Amber Polo Interview – Shapeshifters, Libraries, and Fantastic Character Names

Does the author believe that shapeshifters live among us? Has this author ever worked in a library? How does she feel about the existence of dog farms? How did she choose such awesome names for her characters? What advice does she have for writers?

What was your inspiration for The Shapeshifters’ Library Series? 
I wanted to write light fantasy. I have trouble not adding humor to my writing. A lot of trouble. Werewolves seemed pretty dark for my style. But wait – wolves and dogs are related. Where are the dog-shifters? I knew dogs. I’ve been involved in the dog world in another life. And libraries. I knew libraries. What if I found a unique way of taking readers behind the library scenes in a way that would show the real world and real librarians as interesting as fantasy heroines and heroes?

Do you believe that shapeshifters live among us, interact with us, and are part of our government?
Of course. There are many views of shapeshifting and not all shifters actually take a different physical form. I’d love for our government leaders to have more positive dog qualities. Dogs are loyal, responsible, responsive, loving, and smart.

When the humans change to dogs, where does their clothing go? When they change from canine to human, do their clothes magically appear on them?
If I neglected this in Recovered, I apologize. The only “magic” in my shifter world is their ability to reclothe in human form. They don’t understand how this got passed down in their species but are grateful. They also live longer than humans because this is one of their ancestral traits that make them better than the average human. Why not?

caged dog, flickr

I love dogs, and the existence of dog farms where the dogs are treated so cruelly breaks my heart. How much is being done to stop their existence? Is it enough?
Puppy mills are just wrong. Dogs are pets, not livestock. The sad part is that they are inspected (but not well enough) by the government. There should be a huge effort to put these “farms” out of business. Some states are banning selling dogs in pet stores, which is a start. But there are still internet sales and other ways these poorly bred pups with an unhealthy start in life bring money to puppy mills which house thousands of dogs.

I believe rescue and spay/neuter programs are doing wonderful work, but I’m sad to think that many advocates have turned from education to rescue as an after-the-fact solution and all breeders are called evil. A breeder of excellent dogs should not be treated as a puppy mill. Those puppies don’t end up in shelters or on the street. Education can reduce careless breeding and training can keep dogs out of shelters. (I know this is simplistic, but I still believe education is important.)

Part of this story takes place in New Mexico. How much research into what it was like to live there and words commonly used in that region did you have to do?
Since moving to Arizona, I’ve fallen in love with the Southwest. For seven years, I attended a weeklong workshop in Taos combining writing, yoga, and Taos food. Every year felt like coming home. The Mabel Luhan Dodge house is an amazing place filled with creative vibes, a view of Taos Pueblo, a bathroom painted by T.H. Laurence, and walking distance to all the shops. And did I mention the great food?

Graz University Libary reading room, wikimedia commons

I read that you love libraries. Have you ever worked in one?
I am a librarian. I’ve worked in public, university, and special libraries in several states and as a marketing manager for library computer services companies nationwide. It’s no wonder I wanted to use library specific issues as plot points. It’s not as noticeable in Recovered, but Released and Retrieved take place in a library and show in a “fantasy” way some of the real world adventures that happen in libraries, though I don’t know if a villain was ever caught in a bookdrop—but it could happen. I did have fun in Retrieved imagining a new computer system with RFID tags that could find missing books by GPS locations.

Did you outline the book before you began writing?
My idea for Recovered lent itself to an outline because it followed a cross-country journey. I spent time with maps trying to decide where scenes should take place. Some of the locals are real (Cahokia, Serpent Mounds, Taos) and some not (the Kansas Werewolf Museum, the werewolf casino in an abandoned missile silo).

How did you choose the names for your characters?
I love finding the right name for each of my characters. In fantasy, you can let your imagination go pretty wild. Then rein it in when you get too silly.

two werewolves by dsantiag on DeviantArt

For The Shapeshifters’ Library, I used many names of historic librarians and werewolves (Wikipedia is great for name lists). In addition to a baby names book, one great reference is Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Character Naming Sourcebook, 2nd edition (Writer’s Digest). It’s filled with suggestions on creating names and names arranged in lists by ethnic group.

In Released, my first villain was named Elsie Dustbunnie, a retired librarian-werewolf who loved to burn books. And the heroine Liberty Cutter carried an honorable library name. When the children’s librarian, later Recovered’s heroine, first appeared with her sweet New Age ways, would a name other than Bliss D. Light been possible? (Note to non-librarians: Bliss is a cataloging system, like the Dewey Decimal System.)

Harold Dinzelbacher was the bad guy Library Board Chair. His no-nonsense name had roots in werewolf research. In later books, as he changes his ways, he becomes Harry, for this werewolf half-breed is quite the hairy guy.

chocolate labrador retrievers, wikimedia commons

Retrieved (Book 2) let me play with a family of chocolate Labrador retrievers. My heroine Godiva had siblings named Cadbury, Caramel, Joy, Tootsie, Dove, and of course Ruth, the baby. And her hero, the hunky Brit, a Mastiff, had to be named Cynerik, for he was handsome as sin.

Oh, and then there’s Taxi, Griswald Grunewold, Doris Eukanuba — too many to list. I love them all.

What kind of books do you like to read?
I’ll read just about any good book. I love a good story that can surprise me. And creative nonfiction makes learning new stuff enjoyable. Add to that books for research or books I read for my review column, there’s always something new. Audiobooks allow me to “read” almost anywhere. I not sure I can still drive without an audiobook telling me a story or helping me with my research.

Do you ever become bored with what you are writing? 
When that happens, generally boredom isn’t the real problem. In my non-fiction book Relaxing the Writer, I try to offer tips so that doesn’t happen. I’ve recorded CDs “guaranteed” to relax almost anyone. But as they say—you teach what you need to learn—so I tried to bring what I learned teaching yoga to writers and readers.

dog wearing glasses with book, pixabay

Do you have any advice for writers struggling to complete their first book and have it published?
Take a break. Get away from the desk. Try a different genre. Switch between fiction and nonfiction. Both will benefit. I write freelance magazine articles. It’s a treat to get an assignment and a deadline. I finish and it’s over. A novel is a huge chunk out of your life. Plot and character problems are solved at 4 in the morning when you really need more sleep. Editing is painfully fun. So many roadblocks. There’s great advice out there and support, too.

I understand the rush to publish. But sometimes books need to cook. In the past, most authors had several manuscripts in a drawer before they published. Many of the authors doing well now published first with small online publishers. They learned how to work with editors and had time to build a website and take on the million other marketing tasks. All the while, they were writing more books.

Where can your fans find you on the Internet?
My website (don’t miss checking the “Just for Fun” tab)
Wordshaping Blog
Facebook Page for Shapeshifters’ Library

Recommended Article: Recovered: The Shapeshifters’ Library Book 3 – a Review

  2 comments for “Amber Polo Interview – Shapeshifters, Libraries, and Fantastic Character Names

  1. March 27, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Thanks for hosting Amber!

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