Shannon Aileen Morris was born on September 30, 1993, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and grew up in the area. She is the eldest of two daughters born to Allan and Marni Morris.
Although it wasn’t obvious right away, it soon became evident that there was something different about the girl. When Aileen was one and a half years old, she knew between 450-500 words. Her doctor said the norm was twenty. Aileen was only three when she made up her first story, a nonsensical tale she called The Evil Queen. Admittedly anything but a masterpiece, this short work, lacking in any sort of plot or ending, was a harbinger of things to come.
On the downside, for much of her childhood, Aileen’s social skills were pretty much nonexistent. Sent to school, as customary, at four years old, she not only hated it: she refused to cooperate with teachers and peers. She wasn’t interested in the lessons, which meant she wouldn’t do them. After all, what gave these strange adults who spoke harshly to her and tried to punish her any right to tell her what to do? As for the other children, she had little interest in making friends and responded to the usual childish taunts with biting, scratching, kicking, and hitting. What was more, she was rarely if ever sorry for any of this behaviour, feeling it justified. Unsurprisingly, she rarely managed to stay placed in a school for more than a year, and was frequently homeschooled. In fact, after Grade Six, she was homeschooled for good.
Other things, too, marked Aileen Morris as different from other children. From a very young age, she took to waving ribbons or packing straps wherever she went. Eventually, this evolved into elaborate crafts she would make from wooden sticks and tissue paper. Also, whenever music was played, she would rock from side to side, calling it “dancing.” And she evolved into an extremely picky eater, revolted by the very mention of certain foods and requiring others to be prepared in a very exact manner before she would eat them.
When Aileen was seven or eight years old, a reason for her differences was found. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an extremely high-functioning developmental delay which nonetheless came with numerous sensory and anxiety issues. Having a reason given for her problems, Aileen felt relieved and even justified. She wasn’t just a “bad girl.” She simply had issues, and these issues had a name. They could also be worked on. And eventually, with the help of Aileen’s understanding mother, they were, resulting in considerable improvement. These days, in the right settings, she finds she can “almost pass for normal. Almost. When I want to.”
In the meantime, of course, Aileen was still writing. Anything from books, movies, and events in her life could spark the creation of a new story idea, and many of these were typed down in some form or other on the Morris family’s home computer. Though she doubtless would have written no matter what, an added impetus was that she wasn’t really enjoying contemporary fiction anymore. “I loved L. M. Montgomery, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, for romance. For historical fiction, there was Little House and the Royal Diaries. For more contemporary life, my cup of tea was Sweet Valley Twins and The Saddle Club. But eventually, either I’d read them all or they stopped carrying them at the local libraries. And I just couldn’t find anything that lived up to my childhood reading as I got into my teen years!” So she came up with her own stories, stories about the kind of people she wanted to read about that unfolded the way that she wanted them to go. But somehow, the inspiration and ideas would fade before Aileen could edit her work into any sort of coherent form – or even, sometimes, before she completed it.
Aileen found it much easier to be inspired by characters who were based on real people than those who were not. Not, however, necessarily people that she actually knew. Some of her early inspirations for characters were NHL hockey players – Aileen is a big sports fan. Then, in her late teens, she developed a passionate love for classic rock music and its performers, as well as for some more pop stars. New characters that sprung up in her mind were based on favourite artists like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, ABBA, Madonna, Celine Dion, and The Spice Girls, and plots were coloured by songs they wrote and events in their lives.
Aside from her writing, as she reached her teen years, Aileen realised she was lonely. Due to her issues growing up, she hardly had any friends. Fortunately, though, a solution was at hand: the Friendship Circle of Toronto, an organisation designed to pair children with special needs and teenage volunteers in what can hopefully be lasting friendships. Aileen was enrolled in the program, and while some of the volunteers assigned to her became more like playmates than friends, she eventually developed genuine connections with others of the girls. In addition, Aileen was later invited to join the girls’ program at her father’s synagogue. This became a highlight of her Saturday morning and she looked forward to it every week. And, for a time, she also attended a special needs dance and recreation group called Move’n’Mingle. There, Aileen discovered that she truly enjoyed dancing, and also won praise for the poetry and artwork she made for the group.
The influence of these social opportunities, along with her favourite music and disappointment in modern fiction, eventually came together when Aileen was around nineteen years old and allowed her to finally invent, complete, edit and publish a book. This book, of course, was The Darkness of Peoh.
“One of my friends from Friendship Circle recommended that I read The Hunger Games,” she explains. “She loved it, but I had very mixed feelings. While the books were very easy, compelling reads, I found the so-called ‘love triangle’ stupid and unnecessary, the moral message sketchy, and the heroine cold and unsympathetic. So, naturally, one of the first things that came to mind when I was done with the trilogy was how such a story could be improved.”
