Q&A WITH SHANNON ABOUT WRITING THE LAST HEIR
Q: How long did it take you to write The Last Heir?
A: About two and a half years.
Q: Explain the history of the book.
A: It’s actually a bit complicated. When I was around twelve I wrote a sci-fi story called “The Empire Among the Stars”. It was about an emperor whose father had died when he was a child, and who had taken the throne with some strife several years before.
That is essentially the plot of The Last Heir, but in the first story it was just backstory. I stuck with that story for years, writing and revising, taking notes, mapping plots, doing a complete re-write once and starting a second twice. I developed on the characters and the universe they lived in through this process. Some time after the re-write I began writing a series of scenes (to be inserted at the beginning of the book) revolving around Emperor Alexander’s wedding. It was during these that Colonel Kereth and Mareah first emerged.
But I didn’t have the inspiration to take up the book again, starting from page one. Trying to stir it, I set out to write a short story about how two of the characters had met during the earlier conflict, the one in which Alexander became emperor. And I got stuck after a page or two, and I realized it was because I simply didn’t know enough about the time-frame. I didn’t know enough about the broader conflict to write about their piece in it. So I wrote a summary and then revised it a couple times. Soon I was thinking: This is good, I could just write this. And the rest is The Last Heir.
Q: How did you go about writing it?
A: I began with my outline, which roughly consisted of the major events of the story. From there on in, it was getting from one point to the other.
Q: How did you go about ‘getting from one point to the other’?
A: It was just a matter of deciding the best way to get there. I proceeded a lot by logic – the logic of the situation, the logic of the characters.
Q: Did the characters’ logic ever take the story in a different direction from what you expected?
A: Sometimes. The biggest example would be the romance between Vonran and Mareah. I had no plans for that, but when I came to that point in the story, it only seemed natural.
Q: Did the characters themselves change much?
A: Some of them. Some were pretty set, either because they pre-dated the book by years or because that was their nature. The tiger doesn’t change his stripes, and neither does Kinlol.
Q: So Kinlol stayed pretty much the same. Who changed?
A: Vonran changed the most, from my first outline to the final result. In my very earliest conception, he was just a thug, then a remorseless (if cultured) despot. Thaddaeus was one of the characters I had invented for the original story, but the plot of The Last Heir shifted his character a bit. His entrance as his father’s liaison made him more diffident than I had previously envisioned, and influenced his character path throughout the book.
Q: How did you construct the Empire’s system of government?
A: As it was an Empire, it first of all required an emperor. (Vonran and I see eye-to-eye on this.) To keep the government from being completely totalitarian, I gave them a national elected body, the Assembly. The Assembly provided some counterpoint to the emperor’s power, something useful in a story as well as a government. The Assembly also created a platform for characters like Vonran and Ziphernan.
The delegates were representatives of their provinces, being appointed by their legislatures. The legislators themselves were popularly elected. This system is based on American federalism and, before they changed the Constitution, the method of having senators appointed by the state legislatures. Another element taken from America was the Council of Chiefs. The Cabinet inspired their creation.
In sum, I built the Empire’s government through real-world governments. I tried to graft both democratic elements and totalitarian elements into a single, cohesive system. The emperor with the Assembly was an echo of Rome; the Council and the system of provinces with their own legislatures and representatives was an echo of America.