How I Write: Shelby Hearon
Published: May 7, 2001
|Born in Marion Ky., Shelby Hearon writes with a delicious sense of humor, warmth and compassion. Her 15 novels generally concentrate on family relationships, friendships between women and marriage. Newsweek called her work "irresistible" and "hilarious." Hearon finds meaning in the details of daily life. Her novel Life Estates was made into a TV movie, Best Friends for Life. Another novel, Owning Jolene, won an American Academy of Arts and Letters Literature award. She received the Texas Institute of Letters fiction award and a fellowship for fiction from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Hearon, who has two grown children, lived for many years in Texas and New York. She now resides in Vermont with her husband William Halpern, a physiologist.|
Novels include: Ella in Bloom (2001), Footprints (1996), Life Estates (1994), Painted Dresses (1992), Hug Dancing (1991) and Owning Jolene (1989).
Why: I write about whatever problems or issues I'm solving. It could be a marriage going awry, the whole mother/daughter thing, sibling rivalry. I've often said that if I were a person who talked to my 10 best friends about these things, I wouldn't be a writer.
When and where: I write morning, noon and night--in blocks of time. I type in a room with my desk facing two blue spruces and Lake Champlain right outside my window. I don't like to look at words. I look out the window and listen to characters and see the people.The words at that stage are not the point.
How: I type the first draft on three-ring notebook paper so I won't be fooled into thinking it's anything but a first draft. I do at least 40 pages before I read it over. If it's terrible, I throw it away. I rewrite, sometimes five times, to get the opening right. Once I get the beginning, it's generally OK. Anything I edit out that I like from the early attempts, I keep. Maybe I can use it later. When I think it's ready, I'll type it on bond paper.
Writing habits: When I'm not writing, I still have the writer's habit of eavesdropping, taking pictures with an inner eye. When you're on the road, you hear things you never heard before.
Ideas: They come as a question. The question in Ella in Bloom is: Who pays the higher price, the good daughter who stays or the bad daughter who runs away? I hope Ella, who is the youngest sibling and a black sheep, comes to see what it cost her older sister. The question rattling 'round in my head now is: Could you love somebody if you didn't know where they came from? It's fun to start with a question and wrestle it to the floor.
Advice: Don't let anyone else read what you write until you have completed it. Learn to evaluate your own work, be your own first reader and editor. It's a conversation with yourself. Write your brains out. Write for six months, then see what you have. Really, that's the only way to find out what you actually want to say. That's the advantage of writing a lot. Somewhere in that mess is what I'm really trying to say. It takes years to learn that.
Photograph by William Halpern
--Posted May 7, 2001