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George D. Shuman on 18 Seconds

Readersvoice.com aims to give people a few good reading tips. George D. Shuman is the author of 18 Seconds, a page-turner featuring Sherry Moore: a blind investigative consultant who can see the last 18 seconds of a dead person’s life by holding their hand. 18 Seconds was George D. Shuman's first novel, and he followed it with Last Breath, and Lost Girls. In this interview George Shuman talks about how he writes his thrillers, and he also talks about some of his previous jobs, like being an undercover detective in Washington D.C., and working in the hotel business in Nantucket.

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you give some insight into how you engineer plots, so they have that kind of page-turning momentum that 18 Seconds had? Any structural tips?

GEORGE D. SHUMAN: No kidding, I start with an idea, and it is just a “what if” idea, and drop characters into some location I’ve dreamed up.

I don’t give the characters any great thought beforehand; some are already drawn and predictable, new characters will form according to their thoughts and actions. Then I will write down what they say. That’s my whole bag of tricks.

RV: How did you learn to plot? By pulling apart other novels, or reading books on the topic?

GS: Everything I do is instinctual. I have no formal training and what few books I’ve looked at on the subject make writing seem like work to me. I avoid them.

Here again I let things happen as I imagine they actually would, at their own time and pace, never thinking, well, now it’s time to throw in this or that … I just keep recording what is going on in front of me.

RV: You have a lot of major characters in 18 Seconds. Did you start with one character and their story, and then along the way see where you could introduce other characters and have their lives join the main flow of the story?

Can you remember the order of the characters as they came to you?

GS: Here again I had an idea that loosely looked like 18 Seconds. I called it Recurrence at the time and my main character Jack, a retired police lieutenant, turned out later to be one Kelly O’Shaughnessy: a mother of two who just got promoted to lieutenant of a detective division. There is a wonderful freedom about being so flexible, that any character is disposable in favor of a better one.

Other characters in 18 Seconds came along on the day I was sitting at the keyboard, looking around my fantasy world and wondering who might walk in next.

The character I gave the most thought to, starting the book, turned out not to be in the book. Others were pretty much spawned in order of their appearance.

RV: I liked how you got into the heads of the characters, like Kelly O’Shaughnessy and Sherry Moore, and how you spelt out what they felt about their evolving relationships. Can you remember how you would have picked up this kind of insight: whether it was through talking to people, imagination and logic, maybe reading a bit of psychology?

GS: I get this question a lot, how well I seem to write a woman’s point of view. My answer is always this. There is nothing like maturity to give a writer insight.

By the time a person reaches forty they’ve run the gamut of emotions. Male or female, it matters not.

We learn to be less critical, less reactionary and judgmental toward others. We learn to be reflective and humbled by our own mistakes. Everything is not black and white and so when characters are confronted with “X” I let them consider “out loud” the other side of the argument for a moment.

RV: In one of your blog entries you wrote about resonance and how you have to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of an experience to form a bond between the reader and the book (and author). 18 Seconds has a lot of sensory details, like with the blind character Sherry Moore noting sounds and smells. What sort of locations did you go to, or experiences did you research or remember, in order to gather sensory details for 18 Seconds?

GS: I never left my office chair, but that is not to say I was unable to conjure the scenes to the slightest detail. The beach scenes particularly are etched into my memory and will be forever. I hear the gulls and I can smell the salt and decaying timbers beneath the boardwalk as if I were there this very moment. I’ve had the good fortune (for a writer) to have experienced so many different environments: the ghetto streets on a hot August night, years of living on an island, or a farm…

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