Shanna Miles is the debut author of Willow Born, a YA paranormal about a 16-year-old, African-American empath. Born in South Carolina, Shanna received a BA in Journalism from the University of South Carolina, and acquired a Master’s in Library Media from Georgia State University. She now lives and writes in Jonesboro, Georgia with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Find out more about her debut below, including why she sets all of her stories firmly in biscuit-and-sweet-tea-country, and features kids of color in fantastic situations.
- Congratulations on your debut YA paranormal, Willow Born! Tell us about the book.
Thank you! Years ago, witch hunters came to Carolina and devoured the Willows. Sixteen-year-old Collette, a powerful empath, was one of them. A part of a long line of witches that stretches back as far as the slave auctions of Charleston, she was especially gifted.
Snatched from the Void, she has to choose between a normal life and following the warrior path of the Willows, a coven she didn’t know she belonged to. Soon, problems pile sky-high as she struggles to keep the boy who could blow her cover at arm’s length and her sanity as family secrets come to light in the midst of a serial killer.
- Your paranormal YA, Willow Born, is set to release in June 2017. What stage of the publication journey are you in now?
Digital Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) are out to reviewers and bloggers, and pre-order will be ready in April. We’ll also make print ARCs available at that time, as well. We’ll do a Goodreads giveaway to eager readers, too. I’m excited about it all. Publication is a long process with a lot of moving parts.
- As an author, reviewer, and blogger, you sift through tons of books! What does your book reviewing process look like?
I was previously on a reviewing committee. I was a member of the selection committee for the Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen readers for three years. This year was my final term. I had a great time reading books and reviewing them on my blog and on Goodreads.
As a committee member, I had to read books from all genres, but on my own I tend to focus on #ownvoices books which are books from people from marginalized backgrounds who write about kids who have that background as well. I also lean towards speculative fiction, so I like science fiction and fantasy more than anything else, but I’ll pick up historical fiction, too. Contemporary fiction isn’t really my cup of tea, but with a good recommendation, I’ll try anything.
- Which character did you relate to the least in Willow Born? Most? How did you write them?
That is a hard question. I think there is a little of me and people I know in every character I write. Miss Collins has elements of all my Aunties and their loving, hard-edged, no-nonsense wisdom. Collette reminds me of myself and my sister at times. Matt has elements of my husband, and Raphael has the smoothness of my cousins when they were young and brash, and cared about being smooth. I think you have to relate to your characters in order to love them enough to bring them to life.
- What kinds of books did you read as a teen?
I was a teen in the 90’s and sadly there was really no representation of black kids or black people in young adult literature. YA hadn’t had its heyday yet, so teen fiction was limited to the Babysitters’ Club and Nancy Drew. Neither interested me, so I read adult books. I read Anne Rice and Terry McMillan. I dug into classics from Toni Morrison and Stephen King. Before I discovered my beloved paranormal fiction paperbacks, I also spent a lot of time digging into African American history and trying to fill in the gaps in my history education. Reading was an escape for me as I was looking for a mirror to my life.
- What does the day-to-day life of a librarian look like?
I work with teens as a librarian. You wouldn’t assume this, but the library is like a bar, only the drinks are books! You have your regulars who come in everyday to check out new stuff, turn in old stuff and chat about what they’ve just read. I’ll also help kids get last minute projects ready to turn in for the day. During advisory, which is like homeroom, I might do a workshop.
Recently, I gave away a set of We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie and served coffee and cake to a group of students while we discussed feminism before classes began for the day. Once classes start, I might have whole classes or small groups in the library working on projects, and I’ll help with those if needed.
My busiest time is midday because kids have more autonomy to visit during lunch. I’ll see my regulars again, and help kids who are looking for something special or might need help on a personal project. We have three lunches, so that’s a long stretch of time to be helping kids.
I might receive volunteers at that time, too, who help shelve books and do other projects. After that, it’s more whole class assistance and then after school we might have club meetings. I sponsor a Book Club and a Writing Club. The Book Club is currently reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
I love my job. Sometimes I might have just a few kids in and out in between classes and others I might have every seat in the space filled to the tune of about 100 kids.
- What is the #iwriteincolor campaign?
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t see myself often in books as a kid. When my Writing Club students—none of who have blonde hair or blue eyes— began turning in original pieces with heroes that only had blonde hair and blue eyes, it broke my heart. I realized they’d received the same message that I’d also received growing up, that stories with nonwhite protagonists are wrong, uninteresting, or unworthy.
I wanted to change that and encourage people of color to write stories where they slay dragons and save the princess, where the hero is Ashanti and the villain is Trayvon. That only happens if we recognize that our stories matter, and promote them. The #iwriteincolor campaign champions that effort. There are five principles of the #iwriteincolor campaign, and they guide everything that I do in my writing, in my blog and in my creative presence and work. They are:
- All people of all ages, races, ability, sexual orientation and gender representation deserve to see themselves represented in stories.
- Stories are essential components of identity building.
- The written word is as powerful as memory and as indelible as death.
- Villainy and the heroic journey are not mutually exclusive.
- Supporting authors and young writers is infinitely more powerful than the restriction of other writers and their stories.
- Ebook: $9.99
- Print: $14.95
Keep up with Shanna
- Website: shannamiles.net
- Twitter: @srmilesauthor