Friday, February 20, 2015

Author Spotlight: Barbara Shoup

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of listening to Barbara Shoup give a reading. She's a YA author promoting her latest book, Looking for Jack Kerouac.

She said she loved novel writing because it uses both sides of the brain. One side is the "What if?" or right side, and the other side is the "What do we do with it?" or left side brain. It's a constant balance between being in control and letting go of control. As a writer, you have to be open to new things. You have to let the story take its course instead of trying to force it to be something that it's not.

Barbara Shoup's novelShoup also spoke at length about something we talk about often in my writing workshops: what makes the reader keep reading? What is the yearning, the heartbreak, the crucial unanswerable question at the heart of this story? Without it, you cannot have a compelling story.

She said that the main way to incorporate this yearning into your story is to access it from deep within yourself. A writer must be willing to mine their own personal history and connect with a yearning they themselves know intimately. Even if the story has nothing to do with the writer's life, there must be something personally at stake for the writer.

Also, she reminded us that "nothing is lost."  As writers, it is our jobs to turn pain into something beautiful. We wrestle with words until we make the pain more bearable. I can speak from personal experience that it is those moments of intense emotion that have the longest legacy on the page.


Luckily for me, her talk focused on her process in writing this book, and in writing novels in general. She prefers to stay away from writing software and uses old-school methods like drawing charts and making calendars. She also explained how she builds a visual map of her story line using colors to track where there are flashbacks and when characters are in scene.  She even passed around her "Process Book," a log she keeps while writing full of factual information, character development, backstory, problems, revisions, and tasks. In order to write Looking for Jack Kerouac, she herself had to take a road trip down to St. Peter to collect "research." Another great reason to be a writer!

Listening to her talk about the process of writing a book was exciting and also daunting. "You can hold a short story in your hand," she said. "But you can't hold a novel in the same way. Sometimes, you get lost. And, to make matters worse, you're never the same person at the end as you were when you started writing the book." She says it takes her years to write a novel, and many - many - drafts. Each time you rewrite the story, you learn something new about the characters, about the yearning, about the possibilities for depth in this story. You start with the bones and you keep on layering.

Every writer has to figure out what works for them, and that takes time. It is my hope to use my summer to find out what my artist's way is... Check back for more updates as I blog about my writer's journey!

And thank you to Barbara Shoup for introducing me to this beautiful quote:

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. –Ernest Hemingway