Shane Joseph began writing as a teenager living in Sri Lanka and has never stopped. From an early surge of short stories and radio play scripts, to humorous corporate skits, travelogues, case studies and technical papers, then novels, more short stories and essays, he continues to pursue the three pages-a-day maxim and keeps writer’s block at bay.
Shelagh: Hi Shane, please tell everyone a bit about yourself.
Shane: I’m a graduate of the Humber School for Writers in Toronto. My first novel Redemption in Paradise was published in 2004. My collection of short stories Fringe Dwellers was published in 2008, and my “dystopian novel of hope,” After the Flood, was released in November 2009. My short fiction has appeared in Existere literary magazine, in several Canadian anthologies and e-zines, and in literary journals in India and Sri Lanka. My work has also been accepted for publication in the USA and the UK in 2010. I live with my wife Sarah in the lakeside town of Cobourg, Ontario, where I work as a consultant, play guitar in a rock band, write, and scoot off annually to visit one country for every year of my life.
Shelagh: When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
Shane: The writing bug bit during my teens when I joined a writers’ workshop focused on producing plays and short stories for radio. I was (and still am) interested in the eternal human drama. Raised as a minority community member in my native Sri Lanka, having lived as an expatriate in the Middle East, and finally as an immigrant in Canada, I am a perennial fringe dweller, as I call myself. I like to explore themes of marginalization and second chances. I do not write genre fiction.
Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Shane: Oh, as a teenager, I wanted to be the next Hemingway. I thought that writers could live in exotic locales and mail manuscript periodically to their publishers and earn untold riches, while enjoying wine, women and song. I quickly sobered up when I realized that in writing, while “luck is the product of hard work,” reward is contingent on luck as well. In fact, I quit writing at 23 because I had no more life experiences left to record and had to earn a living in the business world because I was far off from becoming Papa Hem. When my material needs had been more or less accommodated, I picked up the craft again in my mid-forties, with only one goal: I was not going to give up writing this time, whether I got to live like Hemingway or not. By then I had gained many life experiences, and the need to write had risen to the level of a compulsion. It was time to record my experiences and observations as fiction, along themes that I wanted to explore. The message in my books is: “giving up is not an option.”
Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?
Shane: It’s a stand-alone novel titled After the Flood and takes place in North America between the years 2012 and 2047. It’s my only work of speculative fiction to date and was difficult to write as I had to invent a whole new world and not slump into the “tell not show” syndrome. I wanted to explore the implications of a global geological meltdown and how mankind would govern itself in this altered world. Would we screw it up once more due to that hard-coded genetic trait DESIRE, and its evil twin GREED?
Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?
Shane: I guess it is the premise of the novel, that Fundamentalism can take place in our own backyard given the right conditions. We tend to look at other countries for extremists, but our own pre-occupations with extreme forms of Capitalism and Socialism, when under threat, can also turn us Westerners into Fundamentalists.
Shelagh: How do you develop characters and setting?
Shane: Characters come alive while I am writing my first draft, which is a rambling journey for me, to capture the story and the messages inherent in it. I constantly go back and modify characters as I see them evolve during that initial draft. I chose a principal setting ( e.g. North America, Sri Lanka, Toronto etc.) for my story before writing the first draft, but then the individual scenes within the overall setting may change in the re-writes as I flush out the story. I may go back and change the setting of a particular scene in my next draft if I don’t like where it is taking place or if it does not enhance the mood, character or message that I am trying to communicate.
Shelagh: Who is the most remarkable character?
Shane: I guess Samson Arthurs, the patriarch in After the Flood, is my most remarkable character. He is a survivor of the cataclysm, is deeply religious, he is a builder and a tireless helper to those in need. Yet his marriage breaks down for lack of attention to the family side of his life. He is attracted to a younger, married woman and gets himself embroiled in a scandal that brings about the near collapse of his beloved state of Tolemac (which read backwards is Camelot!)
Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Shane: I have a beginning, middle, and end to my plot when I start out, and a loose outline of what I want each character to achieve in the end. Other than that, I just go where the story takes me in the first draft. The outline helps me if I stray too far off, but it also does not cramp my creativity.
Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
Shane: I have written in most POVs. I am told that my strongest suite is Limited Third Person. I find Second Person the hardest to write in. I have also combined First Person and Limited Third Person in some of my novels.
Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Shane: Having being born and raised as a Burgher (European settlers in the colony) of Sri Lanka, and having spent many years in Dubai as an expatriate, over 20 years in Canada as an immigrant, and never really belonging to the literati of this country, I have always been the outsider trying to break in. I find this a preferred perspective for a writer, of being the perennial observer. My principal characters are also somewhat off centre as a result, trying to get to base but having to struggle for it.
Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
Shane: Here is an excerpt from a recent review by Ben Antao, a Toronto-based novelist, on my novel After the Flood :
Shane Joseph engages the reader not only by his knowledge of the Old Testament but also by his insights into man-woman relationships and his flair in handling the problem of the other man/the other woman, the secret longing for carnality as revealed in the character of Delia. To quote:
Delia was dressed in a body-hugging, sleeveless T-shirt and pants, and her red hair was pulled back over her head and tied in a knot at the back. David felt the blood rush to his head again.
“I’m sorry to hear about your mother, David.” Sincerity shone through her sensuality.
The author maintains a good balance between telling the story and showing it through dialogue and action. This novel would make a fine movie, as entertaining as the book.
Shelagh: What are your current projects?
Shane: I have four completed manuscripts (two novels and two collections of linked stories) waiting to find a publisher. But I am not in a hurry any more. I need to find an agent who can represent my work well. Therefore, you could say that the first part of my current project is to find that agent. The next part of the project is to complete the first draft of a new novel, set in a small town by one of the Great Lakes in North America. It’s replete with corporate and personal greed, changing demographics as the older established population age and give way to immigrants, the alienation of youth, the melding of cultures, and the tensions that come out of all those developments.
Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Shane: Please visit my website at www.shanejoseph.com – all the information you need on me will be there.
Shelagh: Thanks for joining us today, Shane.
Shane: Thank you for featuring me on your guest blog.