Monday, August 8, 2011

Interview with Anna Sheehan

Would you like to tell us a little about yourself?
I always fear that the historical background of any given writer pales in comparison to their actual writing. I’m never certain how much anyone wants to know. But to answer the question: My mother was a veterinarian, and I was conceived in Alaska. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. I was an eccentric anomaly, like most writers, I expect. No one liked me as a child, except the freaks, the geeks and the abuse victims, so a lot of what I write draws on those experiences. Right now I live in the middle-of-nowhere, Oregon, with my family and a cow.

What inspired you to write?
In truth? In sixth grade I was offended. My "advanced reading" class gave me a dumbed down version of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Speckled Band". I had read The Speckled Band years before for my own enjoyment, and I found the "easy reading" version vastly offensive, not to mention inaccurate. Trying to find a way to express my disgust without getting suspended, my mother suggested that I write what bothered me about the story. Of my own volition I wrote a two page essay, explaining, point by point, all the inaccuracies of character that this version had inflicted upon her students. Then I actually gave it to my teacher. A day later I was taken out of her class, handed a college-level text book, and told to study on my own. I realized something: The written word had power. My writing mattered to me ever since.

What authors influenced you as a writer?
Shakespeare was a big one. I studied his plays from fourth grade on. Diana Wynne Jones became my goddess. If I had not discovered her books, it would never have occurred to me to become a writer. Douglas Adams caught me when I was sick with pneumonia, and something about his turn of phrase just stuck with me forever.

What is your favorite quote? Why is it your favorite?
Oh, good lord, don’t ask me for quotes! You’ll never get me to shut up. Okay, in high school, my favorite quote was from Into the Woods. "This is ridiculous, what am I doing here, I’m in the wrong story!" That was how I felt about much of my life back then.

If you could jump into a book, and live in that world, which would it be?
Ooh. Well, not my own, let me tell you that. My books tend to be a little dark. I wanted to go into the land of Faerie when I was younger, but I think I might be too grounded by now. Possibly the land of Ingary, from Diana Wynne Jones’ "Howl’s Moving Castle." That seems like the kind of place where things happen, but it not too dangerous to actually survive there.

What is at least one thing that every writer needs to have or do?
Fearlessness. Not just fearlessness in your career – which you most assuredly need, let me tell you. You need to be fearless in your personal experience: Reach out. Learn things. Love. Be hurt. All of it is the pool of experience you need to draw on when you write. Be fearless in your craft: Take risks. Don’t write to audiences. Stretch yourself.

Are your books different to your personal favorite books by other authors?
Goodness, I hope so! I hope my books are different from everyone else’s! They aren’t, I’m sure. I draw from other artists just as all artists do. There is nothing new under the sun, after all. I’m a little darker than my favorite authors. But I try to leave with hope, and that is something all my favorite authors also try to do.

What led you to writing in this genre?
Speculative Fiction is one of those genres which leaves so much open. If you want to write a story about communication, you can use telepathy, or long-distance radio from Europa, or a fantasy version of the pony express, or something else which will convey the ability, or inability, to get your message across. If you’re writing a story about love you can use timelessness and magic and speculative social bonds to describe the inevitability, or the inappropriateness, of the relationship. As for YA, I find teenagers fascinating. Everything seems important to them, and the thing is, they aren’t wrong. Everything you do as a teenager influences your future direction in life. YA SF seems to me like where all the action is; giving freedom, materials and purpose to every story you write.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?
When the characters are working well, and you can hear them chattering in the background. When it gets to the point where you aren’t writing, you aren’t consciously thinking, you’re just transcribing what’s going on in your head. Then reading that back and seeing the scene as you would in a movie, when everything has just fallen into place. I love that moment.

Least favorite part of the writing process?
I’m not sure. There are things I hate – like when I get stuck. And there are things I see as necessary evils – like explaining my thinking to an editor when they want to cut something I want to keep. Usually the cutting vs. the keeping has to do with something I didn’t make clear enough, so they want to eliminate it, thinking its out of place. (They aren’t wrong, because I didn’t make it clear.) Mostly my least favorite part is when I start bashing my head against the wall and moaning to my family that I cannot write, there is no reason to go on enduring the unexquisite agony of writing when it all turns out drivel, and thinking I should have become a spy, instead. (Kudos to anyone who recognizes where that quote came from.)

What are you currently working on?
Well, there was some discussion of a sequel for A Long, Long Sleep, so a few months ago I finished the rough draft for that. It was edgy and the direction I took with it was probably a little unexpected, so the heavens only know when that might be coming out. I’ve started a few stories loosely based on the continuation of old faerie tales. Faerie tales, you know, hold the key to all understanding. With only faerie tales and Shakespeare in your mind, you can have a fairly good idea of how story itself works.

Where readers can find you?
Ah, East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon. A bit more concretely, you can find my website at, and link to me on Facebook from there. The book is on Amazon, and hopefully at your local independent bookstore. Oh, and hopefully the chain stores too – they do serve their purpose. And

Was there a question you wished I would have asked, but didn’t?
What is the answer to the great question of Life, the Universe and Everything? (The answer is 42, if you aren’t already in the know.) My personal answer, however, is "Find a life you enjoy living... then live it."

Thank you for giving me a chance to talk about myself. Writers can never shut up, you know.

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