that sharing the way you do helps it be less lonely? 
Well for me I'll disagree with what they say, because I don't write when I'm alone. I can't write like that. I write at Starbucks, and I write at my favorite piano bar. In fact, that piano bar let me do a book signing there after my most recent novel came out.

I need to smell, taste and feel things, and I use all of those senses once I get involved in all of my writing. My mentor told me a long time ago that in every single scene I needed to try and describe what's going on with all five senses. So I find when I write in other places rather than the quiet of my home I can evoke those images from the five senses better.

What about other writers, Shane? What has it been like for you to know that you're able to inspire other writers?
Well I hope I do. I mean I've had a lot of help along the way. I mean we as writers do not do it alone. And as I mentioned I do have a mentor, and I hope I can help youngers not only in writing but younger in age certainly. I think writers as a group are really good about helping the ones that are coming along behind them.

Because we've all been at the very beginning, even John Grisham and Stephen King were not John Grisham and Stephen King when they started writing. I'm trying to be funny there, but you know they were nobodies when they first started and look where they are now. So they had mentors and people that helped them along the way as well, and I try to help others.

There are some great messages in your books, Shane, especially in A BRAIN IN THIRD PERSON. We see it in the first book that there are always going to be people who doubt what we can do, and also doubt change. Do you think that is one of the great things about Pennington, that it shows that you know a person has the ability to make change?
Well I think all we can be assured of in this life is change. If you don't like what's happening today, or if you do stick around either way it's going to change tomorrow, and he certainly did. And I guess since that's based on my own experience, obviously not to that extreme, but that proves the changes that happened in my life as well.

I really appreciate this time, Shane. Last thing. I do want to ask you this question when it comes to the experience for you. When someone is just discovering you, and of course we're highlighting the Bad Penny books right now, but no matter what book they pick up with your name on it what do you want them to leave with when they finish a title?
I hope they will find my books as compelling stories. I'm constantly working on my writing and trying to become the best writer that I can be, and I hope they will appreciate my writing. And I guess that's part of the reason I never refer to myself as an author. I never use the word author. I like to call myself a writer. I try to be the best writer that I can be.

Get books by A. Shane Etter on and stay connected with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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