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Interview with Shannon Taylor Vannatter

Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom and pastor’s wife who lives in Central Arkansas. As a speaker, she has taught fiction workshops for several writers’ groups including ACFW conferences, and also speaks at churches, libraries and other community organizations.

Shannon, Rodeo Queen is your ninth book since your 2010 debut release in the traditional publishing market. That’s a very good average and some would say an overnight success. But didn’t it take ten years before you sold your first Heartsong Presents?
When I first started writing, the first writer I met had been writing ten years and hadn’t gotten published yet. I vowed it wouldn’t take that long for me. It took me nine and a half. But not quite ten :) My main problem in the beginning was I thought I could just write a book and it would get published. The one writer I knew kept telling me I should join a writer’s group and go to conferences. I nodded politely and thought why waste my time talking about writing when I can just write.

Three years in, I got my third book published by a Print on Demand publisher. I didn’t even know what that was. But I thought I’d made it and imagined lines of people around the block at my book signings. Reality hit pretty quick and I realized POD wasn’t what I wanted. I finally joined two writers groups, attended monthly meetings, and two local conferences each year.

At first my brain was bursting with everything I learned. But there came a point when I wasn’t learning anything new. That’s when I googled Christian Writing Conferences and discovered ACFW. I went in 2005 and learned I knew the basics and that was all. ACFW took my writing to a whole new level.

Rodeo Queen is your 5th book in the Rodeo series. Are these connected books by way of characters, or do they simply have a rodeo setting as the common denominator?
The characters are connected. They’re either friends or related. In each book, I focus on one couple, the side characters get their own books as the series progresses. And several of the couples from earlier books pop up in later books as secondary characters. All the books are set in the Fort Worth, Dallas, and Aubrey, Texas area and at least one character in each book is connected to the Fort Worth Stockyards Championship Rodeo.

Have you always been interested in the rodeo, or is it just a character for this series?
When I was a teenager, my dad announced at our very small town rodeo and I worked in the concession stand. He thought I liked the rodeo, and I did, but the main attraction was the cowboys.

Years later, I saw a cowboy dressed in Wranglers, boots, and hat holding hands with a girl in suede high heel boots and a pin striped business suit at the Arkansas State Fair. I wondered how they met and what they had in common. Hours of plotting later, she was an ad exec terrified of bulls and he was a bull rider. That became the first book in the series. I set it at the Stockyards because of the history, I needed a year-round indoor rodeo to fit the storyline, and my husband is from Texas, so it’s my second favorite state.

It was only supposed to be one book, but Heartsong (owned by Barbour at the time) wanted three books. I expanded the idea into a series and when Harlequin bought the line, my agent learned my new editor had read one of my rodeo books and liked it, so we submitted three more books and it grew from there.

What is it about Heartsong Presents that appeals to you as a writer?
The first Inspirational romance I ever read was a Heartsong, so the line is very close to my heart. And I love the book club. It’s a great way for an unknown author to reach readers. I don’t really have to worry so much about readers buying my books, they get them automatically.

Did the sale of the Heartsong Presents imprint have an impact on your writing schedule?
Not really. At first I was told not to worry about writing the third book in the series because the line was closing, but that book 3 would eventually be an e-book and to wait until the details were lined out. It was very upsetting, but it just kind of gave me a break from writing. A few months later my editor told me that another company was buying the line and asked when I could have the book turned in. I asked for my usual four months and she agreed to it.

The whole time I was writing book three, I didn’t know who would publish the book or when it would be published. I’d been told the guidelines weren’t changing, so I wrote the book as if I were still writing it for Barbour. In the end, Barbour does own the series through book three, but Harlequin handled distribution on books two and three.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
ACFW. If not for my critique group I met through the organization and all the conferences I attended, I might still be unpublished. And I’m not just saying that because this interview is featured on the website. I say it in other interviews and every writing class I teach too.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I’m an optimist and I’ve been told that comes through in my storytelling. Even when my characters are at rock bottom, I try to keep them seeing the glass as half full or at least looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. With each story, my theme is always – Love doesn’t make the world go round, God does. Whether the story focuses on forgiveness, bitterness, grief, trust, or fear, I always make sure nothing works out for my characters until they give it to God – especially their relationships.

Finish this sentence... If I were an animal, I’d be a _______ because _______
If I were an animal, I’d be a squirrel because I think they’re really cute and it would be fun to jump around in tree tops and run along high wires.

Any parting words?
If you’re unpublished, join ACFW and attend every conference you can afford. If you can’t afford conferences, buy the MP3’s or Flash Drives from as many conferences as you can afford. I once read: Patience + Persistence = Publication. It’s true, but there’s a learning curve in there too. Be persistent in learning, improving, and honing instead of submitting the same thing over and over.

Thanks for sharing with us, Shannon.
Thanks for having me. It was fun.

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