The answer that occurred to Aileen Morris came from an unlikely source. Another friend of hers, from Move’n’Mingle, was starring in a local amateur production of The Wizard of Oz – a story which Aileen had enjoyed in both its book and movie forms. “Rita wanted to get her part firm in her head, so she wanted to watch the movie and invited me to join her. And while we were watching – I don’t know, maybe it was the brown braids, but I guess I somehow made a connection in my mind between Dorothy in Oz and Katniss in The Hunger Games. And then the comparisons just kept on coming, and before I knew it I had basically come up with the idea for a trilogy of my own. It was amazing!”
Even more amazing was the fact that for the first time in her life, over a subsequent two-year period, Aileen was able to stay inspired enough to write the entire Peoh trilogy, edit it, and prepare the first book for publication. “It wasn’t easy. I had three separate drafts of The Darkness of Peoh. In my head, I knew what needed to happen and what all the characters needed to be like, but translating that onto paper could seem impossible at times.” But she stuck with it. Partly, this was due to her determination to write a teen fantasy novel that recalled The Hunger Games while being better than it (in a Wizard Of Oz-like fashion). But the author also credits the support and encouragement of her family and her close friends from Friendship Circle. “Whenever the girls would tell me that they were dying to read my book, I would get fired with inspiration and want to go write some more!” And, Aileen says slyly, watching and listening to the rock heroes who inspired some of the characters also helped keep her focused. Which stars, in particular, inspired Peoh‘s characters? She’s not telling. “That you’ll have to figure out for yourselves!”
Finally, The Darkness of Peoh was completed and ready to be published. But how? Jane Austen and L. M. Montgomery simply mailed their manuscripts off to publishers and waited for the books to be printed and sold in stores. But Aileen was told that the industry had changed since then. In order to get a book accepted by a major publisher, you need a literary agent. How do you contact a literary agent? Aileen’s family and friends didn’t know. Aileen took a book on getting published out of the library, and came away with a headache. Not only did she find the rules of the publishing game confusing and overwhelming, she also didn’t find the book very encouraging. “They made it sound like you’d be working very hard for little reward if you wanted to be a published author. They kept stressing how slim your chances of success are. There were no tips from successful authors like J. K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins, not even a hint of a mention of what they did to become famous.”
Aileen was also bothered because she didn’t want her precious book to become a product. She had no intention of making it fit a particular formula – in fact, she was deliberately trying to subvert a formula. Who cared if people didn’t think what she’d written would sell? Publishers hadn’t thought Anne of Green Gables would sell either, and that book became a classic. Aileen wanted to make an impact on the literary world by being different. She wanted her book to make a stir, not big bucks.
And finally, there was the issue of marketing. Not only did Aileen and her family have no clue how to sell a product, but Aileen had no interest in learning how. She was an artist, not a business person. Shouldn’t someone with sales know-how be the one to get her book “out there?” Why did she have to do everything? She’d written the book, for crying out loud!
The ultimate decision to self-publish with Createspace came when Aileen realised that if she was going to have to do her own marketing no matter how the book was published, she might as well choose the method that would give her total creative control. “My dad found the website, and I checked it out. With a few exceptions, it proved easy to use, and before I knew it, I’d uploaded my manuscript, chosen a cover design, arranged for distribution channels – and my book was ready to go on sale!”
The Darkness of Peoh: The First Book in the Peoh Trilogy was published on July 5, 2015. It is available for purchase on Amazon, as well as directly from the Createspace E-store. Aileen’s family was also able to get the local Vaughan Public Library to purchase the book. “It’s a start,” she says. “Already, I have a small following among friends, family, and even people at my dad’s company. Maybe as I publish more books, things will get bigger.”
Much of the next year was spent editing and preparing The Affair of Peoh: The Second Book in the Peoh Trilogy for a publication date in late February or early March. As it was, however, delays with the editing pushed back the date to April 20, 2016, when it finally appeared. In May of the same year, Aileen was invited, along with a host of other local authors, to speak about her new book at the Bathurst Clark Resource Library. Her talk, during which she discussed her reasons and inspirations for inventing Peoh, drew a respectable audience and a warm reception.
The third and final book in the series, The Rebellion of Peoh, was supposed to come out in fall 2016 or winter 2017. But, as Aileen says: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in my writing career, it’s that nothing ever runs on schedule!” The book was ultimately published on May 16, 2017 – a fitting culmination to five years’ hard work on the Peoh project.
“Even if I’m still an unknown, just having completed and published an entire book series is such an accomplishment. I will always look back on this with pride,” says Aileen. The author is further impressed that she can look through her trilogy and feel delighted and entertained by the material. “I really, actually, love reading my own books!” she says. “Which is great, because that’s why I started writing them in the first place!”
Aileen is also working on a new story about vampires, as well as a Montgomery-influenced short story collection.
“One thing’s for sure,” she says. “Whether or not I ever become famous, I’ll never give up on writing!”