Judy Sheehan

SIX MINUTES WITH JUDY SHEEHAN:

Joining LitPick for a Six Minute with an Author Interview is Judy Sheehan. Judy is the author of I Woke Up Dead at the Mall.

***How did you get started writing?

I'm the 10th of 12 children. Yes, you read that right. I grew up listening to my siblings try to top one another with their storytelling skills. Naturally, I fell in love with stories. I wanted to be a writer when I was in the fourth grade. But then I got distracted by a life in the theatre. I ended up studying theatre and working as an actor for several years, and even got to make a living at it. One day, I got a call for an audition and thought, "Oh no. No more of that." It was as if I just needed to immerse myself in it for a while and then get it out of my system. It didn't take long for me to find my way back to writing. Now, writing is almost a compulsion, and I don't think I could live without it.

***Who influenced you?

Every playwright I ever studied has definitely influenced me. I'm grateful that I studied theatre because it gave me a sense of character, story structure, and an ear for dialogue. That's a roundabout way of saying that I always write a character that I'd want to play! My favorite writers include Kate Atkinson, Tony Kushner, Tom Stoppard, and Dawn Powell. They each carve out new territory with each story, play, or poem. They're all inventors to the highest degree.

***Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?

War Horse was so moving, I had to put it down and cry more than once. It wasn't sentimental or treacly -- it was simply good. I recommend that book every chance I get. For my own writing, I think that I tend to write about becoming yourself. Many of my main characters are women or girls who need to un-clench, breathe, and be true to themselves. I think of it as The Philadelphia Story arc. When Tracy Lord wakes up in that last scene, she has released a lot of her anger and tension. I like characters who need to get over themselves and move on. I wonder what that means.

***What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?

Live your life so that you'll have something to write about! See every art form you can, and try your hand at a few. It may be humbling, but you'll learn from it. Take jobs that make you learn new skills. Get your heart broken. Get confused. Read a lot, and not just the stuff that seems aimed directly at you. Talk to old people, young people, and people who disagree with you. Make some stupid choices, but not so stupid that I'll worry about you. I'm a worrier. And travel as best you can, even if that just means taking an alternate route to school or work. Through it all, keep writing. You'll get better, and then worse, and then better, and then awful, and eventually good.

***Where is your favorite place to write?

Even though I have a lovely desk, I prefer to write at my dining table. I play music to create a kind of wall around me, and can't write without it. Usually, I play something instrumental, but I also have a playlist of songs that I know so well, the words have almost disappeared for me. I can easily be persuaded to write at a Starbucks, as long as I have tea and something cake-like with cinnamon to boost my morale.

****What else would you like to tell us?

One day, I was riding the subway in NYC, reading Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Semi-spoiler: there is a funeral scene for a young man whose plane is shot down during World War II. Atkinson has his sister observe that a funeral is a party for you on the one day that we know you can't attend. I put the book down to think about that, and saw three girls directly across from me. They were huddled around an iPhone, giggling. All of a sudden, this image and Atkinson's text collided in my head, and I thought: what if those three girls were dead, and they were checking to see whose funeral got the most likes on Facebook? 

"That's a book," I thought. And that's how I Woke Up Dead At The Mall was born. You just don't know when, where, or how the next idea might land in your head, so be ready, be alert. And carry pen and paper.

 

Judy, thanks for stopping by for six minutes. What great advice to take the highs and lows in life and use them as inspiration for writing.

 

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