Some Thoughts with ... Morgan Shank

24 Jul 2023

The Author/s

Morgan Shank

Morgan Shank

In middle school, I finally broke away from incoherent clumps of algebra to fill a composition notebook with my first handwritten novel. Since then, I've imagined my own Skyrim rather than fumble through objective studies.

For reasons unknown to anyone, I somehow found my way into a trucking gig, and I now enjoy a day job hauling freight. When I'm not trucking or writing, I spend my time dabbling in landscape photography, running Spartan Races, and staring at the mountains that surround my hometown of Harrisonburg, VA, which provide ample inspiration for my fantasy novels.  

The Interview

1.- Why did you choose self-publishing?
Writing has been a long, difficult road. To make a long story short, I’ve attempted to write novels for 14 years now, and just when I realized I might finally have quality content, Brandon Sanderson smashed Kickstarter records with his indie novels. Granted, he’s a major name in the fantasy genre, but if I already had readers who enjoyed my work, why give myself the additional stress of working through gatekeepers of the trad industry? It would bring rigid contracts and cover teams and editors who primarily answered in-house requests rather than my own…it seemed I would have more flexibility, ease, and a greater ability to answer reader suggestions or requests if I went the indie route, and that’s where I’ll stay for the foreseeable future!

2.- The Low Country trilogy is a Western-inspired fantasy. Could you tell us why you decided to write in this concrete subgenre?
After reading the Wheel of Time books, I wanted to write the next high fantasy multi-book epic…but I quickly realized it would be a LONG time (if ever) before I developed the necessary skills for the project. I failed my early attempts, but throughout them, I noticed my tendency to write characters or storylines with Western tropes. After my most recent failure (a desert fantasy trilogy that was canned because of poor reader feedback on the first novel), I got frustrated and decided I need a pivot, something to re-inspire me. After noticing the trends in my stories (as well as enjoying several timely photography shoots in the American Southwest), I realized I wanted to try a Western!

3.- How did the idea to include cartels as part of the control of the Low Country appear?
When I first turned to the fantasy western subgenre, I started rethinking everything. I had just finished the “Power of the Dog” series by Don Winslow, a big name in the thriller genre. His trilogy focused on the North American drug trade, and the series floored me with its complexity and nuanced handling of the topic. He’s a stellar writer, and his series so influenced me that when the Low Country trilogy took shape, I thought, “why not introduce drug cartels to make everything more interesting?” As they say, the rest is history.

4.- From all the fantasy elements you decided to include in your world, which ones would you say are your favourite ones?
I definitely like the magic system! It’s a concept I originally dreamed up in middle school, but I never finalized it in a book. Even in the Low Country Trilogy, the concept is only hinted at, and I plan to focus on it in my future writing. The basic concept is that “runeborn” wizards are born with the affinity to channel magic in their blood. Therefore, they must bleed themselves to write a runic library with which to channel from. This makes their library finite and requires their rune choices to be extremely selective…I generated waaay too many ideas from that framework. 

5.- You are releasing the second book of this trilogy in August, which makes this a relatively fast release schedule. Do you have most of the trilogy outlined, or how do you achieve that schedule?
In truth, the trilogy is actually finished, but I failed to streamline the publication process with my cover designer and editor! A series of events allowed me to write the books back to back: I transplanted my favorite character arcs from the prior trilogy, so the meat of books 2 and 3 were mostly finalized (my favorite character in the trilogy doesn’t even show up until book 2!). I also lost my day job after finishing book 1, and if I didn’t have something to sink my teeth into beyond looking for another job, I knew I would go insane. There’s nothing like a dose of desperation to finish a novel or two!

6.- Self-publishing is an arduous task. Which parts of this process did you find the most challenging?
My biggest challenge was maintaining the will to continue. I romanticized the writing idea and thought I would write novels to wow everybody; instead, I bombed novel attempts for 12 or 13 years. After that many years in the writing “hobby,” you start to wonder if it's worth it. I finally realized I’d come too far to turn back, and if I abandoned the journey, I’d never forgive myself. After the first positive reviews for a Low Country, I finally decided to stand behind the title and promote my work for the first time. The process was terrifying, but ultimately, people seemed to enjoy the adventure, and that’s all I ever wanted, so we’re set to continue!

7.- A little fun, but if you would have to pitch your book in two lines, how would you do it?
When a Claw tribe takes everything Sharla loves, she decides to take it back. To do this, she’ll cross Low Country and fight cartels, monsters, and personal demons on an adventure that will forever change her. 

8.- Outside of writing, which other hobbies does Morgan Shanks have?
If I’m not writing, you’ll usually find me with a camera and a tripod! Landscape photography is my biggest passion, and it directly inspires my writing. If I can’t get away for a photo shoot, you’ll find me running or training in the gym for my next Spartan race, the equivalent to a cross-country obstacle course race! 

9.- What can we expect from Morgan Shanks in the future?
Oh, the future looks fun. The Low Country trilogy is finished and I aim to release the third book by February 2024 at the latest. After that, a brand new trilogy is in the works (with a heavier dose of runeborn magic), and I hope to release the first book by next May.