Name: Sheila O’Connor
Debut Group: Class of 2k11
Debut novel: SPARROW ROAD
Hi, Sheila! Thanks for being here!
PJH: Okay, so it’s been a little more than a year since you graduated from your debut class. Personally, I miss the heck out of knowing what my classmates are up to. So give us the low-down. What have you been up to in the last few years? New books? New degrees? New pets? What has been going on, and what do we have to look forward to from you in the future?
SO'C: Well it’s been a whirlwind since the debut of Sparrow Road—and more so since our class time officially ended—although many of us are still together so it doesn’t feel over for me. Sparrow Road came out in paperback in May; I went to IRA in Chicago to accept an award for Sparrow Road; ALA in Anaheim to present on The Magic of Middle-grade Fiction with my editor, Stacey Barney; and I spent a month as a writing fellow at the Anderson Center in Red Wing. Beyond writing, I have my work as a professor, teaching fiction in the MFA program at Hamline University, where I was recently tenured. And then there’s Keeping Safe the Stars, my new middle-grade novel due out in October 2012—naturally the Stars have kept me busy with all kinds of things—edits and revisions and arcs—but I’m especially excited to have that book coming out into the world.
If I sound too busy, I am too busy.
KEEPING SAFE THE STARS by Sheila O'Connor (Putnam, October 11, 2012)
PJH: If you could summarize to a debut novelist the best part of being a member of an author group like the “Class of” groups, what would you say?
SO'C: Company. Book writing and releases can be solitary experiences, and while I have many friend and colleagues who are writers, the constant companionship of the 2k11 group gave me invaluable perspective. I learned so much from my fellow writers—practical things like Facebook and bookmarks and postcards, and more important things like generosity and perseverance and friendship. It’s such an innovate model—collaborative not competitive, which is the best kind of professional friendship.
PJH: Though I absolutely loved being a debut author, I’m really thrilled with all the experience I’ve gained since. What advice would you give to those who are debuting now? What do you wish you had known when you started out?
SO'C: I give myself the same advice I give newly published writers—be brave. Write the best book that you can, and then let it go out in the world. Write the next book, and the next book. The book you are dreaming now is the book that matters most.
SPARROW ROAD by Sheila O'Connor (Putnam, May 12, 2011)
PJH: In addition to writing the next mega-million bestselling novel, what do you want to accomplish in the next five years? Do you want to write five more books? Get your black belt in Kung Fu? Walk the Great Wall of China? Let’s hear it.
SO'C: I write for adults as well as young people, and I’m eager to get back to my short story collection; it’s been sidelined since I signed the contract for Sparrow Road. So there’s a dream. And I am welcoming Keeping Safe the Stars into the world, and hoping it arrives in the hands of children. I’d also like to do more school visits—to find a way to connect with kids in person. Professionally, I’m committed to two more MG novels, so I imagine they will be the work of the next many years. Perhaps my true great dream is to publish one of my picture books. If that happens in the next five years I will be delighted. And poetry—I want to write more poems.
PJH: Anything else you want to add? Five reasons to read your book? A picture of your writing space? How you celebrated when you signed your contract? Your choice!
SO'C: I will close here with a picture of my writing space, which is deeply sacred and waiting for me right this minute! I have a deadline and the writing space doesn’t want me to go far. It’s a little writer’s shed I built in my backyard, a fulfillment of a lifetime dream, a small house of my own, and here it is.
PJH: Thank you so much for being here! And good luck with everything in the future!
Sheila O’Connor is the award-winning author of Sparrow Road, Where No Gods Came and Tokens of Grace. Her new novel, Keeping Safe the Stars, is forthcoming from Putnam in October 2012. A fiction professor at Hamline University, Sheila also serves as the fiction editor for Water~Stone Review. A passionate educator and lover of stories, Sheila has also taught writing to thousands of young people in K-12 schools.
Thanks for helping me celebrate former debuts! And if you are a former debut and are interested in being featured, check out this post here!