Author Interview: Shannon Takaoka

SP: Hi Shannon! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey!

I’m originally from Pittsburgh, PA but now live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my husband and kids. I’ve worked as a business writer for a long time, but am definitely a dreamy creative person at heart, so I always had this idea that I’d try to write a book “someday.” And I did spend a couple of years kind of trying it but not really committing – I’d start something and put it away when I got stuck and then I’d do that again and I guess at some point I realized that if I didn’t commit to finishing and seeing it through it was never going to happen. So, when I had the idea for this book, I just tried to turn off the self-doubt as much as I possibly could and I kept going, while simultaneously learning all I could about craft and the writing business. I was introduced to my agent, Nicki Richesin, through a mutual friend. Nicki has a great editorial eye and this made all the difference for me in prepping the book for submission. And I couldn’t be happier about the book landing at Candlewick Press – it’s been a great experience working with the entire team there and especially working with my editor, Kaylan Adair. After going through the debut experience, I will say that persistence and patience are key – taking a book from concept to publication is a loooong process. It was two years between when I sold my book and when it came out and that’s not counting drafting, prepping for submission, waiting while on sub. It’s good to have more than one project to think about because there’s a lot of waiting involved.  

SP: EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW just came out October 2020 by Candlewick. Please add on Goodreads and check out this amazing debut! Here’s the blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Chloe had a plan: work hard, get good grades, and attend a top-tier college. But after she collapses during cross-country practice and is told she needs a new heart, all her careful preparations are laid to waste. Six months after her transplant, everything is different. Stuck in summer school with the underachievers, the “new Chloe” takes heedless risks, like skipping her anti-rejection meds while running wild with the class party girl and nearly crashing a motorcycle she’s not even licensed to ride. Even more unsettling: her recurring nightmares of dying and the strange, vivid memories she doesn’t recognize as her own.

The only place Chloe feels at home is in the ocean, where she’s learning to surf the Pacific’s wild waves and slowly falling for her instructor, Kai. But as her strange symptoms continue, she becomes more and more convinced that something is wrong with her new heart—or even worse, her mind. As Chloe searches for answers, what she learns will lead her to question everything she thought she knew about life, death, love and the true nature of reality.

SPCan you tell us about your debut novel, EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW? How long did it take you to write it and how did this story come about? What inspired you to write about a heart transplant? Also must say I love contemporaries that play with reality and physics, it’s a brilliant concept!

If we discount all the times I nearly gave up and put it in a drawer for months at a time, I think in actual writing time it took a few years. I’d never written a full-length novel before, so I was definitely learning as I went along, which involved a lot of wrong turns (and sometimes dead ends). In terms of inspiration, the concept evolved a lot as I wrote it, but the initial idea came from a story I had heard about organ recipients feeling as if they’ve picked up new preferences or interests after their transplants that they feel are connected to their donor. Perhaps craving a specific food or being drawn to similar music. Whether this is really possible or not, I thought it was an interesting idea to explore — especially with a character who is at a phase in their own life where they are still trying to figure out who they are. So that was the initial spark, but as I wrote, I began to introduce some more speculative or fantastical elements into the story, some of which were inspired by multi-verse theories that come out of quantum physics.

SP: What did you think when you saw the cover? The details are so intricate and subtle like the wave in the heart with the surfer. It’s truly beautiful.

I loved the cover immediately. My publisher presented me with three options and I knew right away the heart was the one—it’s dreamy, ethereal, a little bit cosmic and perfectly captures the essence of the book. From the gorgeous, nebula-like colors, to the main image of the heart, to the dissolving font, and especially that tiny surfer riding the wave of the pulmonary artery, it all just works together so beautifully. Candlewick’s designer, Matt Roeser, is amazing. (You can see some of his other work at www.mattmakesbooks.com)

SP: How does it feel to be a debut author in 2020? What has been the biggest challenge?

2020 has been quite a year for sure and when it comes to being impacted by everything that’s been going on, I’m not any different than everybody else in the world, I guess. We’ve all had challenges, whether kids attending school from home, job situations that have changed dramatically, cancelled events, brushes with COVID or maybe all of the above. But in terms of debuting specifically, I think what has been hardest is figuring out ways to stay focused and promote the book in these weird circumstances. Originally, I was supposed to go to BookCon in New York City in May, and I was hoping to do some launch events live when the book came out in October. (And early in the year, I still thought that was going to be a possibility – what a sweet summer child I was!) Most book festivals and bookstore events have either been cancelled or moved online. So, we’ve all had to pivot – debut authors and established authors too. I like meeting people in person and am sad that’s not possible right now. I also feel a bit awkward online – especially on live video – so it’s been a learning curve for me, but I’m making the best of it. One thing about online events is you can connect with people you wouldn’t have had the chance to in person, so that’s cool. But like everyone else, I’m really missing in person interaction. And I’m missing libraries and coffee shops, where I usually do most of my writing! In the grand scheme though, these are small things, and my heart is with everyone who has had bigger struggles this year. Keeping my fingers crossed for better days ahead.      

SP: And lastly, do you have a favorite quotes from your book? What does it mean to you?

Hmmm… maybe this one is my favorite, because I think it gets at something about how it’s impossible to understand everything about the universe and our place in it:

I think about how I’ve spent so much time this summer on the surface of the water without really knowing much about what’s underneath. An entire world beneath me, one that is almost as foreign as another planet. Sea lions weaving their way through kelp forests. Fish darting in and out of coral reefs. What must it be like to live down in the deep, in the spaces where the light hardly reaches, where weird, alien-like sea creatures glow like carnival rides in the dark? If I miss so much of my own planet, perhaps my understanding of the universe is much smaller than I thought.

Is Shannon a…

Plotter/pantster? 

Pantser (mostly)

Last book you read? 

I just read a gothic classic that I can’t believe I’ve never read before, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. If a story has a spooky old mansion in it, I’m so in. I’m planning on watching the new movie version soon.

Current dream vacation spot? 

Well, I had to cancel a trip to Paris this past April, so Paris.

Something always in your fridge? 

Half and half (for coffee)

Would you rather be a professional: Marine Biologist? Spy? Opera Singer? Brain Surgeon? OR? 

I like science, so Marine Biologist, I think. (Brain surgeon sounds fascinating too, though I might be too stressed I’d mess up someone’s brain.)

Favorite childhood book? 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Shannon! We are so excited for the world to read Everything I Thought I Knew!

Buy links:

There are signed copies available through Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA and Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN (while they last!)

Also available via:  

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