Interview With Author Shawn Smucker

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

My name is Shawn Smucker and I live in Lancaster, PA, with Maile and our six kids. And Winnie. We have a Labrador Retriever named Winnie. Maile and I teach writing classes at a website called The Stories Between Us. My newest book is The Weight of Memory, and it’s about a man named Paul who receives a terminal diagnosis, so he decides to take Pearl, the granddaughter he is raising, back to his hometown, where he lost his wife under tragic and mysterious circumstances forty years earlier. That’s when things get interesting.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

I’ve been fascinated with the nature of memories, how we make them up or change them to suit us. I help families write their family histories, and it’s always amazing to me how many times the memories that two people have of a very specific event can be so different. Do we ever remember something as it actually happened? This is one of the themes in The Weight of Memory.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I find good books and music incredibly inspiring. I’ve been listening to a lot of Colter Wall, Natalie Merchant, and Over the Rhine lately.

# How do you deal with creative block?

Work on something else. Seriously. If I’m at a dead end, I start writing poetry or essays or start a new project. But I’m also committed to finishing the things I start, so going back and taking up the story again is important to me.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

I guess it’s doing anything that reminds the reader they’re reading a book. Language that stands out, characters who feel flat, dialogue that seems robotic. I especially despise when characters suddenly decide to do something out of character that conveniently serves the plot.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

I always like when the title and cover are two sides of the same coin, when they stand separate but complimentary. So the cover is not simply an illustration of the title, but a different, evocative image that draws in the potential reader.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

In regards to random criticism from strangers, as someone (but I can’t remember who) once said (I kind of think it was Anne Lamott), “What business is it of mine what a stranger thinks of my story?”

But I’m always getting negative feedback (ie constructive criticism) from my writing group—it can be very beneficial to have someone you trust point out the weaknesses in your work. In that way, negative feedback is so helpful, and I take it seriously when it’s coming from someone I’ve asked to critique my work.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

I’ve embraced outlining a little bit more. I used to try to improvise the entire time, but often my stories would dead end or go off on rabbit trails. Now, I start with improvisation, making it up as I go, but once I get a feel for the flow of the story I’ll map out a loose structure of where I think it’s headed. Now, it doesn’t always go that way, but haven’t a target helps.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The worst thing is how most people in the world don’t care all that much (or at all) when I release a book. After my first book, I expected the world to stop…but that doesn’t seem to happen. This was also the most surprising thing to me early in my career. But the best? That’s easy—the emails, messages, and handwritten notes from readers who were changed by what I wrote, or who were sufficiently distracted from life for at least a short time by a story I told.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

What a question! That’s a fine line to walk. I tend to hope that if I write the kinds of stories that I enjoy reading, there will be enough other people who also enjoy them.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

Theoretically, the artist could create from a place removed from emotion, but to me this takes much of the heart out of artistic endeavors. Perhaps the initial drafting of a work can be done from inside a cloud of emotion, but somehow the writer must be able to find a neutral space to revise from.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

My only trick is to try to recreate the same environment every day that I’m working on a project: same spot, same state-of-mind, same music. Consistency is very important to me, and it’s often when I get outside of that when I start to feel writer’s block creeping in. Of course, having six kids means this is an almost impossible task, sooooo…

# What are your plans for future books?

I’ve decided I want to try something different. Maybe murder mysteries. Maybe something else. I’ve written YA, memoir, and magical realism. There are so many stories to tell, and so many different ways of telling them.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

Well, my grandparents grew up Amish but left in the 60s, so I have a host of Amish relatives and really enjoy that community. Something else that’s a bit quirky is that five of our six children are named after characters from our favorite books. Cade, Lucy, Abra, Sam, Leo, and then Poppy came along and we named her Poppy because we love poppy flowers. Can you guess the books the first five were named from?