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The Creative Writing Programs at Hamline are pleased to announce the release of faculty member Sheila O'Connor's new book, Sparrow Road (Putnam). Sparrow Road is Sheila's first novel for middle grade readers and has received much praise from readers and critics alike. In their starred review, a distinction reserved for books of exceptional merit, Kirkus Review called Sparrow Road a “beautifully written novel... Readers finding themselves in this quiet world will find plenty of space to imagine and dream for themselves.”
Sheila is also the author of Where No Gods Came and Tokens of Grace. Where No Gods Came won the Minnesota Book Award and the Michigan Award for Literary Fiction and was selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers title. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared in anthologies and magazines, including Riding Shotgun: Women Write About Their Mothers, The Next Parish Over: Mothers and Daughters, and others. Her work has been recognized with Bush Foundation, Loft McKnight, and Minnesota State Arts Board fellowships. In addition to teaching in the MFA program at Hamline, she also serves as fiction editor of Water~Stone Review.
In a recent interview with Exchange editor Carlee Tressel, Sheila reflected on her experience writing Sparrow Road and what she hopes for the book now that it has been published:
Question: How was your process writing Sparrow Road different from how you wrote your two previous novels?
Sheila O'Connor: Well, I started Sparrow Road the summer after I’d taught my first round of the Novel Writing class [in the Graduate School of Liberal Studies at Hamline]. I rented a bright yellow room in an old mansion, and I promised myself I would do every trick I’d taught in the Novel Writing class—follow every piece of advice I gave—all in the effort to stay in the dream. I kept steady hours, held to a daily page count, created a sacred space, did pre-writing and kept notebooks. By the end of that summer I had a full first draft. Not a good draft, not a publishable draft, but I had the book.
My last book took me many years because I had to write it piecemeal, but this time the Novel Writing course prepared me well for the craft demands of the form as well as the need for dream work.
Q: Mysteries and secrets are quite important in Sparrow Road. Similarly, you often encourage your writing students to think about what they are trying to find out by telling a particular story. What was the essential thing you wanted to discover by writing Sparrow Road?
SO: I started Sparrow Road with a question: What if a child came to live in an artist colony? And more—What would it be like to spend a summer in the company of artists? What if I had known artists when I was young? That was the beginning for me, the basic questions I wanted to explore. As the book went on, it offered other questions—questions about identity and primal wounds, foster care versus orphanages, parental neglect versus state intervention, family secrets versus truth telling. I wondered long and hard about the space a missing parent leaves. Of course, I didn’t know I’d wonder into this territory—but there it was rising from the page. Q: What do you most hope for Sparrow Road as it is released into the larger literary world this spring?
SO: My books are like children to me—I have loved them long, I want them to do well. At the same time, they’ve already given me the greatest gifts—the opportunity to nurture them, to learn from them, to share their story. As Sparrow Road heads out alone into the world, I hope it finds people who will love it; I hope it touches hearts and opens minds to struggles and possibilities. And I hope it moves across the generations—that it offers hope and inspiration to both adults and kids—because intergenerational connection is at the heart of Sparrow Road. Q: The heroine of the book, Raine O' Rourke, must do without TV when she and her mother spend the summer at Sparrow Road, an old mansion in the country. What is something a writer of fiction (or any writer) CANNOT do without?
SO: Oh my, I have no idea. Every writer is so different in their temperament and needs, I can’t imagine speaking for other writers in this regard. I know I need time and space for my fictional dream to come to life, for me to fully see it and experience it without static getting in the way. I need quiet to listen to my characters, to allow their voices to take hold of their story. For me, these are things I cannot do without if I want to write a book. Nice long chunks of silence. Yes. And somewhere in all that a story will begin.
Read more about Sheila and Sparrow Road at www.sheilaoconnor.com.
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