Hamline News

With the release of her third novel, Hamline professor Sheila O’Connor discusses creativity and the importance of imagination

O'Conner Shelia main

Asked to describe her inspiration for becoming an author, Sheila O’Connor, assistant professor of creative writing, said she knew before she had even learned to read.

“I just loved the whole idea that a story was contained in a book and that you could enter those pages and be transported into other lives,” O’Connor said.

Now an acclaimed author and poet, O’Connor’s work has been published in magazines and anthologies including: Minnesota Monthly,Alaska Quarterly, Great River Review, Helicon Nine and others. She teaches writing in both Hamline’s College of Liberal Arts and Graduate School of Liberal Studies.

With her third upcoming novel about to be released, Sparrow Road, O’Connor sat down to chat about her life as a writer, the inspiration behind her new book, and her belief in the power of creativity.

What was your inspiration for becoming an author?

I wanted to be an author since I was a child. I loved the books that my mother read me, and the books that I took out from the library. Actually just holding books in my hand was the main inspiration for me wanting to be a writer.

You’ve written three novels so far: Tokens of Grace, Where No God’s Came, and your most recent, Sparrow Road. Do you have a favorite?
Sparrow Road is my first novel for younger readers. My other two were pretty exclusive to adult readers, but I don’t really have a favorite. Each book was such an elaborate effort and so much love and devotion went into each story and each set of characters that I just love them all for very different reasons.

What’s your favorite book/author?
That’s always an impossible question for me because there’s so many books that I’ve loved and so many books that have shaped me as a writer that there’s never a book or an author that stands out to me.

What would you say is your interesting writer quirk?
You mean like a writing ritual? I guess for me it’s that I like to write alone, and I like to write in the quiet. You know I see these writers in coffee shops working on their stuff, but I always have to have a space that is designated entirely for nothing but the book that is being written at the time.

How long does it take you to write a book?
Years. The novels always take years. First there’s getting the story down, and then there’s the deep revision. It’s the process of making it into a work of art, where every word counts, and where every piece of it is shaped, that takes the most time.

Tell me about your new upcoming novel, Sparrow Road.
Sparrow Road is about a child, a 12-year old girl named Raine O’Rourke who goes to spend the summer at an artist colony where her mother works as a cook. When she arrives, at the place called Sparrow Road, she discovers that there are mysteries and unresolved issues surrounding this place, both connected with the artists in residence and in her own purpose of being there.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?
The ideas for a novel come from so many different sources it’s almost impossible to point to one thing that generated an entire book, but I would say it was inspired by my own time spent at artist colonies. It was also inspired by the work I’ve done over the years teaching children about imagination and the power of creativity.

What do you see as the book's greatest strengths in its present form?
I think the greatest strength about the book is that it crosses generations of readers. It’s a story that translates to any reader of any age. I’m hoping that it will be a work of literature that inspires family in all communities, because there’s plenty for adults and kids to be talking about at Sparrow Road.

What would you like someone to take away from reading your book?

To understand the power and importance of imagination in our lives and the need for hope and forgiveness.

Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer?
Well I’ve been a teacher for 26 years so I have endless suggestions, but I guess for somebody who’s interested in writing and wants to write I would say to trust your own voice and your own vision of the world and to write something that is important and matters to you.

After receiving a starred appraisal from Kirkus Reviews, one of the toughest critics in the industry, Sparrow Road will be released May 12 with publishers G.P. Putnam's Sons.

To hear from the author in person, join O’Connor on Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m., when she hosts a reading at the Red Balloon Book Store (891 Grand Avenue, Saint Paul, MN).