Sharon Short is the author of the award-winning coming-of-age novel My One Square Inch of Alaska, two mystery series, short stories, and personal essays. Under her pen name Jess Montgomery, she writes historical mysteries. The first, The Widows, will be published by Minotaur Books in winter, 2019. Sharon serves as Executive Director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop at University of Dayton (www.antiochwritersworkshop.com), is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News, and is a mentor in the low-residency Writing Popular Fiction MFA program at Seton Hill University. Learn more at www.sharonshort.com or follow Sharon’s Facebook author page, www.facebook.com/SharonShortAuthor/
What drew you to writing?
The need to make sense of the world. I think that is true even though I started writing at age six. I know how precocious that sounds, but I’m not trying to be. I certainly wasn’t aware that that’s what I was doing at age six. I grew up in a very chaotic household, with a highly stressful family life. Reading, and making up my own stories, became refuge. Oh hey–I don’t want to be here in the “real” world. I’ll go to this other imaginary world for awhile! Then it became a way to sort out what I thought about the world, about people I know, about relationships–sometimes nurturing, sometimes fraught. I can look back on even works I wrote as a kid and see that. On the other hand, I think all humans are natural story tellers. It’s part of our DNA, just like curiosity, and hunger. So why do some humans continue to focus so intently on story telling, even have the audacity to turn it into a calling and perhaps something of a career? For me, it’s the continual need to sort out the world around me. Somehow, I can do that through fiction.
Which of the authors you have read has had the most effect or influence on your writing?
Oh wow. Do I have to pick one? I love John Steinbeck. Ray Bradbury. Nancy Pickard. Daniel Woodrell. Lori Roy. Sue Grafton. William Kent Krueger. A new (to me) favorite is Colm Toibin. Most of those authors are mystery authors, which is what I mainly write. But I think what ties each of them together, and why they resonate in my imagination as a reader and writer, is that the scope of what they’re writing about far exceeds what’s on the page. In other words, the story may *seem* simple–sleuth solves crime; family migrates across country; young Irish girl immigrates to U.S.–but though the stories are so specifically focused on characters that, in many ways, feel more real to me than some actual people, the stories are really about broader themes about the human condition. And yet none of these authors are heavy handed about their themes. They are deft, clever, touching, and imminently readable.
What is your writing process?
Is flailing a process? But seriously, I have a saying–it’s a mess until it’s not! I’m very messy in the beginning: writing scenes on notecards. Journaling. Researching. Brainstorming on large art pads. Making Excel spreadsheets with timelines (birth, major events, etc.) for each character. Charts about how the characters connect. Profiles of the characters–everything from eye color to their “Goal, Motivation, Conflict.” (I highly recommend the how-to book by the same title.) I draw maps of the setting. Family trees. Eventually, I start to see how it will all (maybe?) connect. I put together a synopsis, because my agent expects me to, knows I’m very messy in the beginning, and I think worries about that a little. Then, finally, I start drafting. It’s a loop-de-loop process. I draft a bit, do some more of the messy activities, loop back and revise, draft a bit. Eventually (again), it all truly falls into place in my imagination. I know the characters. The story. The theme. And then it’s a race to the end. I actually end up doing very little revising for the end of each novel. The one constant throughout all of this is that I keep, in a WORD file, a journal per novel and start my writing/flailing time each day with that journal. Most entries start with me whining, then rolling my eyes at myself for whining, and then finally getting to the bit I need to focus on for the day–figure out another bit of back story. Or a scene. Or a bit of dialogue. I’d love, love, love to say I’m a writer who tots up some character sheets, fills a notebook with research, lays out a plot, then writes a thousand or so words a day until the draft is done, and then revises. But I’m definitely not. I plan, I pants, I flail, and hopefully I eventually have something worth revising, and after many rounds of that (I’m also a perfectionist), something worth reading.
JUST FOR FUN…
Name a book you have read more than once.
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. The brilliance, yet simplicity, of the opening line of that novel gave me chills the first time I read it. It captures the character arc and feeling of the entire novel.
Name your favorite comfort or reward food.
Pie! I love to bake (and eat) pie. I could write a whole blog on that…