Amy Shearn is an author of fiction, essays, poetry, and humor. Shearn's debut novel How Far Is The Ocean From Here was published by Shaye Areheart Books. Her book The Mermaid of Brooklyn comes out from Simon & Schuster in April 2013. She blogs about babies, books, and Brooklyn at household words.
Tell us about your relationship to your art.
I’d describe it as symbiosis, maybe? One of us is a parasite, I think, I’m just not sure which one. Maybe it varies.
What's a project (yours or another's) that has been exciting you lately?
I’m lucky enough to have this great part-time job writing for Oprah.com, which brings me into contact with all sorts of life-affirming projects that thrill me. I love everything AmyKrouse Rosenthal does and the daily drawings of Chris Piascik and just recently discovered the 365 Grateful Project. The poet Matthea Harvey is always up to something amazing -- she seems to have a kind of genius for collaboration. I loved her book Of Lamb with Amy Jean Porter. I also have friends working on books I can’t wait to see – Amanda Fields’ novel is sure to be amazing when it’s fully gestated, and oh I don’t know, I think everyone I know is working on something.
As for me, I have just just just finished exhaustive and exhausting revisions of my second book, which is due out next spring. And I have a teensy inkling of a new book, just a title and a shadow of an outline and a character and first line – so I’m at that most exciting precipice of a project. I’m also thinking about a short story that will have something to do with teenage girls and group hysteria.
Tell us a little of your motherhood journey.
I have two kids; Harper is 2 and Alton is 1. They are the most charming and tiring and fascinating lunatics. The other day after they both freaked out at the grocery store I said, “You guys are animals,” and Harper said, “Did you mean to say, we are your little lambs?” That pretty much sums it up I think.
What are some crucial elements of your process? How has that changed since having children?
I think having children has proven to me that nothing is crucial except somehow finding the time to write. I would love to write every morning and read every evening, I think that would be ideal. But now I’m just happy when I find some time, any time. I revised part of my novel waiting in line to register for toddler ballet. I mean, it’s all so absurd.
Do you find your attitude towards your art might be different because of your parenting / has it changed since you became a parent?
Well, nothing seems like as a big a deal as it used to. I’m just happy to be able to write sometimes, and I worry less about career/accomplishments/that kind of thing. I want my kids to feel like creativity is just another part of life, a way to deal with feelings, a way to connect with others, a way to interact with the world in a meaningful, and possibly fun, way– so I try to embody that.
Hm, well, I did just write a book about a stressed-out Brooklyn mother to two small children…but it’s all fiction, I swear. Her family is not my family. I think the mother in my novel – she’s angry and conflicted, and feels incompetent and a bit frightened – is how all mothers of young children are .001% of the time – she just has the misfortune to be like that all the time. So anyway, I probably worked out some of early motherhood in this book, although refracted to the worst possible outcome, because you know, you need some trouble in a work of fiction. Assumptions of autobiography are probably inevitable, though unfortunate, since she’s a basketcase and her husband’s a bit of a cad. (Mine’s very nice, really!)
I do blog about my kids, here and here, which started off as me wondering if I could write some Erma Bombeck-ish personal essays or something. I think the answer to that is, not really. It’s been fun but I can feel my interest in it kind of dwindling – I certainly don’t want to be doing that by the time they are old enough to realize what’s going on. I say that and yet Harper is constantly pretending to type and saying, “I need to write a blog about what you just said!” So maybe the jig is up there.
How does travel figure into your art? Do/did your children come along? How has that worked out?
Traveling with two small children is a unique type of torture. I plan to avoid it as much as possible until they are both fully bribable. I have vague plans of exciting writerly travel when I’m, like, 60.
What about promoting the arts with your own children--any fun projects to share?
Oh yes, Harper just wrote her first picture book, Princess Harper and Pirate Babe, which my mother illustrated. It begins like this: “Once upon a time there were seven princesses, and ten pirates, and really long cats.” It is probably the greatest book ever.
We also like to do art projects at home – finger-painting with jell-o was a recent highlight. Today when asked what we should do Harper said, “Let’s make a mess!”
How do you escape?
The same way I always have: reading novels. All I ever really want to do is read novels in the bathtub. I guess I’d get pruney though.
What advice do you have for expectant mothers in your field?
Don’t put pressure on yourself while you’re pregnant to be creative. Your body is already being as creative as is humanly possible! And know that yes, you might take a little break from being super productive while your baby is small, and that’s okay, you’re storing up stuff for later. The mothers I know with older kids assure me it gets easier as they are less demanding on your time, and I have to believe that that’s true. Oh, and find another mother/writer and arrange a writing time/babysitting exchange. Make a pact that while the other mother is watching your baby you MUST use the time for writing. And while you’re at it, get Kate Hopper’s book Use Your Words, a Writing Guide for Mothers! It’s no Princess Harper and Pirate Babe, but it’s pretty great.