Thursday, October 1, 2015

7 Questions For: Author Barbara Shoup

Barbara Shoup is the author eight novels, including Night Watch, Wish You Were Here, Stranded in Harmony, Faithful Women, Vermeer's Daughter, Everything You Want, An American Tune, and Looking for Jack Kerouac, as well as the co-author of Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process and Story Matters. 

Her young adult novels, Wish You Were Here and Stranded in Harmony were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. Vermeer's Daughter was a School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Young Adults. She was the recipient of the 2006 PEN Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship. 

She lives in Indianapolis, where she is the Executive Director of the Indiana Writers Center.

Click here to read my review of Looking for Jack Kerouac.

And now Barbara Shoup faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

AARGH. That’s impossible. There are so many books I love. But here are a few that I’ve found especially enlightening as a writer because they are wonderful stories and offer insight the process by which stories are made: 

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien 
Atonement by Ian McEwan 
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I usually get up around 5 AM and write for a few hours every morning before the “real” day starts. This works best for me when I’m in the middle of something. It’s harder when I’m still trying to get something going. I still get up early, but I sit and stare a lot. 

Reading? I’m addicted. I read every night before I go to sleep, which can be anywhere from ten minutes to several hours. (Depending on how tired I am.) I always have a book or my kindle with me, so I read in restaurants, cafes, hospitals, airports—any place I have a few extra moments. I read in the car when I’m a passenger; when I’m the driver, I’m listening to an audio. Once I start a book I like, it’s marathon time. I’m in that world; I can’t stop. I’ve been known to read eight (or more) hours straight. When I went to the hospital to give birth to my daughter, Kate, I was in the middle of a big, fat Michener book and kept trying to read while in labor and, afterwards, holding Kate and reading at the same time. I know. It’s awful.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

I didn’t have any training as a writer and took my first writing classes at the Indiana Writers Center. I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been there to get me started and make me feel like being a writer was possible. I was lucky. I jumped into the novel, got an agent with the first one I finished (though it never sold). The second novel I wrote, Night Watch, sold pretty quickly. But it was twelve years before I published the next novel, Wish You Were Here. That was hard! I kept writing, though a lot of times I wondered why.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

Both. I think the best writers were born with the ability to see things more clearly than other people, though they may not figure this out for a long time. They’re curious about how the world works, often painfully aware of the complexity of human existence. They’re always trying to figure out what it means to be alive. This doesn’t make you a writer, though. Writing is a craft. You have to learn it. If you’re lucky, you have some good teachers and mentors along the way.

I definitely got that “thing” about seeing things more clearly (often painfully clearly). But it took me years to learn how to translate that sensibility into words and stories. I went to writers conferences, found other writers to share work with, and had a wonderful mentor, a woman quite a lot older than I was, who took me under her wing and taught me so much. I still hear her voice when I’m revising.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

I love how sometimes, writing, I write something that surprises me, something I didn’t know I knew. 

My least favorite thing is starting…anything. Once I get going, I just keep following the thread and, eventually, I get there. But starting? Ugh.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

I love this quote from Flaubert, which I think says it all: “Talent is a long patience, and originality an effort of will and intense observation.” 

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Kurt Vonnegut. He was so smart, funny, honest—and had such a large heart.

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