Dunes Review Interview Series: Jan Shoemaker
Jan Shoemaker's essay collection, Flesh and Stones: Field Notes from a Finite World, was published by Bottom Dog Press in 2016. Her work has appeared in many magazines and journals.
Her poem "The Atomic Weight of Wonder" appears in in the 2017 summer/autumn edition of Dunes Review.
Do you typically write prose, poetry, or both?
Although I've been focusing a lot on poetry lately--reading it and struggling to craft my own lean poems--get them down to granite, I am really an essayist. One of my poems appears in Dunes Review.
What first inspired you to write?
The books I read as a child. When Nancy Drew went to "don" her coat before jumping into her sporty "roadster" I knew I just had to have a piece of that. "Don!" "Roadster!"
What is your writing routine like? Do you have a schedule, a favorite place to work, a favorite type of pen you always write with?
Lots of writers talk about the importance of writing every day, but that's not a luxury I can afford during the school year when I'm teaching full-time. I do love rising an hour or two before dawn on winter weekends and taking my tea-tray into the study to brood and write at my desk. I have a whole aesthetic involving a teapot and cup and saucer and a little pitcher of steamed milk--very fussy, old lady stuff. The rest of the house is dark and it's perfectly black outside my window. For a couple of hours, there are no interruptions--it's like being cloistered. Before dawn, the world leaves you alone.
What's the first thing you do when starting a new piece of writing?
I follow the inspiring image or event as far as it will take me and then begin brooding about what comes next.
Do you listen to music or must you have silence while you write?
Usually silence, but on those early winter mornings I put on Pachelbel's Canon--there is nothing like the way it rises and swells. It's soothing, joyful.
What's your least favorite thing about writing?
Trying to find my way out of an essay. Getting in is easy enough, and the middle is all heavy lifting--you have to put in the work, but finding that path out--a very tricky business.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I concede that it's finished when it's published. Up until then, I pick away at it whenever I look at it.
Can you tell us about a piece you are particularly proud of?
Hmm, "proud" is a tough word. I am pleased with my book, Flesh and Stones: Field Notes from a Finite World, but I also see where there are flaws in it. I think it's a good book; I wish it were a better book. I can't say I'm "proud" of anything I've written. I am grateful when the right words show up, and happy.
Whose writing inspires you?
Mary Rose O'Reilley, E.B. White, Jo Ann Beard, Julian Barnes, Louise Erdrich, Adam Gopnik, Wendell Berry, Jeanne Murray Walker.
Who are you currently reading?
Ron Chernow--that big Hamilton biography.
If someone were to write a book about your life (either fiction or nonfiction), who would you want that author to be and why?
I wouldn't want someone to write about my life, but if it were unavoidable, I guess I'd want that person to know by experience what it is to live with regret, how difficult it sometimes is to see what's right and true, how easy it is to fumble the ball.
What is your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
Reading. Eating. Eating while reading.