By Linda Smith
Stan Shinn looks through his sketchbooks, admiring the dragons, elves and spaceships he created in high school. Ever since listening to his grandmother tell him C.S. Lewis stories as a child, and since his first game of Dungeons & Dragons in 1978, he has had a penchant for the fantastic. In a moment of wishful thinking, he wonders, “What if that was my superpower? What if I could draw that thing, and that thing would appear?” These thoughts bore fruit in a book he cowrote with his daughter, freshman Becca Shinn, “The Sketch Mage.”
Becca began writing during Christmas break of her junior year of high school, and wrote most of the book during the following summer. The two have what Stan called a “synergistic relationship” in their approach to writing.
“I have a lot of ideas and have for many years but I don’t have very much time to write,” Stan said. “Becca has an amazing capacity to crank out amazing text when she writes, so we kind of talked about those two different strengths that we have. I complained that I didn’t have time to write and she was always interested in ideas I had so we decided to collaborate and put together this novel.”
Becca described the project as a growing process for both of them, and enjoyed collaborating with her father.
“When he came to me with an idea, he said ‘I want to see my story come to life by someone. And I want you to do it,’” Becca said. “Not only did it help me strengthen my writing abilities, but it was also a way for my dad to get his ideas out there and brought to their fullest potential when he didn’t have time to do it himself. I would like to keep writing with him in the future because I think he has great ideas and I enjoy being able to consult with someone about my story instead of just keeping it all a secret.”
Stan compiled a large outline of the whole book and gave Becca outlines of each chapter and the things he wanted to happen. Becca would use those outlines to write large chunks of the book. They both found different strengths in their own writing, and thus each wrote parts of the novel.
“Anything that has dialogue as a main part of the scene, that’s probably Becca writing that,” Stan said. “Anything that is a fight scene or a scene that is describing some sort of fantastic elements or maybe a puzzle or a trap or anything like that, those are usually scenes that I write.”
Stan believes that if there is a “writer’s gene,” he and Becca have it. Stan has written short stories throughout his life, as well as a book entitled “Web Project Survival Guide.” Becca has been writing from a young age, with both Stan and her mother, Janine, critiquing and editing her work.
“We were already kind of off to a collaborative start at a young age,” Stan said. “Becca has always had an interest in crafting tales and writing stories, and a great imagination.”
Stan said that the process was not without its hiccups.
“Writing is a very personal experience; you pour your heart and soul into the page and when you get someone that first draft and the first reader looks through what you’ve written and critiques what you’ve written, there’s that moment of humility, and the ego that you have is quickly bruised and battered,” Stan said. “I think if we had less love for each other or probably each had a little more ego, it would have been a difficult road.”
Becca said the book centers on three characters: Jade, Will and Lance. They are all seniors at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas, and Jade one day discovers that she has magical abilities. Later, it is revealed that all three characters have some sort of powers and are not from this world, but a planet called Zool. The majority of the book takes place on the other planet.
“She discovers that she has the ability to draw things and her drawings start coming to life,” Becca said. “This book deals with how she and her friends deal with all of the shenanigans that ensue when her drawings start coming to life.”
The book is set at the high school Becca attended, and as such was well-received by many people in her town.
“My dad and I thought that choosing Wylie as the town would help sales, which it did,” Becca said. “People were interested in it because it was in that town.”
They preservedsome young adult and fantasy elements in the story including romance, while trying to incorporate original elements, like giving all of the main characters magical powers.
“I love to think of new angles on the fantastic,” Stan said. “When you read fantasy, you want something new and fresh. You really want to be transported in some way, transported to some place you haven’t been transported to before.”
Their book is available for Kindle for $6.99 and as a paperback for $9.45. Becca is working on the next two installments of the trilogy.