Shannon C.F. Rogers is a multiracial American writer of Filipinx and European descent. Her work has appeared in Bodega Magazine, Newfound Journal, and on stage with Tricklock Company, Lady Luck Productions, and the UNM Words Afire Festival of New Plays. She earned her B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico and her MFA in Writing For Young People at Antioch University Los Angeles. She has served as an educator, after-school program director, and lost mitten finder at schools in Albuquerque, Chicago, and NYC, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. I’D RATHER BURN THAN BLOOM is her first novel.
I had the opportunity to interview Shannon, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you so much for having me! I’m a multiracial Filipinx-American writer based in Brooklyn, NY, and I grew up in Albuquerque, NM. I work in the education field and I’D RATHER BURN THAN BLOOM is my debut novel.
What can you tell us about your debut book, I’d Rather Burn Than Bloom? What inspired this story?
It’s a story for teens (14+) about rage, loss, and learning to drive. The main character, Marisol Martin, is sixteen and grieving a parent, her mother, who dies suddenly in a car accident. Marisol blames herself for her mother’s death because they’d been in a huge fight right before it happened. Her story is one of personal growth – messy, and nonlinear, like grief really is. This book is inspired and informed by my own experiences with grief and growing up with a Filipina mom and a white American dad in the Southwest. Losing a parent is always traumatic, and for Marisol, she is also dealing with losing the parent who she feels was her only connection to her cultural heritage, which causes her to question her identity.
As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction?
Reading was a big part of my life as a young person, I was at the library all the time, checking out the maximum number of books allowed. Writing flowed naturally from that. I wrote stories as a kid in Elementary school and that evolved to writing a lot of fanfiction when I was in high school– I wrote a self-insert Animorphs fanfiction with a word count that makes my eyes water, I wish I could still write that quickly and with so much abandon. Someone sent me a piece of fanart about it and I was over the moon. That was such a fun, magical time on the internet and my first experience being part of a writing community which I think is so crucial. I believe the reason I’m still drawn to writing for young people now, and about adolescence especially, is because it’s a time of life that’s about self-exploration and growth and change – all powerful ideas that still capture me as an adult reader and writer.
How would you describe your writing process?
I start with a character and see where that takes me, though my process is evolving to include more attention to structure earlier on in the drafting process, like outlining. It really makes life easier, I hate to say it, but it does. I’d describe my natural writing process as one that relies heavily on vibes, the vibes are very important and I love a book that really captures an elusive feeling and a mood, and ideas that are hard to articulate succinctly, ideas that need an entire book’s length of words to tease out. Because of this, I revise a lot. Like, a lot. I revised I’D RATHER BURN THAN BLOOM more times than I can count, but that was the process I needed to use in order to figure out what I was really trying to say.
Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? Would you say there are any like that now?
There are so many amazing stories I’ve read recently that resonated with me as a multiracial person, someone who feels very much in between – many more recently as opposed to when I was growing up, but that being said, back then I was searching for myself in every story and usually found something to grasp onto even if it wasn’t literal. I remember picking up The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw at my local library as a kid because of the image on the cover – it somehow communicated to me that the main character was an outsider. The Moorchild is about a fairy who grows up in the human world because she was switched with a human baby, and she never fits in. When she finds out the truth, she goes on this quest to get her family’s real daughter back. That struck me to my core as a kid. I think it was this feeling of not belonging, this feeling that your people are somewhere out there, that really resonated. As an adult, I’ve read so many amazing books about the experiences of young people that resonate with me, one that had a huge impact on me and my writing is Nicola Yoon’s THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR that places a romance in the context of family legacies impacted by the histories of colonization and immigration, which I so relate to, and also has a really interesting story structure, which showed me that you can be creative and take risks there.
As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?
Reflecting back, I can see that Miyazaki movies had a strong impact on me as a young person– Kiki’s Delivery Service, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke especially. I loved these stories that centered on girl protagonists and honored their feelings and inner worlds and also treated nature with so much respect and reverence. Creating a specific sense of place is really important to me in my writing. In the case of my debut novel, the setting of New Mexico is a key component in the story, both the physical landscape and its cultural history.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult?
I love writing dialogue, that always flows the easiest for me, and I think that’s because my primary interest in fiction is character. Why are people like this? Why do we do all the weird things we do? I love listening to how people talk and how people say things they don’t mean at all or say things they mean by accident. The most difficult for me is plot and structure, distilling down the scope of the story and articulating it in a way that feels satisfying for the reader– I have to pay a lot of attention to that as I revise my many drafts!
As a writer, often one of the hardest parts of writing a book is just finishing it. Could you tell us any tips or strategies you used that helped you accomplish this?
Something I do is write out of order so that I can write something I can be successful with that day rather than get mired in writing a scene I’m struggling with for some reason. I used to waste a lot of time doing that before I realized that sometimes I really need to let things percolate, render in the background. There is a reason why “sleep on it” is very good advice, there is a great deal of subconscious work in writing and sometimes the best thing to do is just not write. Then, you might wake up the next day and realize you know just what to do.
Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
Although it’s fiction, I think people can probably infer a lot about me from my work! I think maybe the fact that I’m left-handed doesn’t appear anywhere in my book– that’s one thing!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
One element of the book that I loved writing that I haven’t talked about much yet is the impact of music on Marisol’s life and how closely tied to her friendships her experience with music is. When I was in high school the mixed tapes and burned CDs my friends gave me were life-changing. In the book, Marisol’s friends take her to some basement shows to see touring bands and it’s like opening up a whole new world in her city she didn’t know was there. I guess the question I’m dying to be asked is “what are your favorite local Albuquerque bands?” and I would say: Red Light Cameras, Self Neglect (which is my brother’s band), and Prism Bitch.
Honestly, the writing life is really hard, but don’t let that stop you! Just know that it’s really hard for everyone, but it’s something that you will get better at over time, and that is so satisfying. The time is going to pass anyway, you may as well spend it doing the thing you want to do. Focus on your work, about why you want to do it, what ideas you’re interested in, and that will take you a long way. Join a writing group with other writers you trust. Give their work your time and attention. You will grow together, and it will be beautiful.
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
My second book is currently scheduled to come out next summer from Feiwel & Friends! It’s another YA contemporary also set in Albuquerque, New Mexico! It’s a lot lighter and funnier than my debut in many ways (it centers on an aspiring stand-up comedian), but I would say it’s still pretty emotional (Sad Girl Summer remains the brand!).
Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
So, so many great books on my shelves right now! I’ll mention a few other YA contemporary novels: THE NEXT NEW SYRIAN GIRL by Ream Shukairy, told in alternating perspectives between a Syrian-American teen, Khadija Shami, and the Syrian refugee her family takes in to live with them in Detroit, Leene Tahir – a really beautiful and nuanced story. MY HEART UNDERWATER by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo, which follows Fil-Am teen Cory Tagubio who is sent to live with her half-brother in the Philippines when her mother discovers her kissing her 25-year-old history teacher, Ms. Holden. I loved the exploration of Filipino familial duty in conflict with self-actualization and the tenderness and care Fantauzzo brings to the subject. BECOMING A QUEEN by Dan Clay is a heartbreaking yet very funny story about loss and coming of age which follows Mark Harris who begins to pursue drag as part of his healing and grieving process. Just lovely.
Additionally, for my book launch event I was lucky to be joined in conversation by author Yume Kitasei, whose debut book, THE DEEP SKY also just came out. This is a fascinating Sci-Fi thriller for adults that I just started reading – it follows Asuka Hoshino-Silva, a biracial Japanese-American who has been selected as one of a small crew of a spaceship bound to start a new civilization after climate collapse on earth. I’m also looking forward to reading FORGIVE ME NOT, by Jenn Baker, which explores family, forgiveness, and centers Violetta Chen-Samuels who is incarcerated as a juvenile defender, as well as THESE DEATHLESS SHORES by P.H. Low which is already on my TBR for 2024 – it’s a gender-bent retelling of Captain Hook’s origin story in an Southeast Asian-inspired setting.